After a journey of some forty meters and nineteen subjective hours, the concrete bench by the embarking area finally came into reach, and George Francisco sank down upon it.
There is so much to do, he thought, carefully forming the thought in English. His arm ached. It was hard to hold to human language, and his thoughts skittered sideways and threatened to leap headlong into Tenctonese. He closed his eyes against the last of the sun and concentrated. Not Tenctonese. "Newcomer," he said, fiercely, speaking out loud. The bandages encasing his thorax made his breathing more labored. "I am a Newcomer. I have come but late to this place."
"True, brother, but you are leaving now." At George's elbow, the Tenctonese orderly was...hovering, George decided, like a sparrow hawk, before it dove to strike. Or like one of the noisy vertical take-off and landing aircraft that seemed to constantly circle the city. Helicopters. Yes, very like a helicopter. And as useful in the present situation.
He must have said that out loud, because the orderly's body stiffened.
"My apologies. I intended no offense. The medications, they have confused me." This was not a lie - even as he spoke, George could feel the last analgesic injection take its full effect. The orderly, the sky, and the concrete bench on which he sat all suddenly seemed far distant. "There is no need to trouble yourself. My friend will be here momentarily to convey me home."
The orderly frowned. George had some sympathy for his dilemma - he felt in no condition to be left unsupervised. But he was sitting down now, in the last of a truly beautiful sunset, and if the east-running breeze carried a hint of ocean-stink, well, so few things were perfect. And this current tableau could be greatly improved by the orderly's absence.
Some neuron not currently enthralled with the narcotic streaming through his system sparked an inspiration. "On the other hand, you could stay. I should like you to meet my friend - he is a most marvelous human. One of the City of Los Angeles police force. I understood from his telephone call that he is coming directly here from the beach - he is quite fond of swimming in the surf, insane human that he is."
Most of this was factual, but George found himself resorting to mistruths in order to have the desired effect. His voice kept on, creating a persona that Matthew himself would have been hard pressed to recognize. "Despite the insanity, and the unfortunate twitch he has developed in the third finger of his left hand, Matthew is a fascinating person. Not quite civilized - beyond the swimming he has horrible taste in morning beverages." Where he was going with this line of reasoning, George had no idea. Fortunately for the poor overworked neuron supplying this drivel, the orderly decided that he had heard quite enough, and muttered something about checking the desk inside before beating a hasty retreat.
Even the thought of having to explain to Matthew what horrible liberties he had been taking with the other man's reputation did little to sully the resulting solitude. George gave up on serious conjecture and gave himself over to admiring the dying light.
The ship did not have these. An old thought, and comforting. The ship that had brought the Tenctonese to Earth - and to Los Angeles - had lacked any number of things. Some days, it was enough to keep George pleased for hours, making a mental list of the features of Earth.
Sunsets. Wind. Air. Smog. Open roads. Automobiles. Beaches. Fried hamburgers.
George frowned. His intent had been to list pleasant things. He began again.
Sunsets. Sunrises. Car horns.
"Hey, George! GEORGE! Have you gone deaf in that fancy slag hospital?" The automobile horn sounded again, but George was already turning his head to focus on the car parked at the curb, in the area clearly marked NO PARKING. The machine's motor made an irregular rattling sound and seemed to tremble in place, as if eager to be racing elsewhere. As was the car's driver, George was certain.
"George, time to go, ride's here." Now Matthew had climbed from his car and waited on the curb, his face seamed in the late light as he stood over George.
Matthew did not hover. Matthew was too rarely still - frequently caught in motion, but not inclined to pause.
"Ah, Matthew. There you are." It seemed to take George a very long time to come to his feet, even with Matthew helping. "Oh. Carefully, Matthew. I am not fully healed. The chest brace -"
"- Yeah, yeah, I know, they had to burrow in, restart both the tickers. Still got you all patched up. Quit farting around, man, and get in the car."
"But you were also injured, Matthew."
"No, I'm fine. Let's go, partner, your wife's waiting on you."
"Matthew, I don't think that's correct. In fact I'm sure it's not."
"What? Are you back on that 'she's going to divorce me' rant again? Newsflash for you, pal, you guys are in for the long haul. Quit trying to pretend you're human - it don't fit."
And all through this, Matthew had kept a firm grip on the least-damaged arm, and had brought George to the passenger door, and opened it, and half-hauled, half-urged George into the seat.
"Matthew, that is not what I meant - no, no, I can manage the safety belt myself. Yes, I am certain of it." He was very sure of his ability to manipulate the safety catch, but he could not bend as he felt he should, and the insert trembled in his shaking hands, so that Matthew had already pulled away from the curb, exited the parking lot - by driving over several marked parking lines - and entered the traffic flowing north by the time the catch had been properly secured.
George sat back with a sigh, still plagued by a sense of uneasiness, as though he had left something undone. There is much to do, he thought again. It was even later now, with the sunset drifting away and the colors of the sky replaced by neon and streetlights.
George stared out the window, watching the streetlights slide across the windshield. The windshield was dirty, again. A match for the pavement, he thought, as a white and yellow plastic bag blew across the road in front of them. When they came to a stop, George could see the dirt piled against the concrete curb. Even the metal pole bearing the street names was battered and crooked.
"Matthew, is this the proper route? Should we not be on the freeway?"
Matthew shrugged. "Tonight, it's not going to make a difference. Eight car pileup in Compton, the freeway's gonna be blocked for hours. Why I was late - had to back track and come around down to King-Drew."
"Matthew, won't that inconvenience you, on your way home?"
"Nah, not a big deal. Just wish if they were going to have a fancy sl-Newcomer hospital, that they would have it in a better neighborhood. King-Drew, that place is a dump."
"It was, I believe, the decision of the governing board to set aside a wing for critical care for my people, a choice that none of the other city hospitals would make. And you are avoiding the question, Matthew. I don't think you should be driving so much, with your injured hand. Perhaps we should hail a cab, and I will instruct the driver to take me home."
"Like hell you will, George. My hand's fine. I told you that yesterday."
"Was it yesterday? I can not seem to keep track of the time."
"Yeah, well, you took a pretty hard knock to the head. Would throw anyone for a loop."
"The doctors seemed to think my skull was uninjured. After all, it was not my head that the beam impacted, but my chest." Outside his window, a neon sign advertising a liquor vending store flickered bright red EER. As Matthew's car passed, the glass door opened and a Newcomer staggered out with a tall square bottle under his arm. "We have different weak points than you. Even so, I was surprised when I awoke and found the impact was not fatal. I remember suspecting it would be, at the time."
Matthew slammed his bandaged hand down on the dashboard. "You remember - shit!"
George jerked around in the seat, as much dismayed by the furious outburst as he was by the crumpled expression on Matthew's face as the human simultaneously cradled the hand in his lap and brought the car to a sudden halt.
"Matthew? Matthew, we are stopped in the traffic lane."
"I don't give a fuck, George," Matthew said through gritted teeth. "You stupid shithead, George. I suspected it would be. You fucking slag sumbitch."
"Matthew, there is no need for that kind of language."
"Shut up. You knew it was going to kill you to try to stop that wall. You did it anyway. You idiot." A vehicle approached them from the rear and whipped around, trailing a drawn-out horn blast behind it. Matthew leaned out the window and shouted another obscenity after it.
"Matthew, I understand that you are distressed, but could we possibly conduct this conversation else where? "
"Hell, yeah, I'm distressed. I got a partner that I don't understand, why the hell wouldn't that upset me?" Another car flashed past, and Matthew left off wringing his injured hand long enough to put the car back into gear.
George considered the question. "Well, Matthew..."
"George, just shut up and let me drive, before I get turned around and get us lost."
At times like these, there was no pleasing the human. George let Matthew put his full attention to driving. George even went so far as to privately decline to monitor their course for misdirection.
Instead, he let his head rest against the fully elevated window and watched the city pass.
The alertness he had felt, after Matthew had shouted and struck the car, was wearing off. The buildings they were passing were nearly all dark - anonymous black glass-front offices and stores. Even the Tenctonese script was wavering and difficult to decipher in the darkness and the motion-blur.
Matthew was not speeding, George decided. It was the world which was turning too slowly. The glass against his skull was cool.
And with no more warning than that, the car tires squealed in protest as the vehicle came to a sudden stop. George felt himself flung forward by momentum, and attempted to raise his arm to ward away the dashboard, only to be caught by both the safety belt and Matthew's arm.
The disheveled human caught in the headlights before them turned her head and stared at them as she continued across the road, one foot shuffling before the other.
"Come on, grandma; get a move on, before I bust you for jaywalking!"
The outburst made no appreciable difference in the woman's rate of travel. Eventually, she reached the curb and, on the second try, got both feet off the pavement and onto the sidewalk.
Matthew drove on, but not without a backwards glance. George risked a question.
"Is that woman all right?"
The human's eyes flickered up to the rear-view again. "Yeah, she's a hell of a lot more spry on the sidewalk than she was in the road." A glance towards George. "Sorry about that. With her black coat and all, I didn't see her until I was almost on top of her."
"She is very fortunate, then."
"Yeah, well, you almost got another bruise, there. Stay awake, why doncha? Didn't you get enough sleep in the hospital?"
"I suppose I must have, but I do not remember. The doctors administered a great deal of drugs, and I think it is affecting my memory."
"Yeah, they said you were pretty far gone. Lucky for us they got that fancy Newcomer hospital there, even if is all the way out of the way."
George couldn't think of anything to say in reply to this. The lights slid past them still, no slower than they had before. George started counting them, but stopped when he reached twenty and realized he had been counting silently in Latin.
"Hey, stay awake now. Talk to me."
George drug his gaze back from the passing lights and considered his partner. "You are a very inconsistent man, Matthew."
"I get told that."
"What would you like me to talk about?"
"Oh, hell if I know. Okay, how about this - tell me why you became a cop."
"That would be a very boring story, Matthew."
"Tell me anyway. Cause I got to tell you George, you don't seem like the type that always wanted to be a policeman, bust the bad guys, save the pretty girls."
"Based on who the enforcement officials were on board the ship, no. Not at all. I became enamored with law enforcement after our arrival here on Earth."
"Really? Why cops, why not, I dunno, an architect, or a lawyer, or a park ranger - something where you don't have to worry about people shooting at you, or blowing up buildings so they fall on you?"
"I believe that most park rangers also have to deal with infringements of the legislative code." When Matthew frowned, George sighed. "I had originally intended, when I left the temporary housing, to apply for employment with the sanitation department. Or else become a, a -" He groped for the proper term, but could only find the Tentoese term. "An organizer of documents."
"A file clerk?" Matthew's tone was incredulous.
"The term does not translate exactly. My people use the same word for a task that has elements of that and of 'librarian.'"
"So why didn't you? I got a cousin, clerks for a law firm in Oakland. She says they just hired a Newcomer. Makes good money."
"I was pursuing the sanitation department option, first. But there were issues with the collective labor bargaining organization of that institution. Things had taken an unpleasant turn at the time I investigated filing my application. I was firmly advised by the employment counselors to investigate other options."
They turned left at the next intersection. George stopped talking for a moment to observe the all-night video store and the empty lot beside it. The chain link fence was half down, and trash was caught in the links, pale in the darkness.
"George, that makes no sense. What the hell drove you to want to pick up trash?"
He sighed. "Because that is what you needed most."
Matthew frowned, kept flicking glances at him. "We who? We humans? Need someone to take out the trash? Dammit George, you're better than that!"
"No, not trash. You need someone to put things in order." Suddenly very tired, George put his head back against the headrest.
"Hey, hey, no sleeping on me. You're supposed to watch the road, damn it."
"Matthew, I do not even know where we are. I can be of no help to you."
"Fine, you talk, keep me awake. Tell me more about this putting things in order. What the hell does that mean, in your freckled head, that humans need someone to put things in order?"
"You are very disorganized."
"Thanks, George. Nice words of encouragement."
"You deny this?" George waved his hand at the window, at the flickering lights, the people strolling in ones and threes and eights, at the trash caught in the fence. "The word for this is chaos. It wants setting straight, Matthew, and as a rule your people seem handicapped against accomplishing it yourselves."
"So that's what you think of us, huh? Disordered primitives?"
"I did not say all humans, Matthew. And even the worst, such as yourself, are in fact very advanced disorders. Some are quite organized individuals, but it does not seem a common gift."
Matthew was quiet for several moments. The car's rumble was a comforting sound, and reached deep into George's bones. He watched the passing signs with half-open eyes, until he saw a familiar billboard.
"Matthew, I think we are quite near - what are you doing?" For Matthew had put on his turn indicator and moved the car to the side of the road. "Matthew, this is not my residence."
"George, shut up." Matthew's voice was very quiet. He took two deep breaths and cleared his throat. George hesitated, on the verge of asking again, when Matthew spoke.
"George, I know it isn't fair to ask you this when you're hopped to the gills on the doc's happy juice, but maybe I'll get an honest answer out of you. Maybe you need a different partner. One who isn't going to make more of mess than you can clean up. Maybe if that's what you're really after, hanging with me isn't the best thing you could do. You know me - I ain't tidy, and I don't play by the rules. Maybe, if it means so much to you -"
George shook his head. "Oh, no, Matthew, I would not do that."
"Look, George, you don't have to stay with me because you think you'll hurt my feelings if you ask for a different partner. I can take it; I've done it before -"
"No, Matthew, no, it is not that at all. Matthew, I would rather not have a new partner. I have had such marked success with you, that I feel it would be very unfortunate to abandon the project unfinished."
"Project?" Matthew's voice sounded strangled.
"To make you more organized, less disordered. I feel I've made considerable progress, actually."
For a moment, there was silence beyond the rumble of the engine. Then Matthew was laughing out loud, a low, quiet chuckle so different from his usual braying hiccup, and the laugh went on and on, even after Matthew put the car back into gear and drove on. George set his head against the cold window again and watched the streetlights slide past, and Matthew was still laughing as they turned the corner onto George's street. Then they were at his house, and the car was still running when the door was thrown open, and hands were pulling him out, and George was hissing against the pain, his ears full of the sound of his own language, Susan holding him from one side and Buck under the other arm.
They were halfway up the walk before George made them stop and turn around.
Matthew was standing on the other side of the car, his forearms on the roof, watching them walk away. When they turned around, the human straightened, and lifted one hand to wave at them.
"Lieutenant said to tell you that being mostly dead only gets you two extra days off. If you're walking, he wants us in the office on Monday. To get things cleaned up."
George nodded. "If I am walking, I will be there." Matthew nodded, started to get into the car. "Matthew. I remembered. You sent a card, while I was in the hospital. Was it supposed to be a humorous greeting?"
The human's teeth flashed. "Yeah, yeah it was. Did you get the joke?"
George shook his head. Against his side, Susan was warm and solid. "I did not understand it. Can you explain -"
"Monday, George. I'll explain it Monday."
"Very well, Monday. Thank you, Matthew."
And then George let his wife and son draw him up the walk and into the yellow light of his home.
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Fandom: Other (Alien Nation)
Title: Ride Home
Author: hossgal [email]
Details: Standalone | PG-13 | gen | 18k | 01/07/06
Characters: George Francisco, Matthew Sikes
Summary: So, there were these two guys in a car.
Notes: Movie & series based. No spoilers. Written for the 2005 Yuletide.
Disclaimer/Other: Thanks to Florastuart for beta. Characters and situations are not mine, no money is being made, no infringement intended.
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