The bus seat beneath me bumped as we returned back to the school from our graduation ceremony. I thumbed my own card, quietly confused, as I overheard the other students on the bus share their results. The bus was chaos. Some were crying, some looked nauseated, and even more were trying to yell across the bus to tell people their results. Their destiny.
One of the guys in a letterman jacket yelled from the back of the bus, “Tyler! I’m gonna– Tyler! I’m gonna die in a construction accident!” He was almost laughing.
“Really?” Tyler responded from the front of the bus, “I got a heart attack! That’s, like, exactly what I wanted! A construction accident doesn’t sound too bad. Jane over here got lung cancer!”
A few heads turned to Jane, who had been silently crying. A girl in front of her turned around in her seat to console her. “Oh, honey, it’s not that bad. Maybe you get it when you’re old and gray!” Jane smiled back through her tears. “I got Alzheimer’s. So it’ll probably happen once I’m old too.” She showed Jane her card, which had the word ALZHEIMER’S printed across it in boxy, red letters. “But did you know it can happen once you’re in your thirties? My mom’s grandma– ”
“Guys!” The parent supervisor shouted from the front of the bus, “You’re supposed to wait until we’re back at the school to open the envelopes, and you’re not supposed to be sharing the results with each other! This is private!”
As if we wouldn’t share the most important news we’ve ever received with our friends. It would have been impossible for me to stop talking about mine if I was on the same bus as my friends. But since French is my first class of the day, I got to go back to the school with this lot. Regardless, as soon as I got to school I planned to interrogate each one of my friends to find out who wrote my card. There was no way my card was real – someone was playing a prank on me. That’s what I thought.
“Oh my god!” another jock shouted from the back of the bus, “Tom’s card is MURDER-SUICIDE!”
“Wait, so does that mean he’s gonna get murdered, or he’s gonna commit suicide?”
Tom’s face was red. “Shut up!”
The breathing of the girl next to me was getting shallower and more rapid the longer the bus ride went on. At this point, she was audibly wimpering with each breath. Her fingers were white as she clutched her bag like she was clinging to her life itself. She tried to speak to me, but her voice didn’t activate and it started to come out as a whisper, which she stopped. She looked away and stayed silent as more people on the bus continued to share their results.
“I got HEART ATTACK too! Jackpot!”
“Mine just says TRIP AND FALL. I guess that’s not so bad. Never know when it’s gonna happen. Kinda disappointing though. Like I’ve waited all this time just to learn nothing.”
“I know exactly when mine is gonna happen. Mine says STABBED ON NEW YEAR’S EVE!” This one prompted some looks of extreme jealousy from around the bus. As far as a nota mortum goes, one that states the day of the year you’re going to die is a golden ticket. It means you can be reckless for the rest of the year and not have to worry about death.
“Whoa, give me yours! I’ll trade you for a heart attack! Getting stabbed sounds pretty rough...”
“You can’t trade them, idiot!”
The pale-faced girl sitting next to me cleared her throat and tried to speak to me again. “Umm, excuse me, what did you get?”
I replied, “I don’t think this is my real card. It’s not even possible. I’ll have to get my real card from whichever of my so-called friends thought this one was so funny.” I showed her my card. The red letters spelled ALIEN ABDUCTION.
She giggled a bit, and then smiled. “Your friends are assholes! I think I’d rather be in your position, though, and not even know how I was going to die.”
“Is yours that bad?” I asked, gesturing to see her card. She turned it over. BUS ACCIDENT. “Hey,” I tried to comfort her, “I’m sure you’ll ride the bus many times in your life. You don’t know that it’s gonna happen on this bus ride. It probably won’t.” I was lying to her. She would never reach our destination.
“I don’t know. I think if I survive this bus ride, I’ll be too afraid of riding the bus to ever get on one again. Which means this will be my last bus ride. Which means I’m going to die today.” She started to get choked up again as a pair of arms appeared between us. The guy from the seat behind us had leaned forward to talk to us.
“So, what did you guys get?”
“You first,” I responded.
“Okay, I got SHOTGUN. Kinda sucks, I was hoping for something that might give me an idea of when it’s gonna happen. It’s just one of those ones where it doesn’t really tell you anything. I wish I had one that was more definitive.”
The girl next to me let out a sob. The guy, realizing she was crying, said, “she must have gotten a bad one, right?”
“Bus accident,” I whispered to him.
“Oh! That’s not good!” The guy cracked a nervous smile, looking around at the walls of the bus. “She’s not the only one. I heard Sam in the back has a bus accident card as well.” This was not comforting to the girl sitting next to me.
“Jesus. Should we, like, get everyone off the bus, or tell the teacher?”
The guy responded calmly, “You can’t fight fate.” Though he did sit down in his seat and adjust his posture to brace for a possible crash. I tried subtly to do the same without the girl next to me realizing I was doing it.
He was right. If you knew you were going to die of thirst and decided to carry around multiple bottles of water with you wherever you went, you’d end up contracting some disease that had excessive thirst as a symptom, and the water would do you no good. Or if you were going to die in an airplane accident and decided never to get on an airplane, well... the airplane would come to you. The notas mortem were absolute.
Someone from somewhere in the middle of the bus yelled frantically, “The bus is gonna crash! Stop the bus!” That’s three people with BUS ACCIDENT on their cards. Not good.
Most people didn’t seem to care. It was common knowledge that you can’t fight fate. But I was starting to get worried. I was the only one on the bus who didn’t know whether or not I was going to die in the upcoming bus accident, because I was the only one who hadn’t recieved his actual card yet. I looked at my card. ALIEN ABDUCTION. I wished I had my real card. This was an even crueler prank now that I knew I was going to be in a bus accident.
The girl next to me looked like a ghost at this point, and was shrieking like a banshee. She wrapped her arms around me tightly and buried her head in my shoulder, still sobbing loudly. It was at that moment that the bus came to a sudden and unexpected stop...
The broken glass from the bus window cut into the skin on my face and the side of the bus pressed into my ribs. We had been overturned in the accident. I looked up at the girl who was resting on my shoulder. She was silent and still, but the look of fear was stuck on her face, and her eyes were still open. A metal beam had pierced her neck and came out of the front of her throat, stopping a hair’s width from my chest. I pushed her corpse off me.
There must have been a fire somewhere on the bus, as it was filled with smoke. I looked up through the smoke, and there was a gaping hole in what used to be the other side of the bus. The smoke glowed with bright blue light, which was coming from the other side of the hole in the bus.
“Come on!” a girl on the bus shouted somewhere. Again she shouted it. Again. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. A lot of the people on this bus were people I was familiar with, but didn’t really know.
A face appeared from outside the hole in the bus, blocking some of the strange, blue light from pouring in through the smoke. “Come on!” She was looking at me. It was the girl who died. The one I had been sitting next to. But now, she was alive and uninjured, and she was looking down at me.
I looked back at where her dead body had been. Still there. Still impaled through the neck with a bloody, metal rod. Frozen forever in terror. But back up at the hole, she was looking down at me.
“Yes, you! Climb up the seats and come to me!” The smoke was making it hard to breath, so I decided to follow the doppelgänger’s advice and climb the hell out of there. When I was standing on the side of the seat I had been sitting in, she was able to grab my hands and pull me out of the bus and into the other bus. The other bus?
The second bus, somehow hovering above the first bus, was an unharmed copy of the first, down to the graffiti on the seats. As she pulled me up, I stumbled and we both fell onto the floor of the second bus, with me on top of her, my face nearly touching hers. She looked like she had looked before the accident. I went to apologize for being on top of her, but then I noticed her eyes... Her eyes shimmered with a strange light. A color I had never seen before. A color I was not meant to see. It made me sleepy. I felt my body relax, and my lips and nose pressed into her face as I fell unconsious.
I woke up in a much different environment. No bus. No girl. Just darkness speckled with pin-pricks of light in all directions. Stars. I was floating through space. I could feel ground beneath me, but it wasn’t visible. I looked up, and there she was, standing over me, looking down. Her eyes had lost thier hypnotic colors, but they still shimmered like the eyes of a cat at night.
I sat up and looked at her. This was not the girl from my bus. The one who had clung to me for comfort in the last seconds of her life. This was an impostor. An alien. I was really going to die in an alien abduction.
“What do you want with me?” I asked it. It had a calm expression on her face. “Are you going to probe me or something?”
It laughed with her voice, and then spoke, also in her voice, “No, biped. I am not interested in your biology. You are relatively simple creatures, and I can find out any basic fact about your biology from my scanners.” It gestured to an invisible device which must have been present, but I could see only the starscape.
“Then why did you take me from Earth? Are you going to eat me? Are you going to make me your slave?”
“I have all the nutrients my metabolism could ever require, and I don’t see how you could be of any use to me as a slave.”
“What then? If I’m such an inferior creature, then why did you take me from my life? Just tell me!”
The alien had caused a strange, wide-eyed smile to appear on her face, but I couldn’t tell if this was intentional, or if it just wasn’t used to taking on the form of a human. “My kind have travelled the universe and unlocked many of the deepest secrets of physics, and invented all kinds of wonderful technology. But despite our progress, one discovery still eludes our grasp. Your notas mortem. I want to know how you produce them.”
“What? I don’t know!” I screamed at the alien. “Why would you abduct me, of all people? Why not abduct one of the engineers behind the fate printers? They’re old, but I’m pretty sure they’re still alive! Ask them! Why abduct some high school student? You think I can tell you how to make a fate printer?”
“Of course not. In fact, I doubt any of you humans could describe to me the underlying mechanism of your fate printers. I think it is clear from your lack of progress in all other areas that you happened upon the notas mortem by accident.”
“Then why am I here? Where even is here?” I said as I looked around at the stars. The sun wasn’t even visible from wherever we were – or at least if it was, it was just another star from our perspective.
The alien ignored the question about our location. “The reason you are here is, despite all of our science and technology, we have not been able to discover a way to create a fate printer. After decades of trying to emulate your discovery, we have made no progress. So, there must be something about the human biology which makes the discovery of such a device so easy. So I am going to study you. In particular, I am going to study what happens to a human when they die.”
“You’re going to kill me? I guess I already knew that.” I was sweating and trembling at this point, but I knew nothing could be done to save me. You can’t fight fate.
“You are surrounded by the most sensitive measurement equipment in the galaxy,” it gestured to the empty space around me, “though your senses are not sufficient to percieve it all. When you die, every molecule, particle, atom, quark, photon, or vibration in the spacetime fabric will all be recorded and analyzed by this delicate machinery. But this may not be enough data. So I will use this little device,” its hands clasped around a small device which looked to me to be empty space, “to bring you back to life after you are dead. Before the process of decomposition can begin. And then I will kill you again. And bring you back only to kill you again. And again. And again. Each time in a different way, so I can maximize the value of the data I obtain.”
“B–but...” I stuttered nervously, “that doesn’t make any sense! If–if I don’t really die, then how can whatever data you get be useful? The notas don’t tell you about near-death experiences, only the moment of your actual, true death!”
“I have considered this,” the alien said calmly, still smiling eerily with the girl’s face, eyes shimmering, “and if that is the case, then only your final death will provide me with any useful data. But just in case, it would be better for me to collect all the data I can, just to be sure.”
“Why are you so desperate to find out how you’re going to die anyway? Can’t you just have one of your little machines bring you back to life when you die?”
“The machines of my people are complex, and complexity is fragile. They have been known to malfunction. Still, my biology is much more robust than yours, and the chances of me actually dying for good are low as long as stars still burn and the machines of my people stay powered. What I really must know is whether or not I will survive the dying of the universe. If there is some way to survive the ever-increasing entropy of our existence. Will I make it out of this universe and into the next?”
“You’re not satisfied with a lifespan of a trillion years?” I stood up, fists clenched. “No wonder you aliens haven’t discovered the secrets of fate: whatever answers fate tried to tell you, you would reject as not good enough! Has a creature as advanced as you really failed to invent the fate printers, or do you just throw them in the trash when they give you an answer you don’t like?” I was yelling in its – her – face at this point. Yelling at the creature that was certain to kill me.
“Careful, biped. I can make this painful for you.” The alien raised its arm holding some invisible object, with one finger partly extended. A gun if I had ever seen one. A few moments passed and then I reached forward and grabbed the invisible machine from the alien’s other hand and threw it to the ground.
Crash! Something invisible shattered into a million invisible little pieces.
The girl’s face contorted into a face of anger as the alien yelled through her, “You intractible bipedal scum! You perverse–”
I reached forward again and wrapped my hand around the barrel of the invisible gun weapon. Her hand was wrapped tightly around the handle of the gun. The alien smirked with her face. “You can’t pull the same trick twice.” But I didn’t try to rip the gun out of her hands. Instead, I pulled the barrel of the gun to my chest, and pushed on her trigger finger.
Zap! A violet laser beam fired through my chest and into the invisible hull of the spacecraft. I fell to the ground, and immediately felt lightheaded.
“You insurgent worm! Fine! You have destroyed my recombinator, so I can’t bring you back before decomposition starts. You have earned your death. But I will simply return to your planet and gather more of your people. Maybe I’ll start with your family? And once I get the knowledge I am looking for, I will firebomb your entire planet! I will turn the surface of your planet into glass, and then shatter the glass, and then shatter your planet and fire all of the chunks of rock into your sun!”
“No, you won’t do that,” I said, my vision turning black at the edges. “Don’t you think I would know if all of my family members had notas mortem which said ALIEN REVENGE? If you were going to destroy my planet, wouldn’t everyone on the planet’s notas say something like that?”
The alien scowled with the girl’s face. It stayed silent.
My tunnel vision was closing in as I bled out on the invisible floor. “You know that you will never find what you’re looking for. Accept your fate as I have accepted mine.” My vision went completely black, and I lost consciousness.