Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On the Second Floor: Chapter IV

Day Two

I had plenty of time to prepare for Dayus' return. He might have been a gracious host thus far (and a gracious kidnapper is certainly better than the other kind), but he had made it perfectly clear that I was neither a friend, nor even a "close associate." I was a research specimen, and my pride was finally waking up to that fact.

So when I heard the tower gears turn once more, I was ready. I had books; I took some time to give myself a refresher course on the rights of man. It had been an all-nighter and I was sleepy, but a pot of coffee promised to keep me awake long enough to cite Geneva, so to speak.

After a little while, Dayus jiggled the door handle, but I had locked it. I reclined on the couch, satisfied that these visitations were going to be conducted on my terms. He would request entry, and I would grant it, and insist upon my rights.

There was a soft hum, and then a metallic clack. A moment later the door was open, and Dayus stooped to enter the doorway.

Annoyed, I set my coffee down on the living room table. "On my planet," I said, "it's considered polite to knock on a door, and wait for the person inside to let you in."

The presumptuous doctor took the same seat from the day before, and I thought I could sense something different about his demeanor. "It is probably a wise custom," he said, "if your people have reason to fear strangers."

"You never know what a stranger's intentions are," I said. But no sooner had I made this observation than Dayus had risen to his feet, reached out his hand, and seized my drink. I was speechless as he guzzled the coffee, even spilling a few drops on my carpet. Without a word, he replaced the cup and sat down again.

"You bastard!" I shouted, in my harshest tone, but his face was unmoved. "Just what do you think you're doing!? You took me away, you barged into my house without permission - what gives!?" If his intention was to humiliate me, he succeeded, and I was furious about it.

"Human, you are the first of your kind that has made contact with my kind. But we have met with other races in much the same manner. You are not the first to insist upon your privacy."

I jumped to my feet and glared at him, eye to eye, but he only stared right back. Frustrated, I snatched up my glass and went to the kitchen.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"To get more coffee. If you want some, you can ask me for it."

But he was silent. I poured my drink, then resumed my seat, keeping the glass in hand, lest he should get any funny ideas. Whatever sort of host he was, he was a terrible guest, and I knew that he knew it. I took a sip, and formulated a plan of attack.

"You have some nerve, treating me like a lab rat. I mean, what about my rights?"

"What are your rights?"

"My human rights," I declared; best to get right to it. "My life, my liberty, my property; you may not have killed me, but you've locked me up in here, you've invaded my space, you even stole my damned coffee!"

"Yes," he said, "I have done those things." The significance appeared lost on him.

"Well, on Earth, we have laws and treaties that protect the rights of humans; and now you've gone and broken them!"

He looked a bit less disinterested than before; he fiddled with the strange device again, as he'd done the day before. "So," he said "humans are bound to observe and obey these laws?"

"Exactly," I said, anticipating the next strain of his argument: that he, as a citizen of planet Whatever, was not under the jurisdiction of any human law that he'd ever heard of. "Human laws are universal, and we have thee laws to remind us, and give us recourse when they're violated."

Dayus looked at me with greater interest. "When were these laws written?"

I felt the conversation drifting away from my objective. But I had his attention, and at least that was something. "Well, we've had laws for a long time. But the one's I'm talking about were written a couple of hundred years ago."

"But surely your civilization is older than that."

"Well yeah, much older."

"Then human rights are a recent innovation." He looked quite serious, and I was stuck. I knew where this was going, and I struggled to regain control of the argument.

"Look," I said, "treating other people with decency and respect is something that we all really believe in. But we haven't been able to...formalize it, until recently."

"And now you have achieved this ideal?"

"Well, we...we try to. But sometimes..."

I took a long time in finishing that sentence; I realized that I was at the cusp of condemning the mass of humanity as hypocrites and monsters. He'd said before, I was the first human to make contact, and it hit me then that I was completely blowing the first impression. Whatever I said now, I had to proceed with tact; I chose my words with care.

"Sometimes, I continued, our values don't agree with our nature. And some of us don't really believe in those values anyway." I paused to think. "But those of us who believe in them, we really do! And we're always trying to improve ourselves." I tried to tone down the earnestness, but I was lost at sea.

Dayus adjusted a dial on his recorder again (who knows what other functions it had?), but I'd lost my desire to insist on what I was due. After an admission like that, he couldn't take me seriously. I wouldn't.

But to my surprise, he smiled, almost imperceptibly. "Jonah," he said, "may I have another glass of that drink? It was quite invigorating."

The good doctor was well on his way to driving me mad, and this sudden change in attitude was definitely helping his cause. I got up and poured the rest of the pot into a second glass. Still mystified (and no longer convinced I was not dreaming), I handed the glass to Dayus and sat down again. "Cheers," I said, lost for words.

This time, he sipped the coffee slowly, seeming to savor the flavor, and so for a while we sat quietly together. I found it hard to look at him. Though I'd gotten used to his bizarre anatomy, his face remained beyond my analysis. I'd only hinted at humanity's history of violence and crime; could he possibly understand the whole picture? Somehow, I thought that perhaps he did.

As he finished, he noted that the flavor of the coffee had changed. "Yes," I said, "the one from before had cream in it." Of course, he didn't have any experience with cream, but the answer seemed to satisfy him.

"Jonah," he said, and I started, still unused to hearing him use my name, "I'm sorry if the inconvenience of this expedition has been stressful for you. For the duration of your time with us, we will continue to extend every comfort to you. We request only your patience and your cooperation."

"I...I want to see the rest of your ship. The part where you live." If nothing else, I wanted to voice my most modest demand. Confinement for ten days didn't appeal any more after a tea party.

"I do not believe that would be wise, given your current level of stress."

Figures, I thought.

Dayus stood up from his chair, placing his glass on the table (he did not recognize the coaster for what it was), and turned to open the door again. "Thank you for the coffee, Jonah. I promise that your confinement will not be permanent, regardless of what you may suspect." With that, he was gone.

Leaning my head against my hand, I gulped the rest of my coffee. Of course, I thought, the doctor had been a step ahead of me the whole time. I knew my emotions were being manipulated deliberately; probably all a part of his "research." Stimulants or not, I was exhausted from my all-nighter. I took a nap.

No comments:

Post a Comment