The original scene of Portrait of Ari
If you are curious about how Portrait of Ari started, I can tell you the whole sordid story. I started writing a novel when I was in highschool, and things being what they were, it took me ten years or so to finish the thing. The plot is flawed beyond repair, and believe me, I tried. It’s hard to look at that many words and know that you have to throw them out.
But there were parts of the story that I thought still worked, and there were characters that I loved. I really liked the idea of being in on a first contact moment. In the excerpt below, Roha has come to Earth to save her friend Ari, who’s been shot by humans (Among the irredeemable parts of the plot, my aliens were shapeshifters and could turn into giant cats. I was young) and taken to a zoo. Roha has to work with Tom to get her out. So this scene was originally there to provide exposition in a dramatic manner.
I’ve spotted two lines that still exist in the published story.
Roha felt relief. Ari had installed a block on his memories of the Reveal. He could remember it, not talk about it. She no longer cared why Ari had started a Reveal without getting permission first, but she needed to know how much he knew. She needed help.
She reached out, and was surprised at the familiarity of a human hand. Without waiting for permission, she dived forward into his mind. She scented around a mass confusion of walls and partitions until she found the ones Ari had installed; tagged to open only in Ari’s presence or at the sound of a code phrase. Rohanir wondered at the relevance of the phrase, then she left the way she had come.
Rohanir settled back inside herself, and released TomÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mind as she released his hand.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Grover says Open Sesame,Ã¢â‚¬? she pronounced the unfamiliar words with care.
Rohanir waited for his memories to settle into place.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What did she tell you?Ã¢â‚¬?
Tom took a breath, collecting his thoughts. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ari hadn’t planned to tell me, I think, at least not yet. We were in the Art Building working and both of us were a giddy ’cause it was way too late. And I sliced my thumb open with the mat-knife. So, I’m trying not to bleed on my project and freaking. Ari clamps her hand on my thumb, bends her head and says real quiet, ‘You’ve cut a tendon.’ I start shaking. Ari still had her head down, and my thumb stopped hurting, and did this cool tingling. Out of the corner of my eye I could see this real faint green glow around her hands.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You could actually see the fire?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Most people can’t. Feel it yes, see it no.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hmm? OhÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ well then she raises her head and says Ã¢â‚¬ËœNothing direct pressure can’t fix. You’d better wash that.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I think she didn’t realize sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d mentioned the tendon out-loud. So, I washed my hand and thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just this little cut. Then, behind me I hear this thud. When I turned around, Ari was crumpled on the ground. I ran over and she woke up a little. Told me she was fine but tired so I helped her over to the back counter and she slept about an hour.Ã¢â‚¬?
Rohanir shook her head. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It doesn’t sound like she needed to Reveal to you.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not yet, but see sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d pulled two all-nighters in a row so I think her judgment was all fuzzy. We went back to my dorm and were talking. She was, like, half-asleep. When I asked what had happened she said she’d healed me. I asked if she was a Christian Scientist or what and she laughed and said ‘No, I’m an extraterrestrial,’ like sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s joking. Anyway, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m rubbing her neck and start thinking about how her headÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a little large, not a lot, just bigger than average, and then thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the funny green fireÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ The thing is that if IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d been more awake, I probably could have talked my way out of it. But my brain was too tired to come up with anything else, so I started freakin’ out.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I can imagine.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Aw c’mon, what would you have done?Ã¢â‚¬?
Rohanir rubbed the back of her neck uncertainly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What happened next?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“She started playing like I was imagining things but I halfway think she wasn’t trying to convince me.Ã¢â‚¬?
He stopped suddenly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You look like you have an idea.Ã¢â‚¬?
Rohanir started to shake her head, then reconsidered. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sometimes a person omits things in telling. So, I thought about reading that memory.Ã¢â‚¬?
Tom hesitated, then nodded. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Okay.Ã¢â‚¬?
She held out a hand. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Relax and look at me.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I know how to do this,Ã¢â‚¬? he snapped.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then do it.Ã¢â‚¬?
He took her hand and locked gazes. She flowed across to Tom’s mind catching the glow of his anger. She could see a shimmering outline as he tried to appear for her.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Don’t worry about that.Ã¢â‚¬? She reached for the box of memories. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This will make you lose focus anyway.Ã¢â‚¬?
She started to read.
They sat on his unmade bed. A mixture of fascination and fear churned in TomÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s brain. He tried to believe that he was dreaming, but knew he was not.
Ari closed her eyes tightly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What have I done?’Ã¢â‚¬Å“
He looked away from her and stared at the Escher print on his wall. He felt like his whole world was being turned inside out and upside down, like one of those impossible buildings. His girlfriend was a what-? Ã¢â‚¬Å“You’re a-Ã¢â‚¬? he stopped; it felt ridiculous. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Are you an extra-terrestrial?Ã¢â‚¬?
Oh God, he thought. He bit the inside of his mouth and took several shallow breaths, trying to stay calm. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Is this what you look like?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mostly?Ã¢â‚¬? He gave a desperate, breathless laugh. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Will you show me?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Are you sure?Ã¢â‚¬?
Tom thought Ã¢â‚¬ËœNo,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ but nodded anyway. He jumped when she stood up and went to the mirror. She lifted her hands to her eyes and pulled out contact lenses. Take it easy, he told himself, she warned you.
Panic rose again when she turned and gazed at him with eyes like a cat.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Most of what I told you about my past is true. I sort of neglected to mention that it happened on another planet.Ã¢â‚¬?
Tom waved his hand Ã¢â‚¬Å“Details, details.Ã¢â‚¬?
She giggled. That giggle, more than anything, helped him to regain his balance. She was still his Ari. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m gonna have to ask you all the typical Southern questions all over again. WhereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re you from?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“A planet called Vayerj.Ã¢â‚¬?
Tom sucked in a breath, because suddenly Ari spoke in harmony, the alien word lilting like a melody. Ã¢â‚¬Å“How did you do that?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have two sets of vocal folds. I use the higher set when I’m here.Ã¢â‚¬? Her voice shifted suddenly deeper. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is the lower set, solo.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh.Ã¢â‚¬? Somehow, Ari as a bass seemed weirder than everything else.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why are you here? I mean, I can’t believe ECU’s art department pulled you halfway across the universe.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, wellÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ We believe individuals, like you, are ready to handle the idea of aliens, but society as a whole is not. So we come to Earth to pick a partner that we can Reveal ourselves to, and teach.Ã¢â‚¬? She looked up at him, through her mane of hair. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wanted to tell you.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m supposed to get permission.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Does that mean I can’t ask any more questions?Ã¢â‚¬?
Aurielle hesitated. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I could loose my job.Ã¢â‚¬? At the look in his eyes, she continued Ã¢â‚¬Å“It’s not the job. I’d be pulled off planet and never see you again.Ã¢â‚¬? She played with a worn patch on her jeans.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then forget I asked, okay?Ã¢â‚¬?
She nodded, but still worried the frayed edges of fabric.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hey.Ã¢â‚¬? He went and sat down next to her. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What’s wrong?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No, I know you better than that.Ã¢â‚¬? Even if she was not human, he still knew Ari. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What’s bothering you?Ã¢â‚¬? He waited while she struggled with some decision inside herself.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m tired of hiding things from you. It feels like I’m lying all the time.Ã¢â‚¬? The breath left her body like someone losing a fight. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t evolve. We were engineered.Ã¢â‚¬?
She nodded, staring at the floor.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“SoÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ what were you before?Ã¢â‚¬?
The word sucked all sound from the room. He snatched at breath so he could ask the next question. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Did you used to be human?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Me? No. This happened over six thousand years ago. The Treiy’UuTa took a sampling of humans, created the first telbans and taught them, shaped our civilization. Then they left.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Where’d they go?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Home, we think. To watch us.Ã¢â‚¬?
He did not know what to do with this information. Tom knew what all the words meant, but below that level, he was still an ape gibbering in fear. If he could ask enough questions maybe something would make sense again.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Like an experiment?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know. There are records from the time of the Treiy’UuTa, but none of them include why we were made. We couldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been a social experiment, or a military project. We might have been a science lab. They never told us.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What about us?Ã¢â‚¬?
She hesitated. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Humans seem to have been the control group.Ã¢â‚¬?
Tom got up and paced around the narrow space of the dorm room. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So you’re here to finish up their research. Is that it?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh Tom- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have started telling you. There are films at the Post that do this much better.Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’d rather hear it from you. Is that why you’re here?Ã¢â‚¬?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No! We’re here because humans are what we were supposed to be. Because Vayerj has one culture and Earth has thousands. Things on Vayerj havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t changed since the Treiy’UuTa made us. We have no folklore, fiction yes- but we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a time before records. Earth is our history. Do you understand?Ã¢â‚¬?
She reached out to take his hand. He flinched involuntarily at her touch, and she drew back.
He could see the hurt in her eyes. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m sorry.Ã¢â‚¬?
She looked away as if that would hide the pain. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It’s okay, I should have expected it.Ã¢â‚¬?
Rohanir pushed his memories forward and felt with him.
The first frantic panicked days of knowing Aurielle was not human, was alien.
He knew how to speak Vayerji. He remembered Ari teaching him and laughing at the flatness of his pronunciation.
He remembered an afternoon playing hooky from class that was spent learning how to reach AriÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mind. The first time he touched her had nearly overwhelmed him. The soft fullness of her mind, the gentleness with which she welcomed him in had made him weep.
Rohanir pulled out of the memory and slid back into her body. She did not need to read more. He knew enough. She looked at Tom out of the corner of her eye. His mouth hung slightly open and the lines around it seemed less deeply etched.
She placed one hand gently against the side of his head. She pushed outward and down into his mind, calling for him to wake up.