To Make an Interstellar Omelet, Part √-1

The next day Justin returned to the office, and spent the morning trying to avoid his anonymous e-mail account. He knew the aftermath of his online tirade would be messy, and he needed to concentrate on work.

He’d already seen the initial reactions to his site on the two forums where he’d posted them. The Vision’s forum had split into factions. The first faction was steadfast in their faith- refusing to believe any allegations that the info on The Vision was false, or that the author was dishonest in any way. The second faction was on the fence.

The third faction, however…

Justin took a long sip of coffee as his mind wandered off of his work, and onto the drama that had unfolded. The third faction on The Vision’s forum had gone off of the deep end, and took Justin’s information as evidence of a deeper conspiracy.

One forum member, who went by Bohogrove72 had said, “It should be obvious to everyone that Alice, the alleged author of this site, is a sock puppet controlled by the ILLUMINATI ELITE. They want to discredit all of us, who are close to uncovering the truth about the elite’s alien origins.”

 And so, far from convincing anyone of their errors, everyone had stuck to their preconceived notions and found a way to rationalize the new evidence.

As Justin sat in thought, his office door opened, and a large, bearded man stepped through, carrying a cardboard caddy filled with paper cups.

“Hey, Justin.”

“Hi, Max. Thanks,” Justin said, taking another cup of coffee from Max’s caddy.

“Hey, you go on the science boards, don’t you?” Max said.  “Have you been on this morning?”

“No,” Justin grimaced as Max mentioned the one thing he’d been trying to avoid.

Max chuckled as he set the rest of the coffee on the desk and took one for himself. “Man- it really exploded this morning. The moderators are banning posts by anonymous users, now.”

Justin paused, realizing belatedly that he was on his second coffee, and was feeling a bit jittery. He put the cup down with a shaking hand.

“Why would the moderators do that?” Justin asked.

“Well, do you remember that crazy guy who posted the link to his website? He had a personal vendetta against some pseudoscience blog- The Vision, or something. Anyway, some regulars from The Vision started a flame war on the science boards. The crazy guy doxed The Vision’s author, so the flamers started to attack all of us.”

Justin jumped up. “But he didn’t dox her.”

“Sure he did- he put her full name on his website, and on his posts.”

Justin could feel the bottom of his stomach drop. It was the sort of sensation one gets from either riding in an elevator, or making a terrible mistake.

“Wait- wasn’t her full name on her blog already?”

“Oh no- she just went by the name ‘Alice_of_hearts.’ The crazy guy released her last name. On the website, too, he mentioned the name of her business- some café.”

Justin grabbed his laptop. “I’ll be right back. I just have to go check something.”

 

 

#

 

 

Justin spent a good portion of his afternoon and evening pacing the floor- first the floor at his office, and then the floor at home- with his phone in his hand. Alice was unavailable on skype, she was not answering e-mail, and she was certainly not answering her phone.

Justin had taken down his website as soon as he’d realized his mistake, and he’d gone to delete the posts he’d made on The Vision and the science forums, but they’d already been deleted by moderators. Still, the damage had been done. He needed to not only make his apologies, but find some way to offer what practical assistance he could to Alice to mitigate the damage he’d done.

He cursed his own oversight. He’d never intended for things to go this far. This was the reason he’d refused Alice’s debate challenge to begin with. How had he allowed himself to be drawn in?

Toward eight o’clock, his computer chimed. He dropped his phone and ran to check skype.

Alice~ Hey, don’t worry about the doxing. I’m doing damage control. By the way- turn on CNN.

“What the-“

Justin approached his TV slowly, as though he were afraid it might explode. He gingerly picked up the remote, and switched on CNN. He sat in his recliner and relaxed slightly. They were playing a story about some meaningless celebrity feud.

Justin couldn’t help but be a little baffled, but he allowed himself to become momentarily distracted by the small scroll at the bottom of the screen, running tidbits about some political scandal.

Suddenly, the celebrity feud and the political scandal went away, and the camera focused on a smiling anchor.

“This evening, we’ll discuss the growing problem of internet harassment. Joining us tonight is Alice Stevens, author and editor of the popular blog, ‘The Vision.’ Alice was ‘doxed,’ a term meaning that her personal information was released to the public, earlier this week.”

Alice’s face appeared beside the anchor. She was sitting in front of an overstuffed bookcase, and as soon as she was on, she waved at the camera and winked.

Justin blanched.

“Good evening, Alice,” the anchor said cheerfully. “Welcome to the show.”

“Thanks, Brian. It’s great to be here.”

“I wanted to start out by asking you about your website, The Vision. We featured an article from your blog last week.”

“Well,” Alice began, “The Vision is a website that advocates for science education and space exploration. We’ve always been a controversial site, and we don’t shy away from uncomfortable questions. Because of this, I felt it was safer for me to run the site under an assumed name.”

“Thank you for your bravery in coming out here, tonight,” the anchor said. “I understand that, after your information was released, you started getting threats from strangers online.”

Alice’s smile faded slightly, and she sighed.

“Yes, several people have sent death threats to me on social media.” Then she sighed again and smiled wider. “But you know, most people don’t really mean what they say online. The anonymity the internet provides can give people a way to vent their frustration, even if they wouldn’t hurt people in real life. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell the trolls  apart from the credible threats.”

“That’s certainly true,” the anchor replied. “I hope you stay safe, and thank you again for fighting the good fight.”

Alice nodded, and then her side of the screen vanished, and the camera focused solely on the anchor.

“This whole situation has sparked a conversation about science education in American culture. I’d like to welcome a representative from NASA, Max Rogan, to continue that conversation.”

Justin nearly slid off the recliner when the screen split again, and Max appeared next to the anchor. He’d changed into a dress shirt since Justin saw him at work.

“Hey, Brian. It’s great to be on,” Max said without being prompted. “First, I’d like to say that I’m really sorry that his happened to Alice. A public debate should never include doxing or death threats. People’s arguments should stand on their own merits.

“This all brings another issue to the forefront, though,” Max continued, straightening his wire glasses. “People are getting into nasty online fights about issues that shouldn’t even be controversial. There is a scientific consensus about climate change and evolution. Not only that, but NASA has been very forthright about its projects. You can see info about everything we’ve found on the moon and Mars online. Despite this, people still turn things such as climate change into political issues, and there are conspiracy theorists all over the internet who claim that we’re hiding evidence for aliens, or people who claim the moon-landings were hoaxes. This really goes to show that we need better science education, like Alice says.”

The screen split again, and Alice re-appeared. Almost on cue, she laughed. “What about the pictures of rats on mars?”

Max smiled good-naturedly. “Well, I don’t know about rats, but we have found liquid water on Mars. Who knows what we might find, in the future? Let’s get some funding for NASA, so we can go back and explore!”

 

 

#

 

 

The next week, Justin found himself back in the loud, pink maid café.

He had no idea what he would say to Alice when she arrived. After he had seen the interview on CNN, he’d wanted to wash his hands of the whole matter, but on further reflection, he realized that he still had to find some way to make things right. Even if Alice had managed to spin the situation in her favor, he’d still wronged her.

He was brought out of his reverie when Alice, without preamble or nicety, plopped down at the table across from him.

“Justin, I don’t know how to thank you enough,” she said, extending her hand. “You played your part perfectly- even better than I would have dreamed. I knew you would, when we met.”

Justin blinked up at her for a moment, and then sighed and shook her hand. “So this was your plan, all along?”

“Well, we did go a bit further than my original plan, but I knew you would be my foil, and you were an excellent one.”

Alice smiled a bit more gently at Justin’s expression. “Hey, don’t feel bad about it. Look- I got an e-mail from Congressman Malik. He’s introducing a bill to expand science and technology research funding. He’s been getting a flood of support for it, and we played a part in making that happen.”

“Yeah. Well, I’m glad for that, at least.” Justin stood up. “You’re too much for me, Alice. I can’t handle being your foil, anymore. I had three hours of sleep last night- my nerves are shot… this is it. No more.”

“If you say so,” Alice said smugly.

Justin gritted his teeth. “Is there any way I can help you fend off the trolls? I never meant to dox you.”

“Oh no, that’s all died down. ‘Alice’ has stepped down from running The Vision, and my alter-ego has taken her place.”

“I see,” Justin said. “Well, you have my e-mail address, so don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any practical help keeping this contained. You have my sincere apologies.”

“And you have my sincere thanks,” Alice said. “Until we meet again.”

Justin placed a tip under his saucer, and turned to walk out.

 

 

#

 

 

Justin rushed for the door of the café, impatient to be rid of the nightmarish place forever. As he reached for the handle, the door opened from the other side, and he stumbled into the girl who had opened it.

“Ow- watch it!”

Justin steadied himself and looked up, only to see the tall, brunette waitress. She was glaring at him impatiently, her hands on her hips, and he realized he had stopped in the middle of the doorway.

“Sorry- excuse me.”

“It’s no problem,” the girl said, bustling past him. “I just forgot my coat, and I’m in a hurry.”

“Oh- do you have plans for tonight?”

“Not really. I just hate it here. As soon as I get my research grant, I’m through.”

“Yeah- I understand,” Justin said. “This is a madhouse. I’m escaping, too.”

The girl put the heavy coat over her uniform and looked up at Justin again, seeming to size him up. Then she stepped forward and offered her hand. “I’m Lucy, by the way.”

“Justin. Nice to meet you.”

Lucy’s thin mouth stretched into a smile. “Hey, would you like to grab a bite, later? I need some real food- not this sugary crap.”

“I’d like that,” Justin said.

“Good. I’ll go home and change first. Let’s meet up at the Pig and Pepper.”

“Alright. Is 5:30 ok?”

“It’s a date,” Lucy said.

Justin opened the café door once more, and he and Lucy walked into the afternoon sunshine together.

 

The End

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To Make an Interstellar Omelet, Part Epsilon

Justin had promised to think about Alice’s offer, but the next day was Sunday, and on principle, Justin didn’t think on Sunday morning.

Instead, he would usually sit on his black leather recliner in front of his large, flat-screen TV, with a half-drunk cup of coffee on the side table and a half-eaten donut on his lap. He would lean back in the chair and doze as the Sunday morning news droned in the background.

He was spending the Sunday morning after his encounter with Alice in the usual way, though his cat had stolen his half-eaten donut, when the voice of a news anchor wormed its way into his subconscious. Something about the words triggered alarm bells in his head, though he was too groggy to figure out why.

“The blogsphere is buzzing over this photo of what appears to be a small rodent, taken by the Mars rover. Could this be the next ‘face on Mars?’”

Justin’s eyes flew open. Was he still dreaming? Did this really make the news?

“We go now to our science correspondent, Marion Johnson, who is at the NASA Space Center in Houston, TX. Marion, are you there?”

“Hey, Chuck,” the screen split, and beside the studio anchor was a shot of another anchor, standing in front of the Space Center. “The word here at NASA is that this is a picture of an ordinary rock.” The picture from Alice’s website appeared on screen. “They say the rock only looks like a rodent because of the pattern of shadows and light. This is the same phenomenon of pattern-seeking that caused a lot of people to see the ‘face on Mars.’”

Another image appeared on screen- a side by side comparison of the ‘face on Mars’ photos from the Viking Orbiter, where the face could be seen, and the higher resolution Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image, where it could not be seen.

The smiling anchors appeared again, side by side. They looked so similar, Justin thought they could be brothers.

“Now, in that second, higher resolution image, the Mars face couldn’t be seen. But the ‘Mars rat,’ photo is pretty high resolution already, isn’t it?”

Justin couldn’t believe his ears. Mars rat- they had given it a name. It was officially a thing.

“Yes, that is a pretty clear photo, but it looks more like a hamster, to me” the correspondent laughed. “I guess we’ll have to wait to see how this develops.”

Justin jumped out of his chair and began to pace the room. Tibby, his grey cat, jumped onto the warm seat he had just vacated. Tibby sat, and watched with intent green eyes as Justin paced back and forth.

“This is unbelievable. Clearly, Alice’s stupid plan isn’t working,” Justin said to Tibby.

Tibby meowed.

“The most frustrating thing,” Justin continued, “is that the news channel didn’t interview a single expert. They just had that idiot correspondent. No one cares about the facts. Alice’s website is just feeding into the sensationalism people want.”

Tibby continued to watch Justin pace, hoping he would drop another donut.

“I’m not going to play her game,” Justin said decisively, “but if Alice wants an expert, then I’ll be one. I’ll tell people the whole truth, and expose her sham of a website.”

Justin clapped his hands together, and then stalked away to retrieve his laptop. Tibby lay on the chair, and began to clean donut glaze from his paws and whiskers.

#

Justin was ready.

His grey eyes gleamed silver in the laptop’s glow as he looked over the finished website one final time, seeking out the smallest error- scanning the page with mathematical precision. All of the evidence was here, neatly catalogued, and organized under easy- to- reference headings. His arguments were solid and rational. The website was live.

He went to the vision forums, first, and posted the link anonymously, with only a short description of his evidence beneath. Then he copied his comment, and pasted it and the link on the science board he frequented, also anonymously.

He smiled with grim satisfaction as he added a heading to the science board post, which read, “Do not engage The Vision’s writers or channel moderators. They are deliberate trolls.”

“I was almost drawn into a debate with The Vision’s founder and head writer, Alice Stevens, but I decided not to engage her, because I didn’t want to legitimize her outlandish claims. I glad I made that decision, because I’ve discovered that the site is a hoax, and that Alice is telling deliberate lies in order to push her own twisted agenda.

“Alice doesn’t really believe anything she posts on her website, and neither do her fellow writers and moderators, including former cosmonaut Yuri Volkov. Alice has manipulated her followers into believing that they will promote science funding and education if they anger the public.

“I know that you may be skeptical of my claims, and that’s good! Skeptical inquiry is what we should all be about. I’ve compiled evidence to support my claim at my website- the link is below.”

To Make an Interstellar Omelet, Part III or IV

Alice smiled at Mr. Volkov, who shook her hand warmly before she took her seat at the table. The two seemed as familiar with each other as they seemed comfortable in the noisy, shockingly pink maid café.

The tall girl in the maid uniform approached the table, menu in hand. Alice waved it away with another smile. “I’ll have the usual,” she said, “with extra ketchup.”

Both Mr. Volkov and Justin ordered black coffee. The waitress took their menus, and retreated with a deep bow.

Alice took a phone from her pocket. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please, carry on with your conversation.”

Justin was about to point out that he’d come to the café to speak to Alice, but Alice pressed her face close to the phone’s screen and started texting, effectively cutting him off.

“I can understand your skepticism,” Mr. Volkov continued as though they hadn’t been interrupted.

“Mr. Volkov- with all due respect to your spaceflights, you’ve never been to the moon. There’s no possible way you could have found ancient ruins on there, even if such ruins existed.”

“It doesn’t matter that I’ve never been to the moon, personally,” Mr. Volkov said. “Humanity has been to the moon- we have been to the moon. We’ve left artifacts on the moon, even if we planted the wrong flag.”

“I hardly see how that’s relevant,” Justin scoffed. “You claim there are relics from an ancient civilization.”

“Indeed. Humanity is quite ancient.”

Justin opened his mouth several times, but an answer wouldn’t come out. He felt his cheeks burn after a moment, when he heard Alice laugh, but when he gathered the courage to look over at her, he saw she was laughing at something on her phone’s screen.

“This cat,” she giggled. “He knocked over a glass of water, and then slipped and fell off the counter. Want to see?”

“Er- no thanks.”

Mr. Volkov laughed jovially and slapped Justin on the back. “Now- will you listen to what we have to say without dismissing us as lunatics?”

Justin sighed, but tried to smile like a good sport. “You’re up to something, obviously. However, I think the moniker ‘lunatics’ still applies.”

“Alright,” Mr. Volkov said, nodding. “I’ll accept that. But to the point- humanity went to the moon, and though the United States enjoys the glory for accomplishing the feat, you must admit, the Soviet Union did assist. The race was the key, was it not?”

“Oh of course- the cold war and all that,” Justin said, waving this aside.

“Yes. Having a rival- an enemy even- is a great motivator.”

“It’s not the only motivator,” Alice said. “But wow, does it work. And when the cold war ended-“

“Shifted,” Mr. Volkov corrected.

“Yes, well- there’s a lot more apathy, now. People think it’s silly to go to space. They don’t see any benefits- even from the satellites we put up.” Alice smirked as she gestured to her phone.

“That’s why we need better science education,” Justin said. “Not pseudoscientific nonsense, like your blog.”

“But how do we educate people?” Alice said, ignoring his insult. “State legislatures cut school funding, local school districts push for their pet political agenda to be taught in place of science, and textbook publishers are racing each other to the bottom of the slush pile. No one wants to learn, and we can’t force them.”

“So what- we just give up?”

“Oh no,” Mr. Vakov replied. “We give them a show, instead.”

Justin groaned and threw up his hands. “And how will that help?”

His voice rose just a little louder than he had intended, and there was a momentary lull in the clamor around him. The D&D players all turned to look at him. One of the maids giggled.

“Sorry-“ Justin mumbled.

Just then, the tall waitress returned, carrying a platter with two black coffees, which she placed in front of Justin and Mr. Volkov, and an omelet, which she placed in front of Alice. She took a ketchup bottle from her tray, and drew an intricate design on the omelet. Justin looked over, and noticed that the design consisted on several concentric circles, connected by lines of ketchup to smaller circles. He was reminded somewhat of crop circles.

“Very interesting.” Alice held up her phone, and took a picture of the omelet.

Justin shook his head, and took his own cup.

“Wait!” the waitress said. “Don’t drink yet. I haven’t performed the magic spell.”

“…Magic spell?” Justin sputtered.

“Sure!” The waitress put her hands together in the shape of a heart, and waved them over the table. “Moe! Moe! Kyuu!

Then she bowed, and left again.

“I’m sorry but- why do we have to meet here? How did you even find a place like this?” Justin said.

“It’s my business. I own it,” Alice said.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit sexist?” Justin said.

“Jenny, one of our waitresses, thinks so. She’s going to debate Chris-“ Alice gestured to the guy on his laptop at the next table, “on my youtube channel, next week.”

“She’s arguing that her job is sexist?”

“Yeah. She’s minoring in women’s studies. Her major is law.”

“Then why…”

Mr. Vakov laughed again. “This is part of the show, Justin. We have to shock people- to shake them up a bit.”

“Listen,” Alice leaned over the table, and whispered conspiratorially. “Justin, you think debating me would be a waste of time, right? You’re not going to change anyone’s mind. You said yourself that it would only make pseudoscience seem legitimate.”

Justin shrugged.

“So why did you send me a 10 page e-mail?”

“I was just pissed off.”

Mr. Volkov slapped the table, then. “Exactly! We say enough ridiculous things, and we will make the intelligent angry.”

Alice smirked. “And then, if you and I yell at each other loudly enough, the apathetic- the fence sitters- will turn their heads to watch. You have the facts- you will sway the fence sitters to your side. This is the new cold war, Justin. This is how we’ll get your funding back.”

Justin stared down at his coffee cup. His bewildered reflection stared up at him. He sighed, and pushed the cup away.

“Aren’t there enough crazies to debate, already? Why do you have to put more nonsense out there?”

Alice smiled, and took a bite from her omelet.

“If we pose as the lunatics, then we can guide the argument from both sides. We’re in control,” Mr. Volkov said.

Alice put her fork down on the edge of her plate. “This is the big conspiracy, Justin. We want you to join us.”

To Make an Interstellar Omelet, Part III

Justin had long since arrived home and nursed away his caffeine-induced headache when Alice replied to his e-mail. Alice’s reply was maddeningly short and cryptic. Justin had written ten pages, and all Alice said was, “you make some interesting points. Do you have a skype account?”
Justin closed his laptop and stood up. “I solemnly swear that I will never, ever e-mail Alice again.” He took Alice’s card from his wallet and tore it to bits, and then threw the pieces into the fireplace for good measure- never mind that is was summer, and the fireplace was unlit. Afterward, Justin felt comfortable enough with his resolution to send Alice his skype info.
A few minutes later, he got a private message from Alice, herself.
~Hey! I’m sorry I took so long. I have three cats, and I wanted to get them out of the room. They like to play with my keyboard.”
 ~That’s fine, Justin replied. What did you have in mind?
~If you want, we can do a video chat. Then I can show you my new kitten. She’s a calico I just rescued from a shelter. Her name is Gamera, and she’s really sweet.
 ~No thanks.
 ~Not much of a cat person?
Just then, Justin’s bedroom door shook as his own cat, Tibby, pawed at it, asking to come in.
~Not really, no. Let’s just get to the point.
 ~Fair enough. I was thinking that we should have a live debate. You put too much information in your e-mail for me to address in the comments section of my blog. I’ll let you choose the moderator, and you can set whatever rules you feel are necessary.
 ~No. Just forget it. I probably shouldn’t have sent you that e-mail to begin with. I don’t want to validate the nonsense on your website by granting you a debate.
A few moments went by with no reply, and Justin sat back in his chair, feeling triumphant. There it was- the final blow to the solar plexus. This conversation was over.
Then came the next reply.
~Are you sure you don’t want to? You made some really excellent points, and I have a very large audience.
 -Sometimes, Alice, there aren’t two sides to an issue. The pro and anti “rodents on Mars,” points of view aren’t equal.
There was one last pause, and then the final reply.
 ~ I don’t think you really understand what I’m trying to accomplish with my blog. Why don’t we discuss this in person- maybe over coffee? 
#
Justin’s next mistake was not insisting that they meet at a Starbucks, like normal people.
When he’d ducked out of the steamy, summer rain and under the pink scalloped eaves of the appointed building, he’d barely had time to check the address Alice had given him before he was accosted by three girls in maid uniforms, who lined up by the door and said, “Okaerinasaimase goshujin-sama,” In bright, girlish voices. The tallest girl, who had long dark hair and glasses, took his umbrella, drawing him through the door in the process. The shortest girl attempted to take his coat, but tripped and fell on her face instead.
Justin turned to the tallest girl. “Hi- is this the Momo Tea house? I was supposed to meet a girl named Alice…”
The shortest girl stood up and started to giggle, and soon the others were joining in as well- though the tallest made an effort to hide it. Then the tallest bowed and gestured into the shop.
“This way, milord. I will take you to her usual table.”
Justin followed her into the bright pastel tea shop, which was filled with mismatched tables and even more mismatched patrons. A group of kids in fancy clothes sat near the front, drinking bubble tea and laughing. On the side, two large tables were dominated by a group of men in ragged tee-shirts, playing dungeons and dragons.
“Give me one good reason that my paladin can’t use his armoire of invincibility,” one of the role-players shouted.
Next to the dungeons and dragons game was a television hooked up to a Nintendo, where a young couple was playing Mario cart. On the other side, next to the empty table where the tall maid seemed to be leading Justin, a boy with long dreadlocks was showing a heavily tattooed girl a series of photos.
“You see-“ he was saying, “if you say nice words, like ‘love’ and ‘peace,’ the ice crystals are prettier…”
Justin pinched the bridge of his nose as he sat with a plop at the table.
“Here is a menu, Milord,” the maid said. “I will inform Alice of your arrival. Is there anything else you require?”
“Ah- no. Thanks.” Justin said.
Justin glanced at the menu when the maid left, but it was difficult to concentrate when a fast-paced vocaloid song started, and all of the maids began to dance. At the same time, a young man at a nearby table shouted at his laptop. “-No, you idiot! That’s how you get a universe tiled with paper clips.” In the distance, the dungeons and dragons group cheered, “take that, legion of undead!”
“You’ve chosen a lively evening to visit,” a quiet but heavily accented voice said just over Justin’s left shoulder. Justin turned to see an older gentleman in a grey suit and bowtie. The old man smiled, and sat across from Justin, uninvited.
Something about the man’s shadowed eyes and lopsided smile seemed familiar to Justin.
“I’m sorry- but do I know you?” Justin ventured.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the man said. “We have a mutual acquaintance.”
At the words “mutual friend,” something clicked in Justin’s mind. The man’s accent was definitely Russian. Justin suddenly thought of the article in The Voice, and the Wikipedia article he’d read afterward.
“You’re Yuri Volkov, aren’t you.”
“I am. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Mr. Volkov reached across the table to shake Justin’s hand. “I read the e-mail you sent to Alice, and I must say I like your style. Will you be engaging her in a debate, soon?”
“I- I don’t think so.”
Mr. Volkov began to laugh. “You needn’t look at me like I’m crazy, you know. As the Cheshire cat said, ‘we’re all mad here,” he said, gesturing around the café.
“I’m sorry, but you did claim to find ancient ruins on the moon. What am I supposed to think of you?”
Mr. Volkov leaned on the table, interlacing his fingers and staring into the distance, as though in deep thought. Then he smiled and leaned back in his chair.
“Well, Justin, if I hadn’t said I’d found ancient ruins on the moon, would you think of me at all?”
The song ended, and the maids dispersed amid scattered applause. A second later, Alice approached the table, wearing an “I ❤ Pluto” T-shirt and a broad grin.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe how much time it takes to count all of the angels on the head of a pin, even with an electron microscope.

To Make an Interstellar Omelet- Part II

It was almost midnight when Justin was able to stumble up to his hotel room. The hallways on his floor were empty, and the only sounds he could hear were dissonant humming of the ice machine and the fluorescent lights.
He opened the door to his room and made his way through the dark, unfamiliar entryway and over to the light switch. He suffered a moment of disorientation as he acclimated to the unfamiliar surroundings- bed on the wrong side, curtains open to an array of flickering city lights, and the most hideous shade of pale peach wallpaper he’d ever seen. Just one more day here, a cramped plane ride, and he’d be back in his own bed, complete with white linen sheets.
Justin hadn’t seen Alice at all since their elevator meeting, even though he’d been looking for her in the hallways, the café, and the nearby coffee shop. He took her card from his wallet, but was dismayed to find that the card didn’t contain a phone number – only a web address.
Justin sighed and tossed the card, along with his wallet and keycard, onto the bedside table, feeling more than slightly dejected. He loosened his tie, took off his shoes, and stretched out on the scratchy hotel sheets, endeavoring to relax just a little despite the sting of Alice’s rejection.
He took his laptop, which was plugged into the wall by the bed, and opened it. He decided to take his mind off of things for now, and to get some work done. He knew that sleeping in the strange hotel was a lost cause, but if he tired himself out, he might be desperate enough for sleep to lose consciousness on the plane ride home, when he’d benefit from the state of unconsciousness the most.
As he went through his e-mail, however, he found his mind wandering, and his eyes flickered to the black, glittering card on the bedside table.
He spent a few moments in silent debate, and then gave up, grabbed the card, and entered the URL on his browser.
The website loaded. The front page was cluttered and disordered, filled with an array of headlines in bright, clashing colors with a liberal use of exclamation points. At the top of the page was a bright red banner with white letters.
Welcome to:
The Vision
The only real source of galactic truth.
Justin could feel his right eye twitch a little as he read. The familiar pinch of a tension headache was forming between his eyes. Nevertheless, he scrolled down and continued to read.
Breaking news!!!
Recently released NASA images reveal a new species of rodent living on the surface of Mars. NASA scientists claim the rodents are merely “interestingly shaped rocks.”
Ruins on the Moon!
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 At first, Justin’s heart sank. Alice had been too good to be true- cute, witty, and genuinely interested his work. He rarely met girls like her. Now it seemed she was just another nut case.
However, as he continued to read, and his headache grew more intense, he found himself growing angry. He scrolled further down and found a hyperlink that said “contact me.” His mouse pointer hesitated over the link, but then he put his laptop to the side, went to the mini-bar, and took a Red Bull. He then sat back down, popped a couple of aspirin, downed them with a gulp of Red Bull, and opened a word document.
This madness called for a thorough response.

To Make an Interstellar Omelet- Part I

When Justin first met Alice, he knew he was trapped.

He wasn’t only trapped by the elevator they were in, which was stuck between the second and third floors of the hotel. He was trapped by the most fascinating girl he’d ever met.
Her looks weren’t particularly fascinating, though she was pretty. Her hair was brown, wavy and shoulder length; she was average height and average weight; and though she was dressed a bit strangely- with layers of skirts and a profusion of glittering crystal jewelry- it was nothing terribly uncommon. It was the expression in her dark eyes, and the unsettling way she stared baldly at him before offering a frank, open smile, that grabbed his attention.

When the elevator stopped, he’d groaned in frustration, but the girl merely laughed and said, “at last! I can press this big, shiny red button! That is, if you don’t want to…”

“Oh no, go ahead and ring the alarm,” Justin said, before attempting to pry the door open manually.

Soon, a loud buzzing filled the tiny space, and afterward, a static-y voice could be heard over the intercom.

“… hello?”

“Hi!” the girl said. “We’re stuck between the second and third floors. Hurry, please. My companion can’t seem to get the doors open.”

The intercom buzzed again. “Uh… you’re stuck?”

“Yes, between the second and third floors,” the girl repeated patiently.
There was a long silence, and then the intercom sounded again. “Ok- hold tight. I’ll send someone up there.”

“That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence,” Justin grumbled.

“You aren’t claustrophobic, are you? We have plenty of ventilation,” the girl said, gesturing to the air vent overhead. “We should be fine, unless you need to use the restroom.”

“I’m fine,” Justin said. “I just don’t have time for this.”

“Ah- then I guess we’ll just have to make idle chit-chat, to make the time pass- either that or just stare at our phones for a while. I’m Alice, by the way,” she said, extending her hand.

“I’m Justin,” Justin replied, taking the offered hand. “It’s nice to meet you, even if the circumstances are lousy.”

Alice laughed again, the sound punctuated by the tinkling of her profuse jewelry. “It’s nice to meet you too; I don’t even mind the circumstances. Now- Justin- I suppose that I should ask what you do for a living, following social conventions. Some people don’t like discussing work, though.”

“I don’t mind. I actually like my work, even though it can be more boring than it sounds. I’m an aerospace engineer.”

“Really?” Alice raised her eyebrows in surprise.

“Yeah- I work for NASA.”

Just then, the elevator doors opened just a crack. A bright blue eye peered through the crack, under the bill of a blue hat.

“Hey guys, I’m just about to get this door open. Hold on.”

“Take your time,” Alice said breezily, before turning back to Justin. “I’m a huge fan of the space program. Too bad Nasa keeps losing funding.”

“You’re telling me. I’m sick of seeing the most exciting projects getting scrapped. We have some great projects going on right now, though, so I’m not complaining too loudly.”

There was an ear-shattering creak, then, and the doors opened all the way, revealing the floor below.

“Give me your hand,” the maintenance man said to Alice. “I’ll help you down.”

“Thanks,” Alice said, sitting down and swinging her legs over the ledge. “Don’t look up my skirt.”

“Or course not, Miss,” the man replied, helping Alice down while Justin scrambled out on his own. “Elevators 2 and three still work- they’re just down the hall.”

“Alright, thanks again,” Alice said before turning to Justin. “I guess I’ll see you around. I was really glad to meet you.”

Alice paused a moment, looking at Justin almost expectantly, but Justin’s brain seemed to freeze at this moment.

Alice turned to walk away.

Justin kicked himself awake. She’s leaving, you idiot, he thought to himself.

“Wait-“ Justin said out loud. “Would you like to get some coffee? There’s a Starbucks just across the street.”

“I’m sorry- I’m actually late for a conference.” Alice laughed. “But here- take my card. Let’s keep in touch.”

Justin took the shiny, black and gold card, but he barely glanced at it as Alice turned to walk away again- her crystal jewelry tinkling as she walked.