"Kobayashi. For me, it always starts and ends with him. I have no one else to blame but me. Ever since I was a kid, he always got me into trouble. Now I'm suffering the consequences of his actions like always. Kobayashi… Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if he hadn't found me. I could've lived an everyday life, but that would've been too boring. No going back, and no regrets!" Jaina explained with her slight southern accent in the breakroom of the twenty-four-hour WallyMart that employed her. She surveyed the empty chairs occupying the tables surrounding her with a lazy eye and tried with a desperate effort not to pay heed to the loud tick-tock of the clock on the clinical-colored breakroom wall.
Attractive and in her mid-thirties, Jaina carried a graceful beauty she hid. Her long dark hair rested on her shoulders in slight curls, and the baggy WallyMart uniform remained one size too big on her frame. She didn't mind covering up the more enticing aspects of her appearance. How most men approached her left her with a sense of disgust for the male half of her species.
A young man named Luke sat across from Jaina. She regarded her coworker as a little brother and experienced a sense of gratefulness for the late-night company on the night shift. Most shifts that went into the midnight hours didn't have much conversation, and having a newbie sitting across from her guaranteed his full attention regarding various topics. Newbies clung to someone established.
"Kobayashi?" Luke's chuckle gave out a pig snort as he found the name curious. "That's a Japanese name. It means a small forest. I'm studying Japan right now for school. It's a common surname. Is your friend Japanese or something?"
"He's something alright." She unscrewed the plastic cap of the vending machine soda bottle and took a sip. The rush of sugar hit her body with a slight jolt.
Luke brushed a hand through his light brown hair, unused to the uniform. "So, what is he?"
"A handful. He's been the same ever since I was a child - always bothering me and always the same. Same face, same everything. He is best described as a charming dork. He named himself after the stupid test from Star Trek. It's my fault. The Wrath of Kahn movie was on one night, and I couldn't pronounce his real name. So, he let me call him Kobayashi."
"Oh yeah! The Kobayashi Maru!" Luke recognized his eagerness to share this knowledge, and his cheeks flushed red with embarrassment.
"Oh, God. He'd like you. From that alone, he'd be head over heels." She took another sip of her soda and lounged back in the chair. "He named himself after the unbeatable test because he thinks no one can ever beat him."
"I thought it was because you couldn't pronounce his name." Luke corrected.
She sighed. "That's how it started, Luke, but when he found out what the test was about, he decided it was an amazing fit."
"But Captain Kirk beat the test by changing the rules. He cheated." Luke explained further.
Jaina nodded in agreement. "I tried to tell him the same thing. I'm not keen on Star Trek, but I know that much. He said when he meets his Kirk, it's time for him to return home and stop doing what he does."
Luke's curiosity grew. "What does he do? Where's home?"
"Home? Just about anywhere is home for that guy. What does he do? He gets me into trouble." She sipped her soda.
"You don't seem like you're in trouble." Luke decided.
"Luke." Jaina cleared her throat as she leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table between them. "Nothing is ever as it seems. Our break is about over. How about we get back to it?"
"Okay." Luke monitored Jaina as she slurped up the rest of her soda; she tossed the empty plastic bottle in the recycling bin and let out a loud belch.
"You can go on ahead of me." She gestured for him to move along. "We're not joined at the hip."
"Right." The young man sighed and exited the breakroom.
The rest of Luke's shift flew by with no adverse incidents. Random customers would appear in the early hours to purchase random items, making one question whether humanity would make it into the future. However, the conversation from the breakroom remained lodged in the forefront of Luke's mind. He grew more curious about Jaina's exotic friend Kobayashi and wanted to listen to more stories. Luke was too shy to ask his female coworker outright, but he figured Jaina would explain more tomorrow night during their break.
* * * *
"You've been sitting across from me, eating your food, and staring. Is there something you want to ask me? I'm flattered if you plan on asking me on a date, but I don't think it would be the best idea. You're about nineteen, right? I'm thirty-five. As much as I like younger men, I don't mix work with pleasure." Jaina sighed with a playful smirk as she sipped her soda, set it down, and pulled her long dark hair back in a ponytail.
"What? No… I…" Luke almost choked on his burger as he chewed it. He set the sandwich down and sipped his fruit drink from a bendy straw before continuing; the simple act made him feel more like a child. "No. I mean, you're attractive and all but… I… I wouldn't… but…" He could feel the redness rushing in his face.
"Relax, Luke, just giving you a hard time. What's on your mind, though? You have the appearance of a six-year-old on Christmas wanting to find out if Santa really ate the cookies and drank the milk." She leaned back in her chair.
Luke leaned forward. "I was wondering about your friend, Kobayashi."
Jaina dismissed the awkward tension with a warm and inviting smile. "Me venting about him yesterday stuck in your head, huh?"
Luke nodded. "I'm curious."
She shrugged. "About?"
"You've known him since you were kids, right?" Luke's excitement grew.
"He met me when I was a child." She sipped her soda.
"And you never found out his real name?" He almost forgot his food and took a quick bite, chewing and swallowing in seconds to be free to speak.
"It's too hard to pronounce. I gave up on it a long time ago. You wouldn't have any luck with it either. Trust me. Intonations must be perfect, and it's like you're almost singing the damn thing." She mouthed the name and chuckled at seeing Luke try to make it out.
"How does he contact you? You talk about him like you expect him to show up any minute." He sipped from the bendy straw.
Jaina pointed her finger at Luke with a knowing smile. "That's because I do. I've been waiting here at this WallyMart for about seven months, just working and waiting. It's all part of his plan. He's brilliant, but don't ever mention I said that. It's impossible to keep him humble if you go on complimenting him."
Luke took another bite of his burger, chewed, and swallowed while taking in the information. "You've been waiting?"
She nodded before taking another sip of soda. "Yup. Not sure when or how he'll pop up, but this is where it'll happen. He's the type to let you know minutes or seconds before he's about to do something. Although I must admit, working here is much more peaceful than where he previously had me waiting for him."
"Where?" The desire to know drove Luke crazy.
Jaina sipped her soda and said in a casual tone: "Istanbul."
Luke choked on his food. "What?! That's crazy!" He said after regaining his composure.
"God's honest truth." She held up her hand.
"What were you doing in Istanbul?" Luke couldn't believe it.
Jaina's smile beamed. The burden of hiding her exploits had been challenging, and she wanted to share. "Istanbul is an ancient city; lots of history. I was traveling with Kobayashi and a few other people. He claimed the others to be unique, like me. We had a lead on something he'd been tracking down."
"Which was?" Luke blamed being on third shift for his insatiable need to believe her story.
Her eyes widened, happy to share. "The Ark of the Covenant."
Luke choked on his burger again and, this time, spat it out after a fierce coughing fit. His chest puffed, and he released a heavy sigh once he regained composure with a few sips from the bendy straw. "Oh, come on! You're full of it! There's no way in hell any of that is true!"
"God's honest truth." She held up her hand.
Something about Jaina's body language intrigued young Luke. He could feel her genuine nature pouring through. "Were you watching Raiders of the Lost Ark last night or something?"
"Yes, but that's beside the point. I'm telling you the truth, Luke. We found it, and it was something else. It's not what you think it is from the movies and stories passed on. The truth is always harder to accept once something has been ingrained into a culture. You become so invested in the mythos that the reality is always too shocking or disappointing to handle. Know what I mean? Kobayashi explained as much to me." She shrugged it off.
Luke chuckled, finishing his burger and slurping down the remaining fruit drink. The tick-tock of the clock became noticeable as they sat in shared silence. After clearing his throat, he spoke. "How did this guy meet you? What happened when you were a kid?"
"He kind of found me." She recalled with fondness.
Luke raised an eyebrow. "Found you? Was he a creepy stalker or something?"
She laughed. "Nope. He just found me, Luke. That's the best way to explain it." An intense concentration took hold of Jaina's face. She relived the encounter in her mind. She was a child, and Kobayashi was a grown man. Over all the years, he never aged once. To this day, he remained the same. She focused on Luke, trying to find the easiest way to explain. "He said he'd been searching for me and others like me. According to him, I'm part of an exclusive group of people. He also said my name was fitting because of what it means."
"What does your name mean?" Luke never gave much thought to what names meant.
"The grace of God." She laughed, never having explained it to anyone. "When he first showed up, I was eating candy like kids do – in my room. My aunt left me a bowl of hard candies. While I devoured them, he appeared. I don't remember him coming through a window or opening the door, but he was just there. I threw the bowl of hard candies at him. He laughed it off, and then I just felt safe. You could feel his intentions, which weren't bad or anything. I know this sounds crazy, but I've never been able to talk to anyone about this without sounding like a loon. It's the God's honest truth, Luke. Thanks for at least listening to me right now without too much judgment."
Luke nodded, understanding the sentiment. "No problem, Jaina."
Luke remained silent for the rest of the break, allowing Jaina to relive her past, whether or not he believed it to be true. He gathered from her posture that she relived her previous experiences with the mystery man, Kobayashi. The rest of the shift after their break remained quiet. The late-night hours turned into early morning hours as they carried out their final work duties, and Luke and the "grace of God" went home.
* * * *
Having to sit in the breakroom alone seemed wrong to young Luke. He sat in the same chair, at the same table, and stress ate his burger, awaiting his coworker to appear and share more of her stories. However, he also sensed that something was off with Jaina as they began their night shift at the twenty-four-hour WallyMart. While working on the floor restocking various items, Luke studied Jaina's anxious anticipation. She was more alert and aware of her surroundings than usual and inspected the inside of the store as if something dramatic would transpire at any minute.
Then, Jaina burst through the breakroom doors with the same energy that encapsulated her shift. "Trust me when I say you don't want to sit there!" She barked the words at Luke. The loud tick-tock of the clock filled the room as he responded with silence. Jaina took it upon herself to grab the clock. Without hesitation, she smashed it against the brick wall near her, gratified as the tick-tock noise faded into silence. "I've been waiting to do that for the last seven months. That damn thing drove me crazy."
"What's going on?" Luke grew concerned when Jaina pushed aside the table where they would sit on break on a typical night; Luke's lunch flew about the room as the table wobbled and tipped on its side from the force. She pulled Luke from the wall near that table and positioned him beside her.
"Kobayashi will be here soon. That item he was looking for before we got here, well, he found it again because it got lost in transit. The problem is that other people noticed. So now these people want it, and they aren't good people, and Kobayashi is in a rush to escape with the item in question. So, time is kind of important right now." She gestured for Luke to give her a nod of understanding.
"What?!" Luke stared at his lunch strewn about the breakroom floor; the burger contents had splattered everywhere as if the sandwich had exploded. "I was going to eat that!"
"More time for food later," Jaina assured him.
"And what the hell was he looking for? I don't understand what you're talking about! And the new manager is going to be pissed! It's a mess back here!" Luke removed a pickle stuck to his shirt and threw it on the floor.
"Remember when I told you about the Ark of the Covenant? Well, he found it again. He had it, it got lost, and he has it again. Other people want it and are trying to track him down. Follow?" She waited for a response.
"This is fucking crazy!" Luke walked back toward the table to lift it up. "And I have to go find more food now, thanks to you!"
"I wouldn't stand there!" Jaina pulled Luke back again.
"Let me go!" Luke's anger deflated as he heard the engine of a heavy truck approaching their location from outside the breakroom wall facing the parking lot.
"Now is an appropriate time to stand back!" Jaina shielded Luke with her body as an oversized brown UPS truck plowed through the cinder blocks. Rubble and debris scattered every which way, and the vehicle's headlights remained on; the beams of light highlighted the dust and powdery aspects of the rubble floating about post-collision.
"Now that was fun!" a boisterous male voice yelled with glee from within the truck. He stood from the driver's seat as if it were just another delivery while running a hand through his short blond hair. Then, following proper parking procedure, the man turned off the headlights, set the UPS truck into park, and turned off the engine.
Luke studied the stranger, taken aback by the perfection of the human form this man represented. The mystery man stepped from the truck and stood before him and Jaina as the ultimate specimen. His smile of greeting accentuated the angelic features of his face, and his bright green eyes took in every aspect of the room. His simple black clothing seemed normal enough, but upon closer inspection, it exuded an exotic aura that seemed alien to Luke.
"Who….? What….? Where…?" Luke stumbled for words.
"Throw out a why and a when, and you're on your way to becoming an investigative journalist. The 'who' part of this I can answer. The name is Kobayashi. I'm sure my associate explained as much. I also have the 'where' covered. We are in a Center Dot breakroom." Kobayashi answered.
"WallyMart breakroom, and that's Luke." Jaina jumped in.
"Same difference, and it's a pleasure to meet you, Luke." Kobayashi smiled at Jaina. "We should go. The contents of the Ark are with me; we don't want that falling into the wrong hands."
"Go? Go where?" Luke began shaking from the adrenaline. "This is batshit crazy! No one has the fucking Ark! It's not even real!"
"But I do have it, Luke. That's the 'what' part to all of this." Kobayashi smiled his perfect smile and walked closer to Jaina. "Sorry that it took me so long."
"Seven months is about the norm." She smiled back.
Kobayashi studied the room and returned his gaze to Jaina. "WallyMart? This is where you worked?"
She crossed her arms, stressing her defensive posture. "It was the best lay-low kind of job I could find on short notice, and it kept me close to my new friend Luke here. That was the plan, after all."
"If you have it, then I want to see it." Luke stood firm with arms crossed, scared and fascinated.
"It's too unstable for you to view. The energy it puts out is vast. I removed it from that silly Ark and placed it in a proper containment field. It's far easier to transport this way." Kobayashi pulled out what appeared to be a flat black disc from his back pocket. The flat surface popped into three dimensions, and a sphere hovered over his right hand. "Within this field are the contents of the Ark. My people lost it long ago when they crashed on your fledgling planet."
"What?! How are you doing that?" Luke walked closer to the black sphere. "Something is inside that thing?"
"Yes. It's a potent energy source. It would tip the balance of power on this planet if discovered and exploited. A long time ago, my people crash-landed on Earth. They found a wandering tribe in the desert and instructed this tribe on how to contain this energy source. They used the primitive technology available mixed with the technology of the crashed ship. In my people's defense, they had no idea that world religions would be started over this."
"Are you telling me you're a fuckin alien?!" Luke laughed with hysteria. "You're crazy! You're just a crazy asshole that crashed a stolen UPS truck through a wall where I work! I didn't even get to finish my food!"
With a stern grasp, Kobayashi took hold of Luke's head with his left hand. The transfer of information was intense and sudden. Luke found himself filled with knowledge and memories regarding the origins of Kobayashi and his people. The species varied in form over the years; appearing as a human was one of their tricks. Luke held his head in amazement once the connection was severed.
"Intense, huh?" Jaina smiled. "Imagine having that information in your head when you're a little kid."
Luke stared at the two of them in awe. "It's true. All of it. That thing… It's…"
"The Philosopher's Stone. Also referred to as ORME. You have so many names for things that it's hard to keep up. As I've said, my people didn't intend to have a world-impacting religion created over such a thing, but then again, humans are fascinating like that. As a species, stories tend to become so ingrained and real even when they can't be true. Your capacity to believe and accept is amazing. It can lead to beautiful discoveries. It can also be detrimental. Then again, that's the dichotomy of being human." Kobayashi sighed, having given this much thought over the centuries.
Luke held his head as if the newfound knowledge would escape if he didn't hold on to it. "You tracked down Jaina and others like her. Why?"
"Say you lost something long ago, and it would take someone several thousand years to find it. Would you trust the language of the time to remain intact? Would any material carrying a message stand the test of time in a violent and ever-changing world?" Kobayashi raised his perfect eyebrow.
Luke shook his head, studying Jaina, who stood with a knowing smile of her own. "No. I guess not."
Kobayashi gave Luke a firm pat on the shoulder. "So, what better way to ensure instructions and a message carry on throughout a long period than to leave it encoded within the DNA of a species? My predecessors, who crashed here long ago, did such a thing with Jaina's ancestors and the others who went with me to Istanbul. This encoding gave me the information needed to track down what you refer to as the Ark of the Covenant. The DNA also carried their last messages. Some were scientific, observational, or personal. One of them left behind a joke that's thousands of years old; it wasn't funny."
"That's incredible!" Luke stepped closer to the two; his comfort with them grew by the second. He watched in amazement as the sphere became a two-dimensional disc again. Kobayashi placed it in his pocket and clapped his hands with genuine excitement.
Sirens blared off in the distance, growing louder as they approached the parking lot outside the massive hole in the breakroom. There wasn't much time left.
"It's time to go." Kobayashi grinned.
"Are you following through with your promise to get me off this rock?" Jaina gave Kobayashi a stern glare.
Kobayashi nodded. "I said I'd show you the stars; there is no time like the present." He regarded Luke. "Are you ready to go with us, Luke?"
"What?" Luke grew confused.
"WallyMart wasn't my first career choice, kid. I got this job here because it was close to where you live. And, yes, I manipulated a few things here and there to get you to work here. Your DNA is like mine. It's encoded with information. It has nothing to do with the Ark, but it is information. Turns out many of his ancestors weren't the greatest pilots and crashed here on Earth." Jaina rolled her eyes.
Kobayashi chimed in. "In defense of my people, all the crash landings did not stem from my race. There are lots of coded messages from other species that couldn't navigate the stars very well either. The technology was new way back then."
"Whatever he says." Jaina smiled at Luke. "So, are you up for going on crazy adventures and getting into trouble because of Kobayashi?"
For the first time, Luke felt an elation of pure joy flood his senses. In the blink of an eye, his life had a purpose, and the universe left him with limitless possibilities. With an eager smile, he nodded to his two new companions.
"Just take my hand, Luke. I'll show you wonders you never even dreamed of." Kobayashi held out his left hand as he placed his right hand within Jaina's.
Luke reached out and placed his hand within Kobayashi's. "Now what?"
Jaina grabbed Luke's right hand with her free one; all three stood in a closed circle. "Close your eyes, Luke. We're about to travel a long distance in a short amount of time."
"I believe that's my line." Kobayashi's tone grew offended.
"I never get to say it." She pouted.
"Because it's what I'm supposed to say, not you." Kobayashi's tone was adamant.
Luke laughed, ignoring the screeching halt of tires and the blare of more sirens as they flooded the parking lot of the WallyMart. He closed his eyes and opened his mind to the endless possibilities. "I'm ready. Let's go."
About the Creator
I'm a Puerto Rican storyteller/filmmaker who uses lies to tell the truth; this is the essence of what I love about good stories. Author of Casino City and Distinction of Realms! Scifi, fantasy, horror, and thriller are among my favorite!