“Hey, hey, take it easy,” said Russ. “This is a friendly discussion, remember? You’re not dealing with critics here.”
“Maybe,” said John, but he relaxed, and the conversation moved on. Within a few minutes he was joking again, and Russ was guffawing.
While they were doing the dishes—it was John’s turn, with Jakob drying, but John had had an opening to attend, so Morgan had volunteered—Morgan said, “John has a hair-trigger on the subject of his work, it seems.”
“No, it’s me,” said Jakob. “He doesn’t like fags.”
“What on earth … ?”
“He doesn’t let it hit the surface, but haven’t you noticed, darling, that he won’t even share a touching domestic moment like this with me?”
Her mouth open to say, “I’m sure you’re mistaken,” Morgan stopped and said instead, “I hope you’re wrong. Given the nature of this household, he’s in for trouble. When I interviewed him, he didn’t seem to bristle at the idea.”
“It could just be that he’s not used to my
, sugah,” Jakob said, exaggerating his style for a moment.
“I suppose it takes some getting used to—but you’d think that someone in video and virch would have met all sorts of people …”
“You’d think,” said Jakob, “but there’s different kinds of
Maybe he never had to share a bathroom with any before.”
“He’s a sharp guy, and funny. He seems to liven everybody up.”
“It’s competition. He has an edge, and so we unsheathe our little blades as well. I haven’t felt so sharp in years.”
Morgan hoped that Jakob and John didn’t end up sharpening their claws on each other. Last thing she needed were feuding prima donnas. She had noticed a certain edginess in John, but Jakob was not immune: come to think of it, none of this had started until John had criticized Jakob’s old-fashioned use of video. Sighing internally, she added a watching brief to her internal list of things to do.
I could do without the vagaries of human nature,
she thought, and surfaced to hear Jakob cleverly dissing John.
“Hush,” she said. “Manners …” and thought, not for the first time, that queens were getting bitchier the more the external world cracked down on them. On us, she amended. On the
“Could we go rock-climbing then?” Blue nagged.
“Something dangerous. ‘Adventurous men and women from the Canadian Rockies Sheer Face Explorers pit their strength and agility against the most challenging vertical terrain. Weekend packages include three nights at the charming Black Cat Guest Ranch, nestled at the foot of Solomon Mountain, and three climbs of increasing difficulty—’”
“All right! All right! When I get back on day shift we’ll find you something risky to do to channel your teenaged joyriding urges!”
But they didn’t, because that night, some hours after Morgan had gone off duty, the alien ran away.
A new tenant
Morgan was careful never to speak a lie, but still, the fact was, Morgan was a friend of denial. Through her father’s dying, she had managed to ignore all her grudges, and now she would have to abandon them unsolved. What a cheat death could be. And her mother’s death, the possibility that it was suicide, that in itself was a great ball of anger hanging below her belly.
To feel empty, she had to deny all this.
In denial, she did not heal. Trying for truth in speech, she was still somehow a liar.
And that, she thought bitterly, invalidated all her fine tragic acting on the riverbank; that, she knew, was fatal to the future; that, she believed, was too human to be hers.
Being human, she recognized, was harder for her than it was for Blue, but more necessary both because she could not escape the reality of it, and because she didn’t want to be human. As long as she could feel alien, she was safe. So, she asked herself scornfully, she denied her common cause with the rest of “mankind’s unco’ squad” and retained her romantic notions of how to suffer through her inevitable life?
nobody special,” she heard, in a voice from the past, a flashback to some moment, a moment before her knowledge, when she must have decided to prove that voice a liar.
She won’t do it by lying herself.
She hated knowing that. It made her so petty.
The noise on the porch came at about eleven-thirty. Morgan was just dozing over her book when she heard the scraping of feet on wood. She made a habit of noting who was home and not home; everyone was accounted for. She walked downstairs quietly and in one quick motion turned on the porch light and opened the front door.
She was not prepared for:
—a pale, bluish face, a quiet studied voice saying, “May I come in?” The falling of a slight body against the door frame, then a stumbling step and a final collapse at her feet.
Blue. She closed the door, crouched to the fallen body, pulled the shoulders around so the body lay straight. She was used to dealing with bodies unable to co-operate, though Blue had never been unresponsive like this in her presence before, despite the “sleep” on her last shift. Mr. Grey would have found this catatonia familiar, but she didn’t know that. She leaned with legs on either side of the waist, crouched to lift under the arms, dragged the heavy weight across the hall and into the small sitting room by the door. She went to the kitchen for a glass of water. When she returned to the little room, the alien was struggling to sit up. She turned on the lights.
Blue stirred, moved as if swimming in deep water, up from the Mariana Trench. She crouched beside the sluggish body, put her hand out, brushed the strands of hair away from the damp forehead. Blue’s eyelids fluttered. She pulled her hand back more quickly than it had gone out. The eyes opened fully, fixed on her face.
“I ran away. I’m sorry. Will I get you in trouble with the people behind the mirror? I will go as soon as I can. But you are the only place I know.”
“What do you mean?” What a stupid thing to say, she thought.
“They are chasing me about the dead man. They asked me many questions. What do I know about a dead man, even though I read everything I could read? I don’t
“Shh, it’s all right. Why didn’t you just get them to call me?”
Blue looked around the room, gaze sharp on every object. “You said I was a teenager. Teenagers can run away to see the world. To go to a place where no-one talks about death. So I come here, and much is interesting to me here.”
Again that sharp gaze, on her, strange acuity from such an exhausted beginning. She nodded absently, encouraging Blue to go on, as she always did. There was a dynamo in the back of her mind, setting a manic wheel in motion. The death, the interrogation she thought she had made them promise to put off, but it had only worked until she was off duty. Could Blue actually have had anything to do with the death? The on-line record showed nothing either way. The only knowledge was that for two days after, until Blue’s collapse when she came on duty, Blue had studied death, medicine, and Ouija. From the end of the chess game … Heart attacks happen to people … but was the death natural? Odds were that it was, and anyway, she couldn’t believe Blue capable of a murderous act. The alien eyes closed again, and the voice lost the vigor of a moment before.
“Why are you so tired?” she said, sharply.
“I have never been out here before. There are so many voices in my dreams. It is tiring. And you taught me to sleep.” It was a valid point. “Maybe I should have stayed and let that man in the blue suit yell at me.”
“Blue suit? Not grey? Blue?”
“Yes, blue, but not the same color as me. He was one of the ones that used to watch me from behind the mirror. I know if I stay they will come here and make you angry. No. Be angry with you. Now I see you I understand I should not bring that to you, no matter how I feel. But I am very worn.”
“Tired,” she said automatically.
“Very tired.” Eyes open and nodding, Blue was as always an obedient student.
She laughed suddenly. The alien smiled carefully.
“Would you like to sit on the furniture?” she said. “That’s how we earth folks usually do it.”
“Yes, please.” Blue lifted up to perch in a chair. “You are making fun of me.”
“It is a very strange situation,” said Morgan. She walked to the window. Outside, under the streetlights, two men were standing. One pointed at the house.
Morgan felt as if she were in a movie. There wasn’t much difference however between being an observer of an unreal world and living in one. To the alien she said, “Would you like to stay here? All the time, I mean: live here?” Then she broke into a cold sweat at the presumption of what she had just said.
The alien said, “Yes, please.”
A third, smaller man joined the waiting two. He jerked his head toward the trees on the other side of the fence, and the pointing man walked into them and was lost in the shadow. The new man spoke to the other, who got into a car by the curb and started the engine. Clearly the newcomer was authority. Under the streetlight, their clothing looked the same: dark and nondescript. Was it her Mr. Grey? Morgan couldn’t understand why the watchers were not already on the step: she had watched enough spy movies and read enough cheap thrillers to know what the drill should be and to expect a knock, but the man made no such moves, just stood watching the house until Morgan imagined he saw her in depth.
Just in case, Morgan dialed the number she had been given in case she needed to let them know she would be away or late for a shift. The telephone was answered on the first ring, and through the window Morgan saw the watcher answer a cellphone.
“Hi, this is Morgan.”
“What can I do for you?” said the voice of the grey man. Well, that answered that.
“Blue is with me,” she said economically.
“Well, put it to bed and see if you can get it to practice its sleeping, and we’ll be there in the morning.”
“Are you standing out in the street watching me?”
She waved out the window and heard a chuckle from the ’phone headset. Then he said, “Don’t worry, really we’re watching
. Hasta mañana,”
and cut the connection. As she watched, he got into the car, she saw him speak to the driver, and the vehicle moved away.
Chief Inspector Roger T. McKenzie, AKA Mr. Grey, stood in the concealing darkness and watched the alien enter the strangers’ door. The face of the small, long-haired woman who opened and shut the door was in shadow. It didn’t matter. He already knew everything he needed to know about her. Or enough to seem like everything. Kowalski drove out into the light where the two duty guards were waiting to be deployed.
The ’phone call delighted him—and won him his bet with Ko, who had been sure she would play
Spy vs. Spy
, would try to conceal Blue. Still chuckling as he cut the connection, he turned back to the car where the man in the blue suit was waiting. Mr. Grey could hardly contain his elation, but he was going to keep his excitement hidden from Ko, who he knew feared the alien and the alien effect on Earth. He would hide the delight he felt that the blue visitor had managed to graduate the training course with such expediency. He would also hide the apprehension that the alien’s flight (with attached to that flight the inevitable suspicion of complicity in the chessmaster’s death, autopsy verdict notwithstanding) had brought him. All the blue-suited man would ever be allowed to see would be the cool, efficient exterior Mr. Grey, doing everything right.
The grey man had taken a gamble, and it was working. Nourished by private satisfactions as well as by public ones, he felt no need to share this knowledge, or smile about it.
It was his nature,
he thought, quoting the folk tale of the scorpion and the horse, and was, after all, almost tempted to smile.
Instead, he got into the car and signaled the other man to drive on. They had a long night’s work ahead of them, and he wanted to get started.
Morgan woke in the morning after a confused sleep of dreams to the realization that something monumental hung over her head, but it took a moment for her to remember what it was. She was as exhausted as if she were getting up early after a weekend at work. By the time she had put the alien to bed in the spare room the night before, she had felt as if she had worked a double shift.
The alien. The sudden rush of fear was so strong it almost choked her. Following it was the urgency that had woken her, sharpened now. She was through Russ’s room, Delany’s room like a whirlwind, waking them with sharp hurried words, then up to Jakob’s studio to shake him into a stuporous wakefulness which she scarcely trusted. Then John, who woke confused and truculent, but caught her urgency. Finally they were all gathered in the kitchen, Russ making coffee in the drip maker while everyone else rumbled through their morning rituals: Delany laboriously assembled cereal, John teased Marbl, Jakob raked his long hair and braided its finely dreaded strands, twisted the silk headband around his forehead. Morgan was too keyed up to sit or to care what time of day it was.
“We have to talk,” she said. “Something happened last night that’s going to affect us all. No, let’s be honest, I did something last night which will affect us all. I took in a stranger …”
“That’s nothing unusual,” said Russ. “You’ve got a houseful of strays. Eh, Marbl?”
The cat turned at its name, and showed pretty teeth in a silent meouw.
“This one is different. It’s stranger than you know. It’s Blue, the extraterrestrial. That’s where I’ve been working, teaching the alien. Last night it ran away from the Atrium—that’s the place they kept it—and came here to ask for shelter. I asked it if it wanted to stay and it said yes.”
Bedlam. She took a minute to think about where that word came from: yes, I am mad, this whole thing is mad. At the end of the chaos of explanation, Russ, of course, was saying, “
John was burbling about vid memory, megabytes, getting his camera, where is it?—with his face white and the skin looking drawn across the bones, from shock. Jakob realized the heart of the matter.
“But surely someone will come looking for it. They’ve had security like you wouldn’t believe! The Mounties—CSIS I mean—a UN force, police from every damned country. You told us you practically had to have an anal probe to get in to work every day. And they just left him here? With the likes of
He was worried about his boys, his work, his source of income. Morgan was worried about their lives. But their concerns coincided here.
“That’s just about it. None of us is what you might call mainstream, mundane. I can’t decide without you. Are you willing to have your life spread open for examination, in exchange for the chance to spend time with a real alien? I thought about it a long time last night before I went to sleep, and I think I have nothing more to lose. But some of you might feel differently.”
“I don’t think it’s a matter of what we feel,” said Delany suddenly. “I think it’s a matter of history. People are always being caught in the whirlpool effect of some event. It’s not that we lose our freedom of choice, but that we shouldn’t assume we should use it at a time like this.
“If you get my meaning,” she said after a pause during which the others looked at her in silence.
“I don’t care either way,” said Russ. “It should be interesting.”
“I’ve always wanted to be famous in the real world,” said Jakob, but Morgan noticed his hands were shaking, and she put a hand over one of his briefly (very briefly; she knew he felt ambivalent about touch).
John was the last to speak, looking from one to the other, the pressure showing on his face, but finally he said, “I can make an event of it. A documentary. I’ll have to get more camera memory.”
And with this collection of rationales they were joined together on their journey into the strange future.