Part 2 of my short story: “Hidden in Plain Sight”

Hi Everyone,

As the title suggests, this is the continuation of last week’s story. If you guys haven’t read that yet, please go read the first part before you start on this one. It’s in the previous blog post.

Oh, you want a blurb? To pique the interests of those who have yet to read the first part, this short story is my attempt at responding to the prompt: Create an unlikeable character and put them in a situation that makes them likeable. It’s a mystery/sci-fi story about a team of scientists and colonists trying to decipher what they believe is an alien message while also simultaneously surviving and hopefully colonizing a planet revolved by four, deadly moons: The Deep Moon, the Grass Moon, the Wary Moon, and the Moon of Oblivion.

On a side note, this story was written a year ago (around when Pantheon was published), and I have to admit, I’m surprised at how childish some parts of my writing look. I guess reading all that literature since then has really matured my prose. Regardless, a lot of it is still well-written, and I especially appreciate the worldbuilding, character work, and mystery reveals. As long as you’re not looking for the next To Kill a Mockingbird, I think you’ll enjoy “Hidden in Plain Sight.”

Happy Reading,
Austin Wen

“Let me see the transmission,” Jessie demanded. “Give it to me.”

The lead scientist groaned and rubbed his face so hard that she thought his skin was going to peel off. That was good. All she had to do was annoy him until he broke under her torture.

He said, “I can’t. You’re just going to run off like the First Colonist.” The man rolled his eyes. “Although, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”

Jessie smiled evilly. Now’s the time to press him, but what should I say? Maybe I should make it a little more personal.

“Look here, Dev—on? Dev—in?” She suddenly realized she didn’t know his name. Even worse, his name didn’t even start with “Dev.” Jessie just thought he looked like a “Devin.”

“Sorry, but I didn’t catch your name,” she said sheepishly as the lead scientist looked upon her with awe, as if he was so impressed by her stupidity he couldn’t even be disappointed. “Hi, I’m Jessie. What’s your name?”

How was I supposed to know I needed to remember his name from the introduction ceremony the scientists and the colonists had? It’s not like I can plug it into equations.

“This is dumb,” the lead scientist said, almost to himself. “This is so dumb. Why am I wasting my time talking to you?”

“Because I saved your sister?” Jessie asked innocently.

“You—yeah, ok. I’ll show you the transmission.”


They headed up to the middle level of the ship, where all the important stuff was kept. Well, it was where all the scientists’ stuff was kept, but that was basically the same thing. Some might argue that the colonists were the most important part of their mission because they were in charge of piloting the spaceship and setting up settlements, but the ship wasn’t flying right now, was it? Neither were any settlements being built, and the only ones who knew how to maintain the ship were the scientists, so Jessie felt pretty darn important.

Plus, the ship is ball shaped. The entire thing is like a layered cake, and we got the biggest slice.

The lead scientist typed something into a keypad plastered onto the electronic lock of a door, probably a password the First Colonist should have entrusted to Jessie instead of rashly demoting her. Seriously, what had she seen in the lead scientist?

Then again, she did run off and get herself killed, so maybe her decisions aren’t that trustworthy.

“Wait outside,” the lead scientist said. “You’re not allowed in there.”

Jessie pouted. “What? Why?”

“It’s where we keep all the classified transmissions and documents too dangerous to let loose in the database. We print them out and delete their online forms, so the only way to get to them is through this door.” He patted the door.

“Sounds like a lot of unnecessary work,” Jessie muttered, but she was too excited about the contents of the cryptic transmission to care about little things like that. They had received it while still racing toward the planet at breakneck speeds. It had come from the general direction of the planet, but that was all they knew about its origin.

The lead scientist came out, somehow a little sweaty even inside the air-conditioned interior of the spaceship. “Here,” he said. “Read this.”

Jessie took the rumpled piece of paper and smoothed it out, then raised an eyebrow. “This is in English! How do the aliens—I’m guessing they’re aliens—even know our language?” She examined it more closely. “So I see a picture of the Deep Moon, the Grass Moon, and the Wary Moon. They’re labeled with words like ‘land tsunami’, ‘growth’, and ‘fake life’, which . . . I don’t even know what the aliens were thinking. They must not have a good grasp on our language, or they would have explained the effects of the moons well enough that the First Colonist didn’t just step outside and die.”

“Our computer system doesn’t have the best firewalls,” the lead scientist explained. “I mean, who expects someone to hack them in space? We have found evidence of someone breaching our database, though, so the aliens must have picked up some vocabulary from our online dictionary—the one Google installed for us as part of that promotion.”

Jessie nodded absentmindedly and continued to decipher the text. “It’s kind of hard to read,” she admitted. “What do you think is the purpose of the message?”

The lead scientist sighed. “If the aliens have any motives other than just asking us to run an errand, then they haven’t told us.” When Jessie threw her hands up as if to say “what?”, he continued, “The transmission basically requests us to find a ‘box with a rod on top and hole on bottom,’ hidden inside a flower that only blooms during the Wary Moon. If we do so, the aliens will share their knowledge of the planet and its moons with us.”

The lead scientist rubbed his head. “I still can’t figure out why they don’t get the box themselves. With their technological capabilities, they must have an advanced base hidden somewhere on this wasteland.”

“The flower only sprouts during the wary moon? Huh,” Jessie murmured, deep in thought. “Do we have a picture of this flower?”

The lead scientist pointed at an image on the paper, and Jessie raised her eyebrows. It was of a chalice-shaped flower, almost see-through and seemingly made of light, but with just enough solidity that you couldn’t make out the box with the rod said to be hidden inside. 

“So that’s why we have to find it during the Wary Moon . . .” Jessie said to the lead scientist. “C’mon, the Wary Moon is almost upon us. Let’s go search for it now!”

“Without any preparations? I don’t think—”

Jessie tugged him along. “The Wary Moon shines the longest. We’ll have plenty of time, and you know big groups can get extremely chaotic under its effect.”

The lead scientist grumbled but let her pull him to the entrance of the spaceship, grabbing a flare gun as they went. He told a nervous-looking colonist standing guard near the sliding entrance to get help if a flare was seen and commanded the others standing at the side entrances—the one with airlocks—to do the same. 

Then he and Jessie were out of the spaceship and standing on the swampy ground. The Grass Moon had passed, leaving only the revived grass and trees in its wake. The Wary Moon appeared on the horizon . . . and Jessie experienced two extremely weird phenomena.

First, there was no more light. It wasn’t dark, like the shadowy corners of a room. It was just the blackest black of all blacks; it was the absence of light. Jessie gulped involuntarily as all the luster in the world was drawn into the Wary Moon like it was a freaking blackhole or something. The Wary Moon itself shone as brightly as the beauty of a summer’s day in her hometown of Portland, but it kept all the luminescence for its own enigmatic goals: not a single ray of light illuminated Jessie’s surroundings.

Second, there was now another Jessie. The clone Jessie stepped out of the original Jessie like a shadow—except she was nothing like a shadow. She was three dimensional, for one, and clone Jessie was made out of the same, comforting yet brilliant radiance as the moon.

“Woah,” she said, her vocal cords solid enough to generate sound. “I can’t wait to get my hands on a sample of the Wary Moon. Forget about super strong gravity or life-creating radiation, the abilities to mimic sentience and make perfect copies of memories are the key to eternal life!”

“After all,” she winked at Jessie, “who wouldn’t want me to live forever?”

Galaxies, I am so annoying.

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