The evening was marred by the weight of the chip key in his pocket. He hung around in the green room, not wanting to take the box seat with the other GAGA dignitaries and have to sidle away from the others before his act. He in fact didn’t want to see anyone, nor be in their vicinity- the chip was like a contamination that made him want to keep it from other humans. The door it unlocked made him want to shove the contents of the locked secret in the faces of the billions of people shortly about to watch him dance and caper.
Quetzal held both urges in check with a highball of peated scotch, which he held at eye level while he hunkered in a deeply plushed armchair. The corner of the green room he had staked out was left largely undisturbed by the comings and goings of the other performers at the award ceremony. Several people noticed him and made motions to approach, but the impassively foreboding gaze of his cobalt eyes suggested heartily to them that they should distract themselves with another focus. The Prime Minister sat in his chair and drank his scotch and tried to make a timeline for his new task.
Half an hour flight time, probably two fucking hours in the facility, half-hour back- I’ll have to stay for this bloody number but I might be able to squeeze off this task to sneak back for the after party.
A falsely buxom brunette in a see-through dress squealed at the sight of him and waved both her hands in the direction of his chair. He smiled vaguely, tipped his glass at her, and let his eyes wander into the middle distance.
At least I won’t have to speak to all these celebrities du jour whose names I don’t know, he thought to himself, smiling more genuinely. Wasn’t she that one who married the basketball player?
“Christ,” he murmured to himself.
A skinny, hollow eyed Arkellan sat down beside him. She poofed down into the leather sofa, barely making an impact due to her hollow bones and air-filled muscles. Dark hair was tossed out of her eyes, then the large, black, lidless orbs turned to him.
The innate abreaction to the alien biology washed over him. Quetzal had long ago learned it was merely a physiological reaction to a hominid whose pheromonal and structural design did not register as familiar with his body’s own. He stared at her kindly a moment, waiting for it to pass. She smelled like dried fish and dusty feathers, but was wearing the classic Chanel No 5. It made her smell as though she were an old marketplace in Edinburgh dressed up for an evening out. He realized it was a highly pleasing scent- if one was Scottish.
“Hello,” she breathed. Her double vocal chords resonated in treble and base.
“Hullo,” Quetzal replied. “Was there anything you needed to go over before we do our number?”
The lead singer of Arkadie shook her head. Her hollow hair shafts clicked lightly together. The sound was not entirely unlike that of a wind chime made from seashells.
Consin Arkadie smiled. “I was going to ask you the same thing, Mr. Ferguson,” she told him. She held out one hand, her three fingers limp at the end of the arm. “It’s a great honor to meet you tonight. I was more excited about that than the whole show.”
Quetzal looked into her huge, black eyes. Her manner of speaking was at direct odds with her band’s painfully simple lyrics. So, she’s smarter than her lyrics, he thought. We can do business, then. He shook her hand, careful to grasp it carefully. He could feel her hand respond with a tremor to his grip. Surely she must have shaken human hands before.
Despite her alien physiology, Quetzal knew a blush when he saw one. “I hope I can keep up to you, Ms. Arkadie,” he told her, smiling kindly. “With only the one larynx and all.”
She laughed out loud, and it sounded like three old friends sharing a joke. Quetzal smiled, fascinated.
He leaned toward her, and Consin, caught in his gravitational pull, leaned in to meet him.
“I want to ask you a question,” he whispered confidingly.
The Arkellan had to think for a moment to translate his words through his whisper-thickened accent.
“Anything,” she replied, and turned her second ear hole to him.
“Why does a fascinating, intelligent creature such as yourself sing sex-hop lyrics?” He raised an eyebrow. “Not that I’ll ever let on that you’re far smarter than your album cover gives you credit.”
She looked right at him, blinked several times. It was the response of someone who has just realized their soul has been pinned. Consin took his free hand in her own winglight fingers.
“Oh, Mr. Ferguson, don’t judge me by my art,” she said. “It’s just the only thing that sells.”
He set his glass down, and took her other hand in his. “I find that rather hard to believe,” he replied.
Her blush made the tiny tubules on the sides of her head rise.
“Shall we go out and sell some inter-quadrant goodwill, then?” he asked her.
Overcome, she nodded emphatically.
Quetzal tried to ignore the snicking of cameras from the far corner of the room. At least this was one moment he wouldn’t mind being immortalized in the press.
Arkadie’s multi-tonal hip hop sex rock song shook the foundations of the Ampitheater. Quetzal paid gratefully for having fallen for the image of the band and its lead singer by putting his all into a spirited, amusing and show-stopping duet with Consin Arkadie. The ovation went on for minutes.
The long-legged Scotsman took the young girl’s hand and guided her through a classic Old Earth-style series of bows to every camera and corner of the audience. Consin beamed divinely, her black eyes sparkling with unabashed joy. They held their linked hands skyward, and Quetzal leaned over to whisper at her ear canal:
“They’re ripping open the envelope now and scribbling your name on the card, if it wasn’t there already.”
She laughed out loud, jumped up and grabbed the Prime Minister around his neck to give him a giant hug.
Quetzal watched the recently live feed of his performance with Consin as he darted across the Brandenburg sector on his extra errand. He grinned as he watched what he had just done, happy to have brought the desolate little girl some fresh hope to continue. She was just a young girl after all, a young girl who had been eaten up by the filthy mass media machine. Just like Sanpaku before her, and Sinniq before that. Once she had enjoyed the simple act of performing for her aeries on her home planet, and Quetzal hoped she could enjoy doing it again after tonight. If she could, she might just start injecting a touch of that hidden brilliance into her songs, instead of letting the Machine dictate lyrics for her.
- An excerpt from Quetzal Visits the Boar’s Eye, by Jorge Stuart and Tony Stark.