The Amant Chronicles - Jennifer's Legacy Preview
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“Transport pass please,” stated the attendant mechanically as he tapped the keyboard and stared at his monitor. I reached into my purse and placed it on the counter. His tired eyes peered up at me, and he shuddered, staring at my larger alien eyes while his color paled and his mouth slowly drew open. The moment turned into two as his hand slowly, blindly slid across the counter and fumbled into my ticket.
“Oh, are you one of those crossbreeds?” he whispered drily in response.
“Excuse me?” I snapped. “It’s Qyron-human!”
I felt the hair on my neck bristle. Only the ignorant used the term “crossbreed” to label us.
His hand quivered as he gave me a nervous smile and then fumbled on his keyboard. The feeble smirk he presented reminded me of a plastic grin that a woman gives her fat, ugly mother-in-law at Christmas time. I stared at his bad comb-over, which left obvious gaps on his scalp, making it look more like satellite terrain than a greasy head of hair. Thick-rimmed glassed hung clumsily on his thin nose while he clicked away at his console.
I turned away in disgust and peered down the passageway, noting that the renovations of the old airport were finally completed.
“Uh, as a translator, you have a first-class suite available to you on the transport. Is, uh, there anything else I can do for you, Miss Ducet?”
I turned my glance back to him as he shifted his stance nervously and extended the boarding pass. I leaned back across the counter and snatched the pass from his wiry fingers.
“How soon does the transport leave for Beta Lyrae?”
He peered back to his monitor and adjusted his glasses. “You have an hour and twenty minutes, and you’re at gate two.” He gave out a dry cough and then looked across to me again. “I was screened for translator,” he blurted out.
“Really?” I scoffed. “Sorry that it didn’t work out for you.” I exhaled loudly.
I quickly spun around, reached down and grabbed my leather bag, and then turned and stormed down the walkway.
I’m so tired of these interactions, between the uncomfortable stares and everyone wanting this job. No one realizes just how demanding this is. They see only the money to be made and not the lifelong commitment, protracted travel times, and extended working hours.
I glanced at a painting on the wall of a moonscape from colony Theta Nine. I’ve actually stood on Theta Nine and can say that being there in person is so much more breathtaking; something this painting could never hope to recreate.
The soft feel of the bright, new, rubberized carpet under my heels cushioned me as I strode down the passageway. Lush plants and flowers guarded the hallway as their fragrance delighted in tickling my nose. Clear, curved skylights allowed the sunlight free reign to pour down, fully illuminating the passageway and adding a true warmth to the walk. A smooth jazz tune echoed through the hall as my scowl faded into a gentle smile.
The airports of old had finally been remodeled as today’s transport stations. At first there was resistance, as many groups moaned over the loss in historic value. But once the more popular airports, such as LAX and Narita, were lavishly remodeled, few could argue against it. Drab waiting areas and sterile walkways now exploded in rich color with local flair. All of the latest in amenities were available to travelers, including up-to-date linked planetary Wi-Fi. In addition, the huge tracts of land needed for the runways were torn up and repurposed for housing and office buildings.
As I strolled to the opening of gates 1 and 2, the smooth sound of jazz was slowly overtaken by the background clamor of thousands of conversations. I peered at the bank of seats on the first level.
Ugh, the great unwashed masses.
As I surveyed the room, looking for an empty seat, a rubber kickball rolled across the passageway and bounded into my leg. A small child of maybe six, laughing and shrieking with joy, ran after it. As he caught sight of me, his patter screeched to a halt. His wide, happy eyes and huge, laughing smile froze into a look of shock while his arms remained outstretched for the ball.
“Here you are,” I said with a smile as I tapped the ball with my foot.
It slowly rolled back to him and gently bounced off his leg. His expression remained unchanged as the ball slowly rolled back toward me.
“Get your ball!” I huffed. “You little mongrel,” I finished in an angry whisper.
A woman twice the width as she was tall stood up and waddled her way over to him. Wearing the same offensive stare, she latched onto his arm and tugged him, pulling him off balance.
“Come nah, Tannah!” she yelped in a southern drawl while keeping solid eye contact on me.
“Really? I’m not a monster!” I hissed as I took a step toward them.
She immediately jerked him to her side as he let out a scream. Several other passengers stopped talking and directed their attention to us. I shook my head in disgust then turned and continued my search for an empty seat.
A single voice suddenly rang out over the din.
I quickly turned to the right and spotted a man dressed in a dark suit, waving in the distance.
Who is that?
I slowly walked toward the figure and squinted as the distance closed. As I approached, I felt a surge of adrenaline and exclaimed in shock, “Johnny?”
I instantly felt flush, and my heart stopped for a moment. John quickly dashed the last few steps and hugged me tightly. Still in shock, I let out a squeak.
“Wow, I can’t believe it; it’s you, Amant! I’m speechless. My gosh, where have you been?” John rattled off, his eyes wide as he wore a huge grin.
My breath was still hostage; my heart fluttered. I could only smile as we stared at each other for a moment. Johnny was so stunning in his dark gray suit. His jet-black hair was nicely slicked back; this was funny because, as a kid, he never combed it. I always liked his eyes—so thoughtful and caring. As I stared into them, they seemed to be an even darker brown than I remembered. He had actually grown too; he now stood several inches taller than me.
John’s expression was bright and jubilant as he exclaimed, “What happened? Why did you leave so suddenly all those years ago?”
John’s questions came at a bullet’s speed. I continued to stare in shock, my mouth open while I shook my head.
“Oh, I’m sorry; um, let’s sit down!” Johnny said as he hurriedly grabbed my hand.
I could feel his soft touch as he escorted me back to his seat. He moved his jacket from the adjacent chair and pointed to the plush leather seat as I sat down, my eyes still locked on him.
“Wow, I can’t believe it. You look incredible, Johnny—so … so grown!” I exclaimed as my senses finally returned.
John blushed as I said it. I then noticed his ears turn red. I couldn’t hold back the smile.
“Nice red ears, mouse!”
John burst into laughter.
“You will never let me live that down!” He moved his hands to cover his small, rosy red ears. “It’s been a long time—at least ten years. Wow, how have you been?” John said, shaking his head. “I have so many questions. I just can’t believe that I bumped into you! Here! After ten years!”
John paused a moment. His eyes, which were darting back and forth, now focused firmly on my face.
“My God, you … you look i-incredibly …” He smiled. “You are so beautiful, Amant!” he whispered.
His hand slid over mine. His fingers gently caressed while his eyes sparkled. Now it was my turn to blush. My face even started to hurt from smiling—something that I realized was foreign to me.
“So how are your mom and your dad? I haven’t talked with them in a while. Oh, and your job?” John asked with an ear-to-ear grin. His hand squeezed mine in excitement.
“Well,” I took in a deep breath, still reeling. “I’ve been quite busy translating,” I panted. “So much travel and always on the go, plus all my studies to get my degrees,” I squeezed his hand back, nervous and trembling. “The schedule has been torture, really!” I gave out a nervous laugh and then a dry cough. “So much so that I haven’t been back to Earth in quite some time. My, um, dad? Uh, yes, he’s doing fine.”
I paused a moment, breathing heavily as his words finally registered.
“Wow, ten years, Johnny?”
John gave me a stunned look; it must have been in response to my expression. If you had asked me five minutes earlier how long had it been since I left the neighborhood, I would have said “maybe five years” with utter confidence. John nodded, pushing me to continue.
“Wow, um, where to start? Well, I’ve been to eight other colonies and all over planet Earth. I’ve met with every political leader, industry mogul …” I paused again and shook my head. “It’s really been nonstop with work. Plus I went from finishing my high school diploma to a dual master’s degree. I … I haven’t vacationed in years!”
My voice trailed off as the realization struck with me like a stiff wind. The time really had flown by, and I hadn’t done a thing for myself in far too long.
John peered down at my hand.
“So, not married, I see,” his sparkling eyes drew back up to meet mine. I blushed again and gently nodded.
“Wow, traveling all the time? I can only imagine the sights you’ve seen,” John said with a smile. “This is my first trip ever off Earth. Oh, I did see a special on Theta Nine the other day; it looked stunning. Have you been there?”
“Are you kidding me, Johnny? Of course!” I shot back with a giggle. “It’s the jewel of all the colonies!” I slapped his hand playfully, and he smiled.
“Oh, Johnny. I can’t begin to describe the absolute majesty of the sight from the moon. The binary stars electrify the oxygen and hydrogen gas, and it just spirals and swirls as it’s being absorbed into the massive gas giant Theta. It’s like an aurora everywhere in the sky, but it’s most brilliant at nighttime. And I was even lucky enough to see a spiral of nitrogen—the colors … just breathtaking!”
“Wow, so it’s all that it’s cracked up to be,” John responded. He shifted in his seat and then cleared his throat. “Why haven’t you been back to the neighborhood? Why didn’t”—he paused and swallowed hard—“Why didn’t you ever call me!” The cheer and excitement he had oozed a moment before were completely gone. His eyes tightly focused on mine as his smile stiffened flat. The words hung in the air as the mood crashed down.
“Please, with what time?” I nervously laughed aloud. I could feel a slight tremble in my hands.
“My … my life has just been so crazily busy with one conference after another, nonstop transports while brokering deals, and studying for my degrees. It’s actually been quite ridiculous.” I shuffled my hands and shifted in my seat.
“I have five homes on five planets, and I can’t tell you the last time I spent two weeks straight in any of them. I’m too busy, you know, um.”
I noticed a man pass by me with a tattered shirt and dirty pants, glaring at me as he walked by.
“Oh, really? Okay.” John’s voice drew down; it lacked the rich enthusiasm of earlier. “Well, quite a bit has changed since you’ve been gone. The Wilsons sold their place and retired.”
My gaze stayed on the man as he sat down an aisle away.
“The new owners finally changed the color of the house,” John stated, his left brow raised.
“Wait, what? The Wilsons?”
I couldn’t for the life of me remember which family they were on the block.
“Seriously? You don’t remember the Wilsons and their electric-pink house? It’s no longer pink!” John’s eyes opened wide with anticipation.
“Oh my,” I laughed, “those were the Wilsons? Ha! Yes, I remember thinking that I loved that house when I was five, but by age ten I wanted to sneak over at night and paint it any other color!”
We both burst out laughing. John then started talking about other neighbors while I panned the first area of gate 1 and noticed something rather odd. Many of the passengers were dressed quite poorly. I glanced at a few dozen of the people across from us; they were wearing nothing more than dirty T-shirts and jeans. Worse than the sight, though, was the odor. An older man of maybe sixty strolled by, and I was awash in a hideous stench that was wholly unbearable. I could have slept in a garbage bin and smelled a world better than he. I then panned down one tier, to the second level. It seated about a thousand, and it too was packed. I couldn’t spot a clean shirt or washed face in the entire group; perish the thought of finding any man clean shaven or in a suit like Johnny.
“… so then he burped! Can you believe it?” John exclaimed. I immediately jolted back to the conversation. John sat with his eyes wide and mouth open, waiting for me to respond.
“Oh, I apologize, Johnny; I wasn’t paying attention.”
John frowned, and the excitement drained from his face. I leaned in toward him.
“Did you notice the condition of these people?” I whispered. “It seems that everyone just walked out of a dust storm or something.”
John pivoted in his chair. He gazed around the area and then turned his view back toward me.
“Yes, they do seem a bit worse for wear. Why, what’s the concern?” His eyebrow rose, and he squinted at me.
“Well, not a concern as much as an observation, John. I mean, they’re disgusting and unkempt.”
“I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘disgusting’ to describe them. It looks like a few of them could use a shower, but—”
“A few!” I couldn’t believe he wasn’t alarmed by this. “John, some of them stink like they haven’t bathed in over a week. It’s utterly uncultured!”
John turned his head slightly as he looked at me. A moment passed, and a smile then returned to his lips.
“Well, yeah, I did get a whiff of that one guy who walked by us—quite powerful.” He laughed. “I thought the leaves on the plants would have fallen off.”
I burst out laughing; the comment just tickled me. John joined me, and we both laughed aloud for a minute.
“Well,” John said as he wiped his eyes, “I think they’re all on the transport to Gamma Five. It’s a new colony, so maybe they’re all workers or something.”
I was still laughing and finally stopped.
“John, seriously, it’s 2280, and even the lowliest of workers make a hundred grand and can afford a nice house, clean clothing, and a shower.”
“I don’t know; maybe it’s their religion,” John riffed sarcastically. “They pray to dirt and this is a holy day?”
I completely lost it.
I laughed so loudly that several people stopped talking and stared angrily at us. I can’t remember a time before when I laughed so hard. Wait; yes I can. It was when I was with Johnny. He always had the ability to make me laugh, many times, until my stomach hurt.
How could I have forgotten that?
“Oh, Johnny, you have to stop it!” I slapped his hand playfully. My face ached from smiling.
An overhead announcement called for the boarding of the transport to Gamma Five at gate 1. We were still giggling when many of the people around us stood up and began to collect their things.
John then took to his feet.
“Where are you going, Johnny?”
“This is my transport; I’m going to Gamma Five for a new job.”
“Oh please, stop; no more jokes,” I laughed. “My side’s going to split.”
I continued to giggle as John picked up his bag.
“No, I’m serious, Amant. I’m starting a new job on Gamma Five. I’m going to work in new product development. I start a week after we land there.”
I stood up, alarmed. It suddenly seemed surreal, as though I had found my long-lost brother and now he was stepping back into oblivion.
“No, wait! You—you can’t go now, Johnny!”
I felt a sharp twinge in my throat, and my heart beat faster. My face felt flush, and I had a hard time breathing. John set his bag on the seat and reached in as I grabbed his arm. He paused and stared into my eyes. Time seemed to stop; nay, it seemed to warp back ten years, to when we were younger. All of the noise of the other passengers washed away. I stood there grasping the hand of a fifteen-year-old boy, his dark brown eyes probing mine. My body tingled.
“Amant?” John said, shattering my trance. “Before I go, can you tell me why you left so abruptly ten years ago?”
My heart ached at his question. I felt paralyzed, his words were like a dagger plunging into my chest. My eyes opened wide, and I sucked air into my mouth. I heard a slow but audible “uh” escape my lips as I finally exhaled. John’s eyes remained locked on mine.
“Oh. Johnny, I, um,” I stumbled.
“Boarding on gate 1 for Gamma Five!” The announcement droned overhead.
John sighed and nodded. The edge of his mouth drew down, and he blinked slowly.
“Here, this is my business card, and here’s my signal code. Call me when you get a chance; I’d love to catch back up with you,” John whispered as he stared into my eyes.
He leaned in and gave me the warmest hug I can remember. My knees buckled, electricity coursed through my body, and my breath drew short as he gently rubbed my back. A tender trace of his cologne wafted up. It was intoxicating. He pulled back and looked down at me. I felt woozy.
“It was truly mind-blowing seeing you again, Amant,” he paused. “After so many years.”
John took a half step away.
“I wish we had more time to catch up, but …”
He looked down for a moment, gazing at his shoes.
“Please, keep in touch!”
His eyes commanded my attention. They pleaded with me. I stood like a statue.
John quickly moved in close and kissed my cheek. I felt a tingle that shot through me, and I shuddered. John then picked up his bag and turned, walking toward the loading doors.
I suddenly realized that my lips were pursed and I was still leaning backward. I must have looked like a silly little ten-year-old schoolgirl who had just gotten her first kiss, frozen in the moment.
“Uh, bye Johnny. Thanks!” was all that I could muster. Inside I was screaming and kicking myself. I translate for a living between the Qyron and the leaders of industry, countries, and worlds. I am never at a loss for words, yet here I stood, dumbfounded and nearly speechless.
John peered back one last time and nodded at me as he stepped through the entry doors.
I eased back down into my seat. I felt sick and broken; I couldn’t concentrate. As my mind raced, I peered over at a group of people across the aisle. They were staring intently at me as they gathered their things. A few of them whispered and shook their heads. I leaned down and grabbed my leather case and pulled out my laptop. I tapped a few keys and quickly opened an application—the stellar map. After locating Earth and Beta Lyrae, I then searched for Gamma Five. I couldn’t find it.
How is that possible?
I then performed a full-level search and finally located it. The Gamma system was part of the same cluster of stars directly between Earth and Beta Lyrae. I jumped out of my seat, as if launched from a coiled spring, and ran over to the attendant counter. As I reached the ticket counter for gate one, the associate looked up at me.
“What da yew want?”
I gave the attendant a sharp glance as I frantically pulled out my ticket. He was a stout man with thick, hairy arms. Yellow teeth drew the eyes in and away from the mangy assortment of hair he called a mustache. A brown chunk of some food item clung precariously to the side of his mouth. As I peered up, I noted the thick brown curly hair that swirled around his hat. It was a tattered baseball cap from some old movie called Rocky. He stood behind the counter, chewing loudly on gum, and produced a sour look. I quickly pushed the ticket out in front of him.
“I need to change my trip from Beta Lyrae to Gamma Five.”
The attendant snatched the pass from my hand with a jerk and a look of displeasure. He exhaled loudly and then looked at the pass and shuddered.
“Oh, you’re a trans-lay-tore. Pssh!” He rolled his eyes and gave me a salty look. “Yew get paid millions uh dollars and suck up the rich life. Yeah, I seen ya on the teevee a lot.” He sighed and rolled his eyes as he waved the ticket at me.
I continued to stare at him and drew my hands to my hips. He chortled and then looked up from his monitor.
“You shure ya want ta go tuh Gamma Fyive?”
The smacking of his gum punctuated every other word.
“Did I stutter? Are you hearing impaired! Yes, damn it! Put me on that transport!”
I could feel the fire inside me building. Time was quickly rushing away, along with Johnny. I wanted nothing more than to jump over that counter and slap the ugly clean from his soul. His rudeness was equaled only by the nauseating stench of his body odor. I quickly glanced back over my shoulder. The huge throng of people at the boarding doors was now a thinning trickle of passengers, and John wasn’t among them. He began to chew the gum in his mouth louder and slower; then he peered up at me.
“This is a basic transport; there ain’t no first class fer yew, Missy.”
He said the last part with a slight lilt in his voice and a queer little smile. I could barely contain myself; the anger now roiled inside me. I had no time to waste, and he was dragging his feet just to provoke my annoyance.
“Last call for boarding on the shuttle to Gamma Five,” squawked an announcement overhead.
That was it; I reached across the counter and grabbed the troll’s hand. I clenched it hard. At first, he didn’t resist and continued to give me a sick little smile. But then I squeezed harder—much harder. His eyes opened wide, and the gum fell out of his mouth.
“Ow, by dammit!” he screamed.
He tried to snatch his hand from my grasp, but I pulled him hard toward me. His stomach slammed into the counter. A glass bottle jangled and fell over while several pens danced about on the countertop.
“You’ll dispense with the foul attitude,” I seethed, “and get me on this transport before I crush your fat little hand!”
“Ow, let go!” he pleaded. “I can’t dew that if ya break mah hand!” he cried out.
I released my grip, and he pulled his hand close. He had just begun to massage it when I flinched forward again. He jumped back. His cheeks flushed, and his bottom lip quivered.
“Now!” I screamed.
My patience was razor thin. I wanted to be on this transport in the worst way, and this disgusting creature’s poor attitude was not going to cause me to miss it. He lurched at the terminal and furiously began to type. His bottom lip trembled, and his hand shook, but he continued to clack away on the keyboard.
“Aw, what’s dis shit?” he bellowed.
I shifted my view and leaned over the counter to spy the screen. The display continued to pop up a bright red bar that flashed “DENIED” when he tried to move me over to the Gamma Five transport. He then backed out and looked at the manifest. It listed 4,720 people and the total capacity of the shuttle was 5,000. He glanced at me quickly with a hurt look and glassy eyes.
“I been doin this fer years, and this ain’t never happen’d,” he whimpered.
His eyes were large, and his earlier defiant look was replaced with a woefully sorry pout.
“If you’re stalling on purpose, so help me!” My voice steamed with anger as I clenched my fists.
“Naw! I’m not!” He shot back with a pained look. “I never had dis issue before; lemme see if I can change dis,” he yelled back nervously.
His fingers trembled as he punched a few more keys. I looked over my shoulder again to see the last few passengers walk through the boarding gate.
Finally a boarding pass issued from the printer. He grabbed the ticket and gave me a solemn look. I peered down at it. It was a general boarding pass with no identification.
“No first class! Can’t you bump someone?”
I had never traveled in anything but first class and didn’t want to start now.
“I done tol’ ya, there ain’t no first class wit’ dis shuttle,” he sniveled while massaging his sore red hand. “Yew got da same room as ever’body else.”
He took a step backward, maybe in fear that I would launch myself across the counter and slap him unconscious. I wanted to. Oh, I so wanted to. I took a step forward and leaned over the counter.
“I appreciate you working through this issue, but I must say that I am sorely troubled by your lack of respect and discourteous behavior. If I had the luxury of time, I would discuss this gross shortcoming with your supervisor. And be clear on this,” I hissed. “It would lead to your dismissal.”
I turned and dashed over to my seat and hurriedly grabbed my bags. I noticed several people staring at the two of us in shock as I ran by them. I arrived at the door to the shuttle as they prepared to close it. A boarding agent glanced at me and smiled as the door slammed closed behind me. I gave out a large exhale and thanked the female attendant. She scanned my ticket, and an audible tone sounded from her handheld device. She looked up at me confusedly as she scanned it a second time and another tone sounded.
“I’m sorry; not sure why this won’t work.” She then clicked a few buttons and handed my ticket back.
“I just overrode the error. But that’s weird,” she mumbled to herself.
I gazed at my ticket; I was in room L-109.
As I made my way to my room, I felt the shuttle begin to pull upward. In seconds we were moving up quickly and the announcement was made that we had left the Earth’s atmosphere. I felt a twinge of dizziness, but it quickly abated as the artificial gravity came online.
As I walked to my room, I was immediately stricken with the obvious difference in this shuttle: the pale gray passageways were completely void of character. No pictures hung on the walls. No flowers or green plants stood along the passageway. The standard rubberized carpet was missing; I heard only the tinny clacking of my heels on the deck. Even the lighting in the passageway was substandard and yellowish. It seemed that every other light was out, and only the dull hum of the transport filled the air—an air which, I might add, smelled more of mildew and sweat than a warm spring day.
I finally reached my room and opened the door. A horrible, tangy odor rushed at me—a blend of stinky feet and onions would have been my guess. I paused at the terminal and tapped my cell phone to upload my preferences. It took my musical tastes, movie selections, and even my favorite drinks, which would be automatically shuttled to my mini fridge. Jazz music began to play, and the lights softly illuminated. That’s when the full view of the room overwhelmed me. A small brown couch with faded cloth covering, accented with various stains, sat in the center of the room with two chairs and a monitor that appeared to have been cleaned with a Brillo pad. The carpet looked as though it was decades old, with a few tears and a plethora of blemishes. In front of the couch sat a tired and worn coffee table. Several gouges in the wood and various water stains adorned its top. I just stared in disbelief.
I walked over to the table and picked up the remote. I turned on the monitor and was amazed that the picture was rather clear despite the various scratches on its surface.
On the opposing side of the room, I noted two cupboards with one door slightly askew and a sink that framed the tiny kitchenette. It was apparent that cleanliness was next to nothing in this room. Various food stains were everywhere, and as I took a step, something sticky tried to keep my foot planted on the floor. I quickly strolled into the bedroom to see a queen-size bed with two dressers. Not to be outdone by the ambiance of the kitchen or living room, the bed sported several gross blemishes that I wasn’t brave enough to guess the origins of, and the thin carpet squished under my feet. A fake plant sat atop the one dresser, covered in a thick layer of dust, and a faded print, torn in the center, hung on the wall. To the right was a small bathroom; I wasn’t feeling the confidence at this point to venture in.
“Ugh, this is so disgusting and primitive,” I exhaled aloud.
A tone sounded.
“Come in,” I yelled in disgust.
The front door opened, and an attendant rolled in a cart holding my three large pieces of luggage. He started to shove them off of the cart. The first one toppled over and slammed into the wall, followed quickly by the second one.
“Excuse me! Can you treat them with a little respect?”
The attendant stopped and gave me a blank stare. “Uh, sorry.” He grabbed the last piece and placed it on the floor.
As he turned to leave, I walked over and asked him, “Can you tell me why this room is such a filthy, stinking mess?”
The attendant only returned a dead stare. I immediately sensed that his amount of enthusiasm rivaled that of the hairy troll I had dealt with moments before at the ticket counter. He then peered around the room and finished his gaze back to me, all with his mouth slightly ajar.
“Uh, I mean, I just started, but I can look into it and, like, let you know,” he said with a meek tone and one eye half closed.
I had to stifle a laugh. I was almost expecting a whole crew to jump out from behind the door and yell ‘surprise’. Every transport I had traveled on was impeccably clean and furnished with the very best furniture and decorating flair. This room was more akin to an animal pen than a room fit for humans—especially in odor. I shook my head in revulsion at the slack-jawed attendant as he turned and quickly pushed the cart out the door and into the passageway.
I tromped over to the terminal, batting away the sticky strands of hair from my eyes.
“Computer, are there any other rooms available for transfer?”
A standard computer voice responded, “All room assignments are final. If you have any issues, you may call for a steward or maintenance technician.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” I yelled.
“Please restate your question,” the computer replied.
I exhaled as I closed my eyes and shook my head. I couldn’t believe that this was the room that I had been given and was stuck with! The thoughts of the other passengers then popped into my head. For them, this would be home. Filthy, disgusting, and stench ridden—they would be delighted, I’m sure.
“Computer, location of the nearest laundry facility,” I huffed.
An overhead map illuminated on the terminal. The laundry was a few doors down from my room.
I spent the next several hours washing my bed linens and blanket while I scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom. I also placed a repair order for carpet cleaning and was given a response that it could be three days until that could be completed. I guessed I would need to keep my shoes on until then.
Hot, sweaty, and tired, I asked the terminal one last question: “Location of John Crowley?”
The terminal responded, “John Crowley is in room Alpha 42.” A passageway map illuminated on the monitor, showing the route. As I stood there contemplating and sweating, a sudden growl broke the silence; my stomach was tired of being ignored and not to be denied.
I walked over to the bathroom. As the lights illuminated, I looked into the mirror. My painstakingly detailed hair, which I had coiled into a bun, now fell about. Strands of hair clung to my sweaty face. The gray business suit I wore was splashed with the foul food and funk of the room as I had cleaned. My crushed suede gray shoes were sticky with filth. I felt torn between the urge to scream in anger and the building demand to cry. As I turned to open the shower door, my hand bumped the counter and I broke a nail.
“Damn it!” I yelled out.
The proverbial camel’s back broke, and I started to cry. The anger and emotion issued forth as I quickly undressed. I sniveled as I stepped into the shower.
The hot water felt so good. The warm pulses massaged me. I closed my eyes for a solid ten minutes. It was the first right thing in my room, and it not only washed away the sweat and grime but also carried some of my angst with it.
After the shower, I dressed in some clean clothes and made my way toward the dining hall. I walked by several passengers who thought nothing of gawking at me while I passed by. I was too tired and hungry at this point to care.
When I reached the cafeteria, I grabbed a tray and started to gaze at the food. Two men in front of me were staring and whispering to each other. The first man, with a small, stocky frame; greasy hair; and a bushy beard, grunted and finally mumbled aloud over his shoulder.
“What’s that doing here?”
I quickly shifted my scrutiny to him and placed both hands on my hips.
“Is there something you want to say to me?” I uttered loudly enough for most people in the dining hall to overhear.
Several other passengers stopped eating and turned their glances in our direction. The loud conversations that had been deafening the room now ceased, and an eerie calm settled over us. The two men gave shocked looks. The fat man’s buddy then whispered aloud.
“It can talk!”
Beyond those words, neither of them moved an inch.
“Oh, so now you’re all quiet!” I yelled back at him.
I was in no mood. I had spent the last three hours cleaning copious amounts of unknown filth from a transport room that was no larger than many of the closets in my house. I was tired, and I was hungry. My dealings with the gate 1 ticket troll and the luggage attendant had left my patience on a razor-thin line that this bigot was trampling on.
The first man finally turned around to face me. I took my hands off my hips and clenched my fists. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I awaited a response. The second man grabbed the arm of the first and started to pull him away. While I felt that a fight may have been a fitting release for all of my anger and tension, I was glad that it failed to materialize. I was reaching a point of exhaustion. I just wanted to eat my food and enjoy a solid bit of sleep. The two men turned and pushed their trays along.
I turned back, grabbed my tray, and continued on with my food selection. I passed over the seafood, steaks, and pasta. After grabbing a salad, two hot roast beef sandwiches, a bowl of soup, green beans, corn, a side of garlic mashed potatoes, and three brownies, I sat down at a corner table. A few of the other passengers gave me curious looks while I dined, but no one uttered a word, and I was fine with that.
When I finished eating—the roast beef was delicious—I decided to take a walk around the transport. I found the gym on Echo Deck. I almost screamed out loud. The gym was a fraction of the size of those that all other shuttles enjoyed. It lacked a swimming pool and racquetball courts. Even the equipment was in less-than-stellar shape. The area reeked of month-old sweat, and many of the machines were not wiped down. There was no cooler of flavored waters or fresh towels; nor was there an overhead stream of music. As I looked across the gym, several men stopped and stared. I suddenly felt like a piece of meat on display for a pack of hungry wolves. One man stood up from a weight bench, his buddies slapping his back as he began his strut toward me. I turned and strolled out of the gym, as the odor was beginning to make me queasy.
“Hey, hold on please!” called out a voice from behind. I stopped and slowly turned, now standing outside the gym in a more suitable space. He trotted over to me—a large man, over six feet tall with a dark complexion. He had a very impressive physique, with bulging, veiny arms; a nicely chiseled broad chest with rock-hard abs; thick, muscular legs; and a sheen of sweat. I peered back up to notice that he caught me looking him over.
“If you like what you see, feel free to touch,” he said coolly.
I rolled my eyes and frowned.
“What can I do for you?” I sighed loudly, with tired annoyance in my voice.
He gave me a slight smile and looked me up and down while nodding.
“I just wanted to make sure that you weren’t scared away,” he said in a smooth, deep-toned voice. “I saw you looking into the gym, and I know how some of those guys can seem a little intimidating. I would be more than happy to show you around, and if you like, you can work out with me.”
I had to bite my lip. I wanted to laugh out loud, because his come-on seemed a bit tired. But another part of me found his muscular body enticing, and his voice and demeanor exuded a bit of confidence, which I found sexy.
“Maybe another time. I just ate, and I feel tired.”
“That’s fine too. How about I tuck you in?”
I giggled. He had caught me off guard with that one.
“There, I like that smile,” he said as he took a step forward. “Your smaller Qyron mouth is so sexy.”
He grabbed my hand in his and looked into my eyes.
“I have never seen anyone as gorgeous as you. If you don’t mind me asking, do I detect a little African along with the Qyron in you?”
I’m not sure if it was the exhaustion or the full belly, but I suddenly felt a little warm.
“Uh, why yes, actually.” The words were barely louder than a whisper. “I’m Qyron, German, and African.”
“Wow, that’s quite a fascinating mix; I’m all African,” he said as he slowly walked around me.
Part of me wanted to slap him for being a pig by checking me out so blatantly, but I had to admit I was starting to feel it.
“So I missed your name, sweet miss; I’m Brad,” he said as he sauntered back into view.
“Amant, my name is Amant,” I said softly.
He tenderly grabbed my right hand, brought it up, and kissed it.
“Amant, what a beautiful name, befitting a Nubian queen. It suits you well.” His eyes were probing me, and a slight smile crossed his lips. “So, Amant, why don’t we …” He grabbed both my hands and began to pull me close.
I immediately pulled back.
“No, I’m sorry,” I blurted out as I withdrew my hands. “I’m tired, really. It’s … it’s been a very long day for me.”
I felt my rate of breathing increase, and Brad gave me a look of surprise.
“I’m sorry; I … I should go now,” I stuttered as I took a step back.
Brad reached out, trying to grab my hand again. I turned and took hold of his hand firmly.
“Brad, I appreciate the attention; really, I do. But I’m exhausted, and I’m going back to my room alone. I’m sure that I’ll see you around.”
I released my grip and turned around. I noticed that all of the gym rats were hanging at the entrance of the gym, staring on.
“I certainly look forward to it. It was a pleasure meeting you, Amant,” Brad called out as I walked away.
It took me a few minutes to digest the whole interaction in my mind. I know I was blushing, and I’m not easily moved by men, but Brad seemed to cut right through my defenses. He did have a drop-dead sexy body and a suaveness about him. Talking to him, though, I suddenly felt—well, I felt scared, and I felt the need to retreat for some reason. I took my time thinking about it while I slowly ambled my way to Alpha Deck, but my thoughts continued to circle back to John.
I finally came upon room 42—John’s room. I took a moment to compose myself and then pressed the door sensor. “Enter” sounded over the speaker, and the door opened. As I stepped into the room, John was leaning over from the couch to see who was at his door.
“Amant!” he exclaimed as he jumped up from his seat. “Wow! What are you doing here?”
He stepped in close and gave me a hug.
After a long, soothing moment, he tried to pull away, but I clutched him tight.
“I missed you, Johnny,” I whispered. “More than I realized.”
He allowed me to hug him firmly for a whole minute. I felt his hands as they gently caressed my back. His warm breath on my neck tickled and gave me goose bumps. The light scent of his cologne and his strong embrace felt so welcoming.
John finally pulled back.
“So you’re going to Gamma Five now?”
I looked up at him and smiled.
“Well, no; actually, I’m heading to Beta Lyrae, but after we chatted, I checked and found that Gamma Five is about midway between. So for now, here I am, Johnny!”
I gave him a big smile and hugged him again. When I let go, John slowly walked into his kitchenette and grabbed a drink. I gave a cursory look around his room. This apartment, while having the same layout and furniture, was in much better condition. First of all, it didn’t reek of burnt onions and butt. The air was rather pleasant with a light undertone of flowers. His carpet and furniture were stain-free, and the lighting was bright and inviting.
“You want one?” he asked softly, holding up a bottle of flavored water. I nodded, and he grabbed two.
“Oh, peach water, my favorite,” I said as I opened the bottle.
I was still surveying his room. He had the same pictures on the wall; one was of a comet streaking across a planet with a moon in the background. He also had several pieces of luggage still sitting against the wall.
“I know,” he said with a smile. “I remember everything about you, Amant.” John winked at me as he sat down on the couch. “Including what you love to drink.”
John slowly sipped his drink.
“Is there something you’re looking for?” he said as he followed my eyes.
“Huh? Oh, no, sorry,” I giggled. “It’s just that the quality of your room is leagues above mine.”
“I would think that they’re all the same. Why not put in for a room transfer?”
“I did; it denied me.”
John jumped up and walked over to his terminal. He clicked a few buttons and inquired about a room transfer.
“You have one hundred eighty-six rooms to choose from,” the computer voice stated. A map showed on the monitor, detailing the adjacent open rooms in green.
“What the …!” I exclaimed as I shuffled over to look at the screen.
“If you need help, I can—”
“I’m good, Johnny; I can manage on my own, thank you!” I snapped.
John turned with a raised eyebrow. He then slowly walked back to the couch and sat down. I eventually followed him and took the seat next to him.
“I’m sorry, Johnny; I didn’t mean to yell at you,” I said with a sigh.
I put my hand on his. A smile replaced his shocked look, and he gently patted my hand.
“You look tired,” he said calmly, “and I know when you get tired, you get crabby.” His words were delivered with a loving smile, which melted my scowl. I smiled back.
“Yes.” I nodded. “I’m overdue to get some sleep. It’s been more than forty hours.”
John stood up. He outstretched his hands, and I put mine in his. He gently raised me up from the couch.
“You get your sleep, then let me know when you’re awake and we’ll do some breakfast. Sound good?”
I paused and looked longingly at Johnny. His dark brown eyes were actually smiling at me, comforting me. I could feel the warmth and love from my old friend. This was my Johnny, my childhood pal. I leaned in and gave him a hug.
“Thanks, Johnny. Good idea.”
He grabbed my hand and slowly walked me to his door. His touch was soft but firm. When I reached the door, I gave him a smile and a nod. I stepped out into the passageway, and I could feel him watching me as I walked. I stopped halfway down the hall and turned around. I gave him a wave. He waved back, smiling, and returned to his room.
When I finally reached my door, I felt exhausted. I had no energy, so I stripped out of my clothing as I walked through the living room and collapsed into bed. “Lights off,” I said as I pulled the freshly washed covers over me. A light tone sounded, and the lights turned off. “Smooth jazz, volume of 1.” A very soft jazz tune began playing. I didn’t make it thirty seconds before I drifted off.
A tone rang out, and I stirred awake. It took me a moment to realize where I was as I came out of a deep sleep. I leaned over and checked my watch. Twelve and a half hours had passed. Another tone sounded.
“Enter!” I exclaimed before adding, “Lights on.”
The lights illuminated, and I heard the door open.
“Amant, are you awake?” John asked as he stepped into the room.
I quickly wiped the sleep from my eyes and hopped out of bed. After pulling on a pair of clean pants, I grabbed a shirt. My head was spinning as I ramped up from the deep sleep, but I felt energized hearing his voice.
“Yeah, I’m here, Johnny,” I yelled back as I buttoned up my shirt and stepped into some shoes.
I quickly walked out of the bedroom, feeling a little woozy, and noticed John staring at me.
“What?” I exclaimed as I tousled my hair.
“I’m sorry,” John said as he smiled and averted his eyes. “It’s just that you’re …”
I slowly walked over to him, still shaking off the feeling of sleep.
“I’m what?” I said with a smile.
“You’re so beautiful,” he mumbled bashfully.
“What?” I repeated loudly as I stepped within a foot of him.
He was so adorable when he blushed. Those little ears glowed red, and he still had the cutest little-boy smile—the same smile he had when we were six. John continued blushing and fumbled his fingers together.
“What did you say?” I said softly but with authority.
John looked down and into my eyes.
“I’m just so captivated by you.” John’s voice wavered as he continued. “I mean, you were so pretty when we were young, but now you’ve blossomed into such an incredibly gorgeous woman.”
I could feel my face go flush as I smiled back. I felt so warm hearing Johnny compliment me. I knew I was attractive; so many men looked and stared, but so few had the courage to date a Qyron-Human.
“Thank you, Johnny; your ears are glowing, Rudolph.” I giggled and pushed his shoulder, making him roll backward.
“Bully! Do you want to get some breakfast?” John asked playfully.
I strolled over to the couch and sat down. John took a moment to check out my room.
“I see what you mean now. Phew!” he said as he pinched his nose and waved his hand. “No offense, but this room smells like a trash dump.”
“Yeah, right?” I said, feeling validated that it wasn’t just me being picky.
“I’m sure you’re just bugging out,” John said with a chuckle as he slapped my arm.
“Yes! I spent three hours cleaning up this disgusting dump and doing laundry.”
John walked over to my terminal and clicked a few buttons. A large red “denied” block came up on the screen, along with an audible honk in response to his room transfer inquiry. John laughed aloud.
“It looks like you’ve made some enemies,” he laughed as he turned from the terminal. “I see nothing has changed with you in that respect.”
John walked back into the living room and sat down on the couch beside me. An image of the hairy troll at the ticket counter flashed in my head. I felt a tinge of anger, knowing he must be the one to blame for this.
“So let’s talk breakfast there, little lady.” John’s face was bright and happy.
“I’m not really hungry. I got a good night’s rest, but I feel like I want to jump into work right now.”
“Work? What do you need to do?” John asked.
“I have to chair a forum on Beta Lyrae for the job of translator. To prepare for it, I am going to do some Psy-logging.”
John leaned back and gave me a confused look. “What’s Psy-logging?”
I shifted myself, raised my legs onto the couch into a triangle, and faced John.
“It’s a fully immersive mental blog. It’s like being that person. You see what the other person sees, feel what the other person feels. It’s like a movie, but you get to live the life of that person through all of his or her senses. I’m going to research the past several generations of translators so I can have firsthand knowledge when I lead this forum.”
“Wow, so you get to relive past people’s lives. That’s really neat!” John stood up. “Do you mind if I grab a drink?”
I gave him a nod. He walked into my kitchenette.
“So why do you need to chair this conference? I thought being a translator only meant getting a brain scan, and if you have the unique brain pattern, you have the job?”
He opened the refrigerated food conveyor and grabbed a flavored water.
“Yes, that’s true,” I said to him, shaking my head as he motioned to ask if I wanted one. “But the position of translator is so understaffed; Beta Lyrae has only one for the entire planet.”
John sat back down beside me and took a sip of the water.
“No one likes the talk boxes that the Qyron wanted to use, so we’re left with the only option being human translators. But the population of Beta Lyrae is unsure and fearful of the process, so this forum should answer all questions and clear up any misconceptions. I’ll be giving a few speeches about the job duties, its history, and its scope.”
John took another sip of his water. “History? How long has it been?”
“It’s been about two hundred fifty years. Actually, I’m the ninth generation of the very first translator, Jennifer. And, well, I’m ashamed to say that I don’t really know a whole lot about her or my lineage.”
John’s mouth dropped open.
“Jennifer? Wow, I had no idea you were related to Jennifer. I remember reading about her in history class!” John sat up straight, eyes wide.
“Yes, I have only faint memories of what my mother relayed to me, so I’ll be spending a lot of time with my Psy-logs of her.”
I reached over and grabbed the bottle from John. I took a long drink. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was from all that sleeping.
“I’d like to get started today—maybe join you later for dinner?” I handed the bottle back to John. He looked at the mouth of the bottle and then motioned with his arm as if he were wiping the bottle.
“Girls have cooties,” John said with a smirk as I giggled. “Yeah, that would be great. How long will you be doing this psy-thingy?”
I unfolded my legs and stood up.
“Um, give me a solid eight hours and I’ll be ravenous and ready for a break by then.”
“Ravenous. Yeah, I remember your monster Qyron appetite. Okay, it’s a date then,” John said with a smile. “But make sure you dress better for dinner; I have a reputation to uphold.”
We both laughed.
I reached my hands out, he grabbed hold, and I pulled him up from the couch. John shot me a little smile. He slung his hands through mine and gave me a big hug. I felt myself blush after the hug and walked him to the door.
“See you at dinnertime, Johnny,” I said softly.
I opened the door, and John walked to the opening. He turned to face me.
“Nice touch with the music, by the way,” he whispered with a wink. He then smiled and walked out of my room and down the hallway.
“Music off,” I said, shaking my head as I strolled back to the living room and sat on the couch.
I opened my leather bag. I pulled a small case out of the bag and placed it on the table. Opening the case revealed a thin black headpiece with four white plastic tabs on each corner. I grabbed the small, pea-sized memory orb marked “Jennifer Winston” and slid it into the memory slot. It clicked into place, and a little door closed tightly over it. I placed the headset on my head. There was a bright white light, some hissing noise, and then darkness.
20 June 2021
The sound of feet shuffling. A tingling sensation. Jennifer opened her eyes. Her head felt funny, and she tried to move. Jennifer jerked her arms against something, and her shoulders only twitched. She realized she was lying flat, naked, and in a stark white room with bright lights shining down upon her. She tried to move again, but her arms and legs were tightly restrained. She gazed around, realizing nothing in this room looked familiar. Her heart beat faster as she tried in vain to move her head, but it too was being held firmly in place.
“What the?” she huffed aloud.
She pulled on her arms again, but this time she felt the thick straps holding them back. Her heart now quickened, and her mind raced.
How did I get here, and where the hell is here? I don’t remember.
“Hello!” She called out. She could move her fingers but felt nothing to grab. Her breathing quickened, and she could feel the blood coursing through her veins. She frantically tried kicking, but this too was no use.
“Hello? Help me! Help!” she yelled out, but only silence greeted her.
Her heart pounded faster, and fear had her eyes tearing up. She suddenly felt sick to her stomach. Jennifer closed her eyes and tried to concentrate.
What is the last thing I can remember?
She heard her heart banging loudly in her ears, and her whole body trembled.
What did I do before now?
Jennifer began to cry as her mind raced. Her chest heaved as she bawled.
“Hello? Help me!” she sobbed loudly.
She could only wiggle in place. Her breathing was faster than it had ever been. She felt light-headed. The feeling of nausea rose to a peak when Jennifer hyperventilated and finally passed out.
“Jennifer, thanks so much for coming!” Tasha leaned over and hugged me tight.
“I wouldn’t miss this; you know I love you like a sister!”
“Yeah, it’s too bad Tom couldn’t be here; he missed out on a great party,” Tasha said with a touch of sarcasm.
I hate it when she attacks Tom.
I felt my heart beating faster, and a warmth engulfed my face as it flushed.
“Well, he said he wasn’t feeling well, and I—”
“Oh, come on! He never ‘feels well’ when you ask him for anything!” Tasha fired back. “He never supports you in any way, Jennifer, and every time I see you with him, he’s rude and mean to you! Wake up, girl!”
A tight sensation clutched my chest.
“He’s really nice to me. You … you just don’t know him well enough,” I sputtered back.
“Sure, he’s nice to you when he wants sex, right? And he’s happy when he wants you to cook him dinner, yes? He’s really sweet to you when he asks you for money?”
Tasha fired the words hard and fast. Her green eyes squinted at me.
I leaned my head back to check the clock on the wall. 9:40 p.m. The tightness in my chest increased, and I felt a bit of tingling in my eyes. I sensed them starting to well up.
“That’s what I thought. Damn it, girl, you’re too nice, and he’s just a leech. You’ve dated through high school, and all he’s done is use you. Woman up and dump him!” Tasha steamed. She shook her head, and her bright red hair fluttered in the air.
“Well, he loves me, and I …” a tear gently rolled down my cheek. I removed my glasses and wiped my tear-streaked cheek with my arm.
“Ugh! Jen, you are far too sweet for this jerk.”
Tasha’s tone changed.
“I’m sorry; I don’t mean to bring you down.” She grabbed my hand. “I’ve known you my whole life, and I just hate seeing this guy use you like this.” Tasha’s eyes were wide, and her stare was sincere. She pulled me close and then gave me a hug.
“Thanks, Tash, I know you care.” The tightness in my chest started easing up, and I wiped my eye again. “So I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch?”
“I’m sorry, girlfriend,” she said as she stared at me and hugged me again.
“It’s okay,” I whispered. I then gave her the best smile I could muster behind my tears.
“Yup, tomorrow we get our nails done first; then it’s time to pick out a bridesmaid dress for you.” Tasha beamed.
We hugged once more, and then I waved and walked to my car. After turning the key, soft music came on, and I glanced at the clock. 9:45 p.m.
Ugh, Tom’s going to be angry that I’m not home already.
I slapped it into drive and pulled out of the driveway and started down the road. After ten minutes, I got onto Horsethief Road.
Another fifteen minutes and I’ll be home.
“Ka-thunk” rang over the music, and the car began to sputter.
“Oh shit, not again!”
I banged my fist on the dashboard. A bright light suddenly shone on the car from above. I pivoted my view from the front of the windshield to the driver’s-side window.
Is that a helicopter?
The car finally stalled, and I fought to steady it over to the side of the road. The bright light now hovered directly over the car. The intensity of the light then increased to a blinding brightness, and then …
Jennifer jerked back to consciousness. It took her a minute, but she finally realized she was back in the white room. A sound from behind startled Jennifer and wrenched her from her thoughts.
“Hello?” she yelled out. From the corner of her eye, she could make out a figure. Her glasses weren’t on her face. Jennifer blinked a few times and now was able to see a short humanoid—gray in color, with no hair—turn and walked toward her.
What the hell is that?
Jennifer blinked a few more times to remove the tears and squinted hard. She saw the figure more clearly: Its eyes were large, dark, and angled, and it had a very small nose and mouth.
Oh my God! What is that?
She tried to scream, but nothing came out; she was frozen in terror.
There was a bright light and a hissing noise, and I then pulled the headset off my head. My heart raced, and I was sweating. I can usually control myself in a Psy-log, but Jennifer’s emotions were so high that they overwhelmed me. I was covered in sweat, and I thought my heart was going to leap from my chest. I walked into my kitchenette and grabbed a flavored water. Several deep sips and a stroll to the bedroom felt good. After changing my shirt, I sat back down on the couch. My heart finally returned to a calm rhythm. I focused myself, took a few calming breaths, and then grabbed the headset and put it back on. There was a bright light and a hissing noise, and then …
Jennifer’s heart pounded like a jackhammer, and tears streamed from her eyes. The alien creature extended a hand, its long fingers and small palm now held up in the “stop” gesture.
I’ve been abducted! I’ve been taken by aliens!
Jennifer’s heart pounded so loudly in her chest that she heard it banging in her ears. Her whole body was drenched in sweat, and a bitter taste filled her mouth. She continued to heave wildly against the restraining straps. The alien again pushed its hand out as if to say “stop.”
Oh my God. I’m going to pass out again.
She could barely get enough breath. Her chest heaved wildly up and down. She swallowed roughly; it felt like grinding sandpaper. Jennifer closed her eyes and tried to slow her panicked breathing. She didn’t hear any sounds and opened her eyes again. The creature held its place a few feet away. Her head spinning, still wrenched against the restraints, she could feel exhaustion setting in.
“What?” The word creaked out of her dry mouth.
She swallowed again; this time a little wetness soothed her dry throat.
“What are you?” Jennifer heard her words croak out.
The alien waved both hands downward, as if to say “calm down.”
Jennifer blinked a few more times, cleared more tears, and was now able to see clearly again. The alien creature’s large black eyes studied her, but it moved no closer. She could see the tiny nostrils of the alien’s nose move in and out as it breathed. Its head was large in proportion to its body. She scanned its head but couldn’t see a single hair—not even eyebrows. As Jennifer continued to stare at the alien, she could feel her breathing slow. The alien just continued to move its hands in a downward motion, and Jennifer slowly gained more control over herself. It then raised up two fingers and made a V shape.
“Peace?” she asked. “Oh, you come in peace?”
She continued to slow her breathing and exhaled deeply. The alien nodded at her and then turned and left the room.
Jennifer continued to work on calming herself. She felt several beads of sweat rolling off of her naked body. She thought that the slick sheen of sweat might make it possible to slide out of the restraints, but it was no use. She was held firmly in place.
A second alien then entered the room. This alien wore a white smock like that of a doctor. It was taller than the first creature, and a little more tan than gray. Its features actually looked more human to her.
It stepped slowly alongside Jennifer. She looked at its eyes; they were angled but smaller than the first alien’s. This alien had some hair, too. The creature slowly nodded its head. Hundreds of images and memories instantly flooded into Jennifer’s mind.
“Ahh!” she screamed out, in shock over the intrusion into her mind.
It was as if someone had opened several books and movie clips into her head and hundreds of images and conversations had poured in. She sorted through the images: a spaceship with several aliens, some of the Earth. Now she saw images of her car from above, and then a few of her frozen in her car. Jennifer watched as they took her and the car into the spaceship. They removed Jennifer from the vehicle, took her glasses, and tore off her clothing. Now there was imagery of Jennifer in a room, several shiny instruments on trays, and bright lights. The room—it was this room!
“Did you do surgery on me?” She yelled up at the alien.
The alien nodded slowly, and another flood of images rolled into Jennifer’s mind: Her scalp was being pulled back, a bright laser cut through her skull, and they removed the bone. A small grape-sized object, as shiny as silver, was placed in her brain. Thin, spiderlike tentacles wiggled and extended from the shimmering round object and into the gray matter of her brain.
“What did you do!”
Tears again welled up in her eyes, and Jennifer pulled hard against the restraints.
Her body was now heaving hard against the restraints, and her breathing was frantic.
The alien continued to push its hands down as if to say, “Calm down.” It squinted its eyes, and then a few more images entered her mind. First there came some memories of a waterfall and then a warm sunny beach. She actually felt the sun on her skin. The smell of the ocean and a sensation of a warm breeze rolled across her body, and she gave a shiver. Another memory came; this time she was holding a newborn puppy. It was so soft, so cute. The puppy whimpered in her hands. She could even smell it. Jennifer smiled, and her breathing slowed.
The memory slowly faded away. Jennifer was now calm, and the alien stared at her. A few more images of the surgery entered her mind: the object was now fully implanted in her brain, as the spiderlike tentacles were firmly attached to several areas of her gray matter. They put the piece of skull back, and a bright blue laser sealed it tight. The scalp was then pulled back into place, and a thin green laser was meticulously drawn between the folds of scalp.
“This thing—it’s allowing me to see these images?” Jennifer nervously asked.
The alien nodded. It gently took hold of a strap and removed it. Jennifer’s left arm was free. It moved across her, grabbed the other strap, and released it. She looked at her arms; both bore thick black-and-blue bruises in ring shapes where she had pulled and fought against the manacles. The locks on her legs were removed, and then the table slowly moved and lifted her up toward a standing position.
The alien gently extended its hand. Jennifer cautiously grabbed it and stepped off the table from a nearly vertical position. She looked down and saw deep red welts across her legs; they were similar to the ones on her arms but not as pronounced. The creature slowly walked her toward another table, where it grabbed a cloth item. It reached its hand toward Jennifer. The alien’s fingers were long and thin. It handed her a smock similar to the one it was wearing. As she placed the robe over her sweat-covered body, the fabric pulled on the wetness. In seconds her sweat was gone and a warm sensation replaced her cold shivers.
The alien then reached over and grabbed her glasses. She took them from it and placed them on her face.
“My name is Jennifer,” she said, and instantly several images flooded in.
Jennifer saw this alien being born. It was a crossbreed of a human male and an alien female. The mother smiled at the newborn and thought “Xho”—the creature’s name.
Jennifer felt along the surgery site on her head. It was tender, but she couldn’t feel any scars or stitches, her fingers were clean of any blood, and there were no bandages on her head. She then stared at Xho, seeing clearly now with her glasses.
Xho stood five and a half feet tall. She looked into his eyes. They weren’t as dark as the other alien’s, and his mouth and nose were larger.
“So you are a mix of human and …?” She then saw a few images of their home planet and a name—Qyron.
They spent the next few minutes walking through the spaceship. Every passageway looked like the next. They were all light gray, smooth, and sterile. No pictures or windows marked any hallway. It felt cold and bland. Jennifer was shown the propulsion area of the ship. Several large containers with bizarre markings stood floor to ceiling. The room echoed with a loud humming sound. The walls were lined with various panels covered with flashing lights and alien symbols.
She was then shown the control room. Jennifer viewed the outside through a video screen. She saw various stars and other objects but could not see Earth. Other aliens sat around control panels, tapping on images and nodding at each other. After a few moments, they left the control room and walked along the hallways.
Jennifer communicated with Xho and began to feel more comfortable with the flow of images and thoughts. She was given a room on the ship and joined several other aliens, Qyron, for a meal. The food looked so different; the colors and textures bizarre. But when she tasted each item, it was an enjoyable experience. She discovered new fruits and vegetables that were amazing. One fruit actually tasted like a soft orange Creamsicle. Jennifer was amazed; it was like being a baby again, where everything was fresh and unique.
She noted too that the other Qyron all looked alike. They had no differences in features to distinguish one from another. Every one of them was about four feet tall. All were naked and pale gray in color yet very warm to the touch. Their genitals were quite small, and Jennifer tried not to stare. Only Xho had a slight tan tone to his skin and towered over them at five foot six.
Jennifer was aware of the passage of time as she continued to learn from Xho. She was given a vast array of imagery and dialogue on their history, science, philosophy, and culture. She viewed numerous planets, moons, and stars. Their existence had lasted a far longer span of time than that of the human race. It made Jennifer feel so much like a child that their civilization was far more advanced in technology and principles. She also learned that the Qyron communicated with Xho, who then communicated to her. Their direct communication was far more intense and would be too much for Jennifer to comprehend.
Jennifer was then informed of their offer for the people of Earth. Xho finally relayed to her that it was time. As they stood in the control room, she saw that the ship was nestled in a sea of other large objects. It seemed that they had been hiding in the asteroid belt, away from the prying eyes of satellites and telescopes. The ship quickly moved into orbit around Earth. It was so beautiful seeing the world from here. The blue was so brilliant, and the clouds, with their bright white swirls, gave it the appearance of a marble. Jennifer felt a surge of pride and majesty as she stared down upon her planet.
They waited until nightfall in Montana, and then the ship descended quickly. After the craft landed on the outskirts of town, Jennifer sat down in her car.
“I’ll see you soon!” she said to Xho.
He nodded, and she drove the car down the ramp and away from the spaceship.
29 June 2021
The clock in the car showed 3:20 a.m., but she had no idea what day it was. The bright light subsided, and Jennifer watched the spaceship zip up and out of sight within a few seconds. She was alone, for the first time in a while, on the road. A huge yawn overcame her. She took a deep breath. The air smelled different but familiar. Jennifer suddenly realized that the thin smock she was wearing did little against the cold morning air on her legs. The gravity was also not the same; she felt much heavier, and her head felt funny. She rolled down the window and took another deep breath. Jennifer plugged her cell phone in, since it had run out of juice a long time ago. She yawned again and then stomped on the gas and drove the quiet twenty minutes home.
As she pulled into her driveway, she peeked at her phone. She had been away for nine days and had over two dozen messages. She stepped out of the car, her eyes bleary with exhaustion, and noticed a large sticker on the front door with police tape across the entrance.
The home was an old single-story farmhouse. It had a weathered stone stucco exterior, and the original windows rattled with every gust of wind. A small front porch with rickety loose steps and more coats of paint than Jennifer’s years of age framed the front of the home. The grass in the small yard was thriving and long, having not been mowed for over two weeks.
She looked back at the house. No lights were on, and it was dead quiet. She gave out another huge yawn and stumbled up the steps, kicking up dust with every stride. Jennifer tore through the police tape and put the key in the lock. She pushed open the door with a slow, loud creak.
“Hello?” She yelled into the darkness.
Only silence. She snapped on the light and peered across the living room. She saw that many things had been moved around since she left. All of the mail was scattered about on the desk in the living room. She peered to the right and noticed that every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen was open. A sudden waft of rotting garbage overwhelmed her. The pungent and rancid odor was beyond horrible; she dry-heaved and almost threw up as she ran into the kitchen.
No surprise, though. Obviously Tom didn’t bother to empty it after I left.
Jennifer grabbed the trash bag and tossed it outside. The drawstrings held it closed, and it quickly rolled to a stop in the tall grass.
“Tom! Tom, are you here?”
She slowly walked into the bedroom, finding an empty bed. The rest of the bedroom looked like the other two rooms. Every drawer had been opened, and all of the clothing was strewn about in the drawers. A sock hung precariously over the edge of one drawer, clinging to the handle. The closet door was open too. The overwhelming feelings of exhaustion finally overcame her. She could barely keep her eyes open. She took two steps, tossed her glasses on the nightstand, and collapsed onto the bed. Jennifer pulled the covers over her and quickly slipped into a deep sleep.
“A change, a change, will do you good!” blared out of the clock radio.
Instinctively, she rolled over and slapped the alarm clock. 11:45 a.m. It was time to get ready to go to work. She lay in bed, still shaking off the sleep. It took a few moments, and then the past week’s events suddenly came rushing back to her. She bolted up in bed and reached for the cell phone.
She called her mother, and the answering machine picked up.
“Hey, Mama, I’m back. I have to go to Washington, DC. I’ll tell you about it later. I love you, Mama!”
Jennifer then dialed another number.
“Jennifer?” came the frantic yell over the phone.
“Tasha, I’m home and I’m all right. What’s been going on?”
“Damn, girl, I have the same question for you! Where the hell have you been?”
“It’s really complicated, but it will all make sense soon.”
“What does that mean? Where are you?” Tasha screamed
“I’m home. I got back early this morning.”
“I’m coming over!” Tasha yelled before hanging up.
Jennifer still felt tired, but she knew there was too much to do and she had to get moving. She slowly rose to her feet, feeling dirty and gritty, and started walking toward the bathroom. There she peeled off the Qyron robe. It floated gently to the ground. After starting the shower, she looked in the mirror. Her head looked normal—no scars and no way to tell where the surgery had been performed on her. She stepped into the shower and turned up the heat. The hot water sprayed over her; it felt so good. The Qyron used a water-based gel to clean with, so she hadn’t had a real shower in over nine days. Worse yet was the fact that she hadn’t shampooed her hair that whole time. Since the Qyron don’t have hair, there was no provision for shampoo.
Jennifer just stood against the wall and let the hot water beat down. Like a parched, dry desert welcoming that first rain, she reveled in the rhythmic beat of the water and massage of heat. Eventually she grabbed the shampoo bottle and lathered her oil-soaked hair. After washing it twice, she soaped up her whole body. She took her time rinsing off; it felt so good she nearly fell asleep—and she likely would have if it hadn’t been for the loud bang of the front door slamming shut.
A second later, Tasha came bursting through the bathroom door.
“Jennifer?” She ripped open the shower curtain and then lurched and hugged Jennifer. The hot water sprayed all over her back and dripped onto the floor.
“Are you nuts?” Jennifer yelled, pushing her back. She pulled the shower curtain across her.
“Oh my God, I thought you were dead! Where the hell were you?” Tasha’s eyes were bleary with tears.
Jennifer leaned over and shut off the water. Tasha handed her a towel.
“Come on! What happened, damn it? Where were you?”
As Jennifer toweled the water off her face, she gave Tasha a smile.
“I missed you too, girl.”
“Come on! Where the hell have you been? Tell me!”
Tasha was jittering with excitement.
“What is this?” Tasha screamed as she grabbed Jennifer’s wrist
The bruising from the restraints had not fully healed. There were still purple rings around both wrists and her ankles.
“Did Tom do this?” Tasha’s angry voice echoed through the bathroom.
“No. You have to promise that you won’t call me crazy.”
“Shit, girl, I already know you’re crazy!” Tasha nervously laughed.
Jennifer ran the towel over her chest and then started on her legs.
“Tasha, I was abducted by aliens.”
“What? Oh, come on!” Tasha took a step back and folded her arms.
“I’m serious. I was abducted by aliens. Look, I’m not about to spend a lot of time explaining all of this, because I know it sounds redneck crazy. But I was taken by aliens over the last week. I have to get to Washington, DC. Please tell everyone I’m sorry for making them worry. I’ll call my mom as I drive.”
“Call? Oh no! You need to see her ,Jennifer; your mom is a freakin’ mess,” Tasha stated as she walked over to Jennifer.
Jennifer stopped for a moment and stared into her eyes. She finally gave Tasha a nod, as she realized Tasha was right. As Jennifer was an only child, her mother constantly worried about every little thing in Jennifer’s life.
“Holy shit, wait. You were really abducted by aliens?” Tasha’s voice got quieter. “So, like, did they probe you and—”
“Knock it off. No, they didn’t probe me, you sicko. Get your mind out of the gutter!”
They both laughed as Jennifer walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. The sight of her bedroom in disarray angered her.
“Tasha, what happened in here?”
“Well, when you didn’t show up, I came looking for you. You didn’t answer your phone, and no one knew where you were. So after three days, the police searched everything. Tom was questioned a few times. Wow, was he pissed. He thought you ran off with someone else, and everyone in town thought he killed you!”
“No, I was stuck on a spaceship far away.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Tasha flashed her a devilish smile.
“I’m dead serious, girl. This is big, Tash—real big. They want to make contact with us.”
A large growl interrupted the conversation. They both peered down at Jennifer’s stomach.
“Sorry; I’m starving,” Jennifer said as she blushed.
“Then let’s get some food; it is lunchtime, you know!”
Tasha threw Jennifer a pair of panties that she scooped up from the floor as Jennifer grabbed a shirt. Five minutes later, they were driving down the road.
They pulled into the Busy Bee Café. It was their favorite place to eat and always stocked delicious pies. When they entered the café, several people recognized Jennifer. They stopped eating and ran over to her. She told everyone it was just a crazy mix-up and that she had just been visiting family and her cell phone had died.
As the two of them sat down at a booth in the corner, Jennifer quietly related her story of her time on the ship to Tasha.
When the food finally came, Jennifer wasted no time. She quickly wolfed down a cheeseburger, fries, and a nice slice of pie. The Qyron food was delicious, but she sorely missed her food from home and hadn’t had a meal in almost twenty-four hours.
“Wow, I’ve never seen you so hungry,” Tasha said while she worked on her Philly cheese steak.
Jennifer started to get restless, so they had the rest of her food wrapped up. On the way out, Jennifer bumped into Tyler, one of Tom’s buddies. He wanted to play fifty questions, but she just yelled “I’m back!” and ran to Tasha’s car.
“Look, Tasha; I have to get on the road to DC. But I don’t think I have enough money. Can you lend me some?”
Tasha pulled out of the café lot and onto the road, shooting a quick glance of bewilderment at Jennifer.
“You serious?” Tasha shot back. “You picked a really stupid time to ask for money. I’m tapped out from planning this wedding!”
Jennifer winced, and her eyes dropped.
“But I think Craig can spare some. How much?”
Jennifer’s face lit up. “I’m not sure. I mean, I know I’ll need to stay in a few hotels, and I’m thinking maybe a week.”
“That sucks that you’re spending your own money,” Tasha said, grimacing at Jennifer.
“Well, I have five hundred, but I think a grand is what I’m gonna need. Can you spare five hundred?”
Tasha nodded and smiled.
“Anything for you girlfriend, as long as you can pay it back within two weeks. Craig won’t miss it till then.” Tasha giggled.
Jennifer grabbed Tasha’s hand. “Thanks, Tash, I owe you!”
They pulled into Jennifer’s driveway, and Jennifer opened her car door while Tasha turned off the ignition.
“Hey, don’t you have to go back to work?”
“Nah, I yelled to my boss that I’m taking a half day as I ran out of the office. I have all day,” Tasha said as she shut her car door.
“So what are you planning, Jennifer?”
“Well”—Jennifer opened the front door of the house—“I’m gonna finish packing, stop by my mom’s house, then race to DC. Once I get the message to our government, then I have to contact the Qyron before Monday. Otherwise, they are going to land at the White House.”
They stepped into the house. Jennifer walked into the bedroom and grabbed her suitcase. She spent the next fifteen minutes trying to find outfits that looked professional enough for talking with politicians.
“What about this top with those cream slacks?” Tasha asked, holding up a tan blouse.
Jennifer looked over at the top. “Well, I think if I—”
They both heard the unmistakable sound of the front door being opened.
“Jennifer? You here?” bellowed Tom’s voice.
Jennifer’s face went pale, and her heart sank.
“Oh shit!” Tasha murmured. She dropped the blouse on the bed and ran out of the bedroom. Jennifer dropped the slacks and moved around the bed, chasing Tasha.
“Jennifer!” Tom yelled.
“Yeah, she’s here,” Tasha spat back, “and she doesn’t have time for you!”
Jennifer finally cleared the bedroom in time to see Tom and Tasha standing nose to nose. Tom’s long brown hair curled around the outside of his ball cap. A smear of mud on his cheek matched several clumps of dark brown on his tattered T-shirt. He was pointing a dirty finger at Tasha’s face. At five foot seven, he stood a few inches taller than Tasha.
“I didn’t come to see you, bitch!” Tom now turned his eyes toward Jennifer.
“Bitch?” Tasha reached out and grabbed Tom’s arm as he tried to push by her.
“Who are you calling a bitch, you redneck motherf—”
“Cut it out! Both of you!” Jennifer screamed.
Tom took a step forward; mud clomped out from under his boots. His job at the quarry always meant that his boots carried a pound of mud in them—mud that was always left for Jennifer to clean off of her floors.
“Where the hell have you been!” Tom roared. “The whole damn town thinks I killed you an’ been hatin’ on me!”
Tasha moved to Jennifer’s side, her arms outstretched and fists clenched.
“I’m sorry, Tom. I was—”
“Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?” Tom yelled. A small, frothy bit of spittle flew out and landed on Jennifer’s face. “The cops were interrogatin’ me for hours over the past week. People I don’t even know are flippin’ me off everywhere I go!”
“Sounds like they know you well enough!” Tasha quipped.
Jennifer couldn’t help smiling at that.
“Oh, you think that shit’s funny!” Tom roared at Tasha. He shook Jennifer, and her glasses dislodged and fell to the floor. “You fucking disappear, and I get hated for it?” he screamed as he looked back to Jennifer.
Jennifer bent down to retrieve her glasses. Tom lashed out with his right hand and punched her face. A second punch landed on her left eye. She fell to her right and knocked over a lamp.
She dived across, throwing a hard right that connected on Tom’s jaw. He never saw it coming and sprawled sideways. Tasha’s momentum carried her across Tom, and his head smashed against the side of the kitchen cabinet as they rolled to the ground. Jennifer jumped to her feet but wobbled as her head spun. As she turned, she saw Tasha throw a few more punches at Tom. Jennifer darted over and grabbed Tasha’s shoulders and pulled her off of Tom.
“You worthless loser!” Tasha screamed. “I’m tired of you beating on Jennifer!”
Tom grabbed the edge of the counter and raised himself up. Blood flowed from a split lower lip. As he tried to steady himself, his knees buckled. A large knot appeared on his forehead where his head had struck the cabinet.
“You bitches,” he sputtered, “are crazy!” Blood sprayed at the two of them from his fat bleeding lip. He staggered across the kitchen floor toward the door.
Jennifer reached a hand out. “Tom, please, I—”
He slapped her hand away. “Don’t touch me! I’m done with you!” He continued staggering toward the front door.
“You’re done with her?” Tasha raged. “She’s done with you! Yelling and beating her, you fuckin’ coward!”
Tom finally reached the doorway and spun around.
“I oughta kick your ass, you red-headed bitch!”
“You as much as touch me and Craig will stomp your guts into a grease spot!” Tasha yelled.
Tom turned and staggered down the steps. Jennifer ran to the door as Tasha blocked her path.
“Tom, I’m sorry; please!” Jennifer screamed over Tasha’s shoulder.
Tom continued staggering slowly toward his truck, wiping the blood from his mouth and looking over his shoulder at them. Tasha pulled Jennifer back from the open doorway.
“Are you mental? Let ’im go!”
She slammed the door behind them. All of the emotions finally overcame Jennifer, and she began to cry, crumpling to the floor. Tasha had turned and looked out the window, watching Tom get into his truck. She spun around when she heard Jennifer crying.
“Aw, come on, girl.” She knelt down beside her and grabbed Jennifer’s shoulders. “You know he’s no good for you.”
She held her tight as Jennifer cried.
“I, I, I know,” Jennifer struggled to say through the tears.
Tasha gave her a smile and then hugged her. They sat on the floor for a solid five minutes while Jennifer cried herself out. Tasha finally pulled back and looked into Jennifer’s bleary red eyes.
“Get to DC and do what ya gotta do. Get Tom out of your head. Heck, find a real man while you’re there!” She pulled back and gave Jennifer a big smile.
“Some big, well-to-do kinda guy. Rich and powerful!” Tasha boasted as she wiped Jennifer’s cheek.
They both giggled. Jennifer touched her sore eye and winced. Tasha stood up and walked over to the freezer and opened the door.
“Awesome!” she screamed, and she pulled out a quart of chocolate ice cream.
“Yeah, we’ll celebrate with some nice double chocolate!”
Jennifer picked up her glasses. They were bent from someone stepping on them. She sat down at the kitchen table, still sniffling, while straightening up the frames. She picked up a napkin and blew her nose while Tasha grabbed two small bowls. Tasha then took a few ice cubes, placed them in a dish towel, and handed them to Jennifer. Jennifer placed the ice on her sore cheek and eye. They sat at the table for the next ten minutes, spooning ice cream and making fun of men.
“How long will you be gone?” Tasha asked as she licked her spoon.
“Um, I don’t know. I hope to be back in a week.”
Jennifer removed the ice from her face. Tasha gave her a shocked look.
“Oh damn, girl, you’re gonna have one heck of a shiner,” Tasha said as she looked hard at Jennifer’s left eye. “Well, you have ’til next Saturday to heal up and look pretty. I’ve got a wedding, and you’re my bridesmaid, girl!” Jennifer smiled at Tasha and then stood up.
“I need to get going; I have a long trip ahead of me!” Jennifer dropped the ice in the sink and paused a moment. “Hey, why don’t you come with me? It would be an awesome road trip.”
Tasha flashed her a huge smile, and her eyes lit up. She was about to say something when her face changed.
“Aw, ya know, that would be great,” Tasha paused for only a moment, but there was already a “but” in the air. “But I have my wedding, girl. It already sucks that you can’t be here to help me with the last-minute things.”
They both nodded, knowing that each had her priorities.
Jennifer went back into the bedroom and finished packing. After wiping the bits of Tom’s blood off her face and checking the redness of her cheek and eye, she grabbed a few things and opened the front door.
“I sure wish you could come with me; I’m so scared about all of this.”
“I know, and I’d love to come with you Jen, but,”
“Yeah, I know,” Jennifer relented. “I feel guilty not staying here and helping you.”
They walked to Jennifer’s car. After they had tossed the luggage in the trunk, they hugged and said their good-byes.
Jennifer drove to the ATM with Tasha following in her car. Tasha withdrew the five hundred and gave it to Jennifer. After another set of hugs, Jennifer drove the next few blocks to her mother’s house. She was busy outside, gardening.
When she saw Jennifer pull up, she dropped her mini rake and ran over to her car with tears in her eyes. She yelled at Jennifer, kissed her, hugged her, and then yelled at her some more. Jennifer crafted a story that she had gone to a series of job interviews out of town and her phone had died. She knew it would have taken hours to convince her mother of the real truth, and she just had too many hours of driving in front of her. The easiest part was telling her mother how she got the swollen eye—no phony story needed for that.
Jennifer felt bad about lying to her mother but knew that soon the real truth would come out and she wouldn’t have to deal with everyone thinking that she was some stupid, crazy blonde. She shared a glass of lemonade with her and then finally hit the road. It was past four when Jennifer finally got out on the highway.
She only made it as far as Glendive, Montana, before her eyes got heavy. She stayed in a cheap little motel off the interstate. By 8:00 a.m., she was back on the road. Jennifer called and chatted with Tasha for a solid hour. They laughed about the day before, and Tasha told her that Tom chased her down at Craig’s house and cried to her that he was sorry. Jennifer felt a little bad for Tom, but she was glad to be away from him. She told Tasha that she was sporting a badly bruised eye.
During the drive, Jennifer thought long and hard about the time she and Tom had spent together over the past four years. He really was mean to her most of the time; it was clear to her now. He yelled a lot, and he slapped her from time to time, causing several fat lips and two black eyes; this was her third. The long drive allowed her to play back so much, and it all seemed clear to her now. She had to put Tom out of her life.
Jennifer tried to drive eighteen hours, but after almost fourteen, she was exhausted. The signs on the interstate said Madison, Wisconsin. She pulled into a Motel 8. The room smelled like week-old food, but she didn’t care. It was cheap, and she was dog tired.
Thursday morning she grabbed a quick breakfast and hit the road. As she was searching for a radio station, her phone went off.
“Hey baby, where have you been? I camped out at your house all yesterday,” Tom said softly.
Her heart sank.
“Yeah, Tom, I’m here,” Jennifer sighed. “I’m on my way to Washington, DC.”
“What? DC? Why?”
“It’s for a job; it’s a long story, Tom.”
“Is that where you were the past week?”
Tom’s voice was soft and pathetic, like that of a broken man. His tone was so calm and quiet. He normally just yelled or demanded things when he spoke, but this was completely different.
“Yes, and my phone wasn’t working, so I couldn’t call you,” Jennifer replied.
A moment of silence passed between them.
“Oh, okay. I’m sorry, Jennifer. I know that I’ve—”
“Tom, listen; I’m sick of apologizing to you for everything. I feel like I’ve been your property: doing what you want, saying what you want to hear, being the person that you demand. Everything finally came clear to me over the past week. I need to get away. I’m done, Tom.”
“No, look. Come back. We can take a nice, hot bath together,” Tom gushed. “I got that bubble bath that ya like. Then we can—”
“No, Tom.” Jennifer took a deep breath. “I’m not coming back to you.” Her chest felt tight, and she was holding back her tears. “You’ll be fine in a few days, and you can move on with your life,” she said as her voice wavered.
“No, baby, I miss you too much. I’m sorry I—”
“No, Tom. Good-bye!” She clicked the disconnect button and let out a huge sigh.
Tasha was right; she had been such a fool for far too long. Jennifer had a good final cry, counted the mile markers, listened to her music, and finally felt free. The rest of the day’s drive went by with a calmness she had not felt in years.
After an exhaustingly long drive, Jennifer finally pulled into the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, DC. She checked into her room at 11:00 p.m. and then collapsed into bed.
“Mmm.” She gently opened her eyes. The clock showed 6:48 a.m. “Damn it!” Jennifer hopped out of bed and took a quick shower. By eight fifteen, she was walking up to the White House.