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Pigtail (noun): 1) “a braid”; 2) “A short length of flexible braided wire connecting a stationary part to a moving part in an electrical device”; 3) the piece of wire that Josh uses to trigger a cosmic event which can maybe, finally, hopefully help him get clean once and for all.

Night spills onto the Bering Sea. I stand on Mariana’s deck like a god. We’ve hauled in a hundred thousand pounds of cod; at this rate, we’ll finish our trip in days. The two other crewmen sleep while Neal steers, leaving me alone, unless you count my demons.

I check the rigging and the nets. Overboard, an unfamiliar fog creeps in — streaked with purples, blues, and pinks. The colors remind me of Emma's princess dress-up clothes. As the fog rolls past, my own sea-reflections haunt me.

A kindergartner smiling on the monkey bars, waving goodbye to his mom. She’d be back after fishing season, she’d lied.

A tween at the school counselor’s office, frowning while filling out a future goals sheet. It’s blank.

A teenage boy reading about utopian Atlantis in Mr. Johnson’s language arts class, tugging his sleeves over his track-marked wrists.

Though the night wind blows cold, I’m sweating. Soon, the tremors will begin. Then, the nausea.

They don’t call it seahab for nothing.

I’m not sure what’s worse: the familiar withdrawals or knowing that Emma’s missing her daddy. I can’t whisper that Daddy loves her. Or that I’m getting clean for good. I’m going to take her to the Cabo beaches where we’ll build sandcastles and look for baby turtles. I can’t tell her now. But one day, it’ll happen.

Sea water slaps away my thoughts. Back to work.

The strangely-colored fog rolls completely away, and the water’s the clearest I’ve ever seen. Every star shines so brightly; entire constellations reflect on the sea’s surface.

Then the deck lights die.

Neal lights an emergency beacon where he steers and shouts, “Josh, check the electrical!”

I run to the panel. A loose wire. I try to connect it, but it’s dead. Sweat drips onto my shaking hands. Damn withdrawals. Just one hit can stop this. In the darkness, I fumble in my pocket for my emergency stash. There. I’ll fix these wires, then have one small hit.

I jerry-rig a pigtail wire, hooking it to the conductor.

The lights don’t just fire up. They detonate like fireworks.

Neal’s shouting again, something about not blowing up the trawler, but all I can see is a beam of light shooting so high that it hits Orion.

The beam extends from Orion’s belt toward his star-bow. The bow retracts, then shoots an arrow of light seaward. The beam blazes the water’s surface.

Now I’m seeing things. The shakes come hard, making me drop the packet. Shit. I hit the deck.

Neal’s still shouting. I feel my body rising, as if through a force field of light, wave-like, that propels me skyward.

My head throbs. Light blinds me. Slowly, sounds and shapes emerge.

Metal flashes. Machinery whirs. Where am I?

A vibration pounds my left ear. Jolting into action, I sit upright in a white room, turning toward the sound.

Cool metallic legs lead to a wire-coiled torso, then a silver humanoid face with light-beam eyes.

A robot?

I lurch back instinctively. I’ve never hallucinated this bad before. Where the hell am I?


The robot’s mouth doesn’t move, but his telepathic voice is clear.

“What?” I croak aloud.

Atlantis didn’t sink under the sea. Thousands of years ago, a beam of starlight reflected on the water opened a pathway to the sky. You reopened that pathway today with your light to our civilization above.

I shake my head in wonder. A large window reveals a world beyond my dreams. Holographic billboards flash notifications in multiple languages. Spacecraft flit about titanium skyscrapers. A purple-pink light show illuminates the sky like that color-streaked fog.

I remember reading about Atlantis’s advanced society. An Atlantian mom wouldn’t have ditched her kid. Together, we would’ve built sandcastles first, mother and son, and then fancy, high-tech houses that she wouldn’t want to leave. I’d always believed the Atlantians could’ve helped me.

We already have, the robot says.

I look at my arms. Steady. No track marks.

My head clears. I’ve never felt better. But how? Confused, I study the robot.

We believe in serendipity, the robot says. You wanted to come. Your heart sought a better life. We helped you. Now you’ll help us.

He points overhead. Circuit boards alight above me, some with stripped electrical wire. Just like on the trawler. But in fucking space.

It takes me a minute to realize what he’s offering. I rise. Out the window, I look for schools for Emma on Atlantis’s hard light roadways, so her future goals sheet won’t be blank.

Sorry, the robot says gently, with human-like emotion in his telepathic voice. It’s rare to find humans with Atlantian aptitude. We must ensure a proper fit before incorporating them fully into society. You’d have one year in Earth-time to prove yourself before being allowed to bring your child.

I pace. One year. I count the months I’ve been away fishing on trawlers and the nights I’ve been away while high. A year away from coloring pages, riding four-wheelers on beaches, playdates with classmates, scraped knees. A year away from Mexico. Will she understand that I’m the parent who sacrificed time for her so we could build that fancy home? Or will I be the parent leaving while she waves goodbye from the monkey bars?

The robot studies me, but he knows my answer before I speak.

I’ve never made a harder decision.

Neal’s over me, shaking me hard. “Get up. Boat was hit by lightning. Blew out a transducer. We need to move. You okay, man?”

I lunge for the packet I dropped, then run to the rails and vomit overboard. My body lurches and my track-marked hands tremble as I throw the damn packet into the sea.

I’m not okay.

But I will be.

I have work to do. The stars flicker once overhead, casting fire on water. A purple-pink light flickers above, then fades into night. I gaze at Orion’s belt again, and I know in my heart that Emma’s looking up there too.

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