By The Egg Party
A group of humans file quickly through the entrance to a large theatre. They are to make up the live studio audience for the upcoming entertainment. At the head of the crowd is an enthusiastic young male called Steven, who has arrived early to ensure a seat in the cheering section. These few participants are expected to yell and hoot every third clap. Once everyone has settled in, a collection of musicians enter to take places behind instruments on stage right. Steven is impatient for the show to commence, tapping his left foot on the concrete floor.
On the broad stage, lit by dull yellow lights, sits a talk-show host. She is dressed in a poorly tailored suit; the shoulder pads overhang the bones, the cuffs extending to conceal the shirt sleeves. In short, it is a double-breasted, navy-coloured mess. She is on a roller chair in front of a chestnut coloured desk. It is a flimsy construction made out of imitation wood. From the surface, the host picks up a snake coiled into the shape of a mug, taking a sip. She dips to speak into the microphone mounted on the desk, moving her mouth back in forth in an attempt to find the amplification sweet-spot.
“Hello all! Glad you could join me for Medium Talk. This is your host, Danielle Smith.”
The host presses a small button on the desk and an APPLAUSE sign lights up, causing the crowd to clap in unison, ten times per person. She leans back in her seat and gives them a toothy smile, her figure highlighted by building lights of the backdrop - a fake city skyline of Chicago.
“Also, everyone give a hand for our house band, The Americans.” The band plays a lively rock version of The Star Spangled Banner as the host continues to talk over the music.
“As you should know, this is the Medium Talk, where every week we aim to work out how to talk to humans. The premise comes from long-term anthropological research, where it has been determined that humans do not engage well with Small Talk. Often they are vehemently opposed to it. One out of three online dating profiles state that it is undesirable. However, we have yet to find the parameters for smaller talk and so we are going to do it together, observing conversation in an attempt to make our skills bigger!
“You have three buttons to your left: Red, if you think the conversation is approaching Large Talk, blue, for the opposite, and green if you do not understand. If you press green, the pertinent information will be sent through your uplink. Remember, we speak English here, not Eukeloff or Tarkol. And we’re meant to be on Earth so make me believe it.”
The host removes a stack of cue cards from the inner pocket of her jacket, aligning them with a tap on the desk.
“The outcome is up to you, my compatriots. Vote with certainty. This data will help us, and you, in the Earthen campaign. Let’s make it to Large Talk!”
The applause prompt causes the crowd to clap a further ten times. After finishing the appropriate amount of adulation, Steven returns his right hand to his armrest, hovering his fingers over the console.
Steven is not his birth name. These are not even his birth fingers. His brood were given regnal names, chosen for their life mission - procreating with humans. The names were accompanied by specifically engineered human bodies, vastly different from the natural Samalol forms. Steven has finally become proficient with the use of his four human limbs. Due to the vast differences with the human species, the process is challenging for many Samalolians.
If they are successful in this goal, of spreading genetic material into the greater human genome, they are allowed to return home. There, they are celebrated and given new bodies, consciousness transferred into the fresh Samalol flesh.
Steven pays close attention to every word from the host, doing his best to learn, for Steven wants to be the best human he can possibly be.
“Okay, as always, we bring out our new and unprepared guest,” says the host, glancing at a cardboard reference card. “Coming straight from Payson… Arizona, let’s welcome Jeff Sitgreaves.”
Applause starts again as the band plays a slow tune, a blues version of The Star Spangled Banner. A man is brought out from left of the stage. He is in a pair of stained blue jeans that hang low in the rump. There is a John Deere cap on his head with a blindfold directly under it. His hands are cuffed in front of his sweaty t-shirt, the restraint a thick glowing band. The host presses a button on a tablet screen in front of her, causing the blindfold and cuffs to disappear.
Jeff squints, overwhelmed by the stage lights.
“Where… where the hell am I?”
“Why Jeff, my dear fellow, you are on national television. My name is Danielle Smith, your host, and it is a pleasure to have you. Please, sit down and join us for Medium Talk!” The host indicates the empty green armchair next to the desk.
Jeff hesitates, looking out into the crowd of seventy-two humans, silent and unblinking, staring at him. He smiles out of instinct, waving half a hand without raising the arm.
“If this is a talkshow why was I cuffed and blindfolded?”
“Oh, I do apologise about that. It is done by all the great talk-shows. Jimmy Fallon has even been known to use chemical restraints on many of his guests. You could say that you are lucky to be with us instead of our competition.”
“Uhhh...thank, thank you?” stammers Jeff.
“You are welcome. Welcome in every way! Sit, do us the honour.”
Steven votes on opening exchange energetically, impressed by the illogical, gullible actions of Jeff the human. On the front of the stage, only visible to the audience, is a half-circle gauge. An arrow is resting at the point of Small Talk, but it occasionally bounces up and down as the audience votes.
Jeff lets out a small sob and the arrow stops moving.
The host leans over to give the man a consoling pat, “Jeff, my dear man, you have nothing to fear. There is little to be stressed about.”
“This is all so...so weird...” his eyes widen, “...I just went and sobbed on national television! Can we edit that out?” He pauses to look around, “Why am I here? I shouldn’t be on a famous talk show, I’m just an ordinary dude. I farm, hunt and chew dip, what reasons do y’all have for interviewin’ me?”
The host laughs. “So many questions. You would think I was the one being interviewed.” Another desk button is pressed activating the LAUGHTER sign.
The audience laugh three times, ha ha ha. Steven loudly woops.
“Jeff, we can edit out whatever you want. And you are here for the reasons listed. This world...we...want to know about regular people, men and women like you, Jeff Sitgreaves.”
“Oh, okay... well, sure. I ‘spose it’s just gunna’ to take a moment for me to get used to youse city folk.”
“Yeah! The city!” shouts Steven.
The voting gauge jumps up a couple of notches in response to Jeff’s comfort.
“Exactly. In fact, you can see the windy city of Chicago behind me,” says the host, poking her thumb backward.
Jeff cranes his neck, “Wow. Ain’t really that windy looking, is it? I hate wind and rain. I need me a dry heat on account of my joints and the ole’ arthritis.” He pronounces the word arth-writ-is.
“Well, no. But the term Windy City is not actually about the wind. Or weather for that matter. The name comes from,” the host’s eyes glaze over, “Reference: Charles A. Dana, New York Sun, 1893, editorial, Chicago is windy because of its full-of-hot-air politicians.”
Jeff looks sideways but the topic excites him and he dismisses both the tone change and the disassociation of the host.
“Well, how ‘bout that! Learn something new every damn day. Yeah, those blow hard politicians and their big ideas. Let me tell you ‘bout how it is in rural Arizona. None of them fat cats give a shit…”
Steven hits his blue button repeatedly. Illness, weather and politics. According to the book, The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills -- and Leave a Positive Impression! by Debra Fine, these three topics are problematic areas that may bore human targets.
A general negative reaction from the crowd causes the arrow to lie dead. Steven thinks about the approach to the conversation and how he would do it differently. While thinking he loses focus on Jeff and misses the majority of his lengthy monologue.
“...and clean coal. Also chemtrails! Tell you what, I’ve never bin happier since they done frakked my land.”
“Interesting. Tell me, what do you farm?”
“Well, my land is pretty unusable at the moment, what with the ground bein’ all wobbly. I just farm corn where and when I can. Proud to be a cert-e-fied corn grower in the US of A. I use the corn to make illegal alcohol. Moonshine. The area’s famous for it, what with the historic Bootleg Alley bein’ ‘round the corner. The local kids keep me pretty busy with trade. But it’s hard work these days since Jolene hightailed it.”
“Yes, we have heard of this corn and high fructose corn syrup fixation.”
“Who is Jolene? Is she your wife, Jeff?”
“Well no, not really. ‘Sides from a bein’ she-bitch, she’s my crazy ex-wife.”
The host activates the GASP sign in response to the intrigue. The audience ooohs. The arrow picks up, getting closer to the Medium Talk mark.
“And where’d you meet?”
“Don’t rightly know… we’ve known each other our whole lives.”
“Impressive, such a long term commitment. And why did you and Jolene break-up?”
“Well, few reasons. She says it was on accounting of my paranoia and jealousy. Now, let me tell you, that is a straight out lie! Ain’t paranoia if your concerns are true. I done found that Rilee and her rollin’ ‘round in their birthday suits, only a few months back.”
The audience gasps again. Steven presses the green button and an automated voice in his ear tells him: to roll around is human slang for sex. A birthday suit is slang for someone naked. You are naked at birth, hence the term.
“Who is Rilee?”
“Well, Rilee’s ma cousin and he is the pastor at St. Phillips. Found ‘em both doing some private, intimate worship. It was a Saturday, if that means anything.”
Jeff continues, “Anyways, she says she needed to fuck... oh ‘scuse me... needed to have sex with him, Rilee. Edit that too, please. ‘Parently it was important. Said she weren’t happy with how the faces of our kids turned out and wanted her fourth to look different. Strangest thing though, I didn’t even know we had a kid. Or kids for that matter.”
The arrow breaches the center mark, indicating Medium Talk has been reached. The room lights turn orange. The host looks around with surprise. Small lights that flank the sides of the room turn green as the onlookers simultaneously press the confusion button.
“Well isn’t that just... interesting, folks?” asks the host, a small tremor appearing in her voice, “Tell us more Jeff. Do you date now?”
“Ayuh, I try to. But it’s a small, murky pool in Payson if you get my drift”
“I one-hundred-per-cent understand your drift.”
Steven looks down at his console, unsure of what to do. He decides to press blue and red buttons simultaneously. Many others around him are doing the same. The secondary lights of the room turn greener as the arrow continues to move towards Large Talk.
“Had a date with the widow Tambor a month or two back. Didn’t go so well. We were headin’ to the Mazatzal Hotel and Casino to drink a bit of rum and play the slots together. Or so I thought. She’s drivin’ the wrong way and I ask her what’s she up to but she says naught. Ends up takin’ me to this small parting in the woods, up near Butcher creek, ‘splaining that she’s a level five zoophiliac and wants me to act as her next sentient amphibian lover. So I tell her…” he stops talking for a moment, as if he has forgotten where he is, “golly! Look at me jibber-jabbering.”
“No problem Jeff,” says the host. “We… we… want to know all about human dating rituals.”
Jeff laughs, “Amen sister. I wanna understand those rituals myself. Anyway, as I was sayin’, I tells her, sure, Valery, this one night yes. Maybe two. But you gotta do something for me…”
Steven misses the next part as his uplink gives him a continual stream of conversational context: a zoophiliac is someone with a sexual fixation on non-human animals, to jibber-gabber is to talk in a rapid and excited way that is difficult to understand… he focuses on the extra information in an effort to get a reprieve from the incomprehensible Jeff.
“...woke up to her tryna’ frost the tips of my hair. Still haven’t worked out what that was all about. So...”
Suddenly the house lights go from an orange to a bright red, the new colour competing with the flashing green lights.
“Oh! Wait, Jeff. Please, be quiet a moment. Folks, we have done it, we have reached Large Talk!”
The applause is loud and Steven let’s out a final, scared yahoo. He is overwhelmed and feels a distinct relief in knowing that the show is now over.
“Well that’s it ladies and gentlemen, what a successful week this has been. Thank you Jeff, you have been an amazing guest. And congratulations.”
Stunned at the quick change of pace, Jeff answers automatically, “Gee, thanking you ma'am.” He takes his hat in his hands, “But why the congrats?”
“Sir, for being the best guest tonight! You have won our grand prize.”
“Hoooee. Thank y’all very much. What’d I win?”
“Well in order to validate your specific, anecdotal mating reports, you win...drumroll please,” says the host, pointing to the band. The drummer follows the command as she opens a small envelope in front of her and, reading the contents, she says, “The prize is: a dinner for one at the Homosexaulity Latency Anal Probe Testing Facility. From there you will be jet-setting off to the sunny island of Memory Wipe for a week of siestas and drug cocktails.”
With that the host represses a button on her tablet and Jeff is once again restrained. The band plays a funky version of The Star Spangled Banner as he is shuffled, struggling, off stage left.
“That’s it everybody, back to your pods. This has been Danielle Smith. Till next week on Medium Talk, where we will once again try and work out humans...” says the host, throwing the cue cards in the air, “...and what the hell that was.”