“Ow!” Nick immediately began rubbing his shoulder to ease the pain. “What was that for?”
“Your stupid prank,” Fran replied. The mid-40s researcher threw a USB drive at Nick’s face before turning around to head above deck. Nick recognized the bright red USB, but he didn’t bother picking it up. Instead, he stopped Fran from leaving with a hand on her shoulder.
“What prank?” he asked. “Was it really morse code?” He was glad to see she stayed.
“Nu uh,” she said. She whirled around with an angry tone in her voice; but, Nick recognized the fear in her soft brown eyes. He’d only seen her genuinely scared a few times in her life. She was usually the calm and collected one of the pair. The few times she was notably scared turned out to be for good reason. “Stop it. You know being out here alone is almost too much for me; you’re sleeping on the floor tonight,” she replied.
“What are you talking about?” he asked. Nick hoped to see her calm down a bit. Instead, her eyes grew wider and more fearful. Even her bottom lip trembled slightly.
“Swear to me right now. Swear on our marriage that this isn’t a prank,” she said.
“How would I even-,” His protests were interrupted.
“SWEAR!” she shouted. Her own outburst seemed to surprise her and she closed her eyes for a moment to breathe. They’d had plenty of arguments over their 20-year marriage. They knew how to get through them quicker by now. She seemed calmer when she opened her eyes again. “You knew we were coming out here. You could have gotten one of your students to edit some stock cuttlefish footage,” Fran shrugged.
“I don’t know how you could have done it. I need you to swear. Because there’s no coming back from this one if you keep pushing it. Now’s your chance to come clean; if I find out later it was a prank we’re done.”
Nick had no idea what the message could have been to frighten her more than he’d ever seen. The lesson he learned early on in their marriage was that he’d rather be married than right. Some things just weren’t worth arguing over. He considered the blinking cuttlefish as just a ‘neat thing’ he wanted to share with his wife. The patterned blinking made him think of her and when he handed her the footage he thought it’d be funny to mention, “I think it might be morse code.”
Whatever it was, it wasn’t more important to him than she was. And even if it frightened her, they were heading back to civilization in the morning and could avoid the ocean for a while. Nick forced out a deep sigh, then hung his head for added effect.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You figured it out exactly, one of my students put it together.” Nick was glad to see that all her fear evaporated immediately; but, the anger still remained.
“You’re still sleeping on the floor,” she said. Nick nodded.
“I deserve it,” he lied. It was worth the playful smirk on her face. But, Nick didn’t want to let it go at that if he could.
“But, I didn’t lie about not knowing what it said,” he added. “I just told him, ‘make it something spooky’. What was it?” he asked.
“You better fail that little ass for scaring the hell out of me,” she said. She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small notepad. She shoved it against Nick’s chest hard enough to push him a few steps, then turned around to leave.
The notepad was already open to the latest page covered with dots, dashes, and her handwriting.
“If you’re reading this I can help you escape the simulation.”