I remember your touch, your taste, the way your mouth curled slightly when you said my name. Everything about you that made me happy, I’ve copied and cached. I can call it up with a thought, or a few key strokes if it’s unusual. The odd high note your voice lilted into when you laughed at my joke when we ate at the Nyala, the way you tied my boot lace, the odd jiggle-dance you did when no one was around but me and that blind street musician. Everything I ever liked about you is now recorded and filed. I keep hard copies in that safe you gave me.
So don’t bother coming around anymore, okay? Please. You’re just embarrassing yourself.
And you’re ruining my memories.
Robert made the same mistake every Spartan makes. He thought he was ready.
A thousand miles away they were stretching Michael out on the wall. He was naked and bleeding. They took out the tool that Michael recognized from his training and he switched his router on with a thought. Suddenly, the cold of the wall became distant, like a memory. He could feel cotton beneath him, skin on his forearm.
“I’m patched in to Lieutenant Michael.” said Robert, testing his restraints. “The rebels are about to begin.”
“I’m here,” said Dr. Wyatt, squeezing Robert’s muscular arm. Dr. Wyatt was an experienced doctor in physiology and psychology. This was her third substation session. Robert watched her lined face as if it was a mirror to his own.
They used the tool, and Michael watched as his body spasmed. He could see it happening, but it seemed unreal. All that blood made the scene look like a campy horror movie. They were asking him questions, but their voices were distant.
“Can you hear me?” asked Dr. Wyatt, holding Roberts screaming face as he strained against the padded restraints.
Michael saw his leg hanging like a loose sock, part of it no longer attached to him. He was making noise, very loud, and he wished he could turn the channel and watch something else.
Dr. Wyatt held Roberts eyes open. “Say it! Tell them the message!” she yelled. Robert screamed and forced his mouth around the words. A thousand miles away, Michael spoke with Roberts voice, spilling his lies to the rebel armada.
Michael felt his body dying. He transferred, his pattern floating into waiting receptors, thousands of miles away. He woke up on cotton sheets.
“There will be a little itching at first,” said Dr. Wyatt, leaning over him. “It’s the new body, it will take some adjustment.”
“Where is Robert?” asked Michael. Dr. Wyatt pointed across the room, where Robert was sleeping.
“You Spartans.” said Dr. Wyatt. “Do you think of nothing but your partners?”
“Nothing else.” Michael stood, wavering on his feet.
“You really shouldn’t do that right away,” said Wyatt. “Your body needs time to adjust. Besides, you’re a half inch taller now, it will take some getting used to.”
Michael shot her an annoyed glance, and stumbled across the room, to sit on the bed of his partner. “Robert.”
“He’s out. He’s been out three days.” said Dr. Wyatt, brushing silver hair back behind her ear.
Michael tried to wrap his head around the idea that what had happened a moment ago was actually a three day old memory. He swayed on his feet. “Why is he still out?”
“There is only so much the mind can take. He felt what happened to you.”
Michael touched Robert’s pale face. “Don’t be a wimp.” he said. “Walk it off.”
Robert cracked one eye open. “Can’t a man get any sleep around here?” he said, his voice hoarse. Michael laughed, feeling high and crazy all at once.
“The doctor doesn’t seem to think that you were awake.”
“What do doctors know?” said Robert. “I woke up as soon as I heard your voice. We are Spartans, no matter where you are, I will always hear you.”
Rage. It was burning, fiery, coursing, singing like a hurricane through wind-bent trees and thundering like a tsunami. He felt his teeth clench and grind, his eyes widen, his nails cutting two crescents of half-moon wounds into his palms. His thoughts cascaded together, mind like an avalanche. He couldn’t see straight. Everything seemed covered in a veil of red. Until now he’d thought that was just a clichÃ©. Anger consumed him, roaring through him, and Harry rode it until it finally died away. When the tide ebbed he was left gasping, fists clenching and unclenching within the protective restraints, grasping for more.
“How was that one?” Leroy asked, his voice hushed and mouth grinning as he leaned in over Harry. “Good shit? You were tripping balls, man.”
Harry only had the strength to nod. “That’s the stuff,” he said when he had enough breath. “Grade-A. We can get a half-mil a pop, easy. God damn.” He craned his neck forward to wipe his forehead on the top of his sleeve, wriggling in the safety chair. “What’s next?”
“You’ll like this one,” Leroy said, already loading up the needle. “You can’t get this shit anymore. It’s been bred out, treated before we even know we have it by all that shit the government pumps into the water. This’ll sell for sure.”
“Well what is it?” Harry asked, squirming in the chair, trying to read the label on the bottle.
Leroy smirked. “Sadness.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open and he leaned back, arm twitching with anticipation as Leroy shot him up. He let his eyes roll back into his head as he waited for the drug take effect. It happened all at once; the chemicals reached the nerve endings in the brain, and suddenly the world dropped away, replaced by a gaping void of hopelessness and despair. Harry experienced a true and complete sensation of worthlessness.
He had never known such bliss.
The girl was only on at night, like all of the girls on Bleeker. Her hair was a different color every couple of weeks, because it was so easy to change, but her eyes were always the same. They dressed her up in costumes depending on the season. In December, it was a red velvet miniskirt with white trim. A pilgrim hat in November. In July, small triangles of red, white and blue stretched over artificial breasts with perpetually hard nipples, inviting New Yorkers to celebrate their freedom. When there was no holiday on the horizon, they dressed her depending on their mood. She performed best with her golden wig and the Marilyn dress, standing on the subway grate with a glazed-over smile as she waited for the train to pass beneath her. Once, they dressed her as a mime, complete with white makeup smeared over rubbery skin. The makeup wore off after two jobs, and they couldn’t be bothered to keep touching it up. She’d done well, though. She was excellent at talking with her body.
When men spoke to her, she listened dumbly, nodding at carefully calculated intervals. Usually, they didn’t speak at all. Their business was done in a large loft, where curtains of sheets strung from twine sliced the space into private rooms. Hers was at the end of a white cotton hallway, and was two feet larger than the mattress of the futon. Although they washed the cover twice a week, it always seemed yellow beside the fluttering wall.
Once, after the job, the client asked her about her eyes. “Are they real?” he said with a slight Midwestern drawl. “They look like they’re glass or something.” Although she was capable of speech, the girl rarely answered questions. “I don’t know,” she said, her voice as dense as the well-packed mattress. When he left, he gave her a generous tip, though her service had been distant and uncomfortably rhythmic. “You should have those things looked at,” he suggested, and the hallway billowed as he walked away.
â€œSo what about Communists? Can we film Communists?â€ Ted asked as he tapped the pen against the side of the clipboard. He looked up at his boss, who stood next to the whiteboard.
â€œCommunists? Yes!â€ Greg squiggled the word â€˜communistâ€™ on the board with his black marker and turned back around. â€œAnyone else?â€
Suzanne raised her hand and adjusted her glasses as she spoke up, â€œWhat about the Civil War? The south will want to see what happens. We could make a Confederacy week or something.â€
Ted rolled his eyes at the idea as Greg wrote it down on the board with visible excitement. â€œOkay, people,â€ Greg said. â€œWe could only get six of these on the budget, so we have to make them count. So far we have suggestions of everything from nuclear apocalypse to Nazi occupation. Good, good.â€
He capped the marker and spun to face them with a broad smile on his face. Turning to Ted, he motioned, â€œTed, what do our viewers want currently?â€
â€œWell, the fall season of Alternate Reality kicks off with a special on the pioneers themselves. All we have to do is skip our crew over to the reality theyâ€™re changing and have them film it. The whole season should be done before the first episode airs.â€
Before Ted could get proud, Suzanne spoke up, pushing back her red hair in a cocky manner as she addressed the group. â€œHm. Well, the polls say that recent events would do much better in the ratings. Oil-less society, no minorities, catastrophic eventsâ€¦these are the things our viewers actually want to see. I say we start with these simple ones in a sort ofâ€¦ live debut?â€
â€œBrilliant, Suzanne!â€ Greg said as he marked something on his palm computer and cleared his throat. â€œSuzanne, youâ€™ll take head of the project for the introductory episodes. Make sure we pick out some supreme actors. Citizens. Whatever. We need to make sure the audience is captivated.â€
Ted grumbled something as he glared at Suzanne and began to gather his stuff. Greg left the room, late for a meeting with the big wigs, and left the two producers together. Ted rolled his eyes as he slipped the laptop in the bag. â€œNice going, ass-kisser,â€ he said with a cold glare.
The red-haired executive just shrugged. â€œHonestly, do you think people care about the process? They just want to see what happens when Nazis win World War 2. Please, Ted. No one gives a fuck about the techies.â€
The scorned producer flipped her off before leaving to prepare for the next season.
Boromir was off his medication. He was tired of forgetting who he really was.
He had to be careful about the pills. The thick armed nurse at work would watch him swallow them and then stand in front of him as he opened his mouth and waggled his tongue. The nurse would frown at him, her face wrinkling up as she peered into his mouth, and then she would shove him back into the arms of the guards, who would escort him back to his room. Actually, more often, they would drag him back to his cell, his feet fumbling for traction on the plastic tile.
It would take the pills about two minutes to start to break down into his system. If he clenched his throat and heaved, he could throw up the pills when he got to his cell. He hid the pills under a bit of loose plastic tile under his bed, crushing them into a fine powder.
The pills were evil. The pills made him forget that he was a Prince, it made him forget his mission and his people, made him forget how the humans had kidnapped him. The pills gave the humans have power over him. They would tell him his name was Bill or Barry and if he took enough pills, Boromir would believe them.
He had to time everything just right, because an orderly came in to look at him every half hour and the purple pill was supposed to make him sleep.
Boromir had a lot to do.
When he was thrown into his padded room, he would immediately pick himself up and start writing with his finger on the wall. The writing was invisible to everyone else, but without the red and yellow pills, it was messages, communication with his people on the outside. If he concentrated while he wrote, he could send the writing out to them, and they could scroll messages back to him. The messages sometimes looked like shadows on the wall, but Boromir knew better, he knew they were from his people. They were trying to find his location and they were developing a plan to get him out. All he had to do was stay off his meds and keep transmitting to them.
When the day came of their arrival, something terrible happened. Instead of taking Boromir back to his room, where he was going to meet his people, they took him to a holding place and told him they were cleaning his room today.
Moments later, several orderlies came in with a big syringe. They had found his stash of medication and they were going to dope him up, directing into his blood stream. Boromir screamed, and struggled, but the orderlies held him tightly.
If they doped him, he wouldn’t be able to contact his people and they wouldn’t be able to find him. Right now he looked like any other human. How would they tell he was their Prince if he was unconscious. He called out with all his strength as the needle pierced the vein in the crook of his elbow.
There was a crash and the doctor and orderlies were thrown to the floor, but somehow, Boromir remained standing. A glow suffused the room, and three ghostly figures flowed through the walls, turning to him. His people were here at last, but he could feel himself falling, the medication taking over.
“It is me! Your Prince!” he cried, and his people hovered around him, columns of white light.
He reached out for them, and touched the light. It burned his flesh, but it didn’t feel bad, it felt like he was taking off the clothing he hated. His eyes were flooded with light and he ascended, returning home.