Prompts = Astronaut/wife that doesn’t notice
“Honey, how many more long days do you have to work,” Jeanne asked her husband. “It seems like your assignments get longer and longer. I thought since you’re one of their top astronauts you’d got to work less, not more?”
“I have a new project I’m working on, it’s top secret,” he replied from behind the newspaper.
“You can’t tell me anything? Not just one little thing? I promise I won’t tell anyone,” Jeanne says leaning over the arm of the chair and then gently falling into his lap.
Adam kisses his wife on the cheek and puts down the paper.
“Nope. I can’t tell a soul. Even you.”
Adam wasn’t about to tell Jeanne that the secret project he has been working on for the last few months involved Area 81. He took a lot of pride in the fact that he was the only person asked to take part in this special work. The increased time away from home, however, was starting to get harder and harder to explain.
After packing his small overnight bag, Adam kissed his wife goodbye and headed to the office.
“Attention! Attention! All personnel please report to station 4.” Adam looked up at the ceiling. “Attention! Attention! All personnel please report to station 4.”
The voice came loudly over the intercom in the warehouse. Adam knew if the message came twice, it could not be ignored. He left his cubicle and headed for the door. His coworkers followed behind him forming a single file of bodies, all dressed in dark blue one-piece uniforms, white hats and black lace up boots. They looked like clones having passed the strict hiring policies requiring they all be male, have a height of 5 foot 11, have dark short hair and be of light skin.
As the group arrived at station 4, more than 150 men stood side by side waiting quietly for more instructions. They all knew that meeting here meant something drastic was going to happen. The silence in the room grew uneasy as Big Gus came to the front of the room and climbed up some stairs to a podium. He was only 4 foot tall with blond curly hair, a thick white beard and rotund abdomen. He wore a bright orange two-piece suit with a striped green bow tie. He looked like a clown but you dare not say anything like that to his face. Gus could make you disappear. He was the boss of Area 81. What he said was gospel and no one argued with him.
Gus stood at the podium looking out as his blue clad employees. He enjoyed making them wait. He knew they were all anxious for some exciting news about the project. He liked seeing them sweat, so he waited. And waited.
The blue mass was getting impatient. When they arrived they had been quiet and still but the longer Gus took to give them some news, the group got restless. From Gus’ view, the quiet, still crowed started swaying back and forth and whispering to their neighbors.
“What’s he waiting for?” some were saying.
“What’s going on?” others said.
“Come on, get on with it,” the more impatient said.
Gus cleared his throat and the blue group fell silent.
“Gentleman. I have called you here today to make a big announcement.” Murmurs started to spread across the men. “As of tomorrow, we will be closing half of the Area 81 job sites and unfortunately,” he paused”half of you will be asked not to return to work.”
A low hum could be heard among the crowd as Gus continued.
“There was no way to avoid this closing. Several of our classified projects recently had security breaches by our European allies. We can no longer trust they are safe. We need to shut down half of the projects in order to save the rest of them.”
The hum was loud now as the crowd was moving closer and closer to the podium.
“You will find a list posted on the wall outside the door. As you head to your cars, check the list. If your name has a star in front of it, you can report back tomorrow. If your name does not contain a star by it, today is your last day. You will have one week to return your uniforms, hats and shoes. If you do not return those items you will be billed for them and payment will be due in 8 days. Thank you for your time here at Area 81.” Gus stepped down from the podium and disappeared behind a group of security guards.
Adam couldn’t move. He looked around at his coworkers as they started to file out of the warehouse. The line backed up as the men stopped to check the list. When Adam got closer to the door, there was the occasional “YES!” shouted out but mostly the line moved slowly and silently. As Adam waited his turn, the man in front of him hit his fist against the wall after reading the list. “Dammit” he shouted. Adam had been trying to think positive as his turn came up in the line. He needed this job. He had no idea what he would tell Jeanne if he came home without a job. He had never told her that he wasn’t an astronaut. He had only told her that so her parents would help them get to Planet 12. Jeanne was wanting to build onto their small house and hoping soon to start a family. Without this job, there would be no addition and no family. He looked at the list quickly. He found his name at the bottom. Adam Zylo. No star. He let out a long breath.
Heading home through the airways, he sped past the other Mopobs flying up and over and around recklessly, coming dangerously close to other pods, getting leers and sneers from the other drivers. He was angry at Gus who would likely be enjoying a big meal with his associates tonight while half of his employees were sulking at home crying in their beer. He hated Gus. He hated Area 81. But he couldn’t keep from thinking about the project. What will happen to it? How will it be completed without him there?
Adam arrived home to an empty house. His wife, not knowing he’d be home early, probably was visiting the neighbors or taking a spa. He couldn’t find her on his wrist map. She must have turned hers off and he hated when she did that. He liked knowing where she was. He hung the Mopob and changed out of his work clothes. He piled them all on the floor and then kicked them across the room.
He grabbed a beer and went to sit out in the moon room. The planets were high tonight and the dark sky brought out the bright oranges and greens of their space neighbors. It was comforting to see them there so close. Since the Big War everyone was just happy to be seeing anything. Planet Earth was gone and those who were smart enough and rich enough were the only ones able to escape the attack. Adam and Jeanne were not rich or smart but Jeanne’s father and mother had sacrificed their spots on the satellite so that they could take the flight to Planet 12. He owed it to her parents for being alive. However, life on Planet 12 was not a bed of roses. In fact, there was no green plants here, only sand and rock. Well, sand, rocks and worms. But that was supposed to be a secret. His job at Area 81 was to feed the worms in the big tanks under the warehouse. He was 1 of 5 men in charge of keeping them alive. Finishing his beer, Adam fell asleep dreaming about them.
“Honey, what should we do for dinner tonight?” Jeanne shook his shoulder to wake him.
“What? Who’s there?” Adam sat up quickly, confused.
“Who else would it be, honey? Honestly, sometimes I wonder if your brain came with you on the ride here.” She giggled and walked away. She didn’t even notice he was home several hours early. Instead he could hear her humming something in the kitchen as she set out to make them nourishment. Adam wasn’t hungry but he would never tell Jeanne that. She took pride in making the meal in her big kitchen and in the next hour they were sitting together eating the yellow, pink and green apple tablets. Tonight she called them meatloaf and gravy but every night it was the same pills, just different colors and different names of food. Planet 12 had no gardens, farms or grocery stores. Big Sister had been providing them with the food capsules ever since they arrived. They had no idea how the pills arrived in their kitchen, but they showed up every week. They had no choice. They swallowed them or they assumed they would die. Tonight when Adam swallowed the colorful pills, he was sure he could taste beef and gravy.
“It’s delicious, honey.” He smiled at his wife.
“I’m so glad you like it. I worked all afternoon on it” and happily cleared the table.
Later that night as they readied for their night rest, Adam tried to start the conversation he dreaded. No matter what he decided to say, Jeanne would not understand. The time they had spent on Planet 12 had been simple for her, staying home all day and pretending to cook and clean. Adam could not accept the idea of staying home with nothing to do. He knew he needed to go back to Area 81. The worms needed him. If he didn’t show up, they would die and the consequences of them dying could possibly bring an end to this life as they now knew it. They had already lost everything on Earth, how could he tell Jeanne they could lose it all again. Her parents were here to save them this time? There had to be a way he could get back into Area 81. Some of the workers would be returning tomorrow. He would join them and try to just blend in. He would look at the list and pretend to be someone who had a star by their name. How could they possibly check so many people as they filed in for work?
“You look so tired, honey? Is Gus working you too hard?” Jeanne said, settling into her night tube. She turned off the light and closed the lid.
“Sleep tight,” Adam said sadly and settled into his.
In the morning, Adam found himself back in his blue suit, white hat and boots joining the lucky workers filing in from the parking lot to the warehouse. No one spoke, no one looked at each other. The men filed past the blacklist of names back to their cubicles and started their daily checklist. Adam waited towards the back of the line to see where the empty cubicles were before picking one and sitting down. Once everyone was busy on their stations, Adam got up and walked towards the elevator. He hoped the car would hurry, he didn’t want to bring attention to himself. He pushed the button again. The door opened and he started in but not before seeing Gus standing inside. Adam stepped backwards out of the car. “Sorry, wrong floor,” he said. The door shut with Gus staring right into Adam’s eyes.
Adam headed towards the stairs. Nobody used stairs anymore but they kept them available in case of an attack. He opened the door and ran quickly down the metal stairs, his boots echoing with each step floor after floor. He got to the basement of the warehouse and looked into the scanner.
Beep, beep. Thankfully, they had not yet changed the security. His eyes still opened the door. Inside, he saw 4 men working on a conveyer line. No one noticed him entering the room. Adam walked quietly as he approached the worm tanks. He grabbed some of the bags of seafood and opened the first lid. Inside, the worms were lifeless. Adam took a long stick nearby and stabbed at their skin. Still they didn’t move. Adam dumped some food inside the tank on top of them.
“Come on, guys, eat the food. You need to wake up.”
Slowly Adam saw the worms start moving and slithering around the food. The sound of them sucking in the weeds was a pleasant sound. It did not appear that anyone else had fed them today. The men working the conveyor were busy and seemed uninterested in the worms. Adam checked all four of the tanks and put seaweed in all of them. He decided to come every day for as long as he could to keep the worms fed. He knew that feeding them was important. Gus had said their work was necessary for society to survive.
Before leaving that day, Adam made the worst decision of his life. In tank 4, he opened the lid and grabbed one of the smallest worms. He held it up as the worm stretched and wiggled. It wrapped itself around his arm and started squeezing. Adam shook his arm and got the worm inside one of the work bags the blue men used to deposit coins into the Big Sister portals. The worm wiggled in the bag as Adam stuffed it under his blue shirt.
Back in his car, Adam was breathing hard from the fast walk to his Mobop. He sat the wiggling bag on the seat next to him and looked all around him to see if anyone was watching him. Then he took off for home.
Half way home, he hit his direction wheel and shouted, “What am I doing?” I just stole a top secret worm from Gus’ warehouse! Gus just saw me in the elevator.” Adam sped the Mopod faster. He knew there was no placed on Planet 12 to hide from Gus.
In the sky, Adam could see thousands of flashing red lights beginning to spread below him. He turned directions twice and took a different way home hoping to buy himself some time but the growing, slithering worm had other plans.