Ray pulled up his sleeve, allowed the barcode on his arm to be scanned. The system processed for a beat, the black screen flickering with pale yellow numbers and letters. A green bulb flickered on the screen, meaning he’d been granted access. The doors shuttered in front of him and the tube at eye-level spritzed the cool mist of oxygen booster. Ray took a deep breath of the mist, and the second green bulb glowed. Continue reading
Jimmy was two minutes into his run when he felt winded. It’d been, what, a week since his last run outside? That’s his habit. He runs every day for a week. Feels great. Gives himself a break and then the running stops. He feels too good to determine that he needs to keep going, and then he has to find a way to bring himself back up once he collapses into a rut of reading and cleaning. His apartment is too clean, germ-free but sterile. Antiseptic, as a girl once told him. No paintings on the walls, no stray cups in the sink. The bathtub so spotless he can almost see his reflection in the porcelain. Continue reading
Pam and I sat in the tree for two hours, mainly watching and listening, and waiting. Occasionally she would ask me a question about my past, but nothing that felt too intrusive. None more than I expected, in any case.
“How did you get here? How did you know I could fly? Since when could you fly? Do you think we’re the only ones? Why do you think Mallory got so interested in you? What are we looking for?”
At almost every question, I simply shrugged and replied, “Dunno.” I don’t think she was happy with that answer. Heck, I wouldn’t be. The only thing more frustrating than a question falling on deaf ears is an answer that has no place.
But then, she asked, “What are we looking for?” To which I believed the answer to be obvious:
“Does he look like you?”
“You mean, walks on two legs, large nose, bald?”
And then it came: “Yes, but…also, you know, the whole not-human thing.” She wasn’t being sarcastic, or mean, but the comment still stung. All the time I’ve been here, I feel like I deserve to be called human despite my biological makeup. I’ve done a pretty damn good job of mimicking this species over time, I consider myself one of them.
I’ve lived in this city since a time prior to the first skyscraper. I like to put it that way because it’s more poetic than “one hundred years”. Also, I prefer the time when there were no skyscrapers. They’re not ugly, exactly, just unflattering and, frankly, too imposing. Walking between them, always looking up, you feel a sense of unworthiness which is just offensive. We’re all worthy, you and I, so why did we build such imposing structures to remind us how small we are?
I suppose we need to be reminded at times. I certainly do. I felt like a big fish in a small pond when I came to this planet with my son. He was tiny, then, no bigger than, well, a goldfish. (Ha ha ha. Isn’t it funny how your metaphors can actually reflect the truth more than you thought they would when you first thought of them?)
But to answer Pam’s question, I simply said, “My son looks like I did when I was very young, yes, but he’ll soon grow to be like me, maybe even bigger. The air here is much more healthy than I’d experienced as a youngling.”
She smiled, eyes searching the park. I don’t believe she even knew what we were looking for, but like many of our people, instinct took over. “When did you arrive on this planet?” I asked, careful to keep my voice low. In my hundred years in this city I’ve only met a very few others of my Kind, and none of them liked to talk about their past lives, their differences to humans.
“I was born here.” She replied, as though I was silly for even asking. This shocked me. We’ve not been here very long, so anyone born here should still be, well, like my son. Incubating.
“But you seem so —”
“Can we not talk about it? Mallory doesn’t know, her mother doesn’t know…”
“So, you’re not related to them?”
“I knew Lenore in school, we became close. That’s why I’m able to still be ‘Aunt Pam’ to Mallory. But they don’t know me, truly, the way you seem to know me.” She looked at me then, questioning. “How did you know? That I was, well, different.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You seemed not surprised when we flew.”
She nodded, bowing her head. “Obviously. Stupid question. So, tell me more about your son, so I can spot him.”
“I figured you would know — ”
I stopped because there he was, sitting at the edge of the pond below us. For days I’d waited, and not a sign of him. Then, suddenly, he was there, right below us. I could almost smell his breath, the moss and dirt and corroded scent of death that always lingered after he left your presence. He was taller than I remember, but it’d been so long…
“What? What is it?” Pam was begging me for an answer, for I don’t know how long. I looked over and she’d been tugging at my sleeve, I must’ve drowned her out in my focus, my sudden hypnosis at seeing my brother for the first time in a hundred years.
“TRENT!” He shouted, still looking out over the pond. He removed his hat, and his bald head was covered in dirt, almost completely black. “I’VE JOURNEYED LONG TO BE HERE SINCE YOUR FAILURE. THE LEAST YOU COULD DO IS LOOK ME IN THE EYES BEFORE I KILL YOU.”