The Last Two Hours

My name is Alissa Butler. My name is Alissa Butler. My name is Alissa Butler. I am from-

“Name?”

“A-Alissa Butler.” My voice cracks. Dammit.

The man’s cold, shallow blue eyes rush calculatedly across his screen. Back and forth. I can almost see the green lights reflected in them. Almost. Then, he reaches across the metal countertop that separates us. He grabs my wrist. No eye contact. He scans me. No eye contact.

“Safe trip home.” His tone is monotonous; bored, though not necessarily insincere. My jaw clenches. My father’s home. He lets go of me and I slowly draw my arm back to my side of the counter. I hold my breath, wishing I could pry apart my teeth and say something.

“Next.”

I walk away. Or, at least, I move through the narrow runway, lined with metal barriers and guards who hold metal instruments. I’m tempted to look at them, but I don’t. I look down. As if ashamed. It’s only then that I realize the man with the cold, shallow eyes has given me a paper. A document. I examine it. In the name field, it is written: Alissa West. Below is my real name. Alissa Butler. A stamp beside it indicates it is no longer legally recognized. Suddenly, I can feel my legs again, but they have not come back to life. They are simply sinking, without restrain, into the floor that is built on the only soil I have ever known. And yet, they say this is not my home.

“You’re in the wrong line.”

The voice sounds far away.

“You’re in the wrong line.”

It’s closer now. I look up.

A tall, frustrated woman hovers over me, glaring down at my document.

“West is three lines over.” Her hands hang at her sides, thumbs casually resting in her belt loops. She nods in the direction she wants me to go.

“Oh.” I snap out of my haze and glance over my shoulder.

The people in the line three over look like me. Darker skin. Thicker hair. My chest squeezes tight, as if cringing at the unwanted sense of familiarity. A digital scrolling sign hangs over them: Boarding to Astrix: Galaxy, West.

I stop myself from apologizing for the blunder, and leave the line of olive-skinned, shiny-haired Southerners. In the West line, I step behind a young woman, blowing bubble gum and scrolling furiously on a handheld device. She chuckles as I take my place.

“The instructions were on Twitter,” she informs me.

“I don’t have Twitter.”

“What?” This gets her attention.

“It intimidates me.” I say this with a sarcastic tone, even though it’s true. The abruptness of furtive messages always look like pieces of conversations I’m hearing from across a crowded room. It makes no sense, and it intimidates me.

The girl smiles. She seems to appreciate my “sense of humour,” but she quickly returns her attention to her device.

Feeling begins to return to my legs and a chill rolls over me, making me more present. More aware. I look around. The Spaceport is huge. As the first to establish inter-galactic flights, it’s also a site of major tourism; and controversy. Mostly, it gets used for businesspeople on important trips. Even on a day like today, that’s difficult to forget. Only a yard or two away there’s a bar occupied by both humans and Others, all dressed to the nines. All drinking caramel-coloured liquors before noon. All just passing through. They avoid looking at us, the lines of people being forced out of our homes. Being sent away as the result of a cowardice bill that masquerades as environmental policy. “Earth is overcrowded,” they say. “Our resources are finite,” they explain. “They don’t belong here,” is what they whisper.

“I’ve never sung in public.” I blurt out the words without meaning to.

“Huh?” The girl in front of me is intrigued again.

“I-I just never did it. Like, not even Karaoke. I just kept putting it off.”

“That’s a stupid thing to put off.”

She’s right. It was stupid. I was stupid. I wasted how many Friday nights telling myself there would always be a next one? I studied. I worked hard. And I told myself it would all pay off one day, and on that day, I’d have fun. I’d sing at a fucking Karaoke bar.

“Do you think any of these bars have a Karaoke system?” I ask, my heart racing.

“There’s like 70 bars in this place. I’d guess at least 45 of them do.” The girl glances at her device again. “We have two hours until lift off.” She smiles and I smile back.

We both dart our eyes about, looking to spot guards. They all seem relatively oblivious. Things are quiet. Everything is going as planned. There are no protests; no violent uprising. No one cares that we are leaving today. This is just another Tuesday to them.

“We doing this?” she asks.

“We are so doing this,” I conceit, thrill bouncing in my gut.

There’s a small crowd to our left, mostly people standing around waiting for friends and family. The luggage pick-up isn’t far. Carefully, we slip out of line and into the crowd. We wander closer to the luggage area, staring at suitcases, pretending to be looking for our own. When the coast is clear, and the moment feels right, we run. And while we run, we giggle. Irritated travellers step aside for us, muttering curse words under their breath. No one raises a suspicious eye brow. We look like we were having too much fun, I guess. Mostly, we don’t look scared or sad or angry. It’s been a long time since I haven’t felt any of those things, even for a moment.

We come to a skidding stop outside a bar called Hank’s Hankerings.

“Cheesy name like this gotta have Karaoke.” She hurries in and I followed.

“’Scuse me, sir? Sir! ‘Scuse me?!” She hollers over the loud country music.

“Yeah,” the bartender finally replies without looking up.

“Y’all got Karaoke?”

He cocks his head and looks up, giving us a once over.

“Nope.” He puts his head back down.

I feel my insides deflate a little. It’s clear he isn’t interested in our kind. Especially not today. I guess some people do care – just not the way I hoped.

“Well, what about gin? You got any of that?”

With a sigh, the bartender pulls out two shot glasses and overfills them with liquid from a blue bottle.

“9.95.”

“Let me,” I scoot past my partner in crime and slam a 10 on the bar. “Keep the change.”

We grab our drinks and clink them together.

“To new friends,” she toasts.

“To new friends,” I repeat.

We down the drinks in one swift, burning, motion.

“I’m Sheena, by the way.”

“Alissa. Butler.”

We pace through the busy halls of the Spaceport, poking our heads in each bar we come across, looking for signs of the coveted music system.

“So, when was the last time you were on Astrix?” Sheena asks. We’re on drink number 2 – pints at a Karaoke-free rock bar.

The question makes me bite my lip, but I resist the urge to resist.

“Never, actually.”

“What?”

“Yeah, uh – my mom came to Earth when she was pregnant. My dad still lives there but, I don’t know him.”

“That’s kinda fucked up, you know?”

“I know.”

Silence, and then – “Are you gunna look for him, when you get there?”

I marinate on it for a second. I had asked myself that very question so many times in the last few weeks. I sigh and take one last gulp.

“Uhh – I don’t think so. I’m 26, so I don’t really need him,” I say, as if people of a certain age just stop needing people. Family. A home.

Sheena nods as if she sort of understands.

“What about you?” I ask.

“Yeah. I go back a lot. My parents still live there. I just came here for school.”

“Do you like it? Astrix, I mean.”

“’Course. It’s home.” She pauses. “For me.”

There’s an awkward silence until Sheena checks the time. “Down to an hour and 15. Let’s keep moving. You got a cheesy song to sing, girl.”

A few doors down we pass one of a thousand gift shops.

“Hold up,” Sheena announces.

She ducks in, snatching a hat off of a mannequin display. I curiously watch her pay and when she comes out wearing the hat, I can’t help but laugh.

“What? Not ironic enough?” She asks, making a goofy face.

The hat reads Alien-Man Alliance and features a sketch of the famous Alien of the Ridley Scott franchise, hugging a dorky-looking human man.

“Actually, I was thinking it was a little too spot on.”

We keep walking.

“So, what were you studying?”

“Data Science. I was focussing on digital footprint analysis. Thought it would be good for Forensics.”

“It would,” I agree. “Where?”

“UA. My mom’s trying to get my credits transferred for a similar program on Arstrix. But, I’m pretty sure I’m gunna end up working in a depressing-ass morgue.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“My uncle runs one,” Sheena explains.

“You don’t need to settle.”

She shrugs. “I know. It’s just – easy. Things on Astrix are hard enough, y’know?”

I don’t. I don’t know much of anything about Astrix. I never cared to, either. Now, I have no choice.

“Look!”

My attention snaps up, eyes following Sheena’s wagging finger. A Karaoke sign.

We dash to the small, empty bar.

“Damn!” Sheena exclaims. “I really wanted to find you a crowd.”

I’m surprised at my own disappointment. I want a crowd too.

“Let’s keep looking,” she suggests.

“N-No. There’s no time.”

“There’s time, Alissa. C’mon.” She drags me out by my arm.

Another 40 minutes fly by. My feet are starting to throb and my knees radiate defeat. We stop for a third drink.

“Two Night Owls, please.”

“What’s that?” I ask nervously.

“It’ll perk us up. We’re down to 35 minutes.”

The drinks come – espresso mixed in some supercharged green liquor. It burns. Like, really burns. I cough.

“Ha!” Sheena teases. “Two more!”

“Sheena –”

“Sh, sh!” She brushes me off and leans over the counter. “We need Karaoke!”

The bartender laughs. “Need?”

“Yeah! Need,” she reiterates, unashamed.

“That’s Thursday night shit.”

“Well, we need it to be right now shit. Any ideas?”

The bartender passes us our next round, then leans in to a co-worker. We down our shots just in time for him to turn back to us.

Donner’s. It’s at the far West end.”

West, of course.

“How far is far West?” I interject.

“10 minutes that way,” he gestures behind us.

“Shit!” Sheena grabs me again and bolts out the door. I’m suddenly happy for the Night Owls.

We slide to a stop in front of Donner’s. The place is packed, and the Karaoke line is long.

“Damn!” Sheena stomps her foot.

“No. I got this.” I push through the crowd and walk right up to the system operator.

“Bill 4.3. You know it?”

He looks up at me and I see him shift in his seat; guilty.

“I’m being sent away in,” I glance at the time, “23 minutes. One song. That’s the last thing I’m going to ask of you people.”

I see his Adam’s apple bounce up and down. His jaw tenses. After a gruelling few seconds, he sighs.

“Shiiit,” he spews, a rye smile forming.

He gets up and takes the mic from the next person in line.

“Listen up, we have a special request.”

He looks at me, waiting for my song choice. I yank the tablet from him and run my finger along the options. I point to the first silly, meaningless, good time sing-along I come across. Then, I belt it out like it’s the last fucking thing I’ll do on Earth.

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