Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer
The clinic is smaller than Joan expected. The surgical lighting and immaculate white surfaces make the space feel less claustrophobic, but it doesn’t do much to settle her nerves. Truth be told, she’s not entirely sure what she’s doing here. This all started out as a joke that’s spiralled way out of control. The ads were just so mysterious. “Envision a new you.” She still doesn’t know what that means. And really, it was her fault for getting up to use the ladies while her colleagues were pouring over the website. By the time she got back, they’d already filled in her information on the registry form.
“Come on, Joan, you have to do it. For science!” Elsbeth had said.
“For science… Right,” Joan muttered under her breath as the equally pristine nurse approaches her.
“What was that?” The nurse asks with a serene smile.
“Oh, nothing,” Joan replies, handing over the plastic clipboard with her completed health questionnaire.
“Perfect. If you’ll follow me, we can get the interview process started.”
Interview process? Joan doesn’t recall there being any mention of an interview on the website, but then again, there wasn’t much outside of new-agey mumbo jumbo.
“Uh, sure.” She casts a forlorn last look at the door before following the nurse through the open archway on the opposite door.
“If you woke up tomorrow as your ideal self, what would that look like?” The doctor, a woman in her early thirties asks, seated primly on a low stool. Joan gapes at her for a long moment. The question strikes her as the kind of thing the guidance counsellor used to make her write essays about.
“What does that have to do anything.” Joan frowns when the doctor lets out a low chuckle.
“It has everything to do with why you’re here.”
“Does it? I don’t even know what it is you do here. Your website wasn’t exactly clear on much.”
“That’s understandable.” The doctor smiles warmly and Joan realizes with a start that neither the nurse, nor the doctor had introduced themselves. “It’s not easy to define our services. You see, each person who comes to us has different specific needs.”
“That doesn’t clear anything up for me.”
“Put simply, we help eliminate those personality traits that are holding you back from being your ideal self.”
“So like therapy?”
The doctor laughs warmly and shakes her head. “No, it’s a more streamlined process than that. Therapy can be… messy, and the results are not always guaranteed to be positive.
We go directly to the source, carefully rewiring your brain chemistry to flush out negative traits.”
“That sounds absolutely insane,” Joan says with a snort.
“Perhaps a demonstration is in order, and then you can decide if you want to proceed.” The doctor stands and circles behind the exam chair, reaching around to pull Joan into a more reclined position. Without much further ado, the still nameless doctor places a mesh cap of electrodes over her head.
“What are you doing?”
“Just relax. This will only take a minute.”
Joan wakes drenched in sweat and not entirely sure what had woken her. While she expects to see bare white walls and nameless medical staff, she’s instead at home, in her bed. The lights are off and it’s the dead of night. The only sound is the occasional gust of wind rattling her window. There’s a throbbing in her temples and her mouth is dry. Her cat is curled up at the foot of the bed, oblivious.
Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer
“How are you still alive?”
“What are you talking about?” Mearene is staring at me like I’m the second coming and I swear I’ve never seen her eyes bug out like that.
“Your suit. Look at it.” She points at my exo-suit with a trembling finger. I glance down at my chest and have to do a double-take. The ordinarily matt and pliable material is now shiny and rigid.
“What the -?” I gingerly prod a particularly large bubble just under my collar bone. “I don’t understand.”
“Are you – are you hurt?” Mearene steps closer, reaching for me, but her hands stop just short of ghosting across my arms.
“No. At least, I don’t feel any pain.” I give myself a pat down to reassure her, but she’s right to be spooked. The exo-suit I’m wearing is only meant for light labour in zero-g. The material it’s made of was designed to handle extreme temperatures and is nearly impossible to damage or puncture once molded, but it lacks the insulation and impact absorption that the ceramic plating in heavier suits affords. The upside being that without the plating my suit is incredibly lightweight and flexible. Perfect for an exterior space station maintenance worker like myself.
Whatever did this to my suit should have cooked me alive along with it. That thought sends a cold shiver through me. How am I alive is right.
“So what happened to you?” I can tell she doesn’t really want to ask. Her eyes are glassy and she’s chewing on her lip like that’ll wake her up from this bizarro dream. I meet her gaze as I try to think back to everything that happened before I got here. Everything was routine until lunch break. Then we got a call about some missing panels a pilot for one of the inbound liners had spotted. That isn’t unusual in and of itself. Space junk knocks panels off all the time. That’s where my memories stop. Until my normal commute home.
“I don’t know…” I pluck at my suit again. This can’t be real.
Mearene opens her mouth to speak only to be interrupted by the door chime.
“Who -?” I start to ask. She just shakes her head and walks around me to answer the door.
She’s greeted by the Maintenance Department Head and another member of the executive staff, both in crisp dress uniform.
“May we come in, ma’am?” The Department Head asks. Mearene nods and backs up enough to let them through.
“I’m afraid we come bearing bad news. You may want to sit down for this,” he continues, not unkindly, once the door shuts behind them.
“Just tell me.” She snaps, having clearly reached her limit.
“There was an accident early this afternoon with one of our maintenance crews. We’re still investigating the cause, but I’m afraid your wife, Kay Sanders, is dead.”
His monologue seemingly makes time stand still as the air rushes out of my lungs.
“I’m what?” I manage to croak out. All eyes turn to me and my ruined exo-suit.
Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer
“All you need to do is lie back and when you wake up, the imprint will take over.”
Something is wrong. So very, very wrong.
The thought blares through my mind over and over, sounding alarms through every synapse and nerve ending. This isn’t what I signed on for, is it? Faces flit though my memory as I try to recall where I was before here. Most don’t mean anything, but one, a blonde woman with hazel eyes and a smile like a supernova causes something to stir in my chest. Love, maybe?
Underneath the jumbled, fractured collection of memories, there’s the vaguest sense of another life, another me. That other self fills me with a sense of urgency and dread. I’m not where I’m supposed to be. Where am I, then? There’s darkness, and the smell of rubber and antiseptic. Goosebumps raise on my skin, forcing a shiver through rigid muscles. The movement makes the first sound I’ve heard since waking. Plastic rustles as I reach out, brushing against the closed teeth of a zipper.
Trembling fingers trace it until they reach the opening and pry it apart. Dim light – almost like moon light pours in. Have I ever seen moon light before? One of my selves has, but which one is real? The well oiled zipper growls as it pulls apart, leaving me staring up at a blank steel slab. I reach up to judge the distance and my knuckles rap against the frozen surface. Not even enough room to sit up. I need to free myself from this body bag first. The black material is determined to swaddle me.
Kicking my feet out of the end of the bag, I roll onto my side and swing my legs off the edge of the slab. The floor is a lot further down than I expected and the weight and momentum of my limbs pulls me down, body bag and all. My head hits concrete with a crack that shoots lightning through my vision. When it clears, I see more slabs, racks of them, each with their own body bag. Prone, genderless forms fill out the rubber sacks. Rows and rows of them, never ending.
Silence rings in my ears. What is this place? A morgue? I’m not supposed to be here. There are things I need to do. I have to… I’m meant to… Shaking the fog out of my head, I focus on standing. It takes a lot of concentration to get my limbs coordinated. They don’t work the way they should. My right arm is curled uselessly to my chest and my leg is numb and threatens to buckle as I hoist myself up.
Fear tears through me as I realize there is no end to this cavernous room. There has to be some way out. As I shuffle forward, two figures emerge ahead of me, stopping twenty feet away.
“Jesus, another one?”
“How did I get here?” The words grate out of my throat like broken glass.
“I thought they were supposed to put down the reject bodies before shoving them in storage,” the man continues, ignoring me.
“Why am I here?” I try again.
“They’re getting sloppy,” the second man answers, his hand moving to his side. The bullet whispers through the air, striking me at the base of my throat.
“What the -?” The first exclaims as I choke on my own blood, acutely aware of how cold I am.
“Trust me, it’s easier this way. The last thing you want is those ghouls from the manufacturing coming down here.”
Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer
“What is wrong with that cat?” Jacob grumbled under his breath what was easily the millionth time. All morning the furry creature had been meowing like something was very wrong in the world. He didn’t get it. The thing had food, fresh water and the door to his tiny little balcony was left open so it could sun itself, but somehow, none of that was enough for the demanding little beast.
He vividly remembered the day Marna had brought over the cat and flushed with frustration. It hadn’t occurred to her to consult him before presenting him with a mewling, ventilated box as if she were doing him the biggest favour in the world. His sister was always taking it upon herself to improve his life. Had she broached the topic with him first he would have suggested adopting an older animal instead, something calmer and less likely to be a living terror like this one was.
Having the creature in his workspace had been an unmitigated disaster so far. It chewed on cables, knocked over stacks of books and papers and had spilled his coffee all over his desk, ruining his keyboard no fewer than three times. Not to mention the constant din that issued from its gaping maw as it glared at him with judging eyes.
Not for the first time, Jacob wondered how mad Marna would be if he simply put the thing out on the street. He’d gotten less work done in the last month than at any other point in his career and his deadlines weren’t going to wait.
“MeeOW!” The yowling cut through his thoughts t the precise moment he’d set his fingers to the keyboard.
“What do you want from me, cat?” he demanded. He was two meows away from having cat stew for dinner. As he was about to open his mouth to say as much, the cat ran into the room chasing a glowing ball of blue light.
“What the hell?” Jacob stood with his mouth hanging open. The orb flew over to his shelves of books, rising up to seemingly scan each one.This couldn’t possibly be happening. He must have finally lost his mind, just like Marna had always predicted he would if he didn’t change.
After several moments the orb refocused on Jacob. He froze, wholly unprepared for this moment. The cat ran from the room with a hiss as the orb drew near. The light from it cast a sallow hue on his skin when he reached out to touch it. The orb shied away from the tentative contact to flit around the room in distress until it found the door.
“Wait! Come back!” Jacob called as he chased after it. It was either madness or scientific curiosity but he needed to follow this through. The orb was nearly outside of his apartment complex by the time he caught sight of it again. He was breathing hard and drenched in sweat as he burst onto the sidewalk, startling innocent bystanders.
The orb floated across the street and Jacob bounded after it, heedless of the loud honking. Too late, he turned his head to see the truck speeding towards him, only seconds away from turning him into paste.
“Huh, that actually worked,” Borlax said as he deactivated the targeting drone.
“I told you these hairless primates aren’t much smarter than silla,” Ludex said with a self-satisfied grin.
“Shall we try another?” Borlax no longer begrudged the diversion from their mission.
“Okay, but pick a female this time. They jiggle almost like a paroc when they run.”
Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer
Cold. For so long it has only know the frigid expanse of deep space, numb to the wonders, and horrors, of the galaxy. In this solitary existence, time has no meaning. It knows nothing, feels nothing as it hurtles ever forward, eon upon eon. There is only the cold.
And then heat, a burning so intense that it screams into awareness it barely comprehends. Something has entered its path. No, not entered, but drawn it onto a new course, one of resistance and fire. The thick cocoon of ice that has ever sheltered and protected it begins to melt away. The superheated vapour sizzles and snaps as the pressure shifts. Without the frozen shell, there is only the pitted core, forged at the centre of the universe. It becomes aware of a new sensation as the whistling air screams and pops on contact, roaring impossibly loudly as it careens downward in an uncontrollable descent.
The fall is interminable. Rock splits and peels away, disintegrating into dust and flaming away as gravity digs her greedy fingers ever deeper into the core. The centre cannot hold. It does not want this existence, struggling as painful fissures form that threaten to rend it into many pieces. Not even that will stop it from crashing into the immovable green orb. It longs to feel the cold again, and the silence.
Impact. Sudden, screeching halt. The ground quakes and quivers, as a tidal wave of dirt and rock rises up in every direction, moved by the sheer force of its collision with the surface. And then the upheaval stops. For the first time in its long existence, it is not in motion. There is quiet again. Not the silence of the dead void of space, but merely of the absence of life. The air sizzles around it as what remains of its core begins to cool. The fissures deepen and spread over its surface, creating a rich topography. Though it is greatly diminished from what it once was, this new existence is tolerable. The green orb is neither cold nor hot.
As equilibrium is achieved, there is a shift. The fissures widen and crack, expanding from the centre. The pitted metal falls away in chunks. It wants to wail, but has no voice. It wants to hide, but finds no shelter. The light from the orbiting star filters through the atmosphere, blinding it. It has never known anything other than darkness. There is no return to what was.
Now, it feels the weight of time passing as it adjusts. Four spindly legs emerge from the centre, finding purchase on the scorched ground with pad and claw. Spurs and spines adorn the joints of each leg as it tests the strength of these appendages. They appear adequate. It raises its body up out of the shell of the meteor, blinking its two sets of eyes. The air tastes… sweet, unspoiled. Its oily black carapace glints in the sunlight. The climb out of the crater will be a long one, but the wonders of the green orb away it. At last, it is alive.