The Telluric Goodbye

I looked up at Fern, her eyes skimming over the top of my head as her thoughts travelled far away from our now. She was a Telluric; part of the last scoop during the salvage. She had grown up among Astrals and sometimes it was easy to forget that she was from Earth – a different breed altogether – but in these distant moments, it was apparent. In these moments, the ones in which she could be both present and not, I was utterly bewildered by her difference. Part of me knew I only loved her because my curiosity overpowered me. But most of me didn’t care why I loved her, just that I did.

She shivered lightly. Her hair growth was selective, red, sprouting mainly from her head and above her eyes. Some growth occurred under her arms (of which she only had two) and a thin layer covered the rest of her. It gave her a smooth texture that I could only feel in the palms of my four hands. It meant she was often cold, but the adaptation meant it was tolerable. Some of the Astrals had advocated for more salvages overtime when we’d discovered there had still been some scattered survivors on Earth, but they had spent too much time in their natural habitat. They’d freeze to death, we were told.

I think it bothered Fern sometimes, to know there were others stranded down there. She had volunteered for a number of anatomy studies hoping to find a viable solution; some way that Telluric genes could be manipulated once matured. None of it was very promising; but she kept going back to the labs, hoping for different results. That was the definition of insanity. She hated when I’d tell her that, so eventually I stopped, and just let her go on being insane.

“Stop looking at me like that,” she whispered a hint of a smile in her tone.

I shied away, fixing my eyes anywhere else. She sunk her shoulders down and nestled herself under one of my arms so that her head was resting on my chest. She nuzzled her nose into me, burying her face in my fur. I wrapped two more arms around her, offering warmth, and leaned back on my fourth. We gazed out at the vastness before us. It was nice.

The next day when she stepped into the lab with that hopeful grin of hers, I returned it. I had decided to stay in the waiting room this time, even when she insisted I go home. For no particular reason, I wanted to be there with her.

“She’s prone to her Telluric instincts. She has no memories of Earth, but her genetic makeup seems to. It’s fascinating, really.”

I flashed cold eyes at the doctor keeping me company, afraid he was preparing me for news I wouldn’t want to hear. The apologetic eyes he returned told me it was true.

“You’re sending them back?” I asked. The scent of my fear wafted over us.

“Edoc, you knew this was always the plan.”

I winced, as if the truth had a vulgarity to it.

“I didn’t think it would be her.”

“Of course you did.”

“When will you tell her?”

“Edoc, she volunteered; like she always does. She asked me to tell you.”

“Why?” I looked towards the closed off room that she lie behind, being poked and prodded.

“Tellurics hate delivering sad news. I suppose she figured this would be easier.”

“But I won’t be able to share my sadness with her.” My fur rose, searching for the being connected to its emotions.

“I suppose she prefers it that way.”

“No. She likes it when I share.”

“She wants to see Earth,” the doctor continued, ignoring my reaching fur. “You can’t blame her; it’s a deep-seeded instinct. She tried to have us remove it but we couldn’t.”

My fur pulled me up and dragged me to the door, although I did little to fight it. Inside, a shocking scene unfolded before me.

There she was, teary-eyed and quivering lips. Her body vibrating with a combination of nerves and excitement as they bolted her into the launch pod. She caught my eyes, and quickly shut her own. Her long stringy head hairs had been braided behind her to keep them in place when the pod shot her away from me.

I looked at her through the glass, and suddenly, that difference of hers was altogether distasteful. An Astral would never abandon its partner, without so much as a simple sharing. An Astral would never lie about its intentions, or keep secrets. An Astral would never leave home to live among ruins and strangers.

And then it was there, loud and clear – this wasn’t her home. That’s what she had been trying to tell me in all of those present yet not moments. This wasn’t her home.

©Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Remember

Zenith squeezed her eyelids together, shutting out the night, and tried to remember what it was like. Home – as arbitrary a word as any other, and yet it carried with it a heavy weight that could not be denied.

“I don’t think I can see it,” she admitted in defeat. They’d been at it for hours with no improvement.

“Sure you can. Breathe from your centre, and connect to the memory. It’s there, Zenith. You know it it.” Dr. Lux’s urging was as gentle as she could manage in her frustration.

Zenith sighed, and tried to release herself of the sensation that she was only a test subject.

Since humankind migrated to this planet some 400 years ago, Optical Memory had been their most cherished sense. It was the ability to see this new world through Earthy eyes; historical perception – a collective memory passed down from generation to generation so that the legacy of their diaspora would always be a part of them. But now, that was all changing.

With each passing generation it seemed Earth fell further away as Zenith’s people thrived, adapting to the host environment to a point of (accidental) pure assimilation. Soon enough, the optical memories began to fade as trees melted and oceans evaporated to reveal rocks – a plethora of colours and shapes humankind had once not even known. This new world was becoming the familiar, the recollection of Earth for comfort becoming less necessary. Less thought of. Zenith, the elders feared, might very well be the last to see it. That is, if she could any more.

It was a few days before she told anyone that she had seen her last cloud. Clouds, she was realizing, was just another false perception; a deception of her genetically human eyes. Slowly but surely, her world was changing before her until she didn’t even recognize it any longer. Strangely though, something about the change felt right. Losing the memories felt less like loss to her than to the elders, who had lost them long ago. Zenith’s inability to hold on for them, it seemed, marked Earth’s final death. She and the few others had been undergoing tests and observation ever since. It was an arduous advent, and she just wanted it to be over.

“I just see the rocks. I’m sorry.” Zenith averted her eyes, hating having to let down not only Dr. Lux, but her entire race.

Dr. Lux forced a smile and shrugged; “Get some sleep. Come back fresh tomorrow.”

That night Zenith couldn’t get a wink of sleep. Something about the way she had left things stuck with her like a deep itch she couldn’t quite reach. “I just see the rocks.” Why had she said it like that? The rocks were the most beautiful, welcoming, visions Zenith had ever known. The rocks were Home.

“Feeling better today, Zenith?”

“No.” Zenith looked at Dr. Lux, determined to assert herself. “Why are we doing this?” she asked firmly.

Dr. Lux looked stunned, her face hardened, then softened again.

“You know why we’re doing this Zenith,” she said in that lulling tone of hers. “You and your peers are the guardians of humanity’s collective memory. It’s so important that we remember.”

“Why?” Zenith asked without skipping a beat, or breaking her glare.

Dr. Lux rose from her chair and swept across the room to the window facing Zenith. She stared out of it for a long, silent, time. Without looking back, she finally spoke. “Because if we don’t remember our mistakes, we’re inclined to make them again. It’s a genetic fault that can only be controlled, not fixed. We can’t let ourselves destroy another great planet. We have to know that Earth was once strong and beautiful, and ours. We have to remember. We just do.”

Zenith shrunk. It’s not that the response was entirely satisfying, but rather that it couldn’t be argued. The history of humanity on Earth had been irreparably stained. It was a part of them, of her. No matter how badly Zenith wanted to move forward, Earth was her ancestry – how could justify not looking back?

“I know it’s over, Zenith.” Dr. Lux broke Zenith from her contemplation. “You can’t see it because you can’t feel it. The whole premise of Optical Memory is that it’s collective and hereditary. Things like that only exist as long as the genetics deem them necessary. We’ve all moved on, against our wills, I suppose.”

Zenith thought Dr. Lux might be whimpering, but she still hadn’t turned to face her.

“Go home, Zenith. We’re done.”

The statement was loaded, and stung. Zenith obliged, lugging her body so heavy with confusion, out the door.

©Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Read more from this universe in Perception

V Positive

The sun dominated the sky that day. Clouds cowered under its gleaming oppression. Even the birds seemed to fly low. Derek squinted, knowing immediately that he should have stayed home. And he should have. That was the day Derek’s life fell to shit.

He fought the heavy doors of the testing facility open. Their weight surprised him as much as his own weakness did. He told himself it was just early and he was tired, but honestly, lying to himself was getting old. There was nothing salubrious about it.

Inside, Derek was greeted by an older woman dressed in disdain. It was obvious that she hated being there, which struck Derek as odd considering most such facilities ran on volunteers. He’d never been in one, but many anecdotes attested that volunteers were generally people who had lost someone to the merciless disease. People whose grief drove them. Derek supposed it was likely that one day, the grievers might wake up to realize their services hadn’t done a thing to change circumstances. In fact, the numbers grew each week. That could make a person grow bitter – like the woman leading him down the hall.

“You’re running on borrowed time, Mr. Alvarez,” she announced with a tone that denoted lack of surprise.

Positive. He thought the word, but could not get his tongue to pronounce it.

“Positive,” she said for him, avoiding eye contact as she skimmed the test results. “And the gene,” she added without emphasis. Derek could have sworn he saw her shoulders drop an inch or two, though.

Derek watched her silently, choking back anger or hysteric sadness, whichever was threatening to push to the forefront. The bitter lady was now visibly smothering her tired loathing and reaching deep down for something that might mimic patience.

“The gene, as you must know, is a birth defect.” Spiel time. Standard, he imagined. “About 40% of people are born with it these days, and it lies dormant until it comes in contact with the virus. Now that that’s happened, you are V-Positive, and the gene will begin to mutate.”

She handed him two bottles of pills, placing the first in his left hand and the second in his right. Pointing, she continued.

“These ones will suppress the symptoms, and these will slow the change.”

Slow. Not stop. Derek winced. The med-cocktail would only slow the inevitable. Sooner or later, he was going to turn into a monster.

“The virus can be transmitted through any bodily fluid. We ask that you respect the right of others to not be infected by malicious intent.”

She looked away again – seemed to drift off to a place only she could see. When she returned mere seconds later, her eyes had softened.

“Even with the medication, certain circumstances can cause a flare up of symptoms. Among them is increased heart rate and body temperature. The sun and sexual activity are the two leading causes of outbreak. You’d do best to avoid these.”

She reached into her pocket and drew a small syringe, thick enough to insert the microchip.

Without warning she stuck the tip in Derek’s arm and injected.

“This chip will measure body temperature and other symptom levels. It also has GPS tracking. We will receive urgent notification the moment you become at risk.”

“And then what?” It was the only question Derek asked that day, but he already knew the answer.

She sighed and then looked him square in the eyes. Without quiver or hesitation, she said, “And then we put you down.”

Derek held her stare, and as he did so, his heart rate increased.

I See the Future

I see the future. It’s not pretty. It’s a hellish symphony trapped inside my head.

Time stops. Trees burn and crumble to ash. Waters freeze over. People in stasis beg for death but the Angel of Mercy ignores their cries.

Some call it the end. But I know it’s just the beginning. Slowly but surely we adapt. In all the ugliness of destruction is the beauty of evolution – the monstrous beauty of regenesis.

Skins toughen; harden. Eyes sink and sharpen. Gills sprout, furs thicken. Teeth become tools.

We divulge into mayhem and then find peace. It’s both catastrophic and cathartic. Life is precious; it’s worth killing for.

I see the future. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty damn amazing.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Difficult Question

Story #3: The Fixers Series

“What are you doing in here?”

I perk up at the sound of the voice. I don’t recognize it, but I assume it must be a doctor or nurse assigned to June, the woman I’ve come back in time to… right a wrong for. I’m still dazed from the Time Mover, and I’ve decided my best bet for now is to steal the chip technology before it can be implanted in her. Without it, there will be no reason to make her cyborg either; she’ll be considered useless and let alone. She probably won’t survive the injuries otherwise, but I’m trying not to think about that part. June asked me for a favor, she asked me not to let them turn her into a machine; a false version of herself. I don’t know where my moral compass aims on chip technology, but I know when I saw the sparks fly from her tearing eyes, I owed her something.

I spin around and face a plump middle-aged woman in scrubs. She’s holding a syringe and staring at me dubiously. A fixer should never be seen. We never go so far back that physicians would not be aware of us and our intents – but it’s still best to avoid the conversation. The fewer details divulged, the less harm done to the collective consciousness. Particularly, who gets fixed and who doesn’t is a topic we like to obviate. The missions are always cloaked in mystery.

“Dr. Sasha Green. I need a moment with the patient.” I dart my eyes at the nurse, hoping she understands who I am, and leaves. But she returns no such indication.

“You can’t be in here. This is Dr. Allister’s patient.”

Gus. He’s already here, and revealing himself. Odd, but okay; I can work with that.

“Yes, I work for Dr. Allister. You can check with him. Send him in.” I turn back to face June, unconscious and bloody on the table. Plane crash – the kind from which you don’t come back.

The nurse scoots out of the room in a hurry. She doesn’t trust me, at all. When Gus arrives his face falls but it’s a face much younger than the one I’m acquainted with. Startled, I look down at June’s file. The information hits me like a truck and I realize that in my hastiness, and fear, and confusion, I punched in the date so robotically that I hadn’t fully processed it.

I’ve gone back not to September 1st of this year, but of twelve years ago.

It explains the lassitude that has taken me over. I’ve never gone back further than a few months. Some of the more experienced fixers have gone back a year or two; but twelve? This was altogether unbelievable. I was unaware the Time Mover could even pull off something of this magnitude.

Gus sees me. Really sees me. He knows exactly who I am, even though I won’t meet him for another four years.

“Are you scouting me?” I ask, immediately threatened by the idea that this man whom I have looked up to has been lying to me from the start.

He nods, hesitantly, and approaches me. In a low and frantic whisper, he asks: “did I do it? The Time Mover? It works?”

“Yes,” I answer, stepping back from his intensity. “I’m here to stop this,” I add, pointing to June.

“No. No. No, you don’t understand.” He’s flustered now.

“Understand what? You broke the oath, took bribes, exchanged money and research for a poor woman’s life.” I’m almost yelling, but I’m still short of breath, and trying to keep my calm.

Gus cuts his eyes at me and the glare sends shivers up my spine.

“I’ll have you know, Ms. Green, that it is with this donation that our precious Time Mover can be realized. Our entire operation, all the lives we’ll save. You’d compromise one for all?”

I stare at him blankly, trying to process the information. Moments pass, and I still don’t have an answer. I feel as though we’ll stare at each other, locked into this principled stand-off, forever.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Read Story #1 or Story #2

Silent

Dawn tried to make out her reflection in the pool beneath her bare feet; tried to decide if she was still herself. It was too shallow, though, and instead she glared right through it. Wiggling her toes to disturb the water, Dawn wondered if it would be wise to drink something soon. She had been told she would need much less nourishment on Kakisto – they had altered her system for that to be true. So, no, she was not thirsty. But she did feel an impassioned desire to have the things she once needed and wanted.

Dawn had not been the rebellious type in her past – but that was the past. Nowadays, she often found herself fantasizing about anything that would upset them or disrupt their plans. Kneeling down so that her knees rested upon the rocky surface, Dawn bowed her head to the puddle and took in what little she could. She knew it would not do much to change things, but it felt good to resist. If she had been strong enough to not follow their instructions to begin with, things might have been different. Instead, she had let them steal her from her home, degrade her body and mind, and transport her to a life of endless experiments and hard labor.

It had been a quiet night when they had come. After an arduous journey, Dawn and her sister, Callie, had been hiding out under a mountain’s cliff, trying to get some rest. The troops were coming, but they were always coming, so it was as good a place to stop as any other.

There had been a few things Dawn wanted to tell Callie, but she couldn’t form the words. She was creating a dithyramb in her head, set to a montage of all the good times they had had together. Dawn had known it was coming to an end. How long could they really run for? Their dark skin was beginning to itch and burn in the blazing sun, their voices becoming hoarse in the crass environment.

The government had claimed the Trade was for the better; that the sweltering sun and world water depletion had made our world uninhabitable, but somehow the rich folks were all managing. They were building fancy protective homes – homes they were refusing to share.

All these thoughts and more danced in Dawn’s head as she drifted off.

When they awoke to the Troops hovering over them Callie tried to run but was promptly gunned down. Dawn watched it happen; the sound of the gunfire pierced through her ears and boomed inside of her head. And then, everything fell silent.

Callie’s body bounced up and down before going limp. A blanket of sand swirled about her, subsequently working its way into Dawn’s eyes. She didn’t rub them, didn’t soak them with tears, didn’t breathe. It seemed an eternity before she tried to gasp for air and project her sadness. But even as she did so, the sorrow and shock simply sat there, in her gut. Silent.

Kakisto had no oxygen, false gravity, very little water, and a variety of unrecognizable plant life the Troops claimed would be sufficient sustenance. They also told her that she could stop fighting for air. Dawn tried to gasp again, and again, but could only feel an unenthusiastic pounding against her chest when she did so. There was no sound, and no scream – unless she was sleeping. In her dreams, the screaming never stopped. But then she’d wake; and of course, there would be no sound. There’d only be the gnawing sensation that it was time to get back to work.

Dawn had been on the Harvest squad for a month, and was sadly excited for the day’s rotation. Digging pools would be a welcomed change of pace. That’s how she knew she’d been altered. Dawn was not herself anymore. In fact, Dawn wasn’t sure she was a person at all anymore.

But at the pools she would drink. With pride and resentment, she would drink. Her own silent rebellion.

 

 

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Corrected

“Mrs. Wright, there’s someone here to see you.”

Kimberly sighed at the voice on the intercom. It was nearly time for lunch and she had been looking forward to the break before her afternoon appointments, which she knew would be excruciating. But Chase had let the visitor know she was in; he always did, no matter how many times she asked him to be more discrete. She would have to let him go – next week, when her busy season lulled.

“Send them in,” she replied, trying not to sound bothered by the circumstances.

Benny strode through the doorway, confident in a way that bordered on arrogance. He wore a deep blue suit better suited to the 1960s, but somehow, he was pulling it off. Kimberly forced herself to look into his eyes, straighten her spine, and hold a steady voice despite the quiver intent on taking over.

“Make it quick. I have a Nyctophobic at one, and a patient who believes he has found a portal to Jotunheim at three. And I’d like to eat at some point, if that’s not too much to ask for.”

“Why Ms. Wright, such a busy bee.”

“Mrs. It’s Mrs. Now.”

Benny let one side of his upper lip curl, forming a malevolent smirk that made Kimberly even more uncomfortable. He pulled out the chair at her desk and sat facing her, never letting his glare waiver. After a moment of vexatious silence, Kimberly cleared her throat, racking her brain for something clever to say. Before she could speak, Benny interrupted.

“We have another one for you.”

Kimberly’s heart fell into her stomach, nestled itself between her organs, and tugged at her intestines. She averted eye contact, unable to falsify her bravery any longer.

“His name is Avery, Avery Johnson. Thirty-two years old, lives in –“

“No. Please. I’ve been cooperative for longer than necessary and I believe –“

Lives in New Haven.” He bared his teeth, a reminder that his charm was a mere cover for the depths of his evil.

Her breathing became laborious now as she tried to stop herself short of begging.

The Correctional Program had been such a naïve dream. Back when she first met Benny and the others, they had all been youthful idealists, too intellectually inclined for their own good. The notion was simple, stop cramming people into the violent and deprecating environment of prison, and start addressing the real issues.

The mind was such a finicky thing; it could be manipulated by nature, or by science. The latter, they presumed, could do some real good. So they set out on a mission, one messed-up brain at a time. But over the years, and through the failures, Kimberly grew. And with that growth came the realization that just because a theory is beautiful and beloved by a group of like-minded peers, does not mean it’s worth pursuing. The ramifications had startled Kimberly into a new person. Well, as new as a person could become of their own free will.

“I’ll be sending him in on Monday afternoon. If you don’t want the details, I’ll spare you.” He spat, “so sensitive you’ve become.”

“Please,” Kimberly whispered desperately but it was too late. Benny had risen, and crossed the room towards the door.

Yes, she would indeed have to fire Chase.