Ro, Jo, Kato, and Sir WHIP soared above the produce mart, all eyes on the people who worked there, for when one of them headed to the dumpster with vegetables and fruit that were too old to sell anymore, Sir WHIP would land, invisible, of course, and the kids would hurry over to the person headed for the dumpster, and ask to fill their mesh bags to the brims.
An elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, lived in the house that backed up to Ro and Jo's yard. They put out food (bread, sunflower seeds, peanuts, dried corn, vegetable peelings and sometimes whole veggies, apple cores and all kinds of other stuff) for all the wildlife in their yard. Squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, deer, all kinds of birds, bunnies, raccoons, field mice, and opossums all munched happily at the all-day-every-day buffet they found in the Morgans' yard.
However, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan were just getting by on Social Security, and sometimes they ended up cutting back on their own food so that they could keep feeding all the animals. Ro and Jo had talked to them one time when they helped the elderly couple rake up leaves in their yard, and learned all of this. They had been curious about all the birds and animals hanging around in the yard behind theirs.
Ever since, Ro and Jo dropped by every few days with bags of goodies from the produce market, and the elderly folks were happy as could be. Mrs. Morgan would give the children muffins and cookies on her baking days, and Ro and Jo were almost as happy as their friends and their back yard menagerie.
Today, as Ro and Jo loaded all their goodies on Sir WHIP's back and climbed aboard, a mystery awaited them. A mystery they would discover when they were finally airborne.
Just as Sir WHIP took off, giant wings whooshing, orange scales glittering in the mid-morning sun, Kato saw something and barked.
Something sparkled in the sun shining into the open dumpster.
And then it moved.
Ro and Jo leaned over the edge of Sir WHIP's wing to see what had grabbed Kato's attention.
It gleamed and moved again.
Ro said, "We have to land and find out what that is; it might be trapped or hurt. But we have to take this stuff to the Morgans. You and Kato stay here for a few minutes. Sir WHIP can take me quick-as-a-bunny to the Morgans' yard, and drop me off and fly right back, five minutes, tops. I can hitch a ride back with BEN Owl and we can all help whatever's inside the trash bin."
Sir WHIP had other ideas. "It's not safe for Jo to be here all alone, even with Kato," he said, landing in the same spot from which he'd taken off. "Ro, you send a thought to BEN Owl, and he can pick up you and the food and go to the Morgans'. I'll stay here with Jo and Kato, and remain invisible. We can still keep an eye on our friend in the dumpster."
Ro nodded. "Yes, that's a much safer plan," she agreed. Even as she spoke she alerted BEN Owl with her mind, and within three minutes he soared into sight and, also invisible to all but his friends, landed a few feet away from Sir WHIP.
"Good morning, everyone, what have we here?" BEN Owl said, as cheerfully as serious, wise owls ever do.
"There's something alive in that dumpster," Ro explained, "and we want to investigate and help, but we have all these vegetables and fruits for Mr. and Mrs. Morgan. I need to hurry and deliver these bags while Sir WHIP, Jo, and Kato stay here and keep watch."
"Are you sure you didn't see some rats looking for food?" BEN Owl asked a logical question, as wise owls are likely to do.
"Well, if it's rats, they must be magical ones, because they are silver and sparkle," Jo said. "Hurry please, BEN Owl, we're dying to see what's in there, and we want to find out together!"
BEN Owl made himself large enough to easily carry Ro and her load. Within seconds they were airborne, with Ro egging him on to go faster, and faster still. He smiled. Ro hadn't changed so much from little Princess Rosie after all, who loved the thrill of swooping and soaring through the clouds.
When Ro handed over the bag, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan all but jumped up and down, and they would have if their feet and legs were in a little better shape. But they bent to hug Ro and thank her for all the goodies for their friends.
"I would love to stay and chat like usual, but I can't right now. Jo is waiting for me. There's an adventure waiting for us, and we have to share it!" Ro blurted out as she hugged her friends right back.
Mr. and Mrs. Morgan chuckled, thinking what an imaginative little girl Ro was, as the child turned and ran off around the side of the house. They began to scatter apples, peaches, lettuce, carrots, peppers, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, and all sorts of other goodies toward the back of their yard were there were trees making a shady spot for the birds, chipmunks, squirrels, bunnies and occasional deer to enjoy their banquet.
Had they been able to see BEN Owl bursting into the sky with Ro hanging on tight, the Morgans would surely have waved and blown kisses, but we know how that goes, don't we?
It only took a few minutes before Ro hopped off BEN Owl's back and joined her brother, Kato and Sir WHIP behind the dumpster, out of sight.
By then there was thumping and bumping coming from the huge trash bin, and a voice, suddenly cried out, "I hear you out there! Let me out of here!"
Ro and Jo both jumped a bit, startled by actual words. They had expected perhaps a magical animal of some sort, or something. They glanced at one another, surprised, and then Jo said, "I will help you. Stay still." He looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then held his hand up beside his face. Whatever it was inside the dumpster had listened and held still and quiet, but now, as Jo began to wiggle his fingers, there was rustling and clunking as whoever it was began to rise up, and the trash it left behind in the dumpster shifted and tumbled.
Up, up, up rose a shiny silver….
"Wow! It's a ROBOT!!" Jo gasped, and Ro, clapped, very excited.
"It talks!" she squeaked. "And it's not some silly toy that says a couple of dumb sentences over and over. It thinks!
Jo moved his arm in the direction he wanted the robot to move, and it sort of floated on down to the ground, where it turned toward its new friends and stared at them, in that way that robots have of staring with their lenses.
"Hi," Jo said in a friendly voice, while the robot got its bearings. Kato took a few cautious steps toward the silver dude, sniffing him. He smelled like rotten vegetables. Kato sneezed and hurried back to Ro and Jo, Sir WHIP, (who was smaller now, the size of the children) and BEN Owl, who perched on Ro's padded shoulder. (Grandma Crystal had made her some shirts like she'd worn when playing Princess Rosie, so that BEN Owl's sharp talons wouldn't scratch and poke into her skin.) "Perhaps someone here would be kind and hose me down. My sensors detect a foul odor, thanks to being buried in garbage for a whole night."
"How did you end up in a trash dumpster?" Jo said, curious about who might throw away a perfectly good robot like that.
"It was an accident. I was aboard a space ship, and they were supposed to beam me into that field last night when it was dark. Their coordinates were a little off."
"Wow! A spaceship?"
"Yes. They will be back to pick me up in 24 hours. I was supposed to study the plant life of this area, to see what creatures on this planet eat, for forty-eight hours, and then my ship will return for me."
"You lost a lot of studying time," Ro said.
"Yes. There was just no way I could get myself out of that stupid metal box!" the robot said, surprising all of Team RoJo with his frustration. It showed in his voice, and no robots on Earth have emotions. Jo said, "I didn't know robots had feelings."
"Robot? You think I'm a robot? I'm no robot! I'm from the planet Kobar!" the silver dude said, surprised at the children's conclusion about him, and a little bit offended.
"You're a person and you couldn't climb out of a dumpster?"
"Climb? What is climb?"
Ro and Jo glanced at one another.
Jo said, "You know! When you reach up and grab the top of something and swing your legs up and flip yourself over the top."
"I never did anything so dangerous before!" The being from Planet Kobar said.
"What do you do all day? Didn't you climb ropes or ladders or trees when you were a kid?" Ro asked.
"What's a kid?" the Kobarian said.
"You know, when you were smaller, like us."
"I don't understand. You are smaller Earthlings? Why are there different sizes?" the outer space man said, shocking everyone listening.
"You were born, right? You had to be little then," Jo said, confused.
"Not on the planet Kobar."
"Well, how do you get new people, then?" Ro asked.
"When it's time to replace old people who die, a person just splits into two people.
Ro and Jo's eyes widened as they heard of this strange new world and its ways of life.
"Maybe we should talk about this in a more private place," Ro said, and turned to Sir WHIP. Can you take us back to the fort, please, Sir WHIP? I think we should keep this a secret until we can figure out how to help…" she stopped, and turned her head to look at the strange silver alien. "You never told us your name."
"Todock. My name is Todock," the creature said, and surprisingly, bowed a little after introducing himself to his new friends.
"You really had us fooled; we thought you were a robot. You have lenses instead of eyes, and your mouth doesn't move when you talk, so I thought you had a speaker or something," Jo said.
"You have lenses too, you know. They are inside your eyes."
The children nodded, remembering what they had learned in school about their eyes. There were indeed lenses inside, that helped them see. Their friend from outer space had reminded them.
"We have to get you out of here. This is a market where lots of people – human beings…" Ro explained, "come to shop. You don't want to be seen by anyone and cause a big commotion."
"You saw me and it didn't make a big commotion, as you say." Todock said.
"Well, we have some secrets of our own, and understand that sometimes people need to find out things gradually so they can get used to the idea. And sometimes, they don't need to know things at all," Ro said.
"But…" Todock began, and Jo cut him off.
"We will talk a lot, and help you get your information, but we have to do that in our fort. Trust us," Jo said, steering his alien friend toward Sir WHIP who, along with BEN Owl had made themselves large enough to carry passengers.
In less than four minutes Sir WHIP and BEN Owl landed in Ro and Jo's yard and let all their friends dismount, including their new space friend. Sir WHIP and BEN Owl both wondered what Mom and Dad, Gramps Blaze, Grandma Crystal, and Nana Terri would think about all this. In another thirty seconds they were inside the fort, Todock looking all around. "A human dwelling," he murmured, awed that he'd gotten inside what he thought was someone's home.
"Well, actually, our dwelling is back there," Ro said, nodding in the direction of her family's house. "This is a safe meeting place for us to learn about our powers and train to earn dragon scales."
"This is not where you live?" Todock asked.
"No. We can take you into the house if you like, but you said you were studying plant life. We can help you with that," Jo said, going to the bookshelf and choosing Ro's science book. "All kinds of information in here," he said, placing the book on the table and opening it up. Todock came and stood beside Jo.
A moment later, he reached up with both hands and began pushing up on the sides of his head.
Everyone around the alien gasped as his head lifted off!
Well, actually not his head…
"It's a space suit!" Ro and Jo said at the same time. "How silly are we? That's why he looked like a robot! He's inside a space suit!"
"Well of course! I couldn't just take off the suit before I knew what your atmosphere was like, if I could breathe your air!" Todock said. "Can you help me get this thing off? It's kindof bulky."
It was bulky alright! The whole top of the suit was a fancy computer with grab arms, and sensor panels, and a hard drive to store information.
Todock himself was only as tall as Jo! He was kind of a tan color, with no hair anywhere. His eyes were dark and a little larger than human eyes, and his hands were smooth, without nails. Ro looked down and discovered his toes had no nails either.
He was wearing snug clothing made from thin material, sort of like bike shorts and tops, only Todock's looked like it was all one piece, sort of like dancers' leotards.
"No wonder you don't climb! You couldn't reach, and the drop from the top of the dumpster would probably have hurt you," Jo said.
"You don't have fingernails," Ro said softly.
"My species hasn't needed claws in centuries, though when our world was new, we did, when we used to hunt other creatures for food. We live on plant life now."
"You're vegetarians," Jo said.
"Yes, if that's your term for existing on plant life," Todock said, beginning to flip the pages of the book.
"How can you understand what we're saying and what is written in that book?" Ro asked.
"An excellent question. Kobarians have flown around earth many times, studying you, listening to your voices, learning what your sounds mean."
"So you learned to speak English," Jo said.
"And French, German, Italian, Spanish, Navajo, Swahili, Latin, Danish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and many others. However, we gathered that information in our space ship. We wanted to experience your planet in person – to see plants and animals. And eventually, meet humans."
"So you're kind of doing that backwards, huh?" Ro said, smiling.
"Yes. There are always variables in a plan," Todock said. "That means things do not always go as planned," he explained. "Why are there so many sizes of human beings?" he said.
"Because we are born little. Babies come from their mother's bellies. Here," Ro said, flipping through the science book, knowing that Todock could scan the pages with his space helmet faster than she could talk.
Todock held his helmet above the book and flipped through all its pages. He put the helmet on, closed his eyes, and suddenly the indicator lights for the sensors came to life and there were beeps and whistles as the helmet put the information it had just gathered into Todock's brain.
"That was fascinating!" Todock said, removing the helmet again, all caught up with his studying.
"Come inside with us. We'll fix you some food, and introduce you to our parents."
"Wait," Todock said, placing a staying hand on Ro's shoulder before she could make it to and out of the door. "Your parents might be startled by me. I'm from another world. Human beings aren't really ready to meet aliens."
"My parents have seen a lot. You see, in our family, many people have special powers. That's how Jo got you out of the dumpster." Ro thought the words into Todock's mind. He looked into her eyes, not fully understanding.
"Not all humans communicate with their minds? Or lift things by wiggling their hands?"
"No. We are a magical family," Jo said.
"I understand." Todock said. "So your family will not be upset at the sight of me?"
"Well," Ro said, "They might be a little surprised at first, but they will be more curious than upset. Especially since you aren't dangerous."
"How do you know I'm not dangerous?" Todock said, and that made both Ro and Jo stop short and think about it. How did they know? After all, Todock was a stranger – and an outer space stranger at that. Had they been careless? Had they put themselves and their family in danger?"
"Huh," Ro said, nodding. "Actually, we don't know, do we?" She felt a little nervous, and took a step away from Todock.
Just as she did that, the crystal ball's inside mists began to swirl; Gramps Blaze, Nana Terri, Grandma Crystal, Mom, and Dad showed inside. Within seconds they all rose up out of the ball and materialized around the children and Todock, the life form from Kobar.
Ro and Jo's eyes were wide, wondering if they'd made a big mistake, but they felt better when they saw that all their family members were smiling.
"We'll be having a little talk about stranger danger later," Dad said, but then added. "But all the grownups here have been watching the spaceships from Kobar. We sensed that you meant no harm, that you were just trying to learn about Earth and the people and animals on it."
Todock smiled, and offered his hand in the gesture he and his fellow Kobarians had observed so often while studying Earthlings from their spaceship.
All of the grownups gently shook the small being's hand, and then the whole family led their new friend inside Ro and Jo's home.
"Do you prefer your food cooked or raw?" Dad asked as he drew all the vegetables and fruits out of the refrigerator.
"We sometimes make what you would call soup, but we enjoy what you call salads, mostly," Todock replied, sitting in the seat Ro offered him between her and her brother. Kato sat on the floor between Jo and Team RoJo's new friend.
In a few minutes Dad, Mom, and Ro had whipped up a huge salad with fruits, vegetables, croutons, nuts, and some shredded cheese. "Do you like dressing on your salad?" Ro asked, producing balsamic vinegar, oil, and a bottle of ranch.
Todock tasted the vinegar, and nodded. "We have something like this on Kobar, very sour, but we mix it with other ingredients."
"Yes, we do that here on Earth, as well," Ro said. She held out the ranch dressing bottle, and let Todock sample that. His eyes popped open wide and a smile crossed his face. Jo smiled back. "That's my favorite dressing too," he said, and handed Todock the bottle after squeezing some on his own salad. He wasn't being rude, he just wanted to demonstrate to Todock how the bottle worked.
And Todock squeezed the bottle just hard enough to dress his salad perfectly.
He was one starving alien! He scarfed two bowls of salad, some Texas Toast, and a big cup of lemonade before he leaned back, rubbed his belly, and burped.
The whole family chuckled, and Gramps Blaze said, "He sure does fit in here!" Todock smiled and wondered what was for dessert.
Ro picked up on that thought and laughed. "I was wondering the same thing," she said, and left the table.
She returned with a container of brownies, her favorite, that Grandma Crystal had made the day before.
And after scarfing four of the little squares of heaven, Todock declared that they were his favorite too, no matter what other desserts he had yet to try on Earth.
And he would try many, because his new friends, when his ship appeared in the sky the next night, promised that he could visit as much as he wanted, that he would have a place to stay here on Earth, and friends who would help him learn until the Kobarians felt safe enough to all come and make friends with Earthlings.
Ro and Jo hoped that would be very soon. As everyone hugged their Kobarian friend goodbye, Ro tucked a Ziploc of brownies into the pincer of his spacesuit. She couldn't see his face through the helmet, but she felt him smile.
Then Todock faded into nothingness. But Ro knew he would be back, for that's what friends do – visit!
TD – 8/20/2016