She met the security force in the living room. They had indeed come in force. The grey man and his flunky sat; the three silent spear-carriers (the man in uniform, the two women in “inconspicuous” civvies) spaced themselves around the room, one of them behind her, near the door to the kitchen.
“Stand over there,” she said to the one behind her, amazed at her own peremptory tone. He looked at his senior officer and waited for a nod before he went over to stand beside the women, beside the window.
“Your people are well-trained,” she said, thinking,
this is crazy, ridiculous
. “That will make things easier all around.”
“The ET can’t stay here. The security isn’t good enough.” As usual when something rude was said, the speaker was blue suit. She’d met him in so many meetings. She’d met both of them, but never with a name attached. Need-to-know? Or just bad manners?
“So don’t tell anybody.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Sure it is. Everybody in Canada thinks ‘our’ alien is in the Atrium, location unknown. Who’s going to suspect?”
“The story will leak.”
“And when it does, face the matter then.”
“You seem so sure that we will allow it to stay here.” Grey suit had no problem with pronouns. He had always called Blue “it,” as if, Morgan thought, the alien were a commodity. Mind you, she’d used the same pronoun with her housemates: it was hard to avoid. She sighed, wrenched her mind back to the cut-and-parry.
“You assume you have a choice.”
“We’re in control of the situation,” said blue suit.
“Isn’t that what you always say, at those meetings we have? But hasn’t the time come when you will have to do as Blue wishes? Unless you have decided to make a hostile response, unless Blue is a prisoner.”
“There’s no question of that!” Blue suit was affronted. “But security must be maintained. Some crazy could decide to take him out.”
“The alien.” Blue suit, too, long ago had made a pronoun choice. Morgan grinned despite herself.
“What I want to know,” she said, “is whether Blue has freedom of choice. To live wherever Blue chooses?”
“Oh, yes, I’m afraid so.” Grey suit sounded almost amused for a moment. Morgan looked sharply at him, but he was impassive.
“I’m not sure I understand you.” Grey suit.
“If this one comes here, are you going to harass us and molest our freedoms and destroy our way of life, and in general get in the way? No, don’t answer me now, take some time to think of it. You probably already know by now that there is nothing middle-of-the-road about any of us.”
“That’s for damn sure!” Blue suit. “A couple of homosexuals … a crippled communist, and a crazy … what is he, anyway? … and that fellow with the van, who works for Amnesty
“That will do,” said grey suit, and answered Morgan’s curiosity in three words. He knew everything about them.
“Communists are a few generations back,” Morgan said, laughing. “One and a half homosexuals, a disabled socialist, a video artist, and a civil servant … We have all agreed to offer Blue a place. But we don’t want legal problems, no harassment. Leave us alone.”
“You don’t ask much.”
“I’ll ask for far more before I’m done. Advice, support—but only when Blue asks for it. Blue’s a person, not a thing to be passed from agency to agency, not a thing to be studied. I take no responsibility, except to teach what I can. Just as I have done when I worked in the Atrium.”
The reason for keeping the policeman away from the kitchen was the alien standing behind the door. Now Blue came out. The spear-carriers stirred, blue suit took a breath, grey suit sat looking.
“I think you see us as adversaries,” grey suit said. “I am not your adversary.”
Interesting pronoun choice
, Morgan thought as he carried on, “We are doing our best. We are all new at this. It seems to me that if I had a guest in my house from an unknown country, and the guest were as appealing and as helpless, I would fly as quickly to the defense. But I want to try very hard to show you that we have common concerns. We want this person, Blue, to stay alive. That’s my job. You know that. I’ve kept popes and politicians alive and frankly, this is a damn sight harder and more important than any of that. We want this person to know about us. That’s not so easy either. You”—he looked directly at the blue one—“seemed at first to know nothing. We tried to teach you, and we have. Now you’ve taken off like my teenage kid, as soon as you knew how to dress yourself. Do you”—back to Morgan—“see the problem?”
“Yes,” said Morgan, feeling a little ashamed of herself, though that was probably just what he wanted. Even worse, he reminded her suddenly of her father—the sweetness of “the sweet guy”—despite being so much younger and smaller. Could she afford to ever think he was a “sweet guy”? She kept her face stolid as she listened.
“Okay now, we don’t know what Blue wants here. We don’t know what the aliens want to say to Earth. We don’t know what they want to learn. Blue spends a lot of time watching, just like now. Can it find what it needs here, what we were trying to give at the Atrium? The Great Literature, Great Music, Great Art?”
The blue one moved restlessly to stand behind Morgan.
“We can do better,” Morgan said with bravado. “We can offer real life.”
“My daughter is a video artist,” said grey suit unexpectedly, “and for all I know she’s a homosexual too. And a socialist, and a civil servant, even. This is her world too. So don’t think you know everything.”
“It isn’t everything,” Morgan burst out. “It isn’t anything. Just Blue in distress at the door, falling down into my arms just about, for goodness’ sakes. You think I’m gonna leave that for the officials to take care of, no matter how good the hearts? I’ve been teaching this child, this empty filling life, for a long time now.”
“Not that long,” said the man in the blue suit.
“It seems like a long time.” Morgan glared at him. “Do you think I would walk away? That I
“No,” the grey man interceded. “I know that about you. Why do you think I kept you there when you pissed everybody off?”
Morgan looked back at him. He was not exactly smiling, but he wasn’t glowering as he so often was in the meetings: progress? The man in the blue suit was glowering, but Mr. Grey spoke quietly. “It’s been happening in science fiction for years, the alien meets the ordinary people. You get to be the ordinary people.”
Morgan snorted. “Ordinary? Sure, we’re the ones nobody else will have in their clubs.”
“But what else is new about the world? There’s always somebody that doesn’t get chosen for the team.” Was
“Listen,” said Morgan, “I worked my heart out for those kids at the hospital for years teaching them to take their first steps all over again, teaching them to get used to their faces, their newly limited minds, their new limbs, all that bullshit. I got away, I left it behind, because it hurt. I apply for this nice safe job and get Blue instead. Do you think I want to be torn open like this? But who else will? Who else tried to take that one somewhere human? You have to rock those gargoyle children in your arms no matter how they look; you have to love them just the same. Do you think you can leave this one”—her arm around Blue—“inside some institution and teach life on Earth from videos and the net? From movies? And not anything else? It wouldn’t work, it doesn’t work. And what one of you tried to take the alien home and open your private life?”
She saw the blue-suited one blush when she said “movies” and it fueled her anger, but she saw the grey suit lean forward to answer her last challenge, and her anger left her.
“Besides,” she said, “it isn’t up to me. It’s up to Blue, and all my passion is for nothing if that one wants to ride the wind away from my door.”
“I think the wind can blow on without me,” said the alien.
That ephemeral and perhaps sinister attraction this stranger to Earth has followed through the unfamiliar patterns of a eity built by minds still alien, hands driven by unknown visions, was not volitional and was scarcely recognized even by Blue as a compulsion. Yet it is possible that design could not have brought our dear blue alien more neatly to the right door.
Blue is alien in form as well as convention. Everything is new and unexplained, with an emptiness where the familiar should be. A stranger in a maze of strangers, following an unerring path to an uncertain destination.
The key prefix is “un-”. Even as countless humans have searched, search, and will continue to search for pronouns, so we search for definition of the stages of formation of a human life. This life is un-formed, -filled, -fulfilled. Never mind the alliteration. The meaning is clear enough. There is much for us to do to make Earth a real place for any alien to live.
Live is an active verb as well as a passive one. Living well takes more than information, energy, or opportunity alone, but the three together begin to define the process. The rest is gestalt, synergy, and mystery. As it should be, to promote the growth of understanding and with it joy.
So “un-” is one prefix for description. But Blue is also characterized by the response to that vague and mysterious stimulus, which occurs on a level no other has done, and so is seductive. Brings the alien being, stuffed with knowledge and habits but with no understanding of the patterns, through the streets and parks to one particular door, a perfect choice made without choice, a design beginning to form—but not by design.
“Mr. Grey,” she said, “or should I say Chief Inspector Grey or something?”
“You could even find out my name,” he said, “although I’m rather enjoying having an alter ego.”
“Whatever,” said Morgan. “Can you explain why there is a construction crew on my property?”
“Oh. They’re putting up a shed for the surveillance operation. Your garden shed is far too small.” He had a rather pleasant smile, actually; it was the way he used it that pissed her off.
“Ah. And my permission?”
“I think you will find that the new security legislation passed in the last sitting of the House of Commons covers the matter quite thoroughly.”
“Of course, if you object, there are some other measures in law which could be taken.”
“I object to the cameras.” She handed him the empty tissue box into which Jakob and Russ had dumped the little eyes after they disconnected them. “Twenty-five so far. I think we have most of them. The ones from the bathrooms were a little tricky to get.”
“Ah,” he said. “Yes, well.”
“Yes, well. The audio of course we can do little about, as well as any other equipment outside the house.”
“I’m afraid that’s the case.”
“Any way we can avoid going through that?”
“I could tell you yes.”
“But you would still record us.”
“Well, at least we won’t be watched while we shit—unless you plan to put these back every day or so.”
“Er, well, no.”
“No? Is that a commitment?”
“Men of my generation always had trouble with commitment,” he murmured. She glared at him. “Luckily, I have no such problem. Yes, that is a commitment.”
“Who will listen to the tapes?”
“The duty team, as they’re recorded. I will, if I have time. There will be a thirty-six-hour loop: that’s the program’s default. We’ll save whatever’s notable onto a different database.”
“And what will be notable?”
“All conversations with the alien.”
“Not, all conversations
the alien, and all conversations that might be about the alien if they keep listening, and all conversations that might incriminate us under other legislation …”
“I have enough authority to make sure people stay on track.”
“You had better, because we have …”
“A hostage to our good behavior?”
“Not physically of course, I don’t think any of us could threaten that. But I can teach Blue anything. Blue trusts me.”
“Only until you stop telling the truth.” His smile again. This time Morgan smiled back, ruefully. She was a lousy politician.
“You have a point there.”
“Nevertheless, I may make your point to any overzealous team members. The nuances may escape them.” Another smile, controlled yet puckish. She had to grin back.
“If we have to have a CSIS cop at all,” she said, “I think we’ll do well enough with you.”