The door to the family cabin slid open. With tall ceilings, a wide open expanse of carpeted floor and a collection of too-skinny, too-tall furniture, some soft and some hard, to me it didn’t look like a cabin you’d find on a warship. The same unfortunate shade of pink coated the walls and ceiling, but the furniture came in earth tones, mainly browns. One wall converted to a large TV, probably the same way as the one in the meeting room had, by alien magic. I wondered if every wall had the capability. What a spectacular playoff season that would make.
Some true genius among the Shalash had thoughtfully linked a satellite TV feed to the wall and provided a remote control with more buttons than even I needed. They’d obviously studied our culture in advance.
A splash of random colours across a large swath of carpet showed where my children had unpacked, if I could use the word. Sharon only gave them about ten minutes to gather what they wanted to bring along, but looking at the floor, I figured the three small backpacks had vomited half the contents of their bedrooms.
“Daddy!” Three pairs of arms, two small and one not as small as they used to be, almost pulled me over.
“Whoa, guys! Let’s eat the pizza out of the box instead of off the floor.” I leaned in to kiss Sharon. She accepted the kiss, but I could see tight lines around her eyes and her jawed clenched twice as I pulled back. “Cheese for the kids. Red peppers, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, and Italian sausage for us.” I looked over my shoulder. “You’re more than welcome to join us, Commander.” Rizuk stood to one side of the door, quiet but maybe holding back a smile at my offspring’s energetic greeting. Could he even eat pizza?
“Enjoy your meal, Intermediary. I will wait outside so as not to interrupt bonding time with your family.”
It took only a couple of minutes to have the kids sprawled out on the floor with a warm, gooey slice of pizza in each pair of hands. The familiar hand washing ritual didn’t take much effort, but still held little discoveries here and there. Shalash bathrooms were surprisingly similar to human ones, or at least this one seemed to be, just with everything built skinnier. I’d wondered at the lack of toilet paper until Sarah showed me the nearly hidden stash. It took me a little while to agree to call the not-exactly-paper triangles toilet paper, giving in as much because the kids had already decided to call them that as because of function.
The three of them somehow managed to agree on an episode of some toy-promoting cartoon none of them had seen before, at a volume just a little too loud for comfort, and Sharon pulled me back to the other end of the room while I tried to stuff half a slice of pizza into my mouth in one bite.
“I can’t do this. The kids are treating it like a vacation, but I can’t do this.”
Of course the kids were treating it like a vacation. A luxury hotel with a gigantic television, no school, and an actual alien to talk to. Plus I’d just delivered their favourite food for dinner. If the Shalash had a few amusement park rides stashed somewhere, they’d never want to go home.
Chewing twice, I swallowed the wad of pizza and set the plate down on a thin table. I pulled Sharon into a hug, not worrying about the grease on my fingers. Telling her to hang in there wouldn’t do any good since it was probably something close to the opposite of what she needed to hear. “What do you need me to do?” Maybe she’d actually tell me.
Or maybe not. Sharon laid her head on my shoulder and relaxed against me. Her arms slipped around my chest and tightened. “I don’t know. What am I supposed to do while you’re saving the universe?”
I hadn’t thought of that when the Shalash landed, or when I said yes, or when I called Sharon and dragged her and the kids aboard the shuttle. I didn’t think much beyond the moment. I wondered if I ever did.
Sharon and the kids were always on my mind at least a little, but I’d let the Shalash shove them more or less to the back. Aliens picked me out of everyone on Earth to represent them. Who wouldn’t be excited? Talk about not thinking clearly. If anyone ever had a reason to forget everything, it was me. But that was over. “Maybe I’ve got an idea. Have a little pizza while I find out.” I let go of Sharon and moved to the door. At a touch, it slid open and Rizuk appeared.
“May I be of assistance, Intermediary.”
My neck craned, I looked him in the eyes and smiled. Whether it crossed species’ boundaries or not didn’t matter at the moment. “Absolutely, Commander. I need a favour.”
Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.by