Frank walked into the house where he had spent his youth and was planning to spend his old age. It was such a warm, familiar place, but today, it felt cold and alien.
Frank was used to walking in to the sound of the TV, where Ethel would watch her soap operas or talk shows. There was only silence today. The maroon couch, which she nestled in like a velvet throne, stood as an empty monument to her life.
The cancer had spread faster than anyone could anticipate. She faded away right before his eyes, the woman he had known and loved for more than five decades, and he could do nothing but stand by helplessly. Sadness was replaced by anger, which led him further into sadness.
He sat down on the couch, feeling that it was inhabited by Ethel’s spirit. Frank never believed in such things. He was not a man of faith, and always scoffed at the supernatural, but on this day, he wanted to believe that Ethel was in a better place. That she was watching over him with a smile, finally at peace.
“It’s time, Captain.”
Frank looked up, startled. A thin bald man in a dark suit was standing in the center of the living room, looking at him calmly.
“I’m not ready.”
“Captain, please,” the man said. “The assignment is over. Your human spouse is dead. There is no further need for you to be here.”
“I said I’m not ready.” Frank stood up to his full height, which didn’t match that of the man in front of him but was still imposing.
The man remained calm, his voice even. “Captain. You were only meant to be here as long as she was. Now that she is gone, your task is done.”
“She didn’t have to go. I could have saved her.”
“You know we couldn’t allow that. We cannot interfere in human affairs. It would disrupt the nature of this world.”
“How could you be so goddamn heartless?” Frank’s voice was rising, and he could feel hot tears stinging the edges of his eyes.
The bald man shook his head and sighed. “Ah, Captain. You’ve spent too long with the humans. You’re practically one of them now.”
“The hell do you know about humans?” Frank growled. “You just sit in the control center observing us like sheep. Do you know what love is, Doctor? I mean really know. Not a definition or theory or observation. Do you have any goddamned idea what it means to care for another person?”
“You are not a person, Captain. You never were.” The man’s tone had changed. His voice had a harder edge to it.
Frank stood in silence, his chest heaving. His hands were balled into tight fists. He wasn’t human. Not by birth. He had been sent here as an observer. His job was to assimilate into humanity and learn all about them. But, over time, he had built a connection with this world. With Ethel. They had bought this house together after their wedding. This was their home. Was he supposed to throw all that away now? All of his love and his memories? He wouldn’t allow it. But that choice wasn’t his to make.
“What happens now?” he said, feeling defeated.
“We will purge your memory. Scrub this life from your mind. You will be given a new host body and sent on a different assignment.”
“Just like that.”
“Yes, Captain. You know the protocol.” The man held up a small syringe, which had been nowhere on his person before. “Now, I just need to administer the serum and you will no longer be burdened by these emotions.”
Frank didn’t argue. He didn’t protest. He let the doctor do his job. Felt the prick of the needle in his soft human skin and the blankness that followed.
“Are you ready to begin, Captain?”
He nodded. It felt good to be back on the mothership. Though he hadn’t seen it in years, it still felt like home. He debriefed the Committee on his mission, showing them all the data that had been gathered over the years. All the notes, the images, the video recordings.
There were videos of his human guise, Frank, and his wife Ethel. Their first meeting. Their wedding. Her miscarriage. Their love. Their devotion. Their routines. Their old age. Her death.
He kept his voice steady as he spoke of his assignment, letting no emotion show through. He alone knew the feeling that came over him when he saw Ethel again. He remembered what love felt like. He remembered her. And he would never forget.