The announcements rang through the street in a sweet, sugary voice.
“Missing person. Sarah Springly. 23 years old, blond hair and brown eyes. If found please notify Head Office A-11. Thank you and have a nice day.”
The woman’s voice was cut off with a click and a shiver ran down my spine, despite the heavy black sweatshirt I wore. I had been dodging the Office for the better part of two weeks, ever since that cursed Choosing ceremony. I glanced down the road. Left. Right. But no one was out. Why would they be? I knew everyone was inside for three p.m. anti-gravity training. Everyone but me. I sidled against the abandoned barber shop as I made my way to the safety of the alleyway on the other side. My back brushed against something hard and I whirled around to meet the wide eyed gaze of my own face. I let out a breath as I watched sparkling letters dance over my head to spell out “Wanted” on the electronic billboard. Not my best picture, but there was no denying it was me. I pulled my hood up a little tighter and glanced behind me. Still all clear. The picture flickered off to show video footage of the Choosing. It had been a hot day, the sun sweltering directly overhead and the tightly packed crowd only adding to the stickiness of the air. We had all watched the screen in the middle of the square as the crinkled face of the Office Administrator beamed down at us and proclaimed the name of the person who would get to travel to the moon. My name. The footage showed as the A-11 soldiers pulled me to the stage, my face slack and pale. There was no sound to the footage but I could clearly hear the screams and cheers of the crowd. They were all convinced I had been given a great honor. The problem was - I wasn’t so sure. My entire life has been centered around training for the opportunity of a new life in space. Every year, one person is chosen. We all watch them get into the rocket and take off. After that, they are never heard from again. Our technology should be sufficient for communication between the moon and the Earth, especially for those that leave loved ones behind. But no, apparently even contact with the civilization on the moon is a privilege only for those chosen few. The video ended with the soldiers escorting me off the stage and then the billboard flicked back to the wanted poster. I walked away from the poster, further into the darkness of the alley, opening trash cans and searching for any trace of food. After the ceremony, I was allowed to settle my affairs. My boss congratulated me over the phone as I called in my resignation, and my green-eyed calico found a new home with the little girl in the apartment next to mine. Her family was great, and I almost appealed to them for help. But deep down I knew, I could only trust myself. After locking the apartment door from the inside, I climbed out the window and down the fire escape. By the time the soldiers broke into my room, I was long gone. The rattle of metal on stone jerked my head out of memories and I slunk into the shadow of a large dumpster. A dented can rolled past my hiding place. I froze, hoping and praying the disturbance was nothing more than a clumsy alley cat. A deep, commanding voice quickly crushed those hopes.
“Miss Springly, please come out with your hands raised.”
I cursed, wondering which of the surrounding households had ratted me out. I drew in a breath as the stomp of A-11 soldiers grew nearer. I could picture an average unit of five, evenly spread down the length of the alley. If I was quick enough, I could get away. Lucky for me, I had been quick enough so far. With one final, head-clearing breath, I pushed off my bent legs, shooting out towards the open street. That’s a lot more than five, I thought. The alleyway was crammed wall to wall with a mass of white uniformed soldiers, advancing steadily. I glanced around me but I couldn’t see an obvious escape. A brick wall behind me, no ladders or even a sewer hole, just a mess of garbage. Steeling my nerves I grabbed a splintered broom handle from the ground and charged the front line. Before reaching the soldiers, a sharp prick against my neck sent me swerving to the ground. A second later, and all was black.
I woke up in a glass coffin. There was only a glimmer of blue light on the outside and in an instant the container was too small. I could almost feel the air running out and started pounding on the roof. To my surprise, the top opened with ease and I crawled out. A glance back revealed it was not a coffin but a hypersleep chamber, it looked like I was in space despite my efforts. A closer look at the paneling indicated I had been asleep for twenty years. I checked my reflection in the glass top, but it seemed as though nothing had changed, except for the space suit I now wore. I suppose there are some benefits to space travel. Except, the trip to the moon doesn’t take twenty years. Not even close. Before I could ponder more on that, a red alarm went off on the wall, the flickering light brightening up the room. A wall of the room shifted to reveal a doorway and with nothing else to do, I went through it. The doorway shut behind me and I followed a long tunnel towards a pair of sliding doors. My hand pressed against them and they opened, throwing me into a white, cubical room. Gravity disappeared and I found myself floating upside down. No, I reminded myself. No gravity means no proper directions, whichever way I’m facing is up. I waited until I floated near part of the wall to grab part of it and anchor myself down. Only then was I able to get a good look around. The small sliding door I had entered from was on one wall, a mirror image of it on the wall across. A third wall looked more like a bay door, but a second glance revealed it was completely covered in glass. The final wall was decorated with the panels of space ships and a long window with a view of the Earth. I pushed off from where I was to reach the paneled wall. But my discovery only proved to increase my despair, it was all fake. A whoosh from beside me made me jump and I twisted to see the second pair of doors open. A man with a bird’s nest of brown hair tumbled out, kicking his feet to propel towards the opposite wall. One hand stretched to grab hold and the other holding a piece of dried watermelon that he was currently chewing on. I cleared my throat and he jumped, recovering quickly to let out a hissing laugh.
“So, you must be the new addition. I actually knew you were coming, I think I’m grasping their language better and better.”
I held up a hand, my brow furrowed, “I don’t understand- where am I and who is “their”?”
The stranger pushed off the wall towards the ceiling, hooking his feet onto a pair of straps as he floated in the opposite direction as I did. He grinned cheekily, slapping the palm of his hand against his forehead.
“I always forget how much the newbies don’t know. But first things first, I’m Darian.”
He held out his hand and I shook it, our fingers awkwardly intermixed.
“Sarah. Now about those answers?”
“Right, right. Where to begin.” Darian swung from the ceiling and let himself float in the middle of the room. He was certainly the restless type.
“You and I are Homo sapien specimens and we’re part of an intergalactic treaty.”
I frowned. “Meaning?”
“Meaning that years and years ago, when Earthen astronauts started exploring space, we arranged an agreement. Earth would provide Homo sapiens for the zoos of planets across the galaxy, and the alien nations would not attack the planet. We’re on the far off planet Irjgogen, where they recently requested a female specimen for the exhibit.”
Darian gestured to me, “That’s you.”
I shook my head, letting go of the wall.
“No, no, no that can’t be. We’re in some sort of weird space ship and you’re crazy.”
We floated past each other, Darian shrugged.
“Whatever helps you cope, but this ‘spaceship’ as you call it, is the Gogen’s recreation of humans in space, hence the antigravity.”
“I still don’t beli-“ The large bay doors opened with a click. The doors slid away but the layer of glass stayed, providing a window to the outside. Or, as I soon realized, a window in. I watched, jaw dropped, as amorphous blobs of all shapes and colors slid past. They stayed in groups, pausing at the window and making popping and clicking noises. Darian laughed at my face and gestured a hand towards the blobs.
“Ah, the morning rush. Sarah, meet the Gogens.”
Then he brought a hand to his cheek and started making very similar clicks and pops with his mouth.
“What are you doing?”
“Speaking their language.”
“What, how? And what are you saying?”
He had floated towards another wall, pushing off towards the glass where he hung upside down and made a face. I could have sworn the small alien on the other side started giggling as it lifted a tentacle type apparatus to touch the glass. Darian turned to look at me.
“Mostly mimicry, I’ve been here a while. I haven’t aged so I have no idea exactly how long, but you start to pick things up. If I did it correctly, I pretty much just repeated ‘hello’ a bunch of times. Think of it like a parrot.”
The reality of my situation started sinking in and my stomach twisted up inside.
“Now smile,” Darian said, flashing his own pearly whites. “The more liked you are, the more treats you get.”