Temhaor looked at her mate and smiled. She was enjoying this research trip with Chirox. She liked this planet, its beautiful blue skies and the green grass and flowers and trees. She even rather liked the dominant species they were studying.

“They have parklands for enjoyment just like we do,” Temhaor said. “They can’t be as backward as our notes suggested.”

“No, indeed,” Chirox agreed. “We really need to spend more time observing these people. We need to find out far more information about this species.”

“If those two are anything to go by their mating rituals are not unlike ours, anyway,” Temhaor said with a laugh. Chirox looked at her and then the Humans she had observed.

Two of them – male and female – were walking together along the path. They passed by unaware that they were being observed by Gallutian anthropologists. Their camouflage was perfect.

“Those are just youngsters of the species,” Chirox said. “They are many years away from being fully mature and able to successfully mate.”

“I don’t think anybody has told them that,” Temhaor answered with a smile. “Look at them.”

The blonde haired youth had stopped under a stand of trees and drew the female close to him before they kissed lovingly.

“Is it only the females who are that darker shade of skin?” Temhaor wondered.

“No,” Chirox answered. “Look beyond the trees to the place where the youngest play.”

Temhaor looked, her eyes focussing in on the children in the playground telescopically. She saw male and female Humans, most pale pink coloured, but others with warm light brown skin, one with a yellowish tinge to the complexion, some others a darker brown. There were differences in the colour of the hair on their heads and the pigment of their eyes, too.

“Such diversity within one species. It is remarkable,” she said admiringly. “We must observe this in detail.” She turned back to the two that had first caught her eye. “They will be our special subjects. We will watch these carefully as examples of the species.”

“I agree,” Chirox said. “Look, they’re moving on now. Let us follow them, discreetly.”

Discreet was easy to do when you had the ability to become invisible. If any Human had been looking very closely they might have seen a slight shimmer in the air as Temhaor started to move off. She complained of stiffness after being still for so long, but she steadied her form and became fully cloaked once more. They communicated telepathically as they followed the two young people through the park.

“I wish you could come all the way home with me,” the female said to her mate. “It’s not fair. We live next door to each other, but nobody even knows we’re friends, let alone…”

“It won’t always be like this,” the male assured her. “When I leave school, I’ll get a job, get us a place to live together.”

“But you wanted to go to university. So do I. You can’t give up your dream just because your parents and most of our neighbours hate me.”

“We’ll go to university together, then,” he assured her. “We WILL be together.” He pulled her close and kissed her again and then she walked away quickly. He watched her walk down the road. She had disappeared around the corner before he began to walk more slowly.

“What was that all about?” Temhaor asked.

“I think…” Chirox answered. “Their love is forbidden. Perhaps she has a mate assigned to her other than the yellow-haired boy.”

“Oh, that is so sad.” Temhaor reached and touched Chirox. “I can’t imagine what that must be like. I loved you the moment I was first introduced to you and told I would be your mate. I never wanted another.”

“But if you or I had loved another we would have been able to refuse the arrangement and make our preferred mating. Nobody is forced into the wrong marriage on Gallutia.”

“Yes,” Temhaor said. “We are lucky. We knew from the first we were made for each other.

Terry Phillips sighed as he turned into his home street. He walked slowly, thinking about Cassie. When did he first know he loved her? He must have been six? No, that was silly. At six love between a boy and a girl doesn’t happen.

Funny, but his parents didn’t mind him playing with her when they were little. They had run about in the street together, along with the other children. They had walked to school together, and home again, all the way to their gates, set side by side. It only became a problem in these recent years, since they both turned fourteen and they began to look like a couple. Then there had been the big row with his parents. His mother had used that word that he would not even pass his lips and his father had lectured him on what happens to white boys who spend time with coloured girls.

“It doesn’t rub off,” Terry had shouted back to him.

“No, but some other things might,” his father had answered, flinging a leaflet at him, from an organisation called the Racial Preservation Society. His father had joined a few weeks before and brought a lot of leaflets home. According to that one, a girl like Cassie could give him one or more of several nasty diseases and if, despite that, he got her pregnant, the resulting child would be a weak-blooded mongrel that would lead to the downfall of the British Empire.

He ripped the leaflet up and carried on seeing Cassie as he always did. But he had paid the price for it. His father had beaten him black and blue one night because one of the neighbours told him she had seen him kiss her.

So they had begun to be secret sweethearts. They had continued to walk home from school, but only as far as the park gates. After that, Cassie went first while he waited. On Friday nights, they would meet outside the youth club and always travelled by tube to the other side of the Thames to find cinemas and cafes where they could enjoy each other’s company without anyone his father knew finding out.

But one day it would be different.

Invisible to the Humans they were observing, Temhaor and Chirox observed a great many of the customs and habits of the species. They came to understand them very well. They understood that they were a race with a great range of emotions, but the one they most identified with was love. They made a special point of observing their two particular subjects as they came along the same path every evening, stopping to cuddle and kiss in the park before going on their way. Temhaor, especially, found their efforts to be together despite their problems interesting.

“I wish we could help them,” she said to her mate as they watched them holding hands and putting off the moment of parting.

“We are not supposed to interact with the species we observe,” Chirox reminded her. “We must watch and learn, and understand. But we must not interfere with the natural order of their lives.”

“I know. But I do feel….”

“Feel what?”

“They remind me of us when we were younger. Remember when we were first in love. We used to walk through the park on Gallutia just like that. And we’d just stop and touch each other for no reason at all except the joy of it.”

“I remember,” Chriox said. “Yes, they’re a LOT like us, except we never had their problems. I do sympathise, but we cannot do anything.”

It was raining this afternoon when they came by the same way. At first just a gentle rain, but when the dark skinned girl and the yellow-haired boy were near the old hut where Temhaor and Chirox were concealed it began to rain much harder. They ran towards the hut. They thought it was empty, of course. The cloak was perfect. They watched in silence as the young Humans came closer than ever they had before.

“You’re very wet,” Terry said as he hugged Cassie close to him.

“I’m ok,” she answered though her teeth were chattering. “I’m warm next to you.”

“Me too,” he whispered and kissed her.

“Mmm. That’s nice. But I can’t stay. I have to go home.”

“Not yet,” Terry urged her. “The rain is still coming down hard. Stay here a little while longer. Come on… let’s sit down.” He spread some old sacks that were in the corner of the shed and they sat down together. He took off his own coat and put it over them and under its cover they embraced again and kissed lovingly.

Temhaor and Chirox watched them silently. They held their breaths as the rain drummed on the roof of the wooden hut and rolled down the cracked window, and inside, dry and relatively warm, the two Human lovers clung to each other.

“Look, they’ve gone to sleep,” Chirox said. The female was lying against the male as he sat with his back against the wall of the hut. He had his arm around her shoulders and his face pressed against her hair.

“They look so very beautiful together,” Temhaor sighed. “Not as we define beautiful on Gallutia, of course, but in their own way, beautiful.”

“Yes, they are,” Chirox agreed.

They watched over them as the rain stopped and the sun began to set. It was quite dark in the hut when at last the female stirred and gave a frightened cry. The male woke, too and they stood up, finding his coat and their school bags.

“We’re going to be in so much trouble,” Terry said. “We’ve got to get home.”

“I don’t care,” Cassie answered. “It was NICE being here together. It was worth it.”

“Yes, it was.”

They ran out of the shed. Temhaor and Chirox watched them go. They both sighed.

“I hope they’ll be all right,” Temhaor said.

“I’m sure they will be,” Chirox assured her. “Come, it is time we went back to our ship for the night. There is nothing more to observe here in the dark.”

The next evening they were disturbed to see that the boy walked through the park alone. He walked quickly, with no reason to delay.

“She is not with him? Why?”

“They got very wet last night. Wetness makes Humans ill. Perhaps…”

“Oh dear,” Temhaor said. “Oh, poor thing.”

That had to be the reason, because the next day, too, the boy walked home alone. And that was the Friday of the Earth week. The next two days there was no school. They did not see their two special subjects of observation. Instead, they spent two pleasant days observing the general life of the parkland on those days of leisure for Humans. They saw children playing in the playground and young people playing games on the sports pitches, older people sitting listening to music at the bandstand. The park that they had made the base of their observations provided much for them to observe about Human activity. They even saw a few young people holding hands and kissing the way their special subjects did.

“I miss them,” Temhaor said with a sigh. “I hope they will be together again next time we see them.”

“You are a sentimental thing,” Chirox teased her. “We are supposed to remain detached from the subjects. We should view them dispassionately.”

“I know, I have failed miserably. But still, what is the point in just observing if we do not care. I want to care. I want to know that our subjects are well.”

At last, on the first day of the new week, Temhaor’s anxiety was relieved when they saw their two favourite subjects walking home from school together.

“It's not fair,” Cassie was saying. “You didn’t catch a cold at all. I was laid up all weekend.”

“I missed you,” Terry told her. “Really missed you. Let’s go in the hut again…”

“Oh, I daren’t,” she said. “Mum was really angry at me for being late. I mustn’t…”

“My dad didn’t even notice. He was at his ‘meetings’ again.”

“That horrible organisation. The Racial Preservation Society.”

“I’m sorry, my father is a racist, and he is becoming a worse one every day, the more he listens to those people. But I am not. I never will be. I promise you that, Cassie.”

“I believe you. I know you are not like that. You are a nice, gentle, wonderful person, and I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Terry said. “I always will.”

“We’ll be happy, together.”

“I promise. I won’t let my father’s nastiness stop us.”

“We won’t be able to get married until we’re 21,” Cassie sighed. “You will never have permission from your parents.”

“That’s only five years,” Terry assured her. “I promised to love you forever. Five years is nothing.”

“It seems like a long time, now.”

She sighed and then let him hug and kiss her.

Temhaor and Chirox watched them as always.

“Something is wrong tonight,” Temhaor said. “I can feel it. I’m going to follow them.”

“We must be careful,” Chirox warned her. But he came with her as they followed the two young lovers to the gate of the park. They watched as the girl went home alone as always and the boy waited by the park gate.

They saw the other boy about his age approach.

“I SAW you!” the other boy shouted accusingly. “You kissed that…..”

Temhaor turned and looked at her mate. He was puzzled, too. The word the other boy had said did not translate into their own language. And it made the yellow-haired boy angry. He said something else which did have a translation but was a word they were both too well brought up to use.

“You’re a traitor to the white race,” the other boy said, and he raised his arm and punched the yellow-haired boy in the face. He reeled back, his nose bloody as the other boy ran away.

“Temhaor!” Chirox cried out as she shimmered and transformed into a Human form that they had used now and then to better observe the behaviour of certain groups of the species. She ran towards the boy, who was leaning on the fence, clearly in pain. His red blood was pouring from his nose.

“Let me help you,” she said gently as she pulled a handkerchief out of the pocket of the coat she had created as part of the disguise. The boy took it and pressed it against his face. “I saw what the other boy did.”

“It's not the first time,” he said. “I don’t suppose it will be the last. As long as I am with Cassie….” He looked at the woman who had helped him. She looked like an older version of Cassie, with chocolate dark skin and black hair fastened in a tight bun at the back of her head. “They don’t like…”

“I see that,” she said. “It is so wrong. I am sorry. Can I help you in any other way?”

“No,” he told her. “I had better get home. Thank you for your kindness.”

Temhaor sighed as she let the Human form fade into the invisible cloaked form. She felt Chirox beside her.

“Don’t cry,” he told her.

“I can’t help it,” she said. “It is just so sad. When I touched him, I could feel what a good, pure soul he is. They harmed him because of her. Because… Oh, I understand it now. It’s because she is a different colour to him.”

“That does not make sense,” Chirox said. “They are ALL the same species. I understand how different species fear each other. Fear of the unlike. It is a natural thing. It leads to misunderstandings and even hatred. But how can such hatred be for somebody who is of their own kind? I understand this species now even less than when we began. They seem so capable of goodness. The children playing have no cares. The ones we see at their games, the loving couples…. But why do some of them have this desire to cause harm?”

“Perhaps they are aberrations?” Temhaor mused. “In which case, it is good of the other Humans to tolerate them. Perhaps they pity them for their lack of understanding, the coldness that stops them fully enjoying the splendour of life.”

“Perhaps.” Chirox sighed. “You know, my dear, we must complete this mission soon. We cannot stay here forever observing your pet subjects.”

“Let us have another day at least. I wish… I want to leave knowing they are safe and well.”

“Temhaor, dearest,” Chirox gently admonished her. “Whether they are safe or not is nothing to do with our research.”

“Oh, I KNOW!” she said with an exasperated moan. “Observe, learn, don’t interfere. I KNOW. But still….”

Chirox smiled indulgently. When they returned to Gallutia it would be time, he thought, to think about taking some time off from research. Temhaor was ready to be a mother. That would be a better outlet for her compassion.

Even so, he had to admit to being curious about their chosen pair of subjects. He wondered if they might return in a few years and see how their lives had worked out.

Yes, that would fit nicely in their plans. A maternity break for them both, and then a return trip in five years.

“The last time we shall see them,” Temhaor sighed as she waited in excited anticipation the arrival of their subjects at the expected time.

“Yes, but we shall have so much to report when we return to our home world. I hope others will visit this planet. There is much, much more to learn about it.”

“Oh…” Temhaor looked startled. She pointed at the Human boy who had appeared from the stand of trees. It was the one who had hurt their favourite yesterday. And he had two others with him. A male and a female, but there was something in their faces as they drew up to the path. Temhaor shivered. It was hatred. Pure hatred.

“Here come the lovers,” Chirox said.

“They’re waiting for them,” Temhaor cried. “They’re going to hurt them.”

“I think you’re right.” Chirox observed the iron bar the leader of the group held in his hand, and the lengths of rough cut wood the other two had. He looked at the lovers. They had seen the three waiting and clutched hands as they continued walking, defiantly, along the path they took every night, determined not to be frightened away. Chirox allowed himself a half smile. They had courage, too. A trait valued by his own people.

“They’ll kill them!” Temhaor cried even more loudly. “Oh, no. We can’t let that happen. We must…”

“No, we must not,” Chirox said. “Come…” He reached out for his mate and they stepped onto the path between the young lovers who walked steadily towards their fate and the three who wished to harm them. The air shimmered as they decloaked. The lovers stopped and stared as he turned to address the three troublemakers.

“Why do you seek to harm your own kind?” he asked.

“Argghhhh!” the leader screamed and dropped the iron bar. “No, please, don’t eat me. Please….” The other two screamed as loudly. The other male seemed to lose control of his legs. He fell down pleading and crying. The female whimpered and cried for her mother.

“Your species has such beautiful diversity,” Chirox added. “Why do you reject it?”

“Arrrrrgghhhhhhhh!” the boy screamed again and turned to run. The other two ran after him.

Temhaor turned and looked at the two lovers. They were standing there, still. The boy held the female tightly. They both looked scared.

“Don’t be afraid of us,” Temhaor said. “We are just like you. I bless you. I hope you will be happy together. Goodbye, dear Humans. I will think of you often when I return to my world to write and to talk of what I have learnt here on your planet.”

They turned and walked away, putting the invisibility cloak on as they did so. As they stood by their cloaked ship they turned and saw the two lovers continue their journey through the park as they always did.

“Goodbye,” Temhaor whispered again.

“Yes,” Cassie said with a smile despite herself. “I remember that day. How those three bullies ran. Nobody believed them. Monsters in Battersea Park! Everyone laughed.”

“Except us,” Terry added. “We saw them.”

“They DID look horrendous. Not even humanoid. Sort of like sponges with tentacles and knobbly growths, purple and brown and green like something going mouldy.”

“And yet, they didn’t actually seem as if they meant anyone any harm. They seemed… I was always sure…. The bullies were going to hurt us for being seen together. I’m sure the aliens stepped in to help us.”

“I’m sure they did,” Cassie added. “I am SURE, even though they were horrible looking, that they were NICE. I often wondered if we could be friends.”

“And that’s why,” Terry said. “Why we believed you, Chrístõ, when you said you come from another planet.”

“Because we had always believed, ever since then, and we had hoped to meet another alien. We never expected one to change our lives, to become our dearest friend. But I am so glad you did.”

“I’m glad I did,” Chrístõ told them. “You changed my life, too. Made it less lonely. But… The two aliens you saw… Did they look anything like this?” He took up a pencil and a pad of paper and drew so quickly his hand was a blur. He showed them the image and they confirmed it was just like the creatures they had seen.

“Gallutians,” he said. “Wonderful people. This is their natural form even though they have the ability to take on other forms as a disguise. They use that ability to conduct research into other species. Anthropology is a high art to them. Other species fascinate them. But they rarely show themselves. Something unusual must have happened for them to do that.”

“These two in the picture – they’re holding hands – holding tentacles – just like the ones we saw,” Cassie said.

“Oh yes,” Chrístõ told her. “Gallutians marry very young – around about their equivalent of twelve or thirteen. They marry for love, and they stay together for life. A mature Gallutian on his or her own is unthinkable. I have NEVER seen them except in pairs.”

“Twelve or thirteen!” Julia laughed. “Chrístõ let’s go to their planet. We can get married there.”

“I think not,” he told her. “That’s only for Gallutians. The proper age for us is quite a bit older than we are now.”

“Don’t rush to grow up little one.” In his chair by the fireplace Li Tuo opened his eyes. They all wondered just when he had REALLY woken from his nap. Knowing him, he probably heard the whole story. “You have so much to learn and enjoy yet.”

Julia laughed again and went to hug the old man. Bo went to fetch the tea tray now that Li Tuo was awake to enjoy a cup. Natalie helped her.

“Well, Chrístõ was definitely MY first alien,” Sammie admitted. “Although I always thought there was something odd about my first drill sergeant. Something about the way his eyebrows met in the middle.”

“No,” Chrístõ said with a smile. “That’s just drill sergeants for you.”

“I remember my first alien,” Li Tuo said. “I remember my first encounter with the Human species, too. A Shaolin monk in the high mountains of Northern China. He was such a good soul. I learnt a lot from him. And yet, when I met other Humans – you always puzzled me. Your capacity for goodness is immeasurable, yet you do such terrible things to each other. Small wonder other races are wary of you.”

“We’re trying,” Terry said. “We are, really.”

“Yes,” he said. “Some of you are.”

Terry smiled at the compliment to his species from one who had lived among them for countless years and still held out hope for their redemption. He sighed as he looked around Li Tuo’s drawing room. They were a family, the nine of them, including baby Chrístõ, here together under this roof. In the coming year that was going to change. Some of their number would not be there this time next year.

But for now they were together.