71. The only good thing about it was going for beer afterward

Anh was still working through how to deal with alien murderers, as their publicist-in-training, and seemed to be having a rough go, if her facial expressions were anything to go by.

George said, in a strange voice, “Jesse.”

Jesse started. What the hell did George want him to do about this situation?  Fix it? It was best to start with a question.

“Anh?” he said.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” she said impatiently. She wasn’t making eye contact with anyone.

“No, you aren’t. Your breathing is shallow and you’re jumpy.”

“I’m like that all the time.”

George shook his head slightly.

Jesse said, “Fine, let’s put that to the test. How would you deal with this little —“

“Background problem,” George supplied.

“Works for me,” Jesse said.

“Is there any physical evidence linking you to these alleged murders?” Anh asked.

Michel grinned. “Oh, no,” he said.

“No,” George said.

“Then how do I know it happened at all and you’re not jerking me around?” Anh said.

“Because it was a very important event in making me understand how summary justice, however sweet in prospect, is virtually always a bad idea in practice,” George said.

‘Because I was jealous of George for breaking the taboo even if he obviously felt like shit about it afterward and I wanted to try it.”

“You waited 20 years to try it yourself, you dirty great clownbag,” George interjected. “You had lots of time to understand what a terrible idea it was.”

“You told me about it, remember? You could have hidden it, because of that thing we don’t talk about in front of the humans.  The trouble was I liked it a lot, way more than I thought I would, and way more than you ever would, and then one day I sat down and tried to do the math on how many lives I’d wrecked by killing some asshole.”

“That was when you called me to ask me how to do it,” Kima said.

“Well, yeah, and also —“

“Chut,” said Kima, and George gave his one-bark laugh.

Michel pushed red, glowing eyes out of his face until they bounced off George’s face.  George did not startle or move; he looked like a plasticized concrete statue of himself.

“What’s the thing you don’t talk about in front of the humans?” Anh said.

“Which one?” Michel asked with interest. “Is it regarding physical deformities? Mental health troubles? Being too cozy with his mother?”

“Shut the hell up,” George said.

“Make me,” Michel said. The conversation switched over to Greek.

“This,” Anh said.

Sparrow said, “I don’t envy you. The water taxi is all the alien shenanigans I want.”

“What kind of a deal did you make with George, anyway?” Jesse asked.

Sparrow grinned and his eyebrows briefly flashed upward. “A decent hourly rate plus fuel,” he said.

“You know that’s not what he meant,” Avtar said.

“You’re all settlers to me. If George won’t tell you don’t expect me to fill you in.”

“What,” Anh said. “George cut a deal with the —”

“Jesse, Anh,” George said, briefly breaking away from his huddle with Michel, “Give it a rest. There’s lots you’ll never know, try to get acclimated to that.”

“I need full disclosure,” Anh said.

Sparrow got up, said, “Goodnight everyone.  Michel, Kima, I’ll see you back at the boat.”

He stopped in the doorway, turned and said, “I want you to know, I think you’re all fucking crazy.”

The door closer sighed. The door banged shut.

“Well, that’s kind of ableist,” Anh said blankly.

“Avtar,” Jesse said conversationally. “Let’s go drink beer.”

“I’m not invited?” Anh asked

“Engineers never hang out with PR and marketing people.  It doesn’t work out for us, and we keep getting asked to meetings about our feelings on website layout,” Avtar said.

“And I’m not going to tell you why I won’t drink beer with you unless you buy the first round,” Jesse said, his face unnaturally straight.

“No, the first two, there’d be three of us,” Avtar said.

“And then we leave after the second round? Diabolical old chap, let’s see if  she falls for it,” Jesse said.

“You’ll only go drinking with me if I buy the first two rounds — are you fuckers negging me?”

Jesse and Avtar exchanged a look.

Jesse said, with suspicious dignity. “I thought I was trying to lighten the mood by teasing my new colleague, but I can see I went too far. By all means, let’s go drinking. We’ll tell the server we want separate cheques, so Anh can be spared from breaking her perfect record for never having had to buy a man a drink.”

Smiling now, Anh said,”That’s bullshit. I’ve bought men drinks before.”

“Well, what’s stopping you then?” Avtar asked, with what appeared to be genuine curiosity.

“Check, and mate,” Jesse said.

“This meeting is officially over, get lost,” Michel said.

“What he said,” George said. “Avtar, put the whole thing on my tab.”

“You’re the boss,” Avtar said.

“No, I am,” Kima said.

They all looked at her.

George laughed.

“I can’t believe it,” he said.  “She’s joking.”

“Really?” Michel said.