I hope you've enjoyed what you've read so far of Chapter 1. (If you haven't read the first part of the chapter yet, click here.)
HERE'S THE REST OF CHAPTER 1. Enjoy!
(Chapter 1 continued)
If I could take the idea of technology and somehow turn it into a living thing, it would look like this thing. The size of a doorway, it glows a deep electric blue, the center shimmering like a metallic, moving liquid. Like something has punched a hole into the fabric of the universe.
“No one knows what’s going on,” Rita reports from my phone. I hadn’t realized she was still talking, and she’s not an easy person to ignore. “Eyewitness reports rolling in. They’ve appeared all over the world."
“We’re near one now,” I manage to say. It takes more effort than I expect to speak. “I think the train stopped”—I take a breath—”since it’s close to the tracks.”
“No way.” She pauses. “Take a picture.”
“I’ll call you back.” I hang up without listening for her response. My heart and lungs compete in a death match for my attention. I relay the jumbled information to Dominick and other passengers. Most people aren’t bothering to listen; faces are glued to phones and thumbs are doing the communicating.
An MBTA conductor’s voice booms over the crackling loud speaker: “We’ve been advised to stop travel at this time. Please remain calm and exit the train when the doors open. Alternative transportation will be provided shortly.”
One lady weeps. Another blesses herself with the sign of the cross and kisses a gold crucifix dangling from her necklace. She grips it so hard I’m afraid it’s going to puncture her palm. Others stare out the window at the oval phenomenon hovering near the tracks in front of the train. Some hold up their phones to capture it on video.
My stomach churns like an angry ocean. I step away from the windows and take in a deep breath for a count of five, hold it for a count of two, and let it out slowly in another five like I’ve been trained to do when my anxiety escalates. I repeat the ritual, but it’s not designed for actual moments of terror. Dominick notices and squeezes my hand. My prescription beckons me from my purse, but two pills in one night is already pushing it.
A woman around my mother’s age bursts into a fit of angry tears. Her traveling companion rubs her shoulders. I try not to stare.
Police officers, firefighters, and ambulances arrive and form a barrier around the supernatural occurrence. An army of city buses charges over the dark horizon and lines up in an abandoned lot to carry us to our destinations. My escape route from the mass of bodies surrounding me.
“Holy crap,” another teenager says, holding the visor of his Red Sox hat. “Holy crap.“
“Open the goddamn door,” the old man in the corduroy coat yells. “Let us out of here!”
My feelings exactly. I focus on breathing again and visualize my safe space. Island. Hammock. Book to read. Dominick catches me rocking back and forth. I stop and feign coolness even though I’m ready to ignite.
“Are we gonna die?” a little boy asks his dad. The father lifts him onto his shoulders and says firmly, “Not on my watch.”
I catch Dominick staring at the boy and the father. It must be hard for him. I squeeze his hand again, and my own worries sink from the surface.
Two high-pitched beeps fill the train before the automatic doors open. People file out in clusters. I’m not sure if we are being rescued or trading one bad situation for something worse. It seems wrong to leave the train in the middle of the tracks.
We have to pass the thing in order to cross the tracks and reach the buses. As we approach, no one talks. The danger creates a type of reverent silence.
What if I accidentally fall inside? What if it’s a black hole and it swallows us all? What if it’s an alien-powered vacuum cleaner and we’re the dirt?
Up close, other colors swirl inside of it, embers of green, silver, and a bright darkness. My eyes can’t seem to focus on the depth. It’s like watching a 3D movie without the glasses. Except instead of the 3D images projecting forward, the colors are falling inward. Like an enormous, ridiculous, technological bellybutton.
The crowd fades into the periphery, and I forget about my own safety. The blue glow illuminates Dominick and me. Maybe it’s the medication talking, but it’s like I’ve walked onto the set of a great sci-fi moment, and my brain can’t figure out if this is supposed to be scary or amazing.
“This is like something outta Stephen King” he says.
“Doctor Who. It has a happier ending,” I joke back nervously. My pill has definitely kicked in. Like a warm invisible blanket has wrapped around my organs.
The crowd inches forward since no one wants to pass it. People continue to hold up their cell phones and take videos. The cops try to herd us over to the buses. Dominick squeezes my hand tighter. It keeps me grounded.
Then Something pushes through the blue fire in the oval.
The cops draw their weapons. Some people scream and run. I don’t. Dominick pulls my hand to move, but I pull back. I’d like to credit my compulsion to stay on curiosity or stubbornness, but more likely it’s the result of my meds dulling my reaction time.
The Something looks like a transparent human in a gray uniform. I can’t take my eyes off it.
“Hello,” it announces to the crowd. “We’ve come to save you.”
First contact. Binge-watching thousands of hours of sci-fi shows has trained me for this moment. I want to say, “Greetings from Earth, live long and prosper,” or stick my pointer finger out at it and ask, “Phone home?” but my stomach has swallowed my voice, a first for me.
“Freeze!” yell several cops at once. “Hands up!”
It reaches into its translucent coat pocket. And they open fire.
Dominick forces me to the ground and lays his body on mine. I watch over his shoulder as the bullets pass right through the ghostly figure. The transparency gradually fills in, gaining weight and dimension, yet the bullets still have no effect on its now opaque body. It’s the most advanced holographic image I have ever seen. More like an actual person than a projection of light.
The cops realize their error and cease fire. They shout at everyone to evacuate to the buses immediately for our own safety. Dominick pulls me up from the ground and straightens his glasses. I know I should leave, but my brain still wants to know what’s going on. Ambiguity breeds anxiety.
The androgynous hologram holds out one hand like a mime and reveals a slip of paper the size of a sticky note. Everyone stops to watch. It’s not a trick; we aren’t under a type of mind control or magical spell. Our instincts simply recognize the moment as one for history, regardless of the consequences.
The paper unfolds to form a three-dimensional image of Earth. The hologram sets it on its palm, and the paper Earth begins to rotate. Then in a calm, emotionless voice, it announces:
“We are humans from a parallel future in the year 2359. We are here to save you. In six of your calendar months, a comet will destroy your planet. This is your known destruction; there is no way to prevent it."
The paper Earth silently ignites into a fireball, and then all traces of it vanish before our eyes. “We have opened five hundred vertexes across your planet to send you to our time and dimension. We have enough space to accommodate all who wish to join us. Simply walk through one person at a time. It is your individual choice. Please bring minimal personal items. You will be given all the resources needed to live here.
“We apologize for using images as representatives, but we can only carry physical beings in one direction. Our images are equipped to answer your questions using our standard database responses available in multiple human languages.
“This automatic message will repeat once a day at each vertex location. You have approximately four thousand three hundred ninety-four hours to decide. The vertexes will remain open until then.
“Consider. Save your people. Save yourself before it is too late.”
The crowd stands like a dangling participle, confused, pointless. Sweat beads down my spine, and my pulse pounds behind my eardrums. Everything around me seems muffled, slow.
A bearded man from the horde breaks the silence and shouts at the hologram, “Who are you?”
I can’t believe he asked that question. Wasn’t he paying attention?
The hologram responds, “We are humans like you.”
“Humans, my ass. This is alien invasion shit.”
The hologram responds, “We do not understand.”
The crowd laughs uneasily. “They’re not as smart as they think,” a woman whispers to Dominick and me.
I can’t laugh with them. A question burns inside my head, but my mouth battles with my mind for freedom and words. I take a deep breath and let loose. “Why should we believe you?” I yell out over the crowd.
The hologram responds, “You have no other options.”
(End of Chapter 1)