As Luke left Martha’s house he got a text from his roommate. Wanna come Karioki?
Who all is there?
Anna and Michael.
Luke knew he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep for a long time yet, and he felt like drinking. Kim’s Karioke and Sushi Bar was on the other side of town; he had been their hundreds of times before, usually at late hours with his roommate, usually making a fool of himself yet he always felt like coming back. Luke drove in silence. It started to snow faintly and he turned his windshield wipers on; they kept rhythm, thudding back and forth and dissolving the white dots that flew out in front of him.
The woman in the spacesuit was probably from NASA, he concluded. That or Martha was playing some large practical joke on him, but she didn’t seem like the type. Of course they might both be crazy, but how could they both lose their minds at the same time and hallucinate about the very same thing? She seemed as genuinely confused as he was; anyways, if this all was some advanced technological science experiment then as far as he could understand it they didn’t have anything to worry about. The woman was probably well on her way, out of their lives forever; they just had a glimpse into something a little larger than themselves, that was all. He felt no fear that they would ever see him again, although he briefly wondered, not seriously, if some Doctors would appear in the next few days to wipe their memories from the event. He doubted it, but he wouldn’t be too terribly upset if it happened.
It was still very interesting, however. Science was his worst subject in school and he never really got into sci-fi, but he wouldn’t mind too much if some of those fantastic technology advances came true in his life time. He wouldn’t mind teleporting to work or taking vacations on the moon.
He arrived at twelve-thirty. He found his roommate and friends at the bar; they waved their glasses in his direction and smiled brightly, drunkenly, mostly at each other than at him. A very small blond sang Rolling in the Deep in a wavering soprano. Luke pulled a seat up next to Anna and ordered a whiskey.
“What kind for you?”
“I don’t care—something strong. Anything over thirty-proof please?”
“Rough night?” Anna asked, throwing a careless smile back at him with a toss of her bright blond hair. She dressed haphazardly, her baggy flannel unbuttoned over an olive blouse, a shark tooth at the base of her dark throat. She had a Long Island in her hand, half-empty, and her eyes rolled when she addressed me.
“Odd night. Nothing too difficult.”
Anna nodded and with a slight tilt of her head returned to listening to a store that Luke’s roommate was telling. The little soprano at the karaoke stand struggled over her song; some of the notes hit too deep for her and a low painful rumble escaped from her, quivering in the air. She seemed too small for such a song about fire and passion, like such a song would explode out of her miniscule, childlike frame, and her little face glowed read with effort and embarrassment. Luke felt sorry for her and glad when she finally made her way to her table. Next up was a fat, balding man with his son, both very enthusiastic about it all. They sung poorly but everyone laughed because they had huge grins and sang loudly and fearlessly.
Luke took another shot and moved over to where his roommate was. Another couple came and sat at the bar with them and started talking with him, something very clever.
The night kept on. Luke took more shots and sang a few songs, once by himself and once with Anna and Michael. He sang very poorly because he was drunk and kept laughing at his mistakes so that he grew worse and worse the longer the song was. Anna got angry at him and steamed quietly for the rest of the night, but Luke did not remember them leaving.
At two o’clock he paid his bill for fifty dollars and crawled to a small booth. He did not know where his roommate was or where his friends were, and the people who were with him now he had never met before, although he had been talking with them all night. When he managed to pull his head up from the table he looked around the room for something familiar. He found his roommate Robert on the other side of the bar, tucked up in a booth with a woman and both of them huddled over their glasses, their faces very close together. Luke wondered if Robert was fit to drive and if he would remember him, or whether he would leave with the woman and Luke would have to sleep in his car. The people with him were teasing him, trying for him to say something funny as he had been entertaining them so well all night.
“What do you do for a living, kid?”
“Remember, you’re drunk and we’re strangers. You can tell us whatever you want, see? I’m an architect myself. You know the Sears tower? I designed that.”
Luke laughed. “I can be anything I want to then? Can I be the man who lays in bed and eats popcorn for a living?”
They laughed very loudly, and Luke laughed loudest at all. Then he said, “Don’t worry about it, I work for NASA. They are testing the effects of anti-gravity.”
“They haven’t done that in years!” One of the men objected. “I know for a fact that they’ve moved on to more advanced things. The advances in telescopes, for instance, and the amount of electro-magnetism has improved our understanding of the universe—“
The man would probably have continued on this trail for a long time if his comrades did not hush him up and ridicule him.
“He’s right though,” Luke said. “I would know, I’ve worked for NASA.”
“Come on then, what sort of things have they discovered, wise guy?”
“It is not impossible.”
“How would I know? All I know is I’ve seen—“ he hesitated, then looked up at the smiling, encouraging faces and laughed. He felt suddenly it was all a joke—Martha’s spacesuit woman who appeared, and the party, and now a karaoke bar full of strangers. He had taken it all so seriously. “Would you believe,” he said leaning forward and with a faint whisper, “That I have seen people appearing and reappearing out of thin air?”
“Maybe it is, but I’ve seen it. More than once, and not at NASA; in Minneapolis. People on street corners vanish. A friend of mine claimed that a woman in a spacesuit appeared in her house and then vanished again.”
He looked around at the cynical faces, and they reacted as he had hoped, with more laughs. It had all grown into a joke, he realized. He chuckled into his folded hands.
“Are you referring to that old conspiracy theory? Those people are mad,” someone said with a snort. “Someone will find some conspiracy to attach to anything. There hasn’t been any evidence.”
“But Andy, people have gone missing. How can you explain that?”
“People should not go walking alone at night alone if they don’t want something terrible to happen to them.”
“You’re no fun. Always the simple, easiest answer.”
“People have been going missing for centuries, there isn’t anything special with this city. People like to make up lies for themselves for entertainment.”
The last commented had a bit more bite to it than he meant to and to relieve the tension someone ordered another round of shots. Luke did not see Robert again that night.
Three blocks away an old gas station sat decaying, as it had done for the last three months. The old owner, Mr. Patel, had decided to retire and had sold it to someone who wanted to build a bar out of it. They had torn out the gas-tanks from under the ground and left a gaping hole of sand and rocks; the windows were taped up with notices saying that the shop was closed for good, some of these were broken into, for long ago thieves and gutted the shop for anything that Patel had left behind. Inside the shop the paint had gradually started to flake and curl away from the wall. A thin layer of sand-like dust lay across the bare floor and stains from the stands and tables that had been taken away still remained, white on the floor like ghosts.
With a flash a man appeared. He stood completely still in the corner, as still as a statue, his large eyes wandering around the room. He dressed in all black, a one-piece suit that covered his entire body in one long black shadow. He had unnaturally dark red hair, the color of blood, and his black straight brows hung over his eyes sternly. He looked troubled.
From his pockets he pulled a small white orb. He put it up against his lips and quickly, in a harsh whisper, he said: “I have arrived at Solo 3. Home base reply.”
He stepped forward, his boots crunching on the shattered glass that lay scattered across the floor. He placed the orb back in his pocket with one deft movement and raised his wrist, pointed towards the door, like a gun; a white beam appeared silently and darted across the walls and bare shelves until it reached a window, where it vanished in the open night. He moved quickly and gracefully across the floor to the door.
Cars roared by on the four-lane shop-road beside him. The pull of the cars made a cold breeze that made the trees shake around him, a loud confusing rustling. For a moment the man looked to have lost his senses, but he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and when he opened them his glance was cold and collected. Two laughing girls with long wispy hair and pale short dresses stared at him as he passed tried to look pleasing, but he looked straight ahead.
A clear voice ran out quite loudly: “We’re glad to hear you’re safe.”
He snatched the orb out of his pocket and raised it back to his mouth. “Give me the list of contacts in Minneapolis that I can go to for questions. We’ll see if we can’t stop her before this need escalate any farther.”
He started walking quickly and rapidly down the block as if he had no time to lose. He passed groups of college kids going from bar to restaurant to bar, and many stared at him as he passed. He stared straight ahead.
He needed money, he realized. He felt very hungry.