No signal, Justin thought to himself as dejection sank in, won-derful. Staring intensely at the screen was having zero effect. With the handset held in front of him above head height, he slowly tracked his hand from left to right, keeping his eyes on the signal strength indicator.
Why was this the first thing he was checking out, after having experienced a sudden and unexpected loss of consciousness? Perhaps it had seemed natural to him? After all, what was it he did every morning immediately after waking? He’d locate his phone, unlock the screen and while harbouring a faint sense of hope, look to see if there might be a small alert number displayed in a corner of an icon, indicating a notification.
Along with the many apps installed, taking up much of the available memory on his device, several email addresses were linked to his phone. Developed over time, his careful use of all things internet related meant the incidence of unwanted mail received, was rare. Nowadays for Justin, most mail or app notifications were relevant and usually welcome. Although, at this particular moment his self-conditioned action and sense of expectation, was let down.
As he gave up all attempts and returned the phone to his pocket, he heard hurried footsteps fast approaching him from some way down the corridor. There soon appeared a group of croaching cloaked figures, small-framed and moving at speed. Within seconds they’d reached and stopped a short distance in front of Justin. One of the figures impatiently re-postioned the hood of his cloak to midway across the top of his head, exposing an oval-shaped face. Three large, shining blue eyes blinking in synchronisation with each other stared up at him, while a snub shaped nose forcibly blew air through the nostrils, indicating the recent exertion had expended a considerable amount of energy.
“We’d thought we’d lost you,” came a relieved and remarkably deep sounding voice, “it’s time to put you back, you have already been here longer than regulations permit.”
“But what – no, who” Justin quickly re-phrased, “are you?”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt you knowing, we are what you call aliens, space aliens – to be more precise. You are experiencing an alien abduction. Well, I say experiencing, it really is a matter of seconds now before it is all over for you.”
“All over for me! What’s going to happen now?” Justin asked, aware of an involuntary, fear-driven quaver creeping into his voice.
” We’re putting you back, like I said.”
“And what exactly have you been doing with me?”
“Well,” the alien hesitated, “a few experiments.”
A look of horror crossed Justin’s face, attempts to arrange words into sentences failed. So instead, he frantically pulled up the front of his hoodie and t-shirt to examine his stomach and glance over the sides of his body and chest, looking for evidence of lasered surgical incision lines. Sensitive to the heightened levels of anxiety emitting from Justin, the alien quickly reacted.
“Look, calm down, calm down, don’t worry yourself. We simply carry out periodic checks on your kind, it is all completely routine and normal practice.” Adopting a more relaxed tone, he continued “We run a few simple tests – mostly neurological, to see how you’re progressing and to understand where you are as a species in evolutionary terms; then we file a report. Think of us as the vets invited down onto a farm, to make sure the stock are healthy and alerting the farmer to any problems that may lay up ahead. Normally, you wouldn’t know we’d been here doing anything with you.”
“I’m not sure I like your analogy; have you checked on me before?” Justin enquired with a heightening sense of wonder.
“Um, no. No, the chances of us picking up the same individual from a previous visit is neglible, practically nil. We don’t do this very often, sometimes we even miss a date.”
“Anyway Justin – ”
“You know my name?” Justin interrupted, quizzically.
“It’s on your library card, please excuse the invasion of privacy, but we find it’s the easiest way to fill out your form quickly; check the wallet.” The alien looked momentarily sheepish, then got back on subject. “Anyway Justin, it is time to pop you back. We lost you earlier as you were being brought down this corridor – don’t ask how, it’s a long story.” He shot an accusatory glance at one of the other aliens, who swayed his lowered head slightly and shuffled his feet, in response.
“I am not meant to have woken, is that right? How will you simply put me back on earth when I have all this knowledge of the experience?”
“Oh no problem there, we’ll wipe your memory of this, you’ll just think you have walked into a lamp post, you’ll maybe see a flash of light, fall on your backside, pick yourself up and go on your way.”
“Really?” Exactly like in the films, Justin thought. “But it’s in the news, we read of people who claim alien abduction. The existence of these newspaper reports proves they’ve retained the memory of what they’ve been through.”
“Well, yes. It does happen – but less frequently than you might think. There’s the occasional glitch with the memory cleaner tool, but this is rare and the individuals you refer to are universally written off as cranks. We find it’s not such a problem.”
Hmm, that’s a shame, Justin thought, it would have been nice to have been able to recall what’s happened to me.
We’re sorry, Justin heard the alien’s thoughts in his head, it’s a no-can-do situation I’m afraid.
“Did you transfer your thoughts into my head right then?” Justin asked the alien, his sense of awe expanding further.
“Yes, sorry, I shouldn’t have done that really,” the alien replied, “I can tell you this though, our tests demonstrate humankind is right on track in terms of evolving towards mind-reading.”
“You mean, telepathy?”
“Well yes, if you want to use the technical term, telepathy.” The alien adjusted his footing awkwardly, then continued. “Already, several thousand people on this planet are but a hair’s breadth away from developing the ability. These people are often viewed by others as highly perceptive and empathic individuals. Where as in truth, they are not. They’re simply picking up on the brain signals of others and beginning to transfer some of their own thoughts – another few hundred years and you’ll all be at it. I can tell you this Justin, because later you won’t remember.”
Smiling, he turned around to the group of cloaked aliens gathered behind him and winked his middle eye. On cue, this action was met by a ripple of movement, more shuffling of feet and quiet sniggering.
“Listen out for this sound.”
“What kind of sound?”
“This, kind of sound.”
(photo credit: Warren Wong)