Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on January 30, 2017.
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.
Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on January 09, 2017.
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.”
Follow the Orb
Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on October 31, 2016.
“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.”
Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on October 14, 2016.
Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on August 23, 2016.
“Some things are too good to be true.” That’s what my mom would say if she were here. Of course, if she were here she’d also be telling me to tuck in my shirt and watch my language, so thank god she’s not. No, it’s just me here, trying to figure out how I got myself into this situation…
Yesterday, I was an esteemed runner for Handy Delivery Services (nationally syndicated). You need something delivered fast and relatively undamaged? I was your guy. But today, I’m – well, I don’t actually know. Been hiding out in a burnt out mega-structure site. Supposed to be condos, I think. Tall building at any rate. Without the microfab wind shielding walls, it’s real cold up here. I miss feeling my toes.
Anyway, what was I saying? Right, so yesterday, Armpit Joe sends me out on a simple dead drop. Take the package to an apartment build on West Elmhurst, leave it in the trash can in the lobby. You know, the usual SOP.
Deliveries like this always have a deadline, so out the door I scoot. Don’t make it two blocks before my phone starts blowing up. Joe’s probably got a pick up for me on the way back.
“What up?” I answer, breathing hard as I peddle up hill. (Crank assist is for the weak.)
“Am I speaking with Radical Sam?” Instead of Armpit Joe’s coffee grinder growl, it’s a woman with a voice like silk. I’m so caught off guard that I nearly swerve into a parked vanguard.
“Who is this?”
“There isn’t time. You’re in possession of a package that must not reach its destination,” she purrs into my ear.
“No can do, Lady. Destination’s locked in. It’s out of my hands.” As much as I want to do whatever she says. Messing with a packing is a one-way ticket to being un-existed. The Mail Authorities take package violations way too seriously, if you ask me.
“I’ll give you ten grand if that package makes its way to me instead.” Her voice becomes hard as steel.
“This is a joke. Did Lexy put you up to this?”
“Bring it to Carla’s Cantina,” and she hangs up.
Here’s the funny thing; I can’t tell you what make me do it. Ten grand might be a lot of money, but it’s not enough to commit career suicide over. And yet, I turn around fast as can be and peddle my spandex clad butt off all the way up town with the deadline counter still ticking down on the precious parcel. I drop the package with the smokingest babe in exchange for an envelope. The mother load of all paydays.
A few blocks away, I open the envelope expecting to find a preloaded bitcoin chip nestled into protective casing. Well, it’s ten Gs, all right, in crisp outmoded paper bills. In other words, completely useless. Can’t spend it on the street, can’t take it to the bank without getting boned by income oversight. Only low brains use dead currency.
There goes my dream payday down the tube with the rest of my life. And now I’m here, wondering if I’ll manage to make it out of the city before someone comes looking for me.
Hey, did you hear that noi–
In the Dark Areas
Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on August 16, 2016.
“Hey Ed? What’s this light mean?” Maureen said, tapping the bulb with her index finger. The panel she examined covered the entire wall with its indicators and switches. The whole thing was dead except for that one blinking red light.
“What light?” Ed’s scruffy head popped out of a hatch in the floor some feet away.
“This one,” she said, turning to scowl at him with one hand on her hip and her thumb jutting back at the panel.
“It’s just your eyes playing tricks on you,” Ed scoffed, returning down his hidey-hole.
“It is not.” Maureen stomped her foot and let out an exasperated growl. “Will you just come look?”
“Fine, but this whole area of the facility hasn’t had any juice for years,” he said smartly, coming over to stand next to Maureen and examine the little light.
“I don’t believe it.”
“Do you think this will be any help in proving my hypothesis?” She asked, biting her lip.
“You mean your theory that the place we’ve lived our whole lives, that our parents have lived their whole lives, is actually a spaceship? No, I don’t think one twinkling light will be much help,” he replied, tapping on the glass just to prove his point. As if in response, the pulsing quickened until the light shone solidly red.
“What did you do?” Maureen shoved Ed out of the way. She bent forward for a closer look, practically shoving her face up against the panel. Beside the light was a switch with something written on it that she couldn’t read. Without expecting much, she flipped it. In the distance they heard a loud squawk followed by what sounded like a woman’s voice, making both of them jump.
“What was that?” Ed said, swinging his lamp around nervously.
“Shh!” Maureen strained to hear, but couldn’t make out any words. “Come on.”
Grabbing Ed’s hand, she led him down a narrow corridor that dead-ended with an ancient hatch. The voice was much louder here, but still muffled by the thick metal.
“I guess that’s that,” Ed says, turning away.
“What do you mean? Let’s open it.”
“It’s sealed. Just like all the other hatches in the dark areas of the facility. You’ll need Phyllis’s boys to bring their gear and cut it open, and you know they won’t. Not after last time.” Ed continued walking back the way they came.
“Damn you, Ed!” Maureen balled her fists and then took a deep breath to get reign in her temper. That wasn’t fair. Ed still came on all her silly expeditions into the dark areas – even after the last time. She faced the hatch and put her hands on the release. Yanking on the stiff mechanism, there was a click and then a groan as the hatch swung open. Maureen gasped, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. Ed turned back to stare, eyes bulging.
Beyond the hatch was a window unlike any they’d ever seen before. And it was filled with an impossibly large expanse of stars, just like in footage from the archives.
“Exploration Vessel Franklin, do you read? Can anyone respond? Your ship has been lost for nearly a hundred years, but we’re still reading life signs. Is anyone receiving this? We’re here to bring you home.”
Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on August 09, 2016.
Reese stood admiring the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Port Authority’s departure waiting room. He watched the crowded “open air” market several stories below as people went about their business unaware they were being observed. They built these big open spaces on stations these days so that people forgot they were on a giant metal tube circling a dead planet. Less space madness that way. He smiled at the thought of what might happen if something struck the hull and vented that entire market. A shiver ran through him, causing his fists to clench in his pockets.
“Animals in a cage.”
“I beg your pardon?” Laurel said from behind him. He turned to glance at the broad shouldered woman standing with her arms crossed.
“What time does the ship leave?” He asked, turning back to the view.
“It doesn’t. Not for you, at any rate.”
“Just making conversation. You should try it some time.”
“You should get that body somewhere discrete. Retrieval is set for twenty minutes,” Laurel said, ignoring the comment.
“Sure thing.” Another shiver more like a twitch crawled up his spine, halting at his shoulder. The grin slid back onto his face as he withdrew his hands from his pockets. In one, he held a sub-sonic pulser, a burglar’s tool designed to shatter glass without a sound. The window in front of him disintegrated into shards with a faint pop.
“Reese!” Laurel said in a warning tone. Before she could grab him, he’d thrown himself out the window, whooping and laughing the entire way down.
A grey ceiling, dimly lit loomed close overhead. It was still “night time” on the station. Reese blinked and sat up, feeling this body breathing hard. This body – his body was still riding the adrenaline of his perfect swan dive. Out of habit he checked his heart rate. It was elevated, like it always was after a vivid dream, but he barely felt it. Over the past few years he’d barely spent much time in this – his body. It had stopped feeling natural to him quite some time ago. A common side effect of career body hopping.
Some of the jobs had required him to go in deep, spending months in a throw away body while his own was kept on life support in a highly guarded facility. Others jobs had him in and out in a matter or hours. Wasn’t much of a life, he had to admit, but he couldn’t remember what his life had been like before the body hopping.
They were very careful about what they let him remember. Each body came with its own set of memories, and at the right time, with the right stimulus, he remembered that this wasn’t his body at all and followed the protocol for retrieval. Except now, that hour or two where he was himself, but not himself was the only time he ever felt normal.
The interval between jobs had been getting progressively longer. More time spent in this tiny room contemplating his little slip up, the haptic misfire. They liked to remind him of it right before every job so the consequences of it lingered in his subconscious, underneath the memory presets.
He stood and dressed, downed an entire glass of water in one gulp. It was only a matter of time now. The door slid open revealing a blonde woman about half his size, but twice the attitude standing with her arms crossed.
“Oh good, you’re awake. And dressed this time. The techs are waiting on you.”
The Love of a Sister
Originally published on 365tomorrows.com on August 02,2016.
Eve felt herself go cold. “What about my future?”
“You’re going to have to make a tough decision concerning your brother,” Missy said as Zu placed a basket of steaming dumplings in front of her. “You want?”
Eve shook her head and looked away. She couldn’t possibly eat anything now. Nor did she particularly know what to say, so she waited.
“Half an hour ago, Adam was seen emptying bottles of generic pain relievers and replacing them with exotic pheromone capsules,” Missy explained while she waited for her food to cool. Eve tried her best to keep a neutral expression.
“Pheromone capsules fetch a pretty penny on the black market, but they’re difficult to transport. And it looks like your brother has enough to set you both up for months. Except with his record, he’d never make it off the station with them. You, on the other hand…”
“What about me?” Eve said more belligerently than she’d meant.
“Your brother is counting on your pristine record to get you through station customs without being searched, but that’s not what’s going to happen. The pills will be found and you will be charged with trafficking restricted substances.”
Eve’s eyes widened.
“So my question is: do you love your brother enough to spend five years in cryo storage for him? And ruin all prospects of a career after that?” Missy asked, popping a crispy dumpling in her mouth. “Or would you rather take this one way ticket to Mars and forget this whole thing happened? I hear they’re in desperate need of teachers these days.”
Eve stared wordlessly. How was she supposed to answer that?