|I am, I was, I will have been
Author: Jade of Ilium PM
My nanowrimo novel 2008. Merle wakes with no memory of her past, and finds that there are people chasing her. Rating may change. *I'll endeavour to put the rest up more quickly than before!*Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi - Chapters: 9 - Words: 26,219 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 02-09-13 - Published: 12-03-08 - id: 2603771
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: The following was written as part of the NaNoWriMo 50,000 words in thirty day challenge. (So it may be a little unpolished.) I am editing the first draft for any mistakes, inconsistencies, or awkward sentences - but what I am sharing here will still be quite close to what I originally wrote. Just thought I'd share. Enjoy.
She knew all the words she needed to push her thoughts into the outside world. She knew about relative distance in deep space, about planetary bodies, and gravity, and about how it felt to stroke the fur of a day old kitten. She knew the square root of 36,202.
But all she knew of herself was, Merle.
Awareness came slowly, like the awakening of the world, darkness pushed away to recede into the shadows. Voices reached her from far away, at first there was none more than a softly distant mumble, rippling like the whisper of tiny waves against a rock.
Finally, gradually, there were words.
"She's waking up," said a voice from the darkness above.
She grimaced, and the speaker tried again, placing a hand on her arm. "Hello? Can you hear me? Hello?"
Merle nodded, cringing in anticipation of a pain which did not come.
"It's all right," said the voice. "It's all right. You'll be fine. But you need to lie still. Can you do that?"
With some effort, she forced her own eyelids to part. The light was indistinct at first, fuzzy at the edges, nothing more than a cold-white glow. But even this began to resolve in time. A face leaned over her, constant lines upon its skin made still deeper by the worried frown it had now directed her way. "What's your name?" it asked her.
"M-Merle…" she replied with difficulty, her own voice uncertain and thready as if it had never possessed the ability to speak.
"Merle, do you remember what happened?"
She paused to consider. What did she remember? But whatever memory she might have been able to retrieve was not about to reveal itself to her. She pushed back a wave of cold anxiety, which remained at the base of her stomach like a monster about to wake. But the withdrawal of her fears into the background only left her disappointed - and impossibly weary. The world was darkening again.
"What did…?" she barely managed to reproduce the same low croak.
The same large stranger shook his head. His skin was coffee-dark, she noticed, obscured by more than just the light from behind him. And his slightly tangled hair curled at the ends, a soft frame around a high, smooth forehead. "We don't know," he informed her, his voice soft. But then he paused, seeming only then to respond to the frightened confusion in her eyes.
"Lie still." He patted her shoulder, forcing a smile. "And don't be afraid. We'll get help to you very soon."
With a sigh, Merle closed her eyes.
"Merle…" whispered Doctor Tobias. He leaned slightly over her, but not too close, and… Yes. Her expression was shifting from the neutral calm of unconsciousness to the tense, pained grimace of her return.
Names were important, was one of the first things he had ever learnt. They gave his patients something to focus on as they woke, and tugged them back into the world like the string that had guided a hero through the fabled Cretan labyrinth.
The girl moaned softly, and stirred beneath the pale, bleached covers of her hospital bed. Tobias continued to watch and call. And besides, at that moment her name was all that he knew.
Opening to heavy slits, her eyes appeared to water a little. But there was no gleam of tears trailing from their corners. She grimaced, with a soft cry of discomfort.
"Merle, it's all right." He placed a comforting hand upon her forehead. "You're in the hospital. I'm Doctor Tobias. You were in an accident, but everything's going to be fine from now."
She nodded, understanding, and her eyes opened just a little further.
Tobias looked directly into them. "Can you tell me where it hurts?"
The girl winced as she shook her head. "No."
"You're sure?" A frown crossed Tobias' face. He sat back to study her expression more closely.
"No," said Merle, again. Her voice had strengthened somewhat in the intervening seconds. She paused, and spoke again as if the thoughts in her mind had retreated to some far distant place, too distant for her to view them in any detail. "That is, I don't think…"
Returning the doctor's troubled frown, she looked his way. "What does it feel like, pain? How would I be able to tell?"
In his astonishment, the doctor seemed to lose his ability to hold back an impulsive question of his own. "You don't know?"
He was answered by nothing more than a stare from her half-closed eyes, and risked an attempt to clarify. "You would recognise it from experience, I suppose… But… It's one of those things that happens to everyone. There's no explaining it." He hesitated. "Haven't you ever experienced pain, even from a skinned knee as a child?"
"I do not know," she responded. "Cannot… remember."
Tobias' sense of bewilderment turned quickly to an even greater level of concern. Someone may have mentioned that she had no memory of the accident, but not that the teenager's amnesia was this complete. "What do you remember?"
"There was a man," Merle told him. "He asked me my name. I gave it to him. And then… You."
"And nothing before that?"
She frowned again, concentrating hard, but breathing as heavily as from a dash up a steep incline. "I… No. Nothing." Another long pause. "Memory is difficult."
"It's all right, Merle." He could see how tired he was, and reinforced the words by placing a large, warm hand upon her shoulder. "Rest now. You don't have to remember today."
The metropolis was the first of its kind, a jagged, titanium sculpture, carved and moulded from gleaming metal and equally smooth-edged promises.
The entire city was enclosed within a bubble, which in turn was embraced by a second, much sturdier shell. And it was this outer casing which had been fitted with a blanket of artificial lighting - programmed to cycle through a sequence of regular days and nights, to give the illusion of a natural sunrise to those too young to remember the feel of true earth beneath their feet.
And those were the ones it was meant to house. It would keep on its journey, long after the impression of terra firma had faded to a distant memory, forgotten by those who did recall, and eventually no longer part of the experience of any human being who still remained alive within its walls.
She did not recall ever having read those ancient news reports, but Merle knew everything of what they'd had to say. Images passed through her thoughts like a constant parade. There were faces - grinning men and women in stark grey suits, clutching each other by the hand as if to offer a congratulatory shake. Every likeness was forever captured like a ghost - or a prisoner - sent to haunt her across the ages.
Behind them, the sheen of each metal surface was barely touched by living hands. The ancestors had fashioned this new "technical and engineering marvel", as the reports had termed it, from the very latest notions that their innovative minds could dream. They had opted to build the entire facility from a massive orbital station - never once allowing it contact with any planetary surface. After all, such an expansive artifice was ambitious enough without the added burden of having to get it off the ground.
The earliest images of their floating metropolis were as brightly lit as the hopes of its creators. Gaudy shades of red and steel-blue had not yet begun to fade, and the new population was giddy with its hopes for a long lasting future enterprise. When they toured the confines of the new city, the ones who'd invested a fortune in its manufacture had turned to praise the minds that had created it.
And those same creators had watched, and listened. And smiled.
"What does it feel like?" Merle whispered, somewhere between the return to wakefulness, and finally opening her eyes.
"What does what feel like?" It was the soft, mellifluous voice of Doctor Tobias who responded to what she had said. She had heard him once before - when he'd first coaxed her back from the darkness. She was glad that he was the one with her. She trusted him, although with little idea of why that was so much more important than it might otherwise have been.
Merle turned her head a little, and glanced his way. "To dream."
A mattress was soft beneath her back, head cushioned by a clean white pillow which was so crisp that she felt the pressure of its corners on her skin. Light from the artificial sky outside streamed brightly through an old-style rectangular window. It was a sign of the latest architectural fashion - to utilise such holes as the ancestors used to do, but to cover them with reinforced, transparent metal instead of glass or plastic. This provided shelter, security, but also an old-fashioned ambience that would allow the illumination beyond each building to filter through. There was less need for individual lighting that way. The window created well-lit shapes, curving over the whitewashed sheet across Merle's chest.
With a pause in his examination, the doctor moved forward and placed himself in one of an uneven line of bedside chairs. He waited until he was fully settled before he responded. "What do you mean?"
"Dreams are the product of the first and lightest stage of sleep, otherwise known as Rapid Eye Movement, or REM," the girl recited. "Their purpose is to sort through the chaos of the previous day, and those deprived of REM sleep are often more affected by that deprivation than if they had been woken in the deeper phases of their cycle. I know all this. Perhaps I learnt it somewhere. And yet… I cannot recall the sensation."
In fact, there was little that she could recall. Much of what she had deduced after waking, she had pieced together from those visual clues that she could gather in the present. Her body was that of a teenage female, possibly taller than most her age, whatever that was. She and the doctor both placed a tentative guess that she must have been around seventeen. Her face was subtly dark, with a mane of straight, near-blonde hair framing either side where it continued down just far enough to cover her shoulders and upper back. It was a little split in places, but these slightly ragged ends were few in number, leading her to conclude that it had only recently been cropped or trimmed.
When she was finally able, Merle asked to be allowed a glimpse of her own reflection. She discovered almost immediately that her eyes were her most unusual, striking feature. Dark brown, almost black at the edges, but their centre was barely a shade away from the colour of golden honey. Doctor Tobias once remarked that this lent her an expression of sharp intensity - an intelligent gaze that seemed to pierce the surface of everything she saw.
"I do not recall ever seeing below the surface of anything," she had earnestly told the doctor. "Except perhaps a glass of water."
"Is it unusual not to dream?"
Doctor Tobias blinked as though equally surprised by her current question. "Some people claim not to dream," he told her. "But they invariably do. You don't remember ever having a dream?"
Those same intense brown eyes focused even harder on the doctor at her bedside. "Perhaps I do - I am not certain. If I knew how it was supposed to feel, then perhaps I would be more easily able to recall the experience."
"In that case--" He paused, gathering his thoughts. "I suppose it's like… You know, I'm not exactly sure… Possibly, like a story, playing inside your head."
Story… thought Merle. She knew many stories, but had little idea how she felt about any of them. "Can it tell me my life?"
"Perhaps." Taking her wrist, the doctor pressed two fingers against it and concentrated on an old fashioned timekeeper in his other hand. He smiled and patted her shoulder. "Next time you close your eyes, try to see what images come. You said it yourself, there are messages in dreams, and stranger things have happened, after all."
A door slid open, accompanied by the soft complaint of rusty hydraulics. For a moment, there seemed to be a fresh breeze entering the room. But perhaps it was an illusion. The woman inside certainly knew a thing or two about illusions.
The long skirt slapping loosely around her ankles, she turned to discover exactly who was about to enter her office, and a sickening weight came almost instantly to her stomach. The sight was that of a tall, thirty-something year old man - with a face the colour of milky tea, a hint of stubble across his chin, and neatly trimmed although just slightly unkempt dark hair. "Tia," he said, accompanying her name with a broad, white, even-toothed smile.
"Ronald, before starting with any long talks, let me make one thing clear." The expression in her almond-hazel eyes was as cold and impenetrable as she could possibly make it. "When I let you come here, it had nothing at all to do with you and I, and when I say that something's 'over', I really do mean that it's as finished as it could ever be. I meant it then, and nothing's changed - so don't even try…"
Ronald Tobias' smile did not fade. "No problem - I understand."
"Do you?" Tia demanded, her voice deliberately, dangerously slow. "Really? Because the last thing I want is to go back to repeating myself a hundred times a day. Trust me, Ron. The same old lines are fast growing tired."
"I promise. This is strictly professional."
The young woman took a single step forward, and studied him with her eyes narrowed, in a suspicious, sidelong gaze. Tobias' own face did contain a measure of sincerity - just as she remembered from many years ago, the same expression that she'd grown so eager not to trust. But there was none of the usual irritating jocularity present in his voice, and when he watched her, Rowan sensed nothing beyond that he was almost certainly entirely serious.
Perhaps… she scarcely dared to allow the notion into her thoughts, for fear that shaping it into words would somehow cause the truth of it to shatter like fragments of delicate crystal. Perhaps he means it… after all.
Finally, she approached him, forcing a reminder that she did not feel the clenching pain of disappointment wrap around her chest, that she really was glad that he had decided not to flirt with her this time…
"So now what?" she challenged. And I'm not about to flirt with him, either. "Are you ever going to tell me why this call of yours was so important, or do I have to guess?"
It was a large room, close to thirty paces from one end to the other. But it was never more than dimly illuminated, with soft, dark lights that failed to reach even as far as the surrounding walls. Stains ran downwards in narrow streaks of darker grey and rust-brown. It had been that way for as long as those within could remember, and neither was entirely able to identify the vaguely dry, chemical smell that pervaded the air they breathed.
Not that it presented any problem to them. They had long since accustomed themselves to the smell.
"We have lost her. Haven't we?" The first speaker was a giant, angular boulder of a man. The illusion of shadows rendered him even larger as he stood by the room's only light source with both arms cocked against the small of his back.
"Not necessarily." His companion was persistent in his attempts to reassure. "It's true, we may have lost sight of the transport, but there is still time. We can find it again, and even its loss doesn't necessarily mean…"
"We found the transport earlier this morning." The flow of his words was interrupted by the same broad-shouldered man. "It was entirely empty; even the Driver-bot had been removed. There was no evidence that the Unit had ever been inside."
"Well that's something at least. If anybody else had found her there…"
The smaller man's voice trailed away to nothing. Silence fell across their surroundings, each one of the room's occupants momentarily lost in their own closeted, distractible thoughts. Quietly and deliberately - almost sadly - the first among them shook his head. "We have lost her," he repeated. After another brief pause, he turned back towards his colleague. "But none of this ought to mean that we cannot find her again."
Making a direct line towards the exit, he marched away and left the younger, smaller man to ponder the truth of his words.