Wednesday, January 5, 2011
This alien story should be prefaced with a true story.
A few weeks ago I was walking to the subway. It was dark but early. I heard something over my headphones but didn't look until I saw a blur of movement out of the corner of my eye. At first it looked like teenagers horsing around, running up the sidewalk, pushing each other a little. Then one of the girls started shouting and one of the guys was thrown up against a store window while the others tried to hit him. People stopped on the sidewalk to watch. One of the people from the store came outside and stood there with a very serious expression. I took my cell phone out of my bag but I didn't dial. I walked up the steps to the platform and peeked over the edge a few times. The fight was still going. I hesitated on the platform, phone in hand. A cop came around the corner and started down the steps. I put my phone away and caught my train. Ever since then I've been wondering what I should do if I see a fight on the street again.
The story isn't really an answer, it's just how one of my alien characters would handle the situation.
She stood alone on the metro platform rubbing her midfeet together, eyes on her music display. Her ear flicked to the left and she brushed at it without looking up. The static crackled and she switched frequencies. She reached up and pressed the speaker deeper into her ear, it was cold under her bare fingertip. Too cold. The gel circuits had shorted again. She held her mobile ear flat with her palm to work the speaker out. When she released it her ear swiveled as the sounds of wind and sirens and scuffling feet intruded. She reached for the other speaker with a sigh. She tucked both into her coat and bounced on the soles of her hindfeet, fingers gripping the platform. It was cold, she had no music and she had fifteen minutes to wait for the next shuttle.
At the first hollow thump she squinted but kept her eyes straight ahead. The sound came from the left. Lower than the platform. From the stairwell to the street.
She checked her display for the time. Twelve more minutes.
Another thump was followed by a low groan. She edged several steps toward the stairwell, ears perked, before she stopped herself and shook her head.
There was a silence. It felt long, standing there with her eyes slitted, forefeet clenched, waiting for the next sound.
When it came it was the scuffle of feet, more than one set, with more than one body.
She flexed her forefeet, her fingertips rubbing together. She turned on her hindfeet and walked slowly up the platform, eyes on the schedule beyond the stairwell.
Strange shadows cut across the wall, tall and spiky in her peripheral vision. A thud and a crash made her ears tense.
The muffled sounds made her ears go back and down. Human. Human words at least.
She stood, feet still, ears fixed.
Then her ears pricked forward, a moment later there was another thump and a wet crack. She edged forward on the balls of her hindfeet, her midfeet just touching the platform.
The stairwell was a blank square of light while her eyes adjusted. The shadows were bunched, towering over the small figures making them. Definitely humans. Four gathered around something black on the floor. A hunched form, a Drarian? A Prestran?
It shifted, head rising, and spoke, "Fhruck oo."
She saw its hairless human face for an instant before one of the others lashed out with its hindfoot. The fallen one’s head snapped back and it lay still.
Five humans. She leaned forward, her forefeet almost touched the platform. She had never seen a human ‘fight’. One of her ears swiveled back. The low rattle of the train was just audible.
The others kicked out at the still form, rocking it back and forth on the ground. As it rolled red streaked the tiles.
She looked away, mouth turned down, ears tucked flat. On four feet she edged back and faced the platform again, listening to the humans with one ear, the train with the other.
The train’s brakes squealed as it approached.
The humans must have heard it; she could hear their flat hindfeet pounding up the stairs. She rose to her hindlegs and affected not to notice them as the shuttle roared into the station. She stepped through the doors and saw them rush in the next door down. Only four of them now. They spoke loudly and sat in a tight cluster.
The car was half full and she chose a seat across from a man who sat with his hindfeet touching the floor, his mid and forefeet busy with a game.
"Ghot bloode hall oer ee," one of the humans barked, showing its red hand like a trophy.
Her ears flattened against her skull and the man across from her caught her eye. He had the same disgusted expression on his face. They both shook their heads and flicked their ears. "Humans," the man mouthed before he turned back to his game.
She nodded in agreement, she didn't understand humans either. She reached for her display, called up the metro system, the station and the northbound stairwell. She scrolled through the list of options and tapped the small red cross. The stairwell flashed red once and a countdown showed on the lower edge. ETA nine minutes. The medics were so slow in this part of town.