I woke up from the most bizarre dream. Well, perhaps calling it a dream is inappropriate. A vision? Premonition? I couldn’t tell why, but I knew it was real. I knew it was something that my mind had not made up. I knew, because after waking I could feel that there was something I needed to do. I knew that the task I had was extremely important. The fate of the world depended on it. I didn’t know exactly what it was that I must do, but I knew that I had to fly across the ocean, to America, to fulfill my part of the task.
The burden was heavy, but there was some relief in knowing that I had to go somewhere far away for who knows how long. It’s been a long time since I last felt safe in my own house with Kenji around. He was out now – a perfect opportunity for me to leave.
“Sophia,” I called out. The doll entered the room as the translucent door slid open. A metal construct, physically only vaguely resembling a human, and yet I felt a surprising affinity to the thing. There was a screen where its eyes would be if it were a person. The screen would display whatever state the machine was in. Right now, the characters for awaiting input were displayed. “I need you to pack my things. Only the bare necessities. I will later mail you the address of where I want the rest of them sent.”
“Certainly,” the doll replied in a voice that sounded like a very convincing imitation of a human being. “Shall I inform Master Kenji of this?”
“Oh, don’t trouble yourself. I’m sure he’s too busy to be reading e-mails now,” I lied, but the machine seemed content with the response. Then again, he might have been too drunk to notice an e-mail anyway.
It only took Sophia five minutes to have a small suitcase ready. I bid the doll farewell and left. The pristine elevator rode down to the first floor in an instant. I exited the lobby to find quite the commotion outside. People were huddled in groups gazing up at the sky, excited whispers filled the air. I looked up myself. The image of a giant multi-colored eye surrounded by flames returned to me, the echo of a headache and intense nausea returning for a minute, but then faded away in an instant. So that’s them, I thought as I watched the millions of white lights littered in-between the stars on the evening sky. That’s quite a bit more of them than I expected. Then again, they didn’t exactly speak to me, did they.
I remembered hearing only one word: contact. And yet, they (whatever they were) managed to convey more information to me through some means I could not comprehend. I knew there was twelve of us. I knew that word referred to the girl in the middle. I knew where I had to go. But what happens once I get there?
A chill went down my spine. I couldn’t waste any more time. Everything about Kenji was a crapshoot lately. He could come back from work early or not come back for days without saying a word. I decided against taking any chances. So I stopped stargazing and went to the monorail as fast as I could. I was hoping I could reach the airport, but doing that in less than an hour seemed unlikely, considering all the crowds.
The ride was surprisingly easy. I spent it reading a PSA glued to the car wall about sexual violence in public transit. I was one of the few people who were on board the monorail. I guess the crowds were too excited about all the lights in the sky to actually care to commute somewhere. I got to the airport much faster than expected. But it was only then that the real problem arose.
The airport was filled to the brim with people. Some were glued to the glass walls, pointing and shouting at the mysterious lights. Others were lined up in front of the ticket offices, throwing fits, being reassured of something by the security. The lines weren’t moving at all. It looked like no one could actually book a flight or reach their terminal. I took a look at the departures board. I could feel my breath become heavy, sweat trickled down my neck. All the flights had been cancelled.
I walked up to one of the security guards.
“Excuse me,” I said as gently as I could. “What is going on?”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, ma’am, but no public planes will be departing today,” said the security guard. He was really young – I don’t think he could have been older than 20. His voice was shaking slightly, but I could tell he was doing his best to remain calm. “The lights that appeared in the sky are still unidentified and the federal government has demanded all flights to be cancelled. There are currently no planes in the air anywhere around the world. This is all to ensure everyone’s safety.”
“I understand. Thank you, sir,” I smiled at him and turned around.
I walked around aimlessly. What am I supposed to do now? I have to get there no matter what! Why did this have to happen? I sat down on the bench and put my face in my hands. I was just about to cry when I heard a familiar female voice call out to me.
“Atsuko! Is that really you?” A woman approached me. I instantly recognized her face. It was Mai Kashihara, an old colleague of mine. Her wide smile would always brighten my day. We used to work together until I took my leave. A noticeable baby bump was a new aspect of her that I hadn’t seen before. For a moment, I felt a burning surge of envy run through my veins. “It’s been too long!”
“Mai!” I blurted out in surprise. We threw our arms around each other. The embrace of a friend you thought you’d never see again – a feeling that no words can describe. “It HAS been too long! Look at you! When did this happen?”
“Oh, you know,” she grinned. “Six months. I’m supposed to be taking a vacation now. And what are you doing here?”
“Oh, I’m–“ I found myself at a loss for words. “Um…”
Mai’s grin faded. “Don’t tell me… Is it Kenji again?”
Well, you’re technically not wrong. I nodded. “I guess you could say I’m going on a vacation too.”
Her face remained stern, despite my feeble attempt at humor. “Well, none of us are going anywhere at this rate, so why don’t we just grab a coffee and talk?”
I was really grateful for her proposal. For a moment, I was able to forget my task, as we sat a Starbucks at the airport, sipping on our frappuccinos which were really more ice cream than coffee anyway. We had so much catching up to do – she told me all about her idyllic life as a happy wife and soon-to-be mother, who still manages to have a successful career in the gaming industry.
“So you’ve left Kenji?” she finally landed the question. She’d always been very blunt.
“Well, it’s not that simple,” I sighed. I considered telling her about my dream and my real reason to go. But I just couldn’t bring myself to it. I was sure I could trust her, but for some reason, a part of me couldn’t believe that there was any way she could take me seriously. “I don’t think he’s noticed yet.”
“No way! So you just ran away without telling him?”
“Wow,” Mai smirked. “You’ve got some balls, I can tell you! Way to go!”
For all her bluntness, I really enjoyed her company. There were things I never had to tell her about – she just knew me, she understood me. She never even asked about the real reason I had to leave work for a while. She knew it wasn’t health. She always knew exactly what to say to make me feel better.
“I’m so glad we bumped into each other,” I grinned at her. I saw her grin back at me, but by that time my grin had faded, as I saw two imposing, foreign-looking men in suits approach our table.
“Ms. Atsuko Tachibana?” the blond one said to me in a deep, cold voice. His Japanese was flawless.
He pulled out a badge and showed it to me. The golden seal on it indicated that he worked for the government. “My name is agent Murdoch. This is my partner, agent Riley.” he beckoned at the dark-skinned one. “We have come here to escort you to your flight, on behalf of the federal government.”
“Oh?” I glanced at Mai who was just sitting there with her mouth agape. “I thought all the flights had been cancelled.”
“We will be boarding a government jet,” agent Riley said.
“Is it safe?”
“There is nothing to worry about.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. There was a silence. All three people with me were now looking at me. “Why should I go with you?”
Agent Murdoch rubbed his temple and then smiled. “I understand you have doubts, but you can trust us. If our badges don’t convince you, then let me just tell you that we are taking you to where the contact is.”
At the sound of that word, my heart stopped for a second. This is my chance.
“Atsuko, what’s this all about?” Mai was staring at me. I smiled one last reassuring smile to her. I tried to make it as warm as possible. I had the feeling I might not get a chance to see that face ever again. I stood up, went over to her and hugged her.
“I think it’s time to say goodbye. Take care of yourself for me, okay? That new life growing within you needs to get to know you well, you get what I mean?”
“Yeah, of course,” she grinned at me one last time. “Take care on your journey! Let me know if you ever need something!”
“Thank you. Goodbye, Mai,” I said as I waved at her and followed the two men on their trail. I later noticed I was holding my hand on my belly. I let it linger there for a while. A new life, I said to myself. Would things look different if I was able to…?