11 March 2011
By Curtis C. Chen
The beeping sounds were driving her crazy.
"Stop messing with that," Helen said. "You don't know what it does."
"It's a control panel, obviously," said Ted. "I think we're supposed to break out of here. Why else would they put controls inside a jail cell?"
"They're frickin' aliens," Helen said. "How do you know why they do anything?"
"Please, honey," said Ted, "this is what I do for a living. Just let me figure it out."
Helen counted to ten while Ted continued prodding at the control panel. The smooth black surface lit up with different symbols every time he touched it. As Helen watched, Ted tentatively pressed two blinking symbols simultaneously.
The entire panel turned white, and the walls emitted a high-pitched screech. Helen stuck her fingers in her ears until the noise stopped.
"Please don't do that again," she said.
"I've almost got it," Ted said. "There's a pattern to how the symbols change. It's reset to the original state now—that sound was probably intended as a penalty, like shocking a lab rat when it pushes the wrong button."
"Can we take a step back here? Even if you do get the door open, what then?"
"We figure out where we are," Ted said, as if it were obvious. "Then we escape. Get back home."
"Suppose we're on a spaceship and already millions of miles from Earth," Helen said. "What then?"
"We'll figure it out," Ted said. "Why are you being such a pessimist?"
"If they went to all this trouble to trap us and test us, they've probably anticipated what we might do and prepared for it."
"So you just want to wait in here until they decide we're not interesting anymore? Maybe, if we're not useful to them, they'll just kill us. And weren't you the one saying we can't know what aliens might be thinking?"
Helen couldn't let him continue. "I'm pregnant."
Ted blinked. "What? Since when?"
"And I'm pretty sure it's not yours."
"Well, yeah," Ted said.
"Don't just dismiss this!" Helen snapped. "This isn't some problem you can solve and then just get on with your life. This is life. It's our life."
Ted folded his arms. "So who's the father?"
Helen chuckled. "Yeah, funny story. I think it's the alien flying this ship."
"They don't want you, Ted," Helen said. "We were abducted because I'm carrying a half-alien baby."
"Why would they take both of us?" Ted asked.
Helen stared at him. "You're saying it would have been better if I'd gone missing without any explanation?"
"Well, it wouldn't have been a total surprise."
Helen bit her lip. "Fuck you, Ted. In fact, you know what? It's over. We're done." She banged a fist on the door. "Hey! Let me out of here!"
"Stop that!" Ted pulled her back. "We don't know how they'll react to a display of violence."
Helen punched Ted in the face. Then she pulled the engagement ring off her finger and threw it at him.
"Well," she said, "I guess we're going to find out."
Photo: Jasper quite literally biting the hand that feeds him, February, 2010