The Lizard



The Lizard stood by the bar, not far from where Mark sat drinking and listening to the music.  He knew it was an alien because he had seen them on the news.  Their space ship had simply showed up one day near Earth and waited to be contacted. In the following months, the aliens had formed Exchange, Inc. and set about trading technology for raw materials. Other than that, they had kept to themselves, quietly hiring humans to help them and giving the occasional written statement to the media.  Since then, a newspaper reporter had named them “Lizards” and the name had stuck.

So, Mark was a bit surprised to see one at Skover’s, enjoying the pulsing beat of the amateur punk band on stage.  People gave it space and it did not seem to mind.  Mark, however, was just drunk enough to stare openly.  The Lizard was shaped like a dinosaur, a lot like the “raptors” he had seen in movies, or maybe a reptilian kangaroo.  It stood with its tail on the floor, letting its arms dangle with its hands open.  Mark had noticed its face.  It was more or less dog-shaped with a high forehead, large green eyes with vertical pupils and a long, lipless snout displaying small but sharp-looking teeth. What made it hard for Mark to look away was what it was doing with the rest of its body.  Although it stood in repose and barely moved, the creature’s body changed color intricately.  Abstract patterns rippled and pulsed over its skin, mainly on its sides, keeping time with the music and changing subtly.  A flock of soft purple diamonds flew across it, growing and shrinking to the beat, on a background of broad, moving stripes.  The pattern started at the base of its tail and rose to its shoulder. As he watched, they slowly changed to red stars and pink circles, while the stripes changed color with almost imperceptible smoothness.

Mark was staring deeply into the pattern and the four beers he had had after work made him slow to notice that it was looking back at him, with its snout turned his way.  The band switched songs and the Lizard suddenly turned a dark shade of green.  It stood and walked over to where he was sitting, its head bobbing slightly as it moved and its tail curving upward for balance.  The word “Hello” formed itself in friendly, lime green letters next to the alien’s shoulder. 

“Hi,” Mark said with a nervous smile, trying to act like he met an alien every day.  The creature dipped its head, removing the lady’s purse that Mark had not noticed hanging from its neck, between its arms.  The Lizard took it off and put it on the bar.

            Its color brightened a little and the next statement was in pale yellow. “I saw you watching me sing, so I thought we could talk.”  The words faded, replaced by “my name is” and what looked like a yellow and red stain.

            “Mark.”  He held out his hand and Stain shook it.  Its skin was warm and hard.  He could feel the edges of tiny scales brush his palm when it let go of his hand.  With a closer look, Mark noticed that it was covered in tiny scales that rippled when it changed colors or made words. Stain looked Mark over.  He was a small, young man with dark hair, still wearing the collared shirt and pants that fit the dress code at his job.  Stain did not notice his bad, pasty skin or protruding front teeth, but noted that he wore large plastic lenses over his eyes.  To see better?

            “Like the music?” Stain asked, trying to make conversation.  The words faded and a big brown question mark formed.

            Mark sat up a little straighter.  “Their all right”, he commented.  “Lots of Nirvana covers, but that’s not bad to listen to.  You?”

            “Music is a new thing to me,” Stain explained, using gold letters while darkening slightly.  “We do not talk with sound, all of our art is looked at.  My job is to study human culture and the way you make these sounds and move to them is delightful.  The only thing like it is the movement language of the.”  Stain ended the sentence with a cartoon of a silver alien insect that moved and dipped, motioning with its legs.

            “Another kind of alien?” Mark asked, pointing to the cartoon.  The image grew, inviting a closer look.  Small silver letters rolled underneath it. “My previous assignment, silicone based hive dwellers with little in the way of a culture.”

            “So, you study aliens for a living?” Mark asked.

            Stain nodded, dipping deliberately forward as she made the unfamiliar gesture, and more words appeared.  “This is my third assignment.  I go out with the exploration craft and observe, then I go back and compose literature about what I have learned for all to read.”

            “What do you think of Earth,” Mark asked.

            That got the conversation going.  Stain had made most of her observations from space, watching the surface and looking at broadcasts.  It had been confusing.  As they conversed, Mark explained much of what Stain had observed and found out a bit about the Lizards.  Their society was focused on colonizing uninhabited planets and trade with alien races, which was making them prosperous.  Stain, like most female Lizards, had laid the occasional egg and left it in the care of her husband, focusing on work and seeing her family only on occasion.  The Lizards formed companies on their world, which would sponsor a space voyage in return for a share in any profits.  Contact with Earth’s society should prove to be a big score, both for the merchants and scientists like her.

            Mark had a few more beers as they talked and Stain showed the bartender the image of a bottle of water being poured into a bowl.  He served her a bowl of water and she lapped at it with her thick, purple forked tongue.  The bartender left them alone and let them talk.

            Mark began to notice the way she showed words.  When she spoke quietly, the letters were smaller and darker, and brighter colors were used for less private statements.  Also, more serious comments were more defined than lighter words. She also changed the color of her body, which acted as a background, turning lighter colors when relaxed and darker colors for awkward or delicate statements.  She wagged her tail instead of laughing and cocked her head at an angle when surprised or curious.  It was making sense, becoming familiar.  Stain wanted to know everything about Earth’s people and culture so closing time snuck up on her and Mark.

            He called a cab while Stain paid the bill with a credit card.  He offered Stain his phone number.  She wagged her tail and showed him a cartoon of herself trying to talk into a telephone.  Then she took a deep breath and let out a loud hiss, raising her snout and stretching her neck.  The few remaining bar patrons turned, with looks of alarm on their faces.  Mark got it.  She can’t use a phone.  He gave her his e-mail address and told her that she could ask him all the questions she wanted.  She showed him a happy, rounded “thank you” before walking with him to wait for the cab.  She questioned him about drinking and he gave her an explanation of the effects of alcohol and why he could not drive a car.  That made her cock her head.

            Stain e-mailed Mark for almost a year.  Most days he would get home from work and find two or three e-mails with that familiar yellow and red stain on the “from” line and an oversimplified question on the subject line.  She asked him about everything, including subjects he knew nothing about.  Her e-mail was always in small sentences, full of pictures and drawings.  She always changed the background colors and fonts, to convey her meaning and tone as she had when speaking.  He began to miss seeing her in person, with her quirky alien gestures and wagging tail. One day, he asked her to lunch.

            Stain met Mark at a Cajun restaurant near Exchange, Inc.’s offices.  Seeing the Lizards in public had become a more frequent sight.  As more of them learned to display English words and how to get around in a terrestrial city, they had taken a more active roll in their own business dealings. Human businessmen were getting rich working with their technology.  Mark, himself, had bought a new palmtop computer, based on the technology that the Lizards used instead of books.  Also, the Lizards were in the news constantly, now.  People loved to take their pictures, but Mark had found out that most of the sensational stories about them were false.  Stain had often asked him for explanations of stories in the media about the Lizards.  Many of the rumors worried her.

            She found him at the front door and the hostess seated them.  Stain had her take the empty chairs, so she could stand by the table and lean back on her tail.  She positioned herself at an angle so Mark could read her flank.  Mark ordered gumbo and a po-boy sandwich, while Stain explained that she wanted a raw chicken, cut in quarters, and whole, peeled oranges for desert. 

            “It is odd, that you eat together like this,” she said, wagging the tip of her tail.  “Do all humans do it?” She listened while Mark explained that much of human social interaction took place over lunch or dinner.  She steered the conversation toward dating and listened with interest as he explained it.  She told him that Lizards ate in private and that most of their social interaction took place while taking walks or traveling to places of interest.  The waitress brought the gumbo and chicken.

            “How do you guys normally eat?” Mark asked, intrigued.

            Text rolled on Stain’s side.  “Each of us stores our own food separately and eat it alone.  Swallowing in public is a little embarrassing, but I suppose its part of my research.”

            “Hmm!” said Mark, thoughtfully.

            Stain opened her mouth wide and stuck her tongue under a chicken quarter, drawing it in and biting hard.  The chicken bones made a loud crunch, causing the other diner’s heads to turn. As the entire restaurant looked on, she slurped loudly, sucking the chicken chunk into her throat.  Mark could clearly see the lump traveling down her neck as she made a wet, gulping noise.  Someone at a neighboring table was taking pictures with a cell phone.  Mark read, “eating is a bodily function,” on her side.

            They continued to talk over lunch and Mark tried to ignore Stain’s noisy eating as she crunched her chicken and gulped down her oranges.  She asked more about human eating habits and what it was like to taste food.  She said how good human food smelled and wanted to know how it was seasoned. 

            The waitress brought the check and Mark paid.  “How was your date?” she asked, ignoring Stain and giving Mark the kind of disapproving look a teenaged girl saved for needling someone. 

            “We’re not a couple”, Mark grumbled, standing to leave.  Stain’s tail wagged.

            “Uh-huh,” the waitress said with disbelieving contempt.  The way the other patrons were looking at them made Mark nervous.  “If your date is still hungry, I saw some pigeons out front,” the waitress commented.  Lizards catching and eating live pigeons was one of the bogus rumors making its way through the media.  Stain cocked her head.

            “Let’s get out of here,” Mark mumbled.  Stain had turned black.  She led the way out of the restaurant.       

            Once outside, Stain had questions.  She asked Mark why the waitress had acted the way she had and what could possibly make her think that their visit to the restaurant was a date. She asked the questions in sharp crimson, on a deep purple background.  Mark knew what the dark colors meant.  She was embarrassed, but composed enough not to turn black again. 

            Mark thought for a moment.  “She’s just a spiteful kid, trying to make fun of us.  Its just her being a pain,” he explained.

            Stain cocked her head.  “Humans can be mean,” she observed in small, dark letters.

            “Sometimes,” Mark agreed.  There was an uncomfortable pause.  He wanted to ask her if Lizards made fun of each other, or anything like that, but it was not the right time.  He realized how little he really knew about how they interacted among themselves.

            Stain headed back to Exchange, Inc. after saying a friendly, lightly colored “goodbye” and assuring that she would e-mail him.  She did continue to send him e-mail and asked him a few questions about humans making fun of each other and eating together.  Soon, however, she had other questions and seemed to forget the waitress.  She had more questions about the news.  The longer the Lizards stayed, the more attention they got from the media.  They did not enjoy being photographed unexpectedly and were seen in public less often.  There were more rumors in the press and the Internet was worse.  Soon, there were conspiracy theories about why they had really come to Earth.  Stain kept sending articles and video clips, asking for explanations.  It was beginning to drown out research questions.

            A few months after they had met at the restaurant, Mark received an e-mail that Stain had sent in bright, excited colors.  She had been invited to represent her kind in a television interview on the Melody Murphy Show.  The expedition leader wanted her to do it and thought that it might improve relations and undo the damage done by all the rumors and false stories.  Mark had no idea who Melody Murphy was.  Stain told him that a representative of the show had asked that Mark appear with her, as he was her only human friend, and she had asked him to be there in soft orange.  The show would be broadcast live, in three days.  When he read that, Mark wondered if it was normal for a TV show to move so quickly.  He guessed that this was breaking news.  Although the thought of appearing on national television made him nervous, he decided to help Stain out and wrote that he would be there.

            The next day a man identifying himself as Jeff with the Melody Murphy Show called him at home.  The studio had his home address and phone and would send a car for him, to make sure he got there an hour before the broadcast.  Two days later, a driver from the studio knocked on his door and drove him to a squat building with a garden of large satellite dishes on the roof.  They led him to a barber’s chair where a woman with a trendy look applied makeup.  Stain was already there and he could tell by the way she held her head that she was more nervous than the bright, friendly colors she was speaking in revealed.  When the makeup woman was done with Mark, the staff led him to a waiting room and told him that an intern would come get him when Melody was ready for him.

            Mark and Stain were alone.  He sat on a padded chair while she leaned on her tail.  “Did anyone tell you why there aren’t any TV’s or sound in here?” he wondered out loud.  “We should be able to see, or at least hear the show.”

            “No one said anything,” Stain answered in small, hushed letters.  Her text grew and lightened.  “We do not have interviews.  We mainly paint statements and use video for documenting important events.  Talking to a camera with everyone watching is an interesting concept.”

            “Paint a statement?” Mark asked.

            “That is how we write in our language.  I will send you some of our poetry sometime.  Maybe you could hang it on a wall like these images.”  She gestured to the bright, blurry landscape pictures that adorned the walls of the waiting room.

            “Hm,” Mark said thoughtfully.  “Interesting, do you paint music, too?”

            “Songs,” she responded.  She sang briefly, rolling abstract shapes, blotches and shades along her sides in what Mark recognized as her language. 

            “So, how did you learn to write English?”

            “I had time on the way here, not much to do on a long trip between planets.”

            “How long did it take to get here?”

            Her answer was interrupted as a young lady in a suit entered the waiting room through a door across from them with a lighted “ON-AIR” sign over it. “We’re ready for you,” she said with a youthful grin. 

            Stain turned a shade of dark blue that matched the intern’s suit and followed her.  Mark went after her, trying his best to look cool and relaxed.  He could only hope that his hands were not shaking.  The Intern led them down an aisle lined with theater seats packed with people.  Everyone was looking at them.  The intern motioned to the chairs on stage and then stood with some other staff members behind the camera crew.  The hostess was a small black woman with a professional look who leered at her two guests as they arrived.  Two empty chairs were on her right and a man that made Mark even more nervous sat on the left.  He was a tall and heavy man, middle-aged, wearing a crisp suit and peering at Mark with disapproval through the small, round glasses on his nose.  Jarring theme music played while Mark took a seat in the far chair and Stain stood in front of the one nearer the host.

            The music faded.  “Well, Mark?” she began, leaning forward and looking around Stain.  Mark nodded.  “Welcome to the show and to you as well,” she continued, addressing Stain.  “What should we call you?”

            “My name is”, she showed the misshapen yellow and red stain.  She had turned to the camera and showed the same images on both of her sides so that the audience and the host could read it.  “It really is a pleasure to be here and I am hopeful that my people continue to have good relations with the human race.  I hope that we can get to know each other and create a friendly future.”  Her words were soft and bright, but Mark noticed what Stain did not seem to.  The audience did not look friendly and some of them glaring at the stage.

            “How kind of you,” Melody responded.  “So, your people only want friendship with us Earthlings?”

            “We seek an exchange of knowledge and goods,” Stain answered. 

            “And this is an equitable arrangement?” Melody interrupted. 

            Stain darkened slightly.  “Beneficial to all involved.  We have relationships with a number of intelligent beings on a number of planets. We have never coerced anyone.  If we are not welcome, we leave.”

            The man to her right gave a snorting chuckle.  Melody simply answered, “I see.” 

            “Your customs are unfamiliar to us,” Stain commented.  “The expedition is quite concerned about some of the stories that have been circulating about us and our intentions.  I would be pleased to answer questions.”

            “Certainly,” said Melody, seeming ready to pounce.  “I would bring your attention to the story of Jill Carson.  She claims one of you took her eight-month old baby.  Any comment?”

            Stain cocked her head and shifted her weight uncomfortably.  “I had not been told of that accusation.  We would not steal an intelligent being.  That is the sort of false story that concerns us.”

            “So it never happened,” said Melody.

            “Yes”, Stain answered in big red letters.

            “And you are not here to buy our planet, to take advantage of a less developed species?  You are not here to haul away our natural resources?”

            Stain stood up.  Her words were sharp and orange, on a purple background.  “We came here unarmed.  We are not making anyone sell us anything and we have plenty to offer in return. We have not even discussed buying your planet.  Owning land is an alien custom that we barely understand.”

            Melody shot a skeptical look at the audience and the man to her right stared angrily at the floor.  “Well, those are some of the unconfirmed stories in the press.”

            Stain settled back down and brightened a bit.  “Those ideas could make relations difficult.  My job is to study alien cultures, to understand other intelligent species.  We do not normally have a problem with false stories.”

            “Interesting,” Melody commented.  “So, you study other species, get familiar with them?”

            “That is correct.”

            “Mark,” Melody leaned forward, looking around Stain.  “I understand you have been helping this alien with her research.  Tell us about your relationship.”

            “She is a friend,” Mark began.  “I met her in a bar and she wanted to talk.  I have been answering questions.  I try to help her with her research by giving her a human perspective.”

            “So, you’ve been giving her perspective?” Melody leered.  Mark squirmed, noticing the air of hidden meaning in the way she asked.

            “We talk over e-mail,” Mark clarified.

            The TV screens around the stage switched from a view of Melody and her guests to a picture of Mark and Stain eating together, taken that one time they had lunch.  Melody grinned.  “So, it picked you up in a bar and you have been dating,” she observed. 

            “We’re friends,” Mark answered, attempting to appear calm and relaxed.

            “Is everyone on this planet who talks to each other dating?” Stain asked in yellow.  Audience members chuckled.

            “When we come back, we will examine this relationship between a human and an alien.”  Melody turned to her right and had a quiet conversation with the other guest.  Stain turned green and moved so that only Mark could see her comment, presented in small letters using a slightly darker shade of green.  “I do not like this.  It is not what I expected.”

            “They call it an ambush,” Mark whispered.  “I’m sorry, I should have warned you that this might happen.  I didn’t think of it.”

            “Relax,” she told him. 

            “Really, I...“

            The commercial ended.  “For those of you just tuning in, my guests are Reverend Paul Bickerson of the American Morality Protection League and Mark and his alien lover.”  She turned to her right.  “Reverend, you have been gathering information about these two.”

            Reverend Bickerson sat up straight, glaring at the camera.  “That’s right.  The League has been keeping an eye on this pervert and his Lizard girlfriend.  We are lobbying congress to make this kind of depravity illegal.  It is bad enough that homosexuals and fornicators go unpunished, now these creatures are here to take humans.”

            Melody turned to her left.  Stain had turned dark purple and was saying in bold crimson “we are not lovers!” Mark went with a smug attitude. “Well, I see that this reverend Bickerson has found a new way to trick people into filling his collection plate.” The reverend turned to stare reproachfully at him.  “I trust that your audience will not believe this obvious lie.”

            “Lie?” the reverend interrupted.  “We have proof.  You’re not going to squirm your way out of this, you little creep!  Melody!”

            Melody looked into the camera.  “Roll it,” she commanded, smugly.

            The TV screens displayed a grainy digital video, which showed a Lizard facing the camera, bent forward with its mouth open and its tail in the air. Behind it was a blurry figure of a naked man, pumping.  The audience hooted and yelled. 

            When the tape ended, Melody turned to face Stain.

            “Not Lovers?”

            Stain turned black and stood, knocking over the empty chair behind her with her tail and turning to address the audience.  “That is a fake!” she declared in bold yellow letters.  “That is not me and you cannot even see who the human is!  That is not how we mate!”  The audience roared. 

            Stain composed herself and Melody turned to Mark, expectantly.  “An obvious fake,” Mark said dismissively. “I would like a copy of that tape to show a lawyer.”

            The reverend interrupted.  “So, you need a slimy lawyer to help you lie your way out of facing the consequences of sin!  Typical!”

            Melody motioned to him to sit back and looked straight into the camera.  “When we come back, we will hear what our studio audience has to say about this.”

            Melody walked off stage and into the audience.  An intern handed her a microphone.  She went to have brief discussions with audience members, leaving Mark and Stain alone on stage with Bickerson.  The reverend stared at Stain intently.  He mumbled something Mark could not hear and Stain turned her head. She stood rigid and breathed in his face, making an audible hiss with her mouth open just enough so that he could see her sharp teeth and forked tongue.  Mark got up and walked a few paces away, wondering if Bickerson was about to be mauled.  Bickerson sat up straight, as if daring her to start something.  Men with “Security” written on their shirts approached from behind the stage, positioning themselves nearby.

            Stain settled down, leaning back.  The theme music faded and Melody spoke into the camera that had turned to face her as she stood in an aisle surrounded by her audience.  “Welcome back to the show,” she started. “George,” she turned to a small, older man, who stood slowly.  “You have a comment on today’s show.”

            “Yes, Melody.  I believe them.  That video looks like a fake to me.  I have also been following the business news.  People who trade with the aliens are doing well.  I think we need to be responsible, or we might ruin a good thing.”

            “Thank you,” said Melody, moving away.  “Lisa, you have a comment.”  A young, obese woman rose and spoke into the microphone.  “Yeah!  Look at that little pervert!  You know he can’t get a woman, so he’s doing it with that monster.”  Audience members yelled, drowning out each other’s comments. 

            Melody waited for the noise to die down and addressed another audience member. “Samantha, your opinion.”

            A short, slim brown woman got up and spoke nervously into the microphone.  “I think that they are both just people. If they share love, I don’t see what the problem is.”  The audience booed and hissed.  Reverend Bickerson stood up, red-faced and stepped forward, shouting something.  A security man grabbed his arm and encouraged him to sit back down. 

            “And your comment, Kyle.”

            An overweight, middle-aged man in a T-shirt stood and spoke into the microphone. “I’ve got to thank Reverend Bickerson for his good work,” he drawled.  “I don’t want my kids growing up around these horny creatures. Imagine if your daughter brought one home with her!  Think about that!”  A few scattered audience members clapped. 

            Melody faced the camera.  “The American Morality Protection League can be contacted at the address on screen. I would like to thank our guests for appearing today.  This has been the Melody Murphy show.”  She hurried to the stage and Bickerson stood to greet her.  She thanked him and shook hands, as Mark spotted an exit and hurried toward it.  Stain slapped Melody on the arm with her tail, showing her a cartoon of an obscene hand gesture in red before following Mark out of the studio.

            Outside, Mark apologized profusely for the show.  Stain kept assuring him that she knew it was not his fault, but her posture revealed that she was hurting.  Before leaving, she said goodbye and that she would e-mail him. He took a cab home.

            A few days later, the trouble began.  Reverend Bickerson led protests at the office of Exchange, Inc..  They found Mark’s home as well and crowded onto the sidewalk in front, singing hymns and chanting slogans.  They held up signs calling him all sorts of things.  Mark was late for work that day, having had to drive through the crowd slowly and carefully, honking his horn while the protesters slapped his windows.  He lost his job, with his boss lecturing him about the company’s high standards of conduct.  Mark spent a few days at home, not wanting to leave and deal with the crowd outside.  He watched the news.  The Lizards’ expedition leader had released a written statement that Reverend Bickerson’s video was an obvious fake and requesting that the protesters acknowledge that it was false and disperse. Several businessmen who were trading with the aliens gave interviews and statements in support of them, but Bickerson and other ministers countered by accusing them of selling out and demanded that the Lizards go home.

            Stain e-mailed Mark with more questions about recent events.  She told him that the Lizards were afraid to leave the Exchange building and were watching carefully.  Mark did his best to explain human prejudice to her, but her answer told him that she did not understand.  She was hurt and confused and he tried to write something comforting while ignoring the singing outside. 

            Later that week, a bomb went off.  Mark saw it on the news.  An unidentified man had come out of the crowd and thrown a pipe through the front window of the Exchange, Inc. office.  The news showed footage of the smoking, exposed room left by the blast.  There was also footage of the alien ship, a massive metallic cylinder studded with hot blue engines, as it descended with startling speed to hover over the building.  A smaller craft left the ship and landed on the roof, causing the protesters to scatter. 

            Mark e-mailed Stain to ask if she was OK, but she did not answer.  The President was on TV, condemning the bombing and promising to prosecute the terrorists responsible.  He called for citizens to end the protests.  Also, Eileen Cooper, the chief of a newly formed company buying technological secrets from the aliens, presented a petition signed by hundreds of associates, apologizing for the protests and the attack while asking them to stay.

            Stain finally answered Mark’s e-mail.  He had spent the day and a half since he sent it checking his computer every few minutes.  “Mark, I am not injured, but things are bad here.  They killed one of us with that blast!  She was just a merchant and a threat to no one.  I do not know what we will tell her children about this. ‘Your mother died because humans thought we mated outside our species?’  The leader of our expedition is very upset.  We will be leaving soon.”

            Mark answered back, explaining that he would miss her, but he understood. He told her all about the protest on his lawn and losing his job.  Her response came almost immediately in the form of one light blue sentence.  “Come with us?”

            Mark wrote back that he would and packed his bags.  He had not had to think about it much.  He had no family except a sister he never heard from and now, no job or friends.  Looking out the window at the protesters, who held signs and crosses as they stared with their hateful faces while singing about how much Jesus loves the children, he wanted to be the first human being to leave the Earth behind.



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