That same night
“I guess you win,” Phoenix said. “Not like I spend most of my life at this game anyway.”
Alex beat him and heard God’s voice yell from the machine: “Player 1 Wins!”
The sounds of retro buzzing behind him seemed to fill the interior of his ears. He stepped off the stage, the collar of his silver jacket turned upright, his eyes meeting Alex’s with a smile.
“Neat!” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll take it easy on you next time.”
“Ay,” he said. “I did well, aight?”
Alex laughed and looked over at the arcade machines on the other side: Pac-Man, Star Wars, and at the end, Space Invaders. “Yeah, we finna be here all night. Space Invaders. Woot-woot!”
“Oh, you on your own with that one.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Alex said. “Enjoy losing, Phoenix.”
“Yeah, yeah. You, too.”
Alex wiped a sweat off of her forehead and made her way through a crowd of teenagers and kids. On her way she stopped at the large window in the Retrove Centre and looked outside. Darkness. Stars were accompanying it. The Spire’s magnificent glow travelled the skyline and slid across the streets of Boulevard. She snapped her head away and arrived at the Space Invaders arcade machine. The machine was printed with images of grey men, aliens that reminded her of E.T, and a black hole above them. Sounds of buzzing played in its system.
“Yeah, you can have fun with that,” Phoenix said, zipping his jacket open and pulling out his phone. He checked the time, then glanced up at Andy who had been sitting comfortably on a chair. His ginger fade was plastered with a blue light that forced its way down his chin. “Aight, ADHD Andy, what you tryna do?”
Andy recoiled, glanced away from his phone and offered Phoenix his cold eyes. He stood up from his seat and could barely make out what Phoenix said. The words “ADHD” and “Andy” were all he could hear. Looking down at his phone, and then up at Phoenix, whose face shaped into a wry smile, Andy said, “Uh, follow me.”
The disco beat was loud that night.
“Okay.” Phoenix’s voice was soft. He coughed and revealed a relatively straight line of white teeth, contrasting greatly with his black skin. Looking over at the entrance of the Retrove, he saw Alex playing Space Invaders. She looked like a chess player calculating a complex set of moves. Alex’s face was focused and determined, her eyebrows were crossed and her lips rolled smugly. For a second, he could have sworn she broke that zen by glancing back at him, but that was probably just his imagination. He was staring at her for ten seconds or thereabouts.
“Hey, Casanova,” Andy called from the endless chatter of the arcade, “you can stare later. Right now I need you to come with me!”
Andy pushed through the crowd in the same way that Alex had. Phoenix followed him.
It took them a minute to rush out of the entrance, where the Retrove sign would shine a bright purple. It was silent outside, apart from the beat of the arcade, the wind had receded and the sapphire blurs of the street went with it. Things were just beginning to calm in Sugarplum Boulevard.
“What is it?” Phoenix looked down at his phone to check the time again: 8:31 P.M. “And I wasn’t staring.”
“Don’t mind that!” Andy said. He pulled out his phone and showed Phoenix the post by NASA. He screenshotted it beforehand. “Look at this!”
Phoenix huddled closer to Andy. The ginger boy was about a head taller than him. Phoenix squinted his eyes. “What is that?”
A moment of pause. Then, Phoenix’s eyes widened. In the picture, he could see that same UFO in the image before, this time orbiting planet Earth. The triangular prism, the jagged pancake for a body, and the brown base at the bottom were all there. It looked as though the image had been taken by a regular camera, not a telescope. The blue sky was darkening in the background. This was recent. TODAY! “Oh,” Phoenix said. “Wait, WHAT?!”
“It’s real! It’s fucking real!”
A streak of cold shot through Phoenix’s body. He grimaced. “Ah, nah-nah-nah.” He crouched down and put his hands on his knees, then stood up again. “WHAT?! Nah, that can’t be real. When was this posted?”
“Posted?” Andy said. “Ugh, I think it was posted earlier today.”
“Bruh.” Phoenix recoiled. “That shit’s literally like thirty minutes ago. Look at the sky. Dark blue and spotless. What does it say on the post?”
“Gecko sent it to me, and I’ll check now.”
Andy retraced his steps on Discord, went to the PM on Discord, and it was only then that he saw the message Gecko sent afterwards—ayo this some real shit.
He tapped the link again.
Phoenix noticed the picture of Maui. “Gecko’s got to be fuckin with us, bruh.”
It was taking a while to load. “C’mon, you sack of balls!” Andy said.
A message popped up on his phone in big, grey writing—POST UNAVAILABLE.
“What?” Andy pushed his hand against his forehead, mouth agape. “It was just here!”
“What in the fuck is going on?!” Phoenix pulled out his phone, tapped on Instagram and looked up N-A-S-A in the search-bar. Nothing. Nada. No new post. And then he realised that the old upload of the UFO was removed, too. “They removed the old one, as well!”
Then, there was a sound . . . a continuous chuh-chuh-chuh in the air. They snapped their heads away from their phones and gazed up at the night sky, stars bunching together in unanimous harmony, the buildings elongating far into the troposphere.
They saw it, a group of black helicopters manoeuvring through the sky in a triangular formation, heading directly for The Spire.
“What IS GOING ON?!” Phoenix’s voice flew through the air.
The wind was back.