I leave home without my simulator, not because I don’t like them or because it is broken; I misplaced it. News programs and neighbors tell us to keep our simulator handy, even if it isn’t playing, for the security features, but Sharon expects me at noon and I am never late. I am only going a short distance, across town to the museum. That is not to say I am not afraid.
Alone and exposed to the world, I walk to the subway.
Welcome to the Doomsday Device Helpdesk! My name is Damien. What seems to be the problem?
Yes sir, I apologize for the hold times. They’re—
Yes, sixteen years is a long time to—
“Go on, dear,” urges Janice, pushing her through the door of the First Contact Community Centre. “Trust me. This is exactly what you need.”
Maya’s not so sure. What she really needs is an evening away from her problems. All those hundreds and thousands of problems scurrying through her cupboards and burrowing under her carpets. Who’d have guessed an alien invasion would have quite so many legs? She shudders, sitting down beside an embarrassed looking lady with thick rimmed glasses and braids, and tries her best to look invisible.
“Welcome,” says the man from the newly formed Inpestation Information Board. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course I’m not here for me,” Janice tells the people in the next row. Just loudly enough for the entire room to hear. “Maya’s the one with the horrible creatures.”
“You won’t burn my wedding pictures.” I extended my hand, demanding the memory stick back.
“Naiomi, you plugged this into your work computer?” Carter ground his teeth while taking a deep breath, following it with a sigh. “I’ll have to run a full scan to see what kind of virus you’ve given it. You know the security policies. Your memory stick is now company property. You signed the same NDA we all signed. I’m throwing this memory stick into the incinerator.”
“They’re the only copy of my wedding pictures, and I need to get them off that stick.” I tossed my single, long, blond braid over my shoulder for effect. I doubted tossing my braid looked terrifying. Perhaps if I swung my head around and whipped him across the face with it.
“Wow. Well, never say you can’t trust a copper salt merchant,” Connor said.
Ayumi gave him an inquiring glance.
“Is that a common saying?”
“But what did they put it way out here for?” he continued, gesturing the screen where their ship’s camera focused in on the alien structure. “Two jumps in dead space, not so much as an asteroid within a parsec of it.”
“That might be a bit of an exaggeration,” Ayumi said, smiling, as she watched the telemetry unfold. “But, yes. You’re right. We never would’ve found it without the trail of rumors that began with a wine-sodden copper salt merchant.”
“Was he? I didn’t know there was a market for wine-sodden copper salts.”
“I want to be young forever,” Deirdre announced to the Decider, when her turn to enter the room finally came.
He looked up from his terminal but finished tapping a few more keys before giving her his full attention.
“Yes, that’s what we usually hear,” he said in a flat voice. She thought she detected some sarcasm, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t there to enjoy his personality.
Dark webbing still marks my shoulder from the day that bullets separated my squad from our company. The bleeding would’ve killed me if my comrades hadn’t bandaged it. But isolated from medical equipment, we couldn’t stop the scarring.
Gary ducked into the pressure suit locker pulling it shut behind him. The stench of sweat and disinfectant pushed him back against the locker door. He shoved himself into the claustrophobic space at the back of the locker’s rack where a third suit normally hung.
His rapid heart beat made him shake. If any of the officers saw him, he’d be scrubbing urinals with his tooth brush, or worse. He just couldn’t do the drills today. Not today. They were dropping tomorrow and he needed alone time.
Gary slumped down in the dark as much as the cramped locker allowed. His back pressed against one wall with his knees painfully jamming the locker wall in front of him.
“It won’t be that bad when they shut off grav,” Gary reminded himself in a mutter.
Andy sat on the edge of his bed, hands cuffed behind him. Uniformed police finished carrying the last folders out of Andy’s apartment. His computer, all the contents of his filing cabinet, and even his checkbook left with the last of the uniformed officers.
A suit-clad detective made one last sweep of the apartment. He spotted the phone sitting in its cradle by Andy’s bed.
“Almost forgot your phone.” He grinned at Andy. “Not that we need it after what we found on your computer.”
I remember quite distinctly the day I met him. One does not easily forget the strangest day in one’s life. It was a soggy morning, gray and overcast; fitting indeed I should think for what would soon take place. He stood at my doorstep, gripped my hand with unearned familiarity and smiling at me, attempted to enter my house.
While he appeared vaguely familiar, I was quite certain I had never made his acquaintance. “Pardon, sir,” I said abruptly, blocking his path. “But I am not in the habit of allowing strangers into my home.”