Ashley crouched behind the Audi, watching her boyfriend through the plate glass window of the Denny’s restaurant. The red and yellow neon sign above punctured the darkness. Pancakes. Coffee. And, visible in the window below: her sweet, sweet Brut. He was sprawled sideways in the booth, leaning back against the window, plaid Hurley cap tilted, a cup at his lips. Maddog slouched on the opposite bench, grinning fiercely, his dreadlocks huge. Some chick sat beside him, skinny with spiky black hair, leaning toward Brut; who the hell was that? Plates, piled with bunched paper napkins and cutlery, lay scattered in front of them.
Ashley was late for the party.
She shifted her feet and her metal boot studs rasped on the wet pavement. The drizzle had almost stopped but she wrapped her ratty army jacket around her more tightly anyway. She should cross the street and join them in the restaurant—at least it’d be warmer. Eggs over easy. And hash browns.
The Audi’s windshield burst into a painful kaleidoscope of violets, pinks, and reds. Just her luck to hide behind a car that had some kind of weird electrical problem.
“We need an ambassador.” The voice seemed to be coming from the flashing windshield. It was matter-of-fact and friendly.
“Piss off,” Ashley said. She squatted even lower behind the car in case the flaring lights caught Brut’s eye. Homefries. And bacon.
“We have only minutes to keep the wormhole open,” the voice said. Ashley flipped her blue hair off her eyes. The hair color was called “dystop-cyan” and cost her the entire haul from a purse-snatching down on Fifth Avenue yesterday, but she’d thought Brut might like the color. He’d liked her zombie-snake tattoo last week, enough to nuzzle her throat where the tail curled around.
“We will recruit you to spread the word. Our spot-checks indicate America and several other countries are finally progressive enough to enroll into the buzz–buzz–buzz,” the voice said, then chuckled. “That clearly did not translate. Let’s use the vernacular: you guys can enroll into the Galactic Federation. Peace and prosperity await.”
Huh. Maybe she shouldn’t have popped that little white pill she’d found in Maddog’s bathroom earlier tonight.
She edged around to the front bumper and stared at Brut through the window again, glad the darkness provided cover. Soon. She’d go to him, soon.
Just not quite yet.
“Get a life,” she told the voice. She hoped Brut would take his feet off the seat when she approached the booth.
Her throat was dry. She swallowed and looked more closely at the car in spite of herself.
It was a newer model Audi, dark red in the streetlights. The windows were tight and black, except the windshield which shifted colors in patterns too rapidly to make sense. Clearly, the Red Bull chaser had also been a bad idea.
“Our analyses indicate you are within the range of standard deviation for your country, race, and age,” the voice said, with warmth.
“Yeah, a standard deviant, that’s me,” Ashley muttered. Not even an original deviant.
The patterns shifted and emerged into an almost-shape, like a word on the tip of her tongue. If this was a crazy mugger or some kind of scam, it was different than any she’d seen before. And, in four years on the street, she’d seen it all.
It might make a good story to impress Brut with. Something to make her stand out among the other chicks. Something to make his eyes glint and the corner of his mouth twitch. Maybe he’d let her spend the night in his apartment again. Maddog’s sofa was getting lame.
“What’s in it for me?” She put a hand on her hip and pouted at the windshield like a Japanese porn star.
“Improving mankind and expanding world knowledge is not your mandate, I see,” said the voice, with a slight edge.
Ashley grinned and flipped a finger at the car. I can piss anybody off, given a few minutes.
“Perhaps this will convince you?” The kaleidoscope shifted to blackness so immense, so deep that Ashley gasped. Her skull began a not-unpleasant throb and her eyes felt stretched with infinite possibilities. A high that took her higher than she’d ever been, even that time in Arizona with the peyote.
Rotating planets and whirling galaxies flashed in a cadence that matched her thudding heart and she was lost in the universe, spiraling among the stars.
Finally, her mind found a tiny corner and tugged on it until it opened like a window on her phone. She rubbed a toe on the gritty sidewalk and cleared her throat.
“Why me?” she asked. “I’m, like, nobody. And, like, the most unreliable witness you’ll ever find.” Just what the cops had told her the night they released her stepdad for the eighth time. Without bail. No one ever did internal exams on trailer park trash.
“A hard truth,” the voice said, with an emotion she couldn’t label. “However, you are the only one on this street, the wormhole is closing, you have little to lose, and, sadly but most importantly, this nexus will not be disrupted since . . . well, actually . . . no one will miss you.”
She glanced at the restaurant window. Brut was holding out his coffee cup and smirking at the unamused waitress. The new chick was on Brut’s side of the booth, cuddled against him.
She climbed onto the hood of the car, one boot stud screeching a long silver gouge through the paint. She admired it for a minute then clambered into the whirling space where the windshield should have been. Her last thought, before reeling away into the cosmos, was of the last time she’d seen her mom: high heels clacking, pacing the kitchen floor, cell phone clamped to her ear as she made a date. Her mom had been laughing shrilly at something the client had said when Ashley had slipped out the door.
Ashley dropped gracefully to the street as the closing wormhole deposited her a few centimeters above the pavement. She was lucky to have caught this same nexus in front of the Denny’s, almost ten years to the day after she’d left. The Federation had wondrous technology but it was hard science, not magic and not perfect. The space/time juncture was only open for a moment; no time to see how Earth had changed in the past decade.
That shouldn’t matter. She had changed.
She was ready to be ambassador to the USA. To deliver her message to the country, the continent, the world.
Finally, she was about to do something with her life besides screw it up.
She kept her eyes squeezed shut, waiting for the transit afterglow to recede. She smoothed her chestnut hair behind her ears and straightened the collar of her sleek, form-fitting jumpsuit. She had amused the Federation staff by refusing to give up her boots—their worn leather now in sharp contrast to her chic appearance. The staff had fixed her brain chemistry—no more addictions or depression—as well as adjusting a slight pronation in her left foot and clearing up her herpes. Her muscles were magnificently toned and her posture impeccable. She was trained in politics, in psychology, in negotiation, in persuasion; a hundred years of education crammed into a decade. She was primed to bring humankind, with all their foibles, into the future, into an era of affluence and unbridled happiness.
She stretched joyfully and clicked her metal heels together, like a futuristic Dorothy.
Then she opened her eyes.
The Audi was gone. Litter blew across the street. The Denny’s, boarded up and graffitied, loomed at her in the predawn light. She walked toward the restaurant. Her foot hit something soft and she looked down. A rotting corpse lay in the gutter. She hurried past it and up the far curb. A crude newsletter tacked to an unlit lamppost caught her eye. The headline proclaimed: “World Economic Devastation Continues, Billions Starving”.
Her message would go unheard.
The party was already over.
© 2014 by Holly Schofield
First published in Women Destroy Flash Fiction! by Lightspeed Magazine, edited by Christie Yant, June 2014.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
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