61. Have a nice trip, see you next fall

Michel was busy and Jesse figured he and the client could handle it, so he didn’t call George. Parker confirmed that it would be fine with just the two of them. It was a few sticks of furniture and bags of clothes and sports equipment, he said, easy-peasy.

Jesse pulled up in Richmond, in a residential neighbourhood close to Number 3 Road. The driveway was three times wider than normal, with weeds growing through the cracks in the asphalt. There were no lights on in the house.

He killed the engine and waited. He did feel rather naked without the all-seeing eye that George had proven to be.  To be surveillance-proof in the modern world seemed among the best things about being a Sixer, along with almost everything else, except their general lack of friendliness and their sex lives.

The lack of friendliness he could deal with. Anyone friendlier than his mother was +1 out of the gate.  But the sex — the sex really bothered him.  Most of the being bothered about it was his knowledge that he was trying to throw his mental map of how things should be on an alien species. Even when he knew he was being an idiot, he couldn’t help it.

Expending so much as a single calorie worrying about how other people achieved consensual sex seemed a big waste of his tiny emotional poke, and when it came to humans he had no trouble realizing it. 

His continuing anthropomorphic and apparently useless attempts to categorize alien sex, on the other hand, were really starting to bug him.  To understand it he had to observe their courtship, if that was indeed what the hell was going on, talk to lots of other people, and correct for how most of it happened at depth in the ocean, where he’d never see it, unless somebody got footage of it. He had no hope he could twist events to make such information available. 

He had to take George and Michel’s word for it, and that made him profoundly uneasy.  There were other shapes and sizes of Sixer than the two blobular beige jelabis he knew.  To accept what they said on faith transformed him into one of those ancient chroniclers, who believed whatever they were told by exotic people they met in brothels. 

If he was going to be a stooge, he was going to be a good stooge, a learned stooge, a useful stooge, and a stooge forever prepared for disappointment, because that’s the way life trended over the long haul.

He and Colin had talked about it during an evening of serious drinking.

It had been quite the conversation. He was still buzzing with it; how much they had consumed; how much they had laughed. The relief of having someone to talk to about it who accepted the base-line of craziness without balking or scoffing had been immense.

They’d shared notes, fitting together snatches of overheard conversations; certain subjects that only came up to be set aside.

They had agreed that by human standards, they were all asexual except for Michel and Kima, and as many times as they had sex, they couldn’t manage babies. Jesse wasn’t convinced Michel wanted to be a father; George’s desperation to accomplish it as a single task seemed comical at times. Colin’s imaginative description of the mysterious and thus far invisible Kima had made him choke on his nachos.

His client appeared. The house being dark really bothered Jesse, but Parker called, “I’m keeping the lights off to make it look like there’s nothing going on over here.”

He came toward the truck.  He was dressed in dark clothing.  Ill-at-ease, Jesse slowly got down from the truck and said, “Where’s your stuff?”

“There’s a shed at the back.  I still can’t believe my dad moved all my shit out there.”

Jesse’s unease grew.  “So what happened?”

He got closer to Parker, who moved away and turned his back on him.  Jesse got out his Maglite® and Parker said, “Turn it off, man, my neighbours will think someone’s trying to rob the place!”

After leaving the flashlight on Parker long enough to be able to give a description of everything but his face, Jesse complied.

“So where do you work,” Jesse asked.

“For a telemarketing company,” Parker said.  “Like I told you.”

“Which one?” The walkway was uneven underfoot, and the shed seemed very far from the house.

“Consumer Research Canada.  They are a complete bag of dicks, too.”

Jesse had still not seen Parker’s face.

That seemed weird, and there was something else bugging him too.  He sensed that there was something really wrong but didn’t grasp what it was until Parker said, “Look, about your fee, I feel kinda bad about it because I don’t actually have the money on me. Before you get all mad, we can stop at a bank machine between here and my girlfriend’s place.”

Jesse fished the truck keys from his pocket and said, “Gimme a sec,” and casually turned to go back to the truck. On the way to the truck, he collided with another man, who was entirely dressed in black and wearing a balaclava.

“Stop right there,” the man said, in a disguised voice.

“Fuck,” Jesse said.

Balaclava Man pulled a knife and told Jesse to sit down and shut up.  Jesse obliged. His phone, flashlight, wallet and keys were taken from him.

As he reviewed his naïvety, duct-tape was stretched over his mouth (he remembered to tuck his lips in, at least) and wrapped swiftly around his wrists and ankles. After a moment he faintly heard the groan of a metal door being pried away from its lock, and then came a faint light from the backyard, which he couldn’t see the source of, as he was leaning against the side of the house. 

Jesse stood up, balancing against the house, and painfully hopped in a sideways, staggering motion toward the back of the house. He moved as quietly as he could, scuffing his knuckles against the razor-sharp stucco and grunting softly behind his gag as he went. He heard them coming with the first load and turned and sat down. As they went by, he stuck out his feet and tripped Parker.

60. Pretty mama don’t ya tell on me.

The phone rang.


“Can I speak to the General Manager of  Midnight Moving Co.?”

Jesse, hearing call centre noises in the background, said, “Do you have a thousand dollars cash?”

“I wondered if you could let me speak to the General Manager of Midnight Moving Co., sir?”

“We’re a legitimate company getting telemarketing calls, now?” Jesse asked, appalled. “What is this world coming to.”

“You’re on the list, sir,” the voice chirped.

Jesse pulled at his beer. “Unless you are a customer, who needs to be moved out of your house, apartment, double-wide, overturned excavator bucket, refuse bin, hobbit hole, parents’ basement —“

“Sir, may I speak to the Manager at Midnight Moving Co?”

“Sure, why not.” Jesse caved.

“Do you have any temporary staffing requirements?”


“Do you have any cardboard box or storage requirements?”


“Are you happy with your current cell phone service provider?”

Jesse considered this.

George and Michel were giving him burner phones every couple of weeks. Unlike most burner phones, these suckers were so big and heavy he’d had to fire up the sewing machine to make a holster, and people sometimes scoffed at his matte-black brick when he was talking on the phone. They did fit his hands though, even if they felt like a mini-workout.

Of course he had asked why these supposedly cheap phones were like the front end of a Panzer.

George was not very forthcoming. “They’re enormous because they’re custom. The batteries are supposed to be good for three weeks, which is longer than you’ll ever own one.”

The telemarketer spoke into Jesse’s silence with the same cheerful drone.

“Sir, are you happy with your current cell phone service provider?”

“Yup,” Jesse said.

“Do you have five minutes for a consumer survey?”

“Do you have a thousand bucks? Unless you want me to move you out of your apartment in the middle of the night, I have nothing to say to you.” Jesse hung up.

Four hours later, when Jesse was quite impaired, the phone rang again.

“Midnight Moving Co.”

“You move people out of their parents’ basement even when they’ve locked all their belongings in a storeroom?” came the chirpy telemarketer voice.

Jesse gathered his wits from behind the sofa cushions.

“Hello?” the voice said again.

Jesse said, “That sucks. How old is the person being moved?”


“Of legal age. Is there a place to move to?”

“My girlfriend’s parents.”

“You’re the client. How old is your girlfriend?”

“What? My age.”

“Do you have a thousand dollars?”

“I’m a telemarketer, what do you think?” and here the irritation bled through his voice.

“This call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes,” Jesse said.

“Are you drunk?”

“I can do that on my own time, just as long as I’m completely clear when I’m driving,” Jesse said.

“I don’t even think I care, it’s kinda none of my business. I’ve got five hundred dollars and not much stuff.”

“Is your stuff all locked in a storeroom?”

“Yeah, I got into a fight with my mother and my dad locked all my stuff in the shed.”

“Not exactly legal.”

“They don’t exactly care.  They call the cops on me if I raise my voice to them. They’re going out of town tomorrow for a family wedding in Kelowna; I have to work at seven the next morning so I can’t go, otherwise they’d be dragging me along.”

“I hate weddings,” Jesse said conversationally.

“Once a year my parents make me watch the video of their wedding.”

“The hairstyles alone must be against the Geneva Convention.”

His client snickered. “The hair wasn’t so bad, but the music selections were a war crime, and the bridesmaids’ dresses made the camera go completely crazy.”


“Burned a hole in my eyes.  Every year since I was a baby.”

“How far to your girlfriend’s house?”

“It’s maybe five kilometres away.”

“Anybody else living in the house who might give us a hard time?”

“No, but we have to be quiet or my neighbours’ll rat us out, and I think my dad’s set up surveillance.”

“What the fuck is it with people?” Jesse said.


Jesse got the coordinates.

“I’m Jesse,” Jesse said.

“I’m Parker.  Dude, it’s not even all that much stuff, I just need to get it out of there and get the hell away from my parents.”

“I am reading you loud and clear.  I promise faithfully that I’ll leave the drinking until you’re at your girlfriend’s house,” Jesse said.

“If you get me out of there, drinks are gonna be on me. You know I’m going to be asking you to break the lock so I can tell my parents I didn’t do it.”

“My pleasure.”

Personal stuff

Got to see Alex a couple of mornings ago and I’m still thinking happy thoughts about it.

Stepped onto a stool at a friends place. The plastic had perished and I went through it.  Since I was barefoot at the time, I got sliced in seven different places and bled like a good thing.  Everything seems to be healing up okay; everything was superficial and I didn’t need stitches.

Made schnitzel yesterday.

Job interview went okay but none of my references have been called.  So, not expecting anything at this point.  It did make me happy for a couple of minutes.

Yay I get to see Tammy today! She’s visiting from TO with her dude.

Glenn, happy birthday!


59. Fighting While Texting: A week in the day of Michel Calabria

Jesse texted Michel with the details, and mentioned that their customer was a policeman. Michel wanted to know which flavour, as he preferred the VPD to the RCMP. When he heard it was the RCMP he refused to take the job.

You can’t do that, Jesse texted back. We don’t discriminate on the basis of sex, being a cop is no different.

Fine, Michel texted back. I’ll go to the address and find a reason not to help him.

“Oh, Jesus,” Jesse said aloud.

“What’s happening?”

“My partner hates the RCMP and doesn’t want to help you.”

“She’s trying to kill me,” the cop said, slowly and distinctly.

“Then report it, or tell me why you can’t,” Jesse said.

“Her whole family is cops.”

“Oh,” said Jesse. “So the plan is to harass you to death,” he added.

“She cut the brake lines once already,” the other cop said. He looked like he was anxious to be elsewhere, but stuck in his partner’s drama.

“What? That’s a little harsher than harassment.  You do understand how it looks, right? — the hypocrisy of encouraging citizens to report attempted murder to the police when you’re not doing it.”

“Her dad’s a cop, and he covers for her. Her mom works in the office,”

“Oh,” Jesse said again.

“She’s working an overnight shift.  I want to get my stuff out tonight.”

“We’ll be there. I’ll handle Michel, he’s just being an ass,” Jesse said. “You’ll have all the help you need.”

They left.

An hour later, Michel texted.

There’s something wrong at this apartment.

Jesse replied, Wut another db?

There’s poison in the yogurt and poison in the rye.

Jesse exhaled, not knowing whether to laugh or groan.  He replied, ??

This is a crime scene but nothing’s happened yet.

You going to stay? Jesse texted. Nothing that had happened since the bang on the door had brought him any ease.

For my curiosity.

Hm, Jesse thought. Maybe they’re both trying to kill each other.

Half an hour later, Michel texted again.

I’m in the kitchen, wife comes in. She goes straight to the rye and checks it. I think she’s who poisoned it.

Oooh, now she’s beating up the side of the fridge and yelling where is he?

Not there, she cut his brake lines, Jesse replied.

Cue the husband! Like magic. Came through the side door.

Why is everyone in the world fucking crazy, Jesse texted, sighing.  He knew that Michel could run thirty kilometres an hour while texting and stopping bullets; he had no concern that he might be distracting him.


They’re going at it? Jesse replied, pleased by the compliment.

NO SERIOUSLY she’s trying to taunt him into drinking. I won’t let him don’t worry. FUCKSTICKS 

Jesse’s heart felt like it was bouncing between his spine and his ribcage. Twenty seconds went by, and then thirty, with no text from Michel.

They drew down on each other, and fired.

I stood between them. Liable to bring the administration of justice into disrepute if they actually kill each other.

They emptied their clips, the little dears. Fucking smarts man when you get hit from both sides rapidfire.

Pricks almost broke my phone.

Jesse realized that he seemed to have quit breathing.

The tac squad. More guns, more yelling, more threats. I got a plan.

Nothing for almost a minute. The kitchen clock ticked so loud Jesse wanted to smash it off the wall.

Then, I pretended to crawl out of a kitchen cupboard like I’d been hiding there.


I’m standing on their guns now. Seems to have made things worse.

Since everything’s fucked already I asked them about the poisoned food.

The noise in here, unbelievable.  These two fuckers deserve each other.  I should not have interfered.

Now you’re looking around for the brass. I ate it you dumb cluck. 

At least I understand what happened here, client’s partner broke down and called the cops. 

There goes our thousand dollars, Jesse texted. What are the cops going to do to you?

Nothing, I’m already standing outside. Called for a cab on my other phone, don’t feel like walking far.

Jesse texted, They’re going to wonder where you went.

Used a different face, voice.  Also I sandwiched my appearance so I looked different from the other side.

Good luck getting a useful description of me you clownbags.

I’m gonna rest up for a day and go see Kima.  If you need to move in the next 48 call George I’m busy.



58. Blue on black

Jesse woke around three in the afternoon. He checked his messages.

“No news means wake and bake!” he said cheerfully. As he was getting everything ready, the RCMP banged on his door and demanded to speak with him.

After shoving his drug paraphernalia into a drawer, Jesse went to the door. “Unless you have a warrant, you’re not coming in, and unless I have my lawyer present, I’m not going out,” Jesse said. “I’m perfectly happy to talk to you through the door, though.”

“Open the door, sir. We just want to have a quick word with you.”

“Really? I have a copy of David Eby’s BCCLA Arrest Handbook and unless you have a warrant or tell me what this is about prior to me going anywhere, the admissability of any conversation we might have would be subject to doubt, and I will certainly sue the buttons off your uniforms.”

“There’s no need to take that tone, sir, you found a body down on 14th and we’d like to talk to you about that incident.”

Holy shit. “We can talk about it through the door, then.”

“Can you answer a few questions?”

“Since you haven’t actually identified me as the person you think you want to be talking to, sure.”

There was an unhappy, rustling pause in the conversation.

“Sir, all we want to do is talk to you.”

“Hang on, let me get the pamphlet out about how to sue the RCMP in BC when they prevent you from leaving your house to go about your lawful business,” Jesse said. “By the way, I have a security cam and I’ve got your badge numbers, so if I ever run into you again I’ll know what to say.” He picked his tablet up from the front hall junk shelf and, cursing the slow boot time, waited to log in to the security application.

“People talk like that when they have something to hide,” one of the cops said.

Jesse lost his temper. “If you’re a cop in a relationship, there’s a two in five chance you’ve hit your spouse in the last six months. Should I be worried that you have something to hide?” Jesse was using statistics from the US, but didn’t really care, and didn’t doubt the stats sucked in Canada, too.

The consternation on the other side of the door was now palpable. He heard a murmur. The app woke up. The cops, neither of whom were older than thirty, popped up on the tablet screen in bleary colour. One was professionally expressionless.  The other looked like kicking the door down was rapidly scaling his bucket list.

“I have a customer for your business,” one of the cops said.

“And I’m going as Nicki Minaj for Halloween, so why don’t you call the business number and book an appointment?”

There was a short pause. “We don’t want a phone call linking us to the booking,” one of the cops said.

Now it was Jesse’s turn to frown. He considered his options. George had promised him that he’d never spend the night in jail.

“I’m going to open the door on two conditions. I’ve uploaded the cam footage to a secure server, so if you guys are lying, off it goes to youtube to sow your prospects with salt for the rest of forever. Also, and this is critical, repeat after me, “Mr. Jesse Silver has a medical condition which could kill him if he’s exposed to sunlight for longer than twenty seconds.”

“You have a medical condition which could kill you if you’re exposed to sunlight,” the sensible cop said glibly.

“What, is he a vampire?” the other one muttered, but Jesse heard it.

“Police harassment is real, vampires are not,” Jesse said.  “Because of my solar allergy, I have a floor to ceiling light-blocking cloth baffle in the doorway, which will prevent you from seeing into the apartment. This will make you, as cops, very, very uneasy. I honour and validate that unease. You don’t want to walk into a place where a hostile citizen is, without knowing what the hell is on the other side. I’m telling you it’s just me and my dirty laundry. No mantraps, no weapons, no tricks.  And just so we’re square, if you rip my light baffle down as you are being allowed to enter my home without a warrant, you are putting my life in danger, and the coroner will know you were warned.”

There was a sleeve in the baffle which allowed him to open the door.

“Go right and then left,” Jesse said.

The cops came in, gingerly, and scanned the apartment.

“Siddown. Did you park out front?”

“No,” said the cops, simultaneously.

“Two streets over,” one of them added.

They sat.

“Can you move me tonight?” the angry cop said.

“Prob’ly,” Jesse said. “Got a thousand dollars cash up front?”

“You’ll have it at the start of the move.”

“What’s the exigent circumstance?” Jesse asked.

“My wife’s threatening to kill me.”

Six months of working with George and Michel had refined Jesse’s ability to stay calm in the face of absurdity, violence and terror. He did not scoff.

“Well, you’re not the first man we’ve helped and you won’t be the last,” Jesse said. “Give me the address and the rendezvous time. Have you packed?”

“I can’t pack. If I put a sock in a drawer wrong she knows about it.”

“So you’ll need us to bring all the boxes, blankets, etc.”

“And as many movers as you can,” his new client said.


Michel jumped over the side of the gazebo (again) and, standing under the master bedroom window, stretched his legs until his face approached the window. Then he started elongating his neck, as well.  As it happened Cy had his back to the house. Only George saw it, and of course Colin, who heard a tap on the window and walked over from the desk where he worked in his grandmother’s room.

He was frightened and jumped back, fortunately not into anything, and then as he recovered from what was obviously a prank, sighed heavily when Michel yelled “Bring more blankets!” through the glass.

His grandmother was in one of her increasingly rare emotionally lucid moments.

“What’s happening?” she asked in a creaky whisper.

“I’m being pranked by aliens,” Colin said, openly irritated.

“Have you invited them in yet?”

“They don’t like it indoors.”

“Bring him in,” she said, in something so like her normal cheerful voice that he immediately went to obey her, and then stopped.

“This is a lovely dream — or I’m being boring and dying. Is there really an alien?”

“There are two,” Colin said painfully.  True to form, she had zoned out again. For a moment he stood and argued with himself about it, and then gave the matter over to his grandfather with the extra blankets. “She wants to meet an alien.”

George tried to respond. “I can’t actually climb the —“ and the next word was smothered against Michel’s roomy shoulder, “stairs.”

“No problem.  Chunk-style to the rescue,” Michel said. Cy called out.

“You’re never going back in my house, Michel. George is welcome and you are not.  We can meet elsewhere, but not here.”

Michel said, “I won’t prank a dying woman.”

George murmured, “Put me down you enormous hatchling. You are the stupidest person. Do you want me to punch you in your hairs? Your little squeaky hairs? Until they stop sticking out and start sticking in?”

Michel, annoyed but aware that the violence George so richly deserved would be hard to hide if only one of them was invisible, did the next best thing. He dropped George on the ground, and was rewarded with no human grunt or moan, but two almighty ‘bloops’ as cauldron-sized bubbles of lava might make.

“What was that?”

“I’d say that was George’s two main diaphragms letting go, but I didn’t have my hands on him — quite the reverse now I think of it — so I couldn’t say for sure.”

“Is he in pain?” Colin asked.

“Nah, he can grow another one in minutes, but I bet he sleeps well tonight.”

“I’m supposed to drive him home,” Colin said. George had lost his human appearance again, but anything they threw on top of him to hide him from any neighbours who might be outdoors in early October slid off like satin on marble.

“Fine. If he stays like this you know you can’t get him into the car,” Michel said, trying to be matter-of-fact.

“It was like trying to move mercury,” Colin said.

“If you don’t have the stickum you can’t move Sixers,” Michel said. “Take me to your grand-mère, I promise I’ll play nice.”

“You don’t get to scare the crap out of me and Cy and then visit Muriel like it ain’t no thing. Learn manners or get lost.” Colin went back inside.

“Is he always this way?” Michel asked.

“He’s a snotty son-of-a-bitch, but he’s also useful and kind in a practical way,” his grandfather said.

“He wasn’t making any concessions to me being a Sixer,” Michel said.

“Why the hell should he, when George has made no secret of you being part of the network that dropped 50 bodies in Montreal in two years, back in the day, events which I read about with horror and dismay as they occurred,” Cy said. Waving one hand airily, “We also know you’ve abandoned violence against humans for politics or sport. George explained that you’ve done it to reduce your footprint.”

“I s’pose that’s one way of looking at it.  George said if I kept messing with humans there’d be lots hard to explain and even more difficult to deny, and that the earlier I gave it up — my killing and wounding and all that — like a good sport, while I kept doing what I like best anyway, which is thumping assholes and banging Kima, the better off I’d be.”

“You make it sound quite reasonable,” Cy said.

“Well, that’s the thing, George can make you think that something ludicrous can be tapped with a wand and made plausible. And he never by definition lies, and he changes languages to communicate depending on the not-definitely-lies he wants to tell, because every language we mutually speak offers tactical advantage in some way.  He never learned French, no matter how much I bugged him, and I’ll think him a moron and a very poor friend until he dies for dodging it. My brain gives me a weird combination of French, Greek and Italian, when I’m thinking in English space, and I know I speak fluently but I don’t want to, mostly to protest how disgusting English is.”

Castiel filk – The Sheltering Tree

I recall the day of my creation
Breathed into being for my Father's plan
I have been so many people
But I have never been a man

Will you teach me, as you have from the beginning
How to be friends, how to be family
For when you put down roots in somebody
You will grow into a sheltering tree

And by that tree you honour all Creation
Though in the storm-tossed dark you may not see
The nest you hold within your arms
Within which dreams the bird
Whose wings will some day set you free.

My Father's gone away but all His lessons
are written in my sinews and my heart
I've risen and I've fallen
I've heard the darkness calling
And in the chaos I have played my part
Will you teach me, as you have from the beginning
How to be friends, how to be family
For when you put down roots in somebody
You will grow into a sheltering tree

And by that tree you honour all Creation
Though in the storm-tossed dark you may not see
The nest you hold within your arms
Within which dreams the bird
Whose wings will some day set you free.


The Vilas kindergarten set

About ten years ago I loaned three pieces of children’s furniture to friends. Now that my grandson is two — and how in the everloving **** did that happen — I asked for it back. The 6 decade old Vilas Maple Kindergarten set has landed! Thank you Rob and Char for looking after it for us! This ten year experiment in non-attachment is now a qualified success. This will be the third generation of Granny Rivett’s descendants to use it.

I’m feeling super lucky this morning to be a grandma. Alex came over yesterday with Katie and now I’ve got my temporary fill of very serious gibberish and sloppy kisses. Rob and Char also returned a wooden xylophone and I don’t know what was more charming, Alex beating on it with a wooden spoon or trying to pronounce xylophone.

He once again insisted on standing on the cat food box and reaching up to the wall phone and calling Zizima, which is his word for his great-grandmother. (I am Zizi, so by toddler logic my mother is Zizima!) Meanwhile back in Victoria, mOm got back from their usual drive in the Camaro out to Dan’s Farm and Country Market to him saying HIYA ZIZIMA! into the answering machine. Her response when I called her. “Still melted in a puddle.”

She sounded happy rather than very inconvenienced by this turn of events, which sounds like what happens to George when he’s upset, so I’ll take that as a win.

56. Subject to fits

“Shh,” Michel said, continuing to speak in soft, clear tones. “It’s a secret,” he added. “I thought humans are always propping up misfits and crazy people and telling them to follow their dreams, especially when it’s really inconvenient or dramatic or will look good on the TV.”

George sat up and reassumed his human shape, much to Cy’s relief.

“Ten minutes,” he said. He sucker-punched Michel, who had expected it and vaulted over the gazebo railing backward, bouncing to his feet in a boxer’s stance.

They were still linked. In the language of light, George said, “My mother wanted this for me. Our species belongs in space.”

“I’m fine right here,” Michel said.

“I’m not. I’ll tell my human companions what I want to tell them, and when.  You stay out of it. It isn’t what you said about my mother that goes against my interests, it’s that you said it in front of him.”

“That’s me told,” Michel said aloud in English. He dropped the link.

“What happened?” Cy asked pointedly.

“Michel hurt my feelings, and I locked up.” Michel thought about snickering, and got a savage pinch for his telegraphing his amusement. Normally it would have started a full-on wrestling match, but Michel kept his peace.

“Oh,” said Cy. “Is that what you call it.”

“Yes. It lasts a minute or two.  After very bad news, I can lock up for the best part of an hour.”

Cy tried to express his doubts with as much sensitivity as he could. “During critical operations, or an interview, this — er — neurological condition — could put an end to your career in space before it even starts.”

“I have every hope that a treatment for my condition will be found, or that it will be ameliorated through natural processes.”

Disbelief, in every key, rang through the silence that followed.

Michel said, forestalling Cy, “What he’s trying to say is that he’s not in the correct format, currently, and that once he is in zero gravity all will be revealed.”

Cy blinked a few times. He had a face that issued each blink with the force of a thunderclap, without disturbing the neighbours.

Michel, who’d seen a lot of hard guys in his life, was impressed.  Cy had a keen stare.  Keen stares, Michel thought, as his simulacrum gazed into Cy’s red and blue eyes, can be creepy or compassionate, toddler heya or curvy perkiness, but this stare belongs to an adult who longs to understand the world beyond appearances.

Somehow this man, like a specially subsidized grade of moron, was running it while — how the hell would Jesse say it? —  factually disadvantaged? It never occurs to me to push myself to the front if I’m not competent.  Human stupidity has more layers than labels. It’s a marvel of the universe.  Somehow having all these grades of stupidity co-existing is how the human race evolves.

It makes me glad that somebody planned me.

Cause I’m fucking strong and I fear practically nothing and nobody, and my fears are rooted in death, not humiliation or regret.

Aloud, he said, “How do I translate those blinks?”

Cy said, “My eyes are very dry.”

Michel said. “Hold still. I mean it, hold still. This is going to feel cold, weird and brief.”

Cy said, “You touched me without consent.”

Michel said, “Prove it.”

“I don’t have to prove it in a court of law,” Cy said, chuckling with disbelief and reaching his hands up to his eyes with the air of someone who knows he should know better. “I needed to know you’re the kind of person who’d do that, going forward.” He started rubbing.

Michel waited for George to jump in, but he was still pretty loopy and was keeping all of his many pie holes shut to cover it. ‘Let silence serve where speech will not.’ Eh George?

“You want a reputation as being capricious. You want to be a hell-raiser. But the prank you pulled on me — don’t worry, George more than amply warned me — is to pull crap out of my eyeballs? My vision’s all blurry now.”

“You rubbed too hard,” George said. It sounded very funny, if you didn’t know it was all he could manage.

In the firm and cutting voice which had ended the hopes of many a litigator, Cy said, “You have a neurological condition which manifests symptoms that prevent you from hiding it for long, and you want to be an astronaut. You want to achieve this goal by secretly controlling all the important aspects of governance in Vancouver and environs for two to five years prior to announcing your presence, setting up a network of graft and counterbalancing interests which will prevent the world powers from turning it into a smoking hole.”

Since George was able to hold himself together or speak, but not both, he stayed quiet.

“You’re still woozy from your little wax-job there, I suspect,” Cy said. His voice became fretful. “Goddamn, I’m cold.”

55. Private conversating

“I’ll be dead before this meeting’s over if we don’t move along.  As I was saying,” and here he paused to issue a hate-stare to Michel, who shrugged, “Citizenship remains an issue. I have performed a review of citizenship requirements by country. Colin did the original research and set up the tables for me.”

“I was hoping we could assume that as long as Canada was getting the economic benefits citizenship would be guaranteed,” George said.

“What?” said Michel. “You could assume that but you need to start thinking about your plan as if you had to bug out to a different city, or country, even.”

“I can’t.  I mean, I could, but it would mean moving Kima.”

“Don’t care where you two end up as long as I get to go,” Michel said.

“Interesting as this discussion is, why don’t you use your simply splendid memory to mark it for further followup, and entitle it ‘rat-hole number one’,” Cy said. “And while you’re doing that, let me remind you that it might seem like Canadian citizenship would be a sure thing, but I think it more likely you’ll be invited to buy a rapidly disappearing Pacific Island as the perfect location for all of your kind, the water morphs and the land morphs and all other forms, seeing as how none of you can drown.”

Michel was dismissive. “Right, and when the water gets high enough the air morphs will have no place to nest. Doesn’t help really. George, isn’t there a morph for living on gas giants? Don’t think they’d do well here, it’s way too hot.”

Grimly continuing, Cy said, “More likely yet is that the Canadian government decides to stall, to see how upset its allies would be if it granted you citizenship, since the US, China and pretty much any country with any say will make its opinion known, and I don’t imagine any of them will approve.”

Michel said, “Maybe we should just go for whoever will take us and not worry about Canadian citizenship.”

George sounded reasonable. “I want to have the same problems and protections, such as they are, as the people who would be my fellow citizens.  I don’t know what else I can do except show I’m serious about being a law abiding citizen.”

Michel said, “I’ve officially lived long enough to be glad your mother’s dead.”

George stayed quiet.  He felt a great discontinuity begin somewhere in his body, and with it an intense and unreasonable fear. Before he knew what was happening, Michel had slung him over a shoulder and carried him outside.

“What’s happening?” Cy called after Michel.

He paused at the door. “He’s passing out.  I’m taking him out to the gazebo. You can join us if you can get your elderly meat suspenders down the stairs.”

“Will he be alright? He did it once before.”

“I think I ‘overtaxed’ him, or maybe it was a mistake mentioning his mother. You never know with this one.”

The link was dead.  George was out cold. Since Michel had seen this happen scores of times, neither the fainting spell nor the uncertainty about when George might be expected to awaken, if at all, concerned him.

After a few minutes, Cy and his grandson came out.  There was a great setting and re-setting of pillows on the chaise longue,, and Cy was now wearing a hat and gloves against the chill.  Colin fired up a gas brazier and the damp was successfully driven away. Even so, Cy was far from comfortable, but the opportunity to quiz Michel with George out of the picture, even for a few minutes, was worth the aching in every joint and the pain it took to sit.

“Shall I stay?” Colin said. He didn’t have a problem leaving his grandfather alone with two aliens, if he was fine with it. A family history of extreme personal autonomy accompanied the question.

“Stay upstairs with your grandmother, but keep your eyes on the backyard if you can,” Cy said. “Michel and I will have a chat.”

After the back door had closed behind Colin, Michel said, “I don’t mind telling you that I’m very happy to be outdoors.  I don’t mind being indoors for a little while but really I’d rather be where the breezes blow.”

“Tell me what’s wrong with George,” Cy said.

“He’s way past sleepy and he can’t hear us.”

“That seems a quite functional description,” Cy said slowly.  “But I’d like you to be more specific.”

“More specific how? I can’t raise him on the link, so he’s at least one level unconscious.  When I kick him in the centre-line, he does not react, so that’s strike two.  His hair is lying completely limp, which means that someone could train a fifty cal on him at point blank range and he’d sleep like a puppy in the afternoon sun.”

Cy said, “He’s deeply unconscious, in other words, but you have hope for his recovery.”

“I’ve learned to consider his fits to be very convenient, so I don’t cut him any slack, and you shouldn’t either,” Michel said.

“Do you consider him trustworthy?” Cy asked.

“From what well-spring of arrogance could you find the motivation for such a question,” Michel said in a wondering tone.

“You’re the one that said his fits are convenient,” Cy said.

“Do you consider your grandson trustworthy?” Michel asked.

“Ah,” said Cy.

“He’s sneaking off to go drinking with my coworker, so maybe he and Jesse are cooking up something we don’t know about. People whether they are Sixers or humans do one of two things, exactly what you expect or nothing you could predict.  This one,” and here he gently kicked George, who did not respond, “is very unpredictable.”

“Did he lure you here by moving Kima out here?”

“Kima moved out here herself and George followed her.  So did I.”

“I’m trying to get some sense of your relationship with George.”

“I tried to kill him once. Well, more than once, but it was several times over a short period, so I think that counts as once.”

“What? Why?” Cy asked, horrified.

“His grandmother talked me into it,” Michel said.

“He said she was unpleasant,” Cy said, after a pause.

“She really hated his hair, and she had another grandchild, so she told three of us to kill him.”

“How did he survive?”

“We never all ganged up on him at once,” Michel said. “But I don’t think it would have helped, since his hair woke up and poked me in a lot of tender places. I went back to Zosime and told her to get stuffed.”

George’s tentacles started flailing, and sank, twitching slightly, back down onto the gazebo floor, where they started to firm up.  There was a shimmer, and George vanished.

“Link works,” Michel said placidly. “He’ll be back soon.”

“What if he does this in the middle of a public function?” Cy said.  “Or in space?”

54. A good old fashioned data dump

“Those someones include your grandson, my coworker Jesse, and a whole bunch of other people I can’t talk to you about.”

Michel continued.

“Of course, please add to the total of all the humans I’m s’posed to keep alive — after the collapse of civilization and you fuckers all starting to eat each other — all of our previous clients, which is flattering, but there’s only one of me and I take time off to bang Kima, plus I do like to see my ma once in a while, so if people are going to be assholes someone else is going to pick up the slack, and that means we’re gonna have to be extra squishy cozy with the cops.  I fucking hate cops. So George here —“ and he slapped him to produce that strangely metallic, echoic ringing sound Sixers get when they strike each other ‘just so’ — “when he’s first telling me his plan and he described that one of the first things he was gonna do was suborn the cops, I think to myself  — where’s he gonna get that kind of money? To be honest I think judges are mostly scumbags, too, but I’m willing, since George speaks so highly of you, to cut you some slack. Oh, I nearly forgot I’m also supposed to help plan out how to secure the city from possible air attacks without actually advising the Canadian Forces to fatten up their local presence, not that an angry gnat couldn’t fart them out of the sky.”

Cy found that he had no response to this he could trust, and said nothing. 

Michel unlooped his arm.

He said, “If you want to meet other Sixers, don’t bother.  Me, Kima, George and Hermes are the only ones who’ve either lived human or committed to the plan.”

George broke in. “Seriously, Cy, you don’t want to meet my grandmother.”

“Or that little shit Theo. I hope you’re keeping tabs on that asshole, I don’t want him in Vancouver,” Michel said.

“Another of Kima’s suitors?” Cy said, raising his eyebrows delicately.

George gave a small cough.  “He would like to think so.  It is Kima’s decision of course, and Michel and I have no say in her choices.”

Cy raised his eyebrows even higher. “I doubt that, somehow. Well, Michel, now that George is getting what he wants from you except your agreement not to whinge, will you join us for our information update?”

“I don’t like meetings,” Michel said. “But I wouldn’t mind finding out why George thinks you’re so special.”

Cy laughed. “I’m not special. I’m available. And I know a lot of important people.”

“First up,” George said, shifting his tone and asserting control.

“Citizenship,” said Cy, obediently.

Michel continued his freestyle kibitzing. “What? Why even bother with that?” Michel said. “From a cultural standpoint it would be regressive to ask Canada for citizenship. We are citizens of the world.”

“Nope,” Cy said.

“Sure we are,” Michel said.

“What you are, my glabrous new friend, is an animal. You have no legal protection whatsoever.  You are not a person, and therefore you have no rights.”

“Most people don’t think that way,” Michel said, frowning. “Like, anybody who meets me. And I got three hairs,” he added, since he hadn’t enjoyed being called hairless.

“If I shot you in the doorway of my house, to give an unlikely but instructive example, and you died, which I understand is very unlikely indeed, I’d face no legal consequences except under sections 86 and 87 of the Criminal Code of Canada.”

“Horseshit,” Michel said comfortably. “The secret police would jail you for years for shooting an alien, on slapped-together charges. There are no civil rights left in this country anyway.”

“Firearms stuff,” George said. He’d memorized the CCC, since the app worked too slowly for his agile mind, and there was no proper search function.

“Wish I’d had your memory when I was in school,” Cy said, “And ever since, as well,” he added with mild envy. He tried to resume his lecture, and as he took a breath, Michel broke in again.

“Can’t you just make Sixers a protected species?” Michel asked. “I thought that could happen with an Order-in-Council.”

“It’s not good enough,” George said. “However cute a beluga is it can’t own property, intellectual or otherwise, or transfer it, or bank, or get a drivers licence, or any of that.”

“Can’t get sued, either,” Michel said, trying to find the bright spot.

“Is he like this all the time?” Cy asked George.

“Sometimes I’m horny, rather than talkative.  It’s better than violent and inconvenient,” Michel said. He reverted to his human appearance, and with relief, George joined him.

“You’re trying to rattle me,” Cy said.

“No, I’m done trying that,” Michel said. “I still don’t understand why George thinks you’re a Rosetta Stone with an Antikythera device on top.”

“He likes me.”

“Oh, pshaw,” Michel said. “George likes everybody.”

“I said I’d help him before he asked.”

“Humans help each other to the point of death every damned day.”

“Why don’t you try asking George?” Cy said, the anger resurfacing.

“Where’s the fun in that when I can get you going? Okay, I’ll bite.  George, why him?”

“Because Conspirator Zero told me to.”

“What?” Michel and Cy said simultaneously.

There was a long pause.

“I was under the strong impression that you researched me for a long time before you approached me,” Cy said, keeping his voice cold and quiet.

“I was given your number by a man who met you twice, once in civvies and once for court,” George said.

“Christ, that could be about a hundred thousand people,” Cy said, baffled.

“Well then — I imagine his identity will stay secure. I can’t even tell you why I can’t tell you who he is.  Or was.  He’s dead now.”

53. Ever see a city sacked Billy

Cy and Colin were waiting for them in the living room off the main entrance. “Cy, may I formally present to you my friend Mikhael, who goes by Michel Calabria. Michel, Cy.” Cy stood, with some effort.

“I met you at the crime scene,” Cy said.  “I won’t shake your hand.”

“I changed my appearance to avoid the attention of the authorities,” Michel said.

“Michel, may I present Cy’s grandson Colin, who’s assisting his grandparents, and us.”

“A pleasure,” Colin said. He was tall and pale and looked snarky.

“Sure wish I could change my appearance,” Cy said. “It’d be great if it was a transferrable skill.” He frowned a little.

“I don’t know how I do it, so I doubt I could teach you,” Michel said.

Colin spoke. “Why do you have that outrageous French accent when George speaks perfect English?” Cy looked down for a moment, and then raised his gaze to Michel.

“To get up the noses of stupid Anglos,” Michel replied.

“It’s deliberate?” Colin considered this, and then smirked as George said, “Very.”

“George says you’re difficult but fun,” Cy said after a pause.

“That was very honest and kind of him,” Michel said.  “But you could pretty much say that about any Sixer.”

George pulled a face.  “My mother?” he asked with some heat. “My grandmother?”

“I said pretty much. Isn’t that a qualifier? Besides, I only ever met 44 other Sixers, and got a whiff of mebbe half a dozen more, which leaves about 250 unaccounted for.”

“If that’s indeed the final count,” George said gloomily.  “Another sticking point with humans.  Once they find out we’re here, they’re going to want a head count, and that will be impossible.”

“Always more questions than answers with you folks,” Cy said.

“Say Sixers, ‘you people’ and ‘you folks’ have othering connotations which we wish to avoid,” George said.

“Why don’t you just take over the planet and cut the politically correct crap?” Cy asked. He put his hand on his knee as he sat down. His grandson Colin came forward and arranged cushions, and then left the room after nodding to both George and Michel. Michel decided to like him. Jesse had been impressed; they’d gone out drinking at least once and Jesse had come back somehow looking both thoughtful and smug.

“S’what I keep telling him, but he doesn’t want to, and I don’t want to either,” Michel said, “Since it seems like a lot of work.” He once again tried to link with George. Perhaps thinking Michel would leave in a snit if he shook him off again, George allowed the link. Their conversation thereafter had a dimension Cy could not perceive.

“What do you want out of this?”

“Me? I want George to go into space and leave me alone with Kima! Then I’m hoping we go back to the Margin, or maybe Alaska, open a poutine shack….”

“If Kima will go,” George said through the link.

“Your assistance is to ensure that George leaves Earth,” Cy said.

“At this rate he’ll never go. Strap your ass to a Chinese rocket and beat it!”

“You understand ballistics at least as well as I do,” George said pointedly.  The sub-rosa battering he was getting in the language of light didn’t help. With rising annoyance, he said, “Killing a group of taikonauts and not to put too fine a point on it, but myself as well! — would not get me into space and it would be a great loss of the limited treasure humans devote to science as well as cutting short my life, much against my wishes.  I can’t pull a “Space Bat”, clinging to some part of a rocket like an asylum-seeker sneaking a lift in a the wheel well of a jet.”

“You’re the only Sixer I ever met apart from George and Hermes,” Cy said.  “As far as I know, you’re the only three Sixers on Earth. Without human help George’s rocket trip will never happen.”

“You met Hermes,” Michel said slowly. George looked bland. In the language of light he told Michel to quit struggling and try to look like a good minion. Michel’s response was as rude as he could make it in the language of light, which is a language structured around ideas, objects and testable reality, not personalities and feelings. Michel slumped, very slightly, but it was enough to show, for the moment at least, they were going to do it George’s way.

Michel, accompanying the statement with an invisible flick to George’s centre-line, much the same in intent and pain as snapping an elastic, “I’m going to help George with his project.  I’ll go where he sends me and do what he tells me, and if either of us make babies with Kima, we’ve promised to protect any of Kima’s babies, whoever made them, against humans and Sixers.”


“That was the deal. I don’t want to attend any fucking meetings. I’m here because I was curious to see what shenanigans you were getting up to, but it all seems to be happening here is careful planning and I got no time for that shit.”

“Michel being a reactive sort of person,” George said.

“I am right here! I got legs, and just because you got hair you can’t control doesn’t mean I couldn’t kill you, just that it would be harder.”

“This is your closest Sixer ally,” Cy said heavily.

“What good are you to George, old man? I can keep my head in an emergency, can you?” Michel dropped his appearance.

George sighed. In solidarity with Michel, and in part to prevent him from leaving, he dropped his appearance as well.

Seen side by side, the differences between the two aliens were stark. Michel was taller, broader and a few shades darker, his centre-line spangled with silver dots. George was a paler beige, with pink blotches around his hairline and less defined markings on his centre-line, and rotund, as if someone had superimposed the outline of the Michelin Tire Man on his form. His hair formed a gently moving, shining black nimbus around his head.

Staring at where Michel’s now absent eyes had been, and showing no sign of anything but tightly controlled anger, Cy said, “I’m at the end of my life. I’ve dragged my wife, who’s dying upstairs, and my grandson, who’s immolated his own career on the bonfire of George’s promises, by their lapels, into what will be one of the defining events of the twenty-first century, even as I ready to depart from life.”

Cy was just getting warmed up.

Fucking humans, thought Michel.  Bags of blood, bone and air, with air being their defining weakness. Get to the fucking point.

“The concept of public service is laughable to you, pointless to you, but I have served my city, and my province, and my country since I was old enough to understand what it means.  I’ve had to re-cast and re-conceive that service many times, as my understanding of the world has grown. Now I’ve been presented with the opportunity to prevent possibly thousands upon thousands of human beings from dying. I have a chance to prevent my city from burning down. I may be dying myself, but if I can prevent this horror from unfolding I’m prepared to sacrifice everything I love to make that happen; my wife and my grandson have agreed to help because they don’t want Vancouver to burn down either.”

“Today I learned that George is essentially in this alone; that your assistance is conditional upon no more substantial a foundation than that provided by your concupiscence and the vanity you feel for your species as a whole. The sacrifice I have been called upon to make, and am still willing to make, is meaningless to you, and you seem to have no understanding of either our reasoning or our goals.”

“Ever seen a city sacked?” Michel asked after a tense pause.


“I have. Don’t tell me I don’t know what can happen.”

“In Turkey?” George said suddenly.

“During the Great War, yes.  Of course they only sacked the Armenian quarter, so I s’pose I should have been more specific. They killed a lot of people, burned a lot of houses, raped a lot of boys and women, and marched a lot of old people down the road until they died. I have lived on this earth almost twice as long as you, and I don’t need a fucking lecture about how upstanding you are. If you think that you and I are different from each other you’re wrong. We’re both sentient beings with something resembling free will – perhaps free range of motion is a better way of putting it – and we’re both getting used by this asshole.” Here he flung out a tentacle and looped it rapidly around George’s non-existent neck several times and pulled him closer. He tried to give George noogies, but his hair fended him off.  “Ow! That you can drape your fine sentiments in lacier language than me don’t make you smarter or prettier or morally superior to me. You’re supposed to find the legal language to take care of some parts of this shit pile of a plan, and I’m here to prevent our closest human friends from getting killed or dying in a blacksite jail when it’s learned they’ve been contributing to an international criminal conspiracy for years.”