Remember Me to Paradise
                                                                       - Amy Benesch
Chapter One



In the breezes, through the grasses, on the waters moves a message: a shape-shifter is urgently needed by the Great Council.
I catch the message, and it intrigues me. I grow weary of Paradise. So do we all. But because every place in the Universe is
deathly dull compared to Paradise, we tend to stay. Oh, we go adventuring when we are young, of course, but, more than
any other creature; we have found there is truly no place like home.

This message is not the usual summons the Council deigns to send our way, that is to say, a request for spying, treachery, or
theft. This message carries a promise of nobility, a sense of mission. I like it.

Halfway through the message I stop listening. It goes on about coordinates and meeting this Messenger at that pre-arranged
time and place. They know this is not necessary for one such as myself, but they wish to maintain protocol. I have no
patience with protocol. Still, I must devise a method for getting myself where I need to go. I am not a Messenger who deals
in longitudes and latitudes. I am a shapeshifter, and I must decide which shape best suits my present purpose.

I consider becoming a meteor streaking through space; but no, that is too cumbersome. Maybe a ring. I could slip myself
onto the Messenger’s hand without his noticing. But the Messenger will not leave until he gets a response to his message. I
decide to become a Messenger myself. This will be tricky. I don’t think I’ve ever been a Messenger before. I will have to
study him for a while, unobserved.

I change into a breeze and waft over to the Neutral Zone on the edge of Paradise. The Messenger will be here, I know. It is
the only spot on our planet an Outlander can stand, because it is relatively static. We shapeshifters hate it.

Sure enough, there he is, all rigged up in his winged helmet and sandals - so quaint. The Council’s fondness for symbols
eludes me. On closer inspection, and being a breeze allows me to inspect very closely, I see he is a she. I size her up, and
decide to become a male Messenger. What exactly are the mating habits of Messengers? Why didn’t I pay attention when we
studied this in school? But shapeshifter schools are not like schools on other planets. Here a school thinks nothing of
changing into a fire station, post office, ocean, meadow, and train all before lunch. We don’t learn much, but we have a lot
of fun.

Perhaps if I could study her from the inside, I would learn what she desires. But how do I get inside? As if in answer to my
question, the Messenger takes a food bar from her belt, unwraps it, and eats it. The food bar is simple, standard Council fare.
I turn myself into a food bar, attach myself to her belt, and wait. Unfortunately, Messengers are notoriously light eaters,
especially when they are working. I wait a full day before the Messenger reaches for me.

At last she unwraps me, brings me to her mouth, and stops. What is wrong? What have I forgotten? She brings her other
hand to her belt and counts. Oops, one too many food bars.

“Shapeshifter,” she says, staring down at me. “Is that you?”

I quickly turn myself into a handsome Messenger of the male gender. The female Messenger looks surprised, especially
when she realizes that her hand is on my waist. She drops her hand and takes a step back.

“Shapeshifter,” she says, “the Council requests that you volunteer for a mission. Do you accept?”

“Why not?” I ask, adding bulk to my groin.

“Then I will give the Council spaceship our co-ordinates so you may be transported to your destination.”

“Fine,” I say. “Would you care to mate with me?”

The Messenger ignores me. She takes a rectangular metallic object from her belt and speaks into it, saying she has located a
willing shapeshifter and giving our co-ordinates.

“We have time for a quickie,” she says as she undresses.

I would like more than a quickie, but I am eager to make love to an outlander, so I strip down and we go at it. It takes me a
few moments to get used to my new body. When I get the hang of it, I am eager to change. I am wondering how bizarre my
permutations can get without scaring her, when she rolls away, sighs, and says, “That was great.”

“Great? I was just getting warmed up. Shapeshifters are the greatest lovers in the Universe. Whenever we have an orgasm,
we simply shift to a new body with a willing and eager member!”

But the Messenger is already dressed and looking at the horizon.

“The spaceship is landing outside the Neutral Zone,” she says. “Why did they ignore my coordinates?”

I look where the Messenger is looking, and I understand. The spaceship has chosen to land on a smooth concrete strip lined
on both sides with lights. Gets them every time.

“Oh no,” the Messenger says. “Quicksand!”

Sure enough, the spaceship is sinking rapidly.

“What should we do?” the Messenger asks me.

“Wait,” I say.

Before I finish speaking the quicksand turns into a volcano. The spaceship rests precariously on top.

“Will it erupt?” the Messenger asks.

“I think it’s erupting right now,” I say.

But, no, what looked like molten lava a second ago now appears to be a jet of water. The water settles into a placid pond.
The spaceship wafts gently in the middle.

“I’m getting the hell out of here,” barks an amplified voice from the spacecraft.

“No, wait, Captain,” the Messenger shouts into the black rectangle. “Please take the shapeshifter with you.”

“Tell him to hurry.”

The pond looks inviting after our workout. I plunge in and swim towards the ship. After three strokes I am waving my arms
and kicking my feet in gravel.

A flight of stairs descends from the spaceship. Spitting stones out of my mouth, I run towards it. As I put my foot on the
first rung, the stairs retract into the body of the ship. A bitter cold wind begins to howl on Paradise. It nearly blows me off
the stairs.

“Hey, take it easy,” I say as two pairs of hands pull me into the ship. “I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye to my new
friend.”

I look out of the porthole. As the ship lifts off, the Messenger gives me a crooked smile, adjusts her helmet, and waves.

I feel I am being watched. I turn around. Two creatures are staring at me. One of them speaks.

“You travel light.”

I look down and realize I neglected to put my Messenger outfit back on. My large male sex organ seems out of place here.

“You must be chilly,” the other creature says. “Would you like a robe and something warm to drink?”

“Sure,” I say.

The creature leaves. The remaining one shakes my hand.

“I’m John Halden, co-captain of this ship. Welcome aboard, Shapeshifter.”

He seems to be waiting for something. Is it for me to tell him my name? He’ll have a long wait, then. He sees I’m not going
to tell him and gets embarrassed. The other creature returns with a robe and a cup.

“Shapeshifter,” John Halden says. “I’d like you to meet Ann Plunkett, my wife and co-captain of this ship.”

We shake hands. I put on the robe and sip the disgusting machine-generated liquid. John evidently notices my displeasure,
because he says, “We usually make our coffee fresh, but we’re running low on supplies.”

I sense there is another shape on board.

“Is anyone else on the ship?” I ask.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about who’s navigating,” laughs co-captain John. “Everything is run by computer. If there’s a
problem, my beeper will go off. It went crazy when we landed on your planet.”

I ignore the insult.        

“No, it’s not a computer,” I say.

“You must mean our daughter, Meaghan,” Ann says. “I’ll go get her.” Before she leaves she looks at my pelvis.

“John,” she says. “Perhaps you can show the shapeshifter how to tie his robe.”

John smiles apologetically at me and ties my robe so the front panels overlap.

“Sorry,” he says. “We’re a bit old-fashioned here. You see, we’re a family, and we try to make life as normal as possible for
Meaghan, so she can fit in when we get back to Earth.”

“Earth?” It does not sound familiar.

“Yes,” says John. “That’s where we’re from and where you’ll be going eventually. I know the summons wasn’t very
informative, and unfortunately I can’t tell you much more. You’ll be briefed when we get to our destination.”

“Which is not the Council and not Earth,” I say.

“Right,” says John. “It’s a library where you can study all about Earth.”

I groan. This is beginning to sound like a big mistake.

“The Council thought it would be a good idea for us to transport you, so you could study a typical human family—not that
most human families consist of two certified space pilots,” he chuckles.

What is there to study? I already know the shapes of these two human creatures—nothing very complicated that I can detect.

“Ah,” says John. “Here come Ann and Meaghan now.”

“You’ll have to excuse Meaghan,” Ann says. “She’s feeling a little sad right now.”

I look at Meaghan. The corners of her mouth droop. I turn into a small, furry, four-legged creature. I rub up against her leg
and make a low trilling sound from deep inside my being.

“Mommy, it’s Groghan,” Meaghan cries. “He’s alive again!”

Ann gasps. Then she says, “Oh.”

John says, “That’s very impressive. I didn’t know shapeshifters could change into creatures they’d never seen before.”

Frankly, neither did I. I try to account for it. Sometimes when I am making love and shifting shapes freely, my partner will
cry out, “Yes! That is the shape of my dreams!” And sometimes my partner does the same for me. I have just made love, if
you could call it that, to the Messenger. Perhaps that sense of knowing what someone wants more than anything else in the
universe has been activated.

I try to explain this to the co-captains, but I find the creature I am does not speak Councilese. What comes out is, “Meow.”

“That means ‘Obviously I can, you nitwit,’ “ John says, and they all laugh.

I am annoyed. I hadn’t meant that at all. Is this how species on Earth communicate with each other? Meaghan sits down
next to me and strokes my fur. I curl up in her lap. It’s rather pleasant. I drift off to sleep as Meaghan whispers, “Groghan”
over and over again.

~ * ~

I wake up. Meaghan is whispering in my ear, “I have to go now, kitty. Mom and Dad are calling me.” I jump off her lap and
follow her into the galley.

“I don’t know what to do,” Ann says. “Should I set a place for him at the dinner table or open a can of cat food?”

“Maybe we should ask him,” says John.

“I don’t know if he understands us now that he’s a cat,” Ann says.

“Groghan always understood me,” Meaghan says. “Groghan, do you want cat food or people food?”

That all depends, I think. I jump up on the table where I can smell my choices. John had said they were low on supplies.
That means dehydrated spaceship food. No thanks. I see a can. I sniff at it, but I only smell metal.

“He wants cat food,” Meaghan says. “He’s sniffing the can, that means he wants it.”

It soon becomes apparent everyone is eager for me to remain a cat, so I do. It’s a good choice, as it turns out. Ann and John
let their guard down around a cat, and I get to see them as they really are. They are not much like the couple I met when I
was a Messenger. Not that I care. The truth is; I am not much interested in John, Ann, or Meaghan. I am interested in my
new shape. I can leap to high places and land in a tiny area without making a sound. I clean myself with my tongue. I eat,
sleep, and wander the ship. I am ignored, fed, petted, and adored. It is a very fine life.
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