67 Would you all siddown and shaddap

“The agenda,” Stephanie said, with a degree of enunciation which in itself commanded attention.

“After we go round the room,” Anh said, moving her forefinger in a circle and looking at everyone, “and I need to know which of you are aliens. I’ll start with me. I’m Anh. I’m the media intern.”

“You getting paid?” Jesse and Colin said. They looked at each other and Colin said, “Jinx.”

“Don’t feel obliged to answer,” George said peaceably, as Anh drew a breath.

“Then I won’t,” she said, and looked directly at Jesse, who said, “Jesse, driver.”

“Who punched your face in, Jesse?” Anh asked.

“I never saw his ID,” Jesse said, in the blank tone he had once used when his mother was grilling him. “We’re giving our names now,” he said, frowning, and glanced at Colin.

“Colin, research and logistics.”

“Congratulations, Kima’s asleep,” Michel said, pulling his hand out of the bucket. “You guys are fucking boring. I’m going out on the balcony.”

Jesse and Colin waved at his back, more or less at the same time. “The entrainment is complete,” Colin said under his breath.

George said, “That’s Michel, and he’s an alien using a human appearance. Michel, without scaring the neighbours, show your true form.”

Michel obliged, held the pose for a couple of seconds, and then they could hear the balcony door open and slide shut; Michel vanished. George heard Stephanie gasp, and then try to control her breathing.

“I am not asleep,” Kima said. She braced herself on all of her tentacles and  balanced on the edge of the barrel.  Stephanie’s blood pressure tanked and George caught her before she slid out of her chair and hit her head on the floor. Kima, sensing that rearing up like that was not very friendly, slid back into the bucket with a bubbling sound.

Jesse and Colin fetched water and sat Stephanie up. Sparrow sat with his eyes closed, no more than perceptibly shaking his head.

Everyone else was trying to look at anyone else but Kima. Kima had all the manners of a toddler, and it was quite unnerving, except to Jesse, who had to assume that Michel standing outside was either a signal of trust that Kima wouldn’t do anything stupid or a desire to have no responsibility for the outcome if she did. Or both. He was a canny bastard, that Michel.

Those in the circle made anxious noises of concern until Stephanie came to. She excused herself to the bathroom, fending off the assistance of both young men with thanks and a wan smile.  In her absence, Colin, with what appeared to be his normal commonsensical officiousness, picked up her agenda from where it had fallen next to her chair and wondered aloud if they should continue with the check-in and then start in on the agenda.

George looked at Colin for a long moment.

“Everyone in this room is in danger because of me. Stephanie fainted because that’s a reasonable thing for a human being to do the first time they see Kima. She’s out of the room, so let me just say she’s one of the people that’s going to make O-day a success or a failure. Success means nobody dies.  Failure means the city burns down.”

“The only real agenda today is that you get to know each other. I can’t predict what makes certain people like each other and others not, and in that way Sixers are just like people.”

“I like Avtar,” Kima said.

Avtar briefly showed all of his teeth, and then settled into a more social smile.

“Because he’s intelligent and helpful,” Kima added.

“What am I, chopped liver?” Sparrow said.

Kima said something in Halq’eméylem and Sparrow looked thoughtful.

“Is that the Sixer language?” Anh asked.

“No,” George said. “We’re learning downriver Halq’eméylem.”

The balcony door slid open, and Michel said, “I already know both official languages. My brain is “officially” full.”

Full of something, that’s for sure, Jesse thought.

“There’s no Sixer language that matches the auditory range of human beings,” Kima said.  She was trying to be helpful. Everyone was looking at her again.  She interpreted this to mean that they wanted her to keep talking, so she added, “Sixers communicate with light through a modified tentacle. We link up, in pairs, and speak through a pipe analogous to a biological fibre-optic cable.”

“Is there any way to translate that into English?”

“Once we’re living openly among humans, it will be the only means of communication we have which can’t be hacked,” George said placidly. “There is not a snowball’s chance that other Sixers would sit still for us translating the language of light.”

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Born when atmospheric carbon was 316 PPM. Settled on MST country since 1997. Parent, grandparent.

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