by Darcy Nybo

Hazel stood when her name was called. It was eerie, being here, with these strange creatures. It was as if her life prior to this moment no longer had any real meaning and her future was all she could think about. She squeezed her husband’s hand once, let it go, smiled, and stepped up to wait in her line.

She looked around. Her husband Steve gave a thumbs-up as she glanced his way. There was so much to take in. There were seven lines in all. She recognized people from her neighbourhood in some of the lines. The newspapers said this was happening everywhere. Every town and city in every country in every part of the globe had stations like this set up. People were being processed. The creatures were taking them home.

As she looked around, she realized for the first time in years, she wasn’t cold. It had been very cold lately. Hazel smiled when she thought about going home. When she was younger she had fantasised about being taken away on a huge spaceship. She belonged with the people from the stars; she knew it, and now it was happening.

A lady to her left stepped into a clear plastic tube structure. A clear door closed and a glowing purple light filled the tube. The woman inside smiled and closed her eyes. Hazel turned away, ashamed to be watching what appeared to be a very private moment. She heard a whoosh and turned to watch the woman step out through the back of the tube. A slender creature put his arm around her shoulder and led her to a red door. The woman stepped through and the door closed. The creature took his position again at the exit for the tube.

Hazel counted seven tubes in all, one for each line. She felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and saw Steve in the line beside her. She hadn’t even heard his name called.

“Hey hun, looks like we get to go through at the same time.” Steve beamed at her.

Hazel smiled back. “Looks like it. This place is amazing isn’t it?”

Steve nodded and looked around the room. Hazel couldn’t help but admire her husband’s profile. His chin was strong and square, the cleft perfectly centred. His eyes were just the right distance apart and the most exquisite shade of blue. He smiled. That smile was worth every penny. It had cost $30,000... twenty-four teeth at $1,250 a tooth. They had opted to leave the back teeth alone and spend $5,000 for the chin and its cleft. They would have had the money for the back teeth the following year, but Steve’s surgeon insisted his eyes could be the focal point of his face if he were willing for forgo the Bahamas holiday and pay him the vacation money to fix his droopy lids.

Hazel rubbed a small scar on her cheek. It had been over 20 years since the dog had attacked her, leaving her with a thin white scar running from the bridge of her nose, across her cheek and under her ear. Steve said it didn’t really show. Besides you could cover a scar with make-up, but you couldn’t un-droop an eyelid, square a jaw or make a perfect smile with cover up from the local drug store.

Hazel realized it would be her turn soon. The soft whoosh of the tubes was getting louder. A buxom young lady in front of her took a deep breath and stepped into the tube. Hazel looked away, curious, but not wanting to watch.She turned towards Steve and reached across the gap between them to hold his hand. “We’re up next.” Steve winked at her and turned to watch the old man in front of him. “Geeze, would you look at the wear and tear on that one.” Steve took his hand from hers and jerked his head towards the man entering the tube. “Just shoot me if I ever look like that.”

The old man shuffled into the tube and stopped. Light showered down upon him. He closed his eyes and this time Hazel did not look away. She watched as his body appeared to straighten, as if the weight of his years were being lifted off. She continued to watch as the exit door opened and another slender creature put an arm around the old man and led him to a red door. The voluptuous woman who had exited the tube in front of her was led through a green door.

It was time. Hazel and Steve stepped into their respective tubes. She hoped Steve would be okay. He’d been in a skiing accident a few years ago, a broken leg. While he was in hospital he’d asked the doctors to do a pectoral implant on him. Steve left the hospital with a straight leg and perfect pecs. She stared down at her own imperfect breasts. Her left one sagged a little, the right pointed to the right instead of straight ahead. Steve said it didn’t matter.

Her job as a nurse paid fairly well and she and Steve were able to afford some nice things. Steve invested his money into himself. He promised that one day he was going to be the new Donald Trump... except for the hair.

Steve’s hair implant was guaranteed to look 100% natural for his entire life. In fact the hair was all Steve’s. She shuddered when she thought of them scraping sections of skin off the back of his head and grafting it onto the front. Steve had lots of hair. It went down his neck and onto his shoulders. He’d had electrolyses to remove the hair he didn’t need and surgery to move the hair he wanted.

Four years of surgery later and he didn’t resemble the man she married, but he was the man she was married to.

The air in the tube began to change. It was thicker, warmer now. Tiny prickles of warmth penetrated her inside and out simultaneously. She closed her eyes and relaxed into the light. A thick luscious feeling started at her scalp. She felt it penetrate every nerve, every cell of her body. The scar on her face tingled and the feeling was gone. She realized the scar on her abdomen, a slight reminder of an appendectomy years previous, had done the same. For a moment she felt the same sensation on a small spot on her toe where she’d once had a wart removed. Then it was gone and the door in front of her opened.

Now she was the one being escorted. She looked over to find Steve. He was led away to the green door, she to the red. She waved as the doors closed on her.

This room was much larger than the first. There were comfortable chairs, people milling about, laughing and joking. There was a family in the corner hugging each other, a baby held snugly on a mother’s hip.

Hazel searched for Steve. Maybe the green door was for men. She realized this was a false assumption as half the people in the room she was in, were men. It wasn’t age or hair colour or race or height or weight either. Hazel found one of the slender creatures and approached it.

She pointed to her wedding ring, “Do you know where my husband is?” The creature smiled and nodded and pointed towards a large window at the end of the room. Hazel tried not to run as she made her way through the milling crowd. There, on the other side of the glass, was another room with no visible means of entrance. She cupped her hands around her eyes and peered into the crowd. Steve. Finally she spotted him and banged against the window.

“Steve! I’m over here honey. Steve! Can you hear me?!” A hand gently grabbed her wrist and pulled it away from the pane. Steve never looked over. He never saw her. She began to panic and looked into the creature’s eyes.

“Why isn’t my husband here with me? Why can’t he hear me? What are you doing with us?” Hazel’s voice grew louder and shriller and she realized she on the verge of panic.

A white haired man appeared out of nowhere and took her by the elbow. “We have to talk. Follow me, we’ll find a quieter place.” Hazel noticed another door at the opposite end of the room. People were hugging and stepping through as families. They were on their way home.

“Where is my husband? Where is Steve?” The man patted a cushioned seat.

“Sit down dear, I’ll explain everything.” He sat down and waited for her.

“But I don’t understand? There are other families here, other people with their loved ones, why can’t I be with Steve? Where are you taking us?” Hazel began to twist the bottom of her shirt.

“Hazel... can I call you Hazel? My name is Roger, and I’m an interpreter for our hosts.” Roger leaned forward, took Hazel’s hand away from her shirt and held it between his. “A long time ago, when our ancestors were put here, they looked much like these svelte beings you see before you now. They interbred, lived and worked amongst the people who lived on this earth and eventually became what we now know as the human race. For hundreds of thousands of centuries our ancestors’ progeny have monitored us. They watched how this new race grew, how it evolved, how we became who we are. They watched with sadness as we polluted our oceans, rivers and lakes. They were shocked to see how quickly we fouled our air, destroyed our forests. They watched helplessly as we expanded our technology faster than we expanded our consciousness. They are here to save us from ourselves Hazel, but even their technology can’t fix everything we’ve done.”

Hazel stared at the man. “Sir, I mean Roger, what does all this have to do with my husband? I know all this. Where is Steve? What is the difference between the red door and the green door?” Hazel pulled her hand away and wiped a tear away from her cheek. “Just tell me what is going on.”

Roger took a deep breath and continued. “Our cousins, if you don’t mind me calling them that, these creatures, they have great technology. They took everything into account when they planned our return home. They knew they could only take home those of us who were direct descendants of their ancestors. There are few of the purebred original earth species left, ones that haven’t interbred. They have evolved very differently than us. They are blinded by goals and cannot foresee the possible consequences of their actions. They cannot be allowed to come back to our home. The tube and light machine you passed through scanned you to see if you had the correct genes.”

Hazel looked stunned. “You mean to tell me my husband isn’t coming because he’s a purebred? You can’t do that! You can’t just keep him here and separate us like that!”

Roger cleared his throat. “Your husband was a fine specimen of interbreeding. He had in him the best of both species. It was the alterations, the difference between his DNA, his genes, and his physical appearance. The machines couldn’t reconcile what he was supposed to look like, compared to what he is now.”

Hazel looked around the room. She spotted one of the creatures over by the entrance door. She studied it and noted there was no hair on its head. It had a slender chest and sleepy looking eyes. “Are you saying he could come if he hadn’t changed? Can’t they just reverse it, can’t they see it’s him! I have pictures, look, let me show you pictures of before.” Hazel pulled her wallet out of her bag and showed a photo to Roger.

“See, it’s him. I can vouch for him, I can tell them. Let me tell them it’s Steve. Please Roger, please?” Roger handed back the wallet and did not look at the photograph.

“Hazel, it isn’t that simple. The transport machines, only work within certain parameters. When our cousins built these machines they took many things into consideration. They understand things happen to our bodies. They knew about appendicitis and tonsillitis and ruptured spleens and c-sections and hysterectomies and dozens of other operations we may encounter in our lives to help us live. They factored it all in and found that in 99.99% of all cases there is a maximum of 10% change in total body structure from what we were born with, from what our genes say we should look like. This is their safety net, to make sure that only their ancestors come home with them. They developed this machine to scan us, to look for outsiders.

Roger paused, “They can take us home Hazel; home where we will have a chance to live. We don’t have to stay here and die.” Roger stood and began to pace in front of her.

“When you went through the cleansing tube, it did more than rid your body of viruses and parasites. It scanned you and made a comparison between your genes and your physical appearance. The machine healed you. Any minor scar, or common operation, these things were healed in you, in that tube. Once you stepped through that door, you were as whole a person as if nothing had happened to you since the day you were born. You now have the body you were born to be in; all its bits and pieces. Isn’t it wonderful? We won’t grow old and sick Hazel. This is it. This is what we have to live in for a very, very long time.”

Hazel cleared her throat and looked around the room. “Are you telling me that my scar is gone?” She ran a finger across her cheek and found unblemished skin. She pulled off her shoe and sock and stared at the bottom of her foot. She hiked up her shirt and pushed down the band of her pants.

“There are no scars. There’s nothing there, like it never happened.” Hazel stood up and grabbed Roger by his shoulders.

“What has happened to Steve?” Hazel let go of the man’s shoulders and slumped back in her chair. “I want to see my husband.”

Roger sat and straightened his shirt. “Hazel, you won’t be seeing Steve again. He’s staying here, on Earth. There are limits to what they can do. Anything more than a 10% change in body structure is impossible to reverse.” You’re husband must have had more than a few minor surgeries.”
Hazel nodded thinking of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on making her husband the perfect man.

Roger continued. “There is too much of a risk if they transport him without reversing what’s been done and they can’t reverse what’s been done without causing him serious damage. Even if we took him as is, the transport machines wouldn’t be able to put him back together the same way he is now. The green door was for those who have to go back Hazel. Steve won’t be coming with us.”

Hazel tasted bile in her throat. She couldn’t be sick, not here, not now. “Are you telling me that because my husband had surgery he can’t come with us?"

Roger nodded. “It wasn’t just the surgery. It was the types of surgery, it was surgery that changed his body more that 10%. Surgery is meant to repair broken bones or a faulty heart or save a life. It should never have been used to change what DNA has patterned for us. It should never change the genetic look of what our parents gave us. Those things can’t be reversed; the technology just can’t handle it.” Roger leaned back and watched Hazel closely.

Hazel’s voice was much softer now. “How much longer do you think the planet can support them, the ones that go back? Who will look after the machines that have kept the ice away? When it all breaks down, how much longer before the ice covers the entire planet?”

Roger stood. “It’s time Hazel. They aren’t any more people coming. Not from here. There’s nothing more to be done.”

Hazel stood as one of the cousins appeared and put a loving arm around her. She followed numbly as the people filed through the final door home. She glanced over at the window and caught a glimpse of Steve. He was talking to the buxom blonde that had gone through before her. He was gesturing at her breasts, pointing to his chin, his pecs, and laughing.

Hazel took one final look at her perfect man and stepped into her future.