Feb 03

Chief: Rendezvous

The girl’s words echoed through the corridors. Chief stopped short, and Kid almost bumped into him. A warm flash of irritation ran through him and he gave the young man a shove, sending him stumbling back towards Red.

“What the hell?” The big man caught him and glared at Chief.

“Be careful,” Chief snapped.

“Was that Kali?” Kid asked, looking around.

Chief’s face softened. Kid hadn’t complained. He wouldn’t be a problem. “Not from the intercom panel. Speakers in the wall, maybe. General channel.”

“Can we talk back?” Red asked.


Kid walked up to the hall panel and gave it a careful look. He held down one of the buttons with his thumb. “Kali?”

His voice echoed in the hall.

“Hey!” Kali’s voice answered. “Where are you? I found something.”

“We are on D-floor,” Kid said.

Chief stepped up, guiding Kid aside, speaking into the panel. “There is an elevator stopped below us. Took a long time to get the doors to D open. Not a lot of room to work.”

He didn’t mention how slow the difficult climb had gone, or the muscle he’d pulled trying to pry the heavy door open in the dark. It hurt, but he’d been walking without a limp, to avoid looking hurt in front of the others. They probably already thought him weaker due to his age, and the last thing he needed was them to stop listening to him.

“D-floor? So you’re above me? Below?”

“Above. Higher letters are up top. The elevator on your floor is stuck and we can’t get past it down the shaft.”

“You need to see — how can you get down here?”

“Maybe she can try and fix the elevator?” Kid suggested.

“The three of us could barely manage working together,” Red said.

Chief frowned. If they couldn’t find a way down to the next floor, they’d be trapped. The people who had built this place had to have accounted for the possibility of the elevator breaking down. They hadn’t come across any stairwells or ladders, but there had to be something, if only for airflow.

“We’ll try and find an access shaft or some other way down,” he said into the intercom. “Stay where you are.”

“…Okay.”  Kali’s voice was hesitant, her tone uncertain.

“We won’t abandon you,” Chief said, trying to reassure the girl. “We’ll find a way.”


Red, Kid, and Chief split up to search the floor for any access points to the next level, agreeing to meet in the central room near the elevator every hour. The old man found himself carefully scaling tubes to peer into vents, and squeezing between them to peer into dark corners.

Red was waiting when he returned to the elevator. “Find anything?”

“Scraped knuckles and a snag.” Chief pointed at where his sleeve had caught on a sharp corner. “Nothing useful.”

“Hey, we’ve still got most of the deck to search,” Red said.

Chief just nodded and examined the dryness of his palms. Trying to scramble over equipment wasn’t easy. He still felt unsteady. He needed food. Real food, not this tube-nutrient shit.

Kid’s unsteady footpads arrived moments before he did.

“You guys…” The young man wheezed, taking in big gulps of air.

“Steady there,” Chief said, patting him on the back.

“You guys!”

“Take your time.” Chief exchanged a quick glance with Red. Kid’s enthusiasm was admirable, but he was having deepening concerns about the young man’s mental state.

Kid bent over, hands on his knees, taking in large breaths. He looked up, from Chief’s face to Red’s.

“You guys! I found… a door!”

“A door.”

“A new door!” Kid pointed back along the hall he’d run from.


“A door where it wasn’t on F-deck!”

Chief straightened up, tilting his head. This was promising. “Show us.”


There was, indeed, a new door. It was set in the outermost hallway’s ring, midway between the spokes leading to the central elevator area. The new door was different from the others, taller and broader, with a heavier frame, a duller grey than the pale cabin doors. It lacked any painted numbers or lettering.

“Maybe it’s a supply closet?” Red suggested. “Or an emergency exit.”

“Maybe.” Chief traced a finger along the yellow and black stripes of its frame. “Can you get it open?”

“Let’s see,” Red said.

The big man stood in front of the doorway. He flattened his palms against its surface, fingers gripping at the seam running down its front. His muscles bulged under his jumpsuit as he pushed, straining to slide the halves of the door apart. His face darkened, and a vein stood out on his forehead.

“Let me see if I can–” Kid started, stepping forward.

Red staggered forwards, almost falling as the doors suddenly gave and slid sideways from each other into the wall. He caught himself on the frame.

“Holy shit,” he said.

Red and Kid jostled alongside him for a look.

A long dark corridor extended out beyond the doorway, many times the length back towards the elevator. Lights flickered on before them, one after another, illuminating the path with a slightly brighter and more artificial radiance than in the halls. The walls were coarser, too, bare metal, and the floor was a grated steel over what looked like pipes and cables.

“What is this place?” Red whispered, his fingers curling and uncurling.

Chief didn’t respond as he stepped forward silently into the hall. The air had a different taste to it here, a different smell that he didn’t recognize. It smelled… old. Almost like sawdust, but sweeter. Like oil.

Like machines. Like an army waiting for the order to move out.

He gestured for the others to follow, then started down the hall, keeping an eye on his surroundings. Thick pipes ran along the walls at various heights, and along the ceiling, none of them leaking, many of them showing obvious signs of repair. Some had condensation frosted on the outside, and one was leaking a trickle of clear liquid down the wall and into the grate below.

Kid stopped. “It doesn’t smell.”

“Don’t taste it,” Red said.

Kid’s nose wrinkled. “I know!”

The lighting was inconsistent, with some sections dimmer or flickering, and in the distance Chief fancied he could see an area cast into darkness.

“Look here,” Red said, stopping and stooping.

“What is it?” Chief asked.

The larger man held up a cellophane wrapper. “Cigarettes. Empty, though.”

“Any idea how old?”

“No. No brand. Just the wrapper.”

Chief frowned. “Keep an eye out for anything else. Anything that can tell us where we are. Who we are.”

They continued creeping along, finding a few other traces of inhabitance. A brown-stained plastic cup. Empty tins.

“Look at this,” Red said. “Is this blood?”

Reddish-brown stains dried to a gum were spattered along the wall in thin streaks and dots.

“I think so,” Chief said. “Old blood.”

He followed the splatter down the corridor to what looked like a latched panel. It had been heavily scored and dented, possibly by the length of pipe laying at its foot. He picked it up, turning it over in his hands, then walking into the light in the middle of the corridor for a better look.

“What’s that?” Red asked.

“Pipe,” Chief said. “Look.”

Chief held the length of steel aloft, letting the light glitter off of the sawed-off and sharpened edge that had been filed to a fine blade. Stained with dark brown streaks, it was easy to see how it had been employed as a weapon.

He handed the weapon to Kid, who stared at it in awed fascination at arms length.

Red accompanied Chief as he returned to the latched panel, standing at his flank while the older man’s bony fingers fiddled with the latch. Despite his grip it wasn’t easy to move, scraping against the panel, but Chief managed. Giving a final nod to Red he gripped the panel firmly before ripping it away from the wall.

Empty eye-sockets stared back at them as they beheld a skeletal figure curled up into the corner of the small space behind the hatch. It looked almost as though the figure was clutching its arm, sitting in a dried pool of blood, wearing a torn jumpsuit that matched their own.

Kid gave a small shriek and dropped the pipe, its clattering echoing up and down the corridor.

The silence that followed was impossible to ignore.

Chief exhaled, finding himself in the middle of the corridor, bladed pipe in hand, staring wildly up and down its length. His heart was beating as if to escape his chest, but he had no recollection of moving, no memory of grabbing the pipe.

Red and Kid were staring at him.

“Shit…” Kid muttered.

Chief straightened, stepping out of the low broad stance he’d been in. “Reflexes.”

“Fast fucking reflexes,” Red said.

Chief managed a grin. Better to let them think it intentional. That he was in control.

He walked back to the alcove and pointed at the skeleton with the blunt end of the pipe. “Chased in here. Bled to death. Whoever hurt him locked him in.”

“It latches from the inside, too,” Red said.

“Fear is stronger than any chain of iron,” Chief said, liking the way the phrase made him sound wise. “They probably left him in here to die.”

Red nodded, poking his head back in. “There’s a ladder down. Maybe to the floor below?”

“He couldn’t have climbed, not with his arm like that,” Chief said. “With that much blood… he’d have minutes.”

“We could climb it, though,” Red said. “Get to Kali.”

“Good,” Chief said.

He turned to Kid. The poor boy was still trembling. “You okay? Want to stay up here?”

The young man shook his head with a sudden, jerky motion.

“Good. Let’s go find that girl.”

Dec 09

She: Genesis Ex Machina

The figure floated within the chamber, its seemingly peaceful sleep jarringly incongruous with the context it slept in.

Unconsciously she took two steps back, her skin crawling. That just wasn’t right, in a visceral and indefinable way. As horrifying as those other people tubes had been… this was worse.

She glanced around herself, her movements bird-like, anxious. “Hello?” she called again, but there was no answer. She saw no movement, no people. She started weaving through the chambers on the floor, but she had a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. Where were they?

There was a round column in the center of the room, and the big machine to which all the chambers’ tubes and cables connected was right next to it. Everywhere else were the chambers. She tried not to look into them, but it was hard to avoid. Many seemed to be empty. She passed a few with smaller, toddler-sized children inside. And another where she couldn’t help but to stop and stare, trying to make sense of what she saw. After a moment she realized that this one was not yet fully developed – still a fetus. It was so surreal she felt, for a moment, that her mind disconnected from her body.

She passed another which appeared to contain a mass of tangled limbs pressed against the glass, so tightly that their shape seemed to conform to the chamber walls. Some of the limbs were making jerky, weak movements. Others… she shuddered. She saw signs of decay. The moving limbs would be still soon, too.

She wondered how many people were in there, but the thought made her queasy, so she put it firmly out of her mind.

She approached the big central machine, but couldn’t make sense of it. It’s workings appeared to be entirely inside its metal casing, and she’d never seen anything like it before. It was just a squat box with tubes and cables coming out of it.

And it had a screen. Her breath caught – in that moment, she knew what screens were for.

She touched it, hoping the screen would come to life. It blinked on, displaying an unevenly lit flow-chart. More characters… letters, words. The letters she was well on her way to remembering; but many of the words remained unfamiliar. Gamete Collection? Biometry?

She tapped Biometry, and an array of numbered boxes slid onto the screen – hundreds of them, it looked like, as she scrolled through several screens. She tapped one at random, and a new screen slid into view; Vital Signs, including meters for Heart Rate, Ambient Temperature, Core Temperature, and Oxymetry. There seemed to be a few buttons at the bottom of this screen, but the flickering display obscured the words. One looked like Nutrition, she thought. Another she couldn’t make out at all. She tapped it, hoping that the screen it opened would edify.

A harsh, repeating beep sounded, and the screen turned red, with BIRTHING in big block letters displayed above the Vital Signs meters. Panicked, she rapidly tap-tap-tapped the screen, but it didn’t respond. The numbers on the Vital Signs meters were slowly ticking upward. What had she done?

She turned, trying to determine where the warning beep was coming from. Following the sound, she weaved her way between the chambers until she found one with a small, blinking red light near its top. She peered inside, blocking the light with her hands as she tried to see through patches of frost. He seemed asleep, like the others, curled in a ball upside-down in the fluid. She couldn’t see any sign of harm, but she wasn’t entirely certain that harm would be immediately apparent, either.

She waited several minutes, but aside from the beep eventually falling silent, nothing further seemed to happen. She returned to the machine’s screen, but it remained unresponsive. The Vital Signs were still creeping upward.

What now?

Whatever she had done, it’s results weren’t apparent, so she supposed there was nothing she could do but focus on finding those other people she had spoken to. They clearly weren’t here. Maybe they had left? Should she try to find them? Try to call them on the speaker again?

She decided it made more sense to stay here. This room was easy to find; a smaller room out in the halls might not be. She scanned the nearest walls for a speaker panel – now that she knew what to look for. She moved toward the central column and began to walk around it. A few steps along, and she came to a set of double doors. A closet? The column wasn’t that big – it would make for a fairly small room. She touched the doors, but nothing happened.

She had other priorities for the moment, and decided she could investigate the doors later. She continued around the column, at last coming to a panel set in the wall, similar to the one she’d left behind in the fitness room.  Although it was more complex, with more buttons and a blank display screen.

She began pushing buttons. “Hello? You there?” She heard nothing, not even static. The weight of her isolation crushing in on her, she thumped the panel with a fist. Nothing. Forcing herself to focus, she leaned in to examine the panel. Right. There were more buttons, but the button she’d used on her fitness room speaker had been in the bottom right corner. She pressed it, and got a squeal of feedback.

“Hello?” She waited. Still nothing.

She traced her fingers over the buttons. This seemed like a ship built for quite a lot of people – it would make sense to have many speakers they could use to communicate. But one probably wouldn’t want to talk to all of the speakers all of the time… so there must be a way to choose which set of speakers to talk to.

She looked at the buttons again. She thought she could make out markings under some of them… lettering? But it was so faded it was illegible. She squinted, trying to force the letters to come into focus, to reveal their secrets. She pushed the top-left button, and then the bottom-right. “Hello?”


She was beginning to think that a lengthy, methodical, trial-and-error process was her only option, when her gaze came to rest on one button in the bottom row. Its lettering, although greatly faded, still had enough form for her to make out: A L.


Taking a chance, she pushed the button, then the bottom-right one. “Hey! Can you hear me?”

Dec 02

Chief: Searching

Chief led the way out of the central room with confidence, his gait strong and natural, his gaze fixed on some point ahead. He pulled the jumpsuit he wore up over his upper body as he walked, zipping it up to his neck.

Red followed behind, still unsteady on his feet.

Kid hustled to keep up, his own pacing still awkward, almost a process of stumbling along, as if the ground was tipping below his feet. He hastened to catch up with Chief, using his arms to propel himself along the walls almost as much as he was his feet.

“Where we go?” Kid asked.

“Find Callie. Kali. Girl. Whatever her name is.”

“She say she outside?”

“Fitness room,” Red said. “Something about outside. Outbuilding?”

Kid nodded. “You know fitness room?”

Chief stopped at the halls’ intersection, looking swiftly down the crossword branches.. “No. Mostly cabins. Not check all rooms though. Might be above though.”

“Above?” Kid asked.

The older man smacked his lips. Talking, speaking was getting easier. Catching up with his thoughts, which weren’t so muddled. “Halls are three rings, yes? Circles. I checked a few cabins in the outer rings after I woke up. No window. Maybe underground?”

Red folded his arms and nodded. “Kali talking about outside. Probably above.”

“I see,” Kid said.

“But we check here first,” Chief said. “See if she’s on our floor. If not, we’ll climb up elevator to surface, look there.”

Red put out a hand to trace the symbols painted on the wall at the intersection. “Good plan, Chief.”

“Can you read it?”

“No. You?”

“Not yet.” Chief looked at it again. “Almost.”

“Not me,” Kid said.

They walked on. If they could remember how to read the symbols, Chief reasoned, they could more easily navigate the halls, make a more logical search of the rooms. As it was, he wasn’t sure which rooms he’d looked in on earlier and which he hadn’t.

“Look at this,” Red said, stopping at the next intersection, patting the symbol on the wall there. “First symbol same as last. Others changed.”

“Good eye.” Chief examined it. The first symbol was made of thee connected lines, one vertical, two horizontal. There was another horizontal line after it, and then… numbers? Yes. Numbers. A letter, a dash, and some numbers.

“Floor,” he said tapping the first one. “And then… rooms?”

Red took a few steps down the circular hall, glancing at the symbols on the doors. “They follow the same pattern. First two are same. Third change. Room numbers.”

A broad grin spread across Kid’s face. “Good!  Good. We did good.”

Chief stared at the symbols, looking for the intellectual understanding of what they were. He knew what they were. What they meant. He knew that he did. It was just so hard to connect with that level of abstract–

“Eff,” he said, the letter falling off of the tip of his tongue. “It says F-16 to F-30.”

“This room is F-18,” Red said.

“Floor F,” Chief said.

It was so obvious, now that he’d named it. And Red seemed to have picked it up as well. A mental block overcome. Chief let a small sense of satisfaction flow through him, but they had another purpose. Another task. Finding Kali.

“Yes!” Kid pumped his fist.

“Okay. We can ignore rooms that are F-numbers,” Chief said. “The fitness room would have a different name, right?”

“Makes sense to me,” Red said. “Go faster this way.”

“Okay. You check this hall. I’ll start on the far hall. Kid, you check the inner ring back there, and then come to the far hall and start checking the opposite way.”

“Got it,” Kid nodded.

“If you find her head back to the middle by the elevator and wait for the rest of us.”

Red nodded and started walking down the central ring, while Kid ran his stumbling way back towards the center. Chief watched them go before heading off on his own. They were enthusiastic, and that was good. He didn’t know what he would have said if they’d refused to help. As long as he could keep them busy they wouldn’t panic, wouldn’t make trouble, wouldn’t get into trouble.

They were, after all, his responsibility. He’d woken them up to… to this, whatever it was. Accidentally with Kid, intentionally with Red. He didn’t know what to do about the other hundreds of sleeping men and women in the other tubes. It felt wrong to just leave them here, but for now, it was better to let them sleep. Easier to manage.

At least, until they had found a way out of this place, or figured out what was going on.

He had two reliable men with him, and for now, that was enough.


Hours had passed before Chief and Kid returned to the central room to find Red waiting for them, sucking on the feeding line coming from the tube he’d been awakened from, in the way that Kid had showed them.

“Find her?” Chief asked, knowing Red hadn’t, as no girl was in sight.

“No. You?”

“No,” Kid said. “We did see a fitness room. But she wasn’t in it.”

“Maybe she left?”

“Maybe.” Chief leaned against one of the tubes and folded his arms. “But if she had, surely one of us would have run into her.”

“We could try the intercom again?” Red said.

“Let’s try the elevator,” Chief said.

The three men stood at the open doors. Red looked up towards where the next floor must be, while Kid cast his gaze below into darkness.

“How do we–” Red began.

Chief pointed. “There. A ladder on the far side.”

“Jump?” Kid asked.

“There’s a small ledge running along the side.” Chief tapped it with his foot. It wasn’t much – just enough of a lip to rest most of your weight on. “And hand-holds above.”

“Seems dangerous,” Red said.

“I go first,” Chief said. “Awake longest. I’m the most steady.”

“How deep do you think we are?” Kid asked.

“We’re on ‘F’,” Chief said. “A-B-C-D-E. Five? Six floors down?”

“Hold on,” Red said.

Chief watched as the big man went to his tube and grabbed a handful of the exposed hose. He set himself into a firm stance, then pulled it taut. Veins stood out on Red’s forehead and his muscles bulged as he strained, until the hose broke with a snap and came free.

Red held the hose up. “We break into a few of the broken tubes. Tie together. Make a rope.”

“Okay, but don’t give yourself a hernia.” Chief pulled the razor out of his pocket and handed it to Red. “Cut with this.”

Red nodded.

Kid ran to fetch more razors for himself and Chief, and the three went to the malfunctioning tubes, removed the corpses, and collected what exposed hose they could. Together the wove them into a braided length of rope long enough to tie around their waists, with several yards of slack between them.

“Okay. If I fall, you hold on, pull me up,” Chief said.

His companions gripped the edge of the elevator’s door firmly as the old man began to edge carefully around the yawning abyss below them towards the ladder.

Nov 23

She: Contact

She didn’t know how long she stood there, frozen. Time seemed to stand still while her mind struggled with, rejected, tried to explain away, what her eyes saw. A cold weight had formed in the pit of her stomach, sending tendrils of shivering gooseflesh outward along her limbs.

A loud crackling squawk shattered the silence and made her jump nearly out of her skin.

She spun around in panic, searching for the source of the sound. Where it had seemed to come from, there was nothing but a wall. Then, another brief squawk, her senses honed in, and she finally noticed the panel. It had several buttons, but was the same blank color as the walls, barely visible unless one knew where to look.

“Press it again.”

A voice. A voice. Someone else was here! Somewhere. Her heart racing, she raced to the panel, mashing the buttons.

“Aaahh? Aaaah! Aaaah!’ Overwhelmed, her voice erupted forth incoherently, her mind speeding forward too fast for her disused sense of language to keep up. She needed to tell them. She needed to find them. She needed to do it all at once.

“Do you think it’s a–”  The voice cut off mid-sentence as her finger found a button. “Aaahh?” She shoved her face within centimeters of the wall in her urgency. There was a moment of silence. Had they heard her? She jabbed the button again repeatedly. “Loo… look! Look!” she croaked out in the midst of her hyperventilating.

Some garbled noises emitted from the speaker, a voice — or more than one? — heavily disguised under whining feedback. “Hear? Look out!” She pointed back toward the window, forgetting in her excitement that it was a useless gesture.

“What is she…” The rest was garbled.

“Outside!” she cried, her hyperventilating nearing a sob.

“What?” This voice was clear, strong.

“Outside. Outside!” Panicked sobs were burbling up from her chest, this small human contact a release valve for the crushing awareness of her circumstances as revealed beyond the window. She didn’t know what to do, but maybe this voice would, if she could get him to understand.

“Shhh!” The sharp hiss made her jump. “Who you?”

Didn’t he get it? “Outside!” she repeated, jabbing a finger toward the window, groping for forgotten words to explain. “Kali! Kali!

Another pause. She waited, holding her breath.

Squawk. “Kali.”  Pause. “Where are you?”

“I…” She took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing terror. She looked toward the doors, trying to retrace her steps, to create a mental map that she might be able to describe to the voice on the other side of that panel. “Ff.. fitness room. Double doors… outsi… outer-most hall.” She paused. “Windows here.”

The panel emitted some low static, then what sounded like overlapping voices, too quiet to make out.

She remembered, and jabbed the button again. “C-81!”

More voices — she was pretty sure there was more than one? — too quiet and garbled to understand. It seemed to go on for a long time. Her alarm began creeping upward again. He hadn’t forgotten about her, had he? Would he just leave her there, alone?

She punched the button again. “Where you?”

The conversation stopped abruptly. Then the firm voice returned. “Center room. Halls like spokes, all meet here, in the middle.”

“Okay.” She was already moving toward the doors. “I find. You stay… I am come!”

She practically ran out into the corridor.

* * *

She paused at the junction of the two hallways just outside the doors. Halls like spokes? She squatted, tracing on the floor with her finger as she attempted to visualize the layout. Center room. She traced a circle. Spokes. She traced straight lines coming outward from that circle, and realized none of those would cross each other. She looked up at the junction, then back to the floor, retracing one of her imaginary spokes. The corridor she was in now was parallel to the one where she’d started. None of the spokes would be parallel, either, so there must be connecting corridors… she traced a larger circle around the outside. Yes, that seemed right. The hallway she was in went around along the outer wall of the ship. The other hall was a smaller circle, inside of it. So the hallway that connected them must be one of the spokes.

She stood. That made it easy. All she had to do was walk straight until she got to the center.

She stepped into the connecting hallway and began to walk.

It was straight, but the lighting was inconsistent – mostly dim, even out completely for short stretches – so she could only barely make out what she thought might be the end of the corridor, where it would lead into the central room. She tried to walk quickly, but upon starting, abruptly felt exhausted. Her adrenaline was crashing; she knew this without having the words for it. She suddenly realized she was really hungry. How long had it been since she’d awakened? She had no sense of time.

Her pace slowed as she went along, but she was determined to keep putting one foot in front of another. Maybe he had food.

Maybe he knew why they were here.

She counted the corridor junctions, a way to distract herself from her quivering, burning muscles. The one outside the fitness room. The hallway she had started from. Another one. And another. One foot in front of the other.

She looked up. In front of her was a large set of double doors. She stepped up to them, reaching out with a trembling hand. These doors also emitted whining and grinding noises, before jerking open about half a meter, whining some more, and then falling silent.

She carefully squeezed through the opening, and was assaulted by the sudden glare of the overhead lights bouncing off the white walls. She blinked, squinting her eyes, trying to see.  “Hello? I’m here!”

The room remained silent as her eyes adjusted and her vision came into focus.

She didn’t know what she had been expecting, but it wasn’t this. The room was huge, far larger than any other room she’d seen thus far, and filled with chambers – but not like the people tubes she had already seen. These stood vertically, shorter and stouter, more egg-shaped than cylindrical. Numerous cables and tubes emerged from the top of each one, connecting them to a large machine of some sort, which in turn had its own tubes and cables snaking away through missing panels in the ceiling. The clear panel on each chamber was larger, too, taking up half the circumference.

She approached these chambers warily. Light bounced off the surface of the clear panels, making it difficult to see inside. She stood in front of one, her shadow falling across its front — just enough to see that it was empty, except for the familiar amber fluid, and some spongy material covering the back inside surface. Looking more closely, she thought it looked artificial, human-made, but couldn’t tell what it was.

Perplexed, she stepped to the next chamber, peering through the glass. Inside this one was…

A baby?


A chilling horror crept over her. It looked like a baby… sort of. It was suspended upside down in the chamber, curled in a ball, surrounded by a clear membrane and attached to the spongy material by a fleshy placenta and umbilical cord.

But it… she… was – older. Too old.

An adolescent.

Nov 18

He: Crew

He watched dispassionately as the skinny adolescent vomited forth a great quantity of light amber fluid. The young man — almost a boy, really — convulsed violently as he retched, almost to the point where the man watching him thought he might snap his spine with his seizing.

Was that a thing? Was that something that happened? He didn’t know. Couldn’t remember, if he ever had known.

He hadn’t intended to open the boy’s tube. It had been an accident.

His exploration of the concentric hallways had lead to a large central room containing dozens and dozens of tubes filled with people. In the center of the room was a thick cylinder running from floor to ceiling, and at the far side was a series of empty metal trays. There were words on the walls, near the doors leading off into the spokes of the concentric halls, but his addled mind still couldn’t make out their meaning.

It was frustrating. He could almost puzzle them out, but understanding ultimately eluded him.

The central cylinder was perhaps a dozen paces around, with a large set of double-doors along one side. They didn’t open when he approached them, and the buttons on the panel next to it were unresponsive when he pressed them. He’d made a brief attempt to pry the doors apart with his fingers, giving up when his atrophied muscles started to tremble and burn from the effort. That didn’t feel right, being weak.

He’d gone to rest, unzipping the top of his jumpsuit and letting the upper part hang loose from his waist, when his hip bumped into one of the tubes’ control panel. The sound of its faint electrical humming changed slightly, rising and then diving in pitch, and the steady pattern of its blinking lights intensified.

He backed away warily, watching as the lights shifted from their normal pale yellow-white to an almost orange. There was too much frost on the glass to get a good look at the tube’s inhabitant, and he didn’t feel especially keen to get close to it until it was finished doing whatever it was doing.

The tube gave a sudden chime and its lights turned green. There was a hiss of escaping air and a seam widened its midsection before the front panel folded up and away to reveal the young man that lay within. He was pale and thin, emaciated even next to the older man’s own skinniness, with a wispy beard and long shaggy straw-colored hair.

For a moment he thought the boy might be dead, but then he noticed that he was struggling weakly against the tubes in his body. He stepped forward to help, pulling the feeding and waste tubes free as carefully as he could, then helping the boy from the confines of his tube to the cold tile floor.

Relief filled him as he watched the boy retch and gag, paroxysms of hoarse coughing wracking him. He’d been so preoccupied with the strangeness of his situation and trying to get his bearing, but the stillness and isolation of these empty rooms and corridors had started to wear on him with a sort of desperate loneliness. A small smile crossed his face as the boy trembled and gasped.

He wasn’t alone.


In time, the boy looked up from his fetal position, head unsteady. He tried to speak, hoarse noises emanating from his mouth.

He handed the boy the towel he still carried. “Don’t.”

It felt odd, to talk. Like his words shattered a sacred peace. His lined face set itself, and he cleared his throat. “Talk later. Can you get up?”

The boy stared at him, through him, his eyes trying to focus on his face.

He sighed, shaking his head. “Easy. We wait.”


Later, when the boy was steadier, the older man took him to the nearest washroom to shower the crusting fluid from his hair and beard. The boy awkwardly shaved the slight beard from his chin, and the man reflected that he looked a bit older without it, the sallow cheekbones adding definition and age to his gaunt face. With the patchy beard he’d looked like a teen. Without it he had to be in his twenties.

While the boy cleansed himself the old man searched through the nearby rooms for a smaller jumpsuit, one that might fit his thin frame. What he brought back still hung off of spindly limbs, and the boy had to roll up the cuffs to avoid treading on them.

They returned to the large room. The boy leaned against the large central cylinder, then slid to the floor.

“Where…” the boy managed, his voice hoarse.

“Don’t know,” the old man answered. “Woke up. Like you. Don’t remember.”

“What’s… who am I?”

“Don’t know.”

“Who are you?”

“Don’t know. Sorry, boy.”

The boy lowered his chin to his knees, staring at his feet. “How long?”


“You. Awake?”

The older man thought about it. “Hours. Maybe.”

“Who woke you?”

The old man shook his head, lips drawn tight. “Nobody. Computer error, maybe. Malfunction. Woke up, had to break out. Haven’t seen anyone else. No caretakers or guards or anything. Other than the showers and drawers, no sign of anybody.”

The boy simply nodded, and they stayed in silence like that for some time.


“You find food?”

The old man’s eyes snapped open. He hadn’t even realized he’d drifted off, waiting for the Boy’s strength to return. The boy hadn’t moved from his spot, but his eyes were clearer, his gaze more focused.

“Food?” he repeated.

“No.” The older man hadn’t realized it in all the excitement, but he was hungry. “Water from the bathroom sinks, but no food.”

The boy struggled to his feet. The older man rose to help, but he seemed to accomplish it well enough on his own.

He watched as the boy half-staggered to the tube he’d been suspended in and reached inside. His shaking fingers curled around the clear hose coming from its top.

“What are you doing?”

The boy put the end into his mouth, sucking on it sharply for a second, then pointing it towards his hand. A thick brownish slurry poured out, some splattering onto the floor. “Food.”

The older man approached cautiously, taking the tube in hand, sniffing the end of it. It was mild. Medicinal. Yeasty. He looked at the boy again.

The boy nodded.

The old man sighed.


“How did you know that trick, boy?” he asked, later.

“I don’t know.”

“It was a good trick.”

“Yeah.” The younger man hesitated. “Why did you wake me up?”

“Accident,” he said. “Bumped into your tube. Decided to help you, because there was no one to help me.”

“Thank you.”

Unotendei? Zvakanaka.

His companion’s brow furrowed. “What?”


“What did you just say?”

“What did I say?”

The boy shook his head.

“How did you know to do that?” the older man asked. “With the food?”

“I don’t know. It just… made sense.”

“Come with me,” the older man said. “I want to show you something.”


The pair returned to the central cylinder.

“Now that you are feeling stronger,” the old man said. “I want you to help me open this.”

“What’s inside?”

“I don’t know. Food. Answers. An elevator. Maybe we get out of here.”

The boy nodded. “How do we–“

The older man stood to one side, fingers on the seam between the doors. “We pull.”

The younger got onto the other side, and the pair began pulling at the doors. Weak muscles strained and unsteady fingers maintained their grip. Still, the doors remained closed, and after a few minutes the older man called for a halt.

“I felt it move,” the boy said.

“It is not enough,” the older man said. “We need a third man to help us pry this open.”

“Okay. Who?”

The older man moved to the nearest tube, breathing on it and using his sleeve to clear the frost away. “Just look for someone strong. Someone big. Not like the two of us, yes?”

The younger nodded, heading for the nearest tubes.


The man they chose had a broad bone structure, though he was as emaciated as everyone else, and almost a head taller than the older man. The man and the boy gave him time to rest, time to recover, before explaining the situation as they knew it to him.

The big man simply nodded. “Okay, Chief.”

The older man cocked his head. “Why you call me that?”

“Gotta call you something. Chief.”

“Chief.” He nodded, then pointed to the boy. “Kid.”

Kid nodded, then pointed at the big man’s shock of hair. Unlike the other two men, he hadn’t cut it much, leaving a mane of curls atop his head. “Red.”

“Red.” He smiled. “I like.”

“Good,” Chief said. The big man seemed friendly enough. Capable. He felt like he could rely on him, if it came down to it.

“Should we wake anyone else up?” Kid asked.

“Not if we can get the doors open,” the older man said. “No need to wake them up to… to whatever this is. Kid, stand there. Pull that way. I pull this way. Red, you try and get fingers in when you can.”

Red nodded, and the three took up their positions.

“On three,” Chief said, making a brief eye contact with his companions. “Ready? One, two, three!”

He pulled again, harder than before, clenching his eyes shut with the effort. He could hear Kid’s bare feet squeaking against the floor’s tiles, but the younger man did not fall. There was a small give, and then a sudden shift as Red slipped his fingers into the crack and pulled with the leverage his longer arms provided.

The doors gave a loud protesting squeal as they were wrenched open, revealing a dark abyss beyond. On the other side of the doors was… nothing.

At first Chief thought it was merely dark, but as Red stepped out of the light he saw that the cylinder held a long shaft extending well above and below into pitch shadow.

“No,” Kid said softly.

Red turned his head towards Chief. “Now what?”

They wanted answers, but Chief didn’t have any for them. He’d only been awake for a few hours longer than these men, but already they looked up to him, and he felt a responsibility towards them. He’d awakened them to this strange nightmare, taken them from blissful oblivion to a land of questions and isolation. They hadn’t asked for it. Hell, if someone had asked Chief, he’d have been happy to let someone else wake up in his place, let someone else solve this puzzle.

But no one had asked, and it was his problem to handle.

“We wait. Rest. I saw a ladder inside. We climb up, maybe find a hatch to the surface.”

“You think we’re underground?” Kid asked.

“No windows,” Chief reasoned. He crouched alongside the wall.

Red sat on the end of the tube he’d been awakened from.

Kid paced slowly around the perimeter of the cylinder, disappearing behind it, and stopping when he reached the control panel on the other side.”Maybe one of these is lights?”

“Try and see,” Chief said.

Kid examined the control panel, his fingers tracing across its chrome surface between the buttons. “I can’t read.”

“Me neither,” Chief said. “Almost. Not yet.”

Kid pressed a few buttons, but the lights didn’t turn on. At first, not much seemed to happen, but when he pressed the button in the bottom right corner, a warbling squawk emitted from a concealed speaker.

Red made sharp eye contact with Chief.

“Press it again,” the older man told Kid.

Kid did, and the echoing tone emitted once more.

“Do you think it’s a–” Kid began.

“Aaahh?” The voice, small and feminine, was clear.

Nov 11

She: Name

She stood in front of the sinks, staring into the mirror. She studied the face looking back at her, puzzling if this was a face she recognized, remembered. Lost in the details, it didn’t feel familiar. It didn’t feel not-familiar. Who was this girl?

She studied her, hoping to jog a memory. Smooth, butterscotch-colored skin. A face with no lines, but angular features: high, pronounced cheekbones, a long narrow nose, slightly upturned eyes with hooded lids and irises a startling shade of jade green. Her hands moved by themselves, working the comb through her dark chestnut hair. A crease appeared between her brows as she struggled to discover that comforting familiarity.

The comb snagged on a tangle of hair and pulled at her scalp, and she swore. The curse burst from her mouth without conscious thought and passed into the surrounding silence without her notice. She was attempting to pull apart the tangled strands of hair to free the comb, but every tug seemed to tighten as much tangle as it loosened. In frustration, she threw the comb down to dangle from her hair at waist level. The ends of her hair trailed further, down to her knees, and it was just too much to deal with. Had she ever worn her hair so long?

She doubted she would have had the patience.

She sorted through her pile of objects from the drawer, now arrayed untidily on the counter in front of her, and pulled out the scissors. Grabbing a hank of hair at her elbow, she began sawing away at it with the small blades.  Loose strands cascaded to the floor in rapid succession as she hacked away, pausing only long enough to cut the comb out of its tangle.

When she ran out of steam, she stood in the midst of a pile of hair on the floor, and her head felt lighter. She looked at herself in the mirror again, pulling her hair forward over her shoulders. The cut was ragged and uneven so, with calm focus, she again applied the scissors, neatly trimming the ends.

Once finished, the wave in her hair was more pronounced, and it sprang up to just a few inches below her shoulders. She smiled at herself, her temper finally soothed. She looked at the girl in the mirror approvingly.

She finally felt somewhat human again. Although she supposed she couldn’t stay in the bathroom forever. She began collecting her things and stuffing them back in her pockets. She was pleased to find a loop of elastic, stretchy material. She knew what that was for.

She quickly pulled her hair back into a tail, and twisted the loop around it to hold it in place.

* * *

She continued walking down the hallway, beginning to realize that “lost” might be a meaningless concept in a place where there may not be such a thing as “found.” This made her bolder, at least, which seemed to make the walking less exhausting.  She still paused to catch her breath at what seemed like too-frequent intervals, but other than a hand lightly trailing the wall to steady herself, she no longer felt a need to cling onto any handhold to hold herself up.

That was better, at least.

But she still didn’t quite know what to do.

The doors all looked the same, or nearly so. She finally noticed markings on them, each set a bit different than the last, but meaning, if there was any, eluded her. Her shoulders became tense at the thought that she didn’t know whether that opacity was because of the symbols or her inability to remember what they were supposed to mean. “C-47?” Was there meaning in that?

She started opening doors, sticking her head inside in the hopes of learning… something, anything. But maddeningly, each room seemed to be much like the last. Smallish, with more and more pods in every one. How many people were in this place? And why were they all in these strange chambers?

At the seventh room, she paused for a moment, stepping inside, hesitantly approaching one of the tubes. Her stomach flipped a little, but she felt compelled. She wanted — needed — to know.

What if she were the only one?

She tried to silence that voice, but it nagged at her, pushing her forward. Placing her hands on the lid, she leaned over to peer inside. The windows in this one seemed to be frosted over, and the metal of the lid seemed colder than… that other pod. She breathed on the panel, trying to clear her view, and pressed her face against the glass.

He just looked like he was sleeping. Granted, with tubes and wires all over him, but he seemed… peaceful. His hair and beard were a medium sandy blonde, and very long — his hair was nearly as long as hers had been, she thought. She stepped back, noting the small green light glowing on a panel on the tube’s side.

He wasn’t a rotten corpse. So… that was good, right?

She wondered if it was possible to wake him. She studied the outside of the tube, but had no grasp of how it might work, not even to know how to, perhaps, just turn it off… even supposing that doing so would wake him instead of kill him.

Biting her lip, she backed away, unwilling to take the risk.

* * *

She skipped the next several doors. She didn’t think it would matter. She moved more quickly, trying to discover some logic in the layout, some clue that would explain this place or what she was doing here. Not a minute later she came to another hallway, crossing her path at a somewhat off-from-square angle. Tired of the endless, identical doors, she turned right, heading down the hall that appeared to have no doors at all.

It was fairly short, as it turned out, leading to another corridor that appeared to run parallel to the one she’d just left behind. Immediately in front of her was a set of doors — two of them this time, set in a wider doorway. C-81 was marked across both doors. This seemed promising. Or at least different.

She approached the doors, and after a moment of emitting an annoying high-pitched whine, they slid open.

Inside was a bunch of… equipment. Definitely familiar. It was all bolted to the floor, she noticed, in a grid pattern with narrow aisles in between. Too narrow to accommodate any of those strange pods with people inside them. It was, in its way, a relief — finally, a room not stuffed to the ceiling with disturbingly imprisoned unconscious people.

She sat on the bench of the nearest piece of equipment. The pad was softer than the thing’s metal frame, though its smooth surface material was cracked. She reached above her head to a metal bar hung by a cable from the overhead frame. She pulled at it. It was heavier than she expected.

And it clicked. She knew what this room was. A fitness room. She remembered… not specific events, really, but the idea of being in a place like this, of moving from bench to bench, working her body until she was tired and warm and sweaty. It had felt good.

She stood, moving through the rows of equipment, letting her mind and body remind her what each one was for. A faint smile tugged at her lips.

Then she came to the last row of machines, and behind them — a wall of windows.

She stopped dead, staring. Her blood ran cold.

Beyond the clear, floor-to-ceiling panels, all she could see was a field of deep, inky blackness, pierced by thousands of tiny pinpricks of light.

Stars. Nighttime.

No. She approached the window slowly, her feet moving of their own accord. Placing a palm on the glass, she could see everything. She could see nothing.

No ground.

I’m in SPACE.

Her disbelieving brain seemed frozen. It seemed so difficult to pull ideas together into a coherent thought. She just stood, staring — it was endless. There was nothing out there!

She turned her head, searching for something to see besides the dark. There was an overhang above the window, enormous panels of nondescript metal set at a gently-sloping angle. It extended for meters and meters to either side. Straining to see, with her left cheek against the glass, she saw the gigantic symbols marked on the metal in chipped black paint.


Nov 04

He: Shorn

Each scrape of the razor’s edge sent more of the soft dense cloud of dark hair to the tiled floor. When he was reaping swaths of it from around his head, bunched up in a mahogany fist, all he felt was a slight tugging sensation. He preferred the feel of the cool blade against his skin, and the way his bare flesh tingled in its path.

He couldn’t remember ever doing this before, and if he focused on each step of the process, found himself stymied. Instead he let his hands and arms perform as they would, removing from his scalp the weighty mop of curled black and silver. He felt lighter without it.

He paused as he brought the blade to his chin, to the bristled mass surrounding and obscuring his face. So much easier to just hack it away and be done with it. Instead, again following impulse, he lay the razor down along the sink and picked up a pair of scissors. He watched in the mirror as they moved, guided by his fingers, sculpting the mass on his chin, shaping it until it was almost geometric in the way it framed his jaw, in the way the hair across his lip met the straps framing his mouth.

The result pleased him. He rubbed a hand along the smoothness of his face and smiled at the mirror, white teeth gleaming amid dark lips. The way his muscles seemed to sag, a once fine engine fallen into disuse, was something he could fix. Somehow he felt like he’d been expecting to find himself worse, weaker, more decrepit but this… this was good.

He pulled his jumpsuit up from where it’d been folded at his waist, zipping it as he turned away, and found that his hand had grabbed the razor from the side of the sink where he’d left it. It felt right to take it, to keep it with him. It felt… safe. A talisman against the wrongness of the corridors outside this bathroom.

Everything was an unknown. He felt isolated. He had no idea who he was, or why he’d woken up in that tube, or what he was supposed to be doing. That was the worst of it. There was something he was supposed to be doing. Someplace he was supposed to be. Men don’t just… end up in tubes. There should be someone around to tell him what he was supposed to be doing, where he was supposed to be going. Who he was supposed to be.

But beyond even that uncertainty, there was something deeply wrong with the way that the corridors were empty. He expected something else. Anything else. This wrongness lead to a general sense of creeping dread that he only noticed once the trauma of his confusion had departed, and it had been mounting quickly.

The razor, though. With it, he felt a sort of calm assurance. Not of purpose, not exactly, but of certainty. It was a tool. Something useful.

A smile found his lips as he folded it closed and slid it into the jumpsuit pocket. Whistling a tune he couldn’t name, he pushed through the door to the hall.


Most of the doors lining the hall opened at a touch, but there was little reason to investigate after the first few. The doors with slightly-differing strings of symbols on them — strings he found incomprehensible but maddeningly familiar — each concealed small rooms, some five paces by three paces, lined with more people-tubes.

Doors with only a pair of symbols held rooms that held rows of showers, sinks, and toilets. Sometimes the water was working, sometimes not.

Sometimes the doors didn’t open, either buzzing angrily at his touch, or simply not responding. In other areas, the diffuse light that seemed to come from the ceiling was either dim, flickering, or entirely absent. These areas of disrepair left him with the same unease that the general emptiness did. It wasn’t right that the halls had this problem. Someone should be fixing it. Someone should be there to greet him, to explain. Someone should be there.

He walked the corridors for hours, stopping intermittently in each room he passed, but saw no sign that anybody else had emerged from their tubes before him. Some of the tubes were dark, some contained unlucky bastards whose life-support had failed, but most held men or women like himself in some sort of state of hibernation.

He found nothing but a growing unease and an even more urgently growing hunger.

Food was going to be a problem. There had to be a storeroom or pantry somewhere. These corridors were meant to be walked by men. Even if he hadn’t found any sleeping quarters or kitchens, he’d seen showers and toilets. They had to eat, wherever they’d gone.

There hadn’t been any sharp turns in the hall he walked, though there was a gentle curve to its path, with occasional side hall to his right. For fear of getting lost he hadn’t explored any of them yet, but when he opened the door to the room that held the pod he himself had crawled out of, his suspicions were confirmed; he walked the circumference of a great wheel, with the side halls as its spokes.

The fear of getting lost left him. Lost in relation to what? Empty rooms full of strangers in tubes? Any one of identical bathrooms?

He walked to the nearest spoke, striding confidently down it, twelve paces past featureless walls to another corridor parallel to the one he’d left behind. It too curved, and the doors along its sides were similar to those he’d already seen. Rather than diverting to explore them, he continued walking down his straight spoke another twelve paces to a third inner concentric ring.

Ahead he saw in what he guessed was what led to the center of the concentric rings, a pair of wide double-doors. Unlike the opaque doors he’d passed before, these doors had clear plastic panels. Beyond them he could see a vast chamber, far larger than any he’d seen to date.

The doors opened as he approached.

Oct 28

She: Instinct

She sat, resting, with her back against the wall, knees pulled up to her chest, the towel wrapped around her shoulders to keep the wet goo in her hair from soaking through the white jumpsuit she now wore.  Now dry and clothed, her warmth was returning, and her shivering abated. It was a relief.

She looked around, but the room remained unfamiliar. Its stark featurelessness was unnerving. She wondered if she was being watched.

Or if there was anyone else out there at all.

Too jumpy to sit still, she crawled slowly to the base of her container — well, she supposed it wasn’t hers anymore — and carefully, gingerly, reached up the side, grasping whatever protrusions and handholds she could find, pulling her feet underneath her. With a deep breath, she pulled herself up its side, willing her legs to lift her, to support her weight. After several agonizing seconds, she stood — unsteadily, her thigh muscles quivering, her hands gripping white-knuckled onto the container to steady herself, but she stood.

Hand over hand along the container, feet shuffling over the cold tile floor, she moved toward the wall and the open drawer. Peering inside, she saw that it also contained a number of other items. She poked at them with a finger, teasing the jumbled pile of stuff apart into individual, distinct objects. One she grabbed, with a small sense of solace, and began dragging it through her long dark hair, carefully picking apart the wet tangles that snarled her locks into ropey cords.

Abruptly she stopped, the realization hitting her that she knew what this object was. She even had the impression of a word, a name for this thing, that flitted around the edges of her conscious mind. She stared at the object, willing the word forth, out of the shadows of her subconscious, into the light of her awareness. Long and narrow, with many tines that separated the individual strands of her hair. A comb.

Encouraged, she reached back into the dark corners of her memory again, searching… but, nothing more.

She poked at the other objects in the drawer, but no others immediately triggered any recall. She took some small comfort in the hope that having the objects around would jog her memory of them — eventually. Unwilling to leave these new-found talismans behind, she began stuffing them into the deep pockets of her jumpsuit.

After a moment, she paused. A small smile touched her lips. She’d done it again. Pockets. Her mood lightening, she finished collecting her things, until there was nothing but an empty drawer.

She pushed the drawer closed, and took a tentative step along the wall, away from her (former) container. Her legs seemed somewhat steadier, somewhat more willing to carry her forward and support her weight. Another step, and another. It was tiring, but she was gaining confidence. Not too fast, step by step, using the wall to steady herself, she made her way across the short distance to the next container. She held onto it, panting a little.

On this one, the lid was still in place. Set in the top were clear panels; inside, it appeared to be filled with a dark amber, viscous fluid. She made her way another step or two down its length, away from the wall, in order to peer more closely through the glass. The stuff inside was hard to see through, but she thought she saw chunks of… something… drifting around inside.

With a sudden BUMP, a human skull floated up to the clear panel in front of her face and collided with it. A few tattered shreds of flesh still clung to it, and it housed only one bloated, grey, decaying eye.

She shrieked and flung herself away from the panel, stumbling backward and crashing once again to the floor. Nausea wormed its way from her gut up to her throat. She shuddered — finally comprehending that those floating chunks were decomposing flesh. Someone had occupied that container.

She wondered how long ago they’d died.

…She wondered how they’d died.

Shoving that sickening thought away, she re-wrapped her towel around her shoulders, then crawled away from that… death chamber. Once again finding handholds on her own container, she pulled herself up, and looked for a means of escaping this horrible, bleak room. The walls were smooth, blank, and she felt her panic begin to stir again. Then she noticed a slightly recessed area of the wall opposite the drawer. Plunging toward it, her instinct to flee taking over, it slid away as she approached, hindering her stumbling flight not at all as she lurched through the opening.

She stopped only when she crashed into a wall a few steps from the doorway. Blindly grabbing onto an array of pipes that ran horizontally along the wall, she managed to keep herself from falling.

She was in a long corridor. The lighting was dim, and it seemed to stretch off in either direction as far as she could see. Similarly recessed doors, spaced at seemingly arbitrary intervals, were along the same wall as the doorway she had just exited. The pipes she clung to ran along the opposite wall. She could see no other distinguishing features — everything all looked the same. It would be very easy to get lost.

Not that she had any sense of where she was to begin with.

She chose a direction at random and began to shuffle forward, her hand on the pipes to steady and support herself. She could choose any door, any of seemingly hundreds, all of them a mystery, a great unknown. She shivered, but this time the cold was inside her. What could be on the other side of those doors? Something helpful? Something to tell her where… or who… she was?

…Or more bloated and rotting corpses? Or worse? Could anything be worse?

She whimpered, though she was unaware of making a noise.

She passed the doors one by one, not brave enough to open them and discover what was beyond them. She was already beginning to feel weary, her muscles protesting the exertion after such a long period of disuse. For that was what this was, surely. Finally reorienting herself to her own body, she was growing to understand that that was what this weakness felt like.

She pushed on anyway. She convinced herself that those terrible containers — prisons, or caskets — pods evidently filled with people, or former people — should all be grouped in the same general area of this place. Whatever this place was. So if she walked far enough, she could leave them behind her, be free of them, be free to discover something that might bring her safety, comfort. Sanity.

So she walked. Clinging to the wall to keep herself upright. Out of breath, her legs burning with effort. She walked past many doors, too many to count. She didn’t try, didn’t look at them, just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, on putting that tattered skull as far behind her as she could.

Finally, she stopped, leaning against the wall. She stood opposite a door, identical to every other door, keeping its mysteries a secret behind its blank surface. This one? She felt like she’d been walking forever.

She had to try one sooner or later.

After a moment, catching her breath, gathering her courage, she stepped toward it, a hand reaching out. Before her fingers could touch it, it slid away with a barely audible swoosh. It was dark on the other side. She couldn’t see beyond the first few feet from the doorway.

She stepped inside. Lights flickered on overhead, dim and sputtering, making her jump. She turned her head.

A pod. No, two of them, and another two on her other side. Through an open doorway to her left, she saw another still. A small, defeated wail escaped her throat as she shrank back against the door frame. How unlucky could she be?

After the initial shock wore off, she realized that this room was different than the last. The floor under her feet was a softer surface, coarsely textured, but warmer and more comfortable than the hard tile. A built-in bench ran around the interior walls. She realized that the tubes and cables running from these pods snaked through missing panels in the ceiling, as though the pods themselves had been put in here as an afterthought.

That seemed strange.

She stepped further inside, awkwardly attempting to keep as much distance between her and the pods as possible. Skittering between them, she headed for the open doorway.

A new set of lights turned on as she entered the second room, brighter, but still sputtering. This room housed only the one tank she had seen, as the bulk of the room was occupied by other facilities. To her right were several sinks placed against the wall behind her; beyond that, against the right wall, were several privacy stalls each containing a toilet. In front of her, just beyond the solitary pod, were several more, larger, privacy stalls with sunken floors.


She knew these things. They were familiar, recognizable. Comforting. A cascade of memories spilled forth: names of things, what they were used for. She dug into her pockets, pulling out bottles — bottles! — of liquid soaps. A toothbrush. She sniffed at another, slightly larger bottle. Lotion?

Skirting the pod, refusing to look at it, she sped as fast as her exhausted limbs would carry her to the showers. Did they work? Oh please…

A light above the stall turned on as she approached, and a moment later water began streaming out of the nozzle set high on the wall. She didn’t know if the water was warm or cold, and she didn’t care. Stripping out of her jumpsuit, and dropping both it and the towel on the tile floor where she stood, she ran to stand underneath the streaming water.

Oct 21

He: Awareness

His dark skin stood out like shadow against the pristine white walls of the corner he’d crawled over to. The gel on his flesh and in his hair had crusted into a pale orange as it dried out, flaking off any time he made any small movement. His breathing had gradually slowed from its shuddering ragged wheeze to an even flow, and in the silence surrounding him he could hear a faint hum accompanying the vibrations he could feel through where his spine pressed against the cold firmness of the wall.

His gaze had focused on a speck of dark maroon on the pristine white tiles of the floor, his forehead resting heavily against the hard surfaces of his knees, his arms bent, thin fingers laced over the back of his neck.

Blood. His.

His first moments had been terror. Coming from oblivion to sudden awareness, he had found himself trapped in a fluid-filled tube. Adrenaline had driven the disorientation far enough away that he could thrash against the confines, weak limbs flailing against the blurry glass in front of his face until it splintered, until he thrust himself free from its gelatinous chamber through the thin barrier above him, tubes ripping violently free from where they’d restricted him.

If his vision had returned, the pain would have been blinding.

That took longer, the world a vague bright blur beyond his eyes, scant color, filled with a terrifying rhythmic pounding that he later realized was the sound of his heart. Then, though, in those first moments after emergence, everything was overwhelming sensation and terror.

He crawled over the shattered glass from his escape until he’d reached the unyielding surface of the wall, then blindly followed it until he’d reached the corner. There he’d huddled while the gel had cooled and dried into streaks, while his eyes had slowly adapted to the light, focused on a drop of blood fallen from one of the many small cuts he’d suffered.

After an unknowable amount of time he let out a long, slow exhalation and pulled himself to his feet, his limbs complaining like workmen who’d been furloughed for too long, then expected to immediately get right back to work. He hated it instinctively, that feeling of weakness, that soreness in the limbs that came from disuse rather than exertion. Lacking a true frame of reference he still knew that he was Not Well, that feeling this way was Not Right, even if he couldn’t articulate it.

He leaned back into the corner, eyes stumbling until they returned to the glass-topped box he’d been trapped in. It was slightly taller than he was, mounted against the wall at an angle, once glass-topped and now holding a fraction of the translucent amber liquid he’d been floating in. It was slightly darker than the monochromatic walls in shade, and lacking in color save for the single small red square of light burning back at him.

His eyes shifted. There were five others like it, intact but still closed, mounted alongside it, their glass tops frosted opaque.

Pushing himself away from the walls he took a few stumbling steps towards the closest one, pad of his foot slipping in blood and gel even as his trembling muscle failed to support the weight of his body. He fell into it, onto it, arms wrapping around either side of it in an attempt to catch himself, but his biceps and shoulders were no stronger than his legs. He slipped against it, feeling the cold smooth glass against his cheek through the bushiness of his beard.

He turned his head almost gingerly and exhaled upon the frost, then wiped the condensation away with his wrist.

There was a man inside, and in his own reflection in the glass, he could see that this man was both like and unlike him. Both of them had unkempt beards, both of them had great masses of hair. The other man had tubes in his mouth and up his nose like he himself had.

But this man was smaller than he was, and with much lighter skin.  And the other man was still peacefully dreaming in whatever endless sleep that he had awakened from.

He pushed himself off of the man’s tube, hand going to his forehead, confusion clouding his thoughts.

He walked over to his own cylinder and sat against its edge, mindful of the broken glass. He tried to cry out, but only managed a hoarse grunt, and the effort hurt his throat. He was sore. Thirst.

Two fingers dipped into the goo left in his tube, sampled its viscous texture, then brought themselves up to his nose. He sniffed it and grimaced.

The expression remained on his face as he turned his head. He was thinking slowly, sluggishly, as if his mind were caught in a fog-bank. It was hard to concentrate, impossible to remember. He needed help.

Stumbling footsteps brought him back to the wall again. It was getting easier to walk, sort of, but his balance felt off, his legs were stiff. A palm splayed on the cool white surface, and there was a slight click before a small section of wall pushed itself out, revealing a drawer. His brow furrowed as he gazed into it, staring at the cloth folded inside uncomprehendingly.

His unsteady hands pulled the cloth out, looking underneath it for something to eat or drink.There were other objects inside. Small, hard, inedible, and thus, unimportant. He looked back at the cloth in his hands. It seemed important, but he was having the hardest time remembering what it was, what it was for. There were shapes on the front, navy blue on a grey-blue background, and he felt like he should recognize them. Know what they were. Know what they meant.

As he turned the cloth in his hands, he realized it was shaped like he was. Sort of. And it was open on one side. He climbed into it, slipping his limbs into it, pulling it up around himself. It was warmer, wrapped around him this way. He liked that. This was what you did. This was what you were supposed to do.

Somehow, he knew he’d figured out a small part of some puzzle, the puzzle of “how to be.”

He left the other things in the drawer. Whatever they were for, he could come back if he needed them.

He stumbled away from the drawer, pausing briefly to watch it recess back into the wall. It didn’t matter. Somehow he knew he could open it again, with but a touch.

On instinct he walked towards a recessed area of the wall, faltering slightly when it  slid away from view. Surprise melted away with the surety that no, it was supposed to do that. That was how the world worked. It was right.

Beyond the door… that’s what it was, a door, that’s the word… was a long corridor. Spaced evenly along both sides in clusters of two or three were more of those tubes, frosted over, presumably with people inside.

He called out, wordlessly, for he really didn’t remember any useful words, but nothing came from his throat but a dry hiss. He stopped almost immediately, for it hurt to try. Still, he had to alert someone, had to call someone to try and help him. He thumped a fist along the wall as he staggered down the hall, but the noise it made was weak and muted.

There were more shapes on the door at the end of the hall, shapes both like and unlike those on the cloth now warming his body. Frustratingly he felt like he should know them, know what they mean, if only he could think, if only he could find something to drink, if only someone would show up to help him, to take care of him, to explain to him what was going on.

But he was alone. No matter how hard he pounded his fist against the wall, no one came. It was exhausting. He sank to the floor alongside one of the tanks, staring at the shapes on the door in front of them, willing them to re-arrange themselves into some meaningful pattern.

Oct 14

She: Awakening

A faint beeping weakly penetrated the deep, numb well of her sleep, followed shortly by a mechanical whirring. She resisted their pull, but the blackness of the well slowly shifted to grey, then to white, in spite of herself. There was light beyond her eyelids, tugging at her consciousness, pulling it upward, breaking the surface. Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes.

She was confused.  She stared at a blank white ceiling lit by a gentle light, the source of which she couldn’t see.  Glancing downward, she could see at the edge of her field of vision the lip of something that curved over her, containing her. Slowly she lifted a hand. It felt so heavy, so difficult to move. She touched the lip, a hard thing, gripping with her fingers to prevent her arm from sagging back. She was inside something, she could feel the curve of the hard surface under her back. The warmth she had awakened to was quickly fading. She was wet.

She tipped her head to get a better look at this thing, this container whose lid her fingers gripped. She gagged as the large tube down her throat shifted. She didn’t remember this. She didn’t remember… Her mind frantically reached back, searching for something familiar, but there was nothing. She didn’t remember anything.

She thrashed, panicking. Bad move. Pulling against the throat tube was painful, and she seemed completely ensnared in tubes and wires that tugged and pulled their own little tortures on her body. They were everywhere. Why? What punishment was this?

Soon she stilled, gasping for air through the tube. Her body felt leaden, exhausted. She had a vague sense that she shouldn’t have tired so quickly — which only frightened her more. She waited, closing her eyes to stave off the panic clutching in her chest, until her breathing slowed.

Gripping the sides of her container, she pulled herself into a sitting position, struggling against her weakness, sliding around the slick inside surface, wincing as the tugs against the plethora of tubing shot currents of pain through her. She was starting to shiver, the slime coating her robbing her of body heat. Finally more or less upright, she rested, draped over one side of her container. She looked down at herself. Pale, thin. Naked.

She stared at the tubes, then shut her eyes tight.

Eyes still closed, she gripped the throat tube, and by instinct heaved a forceful exhale as she pulled it out. She clung to the side of the container as a paroxysm of dry, hoarse coughing wracked her body. She gasped for air in between spasms that tore at her raw throat and seemed to threaten to turn her lungs inside out. Her eyes teared up from pain but she couldn’t get it to stop.

Finally, her breathing calmed. She curled against the cold, wet side of her container, shivering, wrecked, just grateful that she could breathe again. She knew she wasn’t finished. She was mortified at the thought of what she would need to do next.

Her hands touched her face; an act of self-comfort perhaps, or just a means of avoiding the next painful task. Wires, leading from pads taped to her forehead to the recesses of the container above where her head had been. Another tube, inserted down her right nostril. She tugged at a wire, the soggy tape giving way easily. One by one, she pulled them away. How many? It seemed like a lot.

She tugged gently on the nasal tube, reluctant to begin what was surely to be another unpleasant process. Against her will she glanced down again… realizing that the worst was yet to come.

She steeled herself, wanting to just get it over with.

She pulled firmly on the nasal tube, gagging as she felt it slide up her esophagus, through her sinus cavity, and out. She spit and snuffled, her nostril dripping uncomfortably. She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand, smearing wet goo around, which wasn’t much of an improvement.

Her shivering was intensifying, and she wished she could get dry. But she knew she couldn’t even leave her container before completing her final unpleasant tasks. Dread welling up in her chest, she reached between her legs, wrapped her fist around the small tube emerging from her body, and took a deep breath. She willed herself to pull, but she quailed. Her fist was frozen around the tube — she couldn’t even uncurl her fingers. She whimpered as she stared down at herself. Taking a deep breath, she braced her knees against the sides of the container, gritted her teeth, and pulled.

A growling mewl forced its way past her gritted teeth as she pulled the tube out. It burned like fire the entire way, the burning only subsiding a little once the deed was done. Her eyes teared up, and her breath heaved raggedly. She slumped against the side of her container, arm covering her head, feeling shaky inside.

She still wasn’t done. Oh no.

Minutes passed, and the pain subsided just enough to allow her to move her legs again. Her hand slipped down to tentatively grip the remaining tube — this one large enough for her fingertips to just overlap. Even the slightest movement sent jolts of pain through her gut. She tried to steady her nerves, but the dread was overwhelming, a black weight in her chest that was crawling up her throat. She knew that waiting would only make it worse. She clutched and pulled.

Her scream shredded her raw throat, bouncing from ceiling to walls and back again, seeming to amplify in her head, seeming to last forever.

* * *

She was huddled in a fetal position, not quite remembering how long she had lain there. She was burning… down below… and had the idea that the burning wouldn’t subside for a while. There were now tears and snot on her face, in addition to the slimy goo. She was freezing.

Grabbing the edge of her container, she pulled herself slowly upwards, until she could get an elbow over, then an ankle, and a knee. Pushing against the slippery inside surface, she struggled, carefully shifting her weight, her leg reaching, her foot groping for the floor.

She slipped, tipped over the side, and landed with a graceless thud and a cry of pain. For a long, agonizing moment, her chest seemed frozen, unable to draw a breath; until finally, with a loud, guttural gasp, her lungs unlocked and air rushed in again.

She sobbed her misery, lying motionless on the floor.

No comfort was coming. Finally, she set her hands on the floor and struggled to a sitting position. It took a long time. Her limbs were shaky, her muscles weak. She clung to a small tank connected to the outside of her container, breathing hard.

The room was featureless. Blank white walls, floor, ceiling. The only objects within were her container, a bulky tube-like thing angled slightly above horizontal, and another two just like it, spaced a short distance apart.

She tried to get her feet under her, to climb up the side of her container to a standing position, but her legs shook and her knees wobbled and she could not will them enough strength to support her. Losing her grip on the side of her container, she collapsed sideways against the wall, slumping to the floor.

Above her head, a drawer slid open with a gentle hiss. Reaching up, she blindly groped within it, pulling out a pile of soft fabric.

A large towel, and some clothes.