40 Perks and benefits

“I’m sorry, I can’t imagine what you mean,” George said blandly.

“I’ve just spent a day with my guts on the puke’n’poop seesaw. It’s pretty obvious it was Michel’s fault. Unless he confesses, I’ll never know for sure. What the fuck makes you think I’d want to work with Michel?” Jesse said, his patient tone fraying toward the end.

“Nothing. But Michel, who will probably admit it if you ask, is going to view it as you failing a test. You were tested to see if you’re really as tolerant a stand-up guy as you seem to think you are, and I’m being tested on my management skills for joint Sixer-human projects.”

All of the bitterness Jesse felt for having been used formed itself into a conversational spearpoint. “What am I bid?” he said.

“Fuck you,” George said, with completely unexpected heat. His hair rippled.


“I said, a most hearty and convinced ‘Fuck you!’” George said, “And I’ve got plenty of reasons to say it.”

“Oh, really? You admitted you’ve put my life in danger every time I’ve been with you. Somehow that does not give me the right to some little consideration, maybe compensation.”

“For the physical work you do, you are compensated. For the secrets I hope you keep, you will be compensated. For you telling me that we can solve our trust issues with money, I think ‘Fuck you’ covers it.  You’ve never been motivated by money.  Money merely represents autonomy, the freedom to choose what you do next, the freedom to live your life within your health constraints as pleasantly as you can.”

Jesse, breathing a little hard, said, “Please feel free to tell me what you have to offer beside money.”

George started to jiggle all over. Under different circumstances, Jesse might have laughed. As if sensing this, George stopped, and then extended a tentacle and rested it, like cold, somehow fizzy, plastic, on his hand.

“Friendship,” he said.

Jesse didn’t flinch.

“Let me touch your hair,” he said.

George’s hair slowly gathered itself and then slowly extended itself so that it rippled above Jesse’s hand. Jesse reached out and touched it.

“Don’t touch the ends. They’re sharp as hell,” George said.

It felt smoother than anything Jesse had ever felt. Slowly, it roughened until it felt like burlap, and then like the surface of a brick. He pushed a finger into it; it pushed back.

“Is it computational?” Jesse said. He tried to imagine any brain or computer being able to run something so sophisticated, and then curiosity ran on ahead. “And how long does it get?”

A section of the hair gently but snugly wrapped around Jesse’s body. Four more sections wrapped around his arms and legs. It lifted him into the air, until he was staring straight down at George.  The springs in the sofa underneath George made protesting noises.

“I’m really sorry it’s fondling you like this,” George said.

“Why? This’ll be an awesome story for my memoirs,” Jesse said, trying to maintain the steady demeanour George seemed to like him for.  The hair re-oriented him so that he was coasting around the room. It was painless and almost pleasant, and he knew for a fact that freaking out or thrashing was a really bad idea.

“My hair is not a bad sort, but it’s —“ and here George paused.

“‘Of diminished moral capacity’ should cover it,” Jesse said, from a corner of the ceiling.  His voice sounded weird to himself.

“‘Inconsistently understood and applied moral capacity and extremely variable responses to perceived threats’ is more like it. I’m ecstatic you’re taking this so well. I’ve asked it to set you down gently, and it’s thinking about it.”

The hair, responding to George’s request, set Jesse back in his chair, and returned to home position.

“Remarkable,” George said. “My hair has freely promised never to injure you.”

“You can talk to your hair.”

“To a certain inconsistent and limited extent, yes. You have no idea what a relief it is.  When I completely let go and let the hair do whatever it wants, I have no clue what will happen next.  Sometimes it makes art. Sometimes it goes completely limp. Sometimes it stabs me repeatedly, and since it’s the only thing that can stab me it’s really not nice to have it on my head all the time. Sometimes it supersonically kills every flying insect within ten metres.”

“Hair that breaks the sound barrier — no gel on earth can restrain it,” Jesse said, theatrically. More seriously, he added, “Did your hair say why it likes me?”

“Because I do,” George said simply. “Now, do you really want to talk about money, or would you rather talk about perks?”

“Do I have to work with Michel?”

There was a long pause.

“I’m afraid of what Michel will get up to if you don’t. He likes the work, because it solidifies his defiance of Sixer norms, and makes him a hero to most humans who learn of it. Never underestimate Michel’s desire to be viewed as a devil may care hero.”

“That makes me wonder how you want to be seen.”

“As a protector of humanity,” George said.

“Oh, shit,” Jesse said, and fear sharpened his voice. “Sounds like we’ve got incoming alien troop ships.”

“Not that I’m aware,” George said, tartly. “I was thinking along the lines of big hunks of rock flying at Earth from the sunward side.”


“Space rocks. Planet smashing ones, which we haven’t seen yet. The Chelyabinsk event is pressing on my mind.”

“So, no spaceships materializing over Washington.”

“I have reason to believe that if my species ever had spaceships, they have cloaking technology and you would not see them on radar or with the naked eye. And if they haven’t shown up in eight millennia, which is how long we’ve been here, I’m betting they aren’t coming now.”

Jesse sat with this information for a while.

“Promise me you’re not lying.”

“I’m not.  Ask any Sixer about it.  They’ll all have opinions about the facts, but the facts will be more or less consistent. You know, Jesse, I’ll think more of you if you don’t ask me to promise that aliens aren’t coming. For all I know, a different species altogether wants to steal your junk food and toy with your women while threatening planetary extinction.”

You’re such a comfort, George.