Nancy and Phil were beside themselves with frustration. Their little boy was almost four and still not talking. He made a lot of noise, babbled all day long in fact, making guttural noises intermixed with high-pitched screeches. Never once had he said mommy or daddy.
Jason had been to a couple of speech therapists who were at a loss for what might be going on with him. When he was with the therapists, Jason didn’t even babble or make any of the other noises he made all day at home. As soon as they left the office, Jason would be back to his own language that no one else could understand.
Nancy knew her son could understand her even though everyone told her she was wrong. But when she talked, he listened and even responded, though she had no idea what he was saying. If she told him to change his shirt, he did. When she needed help around the house, he would pitch in, as much as a four-year-old could. Even with these and many more examples, Phil would always tell Nancy that she just saw what she wanted to see, and unfortunately their son wasn’t normal and never would be.
Most Wednesday nights, Phil took Jason to one of his “Humans First” rallies. Phil didn’t consider himself a bigot, racist, or speciest; he just cared about humanity and thought the Coalition was catering to other species and leaving humans behind as fodder for the Coalition’s political agenda. Phil had plenty of human friends who weren’t white so he knew he wasn’t a racist. He also had worked in the past with plenty of other species and didn’t hate them personally; he actually got along with many of them, so he couldn’t be a speciest.
Phil didn’t want any harm to come to the other species of the galaxy; he just didn’t want them taking human jobs on human worlds. He didn’t want his tax dollars going towards saving a Shirka birthing forest on a planet that he wasn’t even allowed to set foot on lest he become food for the newborn cubs. He was tired of being out of work and seeing more of his benefits being given away to other species instead of the humans who deserved the benefits more.
Phil arrived and grabbed a doughnut and a cup of coffee from the sign-in table. He tried handing one to Jason but his offer was rebuked with an outstretched hand shaking back and forth no. “Suit yourself, kid. More for me.”
Jason was usually a very active and interactive child even though he didn’t speak to anyone, but at these weekly meetings he became very withdrawn and tended not to interact at all. Phil thought that being around a lot of people and hearing all of them speaking passionately about their thoughts might just give Jason something to speak about. Some of their passion for communicating might just rub off on his son. But after almost six months of meetings, Jason never showed any sign of improvement.
This week’s topic was going to be the Coalition’s plan to integrate different species into combined military units. Phil couldn’t believe what they were doing; this was going too far. If there were interspecies military units, what would happen if Earth needed to defend itself against one of the other Coalition member species? How would humans rise up against an alien aggressor if their units had the aggressors mixed in with them? Their aggressors would have access to all of the same equipment, tactics and everything else. Something had to change.
One of the usual speakers was at the podium, ranting and pounding his fists. It seemed that no matter what he said, people would cheer as long as he pounded his fist somewhere in his sentence. “Rabble rabble rabble”—fist pound—cheering. “Rabble rabble—fist pound—rabble.“ Cheering.
Phil was getting excited and so spun up that he began making his own speeches to the people around him. He was adding his own thoughts during the natural pauses of the speaker at the podium. The crowd around Phil was now cheering him on, urging him forward towards the podium, some yelling to let him speak too. By the time he was pushed to the podium, the speaker was even encouraging Phil to get on stage.
Phil took the stage and stood in front of the microphone. At first, he was a little shocked that he was the center of attention. He wasn’t exactly sure how he had made it there or what he should do next. Something in his brain told him to play it safe; start with the material he had already been spouting in the crowd, the stuff that got him there in the first place.
His first few sentences slobbered out of his mouth awkwardly and barely made sense. He got a few confused looks from the crowd along with a couple of supportive shout outs “Yeah, man!“ The next few lines came out much more coherently but they still didn’t receive the responses he had gotten just a few moments ago.
The original speaker was starting to sweat a little and made a small tentative step towards Phil. He knew that his moment was about to end if he didn’t get the crowd back. What was missing? Ah ha! Fist pounding! He needed to add some fist pounding.
Phil pounded his fist into the podium and looked out to the crowd. That got their attention but something was still wrong. A few of the faces towards the front actually looked a little scared. Damn it. The fist pounding doesn’t come before a sentence, never before a sentence. In that context it seems aggressive, even attacking.
Deep breath. “Rabble rabble rabble.” FIST POUND. Cheering! That was it; Phil had found his rhythm and set into it as though he had invented the podium fist pound. The crowd loved him and cheered for everything he said, even the stuff that didn’t make one lick of sense.
When it was all over, Phil was taken aside by a few of the men who had organized tonight’s rally. Phil was still high on endorphins from his impromptu presentation so he barely heard most of what was being said to him. The main points did sink in, though; he was asked to speak at a public rally in two weeks. The rally wouldn’t be just for humans; it was going to be in the middle of the town square and open to every citizen who wanted to attend.
Phil was beside himself with joy. After being unemployed for so long, he finally felt as if he was needed again. In fact, he didn’t think he ever felt this important even while he was working. His work was never really that important and if he were honest with himself, he wasn’t really that good at it, either. But this, this was something that he excelled at. Getting in touch with the people, showing them that they weren’t the only ones who felt this way. Showing the crowds that they weren’t the minority anymore, that they were strong if they stuck together in their fears and ignorance of the real facts. Well, the last part in Phil’s mind was more along the lines of, ‘if they stuck together in their convictions and knowledge of right from wrong.’ Eh, you say tomato, I say idiot.
When Phil was finally done being patted on the back, he realized that Jason was still somewhere in the crowd and he needed to collect his son before leaving. Phil looked around and finally found Jason under the snack table, crying. Phil had hoped that being on stage and being the center of attention would enthrall his son, maybe even encourage him to talk. All that happened was Jason became more withdrawn tonight and cried like a two-year-old. Phil was so elated from his evening that even this couldn’t bring him down, much.
Phil got home and told Nancy to put their son to bed. He had great news and wanted to tell her without the crybaby around. He didn’t want anything to detract from his news and didn’t want his wife’s attention divided in the least.
Nancy knew that Phil had always had issues with their son and a difficult time accepting his situation. This was the first time she had ever seen Phil regard Jason with such contempt and lack of respect. Nancy didn’t know what to do. She knew that she was loyal to her husband above all other people in the universe but one, her son. She hadn’t seen Phil this excited in years so she decided not to broach the subject with him this evening, but she would, and soon. Something needed to change if he expected them to continue as a family.
Nancy sat next to Jason on his bed and brushed some hair away from his eyes. Jason closed his eyes and nudged his forehead into his mother’s hand. He then babbled and cooed something in his made-up language. Nancy smiled. She recognized the string of babble; she thought it meant something along the lines of “I love you” or “Thank you.” Maybe it was a combination of both or could be used for both. She just seemed to hear this particular string of babble when they were alone with each other and she was doing something particularly motherly. “I love you too, pumpkin.”
Nancy kissed Jason on the cheek and then left his room, gently closing the door behind her. She walked out in the living room of their one-bedroom apartment. Since Phil had lost his job, Nancy was the only one earning any money and they could barely afford this tiny apartment. Nancy told Phil that once he got a job then he could have his own room but until then, their son would get his own room and a small feeling of normalcy. Phil tried to rebuke her but for the first time in their whole relationship, Nancy was standing firm and he knew that he couldn’t win the argument.
When Nancy sat on their ragged and stained couch, Phil was already pouring what was probably his second or third glass of whiskey. She sat there and listened to Phil’s news and even managed to look interested in it. She didn’t agree with Phil’s obsession with the humanist movement but it was the one thing that brought him out of his depression after he was laid off. Nancy thought that once the depression lifted, he would find the motivation to get another job.
That never happened and his depression was replaced with anger. Phil would spout off that he couldn’t find a job because the aliens were taking all of the human jobs and he wasn’t being given a fair chance because of all the affirmative action taking place. Nancy would always point out jobs that Phil was qualified for but he always had an excuse: The job was beneath him. It was manual labor. It was not worth his time. The position was the same as his last and he was destined for more. The jobs he was complaining about being taken from his were jobs that he wasn’t even qualified or trained for.
As Nancy sat there, she realized that she needed to do something to change her situation. She had promised to love Phil and be with him through the good and bad but this wasn’t the Phil she married. This wasn’t the man she had made those promises to. She was going to let him have his rally and that was it. She would have a talk with him and let him know that he had two weeks to get a job, no matter how menial or low-paying it was. He was going to start being a productive member of this family. She would help him and be his biggest supporter as he looked for something better or even went back to school. But all of this hate and anger and self-pity needed to end, now. Mental fist pound—cheering.
In the days that led up to Phil’s rally, Jason seemed more withdrawn to Nancy. The odd thing was that although he was withdrawn from interaction, he seemed to be busy with something. She didn’t know what but he was constantly babbling to himself and pacing. A lot of the babbling seemed the same, as though he was repeating something. He was still affectionate with her, especially when she tucked him in at night, but he was still acting different than usual.
Phil was also acting different, though not necessarily in a good way. Nancy was so conflicted with her feelings, she didn’t know how to convey what she was thinking. Phil was proud, dedicated, interested, engaging, showered daily and even sober. These were all things that Nancy had wanted for so long but not in the furtherance of hate and discontent. If only he could channel this excitement and focus into their family and finding a job. If he had been like this at his last job, maybe he wouldn’t have been fired. Phil always said he had been laid off but as time wore on, Nancy became sure that that wasn’t the case.
The day came for his big speech. He had practiced and practiced and felt ready to deliver a speech that he was sure would find its way to a history book somewhere. Phil had to beg Nancy to come and to bring Jason with her. Phil told her that the group had even found speakers from other species who also believed that keeping their people separate was in the best interest of the galaxy.
Nancy tried to point out the irony that a rally for humanity and species separation was being supported and assisted by other species. Phil just stared at her for almost a full minute. Nancy was sure that she caused her husband to have a stroke or possibly a feedback loop that crashed his brain.
After Phil had his mental reboot, he just shook his head and told her that she obviously didn’t understand what he was involved in. All the more reason she needed to come and hear his speech, so she could fully understand. It was also important for Jason to be there and learn these ideals that were so very important to all of humanity.
Nancy took Jason to the rally and was surprised when she was ushered to the stage. The men told her that it would be great for Phil if his wife and son sat behind him while he spoke. Nancy tried to argue but realized her escorts weren’t listening at all. This seemed to be a common condition for everyone involved in the group. Nancy sat with Jason and held his hand. Jason was a little more fidgety than normal but he still stayed in his seat and even looked as though he was interested in the process of what was going on around him.
Some minor speakers took the stage to warm up the crowd. Nancy recognized several species in the crowd and a couple that she wasn’t sure about. She definitely recognized the Shirkas; everyone in the Coalition knew them. She saw a few Trizites, a couple of Nortes, some Molpeds, and a group of Bisbanes.
The species were sticking to their own groups and keeping a little bit of a neutral zone between species. Some were there to protest the protest, some were there to agree with species separation, and some were just gathered because there was a crowd. The accidental gatherers wandered into the crowd and intermixed with other species until they noticed there were clearly divided groups in the gathering. They then found their respective species and joined their group.
Phil had been on stage for about ten minutes, spouting rhetoric and pounding his fist. The fist pounding seemed to be a universal podium trick because it engaged all of the species present. They also had interpreters on stage, translating everything Phil said. The species who didn’t speak English could tune their personal comm unit to their translator to understand what was happening.
Nancy still couldn’t understand how all of these species could rally together just to rant about how they should all be separated. They had such a showing that it seemed obvious that working together they could accomplish so much. She was barely registering what Phil was saying until she heard him speak their son’s name.
“My son Jason has a speech disability. The doctors still don’t know why or what it is. He’s four years old and he’s never even said ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy.’” Phil reached back with his hand and waved Jason forward to him and the podium.
As Jason reached the podium, there was a collective sigh from the audience as they looked at the cute little human child who was struck with some unknown medical affliction. Only the Shirkas didn’t sigh as they thought the child should have just been eaten if it were defective.
Phil continued, “Because I was laid off, my son has not been able to get the medical treatment he needs. Because the Coalition is trying to help everyone, no one is getting what they need. My son would be able to talk if the human government was taking care of human problems and not sending aid and money to alien planets and alien problems. I know you feel the same. I know some of you have had similar stories. My son should not have to suffer because the Coalition has forgotten who they serve. Humanity.”
Phil picked his son up and hugged him as Nancy had never seen her husband hug their child. Instantly, she knew it was for show, for the crowd. He wanted their sympathy—the poor father who couldn’t connect with his son because of the evil Coalition and the aliens who took everything from humans.
Phil kept his eyes on his son but positioned himself so his words would still be picked up by the microphone. “I love you, son.”
Just as Phil suspected, his son wouldn’t respond and he again received the sympathy of the crowd. Nancy couldn’t let this continue, couldn’t let her son be the pity fulcrum point of the rally. She was about to grab her son when she saw his little hand reach for the microphone and pull it towards his mouth.
Jason began to babble into the microphone and Nancy was mortified. Phil stood there and smiled from ear to ear, his point made even clearer by his son’s inability to answer his father’s declaration of love. But then something else happened: the Shirka in the crowd began to lean forward, engaged in the babbling. At the same time, the Shirka interpreter on stage began speaking in English, apparently interpreting what Jason was saying.
“I haven’t spoken to my father because he is an idiot and I have had nothing to say to him.”
Phil looked at the interpreter. “You son of a bitch! What the hell are you saying?”
The interpreter looked flatly at Phil. “I’m translating what your cub is saying. Nothing more.”
A Shirka from the crowd spoke up. “He’s telling the truth. Your cub is speaking our language as though he were from one of our litters.”
Phil looked at Jason as he continued to speak in the alien language.
“I do not condone what my father has said and neither should you. Just look at what you have accomplished, together and for the same purpose.”
Jason looked around and began speaking in a different babble; this time the Trizite interpreter began to translate into English what Jason was saying and the Shirka interpreter switched back to translating for the Shirka in the crowd.
“We are different from one another, and that is what makes this union fantastic. Without living together, we wouldn’t have Shirka poetry. We wouldn’t know about renewable ocean energy the Trizites developed centuries ago. You wouldn’t have coffee.”
The coffee joke got a good laugh—the local Starbucks was always packed with just about every species that wasn’t allergic to caffeine.
Jason switched to a different, more obscure language, and the interpreters had to rely on their in-ear translation devices to translate for them so they could then repeat it in their own tongue.
“I don’t know what happened to my father to make him this bitter. I am only four, after all, so my memory is mostly filled with breastfeeding and dirty diapers.”
Another huge laugh from the crowd along with a very embarrassed-looking mother.
“I do remember hearing all of your wonderful languages on TV and learning so much from so many. When I was ready to talk, I realized that my dad wouldn’t want to hear anything I had to say, so I didn’t say anything. I’m sorry, Mom.” Nancy teared up at the last statement and just blew a kiss to her son.
Jason switched to a fourth language. “The Coalition hasn’t kept me from talking; it’s what taught me to talk in so many wonderful ways. Please, don’t throw away all of the work and cooperation you put into coming together today. Use this as an example of what you can do together. If you don’t like what the Coalition is doing, come together and attack their policies, not one another.”
Jason was now standing on his own; his father had set him down a while ago and then retreated to the back of the stage. Nancy had pushed a chair to the podium and Jason climbed on top of it. Though it now seemed her son was a genius, he was still only four so his motor skills weren’t completely developed and he had some difficulty getting on top of the chair. His adorable form garnered more awws from the crowd.
Jason now switched to English. “If a four-year-old is the voice of reason, you really need to reevaluate your baseline thinking on these issues.”
Later, when historians looked back on Jason’s speech, they would say that this was one of the funniest things he said that day. But to the crowd who were present, in the moment, intently listening to the child prodigy, it was the most sobering thing any of them had heard in a very long time. No one laughed; some actually cried.
Jason looked back to his mom. “Mommy, I want to go home now.”
He said it with such an infantile tone to his voice, Nancy knew it was on purpose to punctuate the fact that he was a little boy speaking such obvious truths. Nancy gathered her son up in her arms and he buried his face into her shoulder as she took him away. In the minute or so it took Nancy to leave the stage and get through the crowd, not a single voice could be heard. There was nothing left to say, at least not today.
Two days had passed and Phil still hadn’t come home. Nancy and Jason were now conversing in English almost as though he had been talking for the last couple of years like any normal child. In a way, he had always been talking with his mother. Nancy always had faith that her son knew what was going on and he was always responsive to her. She even felt as if she had a pretty good idea of what he was trying to convey to her in all of those different languages. Jason apologized so many times for not speaking to her before but she just waved him off and said that she understood his reasons.
The weekend was just about over and Nancy had to go back to work the next day. She had been constantly thinking about what to do with Jason now that his father wasn’t around to care for him during the day. Nancy was kind of sad that Phil wasn’t around but she also realized that most of her feelings were coming from the disturbance in the routine that had replaced their marriage rather than losing the marriage itself.
The knock at the door had Nancy figuring it was Phil, probably drunk off his ass and unable to enter his passkey on the entry pad. When she opened the door, she was surprised to see a man and a woman in formal attire standing there. Her first thought was that Phil was dead and these two were officials coming to tell her. But she didn’t think that was right; it would probably be the police who came to tell her that.
The woman broke the awkward silence. “Hello, Mrs. Bloom. I’m Jennifer and this is Bronson.” Both people extended their hands to Nancy.
“Um, hello. How can I help you?”
“Actually, it’s how we can help you. May we come in?”
“Of course. Can I get you something to drink?” Nancy wondered whether she was offering her killers or abductors a refreshing lemonade before they did something unspeakable to her and Jason.
“No, thank you”, Bronson said as he sat on the couch. “We heard the speech on Friday. We were there as Coalition observers, to report back on the gathering.”
“You’re spies?” Nancy wasn’t sure what was going on.
Jennifer just laughed. “No, not spies. Though I’m sure there was one or two in the crowd or within the groups. No, we’re just observers who make reports and let other people decide on what course of action to take.”
Bronson cut in. “As such, we obviously reported what your son said.”
Nancy was getting a little worried. “I’m sorry if he upset anyone. He was just saying what he thought was right. He is only four, you know.”
“Our superiors were extremely impressed with him and think his education will suffer if he stays on this planet.” Bronson looked as though he were really trying hard to pick his words. “We mean you no offense, Mrs. Bloom, but given your current situation, there is no way you can afford to give Jason the education he needs or deserves.”
Nancy was now moving from worried to defensive. “What are you saying? That you can do better for my son? Are you going to take him away from here? From me?”
Jennifer quickly put her hands up in what she hoped was a supplicating gesture. “No, no, no. We want to take you all away from here. We want to take you to Earth where the Coalition will enroll Jason in one of our schools for the gifted. At no cost to you at all.”
Nancy relaxed a little. “Why would you do that? What do you want from us? From him?”
Bronson smiled. “We want Jason to be the face of cooperation. We will follow him through school and require that he provide us with interviews as needed, so that we may televise those interviews to the Coalition citizens. We won’t censor him or anything like that; we just want him to be himself. The Coalition loves him!”
“And,” Jennifer began, “we will find you and your husband a job near his school or even send one or both of you back to school if you want to change careers. I know this seems like we’re offering you a lot, but in the end, Jason will really be doing more for us than we are for him. We can give you and your husband a few weeks to think about it if you’d like.”
“Does he have to come with us? My husband. Does he have to come?” Nancy was now at the edge of her seat.
Jennifer seemed a little confused by the question and looked to Bronson, who just shrugged. “Um, no. I guess not. We hadn’t really thought about it; we just assumed both of you would want to go. Keep the family together.”
Nancy was now standing. “He hasn’t been back since the rally and he hasn’t answered the few calls I’ve made to him. I’ll leave a note. He can catch up later if he wants to and if I decide to allow him. Can we leave now?”
Bronson stood. “Sure. We’ll come back for you in a few hours, let you get some stuff together. Bring whatever you’d like.”
Jason came down the hallway from his room, struggling with an oversized duffle bag. “I’m ready.”
The three adults laughed. Jennifer looked to Nancy. “When do you want us to pick you up?”
Nancy grabbed her purse. “All I need is this little boy, and he’s ready, so let’s go.”
The four left the apartment and boarded a government flight back to Earth. Jason was excited and could tell his mom was also.
“Did you really mean it when you said I was the only thing you needed?”
“You know I did, pumpkin.” Nancy kissed him on the forehead.
“I think you knew that they will buy you whatever you want when we get there so you didn’t bring anything. You wanted all new clothes!” Jason poked his mother playfully.
“You’re not the only genius in the family.” Nancy looked into her son’s eyes and babbled the phrase she had heard from him so many times before. She never knew what it meant until the other day when she put it through a translator device. It was five different languages put together. “You are my everything.”
Jason let a single tear go. “You did hear me.”
“Every word, every time.”