Year 2045, Newly Discovered Unnamed Galaxy, Apartment Building Story One-Hundred Twenty-Seven
"You have to do it. It's in or die!"
"You don't know for sure! What's in there could murder us!"
"PLEASE, JUST PRESS THE BUTTON!"
Eerie footsteps creeped up behind us. Celestrina's heart skipped a beat. This was not what she had in mind when she moved to the newly discovered galaxy in search of adventure with her mother, step brother, and thirteen-year-old cat. Who knew Decisions were such a difficult thing to do. Her mind was swiveling as the footsteps ceased with a hollow thud.
“What…” she whispered, barely able to muster a squeak, “was that?” She dared not turn to look back. Her step brother, Edmund, with eyes resembling those of a barn owl’s at midnight back in their cozy farmhouse in Auburn, Alabama, somehow dug up the courage to look behind his shoulder.
There stood a man, face and features obscured, with a supposedly loaded gun pointing at the button to the emergency lift. His voice was deep, sincere, desperate. “Don’t. Press. The. Button.”
Celestrina was at the wavering edge of passing out. She held up her arms in fear, away from the button. Edmund glared at her. “Celestrina! We have to get out of this freaky place!” He reached for the button as the man reached for his hoodie. The door opened with a classic beep, Edmund pulled Celestrina in, and spammed the close door button from the inside as the man fired– hitting the bulletproof door to the lift.
“That was close…” panted Edmund. Celestrina was still in a stage of not-speaking (and apparently also not-reacting). Though no one had the courage, not even Edmund, to speak the words, they both knew that there was more to come. In fact, as they tumbled into the lift, there was another series of exasperating buttons for them to press.
A robotic voice greeted the siblings. “Salutations, mortal. What so urgently brings you to the emergency lift?”
“Good afternoon, Cassandra… um… my sister and I were— we were being chased out of our apartment. Can you let Mom know not to go into the building and for her to stay calm?”
“Yes, of course, Edmund. Would you like me to tell her where you’re headed?” Cassandra offered. Edmund glanced at Celestrina, who had collapsed on the floor of the lift. “Cele? Cele!” Celestrina woke up from a trance and sluggishly answered, “Hmm?”
“Where should we go now?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“My last decision didn’t go very well. We almost got shot.”
“I don’t know… my vision is still recovering— I can’t even see the numbers on the buttons. What are they?”
Edmund hadn’t paid attention to the buttons yet. “Um, could you give us a moment, Cassandra?”
He stepped closer to the button stage. “They’re—they’re not numbers, Cele…”
“What do you mean?”
Edmund examined the awkward-looking pictographs printed on the lift buttons. “Um… there’s a yellow button with a heart on it, a pink button with a smiley face, a black button with an umbrella, a blue one with a skull, a green one with a warning sign, and a red one with a check mark.”
Edmund turned to Celestrina, who had the same bemused expression upon her face. Then her eyes widened, and she jumped up energetically beside Edmund. “Wait, Ed, look… what does this remind you of?”
“What do you mean? These are just symbols and unmatched colors and–”
“Yes, Ed, yes! Unmatched! It’s like a mix-&-match game! Look, I think the pink button should have the heart, and the yellow one should have a smiley face. We have to swap them!”
“Cele– what? This is ridiculous. We have to press one of them to get out.”
Celestrina seemed to have gotten her clever ideas back. She ushered Edmund over to the side of the button stage. “Look,” she pointed. “The buttons are fixed in the stage. It’s a mix-&-match game, I tell you.” She carefully picked off the heart from the yellow button with the tip of her fingernail, and then the smiley face from the pink button and swapped them. The lift made a happy-sounding ding! noise and the yellow and pink buttons protruded a bit more from the stage. “See, now they’re clickable,” Celestrina explained.
Edmund seemed interested. “Oh, I see where this is going,” he said with a grin. “Okay, look at this one; it’s black with an umbrella.”
“And the next one is blue with a skull and crossbones,” Celestrina added. The siblings exchanged triumphant looks. Without a word, Edmund extracted the umbrella and Celestrina the skull, and they switched the figurines around. Another ding!, and the blue and black buttons were now projecting from the stage. “Here’s the last one…”
“Ah, this one should be easy. Piece of cake,” Celestrina smiled. “Look, green with a warning sign and red with a check mark. What do you think, Ed?” She nudged him teasingly.
Edmund chuckled and swapped the buttons’ symbols. An ear-piercing DING! filled the lift and shook the siblings to the ground, hard. “The buttons on the lift are now available to press. Please press a button to let us know your destination.”
The voice was not Cassandra’s. But there was no time to worry about that now. Edmund and Celestrina pressed the only button they knew to be safe, trustworthy, reassuring, and 100% purely promising in that exact moment– the green button with the check mark that had originally been mistakenly placed in the red button.
The lift began to move, and the two siblings held hands tightly. “Green button, don’t fail me now…” Celestrina whispered. The lift’s velocity increased, and the two siblings screamed as they were plunged underground. A realm of bright neon green met them as the lift's door opened and the siblings were pushed outside by a sudden supernatural force, like a gargantuan magnet. Coughing. Celestrina inquired, "Ugh, where are we?"
Edmung looked around. He had seen this place in textbooks before. The siblings were homeschooled, however their learning pace was faster than those of the students at the public school. "Cele..." he braced himself. What he was confirming could impact the rest of the future. "I don't think we're still in the same planet."
"What-- what do you mean, Ed?"
He looked around once more, just to confirm.
"Cele, we're on Earth."
To be continued…