The summer I turned thirty, I was working for the UN, and I had a charming apartment on the other side of the Lincoln tunnel in New Jersey. When I say ‘charming’ of course I mean precisely the opposite: It was small and hideous, and I was resolved to find better accommodations as soon as I had free time.
I lived there six years.
In those days, I would cross the middle of Manhattan Island to reach the UN building every morning, and every morning, I would pass by where the Polixaci Consulate was to go up: where the old post office had been, just across the street from Madison Square Garden.
They built it themselves, or rather, their machines did. It only took two weeks. When complete, it looked something like a starship and a great deal like a temple. The City of New York had granted the UN all manner of exemptions to building codes, and I remember that when the Consulate, finished, exceeded the Empire State Building in height, there was quite a great deal of regret on the City’s part at having done so.
But no one could question its beauty. The City had to fund a public relations campaign to remind people to keep their eyes on what they were doing, after fender-benders increased twofold in mid-town Manhattan from motorists looking skyward.
The day it was completed my transfer to Alien Affairs came through.
The Secretary had personally selected me — and a few others — to work for him. He later told me he adopted the practice from Field Marshal Montgomery, who surrounded himself with young Captains who were his eyes and ears, and occasionally his voice. When I found myself for the first time in his office, the Secretary said to me simply, “Son, you answer to me and me alone. Your job description is whatever I say it is at any given time. Mostly, you’ll be putting out fires.” I didn’t quite understand what he meant by ‘putting out fires’ at first, but I came to learn.
For example, my very first assignment was given to me in the following fashion: I was summoned into the Secretary office, to find him with a phone at each ear and an open video call on his computer. He passed me a slip of paper with a hastily-drawn approximation of two Polixaci symbols and a New York street address on it, and mouthed, “Handle it,” before going back to his phone call.
As I left the office, his Executive Assistant Marjorie said, “The Secretary’s car is waiting to take you. You’ll have to get a cab back though. Out front.”
She laughed. “Now.”
I grabbed my ePad from the office I shared with three other assistants (only one of which I’d ever actually seen at that point) and ran for the elevator. While riding it down to the ground floor I discovered that the address was only seven blocks away, near the Consulate.
I jumped in the car to find the driver (Parker, the Secretary’s usual man in those days) already knew the address and we were off before I got the door fully closed. I used the short time in the car to look up the other information on the paper.
Polixaci pictogram language is a trade pidgin of sorts; a lingua franca to allow their trading empire to flourish amongst hundreds of races. I’m told there is additionally an audible version for liquid and other dense-atmosphere breathers, and a tactile version similar to Braille. The two symbols on my paper meant, respectively, a species name and an individual’s proper name.
The Koray are from very far away. Not many of them leave their home planet, and in fact there were only two — a mated pair — on that first Liner. There wasn’t much information on the two of them in the database, but I familiarized myself as much as I could.
There wasn’t much in the way of traffic and I soon found myself being disgorged on the sidewalk in front of a Subway sandwich shop. The street had been blocked off by police, but they had waved us through, and a Sergeant was waiting for me by the store entrance.
He said, “Sergeant Rollins, NYPD. You the U.N. guy?”
“Alistair Forsythe, Bureau of Alien Affairs.”
“Great. It’s in there.” Rollins pointed at the Subway.
“I’m afraid I haven’t been fully briefed, Sergeant. Would you be so kind as to fill me in?”
“Yeah, well, we got one alien in there somewhere, knocked a lady over and broke a window. Was screeching an awful riot too.”
“Yeah. Damndest thing I ever heard. Like nails on a chalkboard, you know?”
That sounded familiar, like something I’d read in the briefing materials. But first things first: “Is the woman injured? The lady who was knocked down.”
“Cut on her forehead. She’ll be fine. Ambulance took her to get the once-over. Listen, they said you’d know what to do, ‘cause damned if I do… either way the SWAT team will be here in a few minutes.”
“I’m fairly certain you can call them off, Sergeant Rollins.”
“Well.” I said, “I have an idea what the problem might be.”
“If you say so, mister Forsythe, but—”
“I wonder if you might do me a favor, Sergeant Rollins: could you have someone go to the nearest sporting goods supply store and purchase a ‘kiddie pool’? The UN will happily reimburse the cost.”
“A kiddie pool? Are you serious?”
“Yes, please. I’ll be inside.”
I stepped carefully, both to avoid the broken glass and to keep from accidentally making any loud noises. The interior of the sandwich shop was a frightful mess, of course: chairs overturned, straws and napkins strewn across the floor. I looked behind the counter just to be safe, but I found her in the men’s room. She’d knocked two of the sinks off the wall, and water was gushing from the broken fixtures, spraying everything including me. She was three hundred pounds of muscle huddled in a corner, in about an inch of water, which wouldn’t be enough. “Do you speak any English?”
Her eyes were huge, and they were fixed on me. “Few”
“A few? Well, that will have to be enough. Are you about to give birth?”
I motioned with my hands, a swimming motion. Koray young are born live, and they need to be immersed; they die without water to swim in. “Little Koray?”
“Little. Yes. Little Koray.” She launched into a torrent of what I could only assume was her native language, none of which I of course understood. Now we have Polixaci translator discs; licensed the technology, make them here on Earth. Then? I had no idea what she was saying.
“Slow down, now. I can’t understand you—”
Sergeant Rollins called from outside the bathroom, “Hey, uh, mister Forsythe?”
“We’ve got your kiddie pool, where do you want it?”
“In here, please.”
Rollins came in, rolling the already-inflated pool ahead of him. When he saw the mess, he exclaimed, “Aw, hell, look at this. Who’s gonna pay for all this? I don’t think the sandwich shop has alien insurance…”
“The U.N. will cover the damages. Here, help me fill this.”
“Mister Forsythe, what’s going on? What’s wrong with… it?”
“‘Her’. She went into labor and likely panicked. On a strange planet, not knowing where to go? I don’t blame her. But right now, the babies need water to survive.”
“Check. Help me with this.” We got the pool under the streams of water and it began to fill. She was wary of us still, but when we backed off she climbed into it.
They started emerging almost immediately: miniatures of their mother, but with a fused tail for swimming instead of legs. I don’t know how many total there were, exactly, as I stopped counting at fifteen as the water was clouding up.
“Wow,” observed Rollins.
When her exertions seemed to be concluded, she looked up and said, “Little Koray good, happy! Human happy!”
I said in the most official voice I could manage, “Human happy indeed. Quite ecstatic in fact. I should call the Consulate.”
Eventually, transportation to the Consulate for mother and brood was arranged in a clean tank in the back of a van. How they got them back up to the Liner I have no idea. For my part, I was spared a cab ride in a wet three-piece suit by the good graces of the NYPD: Sergeant Rollins had a squad car take me all the way out to New Jersey to get a change of clothes.
From what I understand, the tadpole stage is the first of five in their life-cycle. This was, oh, fifty years ago, so the ones who survived their infancy would be entering full adulthood about now. I wonder if any of them will ever come back to Earth?