"Waiting at the Throne"
by Ron Wiltrout (aka Emmitt Hugh)
I couldn't think of another word to describe him. I'm not queer or anything like that, but the guy was beautiful. His face; his body; even the silvery color of his skin: beautiful. But more than anything, the sorrow that did and did not exist just there beneath the surface of his calm face.
He knelt within the cubicle, a sort of box made up of electro-magnetic fields or something like that. I don't know. I'm just a grunt that pulled guard duty the first night we held him in captivity. The scientists had rigged the prison up. I couldn't tell you how they managed to get him in there or how it worked. My job was to make sure he didn't get out. I had no idea how to stop him if he tried; I couldn't have brought myself to shoot at him. He didn't look dangerous, and to threaten those sad eyes would have been like kicking a puppy. Fortunately he didn't try.
We'd been on planet for six weeks. Six weeks, and in all that time the natives never bothered with us. Other than the locals, the planet had an atmosphere and bio-forms that were so much like the earth's that we didn't see any difference. I know that the air was cleaner, the plants thicker, the water purer, the sky bluer. Well, blue. The plants we found were better than our genetically altered crops back home. We talked about how we would defend this place if another species tried to move in on our turf. The natives didn't seem to care about our presence. Many among us had already come to view this as our turf and were just thinking of how we could clean house, so to speak.
The scientists said that we couldn't go home because we had no home to return to. I could believe that. Somewhere above us in orbit, the remains of our civilization waited for us to conquer a planet that was without apparent hostility. Nobody seemed to trust this. I guess that was why us grunts came down first.
I nodded at our captive, assuming that a nod was truly universal. Mournful eyes watched me without any recognition of my effort to communicate. I didn't know what else to do. I knew I'd feel stupid if I tried to talk to him. I couldn't bring myself to say anything, knowing that mine would have been the only voice in that cool, quiet room. A bank of computers and screens and other machinery hummed along one wall of the lab, and I assumed that this was what kept his prison from falling apart. I couldn't have told you what a single one of the hundreds of buttons on the console was about or how any of it worked. I glanced at him again.
He was too perfect. And still. He hadn't moved or changed position since his prison had been wheeled into the bunker.
I turned away, the memory of the eyes, his strong body, the fine hair, and the silvery skin staying with me. And he was there. Not within the wavering fields, but standing at the edge of the room, free. I turned back and he knelt patiently within the prison science had devised. Was it a trick of my eyes, or could he have been in more than one place at a time? Even more disturbing: was there a second one of them wandering around the compound? They all seemed the same, at least around the eyes which is the first thing you notice about them after their skin.