Paul regarded the small, somewhat out of tune speaker boredly, lacing his fingers behind his head and leaning back as the man prattled on about some alien invasion script he was in the midst of writing. It was far-fetched and cliche, even a bit boring in his opinion, but humans apparently ate it up like candy. He had grown accustomed to sitting alone in a room for hours on end; nothing but a microphone, a speaker, and contingent storage. Well—he glanced off to the side—that and two armed guards. It was tedious work, and sometimes infuriating, but easy, and he enjoyed being able to chat with someone from the outside, even though their conversations, for the most part, were strictly business.
'So, what do you think?' the voice asked at last.
"Uh..." Paul blinked several times and let the front legs of the chair hit the ground. Listening might have been beneficial. Oh, well. He'd heard enough to half-ass something constructive. "Well... I like it. But I think you should change the planet he's from. Mars is insanely predictable. How about Boq'm? Those guys are assholes."
Crap. Working with such an underdeveloped species could be such a pain. "Oh. Uh, I mean, uh...Saturn."
The voice hesitated. 'I'm not entirely sold on the idea of Saturn being his home world. It's not really believable. After all, Saturn can't even sustain life.'
Paul sighed irritably and raked a hand down his face. "No, of course it can't. What about Jupiter?"
"All right, fine. You want to use Mars, go ahead." He snapped the outgoing feed off, and mumbled, "Fuck me humans are stubborn."
One of the guards said, "quit being a smartass."
"Me? He's being an opinionated dick. Mars? Come on. Who's the alien here?"
"I'm warning you..."
"Just do your job, okay?" the second guard sighed, as though speaking to an unruly child.
Paul grunted and slumped into the chair, arms crossed.
In the end, the man wound up sticking with Mars, unenthusiastically absorbed his ideas, probably without any intention of actually using any, and wasted most of Paul's day. He supposed he understood—if these people took his word and ran with it, the resulting book or film would be entirely different than what the humans were used to, and probably ill received. Still, a little originality couldn't hurt, especially after that train wreck Mac and Me. 1988 was not a good year for Scifi movies.
By the time Zoil buzzed in to relieve him, he was starving, and in desperate need of a cigarette.
Paul hopped down from the chair and Zoil began escorting him out.
"You catch the game?" he asked casually, walking down a long hallway with several deviations; they seemed to go on forever, but at the very end, if you squinted hard enough, you could just make out a large door. Paul wasn't allowed through any of those doors, only his "room," his "work space," and the conference room.
"We lost," Zoil reported.
Heels clacked against the marble tile somewhere behind them. He looked over his shoulder curiously. He hardly saw anyone on this side, let alone women. "Sucks. I'm starving. Where are we going?"
Zoil let him in and Paul planted himself in a black leather chair, which Zoil immediately told him to get out of. Reluctantly, Paul pulled himself from the chair; his skin stuck, making a loud schhlick sound that made Zoil cringe. Instead, he sat in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs with a hole in the ass. "This is comfortable" he commented dryly.
Just then, Zoil reached behind his desk and pulled out a big white bag covered in grease stains. The size of the grin on Paul's face was ridiculous. "Oh, Zoil, you shouldn't have! What is that, McDonalds? Ohh, thank God. The food around here sucks. That crap'll kill ya."
"And fast food won't?" Zoil arched an eyebrow, grinning.
"You maybe, but I'm safe. Now hand me those fries. Fuck this is so good."
Very few people in the base were nice to Paul. Not that he was exposed to an enormous amount, living where he did. Very few had clearance, and the ones that did tended to talk around him from behind plated glass, as though he were a vicious dog. Several of the guards there enjoyed his company, and thought he was friendly and quick-witted. Some stayed as far away as possible, either from fear or hate.
"I remember when I first got here, they like, didn't think I could eat normal food. Thought it'd kill me or something." He shrugged, shoving a handful of fries into his mouth. "They kept giving me this weird goop. Tasted like ass! And I'm like, 'dude, just give me a steak or something. This is ridiculous.'"
"You ever get that steak?"
"Still working on it." They ate in silence for several minutes, the conversation dwindling away. "So, hey, uh...you talk to the boss lately?"
"No reason." He concentrated hard on the fries. "I was just wondering, uh...you know...if I could go out tomorrow." Suddenly, he felt three inches tall, and almost wished he hadn't said anything.
Zoil's expression was stern, but his eyes sad. "Like that's ever gonna happen."
Heaving a big sigh, he lifted the bun to his hamburger and picked off the pickles sadly. "Yeah, I know. But hey, I have everything a guy could want here. The work is easy, I have a kickass room, warm bed—food sucks, but otherwise, this place is pretty chill. Besides, I help make scifi movies suck a lot less. That's a plus, right?"
"Definitely. You've helped with nearly every alien-invasion movie out there."
"The good ones, anyway. Some of the stuff these guys come up with..."
There was a lapse in conversation.
"So, you and Karen, huh?" Paul asked, trying to get the ball rolling again.
It took a minute, but Zoil smiled—a genuine smile. "Yeah. We're getting married in October."
"October? Kinda chilly." It was nice to have mindless conversation, sometimes. Kept his mind off other things. He mimed lighting up a cigarette, and Zoil, catching on, pulled open a drawer in his desk and handed him one, along with a lighter. "Where ya going for the honeymoon?"
"Hawaii. If I can get away from work long enough, anyway."
Smoke filled the air, but Zoil didn't seem to mind. "Hawaii, nice. Hey," his voice softened a little. He joked bitterly, "bring in some pictures for me, huh?"
Zoil smirked. "Yeah, sure."
"Bet Karen looks good in a bikini." Zoil gave him a stern look. "Chill out, I'm just joking. You guys are wicked ugly. But as far as humans go, Karen's one of the nicer-looking ones."
"You, too. You're not bad."
"Yeah. Thanks, Paul."
Paul chuckled. "You know, the first time I saw a human, I puked. I was so scared. I mean, some of you guys are just freaky looking."
Just then, there came a series of loud knocks at the door. Without waiting for a response, the door burst open and two tall men, one with bushy eyebrows and the other a mild case of acne, barged in. They instantly had their hands on Paul, yanking him out of the seat and spilling his food wrappers onto the floor. Zoil frowned, shooting up out of his chair.
"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded.
"He's not allowed here," Eyebrows said. "You of all people should know that."
"Oh, relax," Paul groaned.
"I'm just following protocol. This isn't a daycare center for ETs."
"You're making this into a huge deal, when really, it isn't. We were just talking."
"We were discussing Robert Shalem's script," Zoil lied.
Eyebrows pointed. "He's supposed to be in his cell, not your office."
At the mention of the word 'cell,' Paul's scowled.
"And you're not supposed to be browsing Facebook on your phone on your break," he interjected, struggling against their grasp. "Or Googling pictures of tits, either."
"You better shut your mouth, Moon Man!"
"Moon Man? I'm not from the Moon! Do you even work here? I'm a guest, pal, you better treat me with some respect!"
"Look, just come back to your room and we'll forget this incident—" the second guards eyes flicked to the cigarette smoke still lingering in the air, and then the fast food wrappers littering the desk and floor, "—ever happened, all right?"
"Fine, whatever. I'm too tired for this egomaniacal bullshit." Paul was beyond irritated. He'd been in Zoil's office a handful of times and no one had thrown such a huge hissy fit. Unless Zoil was beside him, he was under lock and key at all times. If after sixty years he hadn't picked up and left yet, chances were he wasn't planning on it any time soon... Then again, things changed. "Let's go, but don't hold my arms like that." he rolled his eyes at their reluctance to release him. "I'm not gunna run, you've got guns."
The walk back to his room was painfully long. Partly because he dragged it out for as long as possible, and partly because he felt sluggish from the fast food. The cigarette hadn't helped much, either. Damn television for glamorising smoking. He wasn't even a local and they'd gotten to him relatively fast.
They stopped at a giant, metal plated door; a simple swipe of a security card and he was home: everything was exactly how he'd left it. Nice big bed with a ridiculous amount of covers-burrowing was kind of his peoples thing-giant TV, mini fridge, exercise area. It was basically a tiny apartment. Or a prison cell/bed room/living area/kitchen/exercise room/other. Better to think of it as an apartment.
He went to the fridge and got himself a beer; offered both the guards one just to be a dick, and then laughed when they walked away scowling. He wasn't technically supposed to have alcohol, but once in a while the pendulum swung his way. He spent the next few hours watching Jackass, once in a while glancing at the "hidden" camera in the corner of his room. Around four in the morning, tired but unable to sleep, he stared up at the white ceiling, wishing he had some sort of a window. The stars were probably beautiful.
Rolling over with a grunt, he decided to ask Zoil to get him some of those crappy glow in the dark stick on stars. It was the best he was going to get in there.
One way or another, he was going to see the outside again, even if it took another sixty years. But for now...why knock a good thing?