On the New York City subway, ridership has increased about eight times since the intergalactic border was opened up in 2389. Being an alien from a world long since destroyed did not save the Creature from having to try and decipher the NYC subway map. Its roommates did have good advice to give.

Today, however, the routine it has found itself slipping into is jarringly disrupted.

“Yeah, that happens sometimes,” its roommate, the Astronaut, says as the subway doors slide open to what the Creature can only describe as an electrified abyss. “Every once in awhile between Bergen and Carroll, the G will stop at the fifth dimension for a couple minutes.” As he talks, the Creature witnesses a few beings, none of them human, step off the train into the unknown.

“Where are they going?” it asks, but over the conductor’s announcement, the Astronaut doesn’t hear it.

“It never stays for long,” the Android—its other roommate—adds reassuringly.

The Creature’s eyes are affixed on a tall lanky thing disappearing beyond the doors, and something in it longs for that—longs for an escape from this unforgiving strange place called New York.

“Sometimes I think I see something in there, if I look long enough,” the Astronaut continues absentmindedly, staring through the doors over his book.

“The MTA says humans should not stare at it,” the Android deadpans. The Astronaut doesn’t respond, and the doors slowly come back together. The train lurches forward and begins to roll along the tracks.

“We are on the F,” the Creature ventures quietly.

The Astronaut looks up from reading again to observe the line information mapped out above him. “Huh, the F musta started doing it too. Weird.”

The Creature rides the G train for weeks after that—over and over during the times its roommates spend at work. Waiting for that void to greet it again between Bergen and Carroll. As soon as the Creature passes by, aggravatingly unimpeded, it dismounts the train to turn around yet again. Long Island City bound. Brooklyn bound. And again. Day by day the strip of its metro card is worn down with how often the Creature swipes it—as is its patience.

While sitting on the R en route to the Android’s new leg fitting a month later, the Creature lets its mind wander as houses pressed in tight together pass before its eyes.

“I just hope they get the skin tones to match this time,” the Android tells it, fingering the exposed wiring erupting along the line of his synthetic kneecap.

“I am sure they will,” the Creature intones absentmindedly. It witnesses some unnamed alien in a backyard playing with a dog as they pull into the next stop. The dog—a colossal hairy thing—rushes up to this alien just like the Creature has seen in countless Earth commercials. All smiles set onto human faces.

“What have you been thinking of lately?” the Android asks, finally looking up at it from where his internal circuits claw out of his skin to expose him.

The Creature sighs. “That portal—it has not appeared to me again.”

It takes the Android a moment to make the connection (it must be said that in New York these days, there are many different portals to many different places—countless rips in time and space). “The fifth dimension on the G line?” he finally settles on. “Why would you want to run into that again? It eats approximately eleven minutes out of our commute to the grocery store.”

The Creature watches the subway doors slide shut, watches the alien with its dog in some person’s backyard disappear just as the dog makes to jump onto it again.

“Would you really want to escape this place that badly?” the Android continues on quietly. “To march yourself into an unknown oblivion just to see if it will spirit you away to something different? It makes no logical sense.”

The Creature says nothing.

“Does Theta 7’s destruction tear you up that deeply?”

When their train finally plunges back underground, tunneling its way into Manhattan through the endless darkness, the Creature sees the Android’s eyes roving left to right over the empty space in front of him. Counting the stops on the map displayed before him within his mind.

“Have you told James that you have been looking for this?” the Android asks.

“No,” the Creature tells him in a steely tone. “And you will not either.”

Needless to say, dinner that night is tense. It is only on the train the morning after that the Android finally speaks about it again.

“It is odd to me that you would not have consulted him. He would be the one to know about anomalies like that—he works at NASA. James was the one that knew the most about it when you asked us that day, even. So why have you kept it a secret?”

“I am not keeping secrets,” the Creature deadpans.

“Your metro card is worn nearly white along the bottom. We take the same train into the city for work, yet mine hardly has any wear at all.”

The Creature doesn’t respond. It looks down at its hands, clasping them together and picking at its synthetic fingernail in such a human manner that it almost forgets that it isn’t.

“I looked up my lifespan in human years,” the Creature begins. “And I am expected to live for another four hundred years.” It looks up at the Android to see that his eyes have been cast to the side. “Humans only live for one hundred, if they are lucky. But you must know that already, having watched him grow up.”

“I know what he was trying to do. He saved my life by bringing me back from Theta 7, but for what? To bring me to this strange world with him, only to die seventy years later? What will have been the point of all this?”

The Creature’s stop slides into vision, and it stands to get off. As the doors open, it hears:

“I am made entirely from replaceable synthetic parts. I will outlive both of you. Have you thought of that?”

The Creature exits the train, unable to find the words.

“I don’t know what the deal is with you two,” the Astronaut tells the Creature as he hefts up a cantaloupe in the supermarket to squeeze it. “But it must be something serious if Arthur opted out of coming grocery shopping with us. He’s always micromanaging this kind of thing. What did you say to him?”

“I did not say anything,” the Creature replies defensively, and the Astronaut gives it a knowing look as he pushes the cart away from the fruit display two melons richer. “You two take the same train into Manhattan for work while I’m stuck by myself on the E. I know you two must talk, so what happened?”

“Nothing happened.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

The Creature drops a box of dinosaur-shaped fruit gummies into the basket while the Astronaut contemplates the back of a box of granola bars. It looks down into the basket and sees an ironic pouch of dehydrated mint chocolate chip ice cream with the printed guarantee that it’s what astronauts eat.

“It’s about the G train, isn’t it? The stop between stops?”

The Creature looks at him stricken but the Astronaut only smiles in a way that doesn’t reach his eyes. “I’m aware that I’m only human, but I have two PhDs, you know.”

The Creature looks away, unable to form a response.

“You haven’t really been the same since it happened. You’ve always got this look in your eyes. Like you’re lost.” He dumps about ten cans of alphabet soup into the cart. “So… have you been able to find it again?”

“No,” the Creature tells him.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” the Astronaut admits. “I’ve only ever seen it in person twice. Someone at my office is trying to do a study on it,” he goes on. “Trying. Since she keeps missing it. It’s hard to find beings that know anything about it. We still don’t know where it goes.”

There’s an announcement going over the speakers about a certain type of bread being half off. And the sudden quiet that falls between them feels deep and dark enough to fall right into.

And then: downcast green eyes. “Ever since I brought you back, I’ve been worried about what kind of life I’ve damned you to here. Do you wish I hadn’t done it? Are you unhappy?”

“I will be,” the Creature tells him. “When I outlive you.”

The Astronaut lets out a deep breath. “I was afraid of that,” he confesses.

The silence consumes them again. There are families all around them laughing, shopping for the week ahead of them. Mothers putting items back on the shelves that children try to sneak into the cart.

“I’ve been working on this project. About the Big Bang Theory, about how the universe was created. Heard of it?”

“Yes.”

“There’s a new theory. Some of the extraterrestrials on my team say that it was actually an explosion from a world in a system that existed here before this one.”

The Creature looks at him blankly.

“They told me it was the detonation of the weapon on—I can never pronounce it, but we’ve classified it under ‘F Helix number 12’. There was an awful war in this system billions of years ago. They detonate this terrible system-shattering weapon and destroy everything—an entire universe obliterated. Yet here we are now, at this very moment. So there’s always this, I guess. Even after the end of days—total annihilation—we shop here at this grocery store like it’s nothing.” He looks at the Creature, hope deep set in his light green eyes. “I believe you will live on after me. I believe you will die when it is your time. Not from a planet being blown to pieces. Not from my death.”

On a Monday afternoon, the Creature boards an F train to stop by the intergalactic embassy. The train halts quite suddenly within the darkness of the tunnel, and ominously the doors slide open to reveal that same void it has seen once before. The fifth dimension, in all its terrifying possibility, fuzzy around its edges, seeming to warp the very air around it. A few beings stand from their seats and make their way over to let it engulf them. The Creature stands, too. Overcome by the coincidence of it all, longing pangs in its heart for its lost planet—its lost life. A pre-recorded message it barely hears plays throughout the car—humans are strongly discouraged from looking directly at it.

“One day, Mommy, I’m going to go in there,” a little boy tells his mother as she keeps a hand over his wide open eyes. “I’m going to go to school and be an astronaut at NASA that charts the farthest corners of the universe. And I’ll go into the fifth dimension, and find out what’s really there.”

The Creature looks down at this boy who is vibrating from the excitement he holds for his future even as he clutches onto his mother’s hand. The void churns at the edge of its vision.

This is the thing about time, it knows. No matter what it wants time to do, time can never cease or speed forward, or bring it back to a time that it felt whole.

It can only heal. Slowly.

“A very good friend of mine is an astronaut at NASA,” the Creature tells the boy, who moves his head from his mother’s shielding fingers to peer up at it.

“Really??”

“Yes. And he traveled very far out into space, just like you said. He even saved my life from the deepest corner of your universe.”

The boy stares at him with star-struck eyes as the Creature sinks back into its seat on the New York City Subway.

Milaci Ray is a senior majoring in Design at the School of Visual Arts. She doesn’t plan on staying in New York City, but she will genuinely miss the subway trains and lox bagels. Milaci hopes to find a job at one of those places that allow employees to bring their dogs into the office.