Author: Gabrielle Elaine Thurman
James sneezed, the corn maze’s pollinic miasma tickling his allergies. Shaking fingers pulled a tissue from his pocket. He dabbed his watery eyes, which searched the crowd at the labyrinth’s entrance for anyone matching the app’s description of his soulmate.
When he’d signed up to be one of the company’s newest software testers, he hadn’t realized how much it was going to affect his love life. Every few weeks, the app sent him on a new blind date, and every few weeks, James bid the woman goodnight, dialed the developers, and stuttered out the disappointing news: He had not found his true love.
He turned, meeting the eyes of a tall brunette. His stomach sank. A neon alien tat sat right in the middle of her cleavage, and similarly themed doodle tattoos squiggled across her collarbones and down both arms. There were piercings in her nose, lips, eyebrows, all the way up both ears and, from the looks of her black tank top, her nipples as well.
“Orion?” he guessed. He awkwardly tucked his used tissue away. I’ve got to at least try with this one, he thought.
He stuck out one sweaty, nervous hand.
She looked at it in disgust. He snatched it back, shifting from one foot to another.
“It seems we’re looking for the same person,” she said. She pressed the cyber-chip embedded in the center of her wrist, and a hologram appeared of a WANTED poster.
ORION BUCCHERI: NON-BINARY HOMOSAPIEN of EARTH MINOR.
SPACESHIP THEFT: 150,000 UNIT REWARD UPON CAPTURE.
The hologram grinned, and the air left James’ lungs. Tasseled dirty blonde hair shaded the criminal’s dark blue eyes, and hir full lips smirked even in a mug shot. Ze had oil-stained fingertips, and the shirt’s sleeves strained to contain hir corded muscles.
The app had finally gotten it right.
“Have you seen this person?” The woman asked.
“No, I—” The app beeped. Orion was near. James tucked his chipped wrist behind his back. “No clue. Can’t help you. Sorry.”
“Well, keep an eye out,” she said.
“Will do,” he said, smiling placatingly. The woman narrowed her eyes.
“Leave bounty hunting to the professionals,” she warned. James nodded, gesturing to his dusty button-up and slacks.
“You’ll find no competition from me,” he assured her. He laughed nervously, and after a moment, she nodded. He took one step back, then another. As the bounty hunter began showing the hologram to the group entering the corn maze, he ran for the barn, the beeping from his wrist growing louder with each step.
Sure enough, a spaceship hid behind the red front doors.
“Orion!” he called.
Immediately, metal pressed against his neck. Pre-recorded cheers came from the direction of his wrist.
“Who are you?” Orion hissed. “How did you find me?”
“My name is James,” he said. “You have to hurry. There’s a–there’s a—”
Orion yelped and immediately tased him. James’ teeth chattered as electricity rolled through his body, eyes rolling back in his head.
He collapsed to the straw-covered ground, muscles seizing.
Orion cursed and grabbed him by the ankle, dragging him to the spaceship.
“We’ve gotta get outta here,” ze said. Ze sighed. “I guess you’re just gonna have to come with me.”
He moaned. Wait until the developers hear about this, he thought. Orion slammed the spaceship hatch, and the cabin pressurized.
The thrum of the spaceship’s warp core drive rattled his teeth. James dropped his head back against the floor and shut his eyes.
“Guess I’m not going in to work tomorrow.”