Adult body, to be sure, but certainly childlike pose and gaze. She had just met one of the “clients”, she thought, unsurprised. In the green shadows under the boughs, the pale skin looked blue.
“Hello, person,” said the being, sounding like a recording. Autism sometimes presents this way, Morgan thought, and waited for more evidence.
“Hello, person to you too,” said Morgan.
“‘You too you too you too.’ ‘That’s okay, just stay right there while I look at you.’” The second imitated voice was deeper and differently accented: Mennonite Manitoban? Morgan thought. There were many causes of this kind of imitativeness.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Morgan said. “Are you going to come out and let me look at
The being sighed exaggeratedly, another imitation, and crawled out from the jungle.
The skin was blue.
Morgan was looking at one of the aliens.
“Blue,” she said, involuntarily.
“Blue,” it said. “Blue blue blue blue?” The face was blue, but blue in a thick undertone to ivory, an undertone that took no life away from the rich texture of the skin. The eyes were dark. The hair was long, and knotted behind the head, carelessly through itself. Strands were loose. They were a dark blue, close to black, the way dark brown is close to black. Gleaming dark strands. Morgan’s own long hair was tied in a knot; she wondered who had taught the visitor that trick, not foolish enough to believe that such details are universal.
“That about covers it. What’s your name?”
“My name is Morgan. What is your name?”
“Blue. Blue. My name is—Blue.” In Morgan’s voice.
This was very silly. Not at all like in all those SF books. Exactly like. What was she doing here? This was stupid.
Another voice, from another being this time: “You’re hired.”
“You’re hired.” A grey man—no, thought Morgan, a man in a silver-grey suit, a man with prematurely white-grey hair and grey eyes, figures of speech could too easily become real around here—stood on the path behind them.
“I haven’t even had my interview yet.”
“Yes you have,” and he gestured at Blue. “Blue hasn’t responded to any of the other candidates. Hasn’t talked, answered, approached. You have clearly been chosen.”
“Some selection process.”
“Yes, well, I’m not too keen on it myself, but we’ve done all the screening we can do at our end,” Mr. Grey said grimly. “We had to have someone the …
would work with.
’s been on a work-to-rule campaign lately.”
“Is this the first time Blue has named … um, itself?”
Morgan had a job. It almost interested her.
The dream is a murky sea of waterlike air or airy water, hazy and dark blue as the sky at dusk on a winter’s day. Morgan is swimming. She alternates between a sense of freedom and a terrible drowning panic. Below her, she sees a dark form curled into a fetal position, sinking slowly, spinning. She calls sharply, and dives. When her hand grasps the naked, livid shoulder, which despite her expectation of cadaverous cold is hot under her fingers, the motion of grasping—
—woke her. Her hand was in the air above her, fingers still reaching for the drowning victim.
That’s pretty obvious,
she said to herself. Nonetheless, each time she returned to sleep that oppressive yet liberating presence is there, the rescue continues in ever more surreal surroundings. Finally she spoke to the house for some light, and in the sudden glare blinked at Marbl. She got up and, downstairs, made herself a cup of hot chocolate without turning on the light. Outside, she thought she saw a shred of motion behind a nearby hedge but when she looked out cannily, concerned with safety for the house, there was no lurking shadow. Shaking her head at her paranoia, she went back to bed, this time to sleep.
In the shadows the silver-haired man in the grey track suit turned away, satisfied with the night’s surveillance. As he walked toward the dark car waiting in deeper darkness under the arching trees beyond the property, he thought,
strange bunch of people. And she has insomnia. I wonder why
Explaining kitty litter to the aliens
Call him Mr. Grey, as Morgan had done. That was the premature state of his hair, that was his favorite color and attitude. There was more to him than met the eye but not many were allowed to see that. He had worked himself up the law enforcement ladder far enough to be a bureaucrat, but not far enough to lose his anonymity or his power. His wife died birthing a second, late child, who also died; their first daughter grew up rebellious against authority in ways he luckily had had no cause to question: they were a fine young nuclear family once, but fission set in: one of the reasons he secretly cheered his daughter as she crusaded for social justice, personal freedom, safe alternatives to nuclear energy. He was all for fusion or even sunshine, whatever warmed the heart.
What rebellion was in his own heart was carefully curbed and directed into channels. He knew all about channels. So when the alien came into the world of humankind, flowed down the channels into our consciousness, he was in the way. In the way, but whether he was swept away or not was a matter of opinion. Eventually he was questioned by his superiors, even mentioned in Parliament, but he was kept on the job. That’s the test of a bureaucrat’s security, if not efficiency. So Mr. Grey managed to keep his footing when all around him were losing theirs, without having to be a Man or have a son, and the alien was initiated into human values in ways no politician could have visualized.
If this was good, we have him to thank. If we don’t like what he did, we can lay traps for him, write letters to our Member of Parliament, demand in the popular press that Mr. Grey be demoted.
He might have cared about that once, but he looks at his work differently now.
What does a career policeman think when first he walks into the room where an alien is crouching quietly, watching everything? Does he think perhaps of the soft color of blue smoke drifting above mountain valleys, the color of a gust of rain on a grey day, the fog of punctuation marks that measure out his life? For the alien is a blue color such as might inhabit his dreams, a dusky soft blue as human skins can be a dusky soft pink or a dusky soft tan or a dusky soft brown, and the alien’s hair which is long and unbound is a dark dark blue of midnight.
The grey man thinks nothing, but he is struck by some stunning astonishment of heart. He wants to reach out and touch the face of this being, reach into this being’s beginning and find the mystery, reveal the source, invent the common language. This being makes him hungry for things he hasn’t been seeking since his youth. He remembers his cheap telescope, he remembers the yellow-covered novels he used to read and trade with his Boy Scout companions before they all graduated to serious adulthood, he remembers his discomfort with their insistence he belonged only to their club, he remembers reading Stoltenberg and trying to understand why the world told him he must be a Man when he only wanted to be a human being. Now this new being makes being human something exclusive, also. He is afraid for Earth, but his job will not allow him to be rough with the alien who curls in the posture of an infant.
“Can I help you?” he says reflexively, then curses himself internally for a fool.
But of all the aliens only one had spoken, only once, and not a word from any of them since. He had seen the tape.
On the tape, the first alien had said, “To learn from you. Yes. That is the assignment.”
“What do you mean, assignment?” the astonished diplomat, prepared with all the right greetings, had said.
“Earth is needed to know. So one is sent to know Earth.”
“And that one is you?”
“Yes. That one is you.”
“We too must study and understand. We want to ask you questions, examine you, find out where you are from.”
“To find out from this one is not to happen. This script is complete, and will erase. Do not erase the recording you make. This bodies will stay. It will not much known. But to learn and take knowledge back. An assignment.”
The eyes blanked, the body fell. After that moment, as he now knew too intimately, watching through the one-way glass, all the alien bodies had been like newborns: helpless, incontinent, and without language. As if, the grey man thought, a recording had self-destructed after being heard by the necessary people. Mr. Grey knew that trope from reruns. We, he thinks wryly, old enough to remember this allusion, are the I.M. Force, whether we choose to accept it or not.
Assignment. Whatever the alien’s assignment was—and it seemed peculiarly clear that human beings were now expected to educate these empty beings starting at the very beginning—the grey man had his too.
It was the grey man who decided that the alien should be moved, and where. He established security and arranged that the alien be taught. The alien had no more language, just a nonfunctional eulalia, so could not supply a name, and upon examination was demonstrably neither male nor female, but similar to both. When the child care worker was finally hired, for a baby now toddling and graduated to eulalic phrases from syllables, she called the alien “Blue”. Or, she said, that the alien had chosen to be called that. Whether or not it was true that the alien had named itself, “Blue” sufficed.
“We want to start your orientation with the first-contact film,” said the tall woman in the green flowered dress with the smoothly-pulled-back hair. She had introduced herself as a staff sergeant in charge of training for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Services, then fussed about making Morgan a cup of hot chocolate with a couple of biscotti on the saucer. Almost milk and cookies: Morgan grinned to herself. Morgan, who had dressed in her usual neutral black-leather skinsuit, felt as warmed as she was intended to feel by the old-fashioned motherly image of this senior-management otter. She knew CSIS’s brief and reputation, suspected that the ease with which she played auntie meant that the woman was hard as nails and could as easily play bad cop in more serious CSIS interviews, but Morgan allowed herself to go with the reflexively returned smiles her body produced.
“I saw it on TV,” she said.
“This is the director’s cut,” said the woman. Without further signal, the room went dark and a vid began to play on what had formerly seemed to be a mirror wall, back-projected onto the one-way glass. Morgan was reminded that in facilities like this, everything is secret but nothing is private.
The familiar speech, replayed hundreds, maybe thousands, of times by TV stations, vid programs, netcasters, played out. The blue alien said primly, “To learn from you. Yes. That is the assignment.” The astonished diplomat had said something unscripted, and the alien went on, “Earth is needed to know. So one is sent to know Earth.”
“And that one is you?”
“Yes. That one is you.”
The tapes always stopped there. But this one continued. The diplomat spoke soothingly about studying and understanding the alien too, and the alien said cryptically, “To find out from this one is not to happen. This script is complete, and will erase. Do not erase the recording you make. This bodies will stay. It will not much known. But to learn and take knowledge back. An assignment.” Then it seemed to snap into some fugue state, and fell sideways from the chair. The confusion afterward did not arouse it. After a moment the otter woman raised her hand and the film stopped on the scene of bureaucratic shock and chaos. The lights faded up in the interview room.
“That’s not ours, of course, it’s the one at the UN. Ours appeared curled up on the floor of the Senate Chamber. If they were trying for Parliament, or the Prime Minister’s Office, they missed. Anyway, this was all any of them have ever said,” she said. “We never heard another word out of them until Blue started imitating us. It’s possible that is happening elsewhere in the world. So far we know of twelve other aliens. They likely all came in this vegetative—well, call it infantile—state.”
“Possible? Likely? You aren’t in touch with the other …”
“Like our government, the other governments hosting the aliens believe that discretion is the better part of valor.” The quiet, ironic voice from behind her made Morgan jump despite herself. She turned to the grey man—for it was indeed the man she had seen so briefly several days ago—and met his eyes. He’s pretty, she thought, like some kind of bird. Raptor, she modified her thought as she saw him tilt his head at the otter-mother and the woman moved to a side chair to allow him to sit. Behind the grey man, a large, untidy man in a rumpled blue suit and a younger, sharp-faced junior in perfect corporate gear—the kind that Morgan thought of as a “boy wonder”—crowded into the room.
“Sorry I’m late,” said the grey man. “Glad you started, Flora. Go on.”
“All we can determine is that they have the ability to learn,” Flora went on. “We’ve tested ours as much as we can, given that from the start it fought like a panther if we tried to get samples”—she pulled up her sleeve to show bruises and several long, healing scratches, and made a moue of frustration—“and it appears to be a newborn in everything but body size and strength. Our doctors suggested that we treat it like an infant, ‘raise it’ like an infant. It grows fast, developmentally. It’s walking, eating solid foods, and babbling already.”
“What is its metabolism? What does it eat?”
“It eats our food. What it wants of our food. As far as we can tell, it is a human clone. We don’t know why the blue color,” Flora replied.
“Unless their TVs are out of adjustment,” said the Boy Wonder.
“As far as you can tell?” said Morgan.
“It still fights when we try to take tissue samples or do tests. We tested its wastes. Mostly leftovers from what went in. Different trace elements every time. As if the body is learning too,” said the man in the blue suit. He glanced at his boss. “As far as we can tell.”
“I thought it best not to traumatize Blue by pressing the issue,” said the grey man. “I’ve taken some flak for that decision.”
Filing that for further reference, Morgan went on, “They’ve been here for three months. This is all you—”
“No,” interrupted the grey man, “we know a great deal. But none of it is—what they want, or where they come from, or how to unlock any memory from that beautiful blue head. We have to assume that what we have here is a
An infant. We teach it, we train it. There are indications that the ship will be back in somewhere between two and five years. Depends on which theory you believe about their drive capacity. Maybe by then they will expect their data shells to be full.”
“Creating a paradigm of Earth,” said Morgan.
“Elegant phrase. Yes. That’s our theory.”
“Your theory, Mac,” said the Boy Wonder.
“Yes, well,” said the grey man mildly, smiling, “but I rank high enough that I’m allowed to have a theory. When you rank me, you can have a theory too.”
The CSIS agents all laughed politely. Morgan didn’t laugh. She looked at the freeze-frame on the wall, a blue body curled fetally on the floor of an office, surrounded by an almost comic array of panicky UN officials, security staff, and medics, crammed into the frame like the Marx Brothers in that scene from A
Night at the Opera.
The grey man stood up beside her. At a touch from him the image cleared and in its place was “her” alien, the beautiful Blue, in its nursery room, combing its hair and humming eerily, like the Siren. As if it could see them, it looked up toward the camera and smiled.
“I have decided,” said the grey man quietly, “that it is better if you don’t know too much. We know everything, and we know nothing. We want you to teach Blue, and to learn, and we will all watch and learn, and if you can give it a good image of Earth, a kindly one, all the better.”
Flora began to speak, coughed, shook her head, and turned her gaze to her sleek shoes. The untidy large man cleared his throat and said, “Rahim, maybe you and I could … ,” and went out, the Boy Wonder following him. Flora looked at Mr. Grey.
“Sure,” he said, though she had said nothing. “Check back with me if you find anything.” Flora too left the room.
“Blue doesn’t look at all like that other one,” Morgan said.
“You think not?”
“Well, superficially, maybe, but I’d say not.”
“I don’t think so either. I’m told by others that they are identical. They started out identical.”
“The way some see it. Welcome to the team. No doubt you’ll hate it. Civilians always do. But report to me anyway. Through Rahim.”
“The Boy Wonder?”
“Thank you,” said Morgan. “I’ll do my best.”
The progress of Blue through toilet training, complex language learning, grammar and composition, geography, history, “social studies”, economics, sociology, comparative religions, was rapid but uneven, unpredictable. Of course there was the pronoun difficulty, but once that was surmounted there were few snags in imparting information. Manners and social behavior developed more slowly.
The grey man had already thought of simply taking the alien home, but he could not justify the security risk. Right now, few knew one of the thirteen alien blue beings found on earth so far (were there more? The thought kept the Secretary General of the UN awake nights) was even in this country, let alone in the small prairie city where the Atrium facility was established. Those who knew were on special contract to the government and the United Nations, and sworn to secrecy. So far.