“Thirty years of abductions and still no anal probe? Y'all move slower than a church girl on prom night.”
Asa grinned mischievously into the large, dark orbs of the silver-headed creature in front of him. The creature let out a mild chortle and swiped at a screen pad balanced delicately in a thin palm.
“Oh, it’s been that long? Well, drop your pants….”
“Be a gentleman, Larry. I’d know you love to get those freaky fingers up there, but….”
“Not before lunch, alright?” Larry held his hand to the midsection of his long, delicate torso.
Asa guffawed, “You’re squeamish. You’d never pass alien medical school.”
Asa laughed at his own wit, slapping the smooth chrome bench he was seated on. The bench shimmered incandescently.
Larry hummed and tapped on his tablet.
“But seriously, let’s finish up … I’ve got wagyu steak for us for lunch. So, since we last talked - “
“Girlfriend, none. Apartment, the same. Work, the same.”
“Uh-huh,” murmured Larry, nodding sympathetically. “Isn’t there an election coming up? Are you thinking of getting involved?”
“Election? Nah, it’s all rigged.”
Larry blinked his large eyes in confusion; Asa clarified, “A guy like me doesn't have a voice in the system. Same thing I told you last election.”
“Fascinating,” said Larry, swiping his hand across his tablet.
Asa twisted and cracked his back, considering the white, sterile interview room - the only one he had ever known on the ship, besides the control room where he entered and exited the ship.
The floor of the room looked dimensionless until you walked and your feet left imprints. An open door on the opposite end of the room led to a hallway where Asa occasionally saw glimpses of other Spatiums roaming.
Asa had never met another Spatium, but he had grown content with Larry over the years. Larry’s had been the perfect soothing presence to calm the hysterical, 12-year old Asa when he had first been abducted, while riding his bike at midnight across the Queensboro bridge. Their weekly talks had become a welcome respite, a regular venting session where he could speak without filter about the foibles of human life.
Perhaps most importantly for Asa, Larry knew when to just be quiet. After some sessions Asa would land back in his apartment and realize he had spent the entire time simply ranting, with Larry listening and making odd swipes on his tablet; these sessions, he suspected, may be the most useful for both parties.
Larry held the tablet to his thin chest, and it began to shrink until it was about a tenth of the size.
“Alright, good session. I don’t want you late for work, I know you’re on the night shift.”
“Uh-huh,” said Asa. “Hey, what’s the latest on letting me visit your home planet?”
Larry blinked docilely, “So, like we talked about - in two Spatium moons - that’s fifty Earth years - your clearance will activate….“
“Oh, fifty Earth years? I don’t know if you get this, but the human species operates on a very different clock. I’m forty-two, man - I’m half-cooked already!”
“No, you’re a sad old man, I get it,” muttered Larry, his black ink blot of a mouth creasing into a smile.
“Fuck you,” said Asa, playfully punching Larry’s reedy gray arm. The flesh undulated and wiggled as if refracted in water.
Larry made a curious purring sound.
“You’re impatient. I get it. But remember what I told you when you wanted the blaster gun….”
Asa sighed, ‘Everything’s possible, just give it time. Yeah, I know it’s not your fault.”
Larry stretched his arm, which elongated and wrapped around Asa’s shoulders amiably.
“So. Wagyu time?”
“I’ve got acid reflux, I probably shouldn’t….”
Larry’s eyes wriggled in amusement, “We invented four-dimensional space travel, you think we can’t cook a steak to go down your weak-ass esophagus?”
Larry led Asa out of the inquiry room, and as they exited, the light dimmed until the room was perfect pitch black.
Asa rubbed his eyes and stared into the dark ceiling from his bed, cursing the insomnia he always seemed to suffer before clocking a red-eye shift.
Asa hated his job as a busdriver, and he particularly dreaded his Sunday night route – and not just for the preponderance of weirdos liable to board a Queens-Bronx express bus in the demon hours.
No, the worst part was the view from the Queensborough bridge as he drove into the Bronx, a dark mass of low-rising housing projects and sunken dreams just north of the glittering jewel of Manhattan. He had lived in New York his whole life, and had heard people say it was the greatest city in the world, but on those early morning routes he felt like Hades’ bus driver shuttling the latest satchel of souls to their final destination.
He sat up in bed, groaned and cricked his neck to look at the clock.
11 p.m. He would have to report to work in 90 minutes.
Don’t pull it out, you won’t be able to go back to sleep….
Asa shut his eyes for a moment, putting up a futile mental resistance to his overwhelming urge. Then, he stood up, reached under the box spring and pulled out an old Air Jordans shoe box.
Opening the shoe box had always taken his breath away, and tonight was no exception; he gasped lightly in admiration at the shimmering weapon with the scythe-like handle and tapered, menacing end-piece.
It was called a StarPiercer; well, that’s what Asa had named it. The name Larry had passed to him had been some incomprehensible string of letters and numbers.
He tepidly pulled the gun out of its case; the metal slowly glowed blue.
Larry had given him the weapon on his 21st birthday, and Asa considered this the moment Larry had proven himself a true friend.
Larry had gravely admonished him, “Don’t use it on any humans, ever. It will cause more pain than even your worst enemy deserves.”
Asa didn’t have many enemies; he also didn’t have many friends.
Sometimes he wondered if all the time he had spent with the Spatiums had warped him, had made him anti-social and incontrovertibly different from the rest of his species. At one point he considered talking to someone about what he was going through; the violent thoughts that sometimes passed through his mind, or his fear that the Spatiums might be using him; his fear that Larry might not even be his real friend.
But then he remembered what happens to people who claim alien abduction experiences, and he remembered the padded room his own mother had been carted off to when he was a boy - just before his 9th birthday - and he decided against therapy.
Leaning over the edge of his bed, he raised the gun and aimed the barrel at the wall. He pretended to fire, closing one eye and recoiling the gun.
“Bang. There goes the Manhattan bridge.”
He pointed at another spot on the wall.
“Pop. Oh no, the Spatiums have destroyed the Brooklyn Bridge! They’re shutting off all outlets from the city! Who will save us!”
And now, the weapon was a savior instrument; Asa imagined there was a damsel in distress, some beautiful pneumatic brunette in yoga pants who was dangling from the edge of the wrecked Williamsburg bridge.
He closed his eyes and imagined this scene in vivid detail, laying the gun down on his lap and feeling the depths of its chamber pulsate through his lower region, and for a moment he felt very, very powerful.
“Does this stop at 125th Street?”
The woman with knotted black hair and a sore in the corner of her mouth spoke in a fragile voice, as if afraid of being reprimanded for questions.
A little boy, equally mousy as his mother, peaked from behind her leg and stared at Asa with Bambi eyes.
“Yep, right next to the Apollo Theatre,” said Asa. He flashed his teeth in what he hoped was a reassuring grin.
The woman smiled and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, “Thank you.”
Asa considered the large, dirty suitcase the woman dragged behind her as she and her child boarded the bus. As she moved to swipe the fare card reader, Asa reached out and blocked it.
“Ride’s free,” he said, holding the card reader in a gentle grip. “You, uh, look like you’ve come back from a long trip.”
The woman seemed surprised for a moment, then laughed wearily.
“We’re always on a trip. Always on the road. But -” she petted her little boy’s head. “He likes being back in New York.”
“Oh, we’re in the best city in the world, I know that much,” said Asa, smiling broadly and closing the bus door.
He watched from the rearview mirror as the woman and child sat down near the front of the bus.
They were going over the Queensboro Bridge now; Asa admired the Empire State Building in the distance, the Chrysler building, midtown Manhattan in all its glory.
“Quite a view we get from here, huh?” Asa said, keening his voice to be heard but not speaking to anyone in particular.
The woman raised her eyes from her lap and smiled, but did not respond.
Asa flicked his eyes at the boy, who had leaned his head against his mother’s lap.
“You know, I used to go on bus rides with my momma too. She’d take me to eat pizza all over the city. You like pizza?!’
The woman nudged her boy, “You like pizza, don’t you?”
The boy said nothing but gazed at Asa with inchoate eyes. Asa suddenly felt very uncomfortable, as if the child knew things about Asa that he himself did not know.
Asa chuckled nervously, “Shy kid, huh? You should get him someone to talk to. Therapy, you know, it’s not just for the loonies!”
The woman didn’t laugh. Asa cleared his throat and returned his focus back to the road.
He realized he was coming up on the next stop fast.
“Shit,” he said, louder than intended, and without checking his side mirrors, slammed the brakes.
The bus suddenly shook like it had been body slammed, and the sound of shattering glass rang from the back.
“What the hell - “ Asa turned around, but before he could take in the scene, the bus shook again.
The last thing he remembered before the airbag exploded in his face was the woman holding tight to her child as glass showered around them.
“You’re moving better today, pal. Would never have guessed you were in a three-car pile-up just last week.”
Larry considered Asa as he limped across the translucent floor to the metal bench, which had taken on a slate-gray hue.
Asa winced and pulled himself onto the table, “I told you it was just a minor fracture. Won’t take long to recover.” He took a few heavy breaths, then stared at Larry with bitter eyes, “Or y’all don’t understand how human biology works even after studying me for 30 years?”
Larry made an amused tisking noise.
“No, I pretty much get it. You guys are simple organisms. You know Spatiums exist in four dimensions? Makes designing a bed super complicated…..”
“Fascinating. Teach me more, my alien overlord.” Asa looked away from Larry, scowling.
Larry sensed the tension and backed up for a moment, holding up his thin hands in a harmless motion.
“Do you need some painkillers? Something to take the edge off? I can snag you something from the mess cabin….”
“What I need is to be taken off fucking Earth.”
“I lost my job. I’ve got this lawsuit to deal with. I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent this month. And - “ Asa shut his eyes tight for a moment, his heart stuck on the woman and child, glass raining all over them.
“Asa, we can’t interfere in human affairs. You know this….”
“I don’t got no affairs, you shit! This is my affair!” He gestured around the white dimensionless room. “You’re my affair! This spaceship….”
Larry held up a slim finger, “Asa, stop. I’m going to get you some pain killers, we can talk through the bus crash thing, It’s going to be okay ....”
“Take me to your planet.” Asa said, his voice steely, and for a moment his hand hovered near the back of his jeans pocket.
Larry’s large obelisk eyes narrowed as Asa’s clenched his hand into a tight fist and slowly brought it back to his lap.
“Wait here,” said Larry, after a moment’s pause.
Asa looked away as Larry waded to the open doorway.
Asa scratched the back of his neck and sniffed irritably. He had been taking Adderall to help stay focused through the reams of police reports and lawyer questioning the past several days, and he now found himself in a lucid dream state of exhaustion and paranoia.
He knew he shouldn’t be making decisions in this kind of condition.
But also, he thought, he didn’t have much of a choice. He had asked politely.
He slid off the table, which turned from stone-gray to bright red, and began to walk towards the door.
As Asa exited the room, he found himself in a long hallway with opal-blue perforated metallic walls.
Grimly, he pulled out the StarPiercer from his back-pocket, feeling an odd titillation as it hummed in his hand.
“Let’s find out who can take me to their planet around here,” he muttered.
The hallway was harshly lit, and Asa squinted to avoid aggravating his already banging headache. He went slowly at first, expecting to come upon another Spatium around a corner; but the longer he walked without encountering anybody or anything, the more he began to panic.
The spaceship, he knew, was shaped like an onion ring, a stretched oval which could cover the length of the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Listen up!” he called into the empty hallway, cocking his gun up. “I mean business. Take me to your planet.”
His voice echoed against the metallic walls; after a moment, he heard a clanking sound behind him, as if someone was dragging a stick along the walls.
He turned, pointed the gun up and down frantically, then began to run in the opposite direction.
He rounded a curve, and noticed a light-blue glow coming from a room about 5 meters away.
He cocked his gun, furtively glanced behind him and stepped into the room.
Rows of mini-screens were layered along the wall, buzzing with images; Asa got the sense he was looking at more information than any one human was supposed to process.
On the screens, he could see all of humanity - monuments, like the Egyptian pyramids, and the Taj Mahal, and the Wailing Wall, and Mecca, replete with streams of people.
And then - more screens, showing other planets, alien landscapes - some barren, and some teeming with incomprehensible beasts.
“God almighty,” Asa said, under his breath.
There was a scuffing of feet from the doorway. Asa spun around, fumbling with his weapon.
It was Larry, standing alone. He held up his thin gray hands, his fingers waving as if blown by an invisible breeze, and smiled.
“Don't look at those screens too long, buddy,” he said softly. “Nothing on there but too much information.”
“Which one is your planet?” said Asa, his finger quivering on the trigger. “Show me! Which screen….”
“Oh, my planet … No problem … It’s this one. See.” Larry’s arm elongated and stretched, reaching to the very center of the wall.
Asa followed the unearthly hand to the screen, which was broadcasting what looked like a shrub desert, shot from just above the clouds. Wisps of green-ish gas floated by, obscuring the desolate land below.
“Pretty ordinary, right?” said Larry, his voice still soft. “Doesn’t look like a great place to vacation does it?”
“Where are all the other Spatiums?” asked Asa. The cirrus clouds were swirling curiously; Asa could feel himself become transfixed.
“Oh, they’re there. Just not there. We choose our dimensions… You know, just like I chose to be in yours ....”
“Y'all are wild,” whispered Asa. His attention was glued to the rhythmically swirling clouds, and without realizing, his StarPiercer had dropped to his side.
“I’m glad we’re friends, Asa,” said Larry, sounding sad.
“Me too,” murmured Asa.
He stood watching the screen until his vision was a fuzzy circus of colors and swirls; by the time he felt the hands on him - rough hands, locking his arms to his torso and securing his shoulders - he was barely aware of what he was looking at anymore.
He could’ve even swore that one of the faces staring down and pinning him to the medical gurney was human.
Asa awoke in a room with a soft beige cushioned floor and padded walls. There was a bolted door on one end of the room, with a small window looking into the ultra-bright hallway above the door, and on the opposite side of the room, a circular window that faced a star-lit galaxy.
Asa could tell the ship was moving fast, by the rapidity of stars moving past the window; he wondered whether they were headed to the Spatium home planet, that hypnotic flatland, or some other place in the Universe Asa hadn’t even conceived of.
A plastic plate with a cut of roast beef, mashed potatoes and a brownie appeared from a mechanical platform raised in the center of the room, and Asa ate eagerly.
As he dusted off the brownie, he looked up to the window over the door, and saw a curious face looking back at him - long and lean, with sallow gray-skin and thick spectacles which made the pupils look dilated.
Asa raised his hand and waved to Larry. Larry whispered something to someone out of view, and then waved back.
Happy he had acknowledged his friend, Asa licked his fingers and lay down contently to watch the stars.