He introduced himself as John – no last name – just John.
Perhaps she could go with him, but head home right after in case this was a cruel prank or he was trying to recruit her for some crazy cult. Her friends didn't share her taste in movies, and it would be nice to have someone to go with for once, particularly someone so attractive. But she hesitated before getting into his car. She knew it wasn't a smart thing to do, so she scanned the vehicle's interior for signs, her gaze falling upon the photo of a beagle snuggled up to a kitten that sat on the dashboard.
"Your pets?" she asked.
She jumped into his vehicle and then cursed her naiveté as the door shut with an ominous click, trapping her in an enclosed space with a stranger. She rolled down the window to provide an escape hatch.
"The movie doesn't start until seven," she said.
"Is there somewhere we can hang out for a couple of hours?" he asked, flashing his perfect teeth at her.
Perhaps he was just looking for easy sex and assumed that a homely girl would be a quick and easy lay, she told herself to crush her pathetic hopefulness.
"We could go to the lake," she said. "It's only a couple of miles from here."
The lake was actually just a large pond surrounded by a few dilapidated cabins and farmhouses, pretty in a rough sort of way. As they made their way down to the surrounding grass, John looked up at the trees as though amazed by them, stopping to stroke the rough bark of a willow.
After they settled on the grass, he asked about her favorite movies and she described the cheesy sci-fi epics and thrillers she loved.
"So, you like movies where everyone dies?"
"It's funny, because in real life, I can't stand it when anyone is sad. I think movies are my way of facing the darkness in a safe place."
He gazed at the murky pond, frowning. She willed her foot not to twitch. He was so calm and still.
She bit her lip. "A little."
"Because I like you."
Her treacherous mouth had released the words before she could stop it, and she wasn't even sure why she liked him. She didn't really know him at all.
"We should head back."
They rose from the grass. On the way to John's vehicle, Dana spotted something peering through the grimy window of a broken-down barn.
"Don't you eat chickens?" he asked.
"I'm a vegan. I don't eat anything from animals." she replied as she sought a way into the barn. The only entrance she found was an old gate secured with a rusted padlock.
"Just because you're smarter than something, doesn't give you the right to exploit it. And I'm not even sure we're smarter than them, at least not in the ways that count. I need to break this window."
"I'll do it," he said, unzipping his sweatshirt and wrapping it around his fist. He struck one of the panes with a quick, sharp jab, then watched with evident fascination as Dana coaxed the weak, scrawny bird toward the opening and lifted the little body into her arms.
"My aunt runs an animal sanctuary," she said. "I can bring the chicken to her tomorrow morning."
"Sanctuary," he repeated thoughtfully, as though tasting the word.
"I'm sorry," she said with a pang of regret. "I can't do the movie, now. I have to get food for her."
"What do they eat?"
"Grains, seeds, stuff like that."
"That would be awesome!"
This guy is dangerous, she thought. I could fall in love with him.
She'd expected something fancy and intimidating, so she was surprised when he pulled up in front of a decrepit little cottage with flaking paint surrounded by a neglected, overgrown garden. They walked along the broken cobblestones, the yellowing tendrils of wild plants snaking around their ankles. Nothing about John matched up, but she was happy that he lived in a place like this. She could imagine sitting with a second-hand book in the wild chaos of a garden where each plant was allowed to do whatever it wanted. Perhaps she and John weren't so different as she had initially thought.
She turned to see John advancing on her. He was holding a long, slender metal object that had to be some sort of weapon, and her last thought was regret that she would die so absurdly, killed by a mad scientist while holding a starving chicken.
There was a flash, and everything went black.
797097 was back on the ship, reporting to his superior officer.
"The meat is no good."
"Full dissection? You conducted all the tests?"
"Yes," he lied. "Very toxic. No usable parts."
"We'll need to find another source, then."
Dana woke by the lake with no memory of how she'd come to be there. She'd been in front of the theater and now she lay on the grass with a scrawny chicken nuzzling her open palm. Had she hit her head? She didn't have a headache. Perhaps she'd fainted. She should go to a clinic and get checked out, but first she would take care of the pitiful animal at her side. For some reason she couldn't fathom, she wanted to name it John.