Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mindscape

      Welcome to Wednesday! This week has been killer for me. I haven't had time for much of anything; writing or editing. I'm really looking for my weekend to make some extra time up. To account for that, I've decided to share a little short story with you guys.

      A few years ago, I was in a group where we wrote short stories on a subject and then shared them with the group. Here is a fun science-fiction one I wrote. Please, let me know what you think of it, and I'll have something with a bit more substance behind it come Sunday.

Mindspace
      Alice took a deep breath and looked to the machine as nurse Talia taped the thin disks to her forehead. The device itself was nothing but buttons and wires, with a slim unassuming white plastic case around it. It looked like the newest gaming console, with its soft lines and rounded edges but the thick needle tubes still sitting in their base destroyed the illusion. The rest of the room was white, sterile and lonely. No music played and nurse Talia worked in complete silence. The only sound was Alice’s breath and her beating heart.
     "Honey, stop that.” Nurse Talia chided in a thick South American accent. It made her drawl sound patronizing. “You’re going to start hyperventilating if you keep on like that.”
      Alice took a deep breath. “Sorry about that. I guess I’m just nervous.”
      "Ah Honey, you don’t have to be. It’s just a little trip to Mindspace. You’ll only be gone for a few minutes… hardly long enough for even a peek. You just watch, you’ll be like all the others. Crying out like a babe when I wake you up begging to stay in for just five more minutes.”
      Alice nodded. That was what she was hoping for. To be accepted as a colonist, you needed to be able to handle spending time in your own mind. Space travel meant cryogenics, and cryogenics meant Mindspace.
     “It is safe, isn’t it?”
     “Honey,” Nurse Talia sounded tired. She probably was. The package Alice had received about colonization answered all of these questions. “I’m only freezing you to minus one hundred and fifty degrees Celsius. Why you’ll only be in Mindspace for five minutes. That’s just long enough for you to get a feel of the place so that you can tell the administrators about it. You’ve passed all the other tests, being healthy, fertile, and un-poisoned. You wouldn’t be in my cryo-room if you weren’t qualified.”
      Alice nodded with a sigh. “I know. I had to check.” She smiled weakly. “It’s just such a new technology.”
      The nurse put her hand on Alice’s arm. “Honey, it’s been five years. This is the second colony ship.”
      Alice nodded. It was actually the third, but by courtesy nobody mentioned the E.S.S. Birth. The Birth had disappeared before it had reached its destination. The Earth Confederated Republic had never found the wreckage which left its fate to be argued by conspiracy theorists and people with too much time on their hands. The current favourite was that Cordians – aliens with tentacles for legs and thick voices that reverberated when they spoke – had taken it. In fact, the rumor went that they hadn’t just stolen the technology but were also using the bodies of the colonists to bring the CNTX-31 to Earth.
      Alice almost rolled her eyes. Every fifth grader knew that it was chemical reaction between expended naphtha and solar flare radiation that was mutating the Sonic Hedgehog protein and causing Earth’s infertility crisis.
      Alice winced as she felt a prick and saw nurse Talia sliding a thick tube into her forearm. Alice grabbed the seat chair, digging in with her fingernails as the tube slide into brachial artery. It was the widest vein in the arm, but it was also the closest to the base nerve clusters. She ground her teeth and swore as the nurse pushed it in the last centimeter. Her arm felt cold and then she felt the back of the tube open, allowing blood to flow through.
      Nurse Talia apologized as she moved to Alice’s leg with the next thick needle. “Sorry about that Honey, it always hurts but you seemed to be so lost in thought that I figured you wouldn’t notice.”
      Alice gritted her teeth while the other three intravenous injectors were placed in her. Then the nurse walked back over to the machine and tapped a button on it. It whirred to life, a quiet buzz in the otherwise silent room.
      “Time to sleep, Honey. I’ll see you in five minutes.”
      Alice watched as the blue fluid that would effectively flash freeze her ran towards her body. The blue fluid entered her and she felt sick, waiting for it to take effect.
      She cut off a scream as the fluid super-cooled her arms and legs, numbing them so expertly that she almost didn’t register the pain as she lost the use of her limbs. She took deep breaths, feeling the cold icy feeling work its way towards her chest. She shivered, moaning but nurse Talia shushed her.
    “Quiet Honey. It’s nearly over now.”
      Alice opened her eyes wide as the fluid entered her heart. Her shriek was cut off as her heart stopped, freezing it like it was nothing more than a steak in someone’s freezer. She collapsed, dimly aware of the numbing sensation working its way towards her brain.

      Alice felt grit on her face and blinked, trying to clear her sight. Everything was fuzzy and it took her a moment to remember why. She’d been applying for colonist privileges. Only colonists could leave the planet, escaping the pollution and radiation. It may have been dangerous to go but it was deadly to stay.
      If all had gone right, she was in Mindspace now.
      Mindspace was a name for the psychic area that your mind inhabited. The reason early cryogenics hadn’t worked was because the mind couldn’t be turned off. It had to remain active and alive, while the body stayed frozen. If the mind died, the body followed suit.
     The blue gel, known as cyroprotech, froze the body but kept the brain oxygenated and firing neutrons like the blood did. A doctor that had fallen into a coma had supposedly discovered the mental space that had made cryogenics work.
      According to the brochures included in her colonist application, Mindspace usually appeared as a favourite room, without any doors and windows. The rooms were supposed to be well lit, comfy and clean. Everything the person had learned in their lifetime could be accessed in Mindspace, as soon as you figured out the way your mind stored the information.
      The pictures the company had shown her had been large rooms, brightly lit, with yellow or off-white painted walls with brightly coloured blue and green couches or chairs. In the center of the room had been an elegant glass table. Against one wall had been a bookshelf with a TV conveniently placed in the middle shelf. Sitting almost forgotten in a corner was a computer. Pictures on the walls had shown an ocean and forest with dolphins in the first and deer and bunnies in the second.
They'd looked open, roomy and inviting; Her room looked nothing like that.
      The walls were grim and grey with paint peeling off in large chunks. The ground was littered with debris, as if the roof had fallen in at some point and no one had ever tried to clean it up. A basketball lay on the ground, in front of a huge picture window. The window was letting a weak facsimile of natural light in, tinged a dark grey that suggested gloomy clouds overhead. The window itself was open, letting in a light breeze that couldn't quite conceal the faint scent of rot. Somebody's washing line had been strung into the room, though, even through the window she couldn't see the opposite wall those lines attached to.
      Standing, she tried to wipe the grime off her. It stuck to her in grey/white clumps with the consistency of half dried mud and plaster dust. When she looked up to the roof, she realized that it was more of the rolling grey, like the kind the window showed outside. It looked almost like a low hanging cloud was obscuring the ceiling from her.
        The room felt oppressive, like she was unwelcome. Books lay in tatters on the floor, their knowledge caked by so much dirt that she doubted they could be cleaned and set to right.
      She shivered wishing there was a way out of the room that didn't involve moving closer to the open window. She looked around but the only other way out seemed to be the roof. At least if those were clouds and not just some sort of fog. She reached up hesitantly, but though the clouds looked low, they were high enough that her hand couldn’t reach them. Her hand felt cooler the closer she came to the dark roiling mass and she shivered again.
      She needed to get out of here. She walked closer to the window, looking at the rickety chair  propped up against the wall. She flicked it with a finger. It wobbled for a moment but didn't collapse into a broken heap like she'd half expected that it would.
      The breeze was stronger at the window and Alice realized that the moist scent of decay was even stronger outside. The fog looked closer here and she reached her hand out hesitantly towards it. The temperature fell as she got closer but her hand still couldn't quite reach.
It was irrational, but she had the sudden need to touch it. She leaned onto the windowsill, stretching out as far as she could. She almost lost her balance but finally her fingers touched the fluffy cloud.          For an instant, nothing happened and she felt disappointed. It should have done something, rather than just feeling…
      Suddenly, her arm felt like it was burning and Alice sucked in panicked breath. Thin ice traced its way up her arm and Alice quivered in pain, chocking off her scream as she leapt backwards into the room.
       Her hand felt like it was frozen solid and she couldn’t move it at all. It was like her limb had been turned to stone. She clutched it to her chest, forcing her mind to think past the burning cold while she tried to force her fingers to obey her. It felt like an eternity but finally, she was able to flex the cold digits. The ice around them had been thickening but with her movement it shattered, falling to the ground, where it melted to mix with the mud.
       She continued to flex her fingers, noticing that her skin had turned blue in the short amount of time the ice had covered her. As warmth started returning her skin started changing to its natural colour. When the burning was replaced by a strangely abused bruised feeling, she risked glancing up.
Her mouth dropped. The fog outside the window was clearing at an alarming rate, revealing the husk of  a dead civilization. Empty buildings rose into the sky almost out of her view. Though she could see other windows in the buildings most of them looked like they were boarded over. In the one or two open ones she could see the light of dim fires and the occasional shadow that suggested people like herself. She leaned out, waving her arms and crying for help but none of them even seemed to see her.
She turned and sat against the windowsill, still flexing her fingers absent-mindedly, with an almost twitchy motion. She wondered if the other people had been like her, trapped inside and unable to see past the omnipresent fog.
      “So you’ve managed to wake up?” an easygoing voice said. “I hadn’t expected that.”
      Alice jumped in surprise and turned to see a small black cat sitting on her windowsill. The little beast smirked at her. She had the urge to poke the cat and ask it who had spoken, but this was Mindscape. It obviously wasn’t like her world. Maybe Mindscape was like a dream and weird things happened in dreams all the time.  
     “Woke up?” she answered calmly. She rubbed her fingers together, trying to alleviate a strange pins and needles sensation in the tips.
     “Yes.” The cat told her seriously. It started cleaning a perfect black paw. “Most humans can’t see beyond the bounds of their mind, but you can.”
     “I’m not a Talent.” She told the cat. Talents were rare and feared. How could a simple trip into Mindspace turn her into one?
     “You weren’t.” he corrected. “You were a latent Talent. With one trip in here, you managed to overcome that limitation. Think of what you could be with enough practice.”
       None of the thoughts that passed through her mind were good ones. They didn’t need to be. She’d wondered all her life what having that power was like.
       “How?” she asked bluntly.
       “Do what you were going to do anyway. Take the colony ship… Imagine, if you can get this far in under five minutes, imagine what we can do over the fifteen years you’ll be in stasis.”
       She caught her breath and then nodded once. The possibilities would be endless.
       Suddenly she felt a tug and the cat nodded knowingly.
      “We’ll meet again.” he told her. 
      Before she could do anything more, she was yanked out of her Mindscape.

      Her eyes opened in a startled yelp as warmth flooded her body. She strained against the restraints as she felt each individual nerve chime as it came back to life. She collapsed against the back of the chair, shivering as the new chemicals detoxified the cryoprotech out of her system and filled her with a sensation that was surprisingly close to how it felt to drink hot chocolate on a cold day.
     There was a heavy weight on her chest and she pushed at it ineffectually, trying to catch her breath. After a moment, she could understand nurse Talia’s words. “Wake up, Honey. Stop resisting. It’s time to come up.”
     “I’m awake.” Alice croaked, her voice quivering as much as the rest of her. 
     The nurse leaned off and looked into her eyes. She shook but only because Alice herself was. Alice took a moment and took control of her body, forcing herself to ignore the pins and needles feeling covering her.
      Finally she stopped and the nurse let go, looking at her apologetically.
     “Sorry, Honey. You were having a bit more trouble than most waking up.”
      In her mind, Alice heard the nurses thoughts reverberating. Get a hold of yourself, girl. I want to go for my break already. I hope she’s not a junkie. That would mess up the rest of the days schedule.
     Alice nodded at her. Her teeth were still chattering, but she could still speak. “S-sorry. Having t-trouble waking up wouldn’t d-disqualify me, would it?”
N     urse Talia shook her head, relieved. “Of course not, Honey. It just means that they’ll have to take a few precautions if you’re accepted. Make you’re not the first one woken up.”
      “That’s good.” Alice said truthfully. The longer she had to ‘sleep’ in Mindscape, the better.
     She sat up gingerly and rubbed her fingers together while the nurse unhooked her from the machine. She had a lot to do after she lied her way through this test. In particular, she was going to need to find out all that she could about hiding Talent.



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