* * *
Nora was sat at her kitchen table, reading the two newspapers she had bought earlier. Conor wandered in and saw the grimace on her face.
“What’s up mom?”
“These stories, that’s what’s up” she said with a slow shake of the head.
“Has everyone gone and lost the feckin’ plot? I mean, this reads like we’re hosting the World Cup or the Olympics. They talk of a visitor centre and interpretive centre as if it were a shiny new stadium. The emphasis seems to be wringing every coin they can out of it.”
Conor stared blankly at her.
“Conor, it’s an alien. An actual living creature on our island, of which we know nothing about”
“Eh, yea. Can I still stay over at Tommy’s tonight?”
“But you promised I could do a sleepover!”
“Awright awright…. but no messing over there. Stay in the house, no trips outside.
Nora gave him a hug and began preparing his backpack. She packed his jammies and clothes for the next day - and some snacks. She drove him the 5 minutes it took to get to Tommy’s house. Conor jumped out and raced towards the front door. Tommy’s mother answered the door and Conor slipped past her. He gave a reassuring wave and Nora raised her hand in assent from the driver’s seat. It wasn’t the first time Conor had slept over, in fact it was quite the regular occurrence. The boy had been more apt to sleep over since his father had died. Michael had been gone a year and a half now and there seemed to be no receding in the want of the boy to sleep over, sleep over in a two parent house.
When Nora was back in her kitchen, she was seated at the kitchen table. She wondered how Conor had taken it, how he was affected. Was his enthusiasm for sleepovers a reflection on her? Was it just natural to want an adult male voice in the background?
She looked at the unopened bottle of red on the counter, but had no want of it. Television wasn’t an option either. She had to be honest with herself - she had come to terms with the loss of her husband a while back and had found herself in a furrow of routine. ‘This is the lot of a single parent’ she thought to herself. But if she was really honest, she was bored.
She sat upright with the thought. Guilt washed over her as she thought about her son. Forging an even closer bond with her offspring was of course not boring, but there was …. more, surely? There’s more to life than packing lunches?
Nora had been a thoroughly independent woman in her early twenties. She had boyfriends of course, but she burnt some of them off in her pursuit of the world. Only the most self-confident of men could live with the lack of fawning. She did not play the traditional girlfriend part very well, instead content within her own mind and outlook. She got this from her father who always encouraged her to pursue what she wanted and shied away from gender specific expectations. Nora traveled extensively in those days, sometimes with friends and partners, sometimes alone. This free spirited and energetic approach to life meant she was physically fit. Nora was never one for the gym and rarely went out of her way to concentrate on heath and fitness, she had old-fashioned fitness which resulted in a lean frame. On one of her breaks from travel it was her chestnut brown hair that Michael had noticed first - that and her piercing pupils surrounded by shiny whites-of-the-eyes. Nora was initially attracted by his easy humour and obvious intelligence. Michael was clearly a home-bird but was a match for her on every topic. Nora felt pulled into the narrative that maybe she should ‘settle down’, and that she wouldn’t meet anyone better than Michael. She loved him, that was sure, but the thought that she had somehow limited her lifestyle never left her. Of course, she told herself to get over it and that she was lucky to have a husband that she was physically attracted to and was her intellectual match. Having her son further pushed those whimsical thoughts from her mind. All the local men fancied Nora, this was no secret, but Michael didn’t have a jealous bone in his body. It was this self contained confidence that first attracted her. Everyone around knew of her adventurous streak and now… now she had no outlets for it.
She noticed the family portrait in the corner, three happy figures smiling back at her. She felt heat in her chest. She looked at the clock, it was 7:30pm, glanced back at the photo and then over the keys on the table. Her thoughts turned to the surreal developments of late. The visitor centre and interpretive centre were not yet finished. In fact they were only nascent building projects for now. So, where were they keeping the alien? To the best of her knowledge, he hadn’t been moved far. For security reasons, she guessed.
With a sense of giddiness she swiped up the keys and grabbed her coat on the way out the back door.
She wasn't sure what she was doing, but she was damned if she was gonna spend another passive evening at home.
The light was fading just a little when she reached the site. The gossip mill was right, here it was. To the untrained observer it could have been the perimeter of a quarry or large building site, with it’s high wire fence. There were no obvious posters or signage that this had a very different purpose. If one spent a few minutes examining the facility, the most obvious outward clue of something strange within would have been the guard at the gate. Rather than a typical security guard dreaming of the next break, it was a military man with eyes that scanned like a lighthouse and a gun strapped to his shoulder.
She got out of her car and approached the sentry. He watched her all the way with no outward emotion on his face.
“I’m sorry, miss. Restricted area, only registered personnel allowed”
She had expected this, “I was there at the start, you know?” she countered.
With no response she followed “You recognise me, right? You know who I am?”
“Everyone in here knows who you are” he answered with a visible relaxing of his face.
“So, can I come in and have a look?” She continued with doe eyes.
“Sorry, ma’am I’ve got me orders”
“Look, can you get, Lieutenant Murphy for me?”
“Sorry, miss. He’s quite busy at the moment”
She felt that an impasse had been reached. Just then, another soldier approached with a quizzical look. He spoke from behind the sentry’s shoulder.
“Are you a journalist?”
“No, no - I’m Nora McMahon”
A look of recognition passed over his features.
“Look, Mrs. McMahon, I know your story with regards to the captive within, but this is a restricted area. Even you have no business here”
“Oh really?” She answered, thinking quickly as her pulse raised a notch or two.
“I think I might have some information that could help”
This threw the soldier a little, he seemed to be considering his options.
“Wait here” he said bluntly.
Lieutenant Murphy was sat with the back of the chair at the front. He was looking intently at the impassive alien while the other troops milled around. The soldier approached him and whispered into his ear.
The Lieutenant looked up to the ceiling, trying to decide if this was an annoyance of if there really was something useful to this. He looked back at the impenetrable alien and decided he had nothing to lose. He waved assent to his subordinate and the soldier marched off with a bemused look.
Nora saw him returning and expected an answer that was professional yet dismissive.
“Come this way” he ordered.
“What?” - she was caught off guard.
“Come this way” he insisted.
She wasn’t expecting this to actually work, it was merely something she had dared herself to try. Now that she was faced with the possibility of entering the compound she wasn’t sure what she would be doing or saying in there. But she had to follow through, no pointing turning back now.
The soldier looked at her impatiently.
“Alright” she said, “Show me to your leader!”
The soldier did not crack a smile.
Lieutenant Murphy saw the woman approaching and immediately had doubts about this. He suppressed them and decided to at least give it 10 or 20 minutes, give it a chance.
“Hiya, I’m Nora - the mother of…”
“I know who you are” the lieutenant said tiredly and without looking at her.
“I’ve been sat here all day waiting for some kind of sign from the alien - nothing! This has been repeated for what seems like innumerable days. We have tried to crack open the ship - no luck there, we can’t even identity the material it’s made from. Some of our best people have been trying to communicate with the beast, using all known languages and sounds - binary digits, morse code, whale noises, body language - you name it. I’d try interpretive dance if I thought that would help. And you come in here and claim you have some information that will help. Well, I’d like to see it. I’d like to see what magic fucking spell you have, cause we have fuck all.”
She looked taken aback.
“Off you go Mrs McMahon, no pressure”. The last part was infused with sarcasm.
“Well, I … I didn’t mean to undermine any of your efforts but I saw a few things that might be of interest. Just want to help, like.”
“Well, I noticed - barely - that the alien tensed his arm and at the same time the ship did … something. I’m not sure what it was but there was some mechanical noises as a result.”
“Really…” the lieutenant answered with no small amount of contempt.
“So, I think he’s connected wirelessly somehow to the ship through some contraption in his arm”
The Lieutenant finally turned fully around to Nora “You came all the way overt tell me this”.
Nora looked at the alien. The beast was a still as ever. She wasn’t sure about the next bit….
“What about them?”
“They changed colour - only for an instant. This seemed to be part of the communication sequence with the ship”
At this, the alien turned his head towards Nora. It only turned maybe 5 degrees and snapped back an instant later.
“Look, he recognised that!” She cried.
All the personnel had, at that moment, been looking at her. When they looked at the alien he was as constant as ever in his neutral but powerful posture.
“He turned his head!” She shouted.
After studying the alien for 5 seconds the lieutenant turned back to Nora.
“Look, Mrs. McMahon I’m not sure what to do with this story of yours. If I look at the alien now he has not moved an inch.
“But he did move!” she pleaded.
“Mrs. McMahon, even if I believed your story 100% - what would I be able to do with it? It’s a nice story but that’s all.
She was cross now “I’ve just given you a lifeline and you’re throwing it away”
“A lifeline?” A condescending look appeared on his face, “It’s not a lifeline, it’s a distraction. And one I have now run out of patience with. Guards, escort Mrs. McMahon back to the perimeter fence”.
“But….” she tried to intervene but it was no use. The men had already swarmed into her personal space. She could only see the Lieutenant through a slit between alternate soldier hips. There was no way of communicating with him properly, now that he had shut down.
As she was walked out of the large room, the alien tracked her movement with pupil-less eyes and never moved it’s head.
“That was bit harsh” said the second-in-command.
The lieutenant slowly looked up at him “Maybe, maybe. I know she’s only trying to help. But distractions, even vaguely plausible ones, are what will cause us to fail. To not be ready if something unexpected happens. There is national pressure on us, there’s a lot of visibility. The government are moving ahead quickly with their plans. Plans which seem to be more about tourism than anything else. This means we have to be even more sensible than ever, for our sake and everyone else’s”
His companion nodded as if he took it all in.