The alien cock-rocked into the space bar. He walked with a strut. The strut carried confidence, but a confidence that was not like a performance, no false bravado. Although, in fact, it was a performance, but a professional one. There was no actual bravado, just a competent actor walking in a way he was directed to [with a little spin of his own in that protruding chest] and delivering lines as intended.
The alien caulked the wagon and floated to the side of the bar that the more humanoid alien sat in, as an actor would sit, not looking like she was an actor trying to sit, but just a more humanoid alien sitting at a table, looking at her space pad that kind of looked like an iphone. She would sit like that.
"Hey," he said, cock-rocking the line, giggity, swiggity sweet, noice, four twenty, sixty nine, that's what she said. Actually, she said "hey" back, as you do when someone says hey to you. Not sure what to add, she asked: "Can I... help you?"
"I'm Jon," he announced, holding his hands out ever so slightly, viola! His voice suggested a winkey-face emoticon, the actor's own choice. The director was fine with the choice if he'd been aware at all. Jon's actual face was not winking, but there was a grin there as impervious to disappointment as could be. Or a better simile would be much the same as if his grin was as impervious to disappointment as a titanium-hulled spacecraft was to solar radiation. After announcing that he was Jon, he even shook his head a little, as if he could barely believe the good fortune he enjoyed in being Jon. He then pointed his lichen-speckled finger to the girl at the table and said: "You're Elise," with the same controlled giddiness.
"I know," Elise said with sarcastic cheer, annoyed at this alien's act, as if the significance of him being Jon and her being Elise was self-evident. What was the joke here? Then it hit her. The bulbous alien head had thrown her off, but of course, duh, this was the thing Bortis was trying to fix her up with. Not thing, person, she scolded herself. Right? Is "person" the right term? I think that's appropriate right? A pang of shame at failing to conceive of the mystery person being Jon. But she wasn't racist, just getting used to the ship. Clearly the level of cosmopolitanism here was too much for her to handle gracefully at all times in her first year. And as if this scene was some corny metaphor for racism anyway, that was so early twenty-first century. There were more important things to be symbolizing these days. But wow, Jon's head, it looked larger than ever and so perfectly spherical it seemed to defy the laws of physics, even given the ship's inertial dampers operated at three percent during this shift.
Jon recognized her recognition, still impervious to disappointment at her disappointment, this was to be expected, he'd barely gotten started. "Can I sit down?" "Sure."
Elise thought she'd done an admirable correction from sarcastic smile to panicked smile which was the most neutral look she could manage at the moment. It's not a terribly subtle facial transition, but still, not something any community theater hack could pull off. Jon swiveled downward to perform the smoothest chair-mount seen in that space bar for its whole three-year operation and locked eyes with Elise.
"He thinks we'd be a good match. I wonder what kinds of things we have in common." Jon's voice was steady as she goes. Bortis had told him Elise was desperate for a date in that blunt way of his, almost animalistic, but his species was like that. Jon enjoyed his own disapproval of such a crude statement from Bortis, and glowed over his intent to never let on that he knew anything like this. As far as he knew, she was as hard to get as any of those old officers who could afford the youth-preservation tech, when in reality this would be easy, but haha, she had no idea how hot she really was! Poor babe, lacking confidence, no concept of her power, was her whole homeworld like this? Cause if so... But he would give her power back to her, he was noble that way, noblese oblige Elise. And now she was brushing that shoulder length tuft of black hair behind her pointy ears, so cute, with that voice saying "ohmigosh", so nervous, don't worry babe, I'm harmless. Mostly.
"Well, um. We, uh, obviously both know Bortis." Elise was reasonably happy with the line, there was enough of an edge in it, but she saw no sign it had penetrated Jon, which meant at some point she was going to have to drop the passive and go straight aggressive. But shit, if this was a metaphor for racism, she would have to step carefully. Jon strained her panicked smile even more by bellowing laughter. "Bortis, yeah. Well, there's one thing in common," he said, "So, wanna get a drink sometime?"
Jon was surprised at how well he'd performed, no real anxiety even. Maybe too quickly to the drink part, but why waste time? And she was probably grateful for that too, no games necessary.
At this point, Elise's panicked smile was a grimace and her superciliary arches darkened her face and she knew those extra bones would either excite the Jon thing, or disgust him, she wasn't sure. "Look", she said through gritted teeth.
Jon figured Elise had to complete some gauntlet of the mind before facing her fear of connection, poor thing. "Jon, I'll be honest with you."
Now she was meeting his eyes, and it was suddenly all the harder, because she saw somehow that although his confidence hadn't been permeated yet, it could be. That massive mushroom head was soft inside, like a mushroom. But maybe it wouldn't be, maybe she could be honest, and he'd be cool, and this fuckup of a fixup could be forgotten before her third drink. "I'm not so... great, at the whole dating thing." Okay, honest-ish, but really mostly deflection, so, just, rip the band-aid off: "And I don't think we're as good a match as Bortis thinks we are." The last words sank into bassy vocal-fry. But it'll be cool, right? That toad-headed thing [oh god, what a horrible thought], he wouldn't take it personally cause he's not exactly a person, I mean he has a personality, he's got all the rights and respect you have to grant another intelligent being, but they couldn't possibly process rejection the same way, or maybe he wouldn't even see it as rejection? I mean, the guy's got six nostrils, he's gotta get that it's just not gonna work with me when I'm way more humanoid, human being the gold standard on this union ship for whatever that's worth. As good of a match, that could mean a lot of things, so just leave it vague.
"Well, I guess you never know until you try," Jon said, surprising himself with the steadiness. But he was falling off a cliff. Amazing how well he could hide that, what a useless skill. It was a sick joke that he would try an invitation to her to try. She stammered, "yeah, eyuh-yeah, but-"
"It's my big ol' stupid dumb head, isn't it?" He said, shattering at last, and it was out, robbing him even of his own consolation in being aloof. "No!" she said, absurdly. This was going to be even more painful, he'd end up having to pretend to accept some bullshit excuse, he'd never get the brutal truth that he didn't really want but sensed was needed so badly. The spots on his head burned and glowed. "It has nothing to do with that, it's- " And she stammered some more. At least let's hurry past the bullshit to the mission failed screen.
"You don't have to be nice," Jon said, glaring at the table. "My species has a hard time meeting people outside our home planet. We're just not... super appealing I guess. But sometimes... a person can be special on the inside." The actor playing Jon took a beat to shift his gaze artfully from dejected to poignant, and met the eyes of Elise, now really looking at him. The actor thought he knew how to play the scene, but it was a tricky balance - that "special on the inside" line was almost surely a typical Seth McFarland satirical sitcom-gets-serious reference, but he was interpreting just a dash of sincerity, that kind of thing where irony becomes actual for a microsecond and allows itself to become even deeper irony immediately after, all the better in this Star Trek The Next Generation meets Family Guy mashup. "And if you don't look under the surface, you could miss something great." The actor even felt something there, like he'd phased into Jon for just a second. But Jon wouldn't actually be this cornball would he?
The actor playing Jon enjoyed the actor playing Elise's expression change from awkward to reflective, particularly because he saw it was clearly amateurish acting compared to his, even though he was the bit-player. But all the same he felt her feel something.
"Miss something great. And possibly be single for the rest of my life," Elise said because she was reflecting, and not protecting the secret of her very real problems with men, beyond the standard shallowness that she figured everyone had, whether they'd admit it or not.
"Or at least for Bortis's pee ceremony," said the actor playing Jon, merging into the character because it was something he could imagine himself saying, like at the table read, he could have been the one responsible for that little punch-up, but they never used his suggestions. It was legit wit. Besides which, she seemed to be taking him seriously, like of course she knew how corny it sounded but hey, sometimes simple things are profound if you let them reverberate.
But Elise, she told herself, you know where this will end up. It'll end up that yes, he's actually not just a code-monkey but a brilliant, sensitive, sophisticated being of taste with a good sense of humour, and many other wonderful things that tick all the personality boxes and some boxes you never knew you had [giggity]. But in the end, there'd be that giant head, and she just knew she'd never get used to it. And she just wouldn't have the strength to power through a real partnership with the reality of this weird alien, this weird, nice alien with the green and yellow head which glowed when his thoughts were racing, which really fucking creeped her out, even though it was cool, and beautiful in its own way, and beloved by the science types so why can't he fuck one of them? Oh wait, she was a science type, right. But still.
But she could try. She could at least go with Jon to the pee ceremony, in fact, she'd come off as far more tolerant than she really was if she was seen with Jon, she'd be noticed by the officers, she'd score brownie points with the military brass, a merit badge for diversity, and all she'd really pay for that with is a reasonably good time, soon degrading into awkwardness and disgust and eventually reinforcing her own provincialism and superficiality in romance but fuck it, they could make very special episodes about angelic women hooking up with deformed kids who are cello prodigies, and never show the actual sex scenes, cause, woah, no thank you, we'll just pretend to have imagined it - and that whole nasty last ninety percent of it could run its course in a few months, tops.
"No, I don't mean what's inside, like my soul or anything," Jon said. "I do have an awesome soul, don't get me wrong, but I mean, I've got something special underneath, and no, I'm not talking about my wang [giggity], I mean, literally underneath, see these weird green spots on my face? They come right off, they're just makeup."