Since relocating to a coastal town, Tiffany often thought of the similarity between the wind and the waves. The prospect of long walks by the beach at the end of a long day was appealing and she had taken full advantage of the nearness. On days when the wind was relentlessly strong, she’d stop and stare at the waves tumbling over themselves to hit the beach while she felt the gusts of air tug at her and toss her around – wondering if this was how it would feel to be underwater in the ocean, buffeted about by the currents.
Now Tiffany knew, they certainly did feel similar.
Her head finally crashed through the surface of the water and she gulped air into her burning lungs, mingling with salt from the sea, blinking her eyes rapidly. Mentally she knew it had to have been less than a minute that she was under. The effect on her body was shocking. She pushed with her arms and legs and tried to control her desperate breathing.
“Agent Hwang! Are you okay?”
Tiffany allowed herself to be pulled upwards as she reached the shoreline, nearly crawling through the sand. She heard booted footsteps rushing along the pier to reach the beach proper.
Remembering the presence of the local police force brought her back to reality, and she finally got a visual on her surroundings.
Bare feet, toes digging into the sand, led her gaze upwards into the face of Taeyeon.
“You,” she rasped out.
Taeyeon tightened her grip as Tiffany nearly lost her balance, her body catching up to the sudden relocation.
“What are you doing here?” said Tiffany, fighting the nausea that yanked at her stomach. She didn’t dare take her eyes off Taeyeon, despite the glimpse of police officers coming their way.
“You remember me?” Taeyeon sounded only slightly surprised, as if she hadn’t had any particular expectation.
“Of course I remember you! Or rather, some of you –”
The officers reached them now, the first two looking warily at Taeyeon and reaching for their holstered weapons.
Tiffany pulled herself away from Taeyeon and staggered towards them. “I’m okay. Do we have someone pursuing the suspects?”
One man nodded, glancing again at Taeyeon. “The one who pushed you didn’t run as fast as the others. We have him in custody.”
Tiffany looked over his shoulder at the crowd gathering on the boardwalk. Some of the officers were making a physical barrier to prevent bystanders from entering the scene, and further along there lay a man on the boards being restrained by three officers, his face pressed into the wood.
“Good,” she said. “He’s an asshole,” she murmured more to herself.
She turned to face Taeyeon again, feeling more stable with a squad of police officers at her back.
“You’re going to have to come in for questioning,” she said to Taeyeon, crossing her arms and pretending not to feel woozy as she did so.
Taeyeon held her hands in the air as if in surrender, her expression the picture of innocence. “What for, officer? I was just helping a woman out of the water. You looked like you were in trouble.”
“Officer?” Tiffany narrowed her eyes. “Taeyeon, I know you know who I am, and I’m no damn officer. Just come with me and we’ll have a talk.”
“I don’t know anything about that business on the boardwalk,” Taeyeon said, shaking her head. “I was just walking along the beach.”
Tiffany could feel most of the officers around her shifting, restless, ready to get back to the real case at hand, but she was not going to let Taeyeon get away. She turned to the man next to her, the only one that looked like he was also suspicious of Taeyeon, and held out her hand.
“Give me your cuffs.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yours fall into the sea?”
“Please give me your cuffs,” said Tiffany, “so I can put Taeyeon in custody and we can get back to our job.”
Taeyeon started backing away. “Now, I don’t think that’s necessary, agent, I haven’t done anything wrong –”
“Nothing? Really?” Tiffany tried hard to stay professional but she couldn’t, not really. “We are going to talk about what happened out in the woods, Taeyeon, because you have a lot of explaining to do for that crap about the aliens and the fact that the case ran cold because we never caught the guy seeing as how I went missing for a month and suddenly woke up in Norway. I nearly lost my job because of you. And kidnapping a federal law enforcement agent is a serious offence – so you are coming with me, damn it!”
The officers who had stayed with them managed to catch on to the gist of her words and moved to restrain Taeyeon. She seemed to recognize a lost battle and allowed herself to be handcuffed.
“I didn’t do it,” Taeyeon muttered weakly. She looked at the sand, studiously.
“Hold her at the station for now,” Tiffany ordered, already turning back to the boardwalk. “Let’s get back to our investigation.”
Despite waking up in Norway, of all places, Tiffany hadn’t panicked until she got to the airport and realised she didn’t have her passport. In her mind, she was moving automatically to fly home and then sort this whole mess out, wait until then to let it sink in that she was in Norway and had no idea how she got there. The mechanic nature of this kept her from realising the truth until she stopped at the ticket desk, was asked how she could be helped today, and it suddenly hit her.
She was in Norway.
Eventually she managed to get in touch with the agency, and the authorities in Norway were not surprised to hear her story when she explained who she was. They may have been wary, but no one else in the world was coming forward claiming to be the lost agent Tiffany Hwang so they didn’t question her too much.
Then when she got back home and sat in her boss’s office and he calmly asked her where the hell she had been for the past four weeks, it hit her again, and this time she cried a little because she was freaking out. Waking up in Norway with no clue of a whole month of her life was terrifying. Who knows what happened to her in that time?
She had explained the last things she remembered, and the police went hunting for Taeyeon but never found her. She, too, had disappeared without a trace, and with no living relatives or known associates, the leads died fast. They found her camera in the woods, though, neatly inscribed with her name on the side, and with a bunch of nice photos of owls in it.
But then suddenly there was Taeyeon, strolling casually down a beach.
Tiffany almost didn’t want to open this puzzle again, simply because of how it messed with her head. She stood on the other side of the two-way mirror, staring holes into Taeyeon who sat cuffed to the table with her eyes closed.
“Is she asleep?” the chief of police whispered.
“I doubt it,” Tiffany answered.
They watched her for another moment.
“What’s she doing?”
Tiffany sighed. “I have no idea.” She walked out of the room, going to the one right next to it.
Taeyeon looked up when the door opened and Tiffany walked in. They locked gazes as she moved into the room, and Tiffany noted how Taeyeon was seemingly deliberately keeping her face impassive – but as if she was trying to tamp down a smile more than anything negative.
Tiffany didn’t say anything at first, moving to sit down on the opposite side of the table and organize her notepad and pen neatly in front of her. She laced her fingers together and settled in. She and Taeyeon stared at each other, unblinkingly, until Tiffany felt like her eyes were going to water so she started talking.
“So,” she said neutrally. “For security purposes, I’m supposed to wait until another agent arrives before I formally interview you, but I’m impatient. This isn’t being recorded, but the chief of police is just on the other side of that mirror and will intervene if you try to harm me. Got that?”
Taeyeon nodded and stayed silent. She looked the same as she had that night in the woods, like nothing happened.
“Technically this is off the record,” Tiffany continued, shifting to pick up her pen. “I just want you to be honest with me.”
Taeyeon shrugged. “Okay.”
“First question,” said Tiffany. “What the hell happened that night?”
Taeyeon shrugged again. She lifted her hands as if to gesture with them, but couldn’t move far with cuffs. She didn’t look bothered by that, however. “They came.”
“Them. The ones we were waiting for. They came and they took you. Well, us. But they kicked me off the ship for some reason. I guess they didn’t like me. Maybe I was annoying.” She shrugged a third time, giving Tiffany her familiar shy smile. “I wasn’t sure how long they wanted to keep you. They weren’t very talkative.”
“Aliens? The aliens weren’t very talkative?”
Taeyeon winced. “I don’t really like using that word. It doesn’t seem accurate.”
Tiffany took a deep breath. “Okay. So they came and took us. Where did they take us? Did you see anything noticeable?”
Taeyeon smiled more fully. “A spaceship is quite noticeable.”
“Anything else? Did you see any memorable landmarks, hear any recognizable sounds?”
“They didn’t kidnap you, Agent Hwang. These weren’t humans who put you in a truck and took you someplace. We were in space.”
The pen in Tiffany’s hand must have nearly cracked in two. “And did you see this – space? What did you see on their space ship?”
“I don’t remember much, really. They did that to us. Mostly I remember the first day, not much after that. I looked out the window and saw all those stars. It was very pretty. I wanted to take a photo but they didn’t have my camera. I thought they would have it.”
“We have it in an evidence locker,” Tiffany said, corners of her mouth pulling tight, “because of the investigation into your abduction of a federal agent.”
Taeyeon’s lips formed a small ‘o’. “Right. I see.”
“The only photos on there were owls, Taeyeon.”
“Well, yeah. That’s all I got photos of that night when I lost it. I clear out the SD card every time, transfer the photos to my computer.”
Tiffany briefly ran a hand through her hair. “Let’s get back to the night of the abduction. How did they take us? How many of them were there? Did they use force or intoxicate us?”
Taeyeon shook her head, frowning. “Nothing like that. We went with them willingly. Four of them.”
“Male, female? Distinguishing features?”
Taeyeon stared at her like she was crazy. “They were – well, aliens, as you say. They didn’t look male, female, anything like that.”
Tiffany leaned forward. “And what did they look like, Taeyeon?”
Taeyeon seemed lost for words this time, looking at her hands. “I… I don’t know. I guess I don’t remember.”
This time the pen nearly did snap, and Tiffany tossed it down onto the table. It was getting very difficult to contain her temper.
“Taeyeon, please,” she said. “Please just tell me the truth.”
Taeyeon looked up, her expression vulnerable and weary. “That is the truth. When I took your hand – you followed me into the woods to where they were waiting, and you followed me onto the ship. We held hands all that time.” She shook her head. “Suddenly there we were, in space. They liked you the most, they liked your hair and your lips and that thing you do with your eyes. But they didn’t want to harm us. They took us into a room and I don’t remember anything after that. I was back in the woods only two days later. I heard about your disappearance, I knew I had to find you. Find them. I have that thing, you know, about all the places and times they drop people off where the environmental factors are right. So – so I went. There. Everywhere.”
She tugged gently at the chain of her cuffs.
“I didn’t make it to the Norway drop-off in time,” she mumbled. “My flight was delayed by two hours. You were gone.”
Taeyeon nodded, looking at the table.
Tiffany gaped at her. Taeyeon had gone hunting for her; all over the world, none the less?
“Weren’t the police looking for you?”
Taeyeon smiled half-heartedly. “Fake passport. I know a guy. I wasn’t a suspect yet at that time. Easy to slip through the cracks before they can catch up.”
They were silent for a few moments just watching each other and Tiffany tried to process this and ultimately failed to get all the way.
“What thing I do with my eyes?”
“You said they liked that thing I do with my eyes. What thing?”
“Oh, you know, when you smile. You do this thing; your eyes go like –” She tried to demonstrate. “This thing.”
“Well, no, not like a squint, I just, I can’t do it. It’s – you know – It’s pretty. I guess.”
Aliens. Aliens abducted Tiffany – or not – or they did, or technically she went willingly and she was in space and they took her into a room and did – what? What would they have done to her? And then she was dropped off in Norway –
“Why wasn’t I covered in goo?” she said suddenly. “That coloured stuff like that victim had on him when we found him in the woods. If the aliens took him too, why didn’t I have any when they dropped me off?”
Taeyeon shrugged. “Different procedures for you, maybe? I mean, you weren’t dead either. Or maybe they weren’t the same aliens. Maybe some aliens want to kill and others just want to….”
“Take us into dark rooms on their space ship and make us forget everything that happens in there?”
Taeyeon grimaced. “Yeah, I don’t know. It’s a theory in progress. I was too busy looking for you to really work on it.”
Tiffany took a good, long look at Taeyeon. She got called a kid a lot because she looked like one at first glance, but sitting across from her and talking about all of this made her realise the shadows that sometimes crossed Taeyeon’s face and settled on her shoulders.
“Do you have a bad feeling about aliens now?” asked Tiffany, somewhat gentle.
“I don’t know,” said Taeyeon quietly. “I was always so excited to meet them, but I don’t know what they did to us. I’m… I’m confused. I’m not happy.”
“Look, Taeyeon, I’m not saying I believe you. This investigation must continue until we can confirm what happened and where we both were during that month of my disappearance. Until we know what’s going on, you’re still a suspect in my abduction. But since we’re off the record….”
She glanced over her shoulder at the two-way mirror, and looked back at Taeyeon.
“Why would you come looking for me?”
Taeyeon glanced at her, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“The previous aliens killed that guy, and possibly others, so how would you have known you’d find me alive?”
Taeyeon pursed her lips for a moment. “I didn’t know. I didn’t think about that. They didn’t… I mean they didn’t seem like they wanted to kill you. And they didn’t kill me. I don’t know. I just wanted to find you. You came with me onto that ship when I know you didn’t want to be there originally, you were in the process of leaving. You took that leap because of something I said while we were waiting for them. You – you took my hand. So, I just wanted to find you.”
She was kind of afraid of an answer like that.
Tiffany stood up suddenly, her chair scraping back, and picked up her notepad and pen. “The other agents will be here soon to do a formal interview.”
She was at the door when Taeyeon spoke again.
They looked at each other.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” said Taeyeon. “I didn’t know what to do when the news said you were found in Norway. Everything got buried fast after that. I kind of wandered around, hoping I’d figure out what to do. But I’m glad they didn’t hurt you.”
Tiffany hesitated, nodded, and left the room without a word. On the other side, she leaned against the closed door and sighed.
Either Taeyeon was a sociopath who abducted her, or she was somehow telling the truth – and that would mean that she was actually quite sweet.
“I’m aware of how it sounds, sir,” said Tiffany for the hundredth time. “I’m just saying there are two possibilities here and that’s only one of them.”
“Two? Two possibilities? I don’t think so, Agent Hwang.”
Tiffany watched her boss pace back and forth behind his desk, his face worn and his steps heavy. She wasn’t sure what was more troubling for him right now – the concept of someone like Taeyeon abducting a federal agent or the possibility that one of his agents was expressing a belief in aliens.
“Did she brainwash you? Is that it?”
The latter, then.
“No, sir, she didn’t brainwash me. There’s more to this case than it appears, that’s all. That’s my opinion as an agent and as the… victim.” A word she hadn’t used to describe herself before.
Her boss stopped pacing and turned to look at her, stern. “Look, Hwang, you’re a good agent and a good person. At the start of that case you were certain there was no ‘extra-terrestrial’ activity and that it was a simple serial killer. Then you run off into the woods with this kid and find yourself in Norway a month later. Tell me clearly and honestly, do you believe that you were abducted by aliens?”
“I… honestly don’t know. And that’s why I’m saying we should investigate it.”
He shook his head. “Just because you know doesn’t mean the other option isn’t concrete. You were the victim here, despite how little you take that position. Who knows what she could have done to you in that month? No offense, but your opinion in this is not relevant in that manner and cannot be trusted.”
“You did a tox screen when I showed up – no drugs. There was a medical examination – no sign of force or abuse. All the psychology tests showed was that I had a huge gap in my memory and nothing different from my recruitment tests. She didn’t drug me, abuse me, or brainwash me. This is my own opinion that I formed as myself – a federal agent who doesn’t remember a month of her life and randomly woke up in Norway one day.”
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way for this one. We’re taking this investigation as a human abducting a federal agent, nothing more. We can’t waste time on aliens.”
“Just let me do it! You guys continue your investigation, and I’ll do my own. I can take leave so I’m not wasting government money – ”
“Would you listen to yourself? You’re asking to take unpaid leave to go alien hunting! Have you lost your mind? I can’t let you do this. You need to either stay focused on your job or go on an actual vacation and get some help to cope with what’s happened to you. Please, Agent Hwang.”
She stared at him, jaw clenched. She knew she sounded absurd and a while ago she would have felt the exact same way he did – the same way she felt when she first encountered Taeyeon at a crime scene and wanted to dismiss her. But things were different now. She wasn’t sure what happened, and that alone was enough to make her want to find out; whether it was aliens or not.
“Fine,” she said eventually, forcing herself to relax. “You’re right. I’ve been burying my feelings since it happened. The stress is getting to me, and I’m just so desperate for answers, to know what’s real. I mean, it just doesn’t seem so simple that someone like Taeyeon could do that to me. And I don’t even know what happened. It’s all so overwhelming.”
He nodded sympathetically when she met his gaze.
“I should take a vacation. Go someplace peaceful and get to know myself again. You guys can handle the investigation and find the answers and when I get back, everything will be okay again. Right?”
He smiled in a fatherly way, and sat down at his desk. “Right.”
Tiffany left his office with his blessings and stayed demure and sensible all the way down the corridor until she got in the elevator. Then she started planning.
In order to get Taeyeon out of the highly secure government building without anyone noticing, Tiffany would have to make sure to do it before anyone knew she was meant to be going on vacation. She had to use the illusion that she was still allowed to be involved in this case. And that meant she would have to do it right now. She glanced at her watch. There wasn’t time for anything fancy or too complex – no cover stories or waiting for the change of the guard or even a chance to scope it out and see how many agents were hovering around Taeyeon right now. She was going to have to walk in blind, take Taeyeon, and walk right out again.
She hit the button for the basement, keying in the password when prompted. Her security clearance for that floor would be placed on hold as soon as her boss finished the paperwork for her leave of absence. Of course, when he found out about what she was doing, her clearance would probably be permanently revoked – along with her job and possibly freedom. Kidnapping a federal agent may have been a serious offense, but smuggling the alleged kidnapper out of government custody in the middle of the investigation was just as bad.
Tiffany closed her eyes, focusing on her breathing. This was a big deal, she knew. And that was why she wasn’t thinking about it yet. Not only was time of the essence in order for this to be successful, but the more she thought about it the less likely she would be to take this risk.
Then again, the last time she spontaneously took a risk, she woke up a month later in Norway.
The justification was the same.
The first time in the forest, she took Taeyeon’s hand and went to the aliens because the look on Taeyeon’s face amazed her. Taeyeon’s search for aliens led here. Taeyeon was finding what she’d always looked for. Taeyeon herself was a puzzle, a weird kid – or not a kid – who ran around hunting aliens and being really sweet about it.
This time, it was still Taeyeon. The Taeyeon who had met the aliens and been dumped back on her home planet with no memory and without Tiffany. The Taeyeon who then went on to run around hunting Tiffany because they had gone up together and then she was gone. The Taeyeon who was still looking for answers.
When the elevator doors opened, Tiffany was ready.
Her badge got her past the first line of defense, through all the guards and into the interrogation room that held Taeyeon and one more agent who stood by the door. Once she closed the door behind her, Tiffany briefly considered her options as she nodded politely to the other agent. She could either make an excuse to get him to leave so that she could explain the plan to Taeyeon in private, or she could just do it right now. And considering there wasn’t much of a plan, she easily chose to go with the latter.
“She has to come with me,” said Tiffany, pointing in Taeyeon’s direction. “Right now.”
The agent tilted his head to one side and regarded her. “What for? I have no information about this.”
“Your lack of information is your own problem,” said Tiffany. “I’m here to do my job even if you aren’t.”
It was an aggressive approach, and she could see the agent bristle at the attitude. He squared his shoulders.
“I understand that you are a senior agent but I have orders, and letting people waltz in and take this suspect to an unknown location is not part of those orders.”
Internally, Tiffany deflated. If he was going to get dramatic about it, this would take longer.
“I don’t have time for this,” Tiffany said. “She’s coming with me. If you try to stop me, you’ll just be causing a whole lot of trouble for yourself. The process that’s involved when one agent gets away of another – you don’t want that, do you?”
He was frowning, clearly not happy with the situation. But he glanced at Taeyeon, and back at Tiffany. “Fine. Go on. You’re more likely to get in trouble for this than I am.”
She shrugged nonchalantly, and gestured at Taeyeon to follow as she opened the door again.
They made it back down the corridor in silence. When Tiffany pressed the elevator button for the carpark, she knew by the way all the guards were staring at her that she was already in trouble. It sank in for the first time; she just lost her job.
The elevator doors closed, and Taeyeon let out a breath.
“Wow, that was intense. So, where are we going?”
“Far away, and as fast as humanly possible,” answered Tiffany, checking her watch.
“So you really are helping me escape? I wasn’t sure. This is great!”
“Could you tone down your enthusiasm?” The elevator slowed to a halt. “We still have to get out of here without bullets flying.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Taeyeon flicked off half a salute, and then the elevator doors opened.
It was quiet. Tiffany strode ahead with confidence and didn’t glance around at the dimly lit parked cars. There was little chance that anyone would be here to stop them already.
When they reached her SUV, she whipped out the keys and unlocked the doors, only now choosing to check over her shoulder at the silent elevator. Still no pursuit yet.
Taeyeon seemed to enjoy being in the leather seats again, wiggling down before putting on her seatbelt, and Tiffany shook her head in disbelief.
“No wonder people call you a kid,” she murmured, and started the engine.
“Yeah, yeah,” Taeyeon responded, rolling her eyes. “I’m assuming we need to get out of here before we discuss our next step, right? Let’s drive.”
Tiffany looked over at her and settled her hands on the steering wheel pointedly. “Yes. Let’s.”
The guard at the exit scanned her ID and waved her through with no questions asked. The perimeter was much the same. By the time they hit the open road, Tiffany was frowning. Should that have been so easy? Having never done this before, she had no frame of reference.
“So, where to?” asked Taeyeon, digging in the glove department. When she found Tiffany’s sunglasses, she slipped them on and smiled at Tiffany.
Tiffany checked all the rear-view mirrors as she answered. “Well, since I’ve clearly lost my mind, I figured I’d go all out. We’re going back to the forest to find those aliens.”
Taeyeon tilted her head to one side, eyes hidden by the glasses. “You really want to find them?”
“I really want to find something, definitely. I need to know something, anything, everything. If there are aliens, I want to punch them in the face for what they did to us. Whatever it is. I don’t like it. They took advantage of us – probably – and they kidnapped us – kind of – and they dropped me in Norway with no memories. I am so pissed off.”
Taeyeon smiled again. “There we go. Now that is something I can accept. I’ll check my calculations, but considering what time of year it is, that forest should be a possible location for them to visit again.”
“Don’t think you’re getting off easy,” Tiffany said, glancing at her. “I’m mad at you too.”
“What? What for?”
“You’re the reason I was there that night and you’re the reason I went towards the aliens instead of in the other direction. And you’re the reason I broke several laws and lost my job to go looking for those same aliens!”
Taeyeon raised her hands helplessly. “I’m…. sorry?”
Tiffany sighed, and shook her head. She flicked the indicator to make a turn. “Never mind. You can’t help it. I’m just frustrated with you right now.”
The sunglasses were removed and Taeyeon peered more closely at her. “Then I really am sorry. I don’t want you to be frustrated with me. I want you to be okay.”
The car slowed as they approached an intersection, getting closer to the city centre. Tiffany looked over at Taeyeon as they waited in traffic, her heartbeat calming. Eventually she willed herself to reach over and touch Taeyeon lightly on the arm.
“I am okay,” she said softly. “Because we’re finally doing something. And in the same way that I blame you for a lot of things, it’s also your fault that I’m able to take action and find some answers. So…. I am okay.”
This made Taeyeon stare at her for quite a while. Tiffany removed her hand when traffic moved and she had to focus on driving again, and she felt Taeyeon’s gaze leave her face as they drove through the city and out the other side. It would take a few hours to reach the forest; Tiffany was surprised to find that she did not consider the atmosphere with Taeyeon to be uncomfortable.
They didn’t speak much until they were on the outskirts of their destination. The town was much like Tiffany remembered it, restful and stagnant. The sun was setting in the distance, casting a sleepy air over the diner where they ordered dinner and coffee.
Taeyeon took her time to inspect the posters on the wall beside their booth as if she had never seen them before, and Tiffany watched her do so.
“Does it bother you?”
Taeyeon turned, raised her eyebrows questioningly.
“Does it bother you that they dropped you off early?” asked Tiffany. She got more settled in her seat, and toyed with the coffee in front of her. “They kept me for longer but not you. How did that make you feel?”
Taeyeon smiled eventually. Then she even laughed a little. “It doesn’t bother me. My ego’s not bruised, if that’s what you were thinking. I wasn’t interesting enough and you were. It’s no big deal.”
Tiffany watched her carefully, wondering if that was so. “It really doesn’t bother you? You’ve spent years devoting your time and energy to finding these creatures, defiantly keeping your position as a believer despite how it alienated you from your peers. And then they just cast you aside – that didn’t make you unhappy?”
“Firstly; ‘alienated’ – nice one. Secondly, no, it didn’t make me unhappy.” Taeyeon looked away for a second, as if contemplating her options, then spoke again. “I spent years looking for them and believing in them, but it’s not like I idolized them. I didn’t want anything from them, or want them to be interested in me. I just wanted to know if I was right or not. My whole life, I’ve been uncertain of those around me and of my future. I stubbornly believed in the presence of extra-terrestrial beings, yes, but that’s because it was one thing I knew couldn’t be taken away from me that easily. There’s no definitive proof that they exist, not enough anyway, and there’s no proof that they cannot possibly exist. Maybe I have been lying to myself or making it sound better in my mind. The picture I had of them in my head is that – as advanced as they may be – they’re flawed. Extra-terrestrial in origin and appearance but as human as the rest of us in their wants or pursuits.”
“Had? You don’t think of them in that way anymore?”
Taeyeon sighed. “Maybe I was a little disappointed. Not because they cast me aside or kept you for longer or made us forget whatever they did to us. Not even because what they did may have been really bad. I was disappointed because it’s still not an answer. Something happened, some creatures came, but that was it. I have nothing to show for it but an open arrest warrant for a severe crime. The image I have of them now is… darkness. Worry. Because I didn’t know where they took you. I was uncomfortable. I used to get swept up in the excitement, the mystery of finding them. The reality has negative connotations now. I don’t like them – but it’s an uncertain reaction, not a conclusion.”
Tiffany shook her head. “I don’t know how you do this, Taeyeon. These past few days, these past few months I felt like I was losing my mind. Aliens. Losing my memory. Norway. Finding my alleged kidnapper and then breaking her out of a secure facility so that we can go alien hunting. It’s absurd. This isn’t me. Don’t you doubt yourself like that?”
“I know who I am. It just so happens that this is normal behaviour for me.” She grinned briefly. “Or rather, I have a different concept of my normal behaviour. As long as I still hold some of the same values and treat others the same way, I know I’m not crazy.”
“No, you’re not crazy,” Tiffany murmured. She rested her chin on one hand. “You’re a really nice person, you know?”
Taeyeon looked away, shy. “Thanks. And you’re a very passionate person. I know everything you do is because you care.”
Tiffany opened her mouth, then shut it again. One thing she was not going to do right now was encourage this line of discussion any further, because she knew exactly where it went and that scared her.
Aliens first. Feelings later.
She raised a hand to summon the waiter. The night was forming outside, and it was time to go.
“I can’t believe I’m sitting in these woods waiting for aliens. Again.” Tiffany shifted, trying to get comfortable on the cold hard ground. “We didn’t even get a blanket this time.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Taeyeon said quietly, eyes on the sky. “You seemed like you were in a hurry. And I kind of don’t have any stuff any more.”
Tiffany looked over at her in the darkness, noticing the way the moonlight lined the features of her profile the same way it had the night of the abduction. “What do you mean you don’t have any stuff?”
“Well when I left everything behind to go looking for you, I didn’t really settle down anywhere,” she replied. “I just have one bag with some clothes and all my money.”
Tiffany shook her head, looked around, and shook her head again. “I can’t believe you.”
Taeyeon looked at her at last, frowning. “What? I’m not lying – ”
“No, I don’t mean it like that. I can’t believe you did that – left everything behind to go looking for me. Didn’t you have a life here? You abandoned all of that just for me?”
Taeyeon blinked at her slowly. “Oh. I didn’t have much of a life around here. I did odd jobs and sold some photos and calendars. Everyone thought I was weird so I didn’t exactly have friends. No one missed me.”
Tiffany moved closer, slightly, until the edge of her leg brushed lightly against Taeyeon’s. “I did. Probably. I don’t remember, obviously, and maybe I wasn’t even conscious but I probably missed you while I was up there.”
Taeyeon smiled, re-positioning so their legs pressed firmly together. “Are you saying you believe it for sure now? The aliens, the spaceship?”
Tiffany sighed deeply. “I don’t know. Maybe. I’m sitting out here waiting for aliens again, aren’t I? I don’t know what I believe. I’m investigating.”
“It’s okay,” said Taeyeon. She reached over and took Tiffany’s hand, holding it in her own lap. “It’s okay if that’s what happened, and it’s okay if you find yourself capable of accepting it as an option or even as fact. It’s okay.”
The world around them reached a level of quietness that signaled the deepness of the night; no birds, no insects, no wind in the leaves – and the sky was clear of clouds and speckled with stars.
Tiffany laced their fingers together, and shook her head half-heartedly this time.
“I need answers,” she murmured. “I need to know what they did to us. They’ve affected my whole life.”
The light pressure of Taeyeon’s thumb moving back and forth over Tiffany’s hand was comforting in the dark stillness of the night.
Tiffany wasn’t sure what changed between them and when. Maybe it was the supposed shared experience with the aliens, or the way Taeyeon talked about what happened after she was returned. She knew Taeyeon could still be pretending, could still be dangerous and still somehow responsible for abducting her and brainwashing her, but –
She pulled back, separating their lips.
“Did you just kiss me?”
Taeyeon looked somewhat scared. “Uh, yeah.”
Tiffany stared. “Oh. Okay.”
They both looked away, up at the stars, around at the silent trees. Then Tiffany turned back, touched Taeyeon’s jaw gently, and kissed her.
She focused on the feel of Taeyeon’s mouth against hers, Taeyeon’s fingers in her hair, their legs still pressing together, the closeness of her. Anything to bury the thoughts in her mind that were sending warning signals and disbelief coursing through her body.
This time when she pulled back, Tiffany was prepared to allow the rush of conflicting emotions to pour out of her but she never got the chance.
Her view of Taeyeon’s stunned expression was obstructed by the bright white light that surrounded them – it was familiar and yet it had been so long since that first night that it didn’t seem the same. The loud cracking and slamming sounds of metal rung through the air again, then the screeching and thumping as this time the light flickered three times before disappearing.
Taeyeon and Tiffany jumped to their feet, holding their breath, and glanced around at the once again silent forest.
“Where is it?” whispered Tiffany, her words brushing past her lips in the suddenly cold air.
“I don’t know,” Taeyeon answered. She gripped Tiffany’s forearm. “Should we go looking for it? Do you think they’ll come to us?”
“They might not even be here for us or know that we’re here.” Tiffany slowly edged forward in one direction, tugging Taeyeon with her. “Let’s try over here, I think that’s where the noise was coming from.”
Whether the noise really came from there or not was immaterial, because they managed three steps before everything went black.
If aliens were real or if Taeyeon was a killer, Tiffany didn’t know. All she knew was being completely alone in utter darkness.
The first time Tiffany was alone in a forest with Taeyeon, the night ended with an unseen force pulling her further and further past the trees, tightly holding onto Taeyeon’s hand. Maybe it was all just her imagination and there was no force, no pressure emanating from a mysterious source. Maybe there were no aliens and Tiffany really did lose her mind. She must have gone mad to be in that forest again, at night, with Taeyeon, waiting for aliens. To kiss Taeyeon.
Maybe she was back with those aliens. Was she with Taeyeon this time?
And then she knew nothing at all.