86. Finally, brethren

“Are they …?” Colin muttered.

“Best not to ask,” Jesse muttered back. “It’s not like we can tell — holy jeez!” he said, louder than intended. The tableau had shifted again. Kima was climbing up the anchor rope of a sailing ship and stealing glimpses of books about astronomy and navigation and natural history, all in Greek. The perspective shifted with the rocking motion of the boat.

“Oog,” Colin muttered, and looked away. If he wasn’t driving, he got car sick very easily.

Kima’s voice reached them without effort. “I didn’t know George and Michel then. They hadn’t been born. I met their mothers, and their fathers. Phokas taught me Greek and the Greek alphabet. It took a couple of years, but I became literate in a human language for the first time, and started to learn.  Something shifted inside me as I read.”

“I learned more and travelled the world looking for knowledge. I met Michel, and through him I met George and the three of us agreed to share what we learned about humans and science. We weren’t very careful about how we did it. Humans got hurt.”

“I’m not sorry, they were bad men, and you’re not getting a phoney apology,” Michel yelled. He wasn’t amplified, but it didn’t matter.  He could bellow like a mythical beast.

“We wouldn’t expect it, Michel,” Jesse yelled back.

“You two be quiet now, you’ll get your turn,” Kima said, irked. “George and I intend to apologize to all of you for hurt we’ve caused to humans. If we don’t then we’re just oppressors with a good backstory.”

There was a pause.

“I don’t remember that part,” Kima said.

“Sorry,” George said. “I should have taken it out again.”

Colin and Jesse and Anh, shoulders shaking, made little gasping noises. Their suppressed giggles were promptly drowned out.

“That isn’t what I wanted to say, that isn’t it at all!” Kima said, very loud.  The quiet water of the cove appeared to boil and foam, and a large, red and orange bouncy-castle version of a cuttlefish popped up out of the disturbed waves like a cork, leaving the water entirely and then settling, off kilter.  The eyes swivelled. Paolo could be heard stuffing himself into his father’s coat again.

The giant cuttlefish addressed George and ignored the humans, and Michel, relishing the opportunity, assisted her.

“It was humans who gave me back the science and mathematics that are the birthright of our species.  It is humans who are helping me understand what my body is made of. Humans are teaching me that each of us is a song.”

An immense rubber sword fell out of the sky into the inflated cuttlefish. It exploded. A thousand parachute flares leapt into the sky above the celebrants, pushed by the flailing, deflating arms of the cuttlefish, and accompanied by a cracking noise and a hissing of red sparks over the water.

“Who the hell’s the art director?” Anh muttered. “This’s nothing like the storyboard.”

George’s voice, much quieter, said, “Show them.”

The parachute flares vanished when they fell to three metres above ground, which was a relief, because they looked all too real. They were replaced by sheer blackness — a blackness so dark that after the brightness of the flares it felt like being shoved into a cave.

A yellow star appeared in the middle of the screen. It got bigger and bigger and bigger, until, using the latest research satellite data in an incredibly detailed false colour view, it consumed the screen.

“Sol,” George said. The point of view flew past Mercury – rendered in false colour – and Venus, a cloudy blob. They came up to Earth from the dark side of the moon, speeding over the surface at such a low altitude Jesse felt like he could have stuck out his hand and scooped up moon dust. Then the point of view halted in a stationary position from perhaps a thousand kilometres above ground. Every satellite currently orbiting Earth, including dead and damaged ones, was picked out and named, with the nationality and ownership marked with little flags.  Some of the tags were red.

“Everything marked in red is in a decaying orbit and a risk to Earth,” George said calmly.  “I intend to take out the orbital trash.”

The point of view showed George, in his Sixer form, humming a English music-hall tune (Finck’s Gilbert the Filbert), bouncing between the satellites like a pachinko ball and knocking them out of orbit, away from earth.  Some of them crashed into the moon, making little screaming noises as they did so.  The rest got shoved toward the sun.

“But what I really want to do,” George said, in the same warm, conversational tone, “Is to prevent this from happening.”

They saw George’s reconstruction of the Chelyabinsk Event in three quick vignettes; from orbit, from 20 kilometres above Russia, and, in the most eye-popping special effect any of them had ever seen, riding the superbolide down through the atmosphere at 69,000 kph until it exploded with a flare that was, briefly, brighter than the sun. The ground shook. Paolo sobbed into his dad’s shirt.

“Will you help me try to prevent this from happening?” George asked.

“I will,” said the old lady.

“We will,” said the other Unitarians, who were used to liturgy on the fly.

“We will,” the rest echoed.

“I will,” Paolo said, hiccupping, officially becoming the cutest little un-indicted co-conspirator.

“I pledge my aid to you for as long as I am on earth and alive,” George said solemnly.

“I pledge my aid to you for as long as I am on earth and alive,” Kima said solemnly.

“Whatever, as long is it’s not too inconvenient,” Michel said.

“Figured,” Colin muttered. A couple of other people giggled, mostly to release tension.

“There’s food and drink.  Let’s eat together to seal our commitment,” George said. The three aliens stood together, half in and half out of the water. Michel dragged Kima’s bucket up to the food service table, and started to laugh. She was herself, but had perched a ludicrous virtual chef’s hat on her ‘head’ and was now turning filleted salmon into sashimi and offering it up on the end of her very sharp knife. There was vegetarian stew and rice, steaming hot; various kinds of classy finger food, and Jesse, wasting no time, broached the ale keg and opened the tap.

The dancing and drumming began; George sang, which amazed everyone who hadn’t heard him sing before. People talked, ate, laughed, wept. Kima, after she was done with the salmon, shook everyone’s hand. George hugged some people, cuffed some people, and turned himself into playground furniture for Paolo with a short but sincere apology, which Paolo accepted with aplomb. Michel wandered around and showed everyone the gold coin Kima had given him.

The Sixers formed a receiving line, and greeted all the celebrants by name, and thanked them personally. Michel managed to be civil to everyone, which established, as Anh commented to Avtar sotto voce, some kind of record.

By midnight, everyone was a blend of stuffed, drunk and exhausted, and the cleanup began. The Sixers and the Midnite Moving Co. boys loaded everything onto the lighter in less than half an hour. The tide had come up and Sparrow moved the boat closer to the shore.  As they were boarding, some getting piggyback rides from George and Michel (who would flip them over the railing in a variety of scary ways — without hurting them), others climbing up from the lighter, George addressed everyone, “Thank you all for coming.”

“When is O-day?” a woman’s voice called.

“Soon,” George said.  “Soon.”

“You guys live for hundreds of years, George; soon’s meaningless,” Jesse said.

Lights flickered across George’s midline. “Less than two years,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. It means a lot to me that I have your help, and trust.”

“And they’ll have the babies, too,” Michel said, in Greek. “If you two ever manage to get busy.”