Cold March fog seeped into Mike’s skin like a clammy towel. His footsteps splashed in puddles dotting the sidewalk, scattering the dim reflections of the lights from the buildings and street lights along 4th. He hunched his shoulders and crossed his arms as he quickened his pace. A thin man, tall, his shadow darted around him in furtive movements.
Just ahead on the sidewalk a Gitulian used several of its twelve tentacles to tweak the display of goods arrayed on a sheet of shiny green material — the same avocado green color of its skin. It squatted — could you call it squatted? Mike wasn’t sure. Peter would know. The Gitulian had more in common with an octopus than a human. At least when it came to their bodies, at least in the most obvious respects. Not counting their exceptions. And of course their brains. They were a people, intelligent, technologically advanced, even an almost human way of looking at things. Not everyone thought so. There was that ugly incident only two weeks ago when boys threw pots of boiling water on a Gitulian.
Mike’s thought shied away from that. He didn’t like hearing about that sort of thing. Didn’t want to think about it. It wasn’t just the violence and hatred toward the Gitulians, but also towards those who dealt with them or sympathized with their visitors from the stars. Sarah said it was because of their exceptions, but Mike didn’t agree. A lot of people were just hateful, fearful, bad human beings. End of story. There had been those that believed the arrival of the Gitulians would change humanity’s bad behaviors, making them more understanding and inclusive. A nice thought — only you can’t change bad apples. They just keep on rotting.
The Gitulian on the sidewalk whistled a cheerful ditty as Mike approached. Tentacles lifted a t-shirt depicting the Landing while others lifted alien trinkets for his inspection.
“No thanks, pal.” Mike carried on past the alien.
Peter would be waiting. No doubt trying out some new recipe. Peter insisted on trying out exotic dishes on Mike whenever he could get over. Doubt gnawed at Mike’s nerves. Part of him insisted he should turn around, go home. His feet kept moving.
If anyone should find out — if Sarah found out — or anyone at work, his life would change irrevocably. It did nothing to slow his steps.
Red and blue lights flashed across the wet pavement from a hologram across the street at a Gitulian entertainment parlor. The things it showed — Mike’s face burned and he looked away, hunching his shoulders as he brushed past people on the sidewalk. He didn’t even like going past the place. Fights regularly broke out in this neighborhood.
He had suggested to Peter that moving to a better neighborhood would make it safer. He wouldn’t have to come down here where it wasn’t nice or safe. Peter wouldn’t hear of it. The women outside the Gitulian parlor called out invitations. Mike didn’t look to see if they were looking at him. A few of the men called too.
One voice rang out clearer than the others. “Come join the party!”
Mike’s hand slipped into his jacket and touched the reassuring grip of his Glock in its shoulder holster beneath his coat. The gun was the one thing that Sarah and Peter agreed on — not that they knew it — neither liked him carrying the gun. He gave them both the same answer. He often worked late, he went into unsafe parts of the city, and it was for his protection. Even with his bio-monitor it didn’t mean that anyone to get to him in time if something bad happened. He felt safer carrying the gun. And like any dutiful gun owner he had gone to the safety classes required, he had his certification and carry permits, and he practiced every other week at the range.
Leaving the parlor behind, Mike breathed easier, his breaths adding to the fog. He let his hand fall from the gun and hugged his jacket tighter against the chill. Cars floated silently past on the road. Since Gitualian technology had changed transportation the city was quieter. It had a deceptive peacefulness to it now, a hush in the evening hours.
Up ahead the Cornerstone building loomed out of the fog like a ship coming to harbor. Five stories of Old World — in the old sense of the phrase — architecture with cornices and arched windows. The Cornerstone had seen better days. Hate speech stained the once proud walls. Steel panels replaced the lower floor windows and even those were battered and dented by blows and bullets, marred by paint and other things best not to think about.
Mike watched those out on the sidewalk carefully, his hand stealing beneath his jacket to brush fingertips on the cold metal. No one paid any attention to him as he reached the entrance. The doors opened to him, recognizing his bio-monitor signal. He breathed easier when the doors securely shut out the night. He hurried to the elevator.
The chill started to fade by the time he reached Peter’s apartment. He opened the door without knocking and stepped quickly inside. Instantly he knew something was very wrong. Sarah?
Sarah. She stood in front of him on the left side of the modern apartment, arm outstretched as if pointing at something. Not at him — her arm pointed across the room where Peter huddled in a tight ball of avocado-colored tentacles on the couch. Peter’s main body was pale like a faded leaf and moisture dripped from his large orange eyes.
It took Mike’s brain a moment to register the smaller Glock Sarah clutched in her hand. It was the one he had bought her, that he had insisted she get certified to use. The same one she never wanted to take to the range with him. Her blue eyes narrowed as she looked directly at Mike.
“About time you got here. Peter just finished telling me all about your little affair.”
Mike’s mouth went dry. He held out a beseeching hand. Sarah. Peter. “You don’t want to do this.”
“This is why you were so interested in them.” Sarah’s voice was hard and flat. “I never imagined you were so — so perverted!”
Mike’s breath caught in his throat. All of his fears had been made real. Sarah finding out, his life ruined. “Don’t.”
“Don’t what? Don’t defend myself from the alien trying to force itself on me? You know there isn’t a jury in the world that would convict the grieving widow whose husband died heroically trying to save her from alien molestation.”
She meant to kill him, Mike realized numbly. Him and Peter. He knew Sarah didn’t like the Gitualians but he never imagined her hatred went so far as to include murder. He slid his hand into his coat.
“Stop! One more movement and I start shooting your monstrosity.”
“Sarah, think about it. It won’t add up.” Mike eased closer to Peter. “Think, if you shoot both of us with a gun registered in your name, with your prints on it? Forensics will know. The trajectory of the bullets. They’ll investigate everything and find out that I’ve been coming here. It’ll be a lot easier than you think for them to prove that it was a revenge-motivated killing.”
Peter untangled a few tentacles and ambulated closer to Mike. One tentacle reached out and slid around the small of Mike’s back.
“Stop!” Sarah’s brow wrinkled into a frown and her lips tightened. For a moment Mike thought she might pull the trigger.
“Why should I stop?” Peter asked. Peter’s voice was smooth with a trace of that distinctly alien accent in hard clicks. “You already stated that you plan to kill us. Of course you should know that this entire interaction is being recorded. I always record Mike’s visits.”
“What?” Mike’s brain scrambled to understand. Peter had recorded them together?
Sarah shuddered. “That’s disgusting!” Her eyes fixed on Mike and the gun shifted, pointing at him. “How could you? You ruined our lives. If word of this gets out, how could we live with ourselves? You’ve destroyed everything!”
Peter’s tentacle slid further around Mike’s back. Mike realized that Peter was going for his gun. He twisted, trying to turn away from Peter. “Wait — ”
Something kicked Mike, knocking him away from Peter. He tumbled to the floor, noise ringing in his ears. He couldn’t catch his breath. He coughed and tasted blood on his tongue. Sarah shot him. She actually shot him!
Another large bang and Mike looked, seeing Sarah’s knees buckling, giving way as she wilted to the floor. A large red stain spread across her blouse over her breasts. Mike rolled his eyes and saw Peter with Mike’s own Glock held firmly with the end of one tentacle.
Peter tossed the Glock to the floor. “Note termination of experimental subject 4301. Subject’s domestic partner responded to message with homicidal intent as predicted. Full evaluation and report to be appended to these files.”
Peter turned and ambulated out of the apartment, shutting the door on his way out.
Mike coughed blood onto the floor and sucked in a difficult, gurgling breath. More blood bubbled on his lips. He heard sirens. At least thought he did. An experiment? It’d all been an experiment? He looked across the floor at Sarah lying so still. Her eyes blank. Tears stung Mike’s eyes. What had he done?
How did it all go so wrong?