She paused and stared up at the night sky. Oh how she wished, the stories she had read when she was younger were true. Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the cool evening air on her dried sweaty skin. Just heading home from the gym she thought she would walk home and take the long way around. The leaves rustled. There was no one else around she stopped at the bridge. The water moved swiftly and effortlessly down the river. The stars filled the night sky like diamonds lying out on a black velvet pad. It was such a pretty sight … so sparkly. There was no moon out tonight. Just the stars to keep her company on her walk home.
Kiera knew you had to take pleasures in the small miracles in life, because those we all she had that kept her going. She was an only child who grew up with her daddy; her mother took off with one her daddy’s friends when Kiera was three. Left a note saying that she loved her daddy, but having a toddler on a full time basis was just too much for her. Her daddy never wanted her to see the note. He had torn it up and threw it out. When she was asked, he told her that her mother had a mental illness and she had died. She found out the truth when she was 16 years old. Her daddy was drinking with his best friend and broke down in tears. She had over heard her daddy bawling about his idiot wife leaving him. He couldn’t understand why, when they had the best kid in the world. His friend agreed with him. Her daddy took ill last year and died of cancer a few months ago. His best friend Albert tried to help her out as much as he could. But she had been very self sufficient. She had been working since she was 14 years old and had a steady paying full time job since she was 17 years old. She never complained, not even once. She had finished her high school online by the time she was 20. She put off the online college course due to her daddy’s illness. After he died she had been juggling the bills to pay for his funeral expenses. Things were just looking up for her. There was a job that she found online and applied for it. Within an hour of applying for the job she got an over the phone interview and was hired on the spot.
She didn’t want to stay up too late because she wanted be well rested for her trip tomorrow. It was for computer repairs, there would be some training provided, which she liked the sounds of, and a little traveling involved. The guy on the phone asked her if she liked to travel. She replied I’d travel to the end of the galaxy for the right job. He laughed and replied, “Only the end of this galaxy, what about the universe?”
“I don’t think my sneakers would hold out,” she had replied. Which won her another belly laugh from him, at least he could appreciate her sense of humor.
She walked the rest of the way home taking her time as if it was the last time she would see this street. Frowning she wondered where that melocolony thought came from. Maybe she had just been feeling lonely since her daddy wasn’t around anymore. She could talk to him about most things, when it came to the lady things she relied on the school counselors who had been helpful and understanding. What she couldn’t ask of them she would search online. Thank god for the information age.
Pausing she stopped at her favorite corner store and bought some cinnamon buns and a can of Pepsi. Thanks to her daddy it was one of his addictions that he had passed on to her. An inheritance he would tease.
The rest of the walk went by fairly quickly. Stepped up the steps to her apartment she saw Albert peeking out the window.
She waved at him and he waved back.
Stopping at apartment A on the first floor, the door was already open for her.
“Hey Uncle Al, how are you tonight?”
“I’m good girl. At the gym again I see.”
“Gotta stay in shape.”
“Well eating that won’t help you.”
“You’re right I should just throw it out,” she tried to hide her smile she knew where this was leading to.
“Now girl what would your daddy say about you wasting good food. Here, here I’ll take that off your hands and drop it off at the soup kitchen tomorrow.”
“What would I do without you looking out for me?”
“You’d survive, you might be 600 pounds but you’d survived.”
She just laughed.
“Did Tanya drop your dinner off?”
“Yes but you know I don’t know how to heat it up in that damn contraption.”
“I’ll show you once more. There is a plate heater button take the plastic off and put the plate inside the microwave and just press the button.” She knew, he knew how, but he liked the company.
“So I hear you start your new job tomorrow.”
“Yes I do, suppose to be training in Mexico. I’m packing light and figure I’ll pick up whatever else I need when I get down there. “
“That’s a smart idea. Don’t forget to bring me back some rum or a t-shirt,” he grinned at her.
“How could I forget?”
“How long are you going to be gone for?”
“Don’t know Phil said a month or two and if we liked it we could stay down there. I’m sure it’s nice and all but it doesn’t have that Michigan charm I’m used to.”
“Maybe you’ll meet a nice boy.”
She laughed, “Don’t you think that’s a little over rated? Besides that, I like being single. If I feel the need to have someone boss me around I just come down here and start picking up after you,” she laughed as she picked up a couple pieces of clothing lying on the living room floor. “Really Uncle Al? Boxers? I don’t want to know if you have a fresh pair on now,” she dumped them in dirty cloths laundry hamper in his room.
Kiera came back out and sat down with him. He was telling her about the latest gossip. She entertained him in this regard, even though she could careless for what her neighbors were up to. But she did pay attention and pretended to care, he liked when she stopped by and he looked forward to her visits.
Two hours later, after she clean up his apartment, had dinner with him and visit for a bit she retired to her own apartment. Bags packed and by the door, she had a hot shower and went to bed.
The alarm clock woke her up early enough. She added her last minute items, toothbrush, toothpaste, in her carry on and headed downstairs. Uncle Al was waiting for her and gave her a watch, he had picked out especially for her. They said their goodbyes, she promised to keep in touch. Hugs and a few tears later she escaped her apartment building she had called home for the past 10 years. Sucking back a few more tears she reminded herself that she was embarking out on a new journey. Her taxi was waiting for her at the curb.
Nothing was holding her back it was exciting to take this job. When she first told Uncle Al he was skeptical and had Tanya follow up with it. She reported back that the Univale was a legitimate company they started a new training group in Mexico this week.
Before Tanya got back to them, Uncle Al was telling her stories of slave markets, sex trade, organ thief’s, and the criminal mind. She thought he was watching too many crime shows on TV, but didn’t dare say it out loud. She acted genuinely concern and relieved when Tanya said it was okay.
The guy she spoke to the phone Oki seemed really nice and she didn’t get any bad vibes talking to him, she thought the job was legit and couldn’t wait for a change of pace.
She took a taxi down town to the greyhound station. Was surprise to see a lady at the ticket counter, picked up her ticket that was waiting for her, and caught the bus for Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a 16 ½ hour bus ride.
They got off at 116 West Huron Street, there was hardly any traffic. The red light shone brightly glistening against the wet pavement. It was after midnight and nothing was open. A taxi pulled up to the curb beside her, she peeked inside. A thin short blue hair woman sat in the back with a big smile, “get in girl.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just stopping over. “
"Kiera Drake? I presume we’ve been expecting you. We leave in the morning; you can get a couple hours sleep before then.”
Kiera threw her bags in the back seat, and crawled in beside the young woman.
“Wow you pack light.”
“I was planning on picking up stuff when I get there."
“Good idea. My name is Sloan McKay nice to meet you. I heard about you.”
“Well you can’t believe everything you hear.”
Sloan laughed. “Right you are. Are you looking forward to our little adventure?”
“Yes, I’ve never been out of the Soo before, let alone Michigan. I can’t wait to see Mexico.”
“Have you ever wanted to go there?”
Kiera laughed, “I just wanted to travel period.”
“Oh that you will, that you will, I promise you.”
“I can’t wait. I have my passport and my toothbrush what more could I need?”
Sloan laughed again, “I like the way you think.”
Moments later they pulled up to a hotel. Getting out Kiera followed Sloan inside. At the counter a young man waved to them and said hi.”
Sloan nodded and turned to Kiera. “I’ve got a wake up call for you for 7 am. We have a breakfast down here and head out at 8:15 am. There will be a bus waiting outside for us with the Univale logo on the side."
Sloan dropped Kiera off at room 212 and departed. Once inside Kiera dropped to the nearest bed and fell asleep. It was a good sleep. Kiera felt strong and independent and free.
The phone rang stirring her from her slumber. Slapping her hand on the night table, she finally found the phone.
“Good morning, this is your wake up call it’s 7 am. Have a great day!” then the operator hung up
Kiera rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Stretching she realized this was the day she was going to get out of Michigan for the first time. Jumping out of bed she felt like a kid on an adventure. Quickly she had a fast shower. Within minutes she was dressed, packed and downstairs checking out breakfast.
Grabbing a cup of coffee and a toast with jam it was a self server counter. She believed they called it complementary centennial breakfast. Sitting at a table alone she watched the news on the large TV set.
“Hey may I sit here?” a tall guy with the most stunning brown eyes, smiled at her.
“What’s your name?”
“Sam Soto,” he smiled.
“Same nice to meet you,” she felt herself blushing a little.
“Are you here for the Univale thing?”
She smiled, he had a bit of an accent. She liked that, Kiera nodded.
“Me too, maybe we can sit together?”
“I’d like that,” she nodded. “So where are you from?”
“Really? So nice. I’m from Sault Ste. Marie Michigan. Have you ever traveled?”
“A little, I lived in Australia for a year, Hong Kong most of my life, Sweden, Canada and now, I’m going to try Mexico.
“Wow impressive. How old are you?”
“Yeah but I turn 19 in two weeks.”
“And your parents let you sign up for this?”
“I’ve been on my own for the last three years.”
“Oh I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, not a lot of kids my age, own their own house and car. Of course I’m still on the graduated Driver permit.
“The grad ... what?”
He laughed, “it’s a Canadian thing basically I can’t drive my own car for another 4 months until I take my test.”
“I see,” she smiled.
“How about you? Do your parents know you’re here?”
“I’m by myself too.” She didn’t want to talk about it.
“I know how that is. People think it’s so great no parents nagging you , etc. but …” he looked away.
She knew he understood. They ate quietly for a bit until the news reported. A new computer virus was on the loose.
“That sucks,” she took a sip of juice.
“Yeah not a lot you can do,” he shrugged. “Do you like computers?”
“A bit,” she smiled. In truth she had a knack for playing with computers, and playing … she did. She had hacked into a few sites that had high security just for the fun of it. The fear of getting caught made her stop a few weeks ago. She was no longer a kid. She smile, she didn’t need to get caught doing something illegal.
“How about you?” she asked.
“I love them and everything about them. I created a bot and wrote my own software for it a few years ago. I used an alias name but made a whole whack of cash on it. That is how I bought my house and car I still have a lot of it left over. But instead of going to school now and sit in a class room taught by people who know less than me. I decided to try this out. Idle hands … you know what they say."
She laughed this guy sounded out her league. He was cute and smart.
“Have you ever been here before?”
“Ann Arbor? No.”
A tall thin woman came over to them, “if you two are done the bus will be leaving soon, and as soon as we get everyone on it we’re out of here.” She smiled, “So finish up as quickly as you can and get outside.”
“Are you done?”
“Pretty much, let’s go.”
He grabbed his two bags and she grabbed hers. The bus was half full they found two empty seats together and sat down. There was a soft chatter from the others that filled the bus. Mostly they were excited to be doing something new and going to visit another country.
Within minutes the seats filled up fast. What Kiera notice was that every person on the bus was under 25 years old. What did that mean? Even though she had slept better last night than she had in months she was feeling a little drowsy.
Sam had already fallen asleep on her shoulder. The chatter was almost at nil, it didn’t sound right. It was too quiet for a group of people her age. Her eyes lids felt really heavy and her brain felt like it was stuck in a fog. It didn’t make any sense that they all were so tired or quiet. No sense, she felt herself yawn, and then it went dark. She was sure the coffee she grabbed wasn’t decaf.
Waking up she found herself sitting in a room with the others. Her head had been resting on her arms, that were folded and resting on the table in front of her.
Looking around at the others, they were coming to. They had been drugged!
Surveying the room there was a nice large wall mural of space and on the opposite wall a door. “Ahh guys I don’t think we’re in Michigan or Mexico for that matter anymore.” A short skinny kid stood by the wall mural.
“Where are we?” another voice asked
People were crowding round the window mural. Kiera didn’t like the feeling of any of this. It wasn’t right.
“Sam,” she nudged him.
He lifted his head and subconsciously wiped the drool off his mouth and cheek. “Kiera?”
She grabbed his arm and tugged.
He got up and they crossed over to the others and couldn’t believe her eyes. The mural wasn’t a picture! It was a window! They were in outer space! What was the meaning of this?
It was all too crazy to be true. “What do you think?” she leaned into him for support.
Rubbing his eyes he looked hard, then at the others then look back out the window. He reached for her hand and squeezed it. “I think we’re in trouble.”
“Me too,” she whispered.
He squeezed her hand again.
“Alright, listen up everyone!” a tall thin woman stood at the front of the table. “Come sit down.”
Sam didn’t let go they went back to their seats.
The woman waited until everyone was seated.
“You’re all here for a reason. I’m sure you’ve figured out we are no longer in the USA or Mexico for that matter. And you’re right. Each of you has demonstrated some extraordinary skill with computers and we need your expertise with a project we are working on.”
“You mean a project other than having people live in outer space?” someone asked.
“Yes, please do not interrupt. My friends and I have a piece of equipment that needs to be decoded then reprogrammed.”
A hand went up.
“Yes?” she asked annoyed.
“Why couldn’t we do this on Earth?”
“Nosy neighbors, plus time is another issue we are en-route to where the real equipment is. If you do this you will be compensated well.”
“What if we don’t want to?”
“That is not an option. I would highly suggest that you get to it. If you haven’t noticed by now you really are not somewhere where you can throw a fit and hop off a bus and leave. You all signed a contract and I expect you to live up to your end.”
“I also expected to be trained in Mexico where I could sit on the beach and soak up the local hospitality if you know what I mean ... not trapped in a tin can in a vacuum. So I think we both had expectations that aren’t going to be met.” A thin pink hair, dark skin with blue eyes started at our liaison.
“True but keep this in mind. If I don’t like your attitude or if you don’t want to perform well. I can throw you off this tin can and out into the cold harsh reality of that vacuum out there and there is nothing anyone can say or do to stop me. Not only that, but no one will ever find your floating corpse out here either. So good luck with that, food for thought my new recruits.”
Another undeterred hand went up.
“Yes,” she snipped.
“We’re your new recruits, what happen to the old ones?”
She laughed. But it wasn’t a friendly one. “Just do what I ask. Now follow me.” She started out of the room. Everyone followed.
This was definitely going to be a job she would remember for the rest of her life if she survived it.
R. J. DAVIES, AUTHOR