“Hot out there?”
Her husband lets out one long tired breath and stumbles over to the sink for a glass of water. “I’m gonna take a shower.”
“Ok.” She watches him zombie-walk down the hall and into their bedroom. A few minutes later she can hear the water start. A few minutes after that, she puts down her travel magazine and begins a search for the sunburn ointment.
His shower done, she waits in their bedroom, a bottle of sky blue ointment in hand. He yells out, “Debbie. Debbie?”
She pokes her head into the steamy heat of the bathroom, “Need something?” She’s got a fiendish smile, grinning ear to ear, hiding the bottle.
“Oh man, I’m burnt through and through. Do you have some?” His wife flips the top of the bottle and says “Yeah, yeah, turn around let me see.”
He turns about-face and leans over the double sink. He lets out a yelp when the cold gel hits the bright pink heat of his skin. “You did a number on your shoulders. You should wear a sleeved shirt.”
“I know, I know. But, hey I had a hat on at least.” She just snorts at him, thankful for small victories.
“What’s what? What?” He whips around to look at his back in the mirror, first the left side, then flipping around and squinting into the foggy mirror at the right. “Where? What are you talking about?”
“Here, it’s right here.” She puts her hands on his pink sticky shoulders and turns him around, pointing to a small square of discolored skin on his back. “See, what’s that? Did you lean on something?”
“No, I don’t know what it…Shit!” He lets out a shout of pain. “There’s something there. Damn that hurt!” He presses his finger to the spot and winces again. “Crap, I’ve got to get that out, it’s sharp.”
“Wait, let me look.” Debbie roots through a drawer and pulls out a pair of tweezers. “I can pull it out like a splinter.”
“Ok, just…Ahhh!” He squirms in pain again.
“Be gentile?” Debbie offers.
The metal filing comes out easily once Debbie breaks his skin with a needle. She drops the thin sliver into her husband’s hand. “Well,” Joseph ponders. “You know I might take this in to work and see if Steve can make heads or tails out of it.”
“Yeah, he’s a guy from the university I know. He works in the geology department.” Joseph walks back into the bedroom flipping the thin metal sliver around in his fingers. “There is absolutely no way I got this digging out in the garden. As thin as this is, it should bend easily.” All his attempts at bending or even marring the thin sliver are wasted.
Debbie shrugs her shoulders, “But, can this Steve guy tell you how it got in your back?”
A few weeks later, the phone rings. Debbie side steps over to the phone and props it up with her shoulder. “Osborne residence.”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“Ma’am, this is Colonel Olin calling from Vandenberg Air Force Base; may I speak with your husband?”
“Ah, sure. What’s going on is there a problem?”
“I need to speak with your husband.” Debbie puts the phone against her chest and shouts through the window to her husband weeding in their garden.
“Yeah, this is Joseph, what’s up?” His casual tone makes his wife more nervous. Normal people don’t get calls from Vandenberg Colonels.
As the phone call goes on, Debbie turns her husband around and lifts his shirt to search his now scarred back. The last few weeks she has pulled three other slivers from his back. He’s delivered all of them to his friend Steve and apparently, he’s forwarded them on to who knows.
“Uh, well, sir they are doing fine.” Joseph disengages himself from his wife and walks over to the screen door. “But, how do you know what’s planted in my garden? You got spy planes circling my house?” The conversation turns one way and Joseph just stands there staring out to his garden.
“Well, I just need to take a shower. You say they are here, already?” Now he turns toward the front room and peers out at the driveway. “Yeah, the big blue vans…that’s them. Well, ok. I’ll talk to you later, sir.”
Joseph hands the phone to his wife and says, “I’m going to go take a shower.”
She grabs his arm, “Hold it, mister! You are not going to just leave me here without telling me what just happened. Who’s in those blue vans? Why is the Air Force calling you?”
“Uh, the vans are here to take me to Vandenberg. Have you ever seen me pass out when I’m out there?” His eyes glazed over as he starts to turn towards the bedroom.
“No, honey. You’ve taken breaks and gone for a walk or two.” She looks at him with fright in her eyes. “Is it something to do with what the slivers are made of?”
“No, it’s what is written on them. Walks? I don’t leave the garden, what do you mean walks?” Now her eyes are wide open her face screaming fear and terror.
“You do. You tell me you’re going for a walk. You come in here all sweaty and say something like you’re going to cool off and take a walk up the trail.” Tears are starting to stream down her face. “What’s on the slivers, Joseph? Why are there men from Vandenberg in our driveway?”
“That’s when it happens.” He starts to zombie-walk down the hall again.
“What happens, Joseph? Stop!” Her scream doesn’t affect him.
“They implant maps in my back. Maps of Europa. Written on titanium. Written so small you need an electron microscope to read them.”
“Europe? We have maps of Europe! Who are they?” She pleads with him.
“Not Europe, sweetie, Europa.” He raises his arm and points up. “Europa, up there.”