Brigit’s Flame December of Minis entry two-
Speculative Future Fiction
Rated M for Mature
The shuttle station at the Kauri had been a clean, quiet, modern, well-ordered space with enough trade present to warrant having a station, but not more than was manageable. The station where the cousins disembarked in the Taz was an overwhelming convergence of chaos.
When Dallas pushed her way from the shuttle gate into the flow of commuters, she found her senses bombarded from every direction. The walls were towering video screens writhing in costume and color. Looking at them made her uncomfortable and seemed ill-advised in the tidal surge of bodies flushing the station. She looked down to cut off a sense of vertigo, surprised to see that some floor panels lit as she stepped on them. After a quick assessment, Dallas realized that for some people the floor actually seemed to be leading them step-by-step on the fringes of the crowd.
When she remarked on this to Inna – having to bellow in her cousin’s ear to be heard over the cacophony of music and announcements streaming from the walls – Inna nodded and made an exaggerated face that Dallas could not decipher. She saw Inna twitch her Cuff on and tap some prompts, then she thumbed a blinking circle on her wrist until the floor tile in front of them synced to the same color.
Inna made a thumbs-up sign and gestured for Dallas to follow. The sheer volume of the crowd was unsettling. Dallas felt as though her senses were being crippled. Like walking into bright sun from a dark room to stand near a jet engine as it whined. She wrapped her fist around Inna’s hood and held on. Dallas had experienced many things in her life that a person might fear, but the press of bodies, the deafening sound, the bright flashing vid screens in an otherwise dim room – even the pandemonium of odors in this place – caused a gripping anxiety in her chest and stomach that made her want to run.
The people exiting the gates were an eclectic mix. Some were normal like her and Inna, others were variations on human commingled with machine – which was odd but not disturbing. Then there were a few she caught glimpses of through the crowd who looked like they’d been spawned in the labs of insane scientists.
The oddest creature she spotted had a tentacled mouth over a man’s face, and stubby, green, crab claws instead of hands. He had a shell on his back, also resembling a crab’s, but his bare chest was sinewy and overtly masculine paired with his marine features. From the pelvis down, he was swathed in a billowing skirt that swept the ground. His gate was so awkward, Dallas wondered if he had legs or some sort of slug’s body instead. Mortified, she realized he was staring back at her. When their eyes met, he reached a claw down to a slit in his skirt and shifted it open as though in answer to her question. She glimpsed something that seemed like a tentacle. Then her brain made a few sketches of human anatomy and she blushed deeply, hoping it was strictly a tentacle in function. Dallas kept her eyes fixed on the back of Inna’s head after that.
The transition from chaos to calm was as abrupt and complete as a door slamming shut. Dallas’ ears briefly continued to ring in the silence. Her eardrums ached as though a bomb had gone off nearby. Working her jaw back and forth to relieve the tension in her face, she took in the space around them. They were standing in a bubble and they were not alone.
Even if she had not brought him up earlier, Dallas would have recognized Ulysses instantly. He resembled a mountain – tall, broad shoulders, meaty hands, biceps of a greater diameter than her hips, and an enormous head that was completely in proportion with the rest of him. He had done something different to his skin. There were more of the silver lines criss-crossing and outlining his bare flesh, and the once burnt caramel color of his skin had been mottled in an organic pattern that looked like rock. Ulysses still had the strange eye socket that had stood out to her when she first met him. Attached from brow to cheek by a heavy metal ring, the protrusion it housed looked like an ancient spyglass fashioned from a dark, non-reflective metal.
Inna hugged the man mountain fondly. He twisted the ocular attachment up, revealing painfully raw, puckered skin beneath. Then he folded nearly in half to kiss Inna tenderly on both cheeks. Dallas stepped closer, unbalanced for a moment by the illusion created by the clear floor of the bubble and the visible floor 50 meters below. She extended a hand to Ulysses in greeting and smiled as genuinely as she could.
Ulysses grinned, enveloping her hand in his. “I am never thought to meet you here, Dallas. Welcome to my home.”
“I’m surprised to be here, Ulysses. Thank you for meeting us. It makes me feel less like I’ve fallen into a dream just seeing a…familiar face. Would it be rude for me to comment on the change to your skin since the last time I saw you?”
Ulysses huffed, smiling, and crossed his hands in front of his belt buckle – rocking forward a little on his toes. “Well that would depend on the comment.”
“You look like one of those mythic mountains that threw boulders at each other,” Dallas said lightly.
“I didn’t know you enjoyed reading myths. I thought you were more interested in factual history,” Ulysses challenged, recalling to Dallas an old conversation from a previous meeting.
Dallas waved a hand at her cousin. “Inna gets to pick the vids sometimes. Although, I think I watched that one with Jake. It was a book?”
Inna nodded, she looked unsettled maybe even nervous.
Ulysses waved a hand dismissively. “Yes, but so long ago that the myth has been recycled and repurposed many times over. My skin is painted for urban warfare, it will wear off in a month.”
“Oh,” Dallas remarked sheepishly, then realized what he said. “The Taz is at war?”
“Battle Games,” Inna supplied, “Ulysses is a blocker for his team. He’s what they refer to as a tank.”
“I know what a tank is,” Dallas chided. “Dad and I watch the battle games on The Kauri all the time. You must be the best tank in the world,” she added in open admiration.
The man puffed up his already monumental chest and smiled cockily. “It has yet to be proven, but my fans believe I will be. I’ve been chosen to play for The Taz in the Earth Battle Games.”
“I can’t wait to see it!” Dallas exclaimed with a little clap.
“It’s barbary,” Inna sighed and shook her head.
“It’s lucrative for the Collective,” Ulysses stated.
“It’s tradition,” Dallas interjected.
“Can we get down to business?” Inna asked irritably.
Ulysses caressed her arm gently. “I have gained clearance passes for you to visit the terminal complex. I will do all of the visual recording for you and submit it to the Admin. They will review and forward the approved file to you. The interview with Sylvia B can last no longer than one hour – per Terminal Council. The good news is, they’ve agreed to let you speak with her directly and without the full council present. I’ve been accepted as her temporary moderator in this, so if I tell you that your question violates the treaty, her rights, or council policy you must immediately quit that line of inquiry.”
“As for the other job, I have clearance to take you out to the tourist approved areas and we will dine in one of the most prestigious restaurants on The Taz, courtesy of the Collective.”
“Tour first and then the interview?” Inna clarified. Ulysses nodded and gestured toward the exit.
Dallas looked around, impressed. As they were talking, the bubble had transported them to another sector of the Taz without any sense of motion or inertia.
The new deck was calm and far less populated. Dallas could see collected water on the horizon and the occasional person holding a stick over a serene pool.
“Are they fishing?” She asked with wonder.
Ulysses nodded and gestured to a kiosk where they seemed to offer the sticks to rent. “If you’d like we can try our hand at it after lunch.”
Terminal housing was typically bleak in the corporate world and the industrial nature of the Taz did not add anything to improve upon that theme. Though it was the first native sector Inna had glimpsed on this Skydeck Mass that wasn’t teched out and blaring. The android population of the terminal complex outnumbered the human and transhuman inhabitants two-to-one.
The structure itself had no esthetic. It was a squatty, thirty story compound hunkered down in a two km square void between buildings that stretched one hundred stories to brush the underside of the next deck level. The only hint at style were the lines of blackened porthole windows rimmed in metal that made Inna think of hollow, industrial spiders – lined up and anchored to the concrete against a windstorm.
The reception area was an odd mix of sterile grunge, with smoky walls of unpolished metal occasionally interrupted by ashen concrete panels that sported battleship doors, dingy vista projections for light therapy, or even dingier vid plates advertising biomedical improvements and drugs to ask your doctor about.
The service androids who accompanied patients in wheeled conveyances and hover-chairs looked as though they’d been put directly into service after a long slide down a waste chute. They all had a slightly oily sheen (and smell) and more dents than smooth curves. At least three the group passed in the receiving area only had one optic sensor.
The android manning the front desk was a rolling office chair from the waist down and had a roughly shaped metal plate riveted to one side of its face. Inna thought he looked like he was ready for an unorthodox costume ball.
“State your name, patient’s name, and authorization code,” the android instructed somberly.
Inna adjusted her mental pronouns to ‘she’. There was a distinctly feminine tone to the receptionist’s words with the lilt of the Taz’ native patois behind the rote sentence.
Wheels referred them to a consultation room on an upper floor once they had each thumbed a set of consent, privacy, and non-disclosure forms via their Cuffs.
The elevator was a sketchy metal box on pulleys. No fancy, inertia-absorbing bubbles in this sector. The lights in the elevator dimmed before it left the reception area with a jolt that had all three passengers reaching for the walls.
Each level they passed seemed to be marked by a flickering of the bulbs overhead. Inna smirked, entertaining thoughts of hauntings and the death-bleached shades of deranged mental patients. If Jake had been there, she would have pulled a packet of salt from her bag and sprinkled it around them in a circle. Dallas and Ulysses wouldn’t get the joke.
“I wish the lights would stop doing that,” Dallas grumbled to the ceiling.
“It is unsettling,” Ulysses agreed, grasping for the wall again as the elevator switched to a lateral line.
The motion of the elevator abruptly jerked to a stop and the doors opened onto a small sitting room decorated in a palette of grey and sweat. In the center of the room there were two, beat up, grey, foam couches facing off over a metal table. Other than a small door across from the trio’s entrance and three small porthole windows to the right, there was nothing on the walls but ancient stains and the harsh reflection of an overhead light.
A man appeared in hologram and introduced himself Dr. Tagealli, Sylvia B’s health manager. He reiterated much of what had been said already regarding the interview protocol, then added a new instruction.
“To keep Sylvia in a calm and cooperative state you will need to leave at least one meter between you and her for your full visit. Do not try to touch the patient even to shake hands. You will not get her to wear a microphone. Do not pass her any pieces of paper or trinkets. Sylvia has a compulsion against germs and disease; violating the patient’s personal space causes excess anxiety and stress.”
“Thank you, Doctor Tagealli. We will respect the extended personal space,” Inna said.
The trio were required to thumb acknowledgment of these instructions, then the doctor winked out and the group took up waiting positions around the room; giving the inner door a wide berth.
Inna ended up at one of the portholes, staring into a dense fog, contemplating Ulysses and the feeling of being near him again. It was a melancholy thing. She was pleased to see him and to interact, but she also knew that he had moved on with someone else and his wedding was mere months away. Inna wanted him to be happy, but she wished selfishly that he would never happier than when he was with her. She also wished she’d put more effort into finding a solution to keep them together.
Inna glanced over at Ulysses. He was sitting on one of the couches with Dallas opposite, talking easily about a recent Battle Game and showing off his impressive scars. Dallas seemed surprisingly at ease with him. Inna knew the sports angle was they key, but she also realized that Dallas had softened considerably in some of the ways she had once been elitist. Fear of a diagnosis of Jump Mania had a humbling effect on her cousin, but it had also made her more open-minded. Inna was not sure why one had led to the other, but she felt closer to her cousin than ever before and was happier for it.
A bell chimed in the room and a strip of lights above the inner door blinked twice. Inna crossed the room to stand near Dallas. She felt a tingle of excitement. Interviewing someone she had researched so deeply was always a thrill for her.
An android entered the room and explained that he would mark the boundary for Sylvia’s comfort zone. Essentially, he would stand between them and none of their party should attempt to pass him. No actual threats were levied, but Inna imagined approaching Sylvia and disappearing in a puff of skin cells under the android’s deathray gaze or being tazed to the floor as he pointed and bellowed, “Violation!”
She really needed to work some new genres into her vid queue.
Sylvia slipped into the room, leaning against the wall like she was balancing on a window ledge. She removed her shoe and wedged it into the door so it could not close all the way, then she leaned near the opening as though ready to flee. From this position, Sylvia studied them and acknowledged their introductions with subtle nods. The gamine girl did not seem able to stand still. Restlessly she shifted from foot to foot; dreaded, mouse-brown hair swinging in a nervous rhythm to slap a silent beat against her pallid cheeks.
Since Sylvia had chosen to stand against the wall behind the couch, Inna began the interview kneeling backwards on the grey foam and resting her tab screen on the back of the couch to maintain a reference to the questions she’d prepared.
Inna gave Sylvia what she felt was a kind and reassuring smile.
“Thank you for meeting with us today, may I call you Sylvia?” Inna asked.
“I’ ya call me somet’en else I won’ know ta answer,” she replied tartly from behind her hair. Sylvia’s voice still had the high pitch of a child and her hard patois reflected the down two accent of the forgotten. (On the two lowest decks of all CCSMs education was optional. Most children in this class began working as soon as their motor skills would allow.)
Inna smiled at the joke and pushed forward.
“I recently watch a documentary where you talked about a vision of the end of the world. I’m very interested in your dream. Can I ask you some questions about it?”
“I’ not a dream. Not da firs’ time. Dat one way a future put in mah heaD,” Sylvia tapped her temple for emphasis.
“I would like to hear about it. See if there are details –”
“Why ya wan’ know? I ‘ready know an don wan’ know iT. Wish I couldT no know it, lai you. I re-mem-ber you. I saw you die. Ya wan’ know daT?”
Inna opened her mouth, but Sylvia’s blunt declaration had surprised her right off her train of thought.
Sylvia spoke again, gesturing strongly as though flinging something from her chest.
“I’ a liar. I’ a crazy. I’uh too la-aZy ta work so I’d make it uP. I’ a scared orphan lookin’ for a-tten-tioN. D’ese are da tings people say when I tell deM. N’ai listens, be-causse n’ai wan’ ta know, no really. Dey show me a t’rrible ting, a horror’ting. But n’ai say to me, after, why dey show iT. Kan I’uh stop iT? Kan you stop iT? I don wan’ a life fulla people dyin’ be-hine mah close eyes? Do you?”
“No, I would not want that,” Inna shook her head and glanced at Dallas.
“I saw you die,” Sylvia whispered harshly and gestured like she was throwing her eyes to the floor.
“That is a hard thing to hear,” Inna conceded. “Do you mean me specifically, all three of us specifically, or the human race in general?”
“I way talkin ta you,” Sylvia pointed, “bu’h I saw her too.” She crooked a thumb in Dallas’ direction. Then she leaned a bit to see around them and looked intently at Ulysses. “I don know you. I nay see you bu’hfore. Who are you?”
“I’m Ulysses, I am here as your moderator today.”
“What’s dat do?” she asked.
“I am tasked with keeping the interviewers from making you uncomfortable, angry, or frustrated. I am also here to make a pure record of the interview so no one can change your words or misquote you.”
While talking, Ulysses had moved from his perch on the arm of the second couch to stand beside Inna. Sylvia cringed and keened at him in terror to stay away. She retreated part of the way through the inner door. The android, alerted by the stress of her outburst moved to close the gap between himself and the space directly in front of Sylvia.
“Please do not move around the room. Choose a seat or place to stand and remain there,” the android instructed.
“I will,” Ulysses answered, palms out.
It took a few minutes for Sylvia to rejoin them. She eyed Ulysses warily for a while. The restless shifting had returned, but she was hiding behind her hair less than before.
“Sylvia,” Dallas began, “can you tell us in detail, what you saw in the vision?”
Sylvia sighed, “I tell you nay, you be happier.”
“I know,” Dallas urged, “I take that responsibility on myself, but maybe together we can find a hint or clue about how to stop it.”
“Doctor in da light say is’s ‘delusional prophet complex’,” Sylvia enunciated the diagnosis with disdain. “Say if I were da real prophet I’uh see more den ever’bai dyin’.”
“I’m no expert on prophets,” Dallas said with a reassuring smile, “but I do enjoy a good mystery vid. Let’s see if we can suspend the disbelief and unravel it together.”
Sylvia shrugged, “Where ya wan me ta start? Do ya wan me to tell ya how you die?” This time Sylvia wasn’t challenging or trying to shock them. Inna felt that she was genuinely asking if they wanted to hear that detail or remain ignorant.
“Let’s just start from the beginning and work through it,” Dallas suggested.
“I don know da names of all da places, but I’uh can describe dem to you,” Sylvia offered.
Dallas cocked her head. “What places?”
“Da vision start on Mars, den it go to somerway I’ nay been. Den dey show me udder places, den yours, den couple more. Den here for my own death.”
This time Dallas was thrown off the train. Inna filled the gap after a pause.
“Is there something all of these places have in common, Sylvia?” Inna asked.
“Ever’bai dies,” Sylvia offered with a shrug. “and da rabbit people, a’huh”
“Okay.” Inna nodded and tapped a line item from her list. “Tell me about the rabbit people. Do you know who they are?”
Inna waited a beat to see if Sylvia would add anything to her statement, then plunged ahead.
“Why do you call them rabbit people?”
“Because dey people wit’ long rabbit ears, fur, whisker, paws…” Sylvia drifted off, lost in thought.
“So they are people in costumes designed to look like rabbits?” Inna asked.
“No. Dey people all da way t’rough.”
Inna felt confused and was considering how to nail this detail down when Dallas chimed in. “Just to be clear, Sylvia. You are saying the rabbit people are not wearing costumes, they always have fur and long ears, even when they are naked?”
Sylvia giggled in a manic, breathy way. “I’uh never see one a dem nakeD! Dey wear dose funny pant wit’ part of a shirt on top anda straps dat hold it all together. But when dey naked dey would stay have fur, like animals. Dey no animals dough. Dey talk and dance and make plans ta kill people instay of jess bitin’ dem.”
Dallas considered her own vision. There is no such thing as rabbit people so she had always believed them to be people in costume. How could Sylvia be so sure? Had it been settled in the memory of the naive child willing to believe in fairy stories and never challenged in adulthood? Then she remembered Crabby Beefcake from the station.
“Ulysses,” Dallas began, turning to the man, “is there tech on The Taz to give people animal parts as well as mech enhancements?”
“Sure.” He nodded. “Our specialists have worked out biogenetic transmogrification that includes zoology.”
“Any all-over rabbit trends?” Dallas asked.
“Not that I’m aware of.” He shook his head.
Sylvia stood still, “Maybay rabbit people nay here t’day, but dey may be on da right day?”
“Maybe.” Dallas nodded thoughtfully.
Inna tried to dive back in. “Sylvia, you said the beginning of the vision is on Mars and then it travels to other places. Do you know any dates, times, or details that might be a clue to time like weather, seasons…”
“It sunset way you die and I t’ink it soon because you almost look like da people you will be dat day. Dallas’ hair is longer and you’uh hay a scar under your lip here,” Sylvia ran her finger under the right quarter of her bottom lip.
Dallas felt her skin prickle at that detail; another correlation to her own vision.
Sylvia continued. “Da vision happen at da same time. Each place ha’ da same ting happen at-da same time, but I can’nay see ever’ting at once, so I see each piece in each place. I see da people who miss da gatherings – da ones who are still alive after da dance – find da bodies where dey drop. Den dey take da sickness awa’i with dem and die too, slower. Den people who stay’d awa’i get sick and die. Den dey come here ta kill mE, but I don’ get da pretty paper dat show sunlight where dere is’nay lighT. Dey don’ dance wit’ me and I’uh know who dey are so I scream-an-scream, but dey kill me anywai.” Sylvia had stepped away from the wall and was clinging to her android’s back while he held her under each knee.
“So childlike,” Inna thought.
“Dey give me da blood demselves. When I first saw me die, I was eight so I didn’ay know it wAs me. Not to maybe five year ago dat I notice I was becomin’ dat last person who died. Now I know’d why she de only one who wa’ afraid of the rabbit people. And n’ai ever sees dem leave. It like ever’bai is come ta see dem. Dey dance and take da children to dance wit’ an den dey shine dem up. Da rabbit people tell da children to go back to dey family – to hug dem, tell dem love tings, den ta kiss d‘em. De kids do it, but dey get bloodsick all over da firs’ person who lean in for da kiss. Den da sickness is out for ever’bai ta catch. But while ever’bai tiss screamin’ an dyin’ da rabbit people disappear. N’ai ever see dem leaVe.”
With Sylvia speaking faster, Inna tried to process the chain of events and additional details that the girl was throwing out.
“What is the final moment of the vision? Do you actually experience your own death in the vision or just see your contamination?” Inna asked.
Sylvia thought about this. “My eyes close,” she states, preoccupied with remembering. “I feel da pain in my stomach like a t’ick snake it’s twistin’ in dere. Den da porthole open and da pink cloud say, ‘There is no safe place on Terra.’ It start rainin’ in my room, den ever’ting is black.”
“The voice comes from the pink cloud?” Dallas asked in wonder, forgetting to pretend that she did not know a part of this vision for herself.
“Yes,” Sylvia answered with a yawn. “I use tink dey were talkin’a me, but now I tink I hear dem tell someone else.”
“Like they are answering a question,” Inna offered. “If it’s like you just said it, ‘There is no safe place on Terra.’ then the emphasis on ‘is’ would make it seem like someone asked, ‘Where do we go?’ or ‘Where can we hide?’ and this was their reply.”
Dallas nodded and pointed at Sylvia with a smile. “So maybe the answer has been there all along. In order to survive we need to get off the planet!”
Inna looked at Dallas, barely containing her excitement. “She said it happens simultaneously on Mars. So we can’t go to Mars, where else is there?”
“I guess we start with space itself and see where discovery leads us?” Dallas answered. Then stopped breathing. Sylvia was standing right in front of her with an intense expression and both hands hovering above Dallas’. Together they looked down as Sylvia exerted willpower over her fear and grasped Dallas’ wrists with both hands.
“Ta-ay me wit you,” a shaking Sylvia breathed with her eyes closed. Then she opened them and stared directly into the other woman’s eyes. “Don leaVe me ‘ere ta die.”
“We won’t,” whispered Dallas. “We won’t.”