Frank watched as they began to shuffle in, the public began streaming in at normal walking pace. Nobody yet had broken off to the sides to look at the exhibits, they were all narrowing in on the big prize. He grinned when the pace slowed in proportion to their proximity to the alien. Military guards or no, it was one thing to want to come see it - it was another to actually approach a being from another world.
But slowly they gained in confidence and a queue politely formed just before the Alien’s show-chair. The visitor centre staff smiled comfortingly and urged the first people to approach. Tentatively they came face to face with it. And they stared into it’s deep shiny eyes and marvelled at it’s powerful physique. Gently the ushers started to encourage some slow movement of the queue past the main attraction so that people could continue moving but also get a decent look at it. The first people who made it past his gaze jumped and high-fived each other as if they had completed a level of the game of life. The queue started to form a cadence and life of it’s own as visitor after visitor inched past this wonder.
For those at the top of the queue it came and went too fast, for those hundreds stuck in the doldrums of this human snake it was achingly slow.
Nora took the time to let her eyes wander around the room to pass the time. She had to admit to being impressed at the set-up, the whole room has a sense of gravitas but also retained a carnival feel, not easy to pull off. She did, however, think the whole situation screamed of tourist trap and got the feeling that she had done this before, just not in this specific circumstance. This was no doubt helped by the fact it was a bank holiday Monday, Fáilte Day.
It wasn’t the most orderly queue of all time, people gained and lost places in it depending on how willing they were to advantage of any gaps immediately in front of them. The tactic usually was to apply slight, but constant, pressure on those in front of you. And depending on whether you were here to to pass a few hours or ‘win the race’ of the queue you gained or lost ground depending on weaknesses in pressure within the body of the queue. All this annoyed Nora - not the fact she was in a long queue, but that some people lived for those mini victories when they gained a place or two in the line. The mother with the 8 or 9 year old boy seemed to one of these people. Instead of being directly in front of her they had now sneaked 10 or 15 places in the queue.
She watched thoughtlessly as the boy stared at this fascinating alien, his hand still in his mother’s. She was stilled chatting with the woman next to her, more interested in the fact she had a gossip mate than the epochal changing creature within a few feet of her.
Nora continued to watch as she noticed a slight twitch of the alien’s arm muscles. The tendons that ran along the top part of its arm and around its shoulder blade began to tighten. Slowly the alien’s arm began began to raise. The mother continue speak to her friend without a break. The arm was now parallel with the ground and quite close to the boy’s head. He just stood with mouth open watching this glacial manoeuvre. The claw-like hand slowly moved to the top of the boy’s head and the three long digits began to curl around the boys’ skull.
Nora watched, transfixed with a sense of dread that twisted her stomach.
By now, the digits has curled all around the boy’s skull. They fit snug around it, the boy’s head seemed to be the perfect size to fit into the alien’s hand. The thumb like claw went down past the side of the boy’s nose and curled under his chin and finished in a point by his ear. The other two fingers went tightly over the top of his head and all they way down to his nape. They were spread slightly and made an equidistant split of the top of his head. His mother broke off mid sentence, unable to comprehend what was unfolding. She had never come across a situation like this but instinctively became worried.
Nora could not take her eyes of what was happening, not everyone had bother to look in the alien’s direction, so most of the people were unaware. Time seemed to slow down but the situation was actually unfolding quite quickly.
Frank happened to look down from the mezzanine. He and the others were behind a large glass pane, they could only get a sense of what was unfolding with pictures and no sound.
Nora watched as the alien’s arm and hand were steady for a second - then she saw the flick of the side lids and the eyes turned from a deep black into a dark purple/red colour. She saw the veins on the side of his neck begin to pulsate, and then it happened…
The alien, with no great effort, squeezed with devastating force and with a sickening pop closed his hand into a fist. From it, blood and brain matter dripped to the ground in uneven flow. The rest of the boy flopped lifelessly to the ground and his mother screamed a guttural scream that did not seem possible from a female larynx. She dropped to her knees and attempted to gather the matter from the ground and place it on the top of his exposed neck cross-section.
Screams broke out from all directions and people began to scatter away from the centre of the hall. Nora stood still and tried to get her breath back, she tried to understand what she had just seen. The armed guards who surrounded the alien seemed to freeze with absolute shock. They had genuinely not seen this coming and it took them a few seconds to recompose and raise their firearms to head height. They unloaded into the alien. They kept shooting for 5 to 10 seconds before lowering their guns in bewilderment. The bullets had no effect on the alien’s outer shell.
After they stopped the alien’s eyelids flicked sideways again and his eyes turned into a deep green colour and the veins in the side of neck pulsated.
Then, with no fanfare, he silently disappeared in an instant.
Everyone who had not fled stood around and did not know what to do. The only slight noise was the whimpering of the mother, on her knees with her dress sopped in blood.
The quietness was broken, when Frank and some if his team kicked out the door after running down the stairs. He ran toward the epicentre and stopped to press his hands into the side of his head.
More and more officials made it down the stairs and the medical teams rushed in at the same time.
Almost all the paying public had fled, except for Nora. Still rooted to the spot. She somehow felt partially responsible for this, if only she hadn’t let her guard down on that first day, things might have been different.
Frank could not be consoled by JJ, he was a broken man. Partially guilty for what happened today partially devastated for all his plans. He turned his red blotchy face around to look up at the windows. The Taoiseach looked back down at him with piercing disdain.
He could not take it, he walked away from the hubbub of soldiers and medical staff and drifted towards the only other person who seemed have the same facial expression as him.
He barely acknowledged her and hovered in the same space. They both looked on wordlessly as the scene unfolded. Medical staff fussed with futile intent and men in suits were on their phones to persons unknown.
“I just… I just can’t believe it. I just can’t believe what just happened”, Frank began.
Nora only looked at him, but the look had contempt written all over it.
He continued “How could it do this? It’s cruel and unnecessary. And don’t aliens normally disappear with a flash or wobble of air or something?”.
Nora just continued with her look.
“It’s inhumane, completely inhumane!”
Nora’s eyebrows raised and stared hard at Frank. But he just stared back not fully comprehending her changed expression.
“Of course its inhumane Frank, of course it is! You let it in here, you put the public at risk!”
“No, no, hang on. It wasn’t all me, the military guys said they ran all the checks”.
“But you rubber stamped it Frank” Nora bit back.
He had no immediate answer, so Nora filled the silence.
“You put this, this thing, into the public’s lap and turned it into a tourist attraction. But this alien didn't consider itself a tourist attraction. So it casually decided to burst a boy’s head. We should not be surprised by anything it does, it does not have our sense of morality Frank”.
They both stood there in silence after the awkward exchange.
By this time the Guards and the military has found some rhythm and were controlling their areas, wrestling back control of what they saw as their own responsibilities. The military police were taking notes of the scene while the Guards has put some uniforms on the main door. Nora found herself pushed back by the activity and finally a gentle arm rested on her shoulder, it was one of the younger cops. She turned her head and understood what he was trying to do. Without protest she let herself be escorted outside and soon she found herself among the crowd outside. Most of them were still in shock, some of them had found their bearings and were talking to each other with hands raised to their faces. Various TV crews were patrolling the area outside the building looking to spot a talkative type.
Nora didn’t want to be noticed by the media, she knew that they knew her face. She couldn’t answer any questions or recount any stories right now. So she skulked off around the side of the building and found a footpath. Despite the fact it was only 3 inches high she sat down and put her head between her knees.
Inside, the activity only grew more busy. Frank still stood on the sidelines while JJ talked into his ear. JJ was advising him of what the latest developments were with the Taoiseach and with the military police procedures. But mostly he was advising him on how to come out of this politically alive. Frank shrugged him off, he knew that JJ had the best of intentions, bless him - but he felt he didn’t deserve saving - he didn’t deserve a good spin on this.
“No no JJ, off you go. You’re a good man but you need to leave me alone right now. I can’t have my head full of strategy. I want to remember this, I want to remember every detail so that it’s seared into my brain. That boy deserves that”.
JJ could see this was not the time for spin, he was getting nowhere fast. One of his skills was knowing when to leave it alone. Frank asked “where’s Nora?”
“I think she got escorted out the front door”, was JJ’ reply. But he had more to say based on what the feed into his ear was telling him. “Frank, you’re needed. The big fella wants a chat”
Frank instantly knew what this was gonna play out like. But he had no choice. He walked up the stairs with his shoulders slumped. He walked along the mezzanine with JJ in tow. Along the end they turned past security into one of the bigger conference rooms. The middle of the room was dominated by a large table on one end of which sat the last person he wanted to talk to right now.
“Minister”, the Taoiseach began, “I trusted you with this project, this was your chance to redeem yourself. Sure indeed, you took care of all the logistics and hostelries and got on the phone. But anybody could do that, my teenage son could manage most of that. No…. the one thing you needed to master, the one thing you needed to assess and take into account, just murdered one of our citizens on national and international TV”.
He stopped for moment to see if there was any fight left in Frank, there wasn’t. So he continued “You got no future in my government or any possible government in the foreseeable future.”
JJ was getting restless next to Frank.
The Taoiseach continued, “Finished! That’s what you are. The only pity is that we can’t legally charge you for the murder directly”.
JJ could wait no more and whispered into Frank’s ear, “You need to say nothing and leave the room with me now”
Frank looked at JJ with no comprehension of he was trying to achieve. The Taoiseach looked at JJ in roughly the same manner reserved for Frank.
“You need to come with me now Frank” JJ was more forceful this time.
This threw Frank a little and it was out of character for JJ. He looked back at the Taoiseach and a ‘what the hell, I’ve nothing to lose’ look passed over his face. Then he and JJ quickly scuttled out of the room without Frank actually uttering a word during this whole meeting.