Susan
The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey


Chapter Twenty-nine: Interview

    Winter was little more than an annoyance to the Big Apple. Snow was pushed aside, the subways ran as usual, city services were rescheduled or worked around, some schools were (thankfully, to be sure) closed occasionally, radiators rang with demands for more heat, the bars were fuller and noisier, gridlock worsened, and the general tenor of peoples' complaints changed -- as usual -- with the season.
    But in the City That Never Sleeps, work went on despite the temporary inconvenience of a major snowstorm. Especially on the forty-fourth floor of the old Daily Planet building, housing what was once a great metropolitan newspaper, now successfully metamorphosed into an international multimedia cable news conglomerate. They had deadlines.
    And Louise Layne had a problem. She always had a problem, and it was always the same: her boss, the star of the show she produced that bore his name -- 'Deep Inside with Ken Clark'.
    In a way, she was the victim of her own success. He'd always somehow managed to be the interviewer who landed the Big One -- the newsmaker of the moment, the happening celebrity, the head of state or captain of industry, the lucky or unfortunate wretch who commanded the attention of the world for a brief moment of immortality. His insightful probing put a human face on the events the world cared about. His easy familiarity with the powerful and famous bridged social and cultural chasms between the unapproachable and the unwashed.
    Only -- it wasn't necessarily Ken Clark who did the considerable dirty work involved in bullying, bribing, cajoling, threatening, pleading, stampeding, blackmailing, groveling or outright lying to get these self-important bozos in line to kiss his feet. He wasn't the one who did the research needed to come up with the 'facts' behind the 'insightful probing' that let his subjects spin their stories just the way they wanted in order to further their own agendas. And his 'easy familiarity' was born of only one thing -- a narcissistic proccupation with his own bloated ego that brooked no rival to his overweening self-importance.
    So it was up to Louise to regularly accomplish the impossible, scoop the competition and set him up for another triumph. Which, for the most part, she had been able to do. She was good, after all. Tough and persistent, savvy and smart. Years of effort on her part had made it so that an appearance with her boss defined importance in the perceptions of superstars and Joe Sixpack alike.
    But this... This was maybe too much. Everyone -- everyone -- was focused on one incredible newsmaker.
    The alien.
    Whoever nailed down the elusive little girl with the 'S' on her chest was going to win the biggest prize possible. Terms like 'interview of the century' were woefully inadequate to describe such an event.
    Louise stared morosely at the swirling storm in the evening gloom outside her nearly frosted-over office window. Try as she might, she couldn't come up with an angle that was any better than anyone else's. The little brat just wasn't part of the interconnected network of associations and acquaintances that encompassed 'normal' movie stars, politicians, thinkers and doers. There were no favors to call in, no dirty laundry that she could discover, no discernable prejudices or worthy causes she could exploit, and the creature didn't even appear to have an agent. It was very frustrating.
    Her boss summoned her into his inner sanctum. She scurried in obediently. His tall, impressive frame was leaning back comfortably in the big chair behind his desk, the trademark curl of jet-black hair dangling across his brow in a calculatedly insouciant manner. He was wearing his prop glasses, which meant he was currently portraying his 'professional newsman' character. Louise knew it was all part of a carefully crafted image that constituted his principal talent, one that had little to do with any kind of legitimate credentials. His whole purpose for being revolved around his looking and sounding authoritative, charming and -- well -- manly. His persona had nothing to do with being a mild-mannered reporter and everything to do with the perception -- at least in his own mind -- that he was some kind of journalistic superstud.
    "So, Louise," he greeted her, "Got me a date with the alien chick yet?"
    "Working on it," she mumbled.
    Ken looked impatient. "It's been -- what -- nearly a month since she was all over the news with that quake stuff in Tokyo..."
    "Singapore," she corrected inaudibly.
    "...and you still haven't even talked to her people yet. What's the holdup?"
    "She doesn't appear to have any 'people'. At least, not the kinds of 'people' I usually deal with."
    "Everybody has 'people'. I have 'people'..."
    That would be me, thought Louise.
    "...so get her 'people' to talk to my 'people'. How hard can it be?"
    "Well, she has friends, and even a lawyer," Louise told him. "But they're not talking to anyone in the media. It's not just me..."
    "I'm surprised at you, Louise. You've never had this kind of difficulty before."
    How would you know? she thought.
    "Show me what you've got so far," he commanded, beckoning her to come behind his desk.
    She dropped a folder in front of him. Pictures spilled out, some taken at the NASA news conference, some grainy and ill-focused screen shots from amateur videos, and a few obvious surveillance-type paparazzi pix.
    "There's quite a cast of characters surrounding her," she said, pointing to several of the photos. "Apparently, she lives with some old guy who evidently found her -- and his girlfriend, a semi-notorious 'worthy cause' lawyer who used to work for Bruce Wayans."
    Ken shuddered distastefully at Dinah's picture, an intimidating pose caught while she was snarling at the trespassing cameraman.
    "The kid used to hang out with a bunch of skaters, but they basically have the attention span of trout, with a vocabulary to match. They're no help."
    She went on. "There's a bunch of retired Russian ex-pat geezers at the apartments where she lives, and they know a lot about her, but they're not even talking to the KGB, let alone any newspeople. Then there's this computer geek..."
    Ken gave an appreciative whistle at Jimmie's picture. Lanna was in the same shot, standing next to him.
    "Who's the, uh, young lady with him," he asked.
    Louise rolled her eyes heavenward. "That would be Mrs. Oldsen, Jimmie Oldsen's wife. They own and operate Exocybernautics, which is a NASA contractor that..."
    "You know," he interrupted, "There's always a weak link that can be exploited to get our man -- or girl, in this case. Maybe I should fly down there to Houston and personally have a talk with, uh, some of her associates. Do a little field work, if you know what I mean." He held up the photo of Lanna and Whatsisname for a closer look.
    Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, thought Louise. Pig...
    "After all, that's what investigative journalism is all about," he observed distractedly.
    Louise knew he was just being a creep for her benefit, as if he thought it might egg her on a little. She hated that. It was disrespectfully -- and clumsily -- manipulative, and completely unnecessary.
    "Well," she said, maybe a little too defensively, "I've looked at everything about her I can get my hands on and made every kind of call possible. None of her friends appear willing or able to act on her behalf as far as the press is concerned. The girl herself is evasive. I sent Steve and Jan down there and they're practically camping out on her doorstep, along with about a thousand other..."
    "Yeah, yeah, yeah -- I know all about that. Look, you need to get with it, Louise. Burn the midnight oil, if you have to. I don't care what you do, but get me that interview. This is the big one, and I'll be damned if I'll let it get away from me. She's mine, you understand? And you're going to get her for me."
    Louise gritted her teeth. She looked at him as if she was about to say something, but the moment passed. Sonofabitch, she thought. Why do I put up with this crap? The thought crossed her mind for about the millionth time that she could be making a whole lot more money working somewhere -- anywhere -- else. For someone who would show her a little appreciation. She angrily swept up her papers and photos.
    Ken seemed to suddenly realize that he'd gone too far. He whipped off his glasses and loosened his tie with a quick tug, somehow transforming himself in the process. Softly, almost apologetically, he said, "Louise... Wait."
    He reached out and took her hand. "Hey, I'm sorry," he told her, looking the part of someone who was perfectly sincere. "You know I'm no good at any of this without you. I need you now, and I swear I'll make it up to you when all this is over, alright?"
    She looked at him, into his eyes. She had wanted to lash out at him, but found herself wavering uncertainly. She found herself mumbling, "Yeah, sure, OK."
    "I'll call you," he said, as if he meant it.
    She nodded, mentally kicking herself for being his perpetual doormat. She knew that he was just being his normal, insensitive self, but that was the way he was. It was part of what made him good at what he did. It was his job to be pushy and arrogant -- and then make his victims love him. They did, too. So did she.

    So now what was she going to do? Dammit. She pounded her keyboard in frustration a few times. She stared at her monitor as if maybe an answer would pop up. Finally, almost irrationally, she started her email program.
    "Dear Alien..." she started. No, to hell with that.
   
"Dear Space Creature..." Nah, the 'dear' part is too friendly. She cleared it and started over. Forget the salutation.
    "Look here, you little monster. You're a goddam guest on our planet. What the hell do you mean teasing everybody like you're doing? We want some answers and we want them now."
    Ah -- that's better.
    "You get your alien butt over here to the Daily Planet building this instant. I'm Ken Clark's producer and you belong to us. You're gonna spill your guts on a prime-time special the whole world will watch, and we're not gonna take any Twilight Zone crap from you."
    This is fun.
    "And you're not getting a dime, either. You owe us, pal. Everybody's knocking their brains out trying to get your attention and you won't give us the time of day. Well, I'm sick of your attitude, sister. Give it up or go back to wherever the hell you came from."
    That's telling her.
    She clicked the exit button and the dialog box asked her if she wanted to send her unsaved message. She hesitated, then clicked 'Cancel'.
    What the heck, she thought giddily. Might as well send it. It'll just come back anyway. But it'll make me feel better...
    She typed, "susan@..." in the address bar and stopped. She thought a while and added, "space." Well, she's not a dot-com or a dot-org or a dot-gov. Finally, she finished with, ".ufo." Almost as an afterthought, she added the 'P' after 'Susan', the way it was on her NASA jumpsuit.
    susanp@space.ufo
    Wonder what the 'P' stands for? Louise knew -- as did probably every journalist by now -- that the kid went by the name Sara Corel. It wasn't exactly a well-guarded secret. For some reason, she just preferred to use the name 'Susan' in public. Susan P.
    Louise looked hard at the name. Susan. Suzy. Sue -- wait a minute...
    Her sudden laughter made everyone in the office outside her door look up. She quickly added a PS to the email.
    "You'd damned well better talk to me because I know what the 'P' stands for."
    She clicked the send button before she could change her mind.
    And then stared blankly at the screen for what seemed like an hour. Nothing happened. I'm losing it, she finally admitted to herself. She turned off the computer and started to get up. The phone rang.
    Her private line. The hotline. Only a very few people had the number, and they knew it had to be life or death to use it. Except for Ken, of course. She reached for it.
    "Ms. Layne?" the girlish voice on the other end queried. "Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but the switchboard operator wouldn't connect me to your office phones. I finally had to try this line. I hope you don't mind."
    Louise was a little disconcerted, maybe more than a little suspicious, and was trying desperately not to be wildly hopeful.
    "And you would be...?" she replied guardedly.
    "Susan. I got your email."
    "How did you get my email?" She did not dare fall for some kind of prank. She'd been in this business too long.
    "Well, um... I sorta get every email, in a way. Mostly, I never actually see 'em unless it's from someone I know, but yours kinda jumped out at me, if you know what I mean. I hope you don't take this wrong, but it was very funny. And cool. And you're right. I've been meaning to talk to someone, like an interview kind of thing, but I didn't know who or how I should go about it or if anyone was really all that interested."
    Interested...? Yeah, I'll say we're interested. Louise was still suspicious.
    "Look, whoever-you-are. Anyone can call up and say they're whoever they want to be. For all I know, you're some kind of hacker, or somebody I know who is yanking my chain."
    "Oh," the voice replied. "I guess so. Um... How about if I come over? It won't take me long to get there. I know where it is 'cause the address is on your website. What floor you on? And do you have a window? North, east, south or west?"
    Louise told her.
    "OK. I think I got it. See ya in a couple of minutes. Bye." The line went dead.
    Louise walked numbly into the outer office as if entranced. One of the young research assistants looked at her and asked her if she was alright.
    "Sure, Jim," she replied absently. "Bring me some coffee, will you? To my office. Get yourself some, too. Whatever you're doing, drop it. I'm going to need a witness, maybe."
    She walked back into her office, sat down at her desk and tried to stare through the frosted pane. When Jim came back with a couple of steaming cups, she told him to close the door, then nodded at the window. He followed her gaze.
    The frost had vanished, as if there was a heating element in the glass that had suddenly been turned on, clearing it completely, inside and out. No other buildings could be seen through the low clouds which surrounded them. The street was hidden as well. The lights glowing through the neighboring windows wanly illuminated the figure casually drifting in the grey gale just a few feet away.
    Her hair flowed wildly around her, highlights from caught snowflakes glinting like sequins as it tumbled and tussled. The bitter cold seemed to be harmless to her, beneath her notice, unable to bite her with its stinging rebuke. Her cape billowed magnificently, at its own majestic pace independent of the furious wind, a dramatic backdrop against which she was gloriously displayed. She was a study in effortless levitation, heedless of the giddy height and unfazed by the storm's commotion, anchored to nothingness by her whim.
    She waved cheerily at the staring figures inside. Louise's private phone rang in her office. The apparition held up her right hand, middle fingers closed, thumb and little finger extended. She held her thumb against her ear -- mimicking a telephone -- and 'spoke' into her little finger, mouthing, pick up the phone.
    "You can close your mouth now, Jim," Louise said to her companion. She punched the speaker button on the phone.
    "Hi, Ms. Layne. Who's your cute friend?" The girl's voice in the phone was crystal clear and synched perfectly to her moving lips.
    Jim stammered incoherently, finally managing to make a sound that was something like his name.
    "Nice to meet you, Jim. I'm Susan. I mean, I don't have any kind of ID or anything, but, uh... Well, just like the pictures, huh...?"
    "Just like," Louise confirmed. "Alright. So you're ready to commit to being interviewed on Deep Inside with Ken Clark?"
    "Sure, if you want. I can come inside and we can talk."
    "No -- wait a minute. I don't want you going through the lobby like that. I want to get this nailed down before everybody and his uncle knows about it. How about the roof? There's a door up there to the helipad."
    The girl shrugged.
    Louise turned to Jim. "Find the super and get him up here right away."
    "You mean, Mr. Whyte?"
    "Yeah, today. As in now. He's probably in the basement, where the printing presses used to be."
    Jim took off. Louise called after him, "Make sure he has his keys with him. And don't say a word to anyone."
    Louise turned back to the window, half wondering if the girl would still be there. "I hate to keep you hanging around..." she said apologetically.
    "I don't mind," Sara replied. "So what do you think the 'P' stands for? And how'd you figure it out?"
    "It's this Sara/Susan thing. OK, this is just a guess, but I think Sara is who you are, someone who feels she's really not all that different from the rest of us, your human side. Am I close?"
    The girl outside the window nodded, looking very impressed at this stranger's insight.
    Louise went on, "So Susan is the alien part that's made up to look like a comic book character, with all that goes with it. Obviously, you were meant to function in that role -- but that's not really 'you'. It's more like your job."
    "Very good!" the girl agreed.
    "I don't think you're all that comfortable with the 'S', are you? It's just too obvious and blatant. If you really embraced what your aliens had made you into, you wouldn't have come up with the Susan name. But everybody's going to see you as the character you were meant to portray, anyway."
    Sara was grinning appreciatively.
    "So the 'P' -- that stands for the rest of your name for your role. It's a joke, isn't it? To keep the whole thing in perspective. A way to accept the obvious without anyone having to take it too seriously. Especially you."
    "Looks like you nailed it, girlfriend."
    "Nope." Louise was grinning now. "I haven't the foggiest idea. I lied about having figured it out."
    Sara looked completely surprised.
    "And since I didn't figure it out, your secret's safe until you decide to tell everyone. Like in front of a worldwide audience on our show." Louise rolled her eyes up in mock dismay. "Gee -- it's too bad I wasn't able to come up with that little tidbit of pre-interview research. I hope Ken doesn't get too upset with me..."
    The girl outside seemed puzzled for a moment, then looked slyly through the window at Louise. "Ah... You're devious, aren't you? I think I'm beginning to like you."
    They both laughed.
    It wasn't long before Jim came back with the venerable Mr. Whyte, whose eyes nearly popped out of his head when he looked through the window.
    "Great Caesar's ghost!" he sputtered.
    "Not quite, Perry," Louise replied. "Not quite."

    "And now," the voice-over announcer concluded, "Ken Clark."
    Ken greeted Sara directly, "Good evening, Susan." The weeks of promo for the live broadcast had been supplemented by a great deal of speculation and anticipation, even among rival networks. Ken didn't need to waste any time on the customary preliminaries or introductions. She was in her uniform, so it was unlikely that a channel-surfer (if there were any, in this case) would have to guess who his guest was. Currently, her picture was on every single magazine at the supermarket checkout stand.
    Sara was relaxed and comfortable in an overstuffed armchair on the carefully informal set, half-facing Ken's customary desk in the usual manner of talk shows. She had plenty of room to scootch around as necessary, in typical teenaged fashion. "Thanks for having me on your show, Mr. Clark."
    "Ken -- please," he smiled in his most winning manner. "We've seen so much about you in the news these past few weeks, from your debut at the NASA press conference to your amazing exploits in Singapore. The popular press is full of details about your astonishing attributes. Yet all of this coverage has focused on your -- please forgive me -- alien nature. Is there a human side to Susan?"
    "Sure, Ken. I'm not gonna make like I'm just a regular old normal girl-type teen, 'cause, well, you know -- I'm not. Most of the time I like to think of myself as no different from anyone else, but I have to deal with a lot of weird stuff sometimes. Still, I honestly believe I'm basically a real person. I mean, I like to eat and sleep and watch movies and listen to music and read and shop and hang out with my friends. I've got parents -- like foster parents, actually -- regular people who love me and try to make sure I turn out sorta decent, even though I can be a lot of trouble (that's for sure). And teachers, though I didn't exactly go to a regular school. I think I drove most of them crazy."
    "Do you have a boyfriend?"
    She managed to look positively embarrassed. "Well, I guess -- I sorta did once. Not these days, though. I... I like boys, and stuff. You know. But I don't think any kind of -- well, I guess you might say relationship -- would ever work out in the long run. That's something that's different about me, alright. I, like, don't grow or anything. I'm sorta stuck where I am, where I've always been. It doesn't look like I'm ever actually gonna grow up and get married and have kids and all that. I guess that's the hardest part of what I have to accept about the way the Cryptoaliens made me. When I really think about it -- considering all the rest of it -- I guess it's best that way. But I don't have to like it..."
    "These Cryptoaliens -- the unknown beings who created you... What can you tell us about them?"
    "Nothing, really. That's why they're called that. Crypto means 'hidden', basically. They're aliens that nobody knows anything about, especially me."
    "Yet as a computer, essentially, can't you access any kind of information? Aren't there some messages or instructions or clues of some kind in your memory banks?"
    "No. I'm absolutely sure about that. I've got a friend who's a really good computer hacker, and there's Dr. Belloes, the NASA psychologist. We've been through all sorts of stuff to see if anything would pop up. I can sorta access everything that's there, or at least see what there is to access. Believe me, there's nothing."
    "Are there any more like you on our planet?"
    "Uh-uh. I'd know it, too. Someone like me would stick out like a sore thumb. And the guys who track satellites would be able to tell, 'cause when I travel real fast, it makes some of 'em bob up and down a little bit."
    "Should we be concerned that there might be more alien visitations in the near future?"
    "I can't really say. But I don't think there's anything to worry about. I mean, they coulda made me look and act like the robot from 'The Day the Earth Stood Still', I suppose. I think they purposely made me out to be the least scary fer sure alien possible."
    "That's certainly true," he said. "If you represent an alien invasion, I'd have to say you're the cutest and friendliest one anybody could imagine."
    Sara could only smile prettily at that, proving his point.
    "What about morphing?" he asked. "Scientists speculate that your form is the way it is because of something like programming. Can you change it?"
    "You know, I should be able to, you'd think. I've tried it, but nothing happens. The way I am now, it's like really a basic part of me. I think the definition of invulnerable means I can't be changed -- you know, injured or altered or rearranged. Not even by me."
    She held up her left arm. "I don't have bones or anything. So I should be able to bend my arm backwards at the elbow. There's no, like, mechanical reason I can't. Except that I can't." She flexed her arm a few times. "See? Perfectly normal."
    "And," he added, "there's apparently no force or substance on Earth that can prevent you from moving your arm if you feel like it. It apparently doesn't matter if there's a battleship tied to it, or if there's a mountain in the way."
    "Yeah. I'm pretty strong, I guess," she said almost resignedly, as if she was discussing having athlete's foot. "I'm a regular flying bulldozer."
    "For which the residents of Singapore are very thankful. We've all seen the home videos of your heroic actions on behalf of the earthquake-stricken city."
    Sara looked somber. "Ken, there was absolutely nothing 'heroic' about what I did in Singapore. I'm glad I was able to help, but the heroes are all over there. Not me."
    Ken raised his eyebrows for camera three.
    She continued, "I can't imagine that any normal person would ignore their neighbor's house burning down. You can't turn your back on something like that. The second I 'heard' the news chopper's radio and picked up the geological data, I knew I had to go and do what I could -- even though I was at that White House thing. As soon as the President officially welcomed me to the planet, I knew I was really a part of the world, and -- like everybody else -- I have to accept the responsibility to do what I can do to help out if I can."
    "But, look," she went on. "It didn't cost me any money, the effort involved didn't wear me out or make me tired, and I was never in any kind of danger. All of which isn't true for the people I tried to help. Some of them lost everything or even died helping others. There were so many I coudn't save -- some who were terribly mangled or burned, some of them who died in my arms, some of them I had to abandon, knowing they would die, so that I could try to save others. So many of the ones who survived -- their whole lives are changed. They may never recover."
    She paused, looking somber beyond her years. "There was a moment when it was just all too much for me to take. I was so upset at the hopelessness of it all that I cried like a baby. Yet these people, whose friends and families were dead or dying, whose homes and lives were in ruins -- these people came up to me, took me in their arms, and comforted me. Gave me the strength to go on. I really owe them a debt I can never repay."
    She turned to look directly into camera two and spoke a short phrase in what sounded like Chinese, then bowed her head respectfully.
    Fade to black. Cue commercial.

    Most of the rest of the show was comparatively inconsequential, with Sara babbling happily about her fave movie stars and singers, recounting some of her travels around this planet and a few others, and mostly acting like a normal kid. She was as charming as she was designed to be and essentially conquered the world that night.
    "So, Susan," Ken started his wrap-up, "Where do you go from here? Have you given much thought to how you plan to organize your public life?"
    "Well, I'm not gonna do the comic book thing and be a crime fighter." She made a face. "Aside from the fact that it sounds stupid, there's not really a whole lot I can do. I mean, I'm not a cop or a lawyer or a vigilante. And there's way too much crime for a thousand of me to even make the slightest dent. But even more than all that, crime is a human problem and I don't think it's a good idea for me to interfere much in human problems."
    "You've already taken an active role in some respects," he reminded her.
    "Yeah, but it would be a big mistake for people to rely on me to protect them or solve their problems. People have to protect themselves, for the most part. Even if I was able to catch everybody who fell off a cliff -- well, there's a lot of people who shouldn't try to climb a cliff in the first place. The ones who fall generally manage to keep the population of cliff climbers down to a reasonable number by their example."
    "And," she said, "People have to solve their own problems, especially when it comes to other people. Take the crime thing. Like drugs, for instance. The government has pretty much proven that trying to arrest all the suppliers can't be done and doesn't work anyway. If I could somehow manage to find every drug dealer and producer there is and drop them on the other side of the Moon, that would drive up the prices so much that others would take the risk and there would just be more of them, faster than I could round them up. The solution is in getting rid of the demand, and the government is pretty useless there, too, just like I would be. This is a problem that can only be solved by people reaching out to each other and making the need for drugs stop happening. That's gonna take really super powers, like love, respect, responsibility, tolerance, opportunity, equality, commitment, honor, decency, teaching, forgiveness and common sense."
    "Does that mean you won't intervene at all?"
    "Well," she said, "I just did -- didn't I? I mean, here I am, with I don't know how many people watching right now. On the one hand, I'm just a regular girl who has trouble with boys and eats too much -- and on the other hand, I'm this powerful creature from some planet nobody's ever heard of. I'm telling you stuff that you already know, but maybe it's different coming from me somehow. Will it make any difference to anybody? Change things? It could, if a few people decide to do something that they might not have thought about doing before. That's up to them."
    Ken nodded.
    "It's like the Singapore fires after the quake. There were way too many of them for me to try and put out. All I could do was bring in a little water, and even then I needed a lot of help. It was the people there that figured out how to get the water on the fires and did all the work. Sure, I helped. But the real work didn't even start until after I'd left. The rebuilding will take years, and I'll bet you anything that the new Singapore is gonna be a lot better and safer than the old one."
    "You're being too modest, Susan. You saved a lot of lives and there are people there who are grateful for the things you were able to do. I'm sure this will be true in more than just this one instance, but also in other potential disasters still to come, natural and potentially even man-made."
    "I'll help whenever I can. At least on some of the big stuff that looks like it might overwhelm people. But all I can do is bring in the water, so to speak, and maybe clear a few streets, pick up a building or two..."
    "And sound the alarm," Ken added.

    After the last break, Ken headed into the final segment. "There's just one other thing I want to ask you. I know you have another name for your private life -- and even though it's no secret, I'll not mention it in public. The nametag on your NASA overalls and some of the studies that have been released identified you as 'Susan P'. As I understand it, this is a name you selected for your public life, in part as a way of differentiating your alien side and some of your computer functions from your human identity."
    "That sounds pretty complicated, Ken, but it's really not. It's like I'm a normal person driving this alien robot-computer around, sorta. I mean, it's me, but sometimes I think of it as not me, so I call that part 'Susan'. And since when I'm out in public people are mostly dealing with the stuff that the alien robot-computer does, then they're really dealing with me as 'Susan'."
    "I see," said Ken a little uncertainly. "But what I really want to know is what the 'P' stands for. Is it a last name? Or some kind of symbol..."
    "It's like a symbolic last name. You really wanna know? It's kinda silly."
    "I think everybody wants to know, Susan."
    "OK. Got a pencil? It's spelled P-U-R-G..."
    Ken wrote it down on his notepad. "Uh-huh."
    "E-R-L."
    Ken looked at the name he's written and pronounced, "Purr-jerl."
    "No, with a hard 'g', like 'get'."
    He looked slightly puzzled, as if trying to discover some significance to the name. He tried again: "Purr-grrl."
    "That's it."
    "Susan Purgerl?"
    "But you can call me Sue, Ken."
    "Sue...?"
    "Uh-huh."
    "...Purgerl."
    There may have been a planetary groan of Richter proportions. Nobody ever called her Sue.


Chapter Thirty: Money


Table of Contents

Patrick Hill, 2000