As he and Diefenbaker trekked through the wasteland of motorway on-ramps fringing Chicago, Fraser reflected on the likely deficits in their briefing information. The electromagnetic broadcasts from Earth which the Thermians had intercepted and passed on to Galactic Headquarters had not covered the fine details of urban transportation systems. Early industrial worlds like Earth were the worst, Fraser thought, filled with dangerous machines that made walking anywhere a nightmare. Primitive worlds were easier in some ways, although rather more tiring. He much preferred walking, but was used to being beamed any lengthy distance.
Yeah, and my paws hurt, grumbled Dief in his head, responding to his thoughts. Plus this wolf-form has very acute olfaction, and the fumes from these fossil fuel engines are screwing with my sinuses.
Fraser sighed. His companion had picked up an annoying taste for lowbrow slang from the television shows and movies in their briefing downloads. And his name! Really, what had possessed Grith, their supervisor, to allow him to choose Diefenbaker as a name? Ridiculous. Fraser was even a little uncertain about his own choice of Benton. It was listed as a male name, but Fraser had been on first-contact missions before, and he knew there was a vast gap between cultural records and the actual workings of a society. He hoped again that the cover story that they were from Canada would suffice to disguise their more obvious cultural blunders. That, and insisting that Diefenbaker took a bioform without spoken language had, he felt, been his two major coups in the lead-up to the mission.
He and Diefenbaker – no, it was too ridiculous, he was going to call him Dief whenever possible – were assigned for reconnaissance. Their world, Nerdos, had a treaty with the Thermians who were keen to locate new allies in their conflict with General Sarris. The Thermians had prevailed on the Galactic Alliance to assign an investigatory team to Earth. He and Dief were chosen due to their experience as agents, and no-one would dream of sending a Thermian team – they were painfully naive, still quite deluded that the broadcasts from Earth were historical documents not dramatic renditions. Having no concept of a lie was a serious failing in an undercover agent.
The Thermians were distant third cousins to his own race, but he liked to think of his own species as rather more evolved. They were somewhat akin to the octopi of Earth, tentacular in form like the Thermians. Not aquatic, but they could swim, and a bath was always welcome.
It was odd to find himself with only four limbs. Limiting, although he was used to the higher centre of gravity now, so hopefully there would be no more embarrassing nose-dives; no wonder the training room was so well padded. This form lacked the many tentacle-based taste and smell receptors to which he was accustomed. Dief had the better of him there, it seemed, in his lupine bioform, and a more sensible ambulatory system with four limbs, to boot. Fraser extended his tongue and sampled the gritty, carbon-laden air. Hmmm. He did have some gustatory capacity, and if that was a sample of the atmosphere here, perhaps it was as well that his senses were relatively dulled.
First contact missions always involved two agents, but Fraser had argued successfully that two males cohabiting and constantly together would give rise to suspicion in this primitive social structure. Only two genders! And if one of them had taken on female form they would have had to counterfeit some type of relationship, which, no. Far too tricky at this early stage of acculturation. No, the movies were clear that for widespread acceptance, far better to pass as a man and his dog.
Wolf! Dief growled, derailing Fraser’s train of thought. He got like that sometimes, obsessed with some detail of the planet to which they were assigned. He had been downloading wolf lore and videos and was quite the speciesist snob by now.
Fraser sighed. Wolf, yes, my apologies. There was no point arguing with Dief that he was half-dog, even though the scientists at Headquarters had decided that a genetic hybrid would be more resilient.
He hoped their elaborate false identities would prove convincing. One more reason for Dief to be a d–wolf: less history for their handlers to generate. His own false papers had been inserted into the official record wherever necessary, and thankfully both Canada and the United States were only just entering the digital age, so computers were still rudimentary and there was relatively little electronic search capacity. Fraser had argued for a simple cover-story, but in that he had been overruled. An elaborate concoction involving a dead father, a corrupt Mountie in the frozen north and primitive electric power generation technology had been cobbled together by some bureaucrat who had clearly watched far too many lurid dramas from Earth’s daytime broadcasts. Privately, Fraser doubted that the humans would find it at all plausible, but he was stuck with it now and would have to play along. Those idiot writers with desk jobs had no idea what it was really like out in the field, he thought, kicking moodily at an empty metal cylinder in his path.
It had been decided they would start with the Chicago police and the Canadian Consulate and from there, try to infiltrate local law enforcement. This was a common ploy: there was no better way to get to know a society’s flaws. And the sooner the Council were clear about the risks posed by Earth – or the benefits an alliance could bring – the sooner he and Dief could shed these strange bodies and relax in a Malvian spa or wallow in the culinary delicacies of Tralb.
Not that Fraser was in any real hurry, himself. He enjoyed the challenge of a mission, the thrill of exploration and discovery. Grith would beam down periodically and harass them, however, in the holographic form of Robert Fraser, his fictional father. His deceased fictional father. Fraser hoped that the American preoccupation with supernatural phenomena would cover their supervisor’s regular manifestations, but he was still uncertain of the degree to which humans actually believed in ghosts. He hoped Grith would be careful, at least until they had gathered more intelligence, but Grith was a Baxian and discretion was not their strong point.
They ducked under an overpass and emerged on a street flanked by pedestrian walkways. The walkways appeared to be solid concrete, fused to the ground – not the motorised travelators any sensible culture would have developed. Fraser looked around; the buildings were dirty and many had broken windows. A small clump of youths – equally dirty and in disrepair – lounged on the opposite corner, eyeing him and Dief and sniggering. Perhaps beaming down in full RCMP uniform – albeit the brown one – had not been entirely wise, but it was clearly what a constable like Benton Fraser would wear.
Fraser lifted his chin and strode off down the inadequate pedestrian walkway, then realised Dief had vanished. “Dief? Where are you? Dief!”
Five minutes of mental shouting finally located the wolf in an alleyway, nose buried in an overturned trash can. He was eating discarded bread-like objects – were they hamburger buns? He remembered those from several volume-enhanced segments in the broadcasts. Fraser closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Dief, come along, you can’t just wander off and, and forage like that. It’s unhygienic.”
Dief raised his head and grinned. There was a trail of something red down the fur on his chest – surely that couldn’t be blood? He had promised to curb his wilder instincts in the city. No, it was probably that substance called ketchup, which humans seemed inordinately fond of pouring on their food.
Smells great! Tastes better! Dief’s mental image was laden with vivid sensory overlay, and Fraser found himself salivating and staring at the buns.
Stop that! Fraser blocked out Dief’s ecstatic paean to simple carbohydrates; he was not going to start his mission on Earth by eating garbage. The broadcasts were clear that eating garbage was not normal human behavior. Well, not for an RCMP constable, anyway. He snapped a mental command at Dief, who growled but eventually followed him out of the alley and on down the street.
Fraser tipped his hat at an elderly woman pushing a wheeled wire-frame trolley filled with more garbage – was there no end to it? The broadcasts had not really emphasised the garbage issue adequately. She snarled at him, revealing crooked teeth. Dief snarled back, and Fraser winced, rubbing at his eyebrow, behind which a knot of pain was forming. Oh dear.
He wondered how long it would take them to integrate. Dief, he had to admit, was managing better than he was, but then animal behavior was so much less complex. Dief shot him a dirty look, and curled his lip. Yes, well. Fraser plodded on.
Fraser was going to kill the idiot who had written his cover story. Even with the hand-held remote Grith had given him that conveniently altered aspects of the humans’ memories, he was hard pressed to recall all the details and play along convincingly.
They were, however, beginning to infiltrate the Canadian Consulate and Chicago law enforcement, or at least he had finally made Detective Vecchio take notice, which was a start. Fraser flushed again, thinking about how he had met Ray Vecchio and the foolish error he had made. He should have remembered that Armani was a clothing designer, but he was finding Earth nuances difficult to grasp. Humor was a particular challenge, and irony even worse. He could only hope that the “serious, polite Canadian” front was continuing to cover his worst mistakes.
A smiling, slightly blank response was becoming routine for him in any number of baffling situations, which made the supposed punishment of guard duty outside the Consulate a pleasant respite. His angry co-worker might not have rostered him on quite so frequently had she realised how much he looked forward to standing immobile, spared from navigating the intricacies of conversation. Inspector Moffatt was especially taxing: all those weird gestures.
Both Dief and Fraser had of course had extensive language downloads before the mission, but, as ever, implementing them appropriately was quite another thing. He was sure that his speech was too stiff and formal, too “academic” and had added some detail to his cover story about being raised by librarians. That, and the Canadian thing, ought to cover it.
The downloads were largely wasted on Dief, Fraser thought bitterly, standing at attention and ignoring a small child who was clutching his trousers with sticky fingers as her father snapped a photograph. Dief had virtually gone native, reveling in his new body and allowing his appetites to rule. No donut was safe in his vicinity and Fraser was almost certain that he had experimented with sexual intercourse if his behavior around a local collie was any guide. Dief cheerfully ignored all his warnings about sexually transmitted diseases and the morality of impregating another animal when they had no idea how canine society functioned on this planet. Humans were the most advanced land-based species so there had been little sociological coverage of any other Terran animals.
Dief pranced across to him now, standing up on his hind legs and licking Fraser’s chin.
Fraser clenched his jaw in annoyance. Will you get down? You know I hate getting your saliva on me. I know what you do with that tongue, Diefenbaker. He stared blankly at the tourists, gritting his teeth.
Lighten up Fraser, I’m just saying howdy, replied Dief, grinning ear to ear and dropping back to all fours so as to prance around several children and relieve them of their ice-cream cones. Really, his propensity for slang and antisocial behavior was worsening every day.
Dief spun around, tail alert, then launched himself off down the sidewalk. Fraser squinted out of his peripheral vision, alarmed. Curse these inadequate optical sensors; his usual form had multiple light-sensitive areas on all twelve limbs, which was vastly more efficient.
It was only Vecchio, sauntering along in very oddly colored clothing which seemed far too loose and informal for a police officer. Dief bounded around him, panting hopefully, his thoughts an eager litany of Vecchio! Yeah! Gimme a donut!
“Hey, Fraser, you back on statue duty again?” Vecchio grinned, rubbing the fur between Dief’s ears and causing the mental babble to shift from food to Good! Stroke me there! Yes! Which Fraser hurriedly tuned out. So inappropriate and undignified.
Just because you’re not getting any, Dief shot back at him, grinning evilly.
Fraser felt a flush rise up his neck. The whole sexuality issue was a perplexing minefield. This body most certainly had urges and instincts, but they were triggered in very unfortunate situations and Fraser tried hard to suppress them. There seemed to be no reproductive season: it was a sexual free-for-all with a complicated mesh of social rules and taboos.
Not for dogs! Dief noted smugly, apparently happy in this respect to slum it with the commoner species.
Vecchio leaned against a wall and waited for Fraser to go off duty. He chatted away cheerfully about their “case”, saying he had located a well known assassin for them to track down in a local bar. Oh, wonderful. Fraser was definitely going to have that idiot back at Galaxy HQ fired.
Finally released, Fraser followed Vecchio to his automobile, Dief leaping into the rear seat, the better to interject irritating comments as Vecchio drove them to a disreputable part of town not unlike the suburb they had encountered on their arrival.
They headed for the bar, Fraser pausing to make arrangements with some underemployed local youths to watch over Ray’s vehicle, congratulating himself on the naturalness of his interactions in this unfamiliar setting. Dief had been deployed to secure the automobile but kept following along, whining about wanting to be “in on the action”. So annoying.
Ray’s ill-advised venture into the bar alone was of course a disaster and Fraser had to rescue him, Dief giving his wolf instincts free rein and thoroughly enjoying himself. The number of illegal projectile weapons and knives in that bar had been staggering, but between them, he, Dief and Ray had disarmed the establishment. Galactic Headquarters would be highly alarmed by the density of weapons and criminal behavior when they next reported in. Or perhaps the Thermians would be thrilled to be allied with such a warlike culture? Fraser was happy to leave the politics to Grith.
Baffled again, Fraser watched Ray endure a serious chastisement from his supervisor. They had disarmed a nest of antisocial felons, but the Captain seemed preoccupied with property damage. Fraser found his manner quite incongruous – outwardly smiling while inwardly seething with rage, most odd. Strange, also, that he had a seafaring rank in a land-based force, but if Fraser puzzled over every small discrepancy he would surely go mad. The news that Ray had 41 open murder cases on his desk was chastening: another worrying statistic for the report.
Fraser found himself experiencing a new sensation, seeing Ray quite subdued after the Captain’s dressing down. He explored the feelings: mild nausea, tightness in the region of his chest and an urge to pat Ray on the shoulder. Was it…sympathy? He searched his psychology files. He rather thought it was. Perhaps he…liked Ray?
Yeah! We like Ray! Cheer him up! prompted Diefenbaker, nosing Ray’s hand for a pat.
Events overtook any further emotional analysis however, as they raced off to talk with the assassin’s exhausted-looking wife. Fraser forgot himself briefly outside her apartment and used his tongue – the only remaining tentacle he possessed – to test out some evidence. Ray noticed, of course, and he had to pretend he was play-acting to impress the woman.
That slip was lost in the ensuing flurry of activity, with a rushed trip to Chinatown where the killer had rigged his apartment to explode. They were very nearly killed, and if Ray hadn’t seen the danger and saved them both…Fraser was baffled. He didn’t understand why this human he barely knew would risk his life to save him? Another fact for the report.
Ray looked so pale in the hospital bed, bandaged and hooked up to a bank of primitive machinery. How Fraser longed for a proper infirmiary suite with skeletal regenerators. Even a portable tissue knitter would have been something.
And again with the idiot back-story, forcing him to leave Ray still injured and travel up to Canada with Dief, which was not at all what he had intended. The “he’s weird because he’s Canadian” ploy was unlikely to play well when they were surrounded by Canadians. And yet, oddly, it did. Apparently being (in theory) from the far north made him strange in the city, and having just come from Chicago made him strange to the denizens of the frozen north. Undercover work was made vastly easier on this world by the lack of telepathy, Fraser reflected. Really, it was just as well he and Diefenbaker had arrived here first: the planet was ripe for infiltration.
Not everything was so easy, of course. He had had basic training and downloads on the skills required to survive in a range of conditions, so snow was no problem in itself. On other frozen worlds, however, there had been fusion-heated habitats and beam transportation, not this endless trudging through the wilderness. Fraser’s legs ached and he wondered if he would ever be warm again, but Dief seemed to be enjoying himself, rolling in the snow and dashing off into the woods. One night he howled at the moon, causing answering ululations to echo back from the distance, and only stern reminders about their mission had kept him from racing off to join them.
Wolves! Dief had pleaded. Real wolves! But he stayed in the cabin, sulking until Fraser capitulated and gave him some cookies.
Basing their survival skills on the eclectic collection of digitized texts available at Headquarters had also caused problems. In retrospect, possibly they had over-relied on the 1959 Boy Scout’s Handbook, Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled by Hudson Stuck (unfortunate name), M is for Mountie and The Boy’s Guide to Practical Knots.
Fraser familiarised himself with dog-sledding (thanks to old Hudson) and in the end, that was what mattered when first Ray, then a brace of hired killers arrived and the whole mess came to a spectacular conclusion in a whirl of snowmobiles and lead projectiles.
Fraser emerged unscathed but Diefenbaker was injured. He’d whined piteously, his thoughts filled with hurts stomach hurts and Fraser tried to soothe him, forcing his thoughts to carry only reassurance while his gut roiled with fear, throat tight and jaw clenched until they got Dief to safety and knew he would recover.
As it turned out, there really was a corrupt Mountie, unless Grith had messed with the memories of Gerard and his cronies on a heroic scale, which…well…Fraser wouldn’t put it past him. Their boss had been lying low, possibly as he was happy with Fraser and Dief’s work so far. Or he might have been on annual leave; Headquarters was strict about staff taking leave when it was due. Anyway, they were left to lick their wounds – literally, in Dief’s case, until Fraser threatened to tie a plastic bucket around his neck – and then banished back to Chicago.
On guard once more outside the Canadian Consulate, Fraser found he welcomed Vecchio’s teasing and Dief’s cheerful rummaging for discarded hot dogs. As a human he had more intense feelings than had been the case in Nerdian form, and although he was no expert, he thought that possibly, just possibly, they might be…well…friends.
Time passed, and Fraser found he like Earth, strange though it was. Dief wholeheartedly agreed. They managed to convince Grith to extend their mission.
Fraser was sure that he was finally fitting in. The staff of the 27th Precinct accepted him; even Ray’s boss the Lieutenant seemed to like him, most of the time. Frannie liked him far too much, of course, and in that respect he remained at a loss, human sexuality still an enticing quagmire. The mere thought of the Victoria Metcalf disaster brought him out in a cold sweat.
Diefenbaker was completely impossible, utterly addicted to donuts and so wilful that Fraser had been forced to invent a story about Dief being deaf so as to explain why he ignored most of Fraser’s perfectly reasonable requests.
The Consulate was tedious at times, but his oddness went unnoticed there – everyone was a little unusual, from Turnbull’s pedantic idiocies to Inspector Thatcher’s occasional bursts of gaucherie. Fraser felt almost at home.
Ray was most definitely a friend by now. His best friend, really, apart from Diefenbaker, who was sufficiently annoying to qualify as family. Which was why Fraser was so alarmed by the very odd phone call he received from Ray when he and Dief were holidaying in the Northwest Territories.
A series of body-blows followed, starting with the fire at his admittedly seedy apartment. Then no sign of Ray at the 27th Precinct, just an impostor and everyone pretending he was Vecchio. Fraser was briefly, profoundly disoriented – who was playing who? For a while he was certain that Grith must have beamed down and zapped the whole Precinct with the amnesia-device, but Grith denied it, rambling on irritatingly in his “Robert Fraser” role. So unhelpful.
The fake Ray kept going on and on about them being a “duet”. Fraser couldn’t follow him at all. No-one was singing, not even on the frequencies only Dief could hear. And then all the pugilistic references to a “one-two punch” and “knocking them down” – was he threatening Fraser with fisticuffs? Was he unhinged?
No, this new “Ray” was transparently false – how could anyone think that Fraser would fall for such an obvious ruse? Well, he would show them; he was resourceful. He gathered what evidence he could, intending to send it back to Galactic HQ to be fed into the database. Nose length, fingerprints, even his bite imprint. He would get to the bottom of this. But where was the real Ray?
Probably off with a bitch somewhere, Dief offered, unconcerned.
I’ve warned you before about using that term for female humans, Fraser thought, pained. It only applies to dogs.
Yeah, whatever. Dief scratched himself desultorily. Anyway I like this new guy, he smells good.
Strangely, not all of us base character evaluation on how humans smell, Dief, retorted Fraser wearily.
He would have, of course, had they still been on Nerdos where exchanging chemical packages was the main way to take someone’s emotional measure. Dief had retained his olfactory ability here on Earth, but Fraser’s weak nasal sensory apparatus forced him to rely more on verbal and behavioral cues.
Perhaps this “Ray” was another agent from Galactic Headquarters, another Nerdian? Fraser blanched. Was this a covert performance review, set up by Grith? Grith, who constantly wasted his time with irrelevant anecdotes from the fictional Robert Fraser’s past, beaming in far too often to micro-manage them.
Will you stop panicking? Dief growled. It’s making my hackles rise. He tastes fully human, I licked his ear.
Fraser rolled his eyes, but before he could reply there were arson threats, the Vecchio house up in flames, and Frannie and her useless brother-in-law Tony needing rescuing.
He tested fake-Ray by pretending to smell and taste an electrical socket – entirely normal for a Nerdian, but Ray reacted in a human manner, horrified and full of dire warnings about electrocution. Fraser ignored him; he knew about electricity after having shocked himself painfully at his crummy apartment while changing a lightbulb. Perhaps it was just as well that it had burned down. How a society could call itself civilised with such dangerous power sources was entirely beyond him, but that was a matter for the reports.
Despite his suspicions, Fraser found himself carried along somehow by fake-Ray’s relentless momentum. They even managed good cop/bad cop quite successfully with the incarcerated fire-bug and Fraser momentarily forgot to mistrust Ray, who seemed to be slotting into their lives with alarming ease. Back in the Riviera, and Fraser was struck by a terrible thought. Ray, the real Ray, loved this car. He would never have loaned it to an impersonator, surely? Was Ray (his own Ray, not this blond and booted impostor) still alive?
It all moved too fast, and suddenly the Riviera was on fire - on fire! Fraser did what he could to save Ray’s beloved car, and to prevent the impostor from killing them all in a traffic accident. Running the lights was never justified, in Fraser’s opinion; he still wasn’t comfortable with these primitive (and highly flammable) vehicles. And sure enough, the car promptly exploded and they were forced to drive right off a pier and into the lake they called Michigan.
Fraser kicked his way up to the surface, dragging Dief with him and finding the impostor already treading water. They pulled themselves out onto the pier. Fraser was stunned: Ray's beloved Riviera, burned to nothing and now at the bottom of the lake. Vecchio would never forgive him.
But no time to fret, with the fire-bug’s deranged girlfriend after them. Then, inexplicably, fake-Ray took a bullet for Fraser. Admittedly he was wearing a vest, but he’d saved Fraser’s life. It was all too confusing, the way these humans were so ready to risk themselves for an alien they barely knew, and an illegal alien at that.
The Lieutenant had the answers of course, a complex tale about Ray (the real Vecchio) being deep undercover with the mob, in Las Vegas.
Weary and bruised from the long day’s dramas, Fraser forced himself to think it through. Here he and Dief were, Nerdians from the Galactic hub and deep undercover as human and half-wolf, now working with a partner called Stanley Kowalski who was undercover as Ray Vecchio who was deep undercover as a mob boss. Fraser rubbed his eyebrow. His head hurt.
He walked back to Ray’s desk feeling guilty about all his suspicions.
Told you he smelled okay, Dief thought self-righteously.
Yes, thank-you, very helpful, gritted Fraser, annoyed beyond bearing. Go chase your tail, why don’t you?
Be more fun than you in this mood, muttered Dief, and slunk out the door. Off to wreak havoc with the neighborhood poodles, no doubt. Fraser sighed.
Pulling himself together, he examined his data-bank of human behavior. He was at fault: he should make the first move. Fraser approached Ray. Kowalski. No, Ray.
New-Ray turned. He looked strangely uncertain, hearing Fraser use his name.
“Would you like to get a meal?”
Later, over burgers and fries at the diner, Fraser watched Ray drink his third beer and mourn the Riviera. He himself had indulged in a single glass of beer, on Ray’s urging. It had, after all, been a very trying day.
“That was a sweet ride – Vecchio’s gonna be gutted. Ya think he’ll set the mob on us?”
Fraser smiled. “I hope not. He can be quite hot-tempered but I think he’ll forgive us, once he knows the facts.”
They talked about the case, Ray repeating his boxing analogies about what a great team they were. “One-two punch, like I said! We work together good, you’ll see Fraser. We’re gonna be great, we’ll be greatness!”
Now that he wasn’t paranoid and looking for hidden meanings and Headquarters spies, Fraser was enjoying Ray’s enthusiasm. It was pleasant, as well, to meet someone whose command of English idiom was as bad as his own, although in different ways.
They loitered on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, Fraser feeling rather tipsy and concentrating on his balance. He supposed he’d have to sleep at the Consulate tonight. Not in the Queen’s bedroom, though: the Inspector might fire him if that were discovered, but Turnbull would probably shoot him.
“Where you gonna sleep, Fraser?” Ray echoed his thoughts, one eyebrow quirked in concern.
“The Consulate. I have a bedroll I can put on my office floor.” He was going to feel every one of the day’s bruises, he thought muzzily.
“That’s not good. Hey, wanna come back with me? My place ain’t much, but I do got a sofa you can have. Better than the floor, yeah?”
Fraser bit his lip, considering. A hard bedroll on the underheated Consulate's floor, or a sofa at Ray’s?
You must be joking! came a faint interjection from Diefenbaker, two alleys across, exploring the dumpster behind his favorite bakery. Take the sofa! You do know he wants into your pants?
I know no such thing! Fraser projected, startled into alertness. Where do you get these ideas? Are you on drugs? Did you overdose on maraschino cherries again?
Just ’cause your nose is as much use as a doorknob, sent Dief, mentally smirking. He’s been giving off do-me pheromones all day, ever since he saw you. C’mon Fraser, time to join the human race!
Will you just stop it! Fraser thought in desperation, blocking Dief out and shooting a sidelong glance at Ray. Ray, who was standing there kicking at the curb, hands in his pockets and his shoulders all hunched up inside his leather jacket.
“Er, that is…” Fraser cleared his throat, head swimming. “I…yes. I’d like that very much, Ray. Thank you kindly.”
Ray beamed, relaxing. “Okay, cool. I’ll get us a cab.”
Sitting beside Ray in the cab, their knees brushing as the cabbie took a left, Fraser felt the alcohol catch up with him in a rush of self pity. He’d lost a friend in Ray Vecchio and lost his apartment, meagre though it was. He sighed, then brightened. Even after just one day there was something between him and this Ray, his new partner. New-Ray was right: they fit. A duet. And Diefenbaker was right: he smelled good. Fraser let his head fall back on the seat and looked across at Ray. He shut his eyes and inhaled, nostrils dilating. Mmmm.
“You sniffing me, Fraser?” Fraser flushed deeply, and risked a brief peek, but Ray was smiling faintly and he sounded amused. “You’re a freak, you know that?”
“Actually, I’m an alien.” It must have been the exhausting day, the series of shocks, the unaccustomed beer. Nothing else could excuse such a lapse in professionalism.
“You got that right, Frase,” Ray grinned. He reached out and punched Fraser lightly on the shoulder.
“No, really, I am,” Fraser insisted, intoxicated by his own daring more than by the beer. “From Nerdos, near the Galaxy’s core. I’m an undercover agent here. Diefenbaker’s Nerdian too. We’re assessing whether Earth is suitable to join the Galactic Alliance.”
Ray paid the cabbie and steered Fraser up to his apartment. Fraser’s feet were heavy and Ray put an arm around him for balance. “Yeah, Frase, and I’ve been beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.” He grinned as he tucked Fraser into the sofa with a pillow and blankets.
“No, really,” muttered Fraser, curling up in his warm nest of blankets. “Really am an alien.”
“Man, you’re a cheap date. One beer, huh? Well, even nerds need their sleep. Get some rest – I’ll see you in the morning.”
“M'Nerdian…” mumbled Fraser drowsily. “…not a Nerd.”
“Yeah, right,” grinned Ray. “Nerdian. Gotcha.”
Lay off the beer next time if you wanna get laid. Diefenbaker’s thought was sardonic. Fraser could almost see him rolling his eyes.
Shut up, Dief.
Fraser fell asleep.