65. Introductions all around

George said, looking around the room, “Do you wish to meet Kima?”

Sparrow said nothing, presumably because he’d met her. Avtar said, “It’d be an honour,” and Jesse heard Michel make a noise of disbelief through the open balcony door. He and Colin glanced at each other, and nodded at George, who followed them out. In the doorway, Jesse turned, and having noticed that George was tense, said, “Quit worrying, she’ll be fine.”

Michel appeared to be holding hands with a forty-five kilo cuttlefish. Four smallish tentacles, beige speckled with brown, boiled over the side of the barrel. They reached out to grasp the hands of Colin, Jesse, Avtar and George, all of whom, with varying degrees of comfort, surrendered to the gesture.

“Hi,” said Kima.  Her voice was pitched the same as a woman’s, but sounded robotic.

“Hi,” Jesse said. “Can I pick you up?”

Everyone but Michel looked at him as if he was nuts. Michel, of course, was grinning and waiting to see what would happen next.

“What? She wanted to know if I could carry her!” Jesse said, and stood next to the barrel. Kima flowed over the side and, grasping his clothes and his shoulders, draped herself around him. She put her diaphragm against his ear and whispered, “George likes you. I want to like you too.”

He whispered back, “If you tell me how to be your friend, I’ll try.”


She nearly pushed him over as she dived back into the bucket. Michel, who had been expecting it, turned himself into a shield and prevented the displaced water from flying all over their guests.

“Nicely done,” George said. “It’s a little chilly for the folks, so I’m going back inside for the meeting. Michel, if you’d do the honours.”

“Did I err?” Jesse said, into the atmosphere of general disapproval.

“I wouldn’t have done that,” Avtar said.

“Me either,” Colin said.

Sparrow had watched from inside and was slowly shaking his head from side to side as they came back in.

“Did you disrespect her by picking her up?” he asked in a low voice.

“She’ll be the judge of that,” George said, softly.

“She’s an elder, you can’t just throw her around,” Sparrow said.

“That isn’t what happened,” George said.

There were new folding chairs in the apartment, set up in a circle around the coffee table, which was water-damaged enough to have been rescued from an alley.  George gestured for everyone to sit.

“I asked a number of people to come tonight. The most distinguished guest is Sparrow, so I’ll ask him to open the meeting.”

Sparrow looked at George, and there was a long silence.

“Should I open with a blessing?” Sparrow said.

“We’re on your land,” George said. “I’ll follow your lead.”

Michel tip-walked the barrel in, sloshing a little, set it between himself and George and sat.

Sparrow rose, intoned his way through three sentences of what might have been a prayer, and sat down again.

“I’ve asked the Creator and our ancestors to watch over what we do,” he said.

“Thank you,” Jesse and George said, simultaneously.

“Are you guys having a bromance or something?” Colin said resentfully.

“No, that’s me and Michel,” Jesse said. Michel rolled his eyes and then yawned.

“Jesse’s beating raised a fairly serious issue for me,” George said. “Being associated with me is going to put every one of you at risk.”

“I thought Jesse being a silly bugger put his own self at risk,” Michel said.

“Kinda how I was thinking about it,” Jesse said.

The entry buzzer sounded and all the humans jumped. Kima extended a tentacle across the room and held down the button. Sparrow put his hand over his mouth to hide a smile.

George sighed. “Kima, you’re supposed to check who it is first.”

“It’s the frightened one,” Kima said. “I was looking out the window,” she added.

“Seriously,” Jesse said. “The frightened one? You guys scare the shit out of me all the time.”

“Stephanie,” George said. “Her name is Stephanie. She doesn’t want to be here, so give her a welcome.”

“With no food?” Sparrow said.

“Yeah, George, you know about humans and food,” Colin said.

“There’s pop in the fridge, and snacks on the counter,” Michel said. “Don’t all thank me at once.”

“Thanks, Michel,” Jesse said.

“But — there are no plates,” Colin said, having gotten up to inspect the food. He brought out a couple of cans of pop and a bag of nacho chips, which Jesse promptly ripped open.

There was a timid little knock on the door, and Colin, who was closest, answered.

A polished professional woman, white, in her early forties, eyes wide and expression guarded, was standing there.  Colin said, “Hi, I’m Colin,” and shook her hand to prove that he wasn’t an alien.

“Stephanie,” she said.

She gave a tight little smile as Colin took her coat and hung it up, and walked, with obvious reluctance, into the room.

“Please, take a seat. We were just getting started,” George said.

“I’m George.”






Kima raised a tentacle and waved it without speaking. Stephanie sank into her seat with a look of polite horror and the faintest detectable twitch of disgust.