The Space Between A Blink

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When Mac Zender closed his eyes, he was himself. His disguise shifted off in a moment of unseeing, blissful darkness. The nanoparticles rearranged so quickly he could feel them like a cold wind against his skin. He knew without looking that he appeared as he truly was— but when he opened his eyes, looked down at his hands, he was hidden again, pale and mundanely human. 

When Earth’s inhabitants looked at him, they saw something human, too: a Caucasian man, shock of red hair, short, vaguely effeminate. Mac didn’t know how he appeared to his own people of Arcturus, because he hadn’t been face-to-face with them in nearly six years, but he guessed much the same. 

He picked up his phone, debated sending his final message as a video call. Let them see him one last time before hell broke loose. But video wasn’t secure— they might guess his location from his backdrop— so he sent a text, instead: Agent 567 emergency call to lunar base.

He got a response almost immediately. Caller ID read simply Kay— protocol required them to use Earth names even when in contact with only each other.

“What’s the emergency?” Kay’s English was stringent, snappish, tinged with an unidentifiable accent. “Where are you?”

Mac browsed through his collection of button-up shirts. His hands were shaking. “Kay, I need you to try and convince me of something, and it’s either going to work or backfire horribly.”


“I want to tell Avery the truth. Talk me out of it.”

A hiss of static on the other line. Kay devolved into a series of clicks and whistles, cursing in their native tongue. “No, you’re not. Very funny, but also, no.” A beat. “You can’t be serious.”

Mac picked up a yellow shirt, set it down. “Kay, she deserves to know. It’s been three years. I love her. I think she’d love me— the real me, if I could show her who I am. It won’t be that bad. I think.”

More barely-controlled cursing. “How? Hasn’t your disguise been broken for years, anyway? Aren’t you human all the time now?”

“I’ll figure it out.” Green, maybe. Green brought out his eyes. Mac rifled through the back of his closet. He’d gone over all of Kay’s talking points before. He’d thought hearing it from someone else might work better— it hadn’t. 

“You know what humans are like. Did you forget your research? All our work? But no, I’m sure this one will believe you. I’m sure she’s special and different from the rest.” Kay’s voice was thin, sour with premeditated satisfaction. 

“She is.” Of that, he was certain. 

“Stay put,” Kay said. “I’m sending a team to your coordinates.”

Green polo. Perfect. Mac took the shirt off the hanger. “Sorry, Kay. It backfired.”

Before Kay could reply, he hung up. 


Avery’s apartment was clean and candlelit, with rose petals draped over the tablecloth. The city was a hazy streetlight yellow below. Mac spent the night jittering with anxiety, waiting for Kay’s troops to burst through the door, but no one came. They couldn’t track him. He’d made sure of that. 

Mac waited until dinner and dessert were done, then dropped his bombshell: “I have news.”

“Really? Wait, let me guess.” Avery’s eyes sparkled. He couldn’t tell if her lips were stained with makeup or wine. “You’re proposing.”


“You’re cheating on me.”

“Jesus, no.”

“You have cancer.”


“Sorry. Clearly, I’m not good at guessing. Is it good news or bad news?”

“Well,” Mac said. “It depends?” 

He took a breath. “First: this isn’t what I look like. I’ve been using advanced nanotechnology to change the shape of my face, the texture of my skin, the build of my body for years. It— wasn’t on purpose, exactly. The tech went haywire, and things got out of hand. Now, it only changes back when no one, including myself, is looking.”

Avery frowned. “I don’t get it. What’s the punchline?”

“No punchline. This is real.” He swallowed. “Think about quantum physics, right? Schrodinger’s cat? Everything exists with or without your knowledge, but when you look— then it changes. Your observation shifts the basis of reality. That’s what my disguise is doing. When people look, they see… this. But it’s not me.”

The waning candlelight cast a half-moon shadow across Avery’s face, obscuring her expression. “Who are you, then?”

“Extraterrestrial.” His mouth was dry. The word was paltry, insufficient. “Arcturan. I’m from a planet thirty-four light-years away, sent to observe and report on humanity as a potential threat.”

Avery was silent. 

“Take your time.” Mac looked down at his hands: sweaty palms, chipped nails, freckle on the left thumb. Undeniably human. Still foreign, after all these years. “It’s a lot to think about.”

“No,” Avery said, “I think I get it. It’s a metaphor, right? You don’t feel seen in your skin— society puts you in a box, or whatever— you’re coming out, aren’t you?”

“Avery,” Mac couldn’t meet her eyes. “I swear this is real.”

“I see.” He watched the idea settle, tension shifting across Avery’s thin frame. “How convenient, then, that your disguise exists only when I can’t see. Show me it’s real, Mac. Show me you’re real.”

“I will.” Mac rose from his seat, and turned out the lights. Avery blinked owlishly in the dark. 

“What are you doing?”

“Proving it’s true. Close your eyes.” Mac stood behind her chair. “Trust me, Avery. Please.”

Avery hesitated, then closed her eyes. Mac took her hand in his. In a moment— in a blink— they were two humans, ordinary, in love. 

Then he, too, closed his eyes. 

His disguise broke. 

His hand began to change.

About the Author: 
Avi is a first year at the University of Toronto, where he's studying theater and creative writing. He enjoys science despite being bad at it. His fiction can be found or is forthcoming in Podcastle, The Dread Machine, and Cast of Wonders.
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