We come from the fire
Living in the fire
Go back to the fire
Turn the world around
Silver and gold, the firebird pushed down through the clouds, reflecting enough light to make it hard to look at, even through a tight squint with one hand blocking the sun. I couldn’t make out much detail, but the brilliant, smooth curves gave me an impression of speed beyond anything familiar. No human hands had drawn those lines and no computer had rendered them for a video game. Jerking my earbuds free, I watched it settle into the water and tried to keep my mouth from hanging open.
I pictured the whole world coming to a stop a little at a time as the news and images spread. Every person on Earth with access to TV, radio, or the internet would have their world view shattered and expanded by this one simple event. Confirming wildest dreams or deepest nightmares, one thought expressed in a multitude of ways: we are not alone.
And then I was not alone.
On the edge of the jetty, in a direct line between my eyes and the spectacular vessel, the air shimmered for a few seconds as three figures took shape. Human. Well, human-ish. Elves. The word leapt into my head. Elves, but taller and thinner. Not one of the three stick figures stood less than seven feet tall. They each had straw blonde hair, tied back to pull it away from long, thin, and very, very pale faces. I looked at their clothing, platinum and silver spun into fabric, much too light for early fall in southern Ontario.
The elf in the centre–the shortest, a small, helpful voice in the back of my head supplied–raised a hand with four triple-jointed fingers and a thumb stubby by comparison, palm outward. “Be not afraid.” The voice wouldn’t have raised eyebrows coming from a four-year-old girl or one of Santa’s helium-filled helpers.
I’ve always been too quick with a smartass comment and it’s gotten me into trouble a few times when I didn’t manage to censor myself in time. Face to face with space elves, self control was in no way on option, but it took me a couple of seconds to manage the major accomplishment of using my voice. “I’m not afraid.”
The hand lowered. Vulcan eyebrows pushed deep into a high forehead. Weird. Its head couldn’t be more than two-thirds as wide as mine. “Are you not?”
I shook my head. “If you’d intended to hurt or abduct me, this is a ridiculously public way to go about it. Why tell the whole world?” Maybe it took me a few seconds to get going, but I’d make up for lost time. Was first contact supposed to feature a smartass office worker on his lunch break?
“I agree.” A short response, license to continue digging the hole.
“Stunned is a better word. Probably why I haven’t managed something profound for the biggest moment in human history. I hope it’s not too late to say welcome to Earth.” I barely stopped myself from adding, “Home of the Whopper.” I had no idea where that came from. Well, no, I knew exactly where it was from, but why it popped into my head at that moment would probably be a mystery for the rest of my life.
The lead elf nodded. “It is not, and I am sure you will think of something suitable to tell your historians.” It met the gaze of each of its companions before making eye contact with me again. Did some communication pass there? Telepathy would be nice and advanced, I supposed, not to mention scary. What would they read from my mind? “We are the Shalash. We hope our stay on your world will be brief, but while it lasts we require an Intermediary between our peoples. Will you consent?”
Was that stone under my chin? I didn’t get my mouth closed fast enough to prevent, “Is the Pope Catholic?” from sliding out. Thanks, Dad.
“I do not know.”
My brain really needed to catch up and throttle back my mouth. “I’m sorry. What I mean is yes, I will certainly consent.” Job? I’d find another one. Family? That brought me up short. No one in my life would grudge me this opportunity, but it’s always best to keep your spouse in the loop. “I should ask what’s involved.”
“The Shalash will speak to humanity through you. Your life will be left as intact as is possible.” It cocked its head to one side. “You have a mate? Offspring?”
“I do.” The Shalash would speak to humanity through me? Sharon and the kids would completely understand my jumping at this. Well, except Sarah, but she was four and wouldn’t notice as long as I wasn’t gone much more than usual.
“If you need to confer—”
“I can do that by phone, but I’d like to know what to tell her. My mate.”
“Of course.” It looked behind me. “Yet this is not the best place for us to confer. A crowd gathers.”
I glanced over my shoulder. At least a hundred people stood around the end of the jetty, threatening to spill out onto it but with no one quite ready to approach yet. Soon, though. Who could resist? There would be more, a lot more, and fast. I turned back as it whispered something to its wrist. “You’re probably–”
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