The UFO on I-90

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Science Fiction
From the moment he saw the spaceship plummeting from the sky, Matt had known one thing for certain: he was going to be late for work.

Submitted: December 16, 2019

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Submitted: December 16, 2019

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From the moment he saw the spaceship plummeting from the sky, Matt had known one thing for certain: he was going to be late for work.

“No, I’m not close, Simon,” he said. “I’m still stuck in Schaumburg.”

“This is ridiculous, Matt,” Simon said. His boss’s voice was almost frantic with anger. “When do you think you’ll be able to get here?”

Matt looked at his watch. It was already pressing on nine in the morning - he’d already been stuck for almost two hours.

“I don’t know, Simon,” Matt said. “Even if I can get off 90, I don’t know what the roads going into the city will be like.”

Simon grumbled something that Matt could not make out, then said, “Tom got here early today.”

“Tom lives in Highland Park,” Matt said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “He had the luxury of taking 94.”

“We’ve got a big day ahead of us,” Simon said. “Do you know what this thing is doing to the markets?”

“I know what it’s doing to this highway,” Matt said.

“Ha-ha,” Simon said. “I’m serious, Matt! Everyone is freaking out, selling shares and shorting all over the place like it’s doomsday. The firm’s all hands on deck. If you aren’t here soon, you’ll lose your piece of the pie.”

“I’ve got no place to go,” Matt said. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

“You’d better,” Simon said. “I swear to God, Matt. You’ve never seen numbers like this.”

Matt’s phone beeped. He took it away from his ear to see a picture of his wife smiling at him from the screen.

“Yeah, Simon, I hear you,” he said as he brought the phone back to his ear. “Look, I gotta go. Katie’s calling. She’s worried sick.”

Matt heard another disgruntled grumble on the other end of the line. “Fine. But call me when you’ve got an E-T-A,” Simon said, enunciating each letter as though he’d invented the abbreviation himself.

“Will do,” Matt said with a roll of his eyes, and then switched the call over to Katie. “Hi, hon.”

“Hey babe,” Katie said, her voice tinged with excitement. “How’re you holding up?”

“Same as before,” he said. “I’m dead stuck, Katie. They’re pulling us off the on-ramp, like when that semi jackknifed a few years back.”

“I’m sorry, Matty,” Katie said. “You still listening to the radio?”

“I had to turn it off,” he said.

“What?” Katie said, aghast. “Why?”

“They just kept blabbing about the damn crash,” he said. “I don’t have to hear about it, Katie. I’m living it.”

“I thought you couldn’t see the ship?”

“I can kind of see it,” Matt said. He craned his neck to look out his windshield. In the distance, just poking up over a stand of pine trees, he could see the edge of the crashed ship. It was far more rugged than he would have expected of the first alien craft to visit Earth. “It doesn’t look like much to me.”

“Not much? Matty, we’re talking about an alien spacecraft. Think of the technological and aeronautical possibilities! How did it get here? How long did it take? From the size of it I doubt it could have been a generational ship that brought them here over millennia. Then again, we don’t know what sort of environment the life forms that designed the craft would need to survive. But if they have knowledge about worm holes or quantum folding…”

Matt’s forehead sank to the top of his steering wheel. He usually appreciated Katie’s excited expositions about the boundless possibilities of the universe. He’d married an astrophysicist, after all - he was used to enjoying stories that went over his head for the sake of the person telling them. But today, languishing in traffic with his boss telling him all about the amazing business opportunities slipping through his fingers, his patience was thin.

“...Are you listening to me, Matty?”

Matt sighed. “Sorry, Katie,” he said. “I’m not really in the mood.”

“Hmph,” Katie said. “Hell of a thing to not be in the mood for. What are you gonna tell your grandkids about today? That you were too busy being grumpy to pay attention to First Contact?”

Matt massaged the bridge of his nose again. “Fine,” Matt said. “What’ve I missed?”

“I’ve been listening to NPR,” Katie said. Matt heard the excitement swell again in her tone. “Feds and rescue workers are all over the thing. At first they were just going in to clean things up, but get this. There’s something moving in there, Matty!”

“Wow,” Matt said, his voice flat. “Neat.”

“Hm,” Katie said. “You’re never any fun when you’re frustrated.”

“I don’t see what’s fun about a hulking wreck that’s keeping people from going in or out of Chicago,” Matt said, unable to keep the edge out of his voice.

“Matt,” Katie said. “I’m talking about real-live aliens, and you’re seriously more worried about getting to work?”

“Look,” Matt said. “Simon says the markets are all out of whack. If we play our cards right we can score big on this one, Katie!”

“We have plenty of money,” Katia said.

“Well,” Matt said. “We can always have more right?”

Before Katie could respond, he heard another beep on his phone. He glanced down at it to see his brother’s goofy grin looking up at him. He sighed. “Katie, I’m gonna have to call you back. John’s calling.”

“Alright,” Katie said. He could hear the edge of frustration in her voice. “Let him know you’re okay.”

“I will,” he said. “I love you.”

“Love you too,” Katie said.

“Bye,” Matt said, and then switched the line to his brother.

“Matt!” John said, shouting into the phone. Matt flinched away from the harsh exclamation. “Are you okay?”

“Hi, John,” Matt said. “Yes, don’t worry. I’m fine.”

“Hoo, boy,” John said, a little laughter of relief in his voice. “Thank Christ. I was worried about you. Why didn’t ya text me?”

“I marked myself safe online,” Matt said.

“Oh,” John said, and Matt heard a brief rustling as he fiddled with his phone. “So ya did. Well, still, it’s good to hear your voice. Petey ‘n I were just worried sick about you.”

“I’m sure,” Matt said. “I’ve gotten plenty of calls like that this morning.”

“Well,” John said. “Good to know you’re loved, right?”

“I suppose.”

“So, bud,” John said. “How close are ya?”

“To the crash?”

“Of course!”

“I’m not far,” Matt said. “I can sorta see it.”

“No!” John said. “God in Heaven, Matty. This is a day, isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” Matt said. “You and Peter working today?”

“‘Course not!” John said. “Peter heard the news on his way to a job, and called to tell me. He’s on his way back, but I wouldn’t wait on him without making sure you were okay.”

“Lucky,” Matt said. “I’ve been stuck on I-90 for hours.”

“Well,” John said. “I’m sure they’ll clear you out soon enough, and you can get on home to Katie.”

“I’m still going to work, John.”

“You’re kidding,” John said. “Matty, that’s crazy. This is no day to spend away from family. Besides, I’m sure Katie’s itching with excitement.”

“A little,” Matt said. “She’s more into dark matter. And they need me at the firm.”

“You work too hard, Matty,” John said. “You don’t need to spend every minute you got free at the firm.”

“I don’t spend every free minute there,” Matt said. “I do good work for them. And they need me today.”

“If you say so,” John said, a little exasperation in his voice. The two of them sat in silence for a few moments. Just when Matt was starting to formulate a polite goodbye to his brother, John said, “So, Matty, you seen the Packers game last night?”

“I didn’t,” Matt said. “I was busy.”

“At the firm?”

Matt didn’t respond. John sighed.

“First the crash, now the Packers? Matty, really, you gotta ease up on the firm. It’s chokin’ the life outta ya.”

“I’m fine, John,” Matt said.

“If you say so. Missed a helluva game, though.” He paused a moment. “By the by, have you called Andrea yet today?”

“No,” Matt said. “It’s hardly seven there, John. You know she won’t be awake.”

“Call her anyway,” John said. “She’ll be as happy to hear your voice as I was.”

Matt sighed. “Alright, John. I’ll do that now. Say hi to Peter for me.”

“Will do,” John said. “Talk to you later, Matty. Love you.”

“Love you,” Matt said, and John hung up.

Matt sighed, and took a moment to massage his temples. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he saw the sluggish movement of cars being ushered the wrong direction down the highway.

Matt sighed, and pulled up Andrea’s number. There was no chance his little sister was awake yet, but he hated the thought of her worrying about him as much as John had. She was more likely to see him marked safe online, but he didn’t want her to have to wait even that long. He dialed her number.

The line rang almost to the end before Andrea answered. Matt heard her fumble the phone to her ear.

“Hullo?” she said, her voice a sleepy croak.

“Hey, Andrea,” Matt said. “Dunno if you saw the news, but I wanted to call and tell you I’m alright.”

“What?” Andrea said. He heard the rustle of her comforter as she shifted in her bed. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You haven’t heard?” Matt said. The fact that Andrea didn’t clamor to know more about the crashed ship was almost a relief.

“No, asshole. You woke me up. What are you talking about?”

“A UFO crashed on I-90 this morning while I was driving to work,” he said. “I’m gridlocked while they try to get cars behind me off the interstate.”

“Bullshit,” Andrea said. “Am I on speaker phone or something?”

“No,” Matt said. “I’m serious, Andie. Look it up.”

“Hm,” Andrea said. “Fine.”

He heard the rustle of her moving her phone, and the tapping of fingernails against her screen.

“Holy shit,” she said, her voice distant. Then more clearly as she brought the phone back to her face, “Holy shit, Matt! You’re there? Are you really, like, right there?”

“Yep,” Matt said, almost regretting that he hadn’t leaned into the idea that it was a joke. “It’s got traffic backed up all the way to Belvidere.”

“I can’t believe it,” Andrea said. “God, Matt, you saw this happen?”

“Not really,” Matt said. “It came in over the city. I mostly saw the dirt it threw up when it hit. I can sort of see it through the trees, though.”

“Jesus,” Andrea said. “What does it look like?”

“Um,” Matt said, and looked again through his windshield at the edge that he could see. “It’s all banged up. The metal’s shimmery, almost rainbow colored,” He paused, trying to find anything else of interest in the misshapen sliver of the craft he could see. “That’s about it.”

“Jesus Christ,” Andrea said. “Matt, you realize that you’re one of the first people in history to see an actual alien spaceship, right?”

“I thought some dock workers in Gary saw it first.”

“That’s not the point,” Andrea said. “You’re seeing history happen, Matt!”

“I’m stuck in it, more like,” he said.

“Shut up,” Andrea said. “This is going to change everything, asshole. It’s the most important day in the existence of humanity.”

“What a way to spend it,” Matt said, rolling his eyes. “It’s easy to be awestruck when you’re thousands of miles away, Andie.”

“Don’t be a prick,” Andrea said. “Pull your head out of your ass and think of the rest of the world for a minute. Jeez, isn’t this, like, Katie’s thing?”

“She’s more into dark matter,” Matt said. “But, yeah, she’s excited.”

“Christ, and you’re whining about being late to your desk job?”

“It’s a big day,” Matt said. “I gotta get in to help out the firm.”

“Wow,” Andrea said. “The firm? Matt, listen to yourself. This isn’t a big day because of the damn NAFTA.”

Matt furrowed his brow. “You mean the NASDAQ?”

“A fucking UFO just crashed outside of Chicago,” Andrea said, ignoring his correction. “That’s the big deal today.”

“I’m not saying it isn’t,” he said. “It’s just that I - hold on.”

Matt’s eyes wandered up to the rearview mirror again. The progression of freed cars had nearly reached him, and police officers were threading their way through the parked cars to direct them in how to escape the gridlock. Matt grinned, and started his car up again.

“I gotta go, Andie. Love you.”

“Matt, wait a sec -”

He hung up as a cop waved at him to swing his car around. He moved in a halting arc to clear the other cars around him, and then crawled along the crowded highway. It was a strange feeling to see the backs of the road signs. He tapped at his car’s nav, setting up a route that would divert him around the crash to get him to work. It seemed just as concerned as he had been to be going the wrong direction on the interstate, but he ignored it and pressed on.

He glanced up into his rearview mirror. The traffic was still bumper to bumper, but at least they were moving. He could see the cautious struggles of other cars as they tried to free themselves from the crowd, under the gentle guidance of the police. Beyond them was another ten miles of cars that would be stuck for hours more.

His eyes drifted up to the edge of the spaceship. Now that his frustration with the traffic was subsiding, he started to feel a little flutter of interest in the strange craft. Almost all at once, he realized the immensity of what had happened. Everything he had ever known would change today. He felt a moment of embarrassment at his earlier moodiness, and realized that Katie had been right. What would he tell his children about First Contact? That he’d spent the day in a rotten mood whining over the traffic? It all seemed so silly now. Freed from the gridlock, he began to realize that the traffic didn’t matter, that what mattered was the ship in his rearview mirror, poking up over the treetops. He knew in a flash of certainty that he needed to call Katie and apologize. He reached down, searching for his phone, tore his gaze away from the mirror to find it -

He was jolted out of his reverie with a sudden bang. His body pitched forward, his brow nearly banging off the steering wheel, as his car came to an abrupt stop against the bumper of the one in front of him. All around him a chorus of blaring horns awoke. He scowled, and raised both hands offer everyone around him the finger. More than one driver returned the gesture as police diverted them around the new obstacle in their path to freedom. Matt watched as the driver of the car he’d hit pulled away from him, a cracked turn signal indicating his attempt to get into the narrow breakdown lane.

Matt considered for a moment the option of fleeing, but there was nowhere to go. At the rate they were moving, the other driver could have caught up to him by power walking. With a resigned sigh, he also fought his way to the breakdown lane behind the car he’d hit.

The other driver jumped out and stormed to look at the back of his car. Matt could already see it, and so understood the man’s reaction to the cracked taillight and substantial dent. The other driver whirled on Matt, fury in his eyes.

“Hey, asshole!” he shouted, pointing at his car as though he needed to call Matt’s attention to it. “How’d you fuckin’ manage this in a gridlock?”

Matt opened his door and stepped out toward the other man, fishing around in his back pocket. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was distracted by the ship.”

“The ship?” the man said, his face incredulous. He pointed toward the stand of pines. “The thing we’ve all been staring at all morning? That’s what made you ram my A4?”

“Well,” Matt said, folding his arms and setting his face into an expression of stoic stubbornness. “It is an auspicious day. First contact and all.”

“Fuck you,” the man said, shaking his head.

Matt rolled his eyes. “Look, I said I was sorry. I’m just trying to get to work.”

“Work?” the other man said with a barking laugh. “Buddy, you’ll be lucky to get off this on-ramp before it gets dark, and you’re trying to head into the city?”

“It’s a big day,” Matt said.

“Yeah,” the other driver said. “Auspicious, huh?”

Matt scowled and fished his insurance card out of his wallet. He consulted it for a moment, then jotted down his information on the back of a business card and held it out. The man glanced between Matt and the card for a moment, and then rolled his eyes and plucked it from his hand. He turned on his heel and went back to his own car, and Matt followed suit.

He started up his car again and tried to nose into the stymied flow of traffic, but there was nowhere for him to go. He tried it with and without his blinker, blared on his horn, and waved for the other drivers to make space, but no one seemed willing to give any of the ground they gained in their slow march forward. Matt finally managed to wedge his nose out in front of a car that was too slow to close the gap between itself and the one in front of it, nearly getting in another wreck and earning him a fresh chorus of horns. He liberally distributed rude gestures to the driver around him, and then set his mind on fighting his way through the traffic.

To his dismay, though, he found no reprieve. Over the next hour and a half he followed the detour signs to Chicago, but his heart sank when he finally saw 355 toward the city. It was no better than a parking lot. The entire road was a crimson ribbon on his car’s nav.

With a grimace, Matt picked up his phone and tapped Simon’s number.

“Hi Simon. Yeah, I’m off 90. No, I still don’t know when I’m going to be - look, it’s not my fault that I - yes, okay.” He sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, I’ll let you know when I’m close.”

He ended the call and tossed the phone into the passenger seat, then shifted the car into park. He leaned back with an angry sigh, pinching his eyes closed. When he opened them, his gaze fell to his left. There, in the distance, he could see the hazy grey monolith of the landed ship. It was partially obscured by layers of town and forest, and was too far away to make out details.

Matt scowled at the ship and, displaying the futile anger only humans were capable of, flipped it off.


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