69. SWOT

“You’re very fluent.”

“Fluency implies not having to work to speak. I have to stop using the rest of my brain to leave enough room to speak English and follow a conversation properly. I don’t have problems with mathematical notation or chemistry and I prefer text to speech as it is much less emotional while being processed.”

Anh tried a different tack. “George says you can be any colour of the rainbow.”

“Or I can look like a human.” A glamorous woman, with radiant skin and immense dark eyes, dressed with rich elegance in the style of the late forties, appeared to perch on the barrel.  Her expression was rather waxen, and her motion almost too smooth, but most people would have looked at her twice just for her makeup, not realizing she wasn’t human.

“Wow!” said Jesse.

Colin said, “Brava!”

Anh was speechless.

Kima reverted to her normal appearance. It was very tiring to stand in the air and she only did it to show off.

Stephanie and George quietly returned to the apartment. Stephanie came no further in than the entrance way, and as everyone turned to look at them, said, “I’m not feeling well enough to participate this evening, so I’m going home.”

“Colin,” George said. Colin nodded, rose and said, “Let me give you a lift.” Stephanie looked at George, who said, “He’ll get you to your door.”

“I could take a cab,” Stephanie said.

“I guarantee that my grandad’s Lincoln is more comfy,” Colin said. “And it’s got wifi,” he said, as if this would be the clincher.

Stephanie gave a wan smile of agreement and went to gather her things. They departed.

“Well,” George said. “The smartest and hardest working woman in Vancouver thinks we’re all a bunch of idiots.”

“She can speak for herself,” Sparrow said heavily.

George said, “I concur, but for the meantime, the secret’s safe and she’s scaled back her involvement. If you run into her, which doesn’t seem likely, since she never does anything except go to work, go home, and go to City functions under protest, pretend you don’t know her.”

“I’ve forgotten who she is already,” Michel said, coming in off the balcony. “I don’t mind being around humans who hate and fear me when they deserve to feel crappy, but that was a bit much.”

“Please don’t mock her,” George said. For a moment, he seemed both exhausted and downcast. Brightening, he said, “There’s always the magic agenda.”

“You’ve made it more sound more interesting than when she first suggested it,” Avtar said.

“It’s not the agenda that’s interesting, it’s the assumptions she made doing the ‘SWOT’ analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Let’s not forget that she’s received the Feds’ briefing for municipal leaders on terroristic and other threats to urban civilians.”

Jesse said, “Do you suppose a properly trained realist could ever really fit in with your crew?”

Ignoring him, George said, “There are, according to her, six separate threats to the project of getting me into space. One is me, two is all you including you two,” and here he stabbed a finger at Kima, who ignored him, and then Michel, who shrugged elaborately, “three is local law enforcement, four is the Canadian Forces,” and here Jesse snickered, thinking of the four-tanks-and-a-popgun Canadian military, “five is international sanction including whatever your biggest ally, bully and trading partner, the US, chooses to hand out, and six is well-funded non-state actors.”

“Holy crap,” Avtar said. Jesse felt stupid for laughing.

“Put like that,” George said, “It does seem like a really dumb idea. Which is why I’m trying to figure out how to prevent the worst of what could happen. Jesse, I hope you understand why I wanted you to bring your colourful phiz to the party.  Being my associate is an existential risk and I thought a reminder might be useful.”

“Well, I’m already fucked,” Avtar said cheerfully.

“How so?” Jesse asked.

“Who do you think is spoofing the telecoms for your free secure phone service?” Avtar said.

“With my help,” Kima said.

“Well, yeah,” Avtar said.  “You told me how to do it, I just implemented it. But I suspect I’m the one that will do the time.”

“Oh,” Sparrow said. They all looked at each other. “Thanks for giving me all these names and faces for me to rat out during an ‘enhanced interrogation’,” he said.

“It would have been hard to have a really effective criminal conspiracy without secure coms,” Avtar pointed out.

Jesse said, smiling his toddler smile, “I suppose we can all be thankful you’re helping aliens instead of the Hell’s Angels. George, you said I’d never spend a day in jail over something I did for you.”

Kima’s uncomfortable voice said, “If George is dead he can’t help anybody.”

“But you’ll avenge me, right?” George said. It was obviously a running gag. Michel was swinging his head from side to side in a large, unequivocal ’NO’, while shooting out his lower lip.

“That isn’t traditional for our people,” Kima said. “Either the killing or the vengeance,” she added, to clarify. “At least since we got to Earth,” she added, which clarified nothing.

George answered the implied question. “Jesse, I can’t protect you, and even if I had an army of Sixers at my command — possibly one of the most horrific images I can conjure in a lifetime that has spanned the Armenian Genocide, the Great War, the Second World War, about a hundred and fifty coups and revolutions, the Ukrainian famine, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur — I probably still couldn’t protect you. It’s possible that every last one of you, sooner rather than later, will be jailed, in secret, for life.”

“Which is one of the reasons you have a retired judge in your corner,” Michel said. “Very handy.”

“Colin’s not here to be offended, so I may as well say it: His grandad won’t live forever. Once he’s gone I’ll be paying for my legal help, just like everyone else.”

“He’s working pro bono?” Jesse said, startled.

“Not exactly,” George said, “but he’s been very modest in his demands.”

“Having warned us,” Anh said suddenly, “What would you do if we walked out the door?”

“To you? Nothing. You’re all independent actors.”

“Oh man,” Sparrow said. “I almost wish I could believe something that stupid.”

“I’m not a man, which is why the whole stupid issue comes up,” George said.