Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 5


 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?) 
(Part 4!)

The next day we met in the same classroom to plan our ‘attack’ for the stupid maths trophy. The room was empty when I arrived, so I grabbed a chair by the window and closed my eyes.

Footsteps made me open them again, and Megan entered the room, tanned legs flexing under her school skirt as she walked. Very deliberately, I turned away.

“So,” she said, dropping into a chair and leaning forward over the desk. “Belief that things are possible – that’s one major element of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

I nodded. I’d spent most of last night holed up in my bedroom, practising phasing my hand through various objects; sinking it into the mirror was the coolest.

“But I have another theory, as well.” She stared at her hands. “See, it has to be more than just belief, otherwise why couldn’t anyone do it? Why haven’t people done it before now?”

I stared out the window at the basketball court where Nate and Horse were tossing a ball around – not playing, you understand, because cool people don’t actually commit to anything, including learning the skills it takes to actually play anything. Cool people just learn the most impressive-looking moves and string those together with a bunch of nonchalant poses designed to say, ‘Look at the awesome stuff I can do without trying.’ Which is the perfect excuse for not trying, right? Because if you’re that good without trying, clearly you’re so good that being good isn’t a challenge, so you’re not not-trying because you’re scared to fail, but because the whole idea bores you, because, like, whatever, man, I mastered that years ago.

Just sayin’.

Anyway, needless to say, I wasn’t exactly paying attention to Megan, so when she jabbed me in the arm I first of all winced – “Ow! Hey, what was that for?”

“For not paying attention, numbskull.”

And then I wondered what it would be like to phase through something alive. I shuddered. Ew.
“You’re still not listening!” Megan reached over and smacked me on the arm.

It hurt. “Ow!” I glared at her, rubbing my stinging bicep. “I’m listening!”

She rolled her eyes. “I said, what do we have that they” – she waved at the playground generally – “don’t?”

“You mean other than being ridiculously intelligent?” I said, still glaring.

“Well obviously that.” Megan squeezed her temples in one hand. “But that’s not enough, either. There have been other smart people in the world before us, you know.” She shot me a look that would have melted icicles.

I stared at her. “You’re really worked up about this, aren’t you?”

Megan shrugged. “I hate not understanding how people work.” She glanced at me and a faint blush coloured her cheeks. “I’m usually pretty good at it.”

I didn’t realise it then, but man, is that the understatement of the year.

“Yeah, but seriously, does it really matter? We can do it, yay, awesome, moving on. Why waste brain power stressing over why? Isn’t the whole point of this little group to figure out how? Saving the world and all that?” I laced my fingers behind my head and leaned back in my chair, sneaking glances at the guys not-playing basketball.

“You sound so convinced.”

I dragged my eyes away from the court. “So sue me,” I muttered. “I having friends, you know.”

I was saved from Megan’s response by the arrival of the rest of the little crew, and they quickly set about the business of boring me to death. Oh, sorry, I mean planning for the Maths event. Thrilling business.

After five minutes I’d had enough. I snatched the study sheet away from Greg and scanned down it. “Seriously, remind me why we are wasting time preparing for this?” I said as I calculated the answers to all but the fifth question.

Greg smacked me over the head and stole the sheet back. “Moron.”

“Because we want to win, Chris.” Megan sighed. “I know actually caring about things is a foreign concept for you, but—“

“But some of us actually give a fig about the world,” said Greg, interrupting loudly.

“I care about things!” I shot back.

“Oh yeah? What?” Greg folded his arms over his chest.

“Guys, can we just concentrate, please?” Pip waved the scribble paper in the air. “Please? We’ve only done three questions and the halfway bell--” The bell rang, and Pip sighed. “Is about to go.”

“Just a second,” Greg said, guiding Megan back into the chair she was standing up from. “I want to hear what Loserboy here has to say. So, tell me.” He stood with arms refolded. “What do you care about?”

I shoved myself out of my chair and stood, fists clenched by my sides. “I care about plenty of things, thanks.”

Greg snorted. “Yeah, like whether your tie is just loose enough to broadcast ‘rebel’ without being so loose you’ll get detention. Or, you know, whether or not your hair is perfectly ruffled. Here, let me help you with that.” He reached towards my head and I ducked.

“Boys,” Megan said warningly.

I shoved Greg aside and straightened out my shirt, self-consciously ignoring my tie. “Look, just because I don’t happen to be as passionate as you about some stupid Maths day doesn’t mean I don’t care about stuff. I care about stuff!”

“I’m still waiting on examples, numbskull.”

“Oh, come off it Greg. Just leave him alone and let us get back to studying, will you?” Megan pulled out the chair beside her and patted it. “I need your help with this one.”

Greg’s jaw twitched and I knew Megan had gone straight for the soft spot.

Excellent. Thank you, Megan, for showing me his weakness. “Aww, did you hear that Greg? Megan needs your help. You like to help, don’t you, tough guy? Like to feel all manly and protective and needed?”

His jaw worked furiously.

“Let it go, Greg,” Megan said softly, eyes sharp. “It’s not worth it.”

I tensed, expecting Greg to lunge at me again and calculating which way I could throw myself if he did.

Instead, he exhaled forcefully and relaxed his arms to his sides. “You’re wrong,” he said, turning to Megan. “It is worth it. Because if he can’t care about anything, he can’t be part of a team. If he doesn’t care about what we’re doing, why risk his neck? And if he doesn’t care about us, how can we trust him?” He shot me a sidelong glance before plonking down into the chair and grabbing the paper Matt had been writing on. “Here, where are you up to?”

Megan gave me a look as though wondering if Greg was right.

I do care, I wanted to say to her. I care about everything, more than anyone. But it’s too much and I can’t do anything about it anyway, so I have to lock it all away or I’ll drown. I care. I just don’t want to.

Instead, I shrugged, and walked away.

[Continued next month...]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Aish of a Grey Lion: A Storm-Dance Short Story (part 1 of 2)

The sharp scent of pine a stab through her nostrils, Niobe kept her eyes on her target as she wound her way through the trees. Uneven ground lent itself poor to graceful movement, but Niobe had the uncanny knack of keeping her shoulders level even as her feet crept across the fallen logs and moss-covered rocks beneath the underbrush.

There, only twenty paces ahead and to the right was the soticheij, the monster that once was a man. Back to her, his antlers outlined an undulation as his head swayed. With a deep breath, almost a sigh, he pawed the ground with his forelimbs, thickened and lengthened to support his weight in quadrupedal movement. He could no longer stand upright, his back having hunched at the centre, his legs having contorted to a shape like that of a dog’s. Everything about his massive body suggested strength, a ponderous strength Niobe had already seen fell trees and break a knight’s ribs.

The aish of a moose, judging by the antlers. That’s what she would have called it, back when… but no one talked about that anymore. Or, at least, no one acted on it. This man had been merely unlucky and gotten trapped in an eseteij long enough for the storm’s magic to twist both bone and humanity. Still, the bodies of usual soticheij were more chaotic. His had a focus to it, enough that it rested on the line between what it should be and what it must never be. It gave rise to old memories Niobe would rather not think of.

She raised her pistol.

Where were the other knights? They had separated to surround the brute, but none had given the signal that they had arrived at their position. She sent the magic upwards and it caught in a tree, releasing the back and forth of jays before dissipating. No response yet.

No matter how many times she went on hunts like this, Niobe wondered what kind of people soticheijo had been before they’d changed. Common knowledge held that nothing remained of their former selves. If only. Niobe had known people who sought this change, and it had only amplified everything they already were and wanted to be.

Its antlers finished their undulation, the soticheij drew back from the tree it had pawed at. A large cedar, almost dead, and no wonder with the hollow in its trunk the soticheij had just uncovered. There was something inside. Niobe couldn’t make out what it was.

A chickadee’s call rang out, one dee, with an odd lift of pitch at the end. One of the other knights had called an alert. She responded with a chipmunk’s chatter from about five paces behind. The chickadee came again, five dees this time, accompanied by the squawk of jays. Immediate danger, come to aid.

Niobe shifted her weight to help, but she caught sight of what was in the tree. A child. As the other knights signalled that they would go to the one in distress, Niobe drew her sword and approached her quarry.

With its thick hands, the soticheij picked up the child, who hung limp in the monster’s grip. Not dead, Niobe didn’t think, but unconscious. She crouched behind a stunted dogwood. Only eight paces away now.

The child opened its eyes. It cringed, but didn’t struggle. In a low, distorted voice, the soticheij spoke to the child. Though unintelligible, the cadence and sound of its words suggested to Niobe that she should understand it. She almost understood it. But it eluded her and she couldn’t see why. The child didn’t listen to its captor. Its eyes stared off at nothing, an expression Niobe recognized with a thud of her heart. This angered the soticheij, who yelled and slapped the child, drawing blood with jagged fingernails. Two of its words came into deadly focus:

Teeshlawat Fyareng.

All at once, the rest of what the soticheij said cleared like ripples giving way to still water. The language she had not heard since childhood…

“He chose you, as he chose me, and I will take you to him when it is safe. His call is an honour, an honour-”

Niobe shot him.

His roar filled the air as he dropped the child and turned to face the threat. The child only retreated into the hollow of the tree and curled up.

No one had said anything about a kidnapping. The soticheij had been spotted, too close and too wild to be ignored, and so the Royal Militia had come to dispatch it. But no one had been hurt yet. Or missing. Which meant the child must have been taken from another village, taken here as the soticheij took it with him. Took it to the Teeshlawat Fyareng.

She had shot him in the shoulder, which bled, but his hide was too tough for much more. More shots rang out too far away, the other knights in their battle. Niobe returned the pistol to its holster. Bullets wouldn’t help here.

The soticheij scanned the forest, nostrils flared and breath heavy. Stepping out from behind the dogwood, Niobe brandished her sword and made as if to approach. She would have, too, if not for the moment his eyes met hers and she knew him. It had been years, but she knew him. And, as those eyes of gold-scratched grey widened, she knew he saw past all that time, too.

Aish of a grey lion,” he said. “Where are your claws?”

Part 2 will go up next month!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 4

 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?)

I did it. Holy crap, I did it. My hand is part of the desk. My hand is part of the desk. Sudden and irrational panic gripped my chest and I tried to jerk my hand away – and the desk jolted.

Megan cried out, closed her eyes briefly and extracted her own hand – but mine wouldn’t budge. I pulled again, breaths coming shallow and fast, but the desk moved too, wouldn’t separate. I was trapped, I couldn’t get away, and it was like primary school when they caught me in the finger trap that first time and wouldn’t let me out and they all crowded around and shoved, and it was gentle at first until they realised I couldn’t get away, and then it turned mean, and they sang ‘Chris-fit, Chris-fit, Chris-fit is a misfit!’ and I had to hide the bruises from my mother and I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think…

“Chris!”

Megan’s voice cut through the panic and I realised she’d called my name a couple of times, and that the hands on my shoulders weren’t hurting me, but were trying to catch me, trying to prevent me from thrashing. “Steady on, man.”

Greg. I stiffened, gulping in air.

“Chris, you have to calm down!” Megan’s voice was high-pitched, distressed, and she looked close to tears.

I closed my eyes, trying to ignore my hand, and drew in a deep, shaky breath. “I’m calm,” I said, forcing my shoulders to relax. “I’m calm.” I’m not Chris-fit anymore, I reminded myself.

Greg held me for another second, fingers digging into the soft skin between collar bone and shoulder, until I shrugged him away. “I’m calm.” I opened my eyes and sought out Megan’s. “Get me out of this?”

“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head.

Panic rose up again. Hell of a finger-trap. “What do you mean?”

“You have to do it yourself. It’s just the same as getting it in there. But you have to relax.”

I nodded, exhaling. I could do this. I got myself into it, I could get out again. It wasn’t a finger-trap. The shock of seeing my hand in the desk had set off the panic, nothing else. Anyone would freak out at the sight of half their hand missing. Anyone.

I took another deep breath to steady myself and closed my eyes. Once again, I imagined the miniscule structure of my hand, the electron links between atoms and the way the connections danced around the connections in the table. I could do this. And then, suddenly, I could; I was no longer just imagining the atomic structure of my hand, I could see it. And the table, too.

Slowly, slowly, I forced the table away from my hand, and my hand moved fractionally upwards. I resisted the temptation to jerk away all at once and moved steadily, atom by atom by atom. I opened my eyes and stole a glance, and relief flooded over me as I saw that my hand was almost free. I couldn’t help myself; I tore it away the last little bit, wincing as I broke some of the atomic bonds and left skin behind.

I sat still, nursing my hand, too stunned to process what had happened.

“You okay, man?” Greg said quietly, hand hovering like he wanted to put it on my shoulder again.

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging away. “I’m cool.”

Greg shrugged too and sat back on his desk.

I stared at mine, at the place where my hand had sunk.

“So you see it is possible,” Megan said quietly.

My gaze flicked to her for a second, then back to my hand. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”

“Are you in?” she said, voice still soft.

My brows twitched as I questioned her with my eyes. “I have a choice?”

“Of course you do.”

“You said I couldn’t walk away.” I searched her face.

“I lied.”

I clenched and unclenched my jaw, rubbing the spot where my fingertips lacked some of their skin. “Yeah,” I said at last. “Yeah, I’m in.”

The bubble of tension that had been building unnoticed in the room burst, and everyone leaned back in their chairs, breathing deeply. I felt like I’d passed some sort of critical test or something. I guess I had.

Megan smiled. “Welcome to the L.A.O.S.”

I wrinkled my brow. “L.A.O.S.?”

Her smile broke into a grin, but it was Pip that answered my question. “League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheros,” she said.

I got it. Grinning back, I repeated back the words she’d said earlier. “Saving the world through science.”

Pip nodded. “Saving the world through science.”

Feeling like my cheeks might crack from sudden elation, I leaned back and surveyed the group. “So. We’re superheros. We don’t wear spandex, do we?” I added, frowning. “’Cause spandex is just wrong on so many levels.”

Matt frowned. “Spandex is aerodynamic, flexible, flame resistant and helps maintain body temperature. In many ways, it’s the perfect hero fabric.”

 Megan sniggered, probably at the horror on my face.

“However,” Matt continued, “for aesthetic reasons, no. We do not wear spandex.”

“Though for you, Chris, we’re always willing to make an exception,” Greg threw in. “Unless, you know, you have image issues.”

“Shut up,” I said. “So. Non-spandex-wearing superheros. Do we have, like, missions? Who are we rescuing next?”

The group exchanged glances and I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “We do actually do stuff, right?”

“Well,” said Megan, with the air of someone carefully considering their words. “We do have something that needs rescuing.”

“Yes?” I said, still suspicious.

“You know the E. James Downward Maths trophy?”

Dread bubbled up inside. “Yeah…”

“We have to rescue it from St. Joseph’s.”

I groaned, and the bubble burst. “You’re kidding, right?”

But of course, she wasn’t. In less than one hour, I’d blown my cover as a normal human being, discovered I had what basically equated to superpowers, and joined a superhero club – and my first mission was to win the fracking inter-school Maths competition.

Damn it all. Didn’t I say they’d be planning extra credit work before three?

[Continued next month!]

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Eseteij (A Storm-Dance poem)

Chorus
It comes, the wild storm.
It comes, it comes,
The wild storm, it comes.

Man
What, ho, is this
That churns the trees
And chills the air?

Chorus
The wild storm
It comes, it comes.
The wild storm, it comes.

Man
And what wonder is this,
The soft edging of the breeze?

Chorus
It comes, it comes.
The wild storm,
It comes.

Man
I must go to it, awe-of-all.
One foot I step
Forwards
Into what I have heard but not seen.

Chorus
Don’t go, don’t go;
The wild storm, it comes.
It reaches forth it find you.
Hide, and you will be saved,
Or else it will hold you
Until you are no longer man,
But beast
And the ocean and hills
Will mean no more to you
Than earth’s song
And earth’s pant,
For the wild storm, it comes.

Man
The winds have embraced me
Soft through with magic
No longer threads
Tiny arms, hands, fingers,
But a woven fabric
And the sinuous limbs
Of the liquid spell-stuff
That caress my skin.

Chorus
It comes, the wild storm.
The wild storm, it comes.
It comes with teeth and claws and sword:
Not a caress, but the whispered edge of a blade
Drawn from its sheath.

Man
But, O, how the wisdom of my forefathers
Has turned to ash.
There is nothing to fear
But the snapping and fall of branches in the gale.
Gladly, I go forward.
I find no danger here.

Chorus
Don’t go, don’t go,
The wild storm is here.
It rasps your skin and grows your claws
Sprouts fur and feather, twists your limbs
From square to round to inverse*
To a knot.
Can’t you see?

Man
Oh, God, I see!

Both
Eseteij!


About this poem

Why would the foremost expert on the most dangerous natural phenomenon in the world walk right onto the path of that phenomenon?

Magic storms with the ability to change humans into monsters plague the continent containing the country of Asebei. In the country's language, Abei, they're called eseteij in the singular, eseteijo in the plural. Defending settlements from these storms used to be little more than a hit-and-miss, with no one knowing why what they did work, or why it failed (as it invariably did, sometimes more than others).

Vjaited Roz changed all that when he invented a reliable defense against these storms that could keep entire cities safe. For this he is praised. Of course, he's also considered a madman, because the last thing he ever did was walk straight into a magical storm.

This Asebei poem, meant to be performed aloud, is about him.


*This line refers to the cursive form of the Abei writing system. Some characters have an overall round shape, others have an overall rectangular shape, while others cross themselves and are referred to as inverse. The line is saying that the man's form will be changed and, eventually, twisted beyond recognition

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 3

 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?)

“Right,” she said. “So it’s like this. Hand.” She held her hand up between us. I’d never noticed how long and slender her fingers were before – not that I’d had the excuse or opportunity. “Desk.” She laid her hand on the smooth surface of the desk. “Both made of atoms packed together in a dense but regular structure, right?”

I shrugged. “Yeah. And?”

“In theory,” she said, stressing the word far more than normal, “if you aligned the atoms perfectly and were able to make sure that you didn’t lose electrons in the process, and could account for the electro-magnetics going on, you could pass one through the other. Right?”

“Yeah,” I said warily. “I suppose. In theory.”

“So do it,” she said, leaning back.

My eyebrows knitted together. “But I can’t. It’s impossible.”

“No. you just said yourself, it’s theoretically possible.”

“Yeah, but—“

“So do it.”

I stared at her for a long moment. “You’re crazy, right? That’s what this is actually all about. Either this is the Insanity Club, or you’re all having a big joke at my expense.” I glanced around the room. Matt and Pip seemed pretty incapable of having a joke full stop, so they were obviously the insanity contingent. Greg and Megan, though? They were capable of anything, and the way Greg was peering intently at me, arms folded over his chest and lips pressed so tight you could barely see them, did nothing to allay my suspicions.

Megan gave an explosive sigh. “Look, I really want you to figure this out on your own. Heaven knows, you’re smart enough. But being smart isn’t enough; you have to believe things are possible, too.” She caught my eye and held it. “You saw me walk through the door.”

Her face gave nothing away, but my stomach flip-flopped. “What do you mean?” I said, unwilling to admit to anything.

“You know what I mean.” Face impassive, gaze unwavering.

I held my own for a second longer, then screwed up my nose. “Oh, all right. I give in. You win. Yes, it’s theoretically possible. No, I seriously doubt anyone can do it. Yes, I’ll try anyway, and if I find out any of you have a video camera hidden somewhere in the room, I swear, I will make your life a misery.” I pressed my hand against the surface of the desk. “Here goes nothing.” I pressed against the shiny melamine-coated wood, heart racing nine to the dozen.

Nothing. I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. “There. See? Nothing. It’s just not possible.”

Megan huffed. “Idiot. You’re not really trying.”

“I am!” I protested. “See?” I pressed my hand against the very solid desk until the tips of my fingers went white.

“I don’t mean physically,” she said. “I mean mentally. Up here.” She tapped her temple.

Behind me, Greg snorted. “Oh, just give up, Meegs. He’s not going to get it. He’s been hanging out with the cool kids for five years; he might have some intelligence left in there somewhere, if you say so, but there’s too much attitude in the way.”

Says he, king of arrogance. “Look, shut up, all right? I’ll get it. Just tell me what I’m supposed to be getting.”

Megan studied me, eyes wide. “Are you really sure about this?” she asked eventually. “Because once you’re committed, there’s no going back. This isn’t the kind of thing you can un-do, or un-see.”

Nerves and frustration and anger and impatience warred for control. “Look, I can handle it, okay? I’m not stupid, and my attitude” – I glanced at Greg – “is fine. Just tell me what I’m trying to do, or how it is I’m supposed to do the impossible, or whatever.”

Megan placed her hand on the table next to mine and contemplated it. “It’s about belief, you see,” she said slowly. “Knowing something in your head and knowing it are different.” Her eyes flicked up and found mine. “Sometimes it helps to see it first.”

I was too busy staring into her ocean-blue eyes to notice at first that her hand was disappearing into the desk – and then I noticed, and flinched away.

“Anything’s possible, if you can just figure out how,” she said, still staring wide-eyed at me, almost like she was begging me to believe her.

Slowly, I moved my hand back onto the table next to hers. I swallowed. “I… I believe,” I whispered. I closed my eyes and imagined the atoms in my hand aligning perfectly with the atoms of the desk, imagined the dense structures relaxing and expanding, sinking and meshing into one another until the two were interlocked, meshed – but still separate, still different structures.

My eyes fluttered open and my gaze rested on my hand, only half visible, fingertips fully integrated with the desk. A smile softened the tension in my jaw. I did it.

[Continued next month]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Evergreen


In any daily weather
without design
or desultory portent
they let fall
leaves of fire and gold.

Naked they stand
illuminated
by sun
showers
age

In time
new buds will come
but for now the
ravages of winter they face
naked
stripped bare.

To let leaves fall
requires courage
more than I have.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Virtual Girl (excerpt)

(Note: This is all I have so far of an experimental sci-fi story code named Virtual Girl. Expect it to be confusing.)

Faded chalk art makes me think of the things
that could have been
and might be again.
Does that make sense?
I don’t know what does
it should have been so simple
But here I am again
thrown back
Blackness
Immobile
The beeping of machines that can never
Never
Wake me up again
When will I see again?

Must be programming
Must be the code
I hide out on the waves again
A digital ocean
‘Tell me, tell me’
I say
‘Why didn’t it work?’
But they don’t know
they never know
But they have the luxury
of being able to feel their fingers
Stop.
Stop
Not knowing
Not seeing
There was rain yesterday
And the dragon on the concrete
Has turned to shadow
And all I want
are my legs back.

‘We’ve never done anything like this,’
he says in Korean.
I translate for my brother and add
‘I hate this’
‘I know Korean,’
my brother says
‘Oh
Sorry’
Who thought astral projection
through the internet
would be so hard?
Easier than owning my body again
it seems
but both are supposed to be impossible
and here I am
why can’t I have this, too?
‘You’re thinking out loud again’
my brother says
The Korean scientist is confused
‘Tell him it was a mistake’
I say to my brother.
It seems I can only use the translator
when I’m emotional.

‘I think I found something’
my brother’s excitement does nothing
How many times have I heard it?
Each time, I settle
I move
I see
I say
‘Now’
He pulls the plug
and I come crashing down again
until the beep resumes
and machines fill my lungs again
tell my heart to beat again
Either way, it’s life by machine
Either way I die
But better my body than me
Right?

Humanoid, humanoid
it had to be humanoid
fully functioning
They were all big dogs here
and arguments about alien refugees
(granted, there had the aliens, too
but they also had better robots)
‘No, no, I’ve really found it’
‘So tell the scientist,’ I say
‘I can’t, that’s the problem
They know I know’

‘I swear, if you put this—’

‘They sent someone to the house’

‘Who?’

‘Them’

‘Why the hell are you researching them?
They can’t even remember’

‘Ever wondered why?’

‘What do you mean?’
I swim through the file
‘It’s got to be a conspiracy theory
How did you get this?’

‘You did’

Seems I use more than translators
when emotional

‘They want to know more about you’

A freak of technology

‘You’re a vegetable
They know
They know it’s impossible’

‘Do they know I want to live?’

‘They can’t wake you up’

‘So what good are they?’





‘What happened?’

‘Don’t yell,’ I tell my brother.

‘But what happened?’

‘Someone turned me off.
Wait
What the hell
What the hell’

‘What?’

‘Look’

‘I’

‘He’s them, isn’t he?’

‘They sent him to me’

‘I need to talk to him’

‘What—’

‘Get him back. I’m moving my body
before they mess with life support
again’

How do you find the right scientist?
Search engine?
Stalk universities?
No
You know someone
who knows someone
who knows someone
who knows a guy in Korea
“who’s working on something like that”
How does that even happen?
How am I even here?
But they don’t know
They can’t know
They want something
Here I am, run from
concerns of the day
only to be thrown
Right back into them.
How convenient, though
that he would know
who knows
who knows
How convenient

He’s at the apartment
My brother isn’t sure
He didn’t like last time
But how else to scare them?
(And he did like it last time
liar
I could hear him composing papers
in his mind
papers he could never write
but he would, anyway)
‘Wait’
My brother texts him to wait
I see through the webcam
I anticipate this “friend”
his shock
as I speak to him
I relish this
I just want to live
with privacy
with absolute privacy
‘Okay’—my brother’s voice betrays
his nerves
he hesitates
but puts it on
connects his brain to my reality
funny how the thing
that stuck me in the hospital
now gives me so much power
Here goes
Here
goes
I
in
in
in

The first thing to do when I’ve settled in my brother’s body is to take off the virtual reality interface and orient myself again. He mutters under the surface of me—it’s so weird having someone else’s self-talk in your head. But each movement of his body reminds me how different it is. Shorter, thicker. Male. I tell myself what I’m doing as I do it to get used to speaking with his voice. My own body, miles away, want to do the same. I can feel it moving to obey, but powerless to rise and communicate.

Ready, I text my brother’s friend. Acquaintance? What do you call someone who’s likely been using their relationship with you to exploit you? I think his name is Jason. I check the phone. Yes. Jason.

The chair beneath me squeaks as I stand, a little wobbly, but more steady as I walk across the apartment to the door. Moving through cyberspace is never so grounded as this. I have physical space around me, light through the windows, footsteps and the shift of clothing on my body with each movement.

I open the door.

“Hey!” says Jason.

“Hey yourself,” I say in poor imitation of my brother—I can hear his scornful undertones. Jason’s eyebrows draw together, but he comes in and takes off his shoes. I close the door.

“What did you want me over for?” he plops on the couch, limbs outstretched in comfort. I consider playing the charade a little longer, but this is better.

“I’d like to tell you…” No. That thought dies before my brother’s vocal cords can shape it. “I’m not particularly fond of people who cut my life support.”

Jason’s eyes bulge. He reminds me of a fish. “Your sister’s life support, you mean.”
I sit down exactly like myself and smile. “No, I meant my life support.”

“Do you have multiple personalities or something?”

“Look, Jason, or whoever you really are, I’m going to make this really simple: You’re looking at my brother’s body, but you’re talking to me. And, last night, you snuck into the hospital, shut off my life support, and turned it back on. Moreover, my brother informs me you came by the other day about some files I dug up that it seems you and quite a few other people have an interest in keeping hidden. What would people think if they knew these refugees came to Earth not because they were fleeing anything but because they were very, very interested in… what was it? ‘Harvesting latent potentials in the human populace for the improvement of our own abilities’?”

The following bout of stuttering is most gratifying. Jason peers at me.

“Why did you shut off my life support?” I ask.

“I didn’t—”

“Do you want stills from the security cameras, or should I stream the whole feed?”

“Is there some medication you should be taking?”

“Jason. Think. You interrupted my life support. No one at the hospital noticed. No one said anything about it. I’d love to know how you managed that, but that’s not really what’s on your mind right now because you know the only way I could be telling you this is if I wasn’t the vegetable you thought I was and, at the very least, I could tell my brother what you did. After all, outside of whoever else you’re working with, only I would know what you did. That’s how you set it up.”