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Adventure Planet, Chapter Two

The Contract

By Stephanie HoogstadPublished 9 months ago 13 min read
Adventure Planet, Chapter Two
Photo by Aldebaran S on Unsplash

Follow this link to read the first chapter of Adventure Planet, "Hallucinations".

My brother and sister-in-law relieve me of my babysitting duties for the final day, but not without docking my pay for those last hours. Fine. Fair enough. I’d consider it fairer if they had shown any concern for my well-being, but it seems that more money means less concern for others. Or maybe my migraine/mental breakdown combo just pales in comparison to their own stress relief. Either way, I’m back in the room in time for them to have to take the kids to lunch.

I lie on the bed with a chilled eye mask on, the TV playing some 21st-century remake of a movie that gives the villain a backstory. I refuse to sleep. If I don’t sleep and don’t look directly at anything, I can’t have those bizarre visions—I think. But the rhythmic dialogue of a movie I’ve seen a thousand times before combined with the complete darkness behind the eye mask lull me into unconsciousness anyway, and I soon find myself once again on that desert planet.

Something is different this time. My dream is not continuous. One second, my vision is panning across the vast desert, the warm breeze tickling my face; the next, I’m watching helplessly as a battle breaks out between the reptilian-humanoids and my fellow humans. I jump from the above-ground battlefield to a subterranean city, where reptilian-humanoids scramble to find shelter. I am myself, a third-person observer, and then I am reptilian-humanoid, laser in hand as I defend the city’s entrance from invading humans. Then I am an invading human, watching as those reptilian monsters shoot my friends, inject them with poison, or squeeze them until their spines snap. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I know this is wrong, not just their deaths but the entire invasion. I want to throw down my gear and run, but there’s nowhere on this planet where I won’t be found by human or reptilian-humanoid.

As the weight of this choice bears down heavily upon me, my dream fades to black and ends with similar words to my earlier hallucination: STREAMING MARCH 15.

I wake without a scream, but my entire body shakes. My heart beats so prominently that I can almost see it throb beneath my skin. I throw off my eye mask and sit in the darkness of my room, the TV my only light source. The majority of my migraine is gone, but I’m still dizzy and can barely stand any light—but I will not go back to sleep. I can’t.

By Duncan Kidd on Unsplash

True to my vow, I don’t sleep even as day turns into evening and evening into night. The kids return to their room, trying not to disturb me, but I can hear their not-so-whispered exclamations of joy at having spent the day with their parents. At least something good came out of this. They go to bed without any fuss—another courtesy to me—and I am left alone with my mind. Thank God for television.

The next morning, I’m ready to leave before we’ve even had breakfast. The sooner I can get home to a neurologist, the better. I no longer think these visions are visual hallucinations from my migraines, and I know that the dreams aren’t. What they can be, I have no clue. I’ve considered everything, even Agan’s alien theory, but nothing makes sense. The best I can think of is that I was so stressed that my mind combined images that I looked up of Adventure Planet with the typical sci-fi movie trailer to create the world’s most realistic trailer for a movie that does not exist. Yet even that does not explain me seeing people with those eyes.

I don’t have long to think about it as I must get the kids ready for departure. I don’t know how they manage to mess up their suitcases so badly that they struggle to get their stuff back in them, but it seems that all three are masters of exploding suitcases. Eventually, we get everything packed roughly the same way as they were before, and we meet my brother and sister-in-law in the lobby.

Bellhops take our luggage to our shuttle. As we follow them, I am suddenly stopped by Adventure Planet security.

“Pardon me, ma’am. Are you Sylvia O’Malley?” he asks, his face too neutral for me to gauge what he wants.

“Yes...did I do something wrong?”

“No, ma’am. Please come with me.”

“My shuttle is supposed to leave soon--”

“It will just take a minute.”

I hesitate and look over his shoulder at my family. My brother waves me off, as though to give me permission to go with the security officer. Finally, I nod and follow the man as he leads me to a small office near the shuttle walkway. He does not talk the entire way, and I’m too anxious to start a conversation myself. Inside the office, at a table with two chairs facing each other, sits a woman in a navy-blue pantsuit. As I enter, the woman motions for me to take a seat across from her. I sit, and the security officer closes the door, leaving the woman and me alone.

“Good morning, Ms. O’Malley.” The woman taps a tablet in front of her. “My name is Eliza Kirkland. I am a lawyer for Adventure Planet and its parent company. I am here to see if you could please sign this nondisclosure agreement--”

“An NDA? Why?”

Eliza stares at me as though I’ve grown an extra head. “For the study, of course.”

“What study?”

“The one for the new movie Exploration. You should have been receiving transmissions to the nanobots in your head--”

“You put nanobots in my head?” I can’t hide the shock and disgust in my voice. “When? How?”

Eliza sighs. “Those details aren’t important, Ms. O’Malley, but the confidentiality of our project is.” The woman swipes on the tablet. “Now, it looks like you already signed all the appropriate paperwork for the nanobot project--”

“I did not!” I jump to my feet, although I’m not sure what I’m going to do. “I never signed anything. I was never told anything. Now, you’re telling me that you people not only put nanobots in me but that I somehow signed off on it?”

Eliza stares at me as though my concerns are nothing more than a minor inconvenience to her. “Yes, you did. Here, look at this.” She turns the tablet around so that I can see the screen. To my astonishment, my electronic signature and initials have been added to multiple spots in the document. “Is that not your signature?”

“I-yes, it is, but I didn’t--”

“Please, Ms. O’Malley, can we just get this over with?” She swipes to a new document clean of any signatures. “I have a meeting to get to, and you have a shuttle to catch. They won’t hold it forever just for one stubborn customer.”

I glare at her, the heat rising in my cheeks. “If you’re trying to say that my justified concern about such blatant identity theft is nothing more than me being stubborn--”

“I’m not trying to say that at all. I’m merely saying that we both have places to be, and I doubt that either will wait while we sort all this out.” She shoves the tablet at me. “Just sign the NDA, which only says that you won’t discuss the details of the film that you have received with anybody, and then you can go on home and figure it out there.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do. I just don’t think you’ll enjoy waiting here while I get everyone needed to investigate this matter.” Eliza arches a brow at me. “Would you?”

I hold my head. The throbbing has returned behind my left eye. This is just too much for me. “Fine.” I snatch the tablet from her and sign my name. “You will be hearing from my lawyer. You and whoever did this.” I don’t have a lawyer, but it always sounds threatening when they say that on TV.

As though she can see right through my ruse, Eliza smirks. “I look forward to it, Ms. O’Malley. Now go. You have a shuttle to catch.”

Before returning the tablet, I open the notes section and type out my e-mail address. “I want a copy of these contracts sent to me.”

She takes the tablet back and tucks it into her purse. “Of course. I’ll get right on that.” She walks to the door, and I reluctantly follow. “I look forward to future collaborations.”

I grumble and shove my way past her. Realizing I had been arguing with that woman for twenty minutes, I run to my shuttle, hoping that I’m not too late. When I see that I’m not, I breathe in deeply to steady myself. I pull out my phone, let the flight attendant scan my ticket, and quickly join my family inside.

“What was that all about?” my sister-in-law asks.

I huff as I sit next to Makiese and buckle my seat belt. “It is such a long story. The short version is that I need to get a lawyer because somebody forged my electronic signature and signed me up for a project that I didn’t agree to.” I set my head back on the seat, my eyes closed. “Do you happen to know any?”

“Plenty. I’ll send you their information once we’re all settled back home.” I hear my sister-in-law sigh, almost growling. “I can’t believe somebody did that. They could have taken our information, too! You need to come down on whoever it is hard. Any way that I can help you, just let me know.”

I smile slightly. That’s Grace Ilunga-O’Malley for you. Sometimes, she’s the most gracious person alive. Other times, she’s as self-centered as someone from the Kardashian Dynasty. Usually, oddly, both. “I appreciate that.”

Before the conversation can continue, I feel someone sit in the seat next to me. I open my eyes and turn to see Kelsey dressed in a cute long-sleeved red shirt and tight dark-wash jeans.

“Kelsey,” I squeak. I clear my throat. “Kelsey. What are you doing here—out of uniform?”

She giggles. “I’m going home on...what would you call it? Break? Vacation? Leave?” She laughs at her own joke. “Anyway, I’m home for a month now. Then I get to come back for another wonderful year of working for the mega-corp.”

“A year? And you only get a month off?” I frown. “That sucks.”

Kelsey shrugs. “My son and I need the money. Heaven knows my ex-wife won’t pony up any child support.”

“She sounds like a horrible person.” I cringe. “Sorry, that was rude.”

“Hey, you’re just calling a duck ‘a duck.’”

“Still, it’s not my place to say anything.” My head throbs again. Kelsey had almost made me forget about my budding migraine. Key word: almost. I lean my head back and close my eyes again. “You don’t mind if I rest my eyes, do you? You can keep talking. I’m just trying to fight off a migraine.”

“You really should take an Imitrex,” my brother interjects in his older-brother-nagging tone. I wave him off.

“It’s perfectly fine with me, although you should listen to--”

“Aaron. Aaron O’Malley. Sylvia’s brother.” I don’t have to open my eyes to know what he’s doing now: leaning forward with the biggest, fakest smile he can muster and shaking Kelsey’s hand with the most intimidatingly grip possible. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you as well,” Kelsey replies without any strain to her voice. She must be handling his grip better than my exes. “So, speaking of migraines, how have yours been, Sylvia? Are you still seeing things?”

“Seeing things?” Aaron barks. “Have you been having hallucinations while you’ve been watching my kids?”

I half-sigh, half-groan. “I just saw something weird with people’s eyes and had some weird dreams. That’s all. Honestly, Aaron, do you think I’d ever put my nieces and nephews in danger?”

Aaron grumbles. “No, I suppose not. You still need to see a neurologist when we get home--”

“And you need to stop stating the obvious.”

I’m not about to tell him that I might know what those hallucinations were about now. Frankly, I’m still not 100% sure I even know what the connection between the nanobots and the visions really is. A neurologist should, though. Or maybe a neuroroboticist would be a better choice. And one of Grace’s lawyers.

By Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

The shuttle ride goes off without a hitch. I learn that, like me, Kelsey lives in the LA area. My brother tells her that he and his family live in Silicon Valley so that Grace can be close to work. I roll my eyes, knowing that they only live there for the prestige. Grace could do her work from anywhere in the world that she wants. Hell, I’ve known her to work from a Maui hotel room while on a month-long family vacation. She probably even worked some during this vacation, much to my brother’s chagrin.

Kelsey asks me endless questions about my work, my hobbies, etc. I’ve never known anybody to be so interested in freelance editing, writing, or amateur photography. Still, she acts as though my lecture on antique film cameras is the most fascinating thing she’s ever heard. In turn, she tells me about working at Adventure Planet, her poetry, and her dabbling in neurorobotics. I find the latter almost too good to be true but decide to wait on asking for her opinion on what I’ve learned regarding the nanobots and my visions. No need to make Aaron more worried about my health and mental state than he probably already is.

I dread disembarking once we land, but Kelsey gives me her number, and I text her so that she’ll have mine. She promises to call me soon, but as we part ways to our respective transportation, I’m sure that she won’t. My heart fluttering and my migraine finally gone—after a few hours of hot and cold flashes from the Imitrex—I'm floating on Cloud Nine and can hardly hear Makiese and Agan chanting, “Aunt Syl has a girlfriend, Aunt Syl has a girlfriend!”

In the parking lot, my brother’s family and I say our final goodbyes as they pile into their tiny Prius (better for the environment, better for the economy, and much more fashionable than its vehicular ancestors). Once they pull out of their space and begin their journey back home, I drag my luggage with me to the nearest e-bus stop to do the same. Powered by enormous solar batteries and able to seat up to thirty passengers, the e-bus is the most frugal and environmentally friendly option for people like me. I hear that they might be putting compost toilets in some of the newer models, but I doubt it. After all, it’s just public transportation.

As I sit in the back and wait for the stop outside my apartment complex, I use my phone to check my e-mail. Fortunately, Ms. Eliza What’s-her-name has pulled through and sent me not only the NDA I signed today but also the original contract that I supposedly signed. As plain as the nose on my face, my electronic signature sits right there at the bottom of the final page, and my electronic initials are scattered throughout the document. I examine each one on a pixelated level, but I cannot find anything that distinguishes them from my typical e-signature. Someone had to have hacked into my computer and stolen them off an NDA I used for a client. The question is, why would they even want to? How could they have known that I was going to Adventure Planet in the first place? Scenario after dizzying scenario flashes through my mind, several including a stalker and/or a nefarious plot on behalf of the mega-corporation.

Then I see it.

In plain black-and-white, under the “Compensations” clause of the contract, is a guarantee of fifty percent off a trip to Adventure Planet during the first three days of the trial for up to ten guests.

That son of a bitch.

science fiction

About the Creator

Stephanie Hoogstad

With a BA in English and MSc in Creative Writing, writing is my life. I have edited and beta read as a freelancer for a few years with some published stories and poems of my own. You can learn more about me at thewritersscrapbin.com.

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