This is a short story I wrote in March exploring what might have happened inside the head of one of my characters as she was asleep in a stasis chamber. It was an exercise for me in writing description, which I really enjoyed writing. On October 20th I submitted it to the Brave New Girls anthology, and I’ll find out in early February if it was accepted or not. I hope you enjoy reading it. :)
My pod opens, and my eyes with it. Only the slightest amount of light spills in through the room’s windows.
I disconnect a zillion wires from myself and climb out of the pod. The monitors stop beeping in time with my heart, leaving a brittle silence.
I go down the stairs quietly, as if disrupting the stillness will activate an alarm. When I reach the bottom I head straight for the door. As I cross the doorway I stop short.
Where my city once stood there is only a crater. The building in which I slept, on the very outskirts, is the only one still standing. Something prickles in the back of my mind, telling me that everyone I know is gone.
Ash falls from the sky like rain, settling in my hair, and the only light in the dark sky is an eerie red glow on the horizon. The disaster happened recently. Is that why I’m awake? I should be asleep. I should be asleep until there’s a cure. But now there will be no cure. There is no one left to make one.
I am alone, and I am dying.
I turn back to go inside. There’s little chance there will be anything in there for me to eat or drink, but I’ll die soon anyway so what’s the difference? I was Stage Four when I went into stasis. I’ll live for another month, at most. It’ll only be a week, without water.
As I wander the first floor I glance around for anything that will help me at all. There’s no furniture anywhere, no food, no water. Everything is empty, barren, and dusty.
How long was I asleep? I wonder. What year is it? And what fell to destroy the city? There’s nothing there now, so it can’t have been any kind of rock, unless it disintegrated on impact, which I find highly unlikely given that it was large enough to flatten an entire city. What on earth could have fallen and left no more evidence than a crater?
I climb the cracked stairs to the second floor. There are missing steps along the way and I have to jump from one step to another in places. By the time I get upstairs my hands are covered in dust. Brushing them off on my cargo pants, I start searching. There’s a small fridge in an office, but it’s empty.
As I search the other five floors my legs start to ache. It’s been who knows how long since I used them.
Eventually I reach the top floor, where my pod is, and sit inside it. There’s nothing else to do. The padding is thin, and I’m a little surprised I didn’t wake up achy just from that. I lean back against the lid and close my eyes. I already miss people. Not anyone in particular, just anyone to break the silence. I found a droid on the fifth floor, but it was a simple SRV-Droid. It might help a little, but I don’t want to move right now. And why should I? Why not just stay here for the week it takes me to die of thirst? Staying still won’t affect anything but how long it will be before the virus takes full effect and kills me. Moving around speeds up the process, but I’d probably still die sooner from thirst.
I sigh and climb back out of the pod, the only piece of furniture in the whole room. No. I don’t want to die bored. If nothing else the SRV-Droid will give me something to tinker with. You can take the girl out of the shop but you can’t take the mechanic out of the girl, I suppose.
I head down the two flights of stairs to the room where I found the droid. I check the label on its chest. SRV-1004-Sebastion. It’s unusual they’d pick such a long name. I flip the droid on its front and pry open the control hatch with my fingers. They haven’t maintained their callouses while I slept, so I cut them on the metal. I instinctively stick them in my mouth. When they’ve stopped bleeding enough that they won’t drip on the wires I grab the wrench and mini screwdriver from their spots in the side of the hatch.
I start to tinker with the droid’s wires and in two minutes he’s online. I close the hatch, tucking the tools into my back pocket as I set the droid upright. He immediately spins to face me.
“Hello, Master. I am Sebastion. What can I help you with?”
I blow hair out of my face. “Go back to sleep.”
The droid doesn’t respond. I didn’t expect it to. I press the power button below its designation and flip it on its front again, then reopen the hatch and pull the wrench from my pocket to adjust a few wires. Afterward I open the circuit board hatch and reprogram the droid’s database.
When I finish and wake the droid he greets me differently.
“Hello. I’m Sebastion. What’s your name?”
“I’m Bella. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Bella. Where are we?”
“The edge of Minton, Beryl Province. The city is destroyed.”
“I don’t know.” It felt good to talk to someone, even if it was an artificial someone. “Come here. We need to change your designation.”
“Change my designation? But why? Is it incorrect?”
“It is now that I’ve reprogrammed you. Your designation is SRV, but you’re a PERS-Droid now. Come with me.”
Sebastion follows me into one of the offices and I rifle through the drawers for a marker. They’re probably all dry and worthless now, but it’s worth a try.
I find one and pull it out, uncapping it and crossing out the SRV part of Sebastion’s designation. The marker still works, though it’s obviously working on dying, and I scratch PERS onto Sebastion’s chest right under the crossed out former designation.
“There we go. You’re properly designated now.”
“Why was I a SRV-Droid before?”
“That’s the way you were designed.”
“Why did you make me a PERS-Droid?”
“Because I needed someone to talk to. Why do you ask so many questions?”
“Because I’m curious.”
“You’re a droid. You shouldn’t be curious. No more questions, please.”
I think of something and press Sebastion’s power button. I open his circuitboard hatch and read its workings, scanning for evidence of internal clock programming. There is a minimal clock that tells him what hour it is, but not what minute or second. More advanced droids tend to have entire calendars that go all the way from the year to the second.
I close up the hatch and turn him back on.
“Good morning, Bella.”
“Is it morning?”
He pauses a moment before answering. “Yes. It is within the eleven a.m. hour.”
“Thank you. Would you please let me know every time the hour changes?”
I nod and sit down on the floor. My arms are tired from messing with Sebastion’s programming. I wish I had a more precise clock. I’d make myself a sundial, but I have no idea how this odd red glow works.
“We’re going outside,” I say, standing.
He nods and we head down the stairs. He falls through the holes in the steps, but he gets back up every time.
“That was fun,” he says when we reach the bottom.
“You can’t have fun. You’re a robot.”
“Why are there so many things I can’t be?”
“No questions, remember?”
I open the door and he walks outside. I exit after him and sit on the edge of the crater. It’s deep, probably twenty feet down in the center, and lit red by whatever is providing light. I suppose it must be the sun, but it doesn’t seem like the sun could show this color. Unless the ash in the atmosphere has something to do with it. Still, it seems unlikely. And the glow is still just barely peeking above the horizon. The sun would have moved by now.
“This is beautiful,” Sebastion says.
I shrug. “In a way, I suppose.”
I take my hair, dip-dyed pink with my own natural blonde at the top, out of the ponytail it’s already falling out of, and tie it back up tighter.
Something shifts in the bottom of the crater. Just the dirt collapsing slightly, I assume.
It moves again, this time shifting farther. Then I see a hand lift out of the dirt.
How is that even possible? How did anyone survive? And after being buried for a long time- I stop. I don’t know that it’s been a long time since the whatever-it-was hit.
I get to my feet and head down into the hole, careful not to slip in the easily-shifting dirt.
A face emerges and the person takes a deep breath before croaking out a simple “help.”
“I’m coming,” I say, trying to hurry to the bottom.
Finally, I reach the hand and grab it. I wrench my hand away quickly. The hand is cold and clammy, like that of a dead person.
“Help,” the person croaks again.
I shove down my distaste and grab the hand again, pulling the person out of the dirt.
“Thank you,” she says as I lower her gently onto the surface.
She’s probably about my age, an older teenager, with black hair. She’s pale, but even paler from her fear and loss of oxygen.
“Who are you?”
She gives me a tiny smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too. How did you survive?”
“I have no idea.”
“What happened? What fell?”
“It didn’t fall. A spaceship landed here.”
“A spaceship? That was as large as a city and made a deep, round crater?”
“It wasn’t round. It definitely wasn’t a flying saucer. It was like a giant cruise liner, but it came into the atmosphere from space.”
“Do you know how crazy that sounds?”
Bianca nods. “But that’s what happened. I swear.”
I eye her skeptically, wondering if lack of oxygen or a blow to the head has addled her brain.
“But it’s impossible. It made a perfectly even, twenty-foot-deep, round crater.”
“I can’t give you any evidence, but that’s what happened. Just ask Ellie.” She points to a spot in the crater, but there’s no one there.
“Is there someone else under there?”
“No, she got out, see?”
I look back. Still no one. “Bianca, there’s no one there.”
“There is. Ellie’s there. I swear it.”
“No, she’s not. You’re hallucinating.” I call up to the edge of the crater. “Sebastion, come here!” The droid comes down the edge of the crater and stops by Bianca and me. “Help me get Bianca out of here.”
The droid nods and takes one of Bianca’s arms while I take the other and we half-drag her out of the crater. I take her inside and sit her down against the front wall.
“Ellie didn’t come with us,” Bianca says.
“Ellie was never there.”
“She was! Right before the crater fell! And right after.”
“Yes. She went with the aliens.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” Sebastion says. “She’s clearly unwell.”
“I’m not!” Bianca retorts. “I saw her! She’s gone now.”
“You don’t make the slightest bit of sense,” I say, sitting back on my heels. “I guess I’ll have to find some food and water now that I’m not the only one here.”
“Food?” Bianca perks up. “You have food?”
“No, I don’t. There’s none here and the city is gone. We’ll have to-“
“The city’s not gone! It’s right there.” She points out the door.
“No, Bianca, it’s not. You’re seeing things still. There’s no city there. Just a big old crater that I was dumb enough to pull you out of.”
In sync Sebastion says “That’s not very nice” and Bianca says “Hey!”
“Right. Sorry. Can we just focus on the matter at hand? We need food and water and there’s nowhere to get it for the next ten miles. I don’t know about you but I don’t plan on walking ten miles.”
“We have to,” Bianca says, her eyes glassy like she can’t focus them. “That’s where the aliens are.”
“Bianca, I’m telling you, they weren’t aliens.” You don’t know that, a voice whispers inside my mind.
“I’m not walking ten miles and neither are you. We don’t have the strength — you especially.”
“I can do it,” Sebastion says. “I don’t tire.”
I turn to him. “That’s actually a really good idea. How fast can you go?”
“Two miles an hour.”
I sigh. “I’m pretty sure we can’t wait ten hours. You can’t go any faster than that?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then that’s a no-go.”
“It’s better I go than we have no food at all.”
“Tell you what. Can you carry Bianca?”
“I think so.”
“All right. You take Bianca and get food. She needs it more than I do.”
“She’s weak, but I don’t see why you don’t need food as much as she does.”
“Because I’m dying anyway even if I don’t starve. Just go. Take her and get food and water.”
He nods and takes Bianca in his arms before heading out the door. I am alone again.
There’s grease on my fingers from messing with his wires, which I hadn’t even noticed until now. I’m used to grease, so my brain doesn’t pay special attention to it. Now there’s dirt and dust all settled in it and my fingers are sticky and nearly black. I wipe them on my pants, but they’re still a mess. Oh well.
I head upstairs to my pod and open its control panel. A bar shows that the pod is empty of sleeping gas and the bottom drainage chamber is full. Just as it should be. The monitors near the pod are no longer hooked to me, so they’re all flatlined. I turn them off to save power, not that that’s really an issue at this point.
I fiddle with some wires in the pod and the sleeping gas vents out of the drainage chamber from the end opposite me. I won’t be needing it again.
I head into a nearby office and grab a few chairs, using the screwdriver from Sebastion’s panel to cut off their cushions. If I’m going to sleep – a normal sleep – in the pod, at least I can be a little more comfortable this time.
I lay them across the pod’s bottom. Turns out I only needed four of the six I cut. No big deal. I’ll find a use for the other two, or they can just sit around and collect dust like they were doing before I cut them off the chairs. It won’t make a difference.
I glance out the window. The glow still hasn’t moved off the horizon. It’s definitely not the sun. So what is it? It seems to be coming from every direction. What could go around the earth like that? And doesn’t that mean that anywhere else it’s just completely dark?
Ash still falls, collecting on the windowsill and drifting in through cracked glass. The glow on broken glass is both eerie and fascinating to look at. It looks like someone cut themselves on the glass, or, in places where it has only fractured instead of shattered, like blood spilled onto a spiderweb.
I watch the ash flakes fall, racing to the sill as would raindrops.
A sudden breeze blows toward me through the window and goosebumps run up and down my arms. A crow flies by the window, shimmering in the glow. A single black feather drifts down and catches on one of the cracks in the window. I pick it up and tuck the end of it into my ponytail. I can’t see it, but I imagine it contrasts nicely with the pink and pale yellow.
I step away from the window and take a seat in the pod once more, leaning my head against the lid and closing my eyes. It’s not long before I’m asleep.
When I wake again my eyes are greeted with sunlight. Real sunlight. I squint and look out the window. The crater is still there, but the sky is a clear blue and the sun is shining bright, its usual yellow.
“What on earth?” I mutter to myself.
I turn at the familiar mechanical voice and see Sebastion coming toward me. “How long was I asleep?”
“That doesn’t make any sense…”
“You seem to say that a lot. I remember from when we found Bianca.”
I look around for the girl.
“Oh, she’s not here. She decided to stay at the camp we found. There was food and water there. I brought some back. It’s all still good. Just canned stuff.”
“Are you hungry?”
My stomach growls, answering before my mouth can.
“Wait here. I’ll bring you something.”
He heads down the stairs and I hear thudding. Apparently he’s learned how to avoid the holes.
A moment later he’s back with a can of peaches and a bottle of water. I catch sight of his designation. “PERS” has been renewed with a working marker, and “SRV” has been completely blacked out.
“Who marked your designation?”
“No, I mean who renewed it?”
“Oh, that was Tristan.”
“Yeah. He found us two years ago. He tried to wake you up, but he couldn’t. He’s been with us since.”
“Where is he?”
“Down by the crater. He sits on the edge the same way you did.”
I take the peach can, which he has already opened for me, and the water bottle and head down the stairs.
I head straight outside, exactly the same way I did last time I was awake. There’s a young man with dark curly hair sitting on the edge of the crater, one knee pulled up to his chest while the other leg dangles over the edge. I hesitantly take a seat next to him and he starts, turning toward me with a look of amazement on his face. “You’re awake.”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” I start to reach for the peaches but I stop myself and look at my fingers. They’re spotless.
“I cleaned your fingers,” he says, a little sheepishly. “There wasn’t much else to do.”
“Thanks, I guess?” I reach into the can and pull out a peach slice, popping it into my mouth. It still tastes amazing, and after having not eaten for who-knows-how-long, I have a feeling it would have tasted amazing even if it wasn’t really.
“The peaches are good, aren’t they?” Tristan asks me.
“You’re even prettier awake,” he tells me.
I feel heat rise to my cheeks. “Thanks.”
I pull another peach from the can and eat it. “So you’ve been here for two years?” I ask him.
“That’s right. It gets lonely.”
“It gets lonely after less than fifteen minutes.”
He laughs. “Well, if Sebastion weren’t around I don’t think I could tolerate it.”
I give a slight smile. “I reprogrammed Sebastion to be a personality droid. He was a service droid before I fixed him up.”
“Well I saw his designation had been changed. You did that? You don’t strike me as the programming type.”
“I’m a mechanic.”
“Really? A mechanic with pink hair?”
I shrug. “I like dying my hair, that’s all. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m a mechanic. I like working with my hands.”
“I guess. It’s just… unusual.”
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The corner of his mouth curls upward. “I guess not.”
“So how did you come to be at the crater that was once Minton?” I ask, eating another peach slice.
“Wandering. It’s not much better anywhere else.”
“How long were you here before you fell asleep?” he asks.
“The first time or the second time?”
“The second time.”
“Less than a day, awake. I don’t know how long I slept the first time. There was no one around to tell me. Crater of a city and all.”
He laughs a little. “When did you go to sleep?”
“4275. And I think the crater was recent when I woke up the first time.”
“So you probably slept for about a hundred years.”
I laugh. “So I guess I’m Sleeping Beauty now, huh?”
“Looks like it to me.”
He smiles and reaches up to my ponytail, running a finger along it. It doesn’t feel like he’s running his finger against my hair, though. I reach up and feel that the crow feather is still there.
“I was smoothing it out,” he says awkwardly, drawing his hand away. “It’s cool.”
There’s an awkward pause, which I break. “How many people do you figure survived?”
“Maybe a hundred, nationwide.”
He nods. “It’s certainly not many.”
“What about the camp about ten miles from here?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been there.”
I start to cough and when my hand comes away from my mouth it’s coated in blood.
“Are you okay?” Tristan asks.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m fine. Doesn’t everyone cough up blood? Thanks.”
“Sorry. Do you know what it is?”
“Stage Four Malum.”
“Malum was cured nearly a hundred years ago.”
“And I was asleep.”
I look toward the crater and my brow furrows. Why wasn’t I awakened when a cure was found? That was what was supposed to happen. I was supposed to sleep until there was a cure. And then how did I sleep for two more years? None of this is right. None of it.
“Are you okay?” Tristan asks me again.
“I don’t know…”
The sky flickers for a moment, switching to the ash-ridden grey and red and quickly back again.
“What’s wrong?” Tristan stands beside me. He flickers and he’s Bianca for a split second.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.” He flickers mid-sentence and even his voice changes to Bianca’s.
None of this makes any sense. None of this is right. This is all wrong. All wrong…
Everything flickers again, but this time to a scene I don’t recognize. Tristan, Bianca, whoever it is, changes into a giant crow and the sky turns to a deep purple. There’s no crater, but a city of dark spires rising into the starless sky.
I stumble backward as things revert back to Tristan’s scene.
“Bella,” he says, grabbing my shoulders.
I didn’t tell him my name.
“How do you know my name?”
“Sebastion told me.”
Sebastion. The droid I fixed.
“Sebastion, come here,” I say. I try to yell it, but it comes out as a croak. I’m dizzy. And so tired…
“Stay awake!” Tristan says, shaking me. My eyes bolt open and Sebastion comes out the door.
“Sebastion. Stand still.” My voice is too small. Too quiet. It’s not mine.
The scene flickers back to the odd darkness. This time I focus on Sebastion. He’s the same. He didn’t change. Didn’t shift.
What’s going on? I scream it inside my head.
My knees buckle and I fall to the ground. Everything flickers back to Bianca’s scene and she holds my shoulders, her weak arms threatening to give out as she tries to gently lower me to the ground. Her arms fail and I fall. I have no control. I just fall to the ground, my head hitting the hard dirt. My eyes close, but I don’t sleep. Not yet. I force them open and the scene flickers to a fourth setting.
I’m encased in metal, wires attached to me everywhere. They’re monitoring me. Keeping track of my vitals. There’s a muffled voice outside and I gasp as clean air fills my lungs. I’m in my pod. Why am I waking up? Have they found me a cure? My eyes are wide open, now, trying to see out of my pod. But I know it’s impossible. They made sure there weren’t any gaps anywhere, and there’s no window.
The pod opens and I bolt upright. There’s someone standing above me and I poke them in the eye.
“Ouch! What was that for?”
The voice is familiar. Tristan’s. Am I still asleep? Am I still dreaming? I look up at him and the face and hair match the Tristan in my dream, too.
“Am I awake? Really awake?”
“Yes, you’re awake! Dude!”
I disconnect the wires and step out of the pod. “Sorry I poked you in the eye.”
“Thanks, but I’m still half-blind now! Geez!”
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Tristan.”
“Are you with The Lowlines?”
“The who now?”
“Why did you wake me up?”
“Because I thought you were in danger.”
I cock an eyebrow at him. “Seriously? I’m in a pod hooked to monitors and you think I’m in danger and need saving? You’re an idiot.”
“Sorry! I just thought you needed help!”
“Well I didn’t! I’m sick with Malum. I was in there to keep me stable until they could find a cure, and now I’m dying again. Thank you so much for your help.” I roll my eyes and storm down the stairs, growling. That dumb idiot! Why couldn’t he just mind his own business?
I step out of the building onto a busy sidewalk. At least there isn’t a giant crater where my home used to be. I don’t even bother to head to the crosswalk; I just cross the street. Several cars honk at me, but I ignore them. The building I was in is directly across from a cafe that my sister frequents, the Cafe Humont. A bell above the door jingles as I walk inside. I scan the tables for my sister and find her in a corner with Ore, the leader of the Lowlines.
She looks up and catches sight of me and her brow immediately furrows. She stands up as I arrive at the table.
“Bella? Why are you up?”
“Some idiot named Tristan took it upon himself to wake me.”
“We put you in an abandoned building on purpose so this wouldn’t happen,” Ore says, standing next to us.
“I know. And yet somehow it did. I poked him in the eye.”
I see Ore stifle a chuckle.
“We need to put you back to sleep,” Raven says. “There’s no cure yet. You’ll die.”
“We didn’t design the pod for that. We designed it for one-time use. The remaining gas is irretrievable from the drainage chamber.”
“It doesn’t look like we have any more options,” Ore says. We don’t. We didn’t come up with a plan B.
Just like in my dream, I am awake and I am dying.
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