My alarm clock screeched at me at 6:10 AM. When I reached up and stabbed the snooze button, a green hand fumbled for the off switch, and the clock fell from the headboard.
"Good morning, Mr. Recruiter," purred my flat chested sleeping companion. "Think you can convince other humans to leave their home now?...Or do you need another reminder?"
I groaned and sat up, pulled the clock out from behind the bed. "It's too early."
"I can feel your body disagreeing with you." She shifted closer. I could feel her crotch tentacles sliding between my legs.
"Please. I don't need to be more tired."
The bony alien female caressed my naked hip with her two left hands, her right one propping up her tusked head. "I'm sorry." Her second right smoothed the silken bedspread. "I thought you could actually sleep with your genitals inside me...or mine in yours."
I blushed. "Don't apologize. I mean, you're right, but..."
"You also got up at four in the morning to use the bathroom. Maybe you should see a doctor about that."
"Uh, I have. The problem is, the medicine..." Barely able to say it out loud, I leaned in close and whispered, "It'll ruin my sexual performance."
My girlfriend's frog-like eyes widened. "I thought I was your first."
This prompted a frustrated sigh. "You are."
I looked at her like `Think about it.'
"You mean with yourself."
I wasn't even comfortable replying.
"Oh. Perhaps you should see something more advanced than a human doctor."
"Perhaps." I turned my clock over to see if it were broken.
The alien scowled at the glowing red LED numbers. "I don't understand why you keep that damn thing. Our company sells more than a million types of alarms, all of them more pleasant than this."
"Chirping birds and ocean waves aren't going to wake me up, Ibira. I at least need that cartoon cat that plays Reveille."
"If you want something abrasive, there's one that creates the sensation of cold, electric shock, or, my personal favorite...erotic stimulation."
I frowned. "Um, I'll think about it."
"It's a human comfort thing, isn't it? A reminder of home?"
My eyes were wandering, admiring her speckled thighs, the curve of her hindquarters. Not every part of her was bony. "I don't know. Maybe."
She rolled her widely spaced eyes, staring up at the stucco ceiling.
I got out of bed to do my morning calisthenics.
We shared a one bedroom apartment in an underground facility. No windows, obviously. Artificial light.
I don't know where the noise came from, but no matter the weather, it always sounded like it was raining outside.
Cream colored paint job, repainted several times previously to cover nail marks, dents and other imperfections. It looked like it used to have a TV bracket and one of those old phone jacks with the circular face plate. At least the furniture was new. Ibira had insisted on Ikea, despite the expense. Aliens aren't immune to advertising.
Ibira had decorated with pictures of Utah (the rocky desert areas reminded her of home) and my sketches of her and her world. Here and there I stuck up pictures from Star Wars and Dune because they were desert related, and I'm a geek.
We exercised on worn out brown carpeting. I only did some pushups and situps before hitting the shower, but Ibira lifted weights. "You should so some of this. It wouldn't hurt to expand past your core strength."
"Maybe later." I pulled my girly ruffle-skirted work uniform out of a closet. "We only have one shower, sweetie, gotta be ready by eight."
"What's wrong with sharing it?"
I chuckled. "Um, how about the fact that one person can barely turn around in there, and you have to duck down to use the spray head?"
She did another rep. "This place is so unsexy."
I cleaned up and got dressed. Ibira snickered when I stepped out of the bathroom.
She set down her barbells. "Nothing. Just thinking about how you said that was a `Green Lantern girl's school uniform.'"
Chuckling, I gave her a curtsy.
"You do that too well."
"Yeah, well you can bench more than my body weight."
"Touché." She grabbed a towel and her leather harness, stepping into the bathroom.
I prepared breakfast and coffee in our walk-in kitchen. For my girlfriend: Vornok, leftover alien meat safely precooked to proper red-with-green-polka-dot coloration. Meow Mix, covered in Paprika, a carafe of orange juice mixed with a pint of steak sauce.
Ibira came out clad in her leathers.
I frowned at the company logo affixed to the breastplate. "Still no word about a uniform?"
She shook her head and smiled. "I think it's too much work for them to make one with four sleeves. Besides, the customers expect our species to dress simply. It disarms them, makes it easier to exceed their expectations. You should try it."
"I'm hiring humans. Not quite the same thing."
Ibira crossed two arms, put her other two hands on her hips. "It would be nice if we at least sold some outfits with four arms. I'm not the only one who's feeling left out."
"Unfortunately, that's the client's business. I don't have any say in the matter."
She seated herself at our little indoor patio table, pouring orange juice into her bowl of spicy cat food. "Any interesting applicants scheduled for today, Mr. Recruiter?"
I took a bite of my toaster tart. Blueberry. I hated blueberry, but they only had one variety assortment in the store. "They all look promising, but nobody is too keen on leaving the world behind. My best bets are a seventy year old birdwatcher lady, an ex-con, and a divorcee...Oh, and there's a battered woman, but she's got a kid, so I don't know..."
"They have a daycare center, Jason." Her planet's culture didn't have rules about talking with your mouth full.
I wanted to correct her manners, but the last time I tried, she almost killed me, then complained about my gas problem. I decided it best not to argue. "I know."
My girlfriend grimaced at my breakfast. "Pop Tarts and oatmeal again? And you wonder why you don't gain muscle mass."
"Hey. I don't have time to cook a Jethro Bodine breakfast. I took a vitamin. I'll have meat for lunch."
"You and your television references." With a dainty motion of knife and fork, she sliced off a cube of Vornok. Her long frog's tongue shot all the way down to the plate, sucking the object into her mouth. I thought about what she had done with that tongue the night before and my spoon missed my mouth.
Ibira smirked as she watched me clean oatmeal off my dress.
I tried to act nonchalant, pointing at her meal. "Is that stuff still edible?"
"It's getting...a little tough, but it's better than that stew meat you cooked up."
Reddening, I tried to keep my anger in check. "I'm sorry. I'm...not the best cook."
She placed a hand on mine, while two others cut a second slice of Vornok. "I didn't mean it that way. I'm...not sure I like beef, that's all."
"Anyways, that's all the Vornok until the shuttle comes back."
"I wish I could...`poach.'" Ibira pouted. "I enjoyed that last white tailed deer I hunted."
"Yeah, but it had a tag on its leg, and you got blood everywhere. Like I said, it doesn't matter how you killed it—"
She blew a raspberry. "You should see my `uncle' Empuzda. Her dwelling often looked like one of your...slasher-films."
I swallowed. "Ibira, I've been thinking...maybe we should get married."
My girlfriend only laughed. "Why."
She could read my face. It didn't need to be said.
"Jason, it sounds great, but we're two different species. We still don't know if our coupling will produce anything other than orgasms."
"I guess you're right." I stared at the fake glass tabletop. "Not sure what I'd do with a partly green six limbed human baby, anyway."
"You'd love him."
I gave her a reluctant nod, absently stared at a digital photo frame that cycled through images of my girlfriend's home planet. Six legged gray elephantine creatures waded through rivers below red craggy bluffs.
"We're in Missouri and you're the one that's homesick."
"We're out in the sticks. My family is in Kansas City. I might as well be living on another planet."
Ibira slouched in her floral patterned metal chair, one hand propping up her chin. The look telegraphed, `You're saying this to me?'
"Okay, yeah sure, I've got Walmart and Carl's Junior," I grumbled. "Never mind."
A roach scurried by Ibira's chair. She leaned over and frog snatched it into her mouth. "Let's camp outside tonight."
I tried not to think about how my tongue had been in that same mouth. "...Honey, there's three feet of snow outside."
She put a hand on her hip, nonverbally saying `Your point being?' "I'm not allowed to go to places like the movies, or Marshall's, or Apples Bees. We had to order our damn furniture online. I'm tired of this building and I want to go out. I don't care if it's snowing."
I rubbed my face in frustration. "Fine. But don't expect me to wear that ridiculous alien He-Man costume you like. I'm bundling up."
Ibira looked a little displeased, but didn't comment. "Speaking of which, isn't that going to scare away all your applicants?"
"Well, shit. Maybe it'll thaw later or something. We already did our phone interviews." I took a mouthful of oatmeal. "At any rate, whoever makes it here today has a ninety five percent chance of getting hired. You know how unforgiving the client is about attendance...honestly, if they even call in to explain why they can't come, I'll give them a ninety for being intelligent, and considerate to the interviewer."
"Did you meet any females at...Target yesterday?"
I scoffed. "Please."
"Human females are too weak and passive."
"I think you'd get into a fistfight if you said that in certain circles."
She flashed her teeth. "But we are not close to any of these...circles, I assume."
"Nope! Got me there!"
We worked in the same bunker-like office building we lived in. Nothing particularly amazing about the setup, we only did earth related administrative stuff there. They had a daycare, but only for the humans upstairs, and our cafeteria, unlike the Goovhamp Station out by Jupiter, was just a breakroom with vending machines. We had a little reading/internet room, a laundromat with a couple washers and driers, and a tiny `call center' where Ibira and I did video conferences with space creatures.
Other than that, the lower level just held a bunch of offices, apartments, a water heater room, a few living quarters like mine, and the harddrive room. Ibira and I sometimes sparred and played racquetball in an unfinished room. I don't exactly blame her for going stir crazy, or using the secret underground entrance to travel in the woods for hours on end.
We had security doors to keep curiosity seekers out, and the alien stuff downstairs. Not only did Ibira have to remain down there 24-7, I myself, due to the required uniform, couldn't leave the lower level until end of shift.
After breakfast, Ibira went off to the call center, and I took my place in my new office to do interviews.
Privileged? Maybe. My office was a concrete cube, I had one of those heavy aluminum 1970's style desks like my preschool teachers used to have, and my computer, well, not up to date.
I had a framed `I Want to Believe' poster, the blueprint of the U.S.S. Enterprise, an artist's concept sketch of the Millennium Falcon's interior. Not exactly professional office trappings, but I figured anyone I hired would probably have to approve or be a bad fit for the company. We had a few Winston Zeddemore "I'll-believe-anything-for-a-paycheck" types, but I wanted someone who could love their job.
I must have sat in that office alone for a good couple hours. I thought for certain my first interview was a no call no show, but then a call bleeped on my extension.
Antiquated Avaya conferencing phone. Our call center had fancy alien gadgets with holographic video, but I was interviewing regular people who hadn't signed an NDA.
I pushed Speaker.
"A Geraldine Armitage is here to see you, Mr. Finch."
A few minutes later, a short old lady waddled in, dressed in her Sunday best. Yellow dress, gray hair, hornrimmed nearsightedness glasses. Creases at her mouth denoted false teeth. She clutched her purse like a praying mantis. "Excuse me, young man. May I speak to Mr. Finch?"
"You're looking at him." I smirked a little. I'd always wanted to use that line.
The woman frowned. "Oh." She forced a cheery smile. "Well. That's a very nice dress you're wearing. You have good looking legs."
Oh God, I thought, shuddering a little. "Uh, thank you." I offered her a seat. "How was it out there, Ms. Armitage?"
Her smile sunk into her jowls for a moment. "Just fine! I have four wheel drive! Did you know you have geese in the parking lot? Just beautiful! I think I'll take some pictures when this interview is over."
"Um, that sounds nice." Not wishing to go around the barn with our conversation, I dove right into interview topics. "Do you have any questions about the job?"
Geraldine shook her head. "I understand it's all about product sales. I've been at enough places like these to know how they work."
I scratched my head, wondering how she could have possibly worked at any company like mine.
Whatever, I thought. We'll see how you react to our product line and customers. "This is a fast paced technological environment with a lot of new software and equipment. You'll be expected to complete tasks in five minutes or less. Do you think you'll be able to keep up?"
"Well..." The look on her face said no, but her mouth said, "I have gotten on Call of Duty's leaderboards a few times." She pantomimed shooting a gun. "Pow pow pow!"
I think she misunderstood my stare of disbelief, for then she serioused up and added, "I can type sixty words a minute, 90 percent on my ten key for a thousand keystrokes."
Honestly, the way the aliens set up their computers, I found the Call of Duty thing more impressive. "How about learning new software?"
"Mr. Finch, contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Sometimes you just got to go a little slow with him at first."
"Hmm." I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. "This...job may require...air travel." Being limited in what I could tell her about the aliens and so forth until she signed the NDA, I had to bend the truth a little. "You have anything against heights?"
"No sir. I've been in airplanes many times. In fact, I used to be a stewardess back in the day..."
"Um...okay...how are you, health-wise? Would it endanger you physically if you traveled at fast speeds, or great heights?"
Geraldine leaned forward in her seat, fixing me with a glare like I'd just stolen her pension check. "Young man, I'm no spring chicken, but last year I rode in a balloon and went skydiving. I think I'll do just fine as long as I get a parachute. Not sure what that has to do with the job..."
Damn, I thought. If she's telling the truth..."This is a lonely job. You'll be spending a lot of time away from home. Do you have any relatives, Ms. Armitage?"
The woman looked pained. Her jowls sank. "I'm all that's left, I'm afraid."
Misreading my expression as skepticism, I guess, she continued. "Oh, I have family, all right, but we haven't spoken since my husband Ed died. I've got a son, but he moved to California and doesn't call me much."
She pointed to the Millennium Falcon painting. "My son does paintings of jets just like that. Is that a DC-10?"
Definitely a Winston Zeddemore type, I thought. "That's actually a picture from a science fiction movie."
"Oh." That's all she said about it. I guess it was possible for one to ignore the existence of Star Wars on X-Box Live.
"You have any friends? Neighbors?"
Geraldine shrank in her chair. "I had a fox terrier once. Named him Scruff McGruff. Scruffy passed two years ago." In a sing-song tone: "Since then I've just watched my birds."
Sure, when you're not blasting digital Nazis. "You're...on social security, I'm assuming?"
She shrugged. "If the pay is good enough, and I'm full time, I won't need it. I get bored of sitting around the house. I like to be doing something productive."
"You sure? I'd hate to invalidate your benefits."
"This job may require you to be isolated from your home at least ten years. Would you have a problem with that?"
"Young man, I doubt I'll be around that long."
Now she had me worried. "I thought you didn't have any serious medical conditions."
"Well, I don't...but I'm an old woman. I suppose I'm lucky having made it this far...who knows what'll happen in ten years?"
"Guess you got a point."
Since she couldn't be dissuaded, I had her sign an NDA and took her to the call room to be tested.
A concrete chamber containing three chrome drums, each about the size of a deluxe hotel shower stall. These drums contained a miniature movie studio for impressive 3D video calls.
The door on a booth slid open, and out stepped my girlfriend. "Honey, the deep space transmitter on this one—" She stared at the visitor. "Oops. You should have warned me."
I thought her dentures would fall out, but I guess she used Super Polygrip or something.
"It's cool. She signed the NDA." I put a hand on the little woman's shoulder. "Ms. Armitage, this is Ibira. She's also in customer service."
Ibira shook the woman's hand. "A pleasure to meet you, ma'am." She gave me a sideways glance. "Did I say that right?"
I nodded. "Ibira, how about you use my pod until it gets fixed? I'm just doing testing right now."
The alien rolled her eyes at my formal tone. "As you wish, Mr. Boss Man, sir." But then she threw out the professionalism by blowing me a kiss. Ms. Armitage suppressed a giggle.
I led the woman into a call pod, showing her the computer. It resembled a keyboard sized Feng Shui sand garden with tiles suspended above it in midair.
"Alien tech," I explained. "Not sure how it works, so don't ask."
"I...see." But I could tell the woman didn't.
She searched all around the device, looking like she intended to scowl the instructions out of it.
"Don't touch anything until I show you how to use it."
I directed her to sit on a padded bench and wait for me to beam in my instructions from the earth-only communication booth.
I pushed a button, closing her in.
In retrospect, I probably should have asked if she were claustrophobic.
The woman was right. Once we went over the basic controls a few times, I noticed the speed and blurted, "You're hired. Go home and pack up everything you want for a ten year...stay. We'll call you when the spaceship arrives."
The woman blinked rapidly as she processed what I just said, but I think Ibira's presence got the point across. "So I'm going to be an astronaut, I take it."
She laughed. "Should I pack my husband's oxygen concentrators?"
I fought back a chortle. "No ma'am. That won't be necessary."
When she left, I thought she'd actually gone home, but an hour later I found her wandering around in the hallway.
"My Jeep's stuck in a snowdrift. Is it okay if I stay here for awhile?"