Kadi stared at the alien owl touching her arm. She pulled away and walked around the counter, putting as much distance between herself and the owl as she could. Maybe the kid was in the cast and she hadn't been informed?
She thumbed the intercom behind her, entering the code for medical. "Medical, I've got a customer and three security guards down in the bar." She didn't wait for an answer, but clicked off and entered the code for admin.
The gun-waving little green alien resumed its seat at the bar, gesturing towards Kadi with the zap-gun. It tweedled, pointing at her, then pointing at the bar.
She swallowed and spoke into the intercom. "Admin, are you folks missing an actor?"
Ronda, who handled the daily operation details, answered. "What's up, Kadi?" Her gentle voice was a comfort.
"You got a party scheduled for my area? Maybe something you forgot to tell me?" Kadi asked.
"Then I've got a rogue patron and a security team playing along. I need some help down here."
"I'll dispatch a team." Kadi could hear Ronda pushing buttons.
"I think he's got a taser, but it isn't like anything I've seen before." Kadi swallowed. "I've sent for Medical. A patron hit her head. She's unconscious." Ronda was in charge of PR. Injured patrons were definitely in her job description. Kadi clicked off and turned to the little green danger.
She held up her hands and motioned for it to be calm. "Okay. So, we're all going to take a moment and think."
Tweedles, clicks, and more ray-gun waving followed. The creature motioned for her to come closer to the bar. If it would buy time, she'd play along.
She took a deep breath, feeling sweat beginning to seep through the blue makeup. She had to stall.
She approached the creature and raised her voice to the other patrons.
"I'm going to close the bar early. Everyone get up and walk calmly out the door, unless you are with Junior, here."
The patrons clapped in appreciation of the show and left. She heard the elvish businessman tell his friend, "See? I told you their special effects were fantastic. Way more fun than that burger joint you wanted to hit."
"At least there I could've finished my lunch," his friend complained.
Kadi watched the pupils of the owl mask dilate as it glanced briefly at the departing patrons and then returned its focus to her. It waved the pistol back and forth, motioning for her to come closer.
She glanced towards the door—no security team yet.
She looked at the unconscious team and the patron on the floor. Swallowing, she moved closer, leaving only the bar between her and the creature.
The little green midget climbed onto the bar and reached towards her face. The moment its skin touched hers she felt the same spark-like shiver run over her body. Then a stern voice spoke in her head. "I do not want to harm anyone. Can you understand me?"
She nodded. "How bad are they hurt? What kind of gun is that?"
"Just a stunner. They will be fine." He looked toward the patron. "That one has hit its head."
"A medical team is on their way. Will you hurt anyone else?"
"No." There was a long pause, and she felt the creature searching for something in her mind. It was an unpleasant sensation, actually feeling her brain thinking at the direction of someone else. "Cordell Klakowicz is your leader."
She nodded. Cord was definitely the boss. "I can call for him on the intercom if you'll let me."
She stepped away and punched in the code for admin again. "Ronda, can I talk to Cord? This is an emergency."
"The backup security team is almost there."
"Hold them outside. Just send in the medics. Let me talk to Cord." She had to think this through. The creature had just spoken directly into her mind using some sort of mind meld. And it had a ray gun. Maybe she had finally gone crazy.
Or maybe she had just met a little green alien.
There was a pause as the line connected.
"This is Cordell." The baritone voice sounded calm, in control. She'd never heard him rattled. Kadi wondered if she was about to.
"Cord, I've got a situation in the bar. There's a—well, I don't know what. A little green kid here with a stunner. Trevor and a team are down. It hurt one of the patrons. The... whatever-he-is is asking to talk to you."
"A working stun gun, Cord. As in, I have bodies strewn all over my bar. He'll let the medics in to treat them. He let the other customers leave. I'm putting on a pretty realistic show." She glanced at the number of faces pressed to the glass, saw the red-shirted security team trying to move the crowd away.
The medics wore navy blue jumpsuits. They paused in the doorway as they took in the scene. They pushed a gurney piled high with equipment.
"The medics are here." She turned back to the little green gun-toting creature. "You'll let them in, right?"
A quick jerk of a nod. The gun remained pointed at her. She swallowed. She pushed her emotions down somewhere deep inside, knowing she'd pay for the control she gained now with a breakdown later. Fair trade.
"He's got the gun pointed at me, Cord. The creature is asking to speak with you."
"So tell him to talk." Cord's voice was intense, immediate, as if he were trying to climb through the intercom.
"Um. That's a little complicated." She pointed at the intercom and then back to the alien.
The creature responded with a series of clicks and whistles and gestures for her to come closer so that he could touch her again.
"What is that racket?" Cord's voice cracked.
She felt a little better hearing Cord unsettled. So maybe this wasn't just freaking her out. Maybe this was really happening.
She looked at the gun-waving owl sitting on her bar. This was really happening.
"That's its voice."
She stepped closer and let the three-fingered hand touch her. Three fingers. Again, she shivered, but whether it was from the contact or the foreign thought that wandered into her brain, she did not know. "We need to be closer. Tell him to come here," the alien said.
It glanced back at the medics. "No, take me to him. We need to talk in private. Tell him I am seeking asylum. I did not wish to hurt anyone."
"Cord, he wants to talk to you face-to-um ... beak, I guess. He'll need to touch you for you to understand him. Says he is seeking asylum. Look, I think he's right, we need to get this offstage. Can I bring him up to your office?"
"Bring the security detail with you."
"They're busy with crowd control, but I'll see what we can manage. One of our details is down."
The chief medic, Marian, looked up from where she was tending to the patron. "From what I can tell, they're just sleeping. I need to get some more gurneys, and we'll get them up to the clinic."
Kadi nodded. She looked back at the creature. "You understand? We need to go for a walk? I need you to put the gun away."
He climbed down, holstered the gun, and reached up to take her hand as she walked around the edge of the bar. Again, she shivered. It felt like she was holding a child's hand, not like the latex-rubbery feel of when she touched a costume glove. She could feel a faint pulse in the three little fingers.
She motioned for the medics to focus on the injured and walked slowly to the door.
The little green whatever stood slightly behind her, holding her hand. She spoke to a security guard.
"Cord wants a couple of your guys to come with me. The rest get this crowd under control and lock up the bar for me."
"No problem, Blue." The security guard used her onstage name, so clearly he still thought this was an act. Maybe Trevor had set the whole thing up as an elaborate prank? Maybe he'd worked out the new costume with Tanner and... what? There was no way to explain the voice in her head.
Maybe Marian the Medic was also in on it and they'd slipped something into her drink.
She shook her head. Not that folks at the 'Port wouldn't play a prank, but they wouldn't hurt each other, and everyone knew she was trying to avoid stress. They'd pull a prank like this on Ronda, maybe, but not on her.
The creature turned her hand over in its fingers and brushed at the sweating blue makeup with a finger from the other hand. Her brown skin showed through where it had touched. "You are not blue," whispered in her mind.
"Um, no. It's a costume."
It glanced around, the head doing the owl-swivel as they walked to the elevator. "This is... not real? This place is all made of non-working things?"
"Right. It's an amusement park. It used to be a department store, but with the economy and such, the building was rotting. We've been working on it for a couple of years."
Intended as an environmentally sound proof of concept, it had failed. The owner kept the building. If he'd been willing to level the place, he could have sold the land for a fortune, but he had a sentimental attachment to it.
Cordell's dad was the building manager.
"This is the number-one hangout for science fiction geeks in the Bay Area... like a year-round science fiction convention."
The owl did not seem as impressed as people usually were.
Two levels of the elevator shaft were glass, showing the vista of the promenade as they rose into the third-floor bay. The door opened onto a plain hallway with office doors spaced evenly along it. The hall formed a giant square around the building. Outer offices were blessed with windows. Administration was the first door on the right. She entered, nodded toward the secretary's desk. Trailed by the security guards, she led her charge into Cord's office.
Cordell frowned and stood to his full height, looking intimidating. "Okay, kid, where are your parents?"
The guards stayed just outside the open door, clearly confused.
Clicks and tweedles accompanied a rich voice in her head. "I am not a child. Please, have him come close enough for me to touch."
Kadi coughed. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what? Those chirps? He needs to cut the...."
She interrupted. "Cord, come here. You need to let him touch you."
"Touch me?" Cord frowned. "This is no place for games. He's caused enough disruption for one day."
"Just trust me. Come here and take his hand." She gestured at the creature's free hand.
"Kadi, this is ridiculous."
She repeated the gesture. He sighed and stepped around the desk. Cordell was tall, very tall, perpetually plagued by tall jokes and people asking what the weather was like up there. Kadi had to crane her neck to look up at him. The little green bird-pest turned its head to the side and rotated its neck. She was pretty sure no human could do that maneuver and still have its head attached.
No way was she believing in aliens. Except there sure seemed to be one standing next to her. Talking in her head. Had to be a trick. Felt real, though. Felt scary real.
She was getting closer to the moment when the shaking would start. She swallowed the thoughts about thinking and focused on staying in control for just a little longer.
With a sigh, Cord knelt down and took the creature's hand in his own. "Listen, little fellow..."
"No, human, you listen to me for a moment," boomed through the connection.
Cord blinked. "WHAT?" He jerked back, but the creature reached forward and grabbed his hand, quick, like a feathered snake.
"I mean you no harm. I came here seeking asylum. I thought this was a spaceport."
"The Spaceport—the only one. It's an amusement park."
"I see that now. I still ask that you give me sanctuary. My life is in great peril."
Cord looked at Kadi. The whites were showing all the way around his hazel eyes. Definitely rattled. It wasn't fun to see Cord rattled.
He turned back to the creature. "Kadi said that you hurt some of our people."
"Stunned. They will recover. I am sorry. It was necessary. I was being threatened by your military."
Cord looked at Kadi, trying to understand what the creature was saying. "Security squad," she translated.
She pulled a chair over with her free hand and sat, suddenly overcome by dizziness. The creature released her and continued to tweedle at Cord.
"He says that the mental communication combined with shock is having an effect on you," Cord relayed.
Great. Now the kid was worried about bothering her. She watched as Cord pulled another chair over and sat, lifting the little green alien to sit on his desk. There was an alien on Cord's desk. An actual alien. It was an alien, right? Maybe it was still some sort of elaborate trick.
Now they were all close to eye level.
Kadi leaned forward. "May I touch you?"
It nodded and held out its hand. She turned it over slowly, looking for a seam. She worked her way up its arm, moving aside the fabric of its suit. With a shrug, she licked her finger and wiped at the thing's skin. It wasn't really skin, though, more some sort of very fine feather.
"Do you mind? I prefer not to be tasted, barbarian." The voice echoed in her head. She had insulted an alien. Should she laugh or panic?
Without moving her head, she lifted her eyes to meet his, staring into the depths, seeing her own confused face—streaked with melting blue makeup—reflected there.
"Pinch me or drug me or help me get un-drugged, Cord." Her words came out as a weak whisper. "I think I'm seeing a real alien."
Cordell shook his head. "This is not possible."
The tweets almost sounded like a sigh. "My ship is on your roof if you require more proof."
"Ship. Spaceship?" Cord's words came out fast, his tone eager. "A real spaceship?"
Kadi sat back, lightly touching the creature's hand so she could understand him. She could feel herself going into shock. No words would come.
Cord coughed. "Why didn't anyone see you land?"
"Cloaking technology. You do not have it?"
"Primitive world." Again, the sigh. "But perhaps I will be safe here. Please. I need you to provide me with sanctuary."
"How do we know you won't start shooting again?" Cordell asked.
The creature clicked and was silent. It let go of their hands and took out its gun, handing it hilt-first to Cord. He then leaned forward and touched them both on the shoulder. "I am at your mercy. I sense that you are kind. Little more than children, though. I had not anticipated this. Still, you have space here. You could hide me while I decide where to go next."
"Maybe we should call the police?" Kadi asked.
"NO!" The creature's voice was urgent. "Please, do not. I have sensed in your mind that your kind is afraid of what it does not understand. I would be in danger from your people as much as I am now in danger from the Treslians."
Cord seemed to recover his calm. "He's right. At the very least, they'd lock him up."
"Well, what are we going to do with him?"
Cord smiled. "Offer him a job? Heck, even if that WAS a costume, I'd want to hire someone this believable."
"What good is an actor no one can understand?"
Cord frowned and looked at the creature in front of him. "What do you think? You want sanctuary? How about a job? Could you learn to speak our language?"
"I am good with technology. I could perhaps build—what did your guard call it?—a universal translator. Then all could understand me without the necessity of touch."
"A universal translator?" Cord laughed. "How universal?"
"I have observed that your kind have several dialects. By tying into the brain directly, a device could translate using available databases. The delay would be only slight. You would understand other humans, myself, and the other aliens that come here to visit."
"Amazing," Cord whispered.
"Other aliens?" Kadi asked.
The creature ignored her and together they watched Cord think. At last, he nodded to show he'd reached a decision.
Cord raised his voice and called for his secretary. "Stephani! Get the heads of staff and meet me in the conference room in half an hour!" The creature jumped at his bellow.
"Sorry. Let's see that ship."