What if I try to read “All the Pretty Girls,” by Kenny Chesney, as a work of flash fiction? I can already hear you. “That doesn’t make sense, Benny! That song isn’t a story song!”
Halfway through the A-to-Z challenge! M is for mothership, a large ship that carries smaller ships. Flying saucers and bug-eyed monsters are not necessarily involved, though they certainly make things more fun.
Through the porthole, the stars spun in slow, lazy circles. Jako tried to ignore them, and the queasy sensation of microgravity. Instead he focused his attention on his wristpad display, frantically manipulating figures in a spreadsheet.
“How can you do homework at a time like this?” This tied the record for longest sentence Liarna had spoken to him in their high school career. Jako chuckled; all it took for a girl to talk to him was to be trapped in a cramped sardine can in the middle of the Main Belt. He wondered what it would take for him to get a date for senior prom.
“It’s not funny, Jako! Someone’s going to come looking for us, right?” Their escape capsule was speeding away from the mothership, in orbit of minor planet 535 Montague, at a velocity of thousands of meters per second. It would take days for a search and rescue team to find them.
“Someone will come looking for us. It’ll just take longer for them to find us than to catch your delinquent boyfriend.”
“What’s so bad about Dynnon?”
Jako stopped swiping at his wrist display and looked her squarely in her gray eyes. “He and his jock friends stuffed me into an escape capsule and launched it?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I tried to stop them.”
“I know. Thanks.” Jako returned to his calculations.
“It’s so hot in here. Worst field trip ever.” She unbuttoned her top button, then noticed his focus on his wristpad. “Seriously?! How can you be doing homework?”
“Titan was the worst field trip ever.” Which teacher had thought that taking a class of giggling high school freshmen to a moon with a methane atmosphere was a good idea? “And this is not homework,” Jako explained. “I’m calculating how long the air will last us in here.”
Liarna’s face paled. “Are we going to die?”
“Someday. But life expectancy for a girl your age is a hundred and forty-eight. Life support in this escape pod should easily last two weeks. We’ll be picked up long before then.”
Liarna tugged at her collar. “Then why is it so hot?”
With his fist, Jako bumped a large green pushbutton on a nearby control panel. The iris-style hatch above them opened, and air rushed outward. Liarna gasped, but quickly regained her composure and peered up through the hatch.
“Inflatable habitat,” explained Jako. “It provides a little more breathing room.”
Liarna tentatively stood up, gripping the handholds to position herself in zero-g. With a gentle push, she floated through the hatch, into the inflated space. The walls were transparent plastic, but only the two dozen brightest stars were easily visible through its slightly reflective surface. “Wow,” she said. “Great view. You should come up here.”
With a shrug, Jako turned off his wrist display and floated off to join her. She pointed out a bright blue star. “Isn’t that Earth?”
Jako blinked. “Yes. How’d you know?”
“I do have interests other than my delinquent boyfriend,” she said, rolling her eyes at him. “You’re too quick to stereotype people. I’m not a ditzy blonde, and Dynnon isn’t a meathead jock. Did you know he’s into romance poetry?” She tapped her own wristpad, then showed Jako a file from her private folder.
Jako stared at the display in disbelief. “Until this moment, I never would’ve believed Dynnon could write a sonnet.”
“Would you believe he’s not even my boyfriend? He’s dating his teammate Mato.” She paused uncomfortably, as though she had spilled a secret. “Don’t tell anyone. His parents are really old-fashioned. They would never understand him dating an android.”
He nodded, holding a finger to his lips. “Your secret is safe with me.”
The two of them floated in the center of the ellipsoidal inflated habitat, adrift in a sea of stars. “We’re pretty far from Montague by now. It might be days before they find us.”
“Two or three days, maybe,” Jako shrugged. “The mothership can detect us easily; it just takes a long time to catch us at this velocity.”
Liarna rested her head on his shoulder. Jako’s heart skipped a beat as she leaned into his ear and whispered, “Would you like to help me with my physics homework?”
“Why so glum, Kelsea?” her manager asked as he wiped down the high top tables.
“I’unno.” she sighed, leaning against the bar during the mid-morning lull. “I guess I just thought Washington would be more exciting.”
“Exciting? Kid, we have power players coming through every day. That ain’t exciting enough for ya?”
She shrugged. “They never notice me. Except Half-Caff Soy Latte who complains that I’m too slow.”
“What about that saucer?” he nodded toward the South Lawn, where the shiny metallic disk still stood motionless near the White House on its three spindly legs. “That’s pretty exciting.”
“It’s just sitting there. Besides, any aliens are gonna talk to the President. I’ll never even see any little green men.” It took her a minute to realize that her boss’s gaze was fixated out the window. A creature approached, short, green-skinned, with a bulbous head and tentacles.
The alien being entered the coffeeshop, followed at a distance by soldiers, Secret Service, reporters, and awed onlookers. Its mouth tendrils trembled as it waddled up to Kelsea’s register and stared at her with bulging black eyes. Then it spoke in perfect English.
“Hi. I’ve seen you around, and… would you go out with me?”
My childhood memories revolve around that little white house at the end of the cul-de-sac. Her mother paid me $5.01 — two Lincolns, as she said — to mow whenever the Sergeant was on base. A stickler for the perfect lawn, he claimed any frisbees that landed there.
She was my best buddy. Summer afternoons we’d bike to the creek. I’d splash through the cool water, oblivious to her tied t-shirt and cutoffs.
Evenings I’d memorize twenty digits of pi for extra credit, and she’d dress as George Washington for rehearsal. I’d gush about cheerleader crushes, and she’d let me win at Mario Kart. Then we’d laugh until her mother came to check that the bedroom door was open.
Graduation day we hugged, cheered, and celebrated freedom. Graduation night we drank, cried, and promised we’d be friends forever. Though I met new people at college, she was always on my mind. I awaited her daily emails about Poli. Sci. class… then doctors… then T-cell counts.
That summer, silence echoed through her empty room. She had moved down the road, to a stone building, on an immaculate lawn inside a wrought iron fence. That little white house will never be the same without her.