Most Wanted

I look up. Everything around me is sand. For miles, and miles – just sand. It’s in my eyes, between my breasts, under my fingernails. Hell, it’s even in my lungs. I cough, but I’m so hoarse it hardly sounds like myself. And then there’s the ringing. A piercing, relentless, ringing that somehow I know is coming from inside of my own head.

My wrist is broken. That much is clear. My head has been rattled. My muscles twitch and ache where they shouldn’t. But none of that compares to the damage done to the ship. Metal bits and chunks are laid out upon the sand, a perfect picture of disaster. And that’s when I know for sure, I’m never going home.

The sun is still high, which tells me I have plenty of hours to succumb to dehydration before I even see a desert’s moon. That saddens me. I’ve always wanted to see the moon from the other side. Earth. I almost chuckle. This is not at all how I imagined my grand arrival.

Somehow I find the energy to scrounge for food and water in the heaps of broken ship. I find one water bottle, and it’s only half full. Luckily, I’ve always been a glass half-full woman, so I smile and let a few drips wash over my parched tongue. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a bag of peanuts, and things really start to look up. Because the peanuts aren’t mine.

The dunes are tough to get over. With each step I sink, and have to struggle forward. I engage every muscle, every bone (that isn’t broken), and every corner of my mind. Willpower – there’s nothing like it.

Finally I see a shadow in the distance. I think it’s the shape of a person. The sun is almost set now; it’s cold and I’ve almost finished the water. The peanuts are long gone. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to assure me I’m not hallucinating when the figure starts towards me.

It’s a woman. She’s tall and sturdy, wielding a crossbow. A huntress of the Desert Peoples. She won’t care that I’m interstellar. Desert Peoples are poor, desperate – they have a million other things to worry about besides intergalactic relations. Still, I hold up my index finger to indicate that I come in peace. I hold up a piece of scrap from my ship and point to the sky, then my broken bone. She nods and offers me a hand.

Gaza, as she calls herself, takes me to her home. She is proud of it even though it is small, dark, and sticky. Its walls are decorated with her trophies – the heads of creatures small and large. It catches me off guard. These are species of which I’ve only seen images. They captured their stillness, but this – this is too still. I look away, embarrassed by my weakness. To think, I used to consider myself tough.

“Thora,” Gaza says pointing to me. She is introducing me to her father, an elderly man who creaks when he moves. He nods, but his gaze seems to pass right through me. He’s blind, I realize.

Over the next few weeks I learn to help around the house. Mostly, I load parcels of meat, babying my wrapped wrist bone. I’m not sure what animal it is, and I don’t ask. Gaza and her clan are preparing for a great travel to the city where they trade goods. I will be going with her, she tells me. It will make me useful, she adds.

I fancy the idea of being a useful member of a community and I’m tickled. Back home, I was just a petty thief, in and out of jails. No sense of loyalty, no sense of belonging. I was hardly a blip on anyones newsfeed. Until the hack. Nothing like a good b and e to the Authority’s mainframe to get some attention. That’s all I was looking for, attention. But I found something much bigger. Plans of an intergalactic war. I’m not sure at what moment I decided to become the hero of this story, to come to Earth and warn the people – I guess I just needed a win. Unfortunately, the Authority put me on a most wanted murderers list before my ship had gained enough speed for its spectacular crash landing. My name was all over the newsfeeds then. Yes, it was.

“This way,” Gaza instructs as she rips down a wanted poster of me. We’ve just arrived at the trading post. It’s the first time I’m sure she knows who I am, but neither one of us says a word about it. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s good to know she’s on my side. I plan to tell some of the traders about the war plans. They’ll be from all over, and I’m sure to find someone who speaks more English than Gaza; maybe even some Lunar.

Inside the post, Gaza goes on with a shorter woman who is plump and (from the looks of it) bored. After Gaza begins raising her voice, a man comes out. They go back and forth for a while in a language I can’t understand and I turn my back on the ordeal. I’m fondling some sparkly trinkets that I don’t recognize when the hand grabs me. I turn to face the large man as he cuffs me. I want to scream but I’m in shock, because I don’t know what’s going on, but from the look on Gaza’s face, I’ve been sold out.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

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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

Devoured

“Please don’t make me,” Alice murmured.

Her brother, Eric, shot her a look and pushed the plate of food nearer to her face. The salt-water fumes charged through her nasal cavity and landed in the pit of her empty stomach. It lurched forward, but came to a prompt stop when it realized it had nothing to give.

She hated fish; she hated seaweed; she hated not knowing where she would ever find a decent meal, again. She did not, however, hate Eric’s ambition. Since they’d been on their own he had provided well above her expectations.

“What is it?” she asked hesitantly.

“I’m sure you don’t want to know.”

That was true. Whatever it was it would sustain her, but for how long? How long were they meant to live this way?

Pushing the dreary thought from her mind, she closed her eyes; took a deep breath; and scooped the mystery flesh into her mouth – gills and all.

Four years later, the world was still broken, but Alice was fierce and strong. She and Eric had become quite the team, only occasionally having brief encounters with other survivors. Mostly they’d make some trades and move on. Groups were not their thing. Eric had become quite the fisherman – and Alice quite the fish eater. Something about the meat fueled her. She was sixteen now and despite the elemental exposure, hard labor, and lack of rest, she had grown into a stunning young woman. She was tall; lean yet muscular, with eyes of emerald and caramel skin that seemed to glow in the sunlight. She looked remarkably healthy, and it was not lost on her that the men they would come across could not help but gawk. She was never in danger though, and seemed to wield a certain power.

It was the mermaid meat. She knew that, now. She gobbled it up happily every night. It seemed there was enough to last a lifetime – or several. It would have to. Consuming the mermaid’s flesh had given Alice eternal life, and eternal wealth. In these times, that just meant she would never starve, again.

Alice was pleased with her vigor, but it panged her to see Eric suffering, so. The mermaid could only be consumed by one; could only offer its powers to one. Eric had given it to his weak younger sister that day on the beach, and was paying the price with each passing month.

Often, Alice thought about what capturing the mermaid must have been like. She envisioned her brother, mighty and heroic, slaying the creature. In her fantasies, it was like a fairytale. But she knew in actuality, it would not have been so magical. It would have been violent, bloody, and monstrous.

The first time she saw a mermaid was the day before the war. It had washed up on the shore near their house, and Alice had been the first to spot it. The creature had a fish tail below, and smooth creamy skin up top – her breasts bared shamelessly. Her eyes were red and dug into Alice’s soul as she writhed and hissed. She even had horns, just like Alice was told she would. She was an omen, just as Alice had read about.

And now that she had consumed her (or one of her kind), Alice herself was the Omen. It would only be a matter of time.

Just before her eighteenth birthday, Eric drifted off to the next world. She committed his body to the sea, whispered well-wishes to his soul, and thanked the heavens that he would not suffer through her transformation. She could already sense it beginning, and she was ashamed of how good it felt.

The air became thick and clogged her airwaves, filling Alice with a thirst that even six years of destitution had never brought on so strongly. Naked, she crawled towards the sea, carried by her throbbing desire to splash about in its coolness. She huffed and puffed until she finally got far enough out to sink into its abyss. Below the surface her legs stiffened and coalesced until she had only one. A stinging sensation over came them as scales fought their way out of the skin that was simultaneously greening in color. The mass that had become her lower body grew a fin and flailed about, thrashing her body with it. A school of fish tried to scoot by, but Alice caught their scent. She could feel her jaw rip open, tearing at the hinges until her mouth hung low and wide. Instinctively, her body lunged towards the fish and she scooped them into her maw, devouring every last one. Her teeth, small but sharp, shredding apart the contents of her meal quickly and effectively.

She looked around; her body and mind screaming for more. She swam deeper and deeper, following a new monstrous intuition deep inside of her. The scent was staggering, and made her tingle from nose to fin. At the bottom of the sea she found it – a man, strung down with rope and a rock in his lap. He looked familiar, but mostly; he looked nectarous.

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 ©