This story belongs to Eric Holingsworth and i am posting it with his expressed permission.
My Dear Tamaranian
Somewhere in Botswana…
The acrid smell of cordite and blood hung in the air as the still smoldering rife barrel was pressed to the back of Halls head.
"You're about to die American. 'The dark skinned rebel whispered' "How does it feel?"
A few hours ago, he might have been able to come up with an answer. But Hall had just watched his mentor and good friend executed in spite of his pleas for mercy. Now all he could do was breathe and try to keep what little sanity he had left.
Hall thought back to the faux black leather briefcase his parents sent in honor of his new job. Funny, he could be thinking of his parents, their last Christmas together, even his Ferrets Felix and Oscar waiting for him back home. But instead he thought about that stupid briefcase. The rebels had torn it away when they attacked Halls convoy. What was that combination again?
He heard small clicks as the rebel's finger caressed the trigger of his weapon. They had killed Diplomat Menga immediately. But the American? They wanted him to suffer. As if the poor guy had one goddamn thing to do with UN foreign policy. He was just an aide, the guy who made coffee and copies.
A loud shot pierced the air and warm viscous sludge splattered Hall. So this was what death felt like? He felt nothing.
But he soon realized the truth when the body of his would be executioner slumped down to the dirt floor beside him, a smoking hole punched in his chest. Two black soldiers in olive drab uniforms and red berets stomped inside the hut. Halls exhausted brain recognized these guys. They were soldiers from the Botswana National Guard.
"Ambass-ador Menga?" They yelled aloud while securing the hut
"Dead" Hall croaked
"Hallow-way?" One asked as they helped him up to his feet
He could just grunt and nod.
They dragged him out the hut towards a waiting jeep. Hall was climbing into the back of the jeep when…
Hall's right leg exploded in a tsunami of arterial blood and blinding agony. A gaping hole had been punched clean through his hip. He could feel the rattle of shattered bones and spraying of warm blood as his entire right side went limp. The soldiers fired blindly in the sniper's direction.
They shoved Hall inside the jeep and hopped in next to him.
"GO! GO!" They yelled as they pressed Hall hard to the bed of the jeep and sped off.
"You safe now." One of his rescuers assured while binding up his leg.
But Hall was unconscious and would remain there for two weeks.
Two years later, back in New York…
Hall fidgeted on the gray cushioned bench. His artificial hip made sitting for any extended period of time torture. Any other time he would just stand but the secretary was watching and any hint of physical problems could result in his dismissal.
The intercom on the secretary's desk buzzed.
"You may go in now." She nodded
He gingerly hauled himself upright and hobbled over to the director's door. Ordinarily he would look forward to his visits here but Hall knew his days at the UN were numbered. No one gets hired back with this kind of injury. And if by some quirk of fate they do, it's usually some bullshit job. If it didn't hurt so much he would have cleaned out his desk already.
Hall knocked on the door.
He opened the wooden door. Behind her trademark antique Oak desk sat Missus Douglas. The elderly black woman was the director of personnel here at the UN. It was her that visited his high school years back and after seeing the boy's enthusiasm, convinced Hall to enroll in the International Youth Outreach program. Although to outsiders she came off as a stern taskmaster, inside Mary was a big softy and good friend. She was first at the hospital when they hauled him back from Africa and visited regularly during his long recuperation. Truth be told, she was the only true friend Hall had here.
"Have a seat." She invited
Hall hobbled over to the right hand leather chair and settled in. And right on cue his hip began to scream. He tried to mentally block it out. His eyes focused on the row of flags outside her window.
"How's the leg?" She asked
"Fine. Hurts when it rains."
Of course it also hurts when it was sunny, cold, when he walks, sits, eats, sleeps, and takes a piss. Otherwise it was no problem at all. He could see the look of worry on her face. She knew him all too well.
"Well, it's good to have you back." She smiled
"Just tell me I'm fired?" His agonizing brain begged
"Well according to the doctor's report, you can return but only for light duty. So I have a very special job for you."
Okay, he's not getting fired. What then? Making coffee? She got up from her chair and gazed out her window at the snowy scene beyond. Just the sight of her standing was enough to make his leg throb.
"We'll be having a special visitor for the next few days that'll need a chaperone- to show her around and make her feel welcome."
"Where is she from?"
He's babysitting a Tamaranian? Hall had heard rumors about those folks but had never actually seen one in person. The only ET he had seen was Superman and that was last month after the overthrow of Apokolips. Cool guy but a bit too self-righteous for Hall's taste.
"Feel up to it?" She asked
It was intriguing. Better than the other gopher jobs they usually gave him. He just prayed not to screw this one up too.
"How long will the assignment be?"
"As long as it takes before the Apokolips Reintegration Act she's advocating is voted on."
"When do I start?"
"Today if you don't mind. She is waiting in the aide's lounge. Give her the nickel tour and maybe show her the sights."
He hauled himself back to his feet. Hall tried to keep a neutral look but still cringed at the pain.
"Good luck. Any problems, my door is always open."
"Thank you ma'am. 'He said turning back to the door.' Oh! Err, what does she look like?"
She smirked devilishly.
"Like an alien. 'She reasoned' can't miss her."
That was a big help. Mary always had a weird sense of humor. Once their eyes were off him he reached into his gray pants pocket and pulled out his bottle of painkillers. He had tried numerous times to kick the habit. But days like this? They were a necessity. He twisted off the cap and popped a couple of the white and red capsules in his mouth, gulping them dry. But had second thoughts and popped a couple more.
"Just say no" his ass. Let those creeps get their hip shattered into a dozen pieces and see how much on the straight and narrow they stay. This shit was the only thing keeping him out of a wheelchair.
He limped down the empty red carpeted hall to the lounge. Place was pretty dead this time of year. Christmas vacation was in full swing and most of the delegates and employees had long since gone home.
Hall could have gone home for the holidays too but volunteered to stay behind. The prospect of a long plane or bus trip on this hip didn't exactly excite him. But also he knew his parents would be none too pleased to see the ninety-pound, burned out druggie their son had become.
He pushed open the lounge double doors.
"Give me my bar of candy stubborn machine of snacks." A skinny redhead dressed in a lavender miniskirt and matching half-shirt scolded while vigorously shaking the snack machine.
Now to be nice and spread that old can-do UN spirit. He limped over to the coin operated fracas.
"That machine never works. You gotta punch it." He said and slapped the machines faux wooden side.
A Milky Way candy bar tumbled out of its numbered spring and fell to the hatch below. She reached into the hatch with her bare arm and took it.
"Thank you." She said appreciatively holding her candy with both hands and turning to Hall
She was beyond gorgeous. Her skin was a light almond color and without a single pimple or wrinkle. Her large eyes were the color of illuminated emeralds and her long ruby red hair poured down her back and side burns. He had never seen a girl like her. All he could do was stand with his mouth agape.
The Tamaranian looked worried at his reaction.
"You are…well?" She asked
But reality immediately creeped in. Girls like that have not and never will be interested in a crippled drug addict. Even before his little incident, one look at Hall and his car had killed more dates that he could count.
"Err, yes. Our guest from Tamaran I presume?" He asked extending his hand.
"Yes! My name is Starfire and it is an honor to meet you my friend." She smiled wide and embraced Hall in her skinny arms.
Her hug lifted Hall into the air. The girl was a hell of a lot stronger than she looked. Starfire released him and his lungs reinflated.
"And what is your name?" She giggled excitedly
"Err, Halloway. Friends just call me Hall."
"Then Hall it is. Friend."
Damn! Is anybody this truly happy without chemical aid? Not to say it wasn't refreshing. Seems like everybody was hauling an attitude of one kind or another these days. And truly, that hug made his week.
"Well, if you will kindly follow me, I will give you the grand tour."
"Yes. Let us be off." She said excitedly and pranced out the door.
He took a couple more of his pills and followed.
He started with the basics and showed her the bathrooms, elevators and emergency staircases. Then he worked his way up to the Dag Hammarskjold library and classrooms.
All the time the girl asked thoughtful questions and absorbed his answers. For all her naïve and bubbly ways, Starfire was highly intelligent and respectful. She warmly greeted everyone they bumped into, leaving a trail of smiles.
They stood in the main lobby and took in the sight of the giant stained glass window. The mostly blue mosaic of glass depicted haunting figures of peace and musical symbols from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
"…and presented to the UN in 1964 as a memorial To Dag Hammarskjold, the UNs second Secretary General who had died in a plane crash three years earlier." Hall explained
He had originally been earmarked for a tour guides job but Mary saw potential and hired Hall on as an aide. Yeah, great idea that was. Last he heard no one gets his leg near blown off showing sweaty tourists to the gift shop.
"Gorgeous." She sighed
A bundled up Mary walked by on her way home. She looked at the couple and smirked devilishly. She must have planned this whole thing.
"Good day Missus Douglas!" Starfire yelled loud enough to make Halls ears ring.
"Good day MISS Starfire!" She hollered back and stepped out the front doors.
Hmm, was it just him or did she just emphasize the word "Miss"? Before he could consider an answer the Tamaranian darted off to continue her tour.
"And this is the most important room of the entire building." Hall said and opened a set of double doors
They were standing on the floor of the UN General Assembly room. For the first time in hours she stood still long enough to marvel at the chambers grandeur and immensity. Through the glass dome on the roof they could see the gray overcast sky.
She stepped up to the podium and looked upon the rows of tables.
"It's bigger than the royal chambers at home. 'She whispered in awe' And all your countries have representatives here?"
"Every one." He nodded
"Why is there no sculpture here like the other places?"
"This place was meant to be truly neutral. No gifts of any country are allowed. Only exceptions are those two murals. 'Will said while gesturing to large blue frescoes on either side of the chamber' they were donated by an anonymous benefactor."
She spun around.
"On my planet we don't have countries. 'Starfire explained' we live together as one under a single ruler and language."
"Must make things easier."
"But I prefer it here. 'She said excitedly' to see all the different colors and hear all the different languages? Every country is different. On my planet no matter where you go, things are the same. It can tend to get boring."
He checked his watch. It was nearly quitting time.
"Well, it's about time to call it a day. Do you have a ride? I can drive you home."
"Thank you Hall, I would like that. I always get lost flying home."
"You can fly?"
She closed her eyes, out stretched her skinny arms and floated into the air. Starfire darted off to the room's high ceiling and began executing perfect loops below the glass dome. And while she demonstrated her flying prowess, Hall's drug filled heart began to beat faster. So that was what angels look like. All that was missing was a pair of white-feathered wings and halo.
The Tamaranian gently settled back to the ground.
"How do you do that?"
"All my people need do is feel the unbridled joy of flying 'Starfire said happily while outstretching her arms and began floating again.' And we fly!"
Unbridled joy? Counts him out. Not much to be joyous about when you have to use an old persons toilet extender when taking a crap.
They left the room and walked towards the parking garage. The halls were empty and quiet with the exception of some janitors with their humming floor buffers and vacuum cleaners.
"How long have you been living in New York?" He asked
"Just two days. Before that I lived in San Francisco."
"Oh? Where about in San Francisco?"
He thought her name sounded familiar. His parents had forbid Hall and his brothers from partaking in the Superhero culture as they thought it warped their sense of personal responsibility but he had often heard mention of the Titans on the news. He had also heard speculation that she and Robin were an item. Good thing he had not said anything out of place. Last thing he needed was Batman stopping by and beating him up.
She blushed and bowed her head. Looks like he struck a nerve.
"It is not your fault Hall. 'She sighed' I just miss my friends."
"I understand. It was tough for me moving out here and leaving my family behind. But times change."
"Indeed they do."
"They must have been exciting days, beating up the bad guys and all."
"Yes, it was fun "beating them up" but I just became tired of it. Everyday it was the same thing; some new villain would appear, we would beat them up and a week later they escape and it starts all over again."
"Is that why you are advocating the reintegration pact?"
"I was watching your news and saw the survivors after the League of Justice stormed Apokolips. Their faces! 'She gasped' they looked so lost. Without our help, they will surely die."
Sadly, she was in the minority. Most would just as prefer to see Apokolips disappear and her damned souls with it. It would take a team effort of all the countries to make the reintegration pact work and most of them have enough problems without adding another whole planet of starving people to the mix. The JLA have shown great interest in helping but they will need supplies and materials to make it work, supplies most are unwilling to spare.
His battered white Festiva stood out like a sore thumb in the mostly empty garage. He slipped his key in the passenger side and unlocked it for the girl before opening his.
He climbed in and winced as he settled into the stained bucket seat. He turned over the ancient engine and it reluctantly sputtered into life. The car was thirteen years old and on its last legs. After it was gone, he either would have to hoof it or take the subway. With his bad leg, neither one sounded too inviting.
They pulled out of the garage.
"Where do you live?"
"Hostel dwelling on your fifth street?"
"No problem" He said pulling out of the UN and taking a cautious right.
The hostel was a refurbished hotel maintained by the UN for guests. Not too shabby considering it was provided at taxpayer expense. Sure as hell better than the dump where he stayed.
As his Festiva carefully chugged its way down the mostly deserted and sloppy New York streets, Starfire pressed her face to her window and eagerly watched the passing landscape. God he felt like crying. Here he had the most beautiful girl on Earth actually sitting in his car and he was too afraid to make small talk. All he could to was watch her out of the corner of his eye and take in the Tamaranians perfect form. Even the small of her back was arousing.
He pulled into the filled parking lot, through the hostels round driveway and right up to the front door. Ever since the UN took over the hotel, there are no longer doormen or bellhops.
"And here ya are." he said
"For your great kindness, I owe you a meal. Please come inside?" She asked
A moment of silence as her invitation sunk in.
"DO IT YOU RETARD!" Halls brain screamed and subconsciously smacked him outside the head
They pulled into a parking space near the back of the lot and climbed out. Luckily his pills were in full gear and numbed the pain nicely. Starfire stretched her long arms and took in a deep breath of the cool winter air.
"What a glorious day." She squealed
"Err, yeah, glorious." Hall agreed as he locked and closed his door.
They stepped through the hostels double door into its lobby. The room was dominated with a semi circle sectional couch and a few recliner chairs. A television permanently tuned to CNN was mounted on the wall.
People of all denominations and languages were milling about and chatting. Most of the residents have stayed here long enough to form their own little cliques. They crossed the lobby over to the elevator.
"My dwelling is on the tenth floor behind door number two hundred and fifty six." She said and pressed the button.
"Why don't you just fly up?" Asked Hall
"Last time I did, some one called the National Guard."
The door opened and a few delegates from India stepped out.
"Hello Star." They nodded as they walked by
"Greetings friends." She smiled nodding as well
They stepped inside the elevator and Starfire pressed the appropriate buttons.
Hall could not help but to be a little disappointed. Her apartment was actually quite plain. He had been hoping for some authentic Tamaranian furniture, art and maybe pictures of her home and family. Instead her furniture looked either second hand or salvaged from the curb. A few stuffed animals and a television were about the only decorations she had.
"What would you like to eat? 'She yelled from kitchen' I have pizza, waffles, beans, and mustard…"
"No Tamaranian food?" He asked
She appeared before him, blushing and looking a bit uncomfortable.
"I have found people do not like my native food much." Starfire confessed
"Eh don't sweat it. 'Hall dismissed' if I can eat African dried caterpillars and creamed sheep brains for a week, I can surely eat some Tamaranian cuisine."
"Really?" She asked excitedly
"Give me the works."
She happily pranced out of the living room and dove into her kitchen. He could hear the opening of jars and cans as Starfire prepared a sampling of her native foods. While she went about her business, he looked around her apartment. Partly because of curiosity but mostly because Hall knew he would never be able to haul himself out of that couch again.
A framed photo on her wall caught his attention. It was a group photo of the Teen Titans standing in front of their "T" shaped tower. In the center of the photo was a smiling and hulking Cyborg. Sitting in his left hand sat Raven, looking stern. Perched on his right hand was Starfire, smiling wide. On his shoulder was a giggling Beast Boy waving at the camera. And standing in front of Cyborg stood Robin and Aenoch. Geez they looked so content and comfortable together. He could see why Starfire missed them so much.
He felt a tugging on his pant leg. Logical a warm character like Starfire would have a cat or puppy. He looked down at the small intruder.
Hall squealed in surprise.
It was a white caterpillar the size of a Pit bull. It skittered about on eight small stubby legs and looked up at him with two black eyes on stalks. The caterpillars gaping mouth was sucking down his pant leg.
"Oh. I see you have met Silkie my little Bumgorf." She said picking up the caterpillar from the floor and hugging it lovingly to her chest.
"Is he not the cutest mutant in the whole wide world? 'Starfire cooed while giving the overgrown worm a hearty smooch on its non-existent nose.' Yes you are."
Silkie's oval shaped mouth smiled at Starfires attentions. Hall watched the exchange and relaxed. Who was he to judge? If she saw the pet weasels he had at home, maybe she would be revolted too. And it was kinda cute, in a maggoty sorta way.
"Evening meal is ready. Come?"
The small rickety table was heaped with all kinds of exotic looking foods. Hmm, the dishes looked invertebrate related and most were still moving. She set Silkie inside his own personalized high chair.
"Sit." She invited
She had set out a glass of water for him and a cup of what looked like mustard for herself. Hall sat in a folding chair on the opposite side.
"And what do we have here?" He asked.
One of the first things they taught Hall was not to be judgmental of other cultures eating habits. Chances are they had been around for hundreds of times longer than his had and they obviously knew something he did not. Just take a deep breath, grit your teeth and dig in. If one can get past the appearance, most ethnic foods are actually quite tasty. They wouldn't eat it if it tasted like crap.
"Well 'she said while pointing to what looked like a green Jell-O mold filled with wiggling worms' here we have fresh squeezed Glorg"
Starfire pointed to a bowl of black gelatinous nuggets
"And these are Sput Flakes"
She then gestured towards what looked like a giant eyeball sliced in half and carefully arranged on thick slices of what resembled green bologna.
"And no Tamaranian meal is complete without the plate of Flooz Loaf."
No plates or forks so obviously Tamaranians eat with their fingers. But surely they must give thanks in some way; all cultures do. In his travels he had learned that it is a most grievous insult to eat without some sort of ceremony. Always best not eat until the host does or he is asked to.
"To be a truly Tamaranian meal, we must divide it in the traditional way."
Starfire reached under the table and pulled out what looked like a five-foot long meat cleaver. She swung the monstrous tool over her head and smashed it on the table, scrambling the foods into one mashed pile. Starfire then tossed the cleaver away, dove onto the table and began shoving handfuls into her mouth. This certainly explains why she keeps Silkie in a high chair. If not, it would probably get eaten too.
"When in Rome." He shrugged and dove into the culinary fracas.
Actually, this was quite enjoyable. He had always wondered what it was like to toss away all the etiquette and just dive in headfirst. He grabbed pieces of everything and shoved them in his mouth. He could hear the girl growling as she gorged herself so he did as well.
"Eat or you will not get any!" She screamed and bore her food-covered teeth
"Speak for yourself woman." Hall growled back and shoved in an handful of green wormy Jell-O
Within minutes the food was gone save for some broken plates. She took Silkie out of its high chair and set it on the table to lick up the remains. The Tamaranian was back to her calm and friendly self.
"Did you like it?" She asked while patting her filled belly.
"Very… Tamaranian." He belched contentedly
"Do you have room for dessert?"
"Sure. What d'ya got?"
Starfire opened her refrigerator and pulled out a pie studded with live earthworms.
"GRUDMEK!" She squealed
Later that evening…
Starfire pointed to a photo of a baby Raven, lying naked on her belly with a thermometer lodged in her butt. The girl had an odd content smile on her face.
"Here is Raven getting her temperature taken."
"I can see why she tried to burn this." Hall laughed while scratching a snoozing Silkie on his lap between its eyestalks.
She turned the page. Another pic was of baby Starfire, Raven and Jinx sitting naked in a bathtub with Aenoch shampooing Ravens hair. It looks like Jinx was trying to shove Starfires head under the water.
"All from a chemical spill." He confirmed
"My childhood was so boring compared to yours." Hall sighed
"If I have learned something after all these years is that perhaps being boring is a good thing."
"No, we did many good things. But sometimes I feel I missed out on a lot. Usually by my age people are married and have a home full of Bumgorfs."
"Yeah, I feel the same way. Both my brothers are married and have kids. I'm the only one still driving a ten year old car and living alone."
"You have brothers?"
"Yes, one older and one younger. You?"
"An older sister."
"Really? Is she as nice as you?" He asked
"Err, unfortunately not. Blackfire has framed me for crimes she herself committed, nearly forced me to marry an alien named Glurdle Skletch and tried to kidnap Raven and I while we were babies."
"Damn. And I thought my brothers were creeps for sticking a dead snake in my bed."
"Yes, you are the lucky one." Starfire sighed
He so wanted to take her hand but at the last second he chickened out. Hall checked his watch.
"Geez. It's after eleven. I have to work tomorrow." He said handing the snoring Silkie to Starfire and pushing himself out of the couch.
She and Silkie walked Hall to her front door.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" She asked with a tinge of worry
"Most definitely." He smiled as she opened the door.
"Good night Hall." She bid
He stopped in his tracks.
"What's the Tamaranian word for Beautiful?" He asked without turning around
He just looked her straight in the eyes, smiled and walked away. Starfire closed the door and leaned against it. She fell silent as the events of that day sunk in. Silkie looked up at her.
"What do you think?" She asked her pet
The caterpillar belched and coughed up a throw pillow.
"Me too!" She squealed happily