a short story by m.werneburg, 2004

The job had been a failure, and we three maintained an unhappy silence as I drove. The bare farms and crisp air and flaming red trees of central Ontario slid by under low overcast. After weeks locked up in the temporary compound at the landing site of the alien craft, our first taste of freedom shouldn't have been this grey. "Today should have been a brilliantly sunny day for the occasion," I remarked. "Are they even going to have this thing out doors?"

Jane shrugged at me. Reggie was on his phone.

But as I drove Highway 7 toward Lindsay the sense of wrongness just built. "Does this feel right to either of you?" I asked the two scientists.

"You mean, a globally televised event, trotting out Rover before we've been able to convince it to talk to us?" Jane asked.

I had asked her not to call the Ambassador 'Rover' about fifty times but she had a point. We couldn't talk to the alien visitor. Or scan its ship, understand its physiology.... The closer we'd been getting to the day, the more my feeling of dread had grown.

"How mandatory is big event?" Reggie asked.

I looked up at his drawn appearance in the mirror. He felt as I did. "I know a place in town where we can watch the show on a screen," I told them. I took their silence for consent.

"Just look at that gait." With a look of distress upon her face, Jane watched some footage of the alien Ambassador on the TV above the bar. She waved her hand in an exaggerated motion. Now that she was off the clock she'd got a buzz on in a hurry. "I mean, the creature just isn't meant for walking around on hard ground."

Reggie's head bobbed in agreement, but he didn't break away from sipping his beer and morosely watching the screen.

Indeed, as the alien loped along on its four short legs, its low body seemed to roll awkwardly. The alien held its upper limbs stiffly away from its body, as if to steady its progress.

"Maybe that's just how they walk on his planet," countered the waitress with a tone like she was standing up for the creature. Seeing the careful way the woman was watching Jane, I wondered if she was going to be trouble. Some people were pretty touchy about the extraterrestrial and its recent landing.

"Honey," said Jane, "I'm a biologist. I was—we three were all with the team studying the creature. Believe me; it's not designed for walking across flat ground. Its joints just aren't right. At the facility, the thing spent most of its time climbing on the furniture."

"You worked with the Ambassador?" the waitress said, incredulous.

I motioned at Jane, and caught her eye with a warning look. The last thing I wanted from the two despondent scientists was a public spectacle. Such scenes had a habit of finding their way into people's feeds, and I was already losing sleep over the tsunami of bad press that our project had spawned.

But with my attention on Jane, it was Reggie that blurted out, "That's right! We've been in from the beginning."

One or two heads around the bar turned our way. "I thought we agreed we weren't going to do this," I told him. I'd made Jane and Reggie swear to silence on the whole subject when I'd agreed to stopping here. "Are we going to have to leave?

"The show hasn't even begun," Reggie said, and I saw something hard in his gaze.

"Well," I suggested tightly, "let's move to a booth then, shall we?"

The Ambassador's arrival had touched off a global orgy of unpredictable behavior among the human populace. New religions were popping up, families were disintegrating, strikes and shortages were rampant, soldiers were abandoning the wars, and no one seemed to be buying luxury goods. No, the general population was reacting badly enough, but who knew what kind of nuts might be lurking in a day-time crowd in a watering hole like this.

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