Wednesday, 10 August 2011

An interview with an alien

I was directed to a post on Jan Morrill's blog that made me tingle. You can read it here. It's her talking to one of her characters at happy hour and is the first thing to inspire such a writing spurt in me for a long time.

I sit down with Tain in the most beautiful bar I think I've ever seen. The walls are peppered with obscure prints and photographs of the regulars; the bar is lit up from beneath and boasts an impressive whiskey selection that practically makes me drool. Tain is already waving over a barman and then chats animatedly with him for a moment. She seems in her element here, there's an anticipatory glimmer in her dark eyes and the barman looks as if he's melting under her gaze. He gives her a winning smile and swishes off to do her bidding.

She turns her attention back to me. I’m hot in this bar; it's full enough that the body heat of the people inside is just leaking into the air, making it almost stuffy. My cardigan was off before we'd even sat down but I notice that that Tain is still wearing a heavy leather jacket and a scarf. It’s strange that despite the fact I know she is an alien, it’s easy to forget it. She blends in so well with the humans around her.

She exudes confidence and gives me a small smile as she leans across the table; she’s very close to me, presumably trying to soak up some of my body heat. Her movements are somewhat predatory and I wonder what she is thinking.

"I was thinking about how flattered I am that you are so interested in me. I was under the impression you knew everything there was to know about me." She smiles and turns as our drinks are brought to us.

You can't really forget about her telepathy but it's always a surprise when you realise she is in your head. My drink is perfect, exactly what I would've ordered. Scotch, no ice.

She slides the glass over to me and I take it. A really good Single Malt too. "I know a lot about you but it doesn't run that deep," I say. "There's a lot you keep to yourself."

She tilts her head and inhales over her whiskey glass. "I suppose I do... Go on then, ask away." This seems like a challenge to Tain, she gives me another wry smile and takes a sip of her drink.

"Do you miss owning a bar in London?"

"Of course I do. It's the only thing on this planet that just feels right. I belong in bars even though we didn't really have anything similar on Tzaahl."

"Tell me about your planet."

Tain sighs. "There's not much to tell. It's smaller than Earth and has a much hotter climate. Only half the planet is habitable, the rest is far too hot even for us, not to mention all the active volcanoes."

"And your people?" I say it a little more quietly, I know this is a potentially touchy subject.

"Violent, merciless, ruthless and stronger than you could ever imagine. Everything is so militarised. The military runs every aspect of the Tzaahl way of life; every Tzaahl is trained in some aspect of the planet's armed forces. Also, unlike this planet, it is a matriarchal society." She grins at me and it's not hard to tell that it would've been a shock for her coming to a planet dominated by the male of the species.

"Where are you living now?" She's much more receptive to my questions than I had expected. It seems like all of this is some sort of elaborate game to her.

"Outside of London now. In the countryside, although it's not exactly by choice. Give me the city any day. I live with three..." she paused to think for a moment, taking a long sip of whiskey, "friends."


"Well, colleagues, I suppose. Rupert, Annie and Harry." Tain sounds a little unsure as to how she should class these people.

"Tell me about Harry."

Her eyes darken and her eyebrows drop, she suddenly looks a lot less willing to talk. "Why Harry?"

I don't let her gaze affect me. "Because I know you two have a history and I want to know about it. Start from the beginning. You know I know most of what you are going to say."

Tain looks at me for what seems like an age and I know she is trying to work out whether she can trust me. "It's so complicated." She sighs and her whole demeanour changes. That hard edge disappears and she looks like a girl in love who has suffered the worst of betrayals and I know that's exactly what she is.

"I still wonder now if he ever did love me. Part of me would like to think that he did but deep down I know that he used me to get hold of my ship. I don't know if this would be easier if he had loved me. We had some good times and I miss that. When I look back on it, despite being in the middle of a war, we had a fantastic time and I wouldn't change that for the world. Until, of course, I think about what happened afterwards."

Tain takes a larger gulp of whiskey and for a moment I think I can feel the pain from all those years ago emanating from her.

"He stole my fucking ship. I didn't even get a kiss goodbye… he just left. He doesn't even know what that meant and he still doesn't understand what he did wrong.” She’s been incrementally raising her voice. She takes a deep breath in some sort of attempt to rein that in. “He said his situation warranted drastic action and he would've been killed had he not left there and then." She shudders and pulls her jacket further around her.

"So after all that you meet him again and now what? What's the relationship like now?"

“Tenuous. We are tolerating one another. Although I sure he thinks I’m going to attack him at any moment. I can’t help but snap at him, it’s distracting us from our work so I’m making a concerted effort to be civil and put everything in the past.

“It’s not always easy though because occasionally I’ll see a glimpse of that charming, chivalrous man I fell in love with. Someone that took me so by surprise and treated me like I was the only person in the world. There are tiny snippets in time where I forget what he did and how much I hate him for it. I forget that it’s his fault that I can’t go back to my own planet and that the armies I once commanded now have orders to capture and kill me.” She takes a deep breath and relinquishes her too-tight grip on her glass.

“He’s changed a lot, either that or the Harry I knew in the forties was just an act to win me over and steal my ship. He’s quick to anger and not as patient as he was, there’s nothing gentle about him, he always seems like he wants to fight. And I know he takes great pleasure in pushing me and aggravating me.”

“Don’t you think that’s because of the way you treat him? You don’t hide the fact that you hate him, why should he bother being any more than just civil to you if he’s going to get no more in return.” I was pushing her a little bit now and was fully expecting her to fly off the handle.

“Rupert said the same thing,” she says eventually. Her fingers are tapping distractedly against the table as she finishes off her drink. “Let’s do this again some time.”

That’s the conversation over and Tain looks drained. There’s no sincerity in her voice about doing it again, she’s just being polite. But when she smiles it’s genuine, I don’t think she has anyone else to talk to about stuff like this.

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