Back in 1990, while Alien Nation starring Gary Graham and Eric Pierpoint was in its first run, I was inspired by the episode 'Eyewitness News' to create this story. Jean Lorrah of Empire Books published it in 1991 as the centerpiece of her magazine 'Sardonac'.
The title comes from the National Emergency Alert System then in effect, something neither the show's Producers nor I ever expected one day to become outdated. They postulated that sound was very significant to the Tenctonese nervous systems, and that chord had a particular and memorable effect upon the Newcomers, so I guess we owe the change to the Tenctonese.
If you don't remember the series or want a refresher, all 22 episodes and numerous made-for-TV movies are available for viewing and download at .com/TV_Season/Alien-Nation-Season-1-72358.
As this is the 20th anniversary of the series and my particular contribution to it, I decided to pull this story out of my files, dust it off and present it in an updated form. Enjoy.
F Sharp Above High C
by James M. Keane
The night is still, the kind of Summer night when the air envelopes the unfortunate with stifling heat and the silence of the streets belie the inner certainty that absolutely anything could happen. However, it's a sensation that can't be denied.
Walking the streets of Los Angeles on such a night is to know the oppressive solitude possible only in such a sweltering city of ten million, where none who can avoid it venture out of their air-conditioned apartments. Those who do stray into the open do so as briefly as possible.
Ellen Pu and her sister Jackie walk the deserted streets on their way home from Ellen's job at Metropolitan Hospital. They don't feel the heat as oppressively as human women would, for the Tenctonese, bred for generations to adapt within years rather than lifetimes to wide varieties of environments, have been steadily growing acclimated to their new home on Earth.
The denizens of the planet Tencton, whose spaceship Gruza crashed six years ago in the Mojave desert, are humanoid save for having distinctive bald and spotted heads with patterns inherited along matriarchal lines. There are other distinguishing features, tonight only their heads mark the sisters as Newcomers.
Unfortunately, their social adaptability and acceptance over the past 5 years doesn't match their physical capacities.
Ellen considers herself lucky. Trained as a Medical Officer, she'd been retrained in human physiology to supplement her Tenctonese skills and has adopted a position in the Pediatrics Ward of Metropolitan Hospital. While Child Care hadn't been her first choice, it was an inevitable result of her initial quarantine and processing through Immigration and she finds it rewarding. She rather likes taking care of both Human and Tenctonese, or 'Newcomer' children.
Jackie, an aspiring model, found it harder to deal with Human lifestyles and prejudices. While the field of Fashion Modeling is not tight for Newcomers, extremely few of whom found an interest in the field, there were many times when distinctions between the species are very firmly drawn. Very few Houses produce cross-species fashions, and Agencies therefore hire Humans or Tenctonese, but very rarely both.
"If things don't get better, I'm going to have a hard time making my share of the rent."
Ellen nods noncommittally; it's the same familiar story over the last 5 of 9 months and she already knows where this is going. The money does come, the balance made about every five weeks so three months age she just wrote off a payment and restarted the 'clock'. She'll soon have to do it again.
But this time the familiar story is sharply sliced by shattering glass from a window high above and several buildings ahead. A piercing shriek leads the falling body that tumbles amidst the shower of glass, the scream abruptly silenced as the body slams into the concrete with a sickening crunch. The tinkling of late arriving glass seemed to go on like a macabre echo.
Both women had been transfixed in horror, but when the body hit the cement Ellen broke out of her paralysis and ran ahead, followed much more reluctantly by Jackie. Lights are already coming on throughout the street. The windows, whose glass kept cool air trapped behind them, open wide, but several close again almost immediately. One look at the nude body at the curb, however, is enough to tell Ellen that help is useless; the Tenctonese woman's body lies contorted upon the ground, pink blood welling up about the fractured hairless skull.
Jackie averts her eyes but Ellen, to whom death is no stranger, is unable to look away. Already a crowd is forming from the building beside them and along the street. Not surprisingly, the attitudes she can read in the eyes of the approaching people vary according to their species.
The sun that assaults the city with its merciless rays promises clear skies and sweltering heat, even more so than yesterday, and nothing is done for race relations for people to realize that a significant percentage of the population feels the oppression less than those whose ancestors had thousands of years to adapt to their native world's challenges.
The damage to Earth's ozone layer, caused by universally but too late banned Chlorofluorocarbon products such as Freon, has resulted in steadily rising temperatures throughout the globe, something to which Newcomers have greater adaptability, having been introduced initially to a 'globally warmed' Earth.
The activity in the Detective Bureau Squad Room of this LAPD Precinct is at times so feverish, with multitudes of people arriving and departing, that cooling the room is usually an exercise in futility. The Department has budgeted two air-conditioning units for the huge chamber and they're hopelessly overwhelmed, as well as being perennially 'too far away'. Proximity to one of them is a choice and well-envied position, though the advantage tends to be mostly psychological.
Detective Sergeant Matthew Sikes, whose position is neither choice nor enviable, sits sweltering at his desk, which he shares as a facing pair with his partner. He wears 'cool' slacks and a many-years-old 'Simpsons' tee shirt, yet only the cooling fan of the computer to his right provides imagined relief. It is countered, however, by his partner's habitually natty insistence upon showing up for work in white shirt, sports jacket and tie.
"How can you do that?"
"Do what?" George Francisco, who'd originally been designated by Immigration Officials 'Samuel', asks, feeling quite undisturbed by either the room's heat or his partner's.
"Wear that outfit - and sit here looking cool as a cucumber on a day when we'll be lucky if it drops to 85 by midnight?" He slaps his computer. "We're gonna have a hell of a lot of down time today."
"I do notice that the colorfulness of your speech does change with your comfort, but ignoring the fact that we Tenctonese adapt well to your world, it having a very small range of climates, there is a certain image for the Department to maintain."
There are days Matt simply wants to rip the Potniki spots off his partner's bald pate. "George, look around you. We're all cops here and you're the only one in a tie. Not one other guy–" At that moment Captain Bryon Grazer, elegantly arrayed in a blue, three piece suit, steps out of his glass enclosed, air-conditioned office at the left wall. A blast of frigid air comes out with him, only to be beaten into submission by the large room.
"Sikes, Francisco, I've got one for you. Nice suit, Francisco."
"Thank you, Captain."
Sikes' soto voce contribution contains words George, for all his studies, had never before encountered, but though Grazer can't hear his words he can see his expression.
"It's a shame you feel that way, Sikes, but it turns out I can give you a break and let you cool off some."
"Yes. Go down to the Morgue."
Sikes resists the temptation to tell the Captain to get his own dates. He knows how far he can push, but since Grazer doesn't seem inclined to go far from his door, it means the team must come to him, something Sikes doesn't object too strenuously to – for the seconds he can enjoy the draft.
"A Newcomer named Victoria Seacret went out her window last night, thirteen stories. Question is, was it suicide? Her human roommate doesn't seem to think so. Find out. I figured it's perfect for you, Sikes, seeing how you know the neighborhood." He hands him the report sheet.
"Geez." It's less than a quarter mile from his home. He half-glares at the Captain but decides to hold his tongue; Grazer knows the rules, and if he decides to ignore them there's little Sikes can do about it. What he seemed to be saying was 'you're the resident Newcomer / Human expert, so it's your baby.'
"I have a unit picking up the roommate; she'll meet you at the apartment building."
Grateful for any legitimate excuse to get out of the hothouse the Department calls a Squad Room, Sikes heads for the door beside the useless though unaccountably full coat rack. As he reaches it, however, Grazer calls to him, an obvious tactic of letting the entire room hear his words. "Don't you think Bart Simpson's a little too young to be hanging around a Squad Room?"
"Don't have a cow, man," he replies as the door swings shut.
"I fail to understand your continued irritation lately," George says as they wait for the elevator.
Sikes bites back the snap he'd been about to aim at his partner; neither the heat nor his biology are his fault – well, maybe his biology is. "Look, I'm sorry, it's just this heat, as in too much."
"Well, I'll admit the last five days of temperatures over 90 degrees are a bit much, but–"
"A bit much? It's a lot much! Humans aren't made for this kind of … stuff. I don't know how you guys can take it."
"Well, it helps when you're bald." The line, said so matter-of-factly, catches Sikes so off guard he laughs, which does make him feel better. Taking note of his own perennially too-long hair, he has to agree.
The Morgue is much more comfortable, a consequence of the many individual refrigeration units that line the wide left wall, the 'bleed-off' of which allows Dr. Lois Allen, the human Medical Examiner, to wear her long white smock indoors. "Hi guys," she calls, pulling a plastic liner filled with bloody latex gloves from its container, sealing it and dropping the bag down a nearby chute. "What can I do about you?" She's known the pair too long for a combination of yellow 'Bart Simpson' tee shirt and suit buttoned to the neck to be notable to her.
"Howdy, Drac, just came in to check out a few bodies."
"Didn't know you were so desperate, Sikes."
"We're here to see a Newcomer named Victoria Seacret," George explains quickly, determined to cut off another round of verbal fencing. Really, Matt and this woman engage in so much of it that he sometimes expects they will either resort to dueling with scalpels or wind up copulating on one of the metal tables, neither prospect being one he wants to witness.
"Right over here," Lois replies, leading them to the refrigeration units. Placing her hand on the latch of a waist high door three columns from the right wall, she turns to caution them. "Not a pretty sight; a thirteen story fall onto the back of the head never is."
She pulls open the door and slides out the metal platform to reveal a woman's body covered to her shoulders by a blue shroud and the detectives see she hadn't overstated the warning. The back of the Newcomer's head is caved in where she'd taken the force of the impact.
"Her body's covered with glass cuts from going through that window, but the cause of death is the shattering of the Occipital and Parietal bones of the skull driving jagged fragments through her brain as well as shattering of her third through fifth cervical vertebrae, rupturing and breakage of the levator scapulae muscles - broken neck - and fracturing of both scapula, that added to tearing and dislocation of several Tenctonese-specific muscles."
"Positive ID? Anything found on the body?" Sikes asked.
"There was nothing found on the body, Matt; she was naked as an egg. Witnesses at the scene identified her, residents of the building she jumped ... fell from." She knows better than to draw this conclusion.
The detectives already have much of this information and read it while in the elevator; the Patrol Unit went up, got into the apartment, the roommate returned home at the height of the night's investigation….
"What else did you get?"
"Forensic evidence of recent sexual activity, penetration, all the classics, including motive sperm in the vaginal canal."
"Human or Newcomer?"
"Human, and I make the time of death no longer than an hour afterwards, possibly as little as a half-hour. There are indications of sexual stimulation in her system as well, her body seemed to still be actively reacting as it would to such stimulation; constriction, lubrication and so on, when she died. Even with a Human woman I would hesitate to say the event took place longer than about fifteen minutes to a half hour before death."
The usual result of sex isn't flying through a window. "Do you think she was raped?"
The woman shakes her head. "Rape is a legal term. I found penetration, sperm, lubrication, constriction; you'll have to tell me if she was a willing participant, I can only say she was an active one."
"Did you run a DNA check on the sperm?"
"Running now; check in this time tomorrow and I'll let you know what I have."
"What was Dr. Kildare's opinion," George asks, referring to her Tenctonese partner.
"He's on vacation," she answers with a trace of irritation in her tone. She's known the pair for a long time and tells herself George is neither questioning her competence nor exhibiting a preference to hear it from one of his own kind. It doesn't work.
"Frankenstein's out scaring up business?"
Sometimes, though she's as much as active participant in the verbal fencing as he is, she tends to lose patience with Matt's teasing. "Yeah, but Dracula's still here, so be careful or I'll bite you."
"Oh, Lo, you know you're still the only ghoul for me."