"Hey, Ozzie buddy, how're you doing?" Jonathan made sure to throw some extra warmth and enthusiastic friendliness into his voice to make up for the phone call's lack of visual input. If his smile couldn't be seen, then it would have to be heard, because that was how Jonathan Walsh rolled, even at 7am on a Monday before he had a chance to finish his soy milk chai latte breakfast smoothie made with chia seeds and kale from Glint Enterprises' own urban roof garden.
"Oh, shit! Jonathan!" Ozzie Graham, on the other hand, did not sound like he was smiling at all. "Sorry, I didn't expect Nancy to patch me through to you." Nancy actually patched Jonathan into all of Ozzie's calls to the office as soon as she picked up, but Ozzie didn't need to know that. "I, uh, I was just trying to tell her that I might not be able to make it into work for the next few days. I mean, definitely not today, maybe not tomorrow, and I'm not sure about after that." Even more than not sounding like he was smiling, Ozzie's voice at the other end of the call sounded more stressed than something as minor as cashing in some sick days or an unexpected chat with his boss should have warranted, especially not a boss as awesome as Jonathan Walsh, friendly neighborhood CEO of Glint Enterprises, up and coming young media mogul, all around great guy (if he did say so himself), and secret lizard person from another planet, but then again Humans were weird.
No, scratch that. Humans were more than weird. They were the weirdest.
That basic fact was pretty much the sum total of what Reptilian school children learned about Humans, if the curriculum bothered to cover them at all. Humans were one of the oddities brought up to illustrate the diversity of life throughout the galaxy, because only through the most random of coincidences could a backwater planet produce an intelligent race that, through some bizarre quirk of convergent evolution, ended up looking almost exactly like Whites (plus a wide range of other color combinations and hair textures, all within the same species!) but internally they were mammalian. And as if that weren't strange enough, Humans were not just mammals but apes! Go ahead and let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, apes. It was almost too ridiculous to believe, so much so that when those first reports detailing the nature of life on Earth had come back to the worlds of the galactic core a few hundred years ago, everyone had thought that the advance planetary scouts were trying to pull some kind of a hoax, and only prompt independent verification by the Greys had prevented any executions from taking place over the incident.
"Can't make it into work? What's wrong, caught that stomach bug that's been going around? I keep trying to tell you clean eating will prevent all of that. Still, the Gates interview was always going to take place over the phone, so just don't tell him you aren't calling from the office and you should be fine."
"No, I was in a car accident last night on my way back from the gala at the Roosevelt Estate."
"Oh my gosh, Ozzie, are you alright?"
"I'm fine, not a scratch, but I'm kinda rattled. Okay, I'm a lot rattled, which is why I called," he admitted. "I'm emailing all my notes and photos from the gala right now, but the Gates interview is going to need someone at the top of their game, and that just isn't me right now."
Jonathan Walsh would have been lying if he said he had been fascinated by Humans ever since he first heard of them when he was little more than a hatchling. In fact, he had been lying when he said exactly that during the job interview that would ultimately put him on a collision course with that weirdest of species. He had been young, fresh out of school and barely finished with his first adult molt, tiny flecks of juvenile blue skin still clinging to the now green edges of those hard to reach scales down the middle of his back, thankfully well hidden by his shirt, and he needed a job fast because his parents were growing more and more insistent that they were considering reverting to the old ways and eating any of their offspring who took too long leaving the nest. Then again, everybody's parents made threats like that, and no one ever really reverted to the old ways anymore, no matter how much they talked about doing so. For the past few hundred thousand years, threatening to return to the old ways was more of a tradition than actually practicing the old ways ever had been, but the message to young Reptilians was clear nonetheless: slackers would not be tolerated, and with the right permit applications it was still legal to make dead weight live up to its name.
Working for one of the invasion fleets seemed like the best bet for long term job security. Sometimes it was good for job security for centuries as long as each generation made sure their kids studied hard enough to score highly on the relevant aptitude tests. Luckily for Jonathan, it had just so happened that the Earth invasion fleet had been looking to bring in some new blood, and if stretching the truth about his level of interest in the weird mammals that thought they were people helped him land a position scheduled to keep him busy for the rest of his professional career with the option to pass it on to one of the hypothetical children or grandchildren he might someday want to have and probably keep them busy for their whole working life, then so be it. Either the officials in charge of hiring didn't realize that he was lying his ass off, or they noticed but decided that kind of flexibility was more of an asset than a liability. Whichever the case, Jonathan found himself on the next ship heading out to the far spiral arm of the galaxy.
Earth was total overstimulation at every turn. Where most species sought order, humans injected more chaos into their systems both accidentally and intentionally, leaving their society a confusing mess full of non-intuitive transportation practices, and pollution, and perfumes, and noise that was often generated just for the sake of having noise, and too many foods that had been dyed horrible bright colors, and whole industries dedicated to making people subconsciously think about sex in order to sell them items entirely unrelated to sex, and so many other forms of madness that seemed to be standard byproducts of the so-called human condition. It was mind boggling. Humans were not as weird as the school books had said; they were weirder. No wonder they had never passed the technological milestones necessary to disqualify their planet from legal conquest. Seriously, how could a whole species continue to function like that without falling back into the stone age through pure distractibility?
Then, within a few weeks of finishing his training and joining the infiltration forces, there was a security failure, because no one had bothered to put a lock on the door at a meeting site, and Jonathan Walsh met a little boy named Ozzie Graham. There was nothing particularly special about the kid, according to all of their standard tests. He had average manual dexterity, average reaction times, average intelligence, an average ability to process spatial relationships, and average everything else that they had bothered to measure so far. And yet, when Jonathan took Ozzie aside into the hallway between tests instead of leaving him in the docility induction fields of the testing facilities, the kid asked for paper and crayons without being assigned a task that would require their use, and then he sat down and produced a semi-abstract two dimensional representation of himself and Jonathan with only a few minutes of work. And then he gave it away to Jonathan as if it were nothing!
He had showed the drawing to some of the testing support staff as soon as Ozzie had been taken away for his next procedure, but the pair of Greys had been unimpressed. Apparently it was common behavior in humans, especially young ones, to create visual representations of things they saw or wanted to see merely as a method of occupying themselves when not engaged in more productive tasks. It was not limited to drawing either, because if you gave a plate of mashed potatoes to a human who was not hungry then there was a good chance they would decide to sculpt it into something instead of eating it, and humans left alone in silence for long enough almost always broke into periods of humming eventually, if not outright song. As extraordinary as he seemed to Jonathan, Ozzie Graham was once again not doing anything more than representing the average. It just happened to be the average of a species where, instead of individuals needing decades of training to learn the thought processes necessary to translate abstract ideas into physical shapes, the drive to create 'art' was so innate that the species had gone straight from taming fire to using the burnt sticks to draw on cave walls, and people were more likely to make more art than anyone else wanted from them than to make little enough for it to become a rarity.
It was quite the revelation to Jonathan, with lasting repercussions. Ozzie had been returned to his family after a couple of days, but the thought of him lingered along with his drawing. After that, Jonathan started paying attention to humanity beyond what was necessary for achieving basic mission objectives. In his off hours, he started requisitioning and reading the more in depth cultural studies that even most of the mission specialists did not bother to do more than skim. He read the humans' own books about their history and cultural development. He visited museums, and libraries, and record stores, and bakeries that specialized in making ridiculously fancy cakes. He began paying attention to the decorative splashes of painted squiggles scattered around such diverse locations as alley walls, overpasses, and subway cars.
His extracurricular studies had the benefit of making him better at blending into human society, and he was soon climbing the ranks, both within the invasion fleet and at his cover identity's place of employment. However, the knowledge that made him a better agent of the invasion also made him something of a worse one, because it gave him cause to doubt. This invasion might be legal under galactic law, but it felt less and less right the more that he thought about it, and he had been thinking about it quite a lot lately, ever since Ozzie wandered into his life through an Employees Only door for the second time, this time bearing an impressive list of writing credits, an appointment for a job interview, and a desire to uncover and confront the hard truths of modern life.
It was strange to think that with a single accidental meeting with a child everything had begun to change, whether anyone else had noticed it or not, and thirty years later it was still changing, for better or for worse, still hinging on that same child, now grown into a man who Jonathan could not help but still feel equal parts fondness and responsible for.
"Don't worry about the interview, Ozzie. We might need to get a few people working together to fill your shoes, but we'll struggle through while you're gone. You just work on getting back to your old self."
"Any time, buddy. I won't keep you on the line much longer, but one last quick question before you go. The other guy wasn't hurt too bad, were they?"
"Well, you never struck me as the type to just drive into a tree, so was whoever was in the other vehicle okay too?"
"Oh, no, there wasn't anyone in another vehicle, hurt or otherwise, just a deer, and he's probably hamburger, or venisonburger, or... something... I guess," Ozzie trailed off vaguely, sounding more than a little confused. Jonathan could guess why.
"A deer, huh?" Jonathan made sure that his voice kept smiling even though his face was the exact opposite now. "Well, it's good to hear that you shouldn't have anything too terrible on your conscience." Unlike a lot of people Jonathan could name, himself first and foremost among them. "Wouldn't want anything getting in the way of your R&R. You just focus on recharging your batteries and come back when you're feeling one hundred percent again. No rush. Take as long as you need."
Jonathan made his good-byes, disconnected the call, and then sat glaring at the remains of his breakfast smoothie. So, Ozzie Graham had 'hit a deer' on his way back from spending time upstate, even though as far as Jonathan knew Ozzie had not been scheduled for any kind of a pickup like that for at least another two years. That could only mean that the orbital contingent had moved up the timetable for the invasion, again. Jonathan didn't like that.
He had been liking less and less about this job over the past thirty years. Maybe it was time for him to take a cue from the humans and try to shake things up a little bit. But how? Jonathan picked up his smoothie and took a slurp of it while he thought. It was not the greatest thing to be drinking, at 7am or any other time. He didn't care how trendy kale was; tomorrow he was going back to wheatgrass and beef collagen, because at least that tasted good, no matter what Ozzie said about it.
And hey now, going back, now there was an idea Jonathan might be able to use to nudge things back into a slightly less apocalyptic direction. He started planning how to pitch the assignment he was going to give Ozzie once he recovered enough from his so-called accident enough to come back to work, a low key human interest piece about a wacky little group in the town of Beacon, NY, supposedly to ease him back into the swing of things. Yeah, that could work. Ozzie might not know it yet, but it was time for him to start networking.
Humans were weird, and Jonathan Walsh wasn't about to let the whole species go down without at least a tiny bit of a fighting chance, and maybe one day they could share art with the whole galaxy.