Inspired by this image by Nicholas Vargelis.
That day, the wine shop at the western end of the street was shut down, I started to learn how to ride a bicycle so I might fit in better, and I saw Ms. Amanda Palmer who lives across the street combing her hair again.
She was gazing into the mirror at the image of a goddess and was running her comb through her hair with a ritualistic intensity. Twelve times with her head bent to the right, twelve times with her head bent to the left. There was a moment when her eyes moved towards the edge of the mirror and seemed to be looking straight at me. But I tried not give my sense of paranoia too much credence.
Later, towards evening, I also had coffee at the kiosk next to the barbershop. Sitting at a table was a young man whose lack of interest in the conversation of his companions was entirely suspicious. I noted this and decided to alert Command when they next contacted me.
When I reached my designated home, I wrote myself a reminder that I needed to extend the decorations in the lobby some way into the living room, because, from a certain angle, a hypothetical neighbour might realise that the room beyond was sparsely appointed, so to speak.
That night, the earth seemed to rumble beneath my feet, shadows passed over the moon, colouring the night in hideous shades painful to the eyes. I wrote out notes at speed, trying to figure out procedures and tactics if the invasion began. Unfortunately there was no way of contacting Command directly. The invasion, if this was indeed it, had not been anticipated as so direct in its approach.
I looked out the window at one particular instant and saw that Ms. Palmer was calmly sitting at her window-sill, gazing at the moon, her legs bent double, her knees under her chin, her arms curled around her shins.
If she did not seem much alarmed, I reasoned, there was no need for me to be frantic either. It calmed me down on an objective level, but my subjective reactions and the feelings of terror that had come with them took time to subside. I slept as well as could have been hoped for.
The next day, I dropped my notes into the drop-box at Farthing and Seventh (the box shifted from one corner to another every week in a trigonometric progression). By what seemed to have been carefully designed by her to seem a coincidence, Ms. Palmer came up to the box as I moved forward, and dropped a banana peel over my papers. I smiled at her to thank her for the cover, and she replied with a long blink.
Over the rest of the day, I continued to practice riding the bicycle, and, of course, I conducted my usual survey. Of special note: A small Greek restaurant was about to open in place of the wine shop. Since it had to have been Command-approved, I took the location off my itinerary for the following two weeks. The young man was at the coffee shop again, and this time was indubiously engaged in conversation with his tablemates. I assumed the anomaly had been taken care of.
Reaching home, I found a note that had been slid under my door. It had one word written on it: ‘Command’. I sighed and sat down on the bare floor. I appreciated her need to allay any fears I might have, but she ought not to have done so at a risk of somebody connecting us to each other. A moment later, I looked back at the paper and saw that it was now blank. At the very least, she had taken care not to leave physical evidence. I cleaned off possible fingerprints (unlikely, but I preferred not to take a chance) and pinned it onto my softboard.
I looked out across the street and saw that Ms. Palmer was receiving. She was talking to a young man whose back was to what I had come to think of as my window. The mirror was turned at an angle so I could see Ms. Palmer making the accepted gestures of one-on-one social contact. She saw me looking and reached out and rolled down the blinds. Since Ms. Palmer was assuredly a conscientious agent, I realised she had done so to protect me from a stray gaze of the visitor.
The next morning, when I walked to the eastward corner to get the obligatory morning newspaper, I saw Ms. Palmer spread-eagled on the road, in the midst of a brace of pedestrian crossings. She seemed to be staring at the horizon, perhaps waiting for a sign that our functions might receive an early kick-start. She had turned pale and did not seem to be aware of her surroundings. Many are the times when I have, in just such a trance of yearning, gazed out of my window at the stars, hoping one will start moving towards us. I always managed to reign in my emotions before anybody watching got a hint of what I might be doing. I tried to guess what Ms. Palmer could have been thinking. Perhaps she was meditating. She had a second, dark red grin opened on her neck. I thought it suited her.
I gave her a slight nod, just in case she was aware of my presence through astral means, and then I moved on. While I walked, I presented no tics or mannerisms that might have indicated my interest in the woman on the road. Even when I heard someone rushing towards her with a scream, I disregarded it. She could handle the situation on her own.