Chapter One – Rebirth
Consciousness arrives shortly before rebirth. A cloudy pink haze swirls around me. Mindfulness comes and goes. The pale pink gelatinous fluid gushes forward pushing me through the translucent rubbery skin-like fissure. I fall wet and nude to my knees, coughing, and sputtering for breath and reaching for clarity. The goo coming from all orifices.
The buoyant floor beneath me a matte pale grey pliable-like material. The air around me mild, sterile, cool. The taste in my mouth sticky, like cotton candy. On hands and knees attempting to catch my breath, I watch the pale pink fluid disappear. I feel the ooze of goo exit my nose and mouth and flow from my throat—like ants marching towards home. Lines of saliva stretch like taffy and vanish. I’m on my hands and knees for quite a while pulling and pushing air into and out of my lungs, wrestling with awareness. My hair—stringy and wet—falls into my eyes and around my face. The fluid rapidly evaporates and leaves a fine gritty residue that covers my pasty white skin. The unusual and euphoric ache of newness stiffens my long limbs.
I imagine I look as I feel—none too pleasant.
The silence of the room finally finds its way to my freshly unplugged ears. The room—circular, decagonal, white. The walls an ethereal soft glow—no windows. Little of anything except a tall dark-skinned middle-aged black woman with pale blue and white, short asymmetrical hair—almost choppy. Her round electric-green eyes—icy-green, nearly crystallized—stare down at me. Her face, void of any emotion. Her lips full, unsmiling.
“Can you understand me?” Her voice is low, feminine, smooth—easy on the ears; not piercing at all but soothing. She has a plain American accent with a tang of oddity that I can’t quite place, like the lingering trace of an English expat cadence from childhood; the intonation of syllables that sit on her tongue a bit longer than usual.
I try to talk, but only croak like I’ve been long in bed from a hangover. I end up coughing and snotting more all over myself and the floor.
“Your voice will arrive in time,” she says. She looks up and behind me. “How are her biosigns?”
“Defectless. Imprint successful. Transfer complete. The body is suitable, intact, and adequate,” a flat androgynous tone replies from somewhere in the room. “All bio and nanomatter recycled.”
“Prepare her as we discussed.” She looks back down at me. “You will have 24 hours to rest and recuperate. Ami and Beni will give you anything you need and settle you in a flat once finished so you may rest. I will break with you in the morning.” Expressionless, she has a disarmingly calm look that shows no malice or mistrust. “Welcome to Anderas, Peyton.”
With that, she exits.
Ami and Beni emerge staring down at me. Still on all fours, I arch my neck looking up at them. Their much darker skin and hair a stark contrast against the soft white background of the room. The androgynous tone of voice reflects their appearance if not for the twin impressions of breasts on the chest of their indigo blue suits that are strangely stylish, contemporary, and snug for professional medical attire.
I try to rise, but my limbs are weak. I fall flat on my face into darkness.
Nonplussed, I sit and listen as Ami and Beni unload an information dump the likes I received in the first day of employee orientations at the various Fortune 500 companies I worked. Listening carelessly—mostly inert—comprehending what little I do hear, I offer no reactions or responses. I hear unequivocal fragments of blah fucking blah in a monotone that would make Miss Othmar proud. Grasping one word here and there—thrust into a rapid succession of stunning facts as they drop carelessly around me as casually as a weather update, I’m not sure which emotion suits this situation more. So, I remain as detached as they are in their delivery of this extraordinary information.
I feel the changes in my new body. My mind pinpoints and focuses with rapid-fire neural responses. I no longer feel the gurgling bloated digestive issues emanating from my center that started to wreak havoc on my forty-five-year-old body and condemned me to an unexciting diet. Crackling bones and joints are silent and fluid. The aches and pains gone. The countless perimenopausal symptoms—sensitive teeth, sore breasts, fatigue, headaches, vaginal itching, etc—I experienced have ceased. My eyes no longer need corrective lenses. I now have superior near and far sight, even zoom lenses. That alone makes me squee with delight silently behind my otherwise permanently calm expression of wonder.
This place is matte, dull aluminum grey, and eggshell whites. The furniture minimalist. Computerized medical chairs—cast chairs—that contour to my body and advance and program the nanites medically throughout. Placed into this chair for the next few hours to connect and program the nanites—something called imapping—I’m told the atmosphere is saturated exponentially with them, and apparently, so am I. These artificially intelligent neural networked nanites—nanotechnology or microcomputers—materialize in a virtual reality display in front of the subject and access any and all data including the archives. Zettabytes and zettabytes of historical data: photos, videos, books, essays, websites, art, and audio files—anything and everything created and documented since the advent of such things. The pale blue glow of videos and information can be viewed publicly or privately through a virtual retina display via neural or audio activation. I could spend a lifetime exploring the archives and not even touch the massive amounts of information. It’s the internet times a gazillion, only in my head and the air all around me.
Panning around, the only other color in the room I see are the clothes—indigo blue gear I’ll nickname smartsuits for lack of a better word or the small prismatic untranslatable Saturnian symbol on the sleeve. Tailored to fit the body like a nice snug comfy pair of leggings, smartsuits are made with a polymer Kevlar weave—a lightweight rubbery and flexible material called alamay. Alamay—also infused with nanites—is soft and breathable like chiffon, but also durable, self-cleaning, and self-sustaining. I get two nice new ones after being shoved into a nanite clarifier—a quick and clean powerful mist of nanite-infused mist followed with a burst of air that dries me in one blow. Disappointing for someone who enjoyed long hot showers my entire adult life.
There are no mirrors here, but I get a brief double take at my reflection in a virtual display high resolution image and it’s my body, only … different. My nice new head of healthy dark blond hair—the only hair on my body besides my eyebrows and eyelashes—usually naturally highlighted from long periods outdoors, and the split ends I acquired from my own crooked cuts, falls shaggy below my shoulders down my back with the sprinkling of grey at the roots; way too long for what I normally preferred. My face—sprinkled with freckles, free of makeup, and those little lines I was getting circa fifteen hundred years ago—is the same.
The lines are a little less noticeable.
At forty-five-years old, I was consigned to age gracefully, but seeing those little age lines lighter around my eyes and mouth makes me as girly as a prom queen. That and the indigo blue mani-pedi I give myself by merely thinking how nice it would be if I had matching nail polish. All courtesy of the nanites, those fascinating artificially sentient floating microcomputers, like mites, burrowing into anything and everything.
I then feel shameful and ridiculous engrossed in something so trivial and superficial with everything I’ve been confronted. I push the girly in me aside and focus on the rest, but not before asking the obvious question: “Where is my body hair? And this—”I lift a strand of my hair“—is way too long. And there are no pockets in this suit. Where are my pockets?”
I get blank expressions in return.
After learning to use nanite virtual reality, Ami activates my virtual retina display, insight messaging, and embedded audio communications in the form of my personal artificially intelligent assistant or another one of those funky Saturnian symbols that look like runic alphabet emojis. I name my assistant Q in honor of a dog, a fawn-colored adorable Boxer I once knew and the better half of a boy-toy-friend I once embarrassingly and regretfully debased myself.
The breakup from the dog had been worse.
“Can it have a voice like Idris Elba?” I ask. A few beats go by before they acknowledge my question. Confusion and some back and forth inquiries on the validities of my play that makes me iffy, but eventually, I press on. After more instructions that are rudimentary and tame given my situation, they acquaint me with the change feature just in case.
“Why would I need to change it?” I ask genuinely.
They pause and look at me, their blank expressions almost comical. They move on without comment and I wonder what I said to collect such vacant looks. Their overall countenance is somewhat a puzzle. I’m still trying to interpret their facial expressions and body language.
It falls short and I wonder…
“Are you … human? Am I human?” Another blank look and I suspect I’ve overstepped some sort of synthetic decorum? Or not? Perhaps they’re not allowed to answer some questions? But then I realize the answers are popping up in my display and the myriad mumblings of a distant lovely deep voice. Apparently, I need to play with the volume in my head and the various other confusions going off that I’m unfamiliar amongst my chatter brain.
Such a condescending edge for an assistant and I fall down a rabbit hole of scary artificially intelligent assistant run amok in my brain adventures that leaves me a bit perturbed and, oddly enough, exhilarated. I’m eager and excited, but skeptical and overwhelmed to the point of being numb and mute.
I put off making friends with the voice in my head—for now.
I concentrate on familiarizing myself with the bio-gadgets for the remainder of the day while keeping my mind open and busy, skeptical, and cautious. I find it all intriguing and hearing more than once that my biosigns are increasing and decreasing, this and that, and feeling the effects of some invisible force both calm and trigger me while Ami and Beni guide me through this new reality.
Following their thirty-sixth century orientation, I’m ready to meet with Wynne Flannán Keahi, the Director of Physical & Life Sciences and project leader, the woman I met upon my arrival.
Three to six hours sleep suggested.
The main project—whatever that is, they did not elaborate and I didn’t ask—occupies the top five floors of Handar Tower, home of the Physical & Life Sciences division under the direct supervision of Wynne Flannán Keahi. I’m shown to my flat in the dormitory section on the same floor where Wynne, Ami, and Beni reside. The flat—large contemporary living quarters—Approximately 83 square meters—unlike so many of my previous apartments—is like the rest: minimalist and pale grey with lots of windows of which I get my first glimpse of the city at night.
Night is artificially generated from midnight zulu to zero six hundred.
As with any modern cityscape, the view at the top is limited in the dark; vague inferences of shadowy outlines lacking solid details, like a pop-up book painted in deep shades of black and blue. Small specks of light dot the area, scattered like pale blue and pink fireflies below and around. A dome, immediately noticeable, dims a pale blue glow—like faint runway lights—sending the city into a manufactured night and ethereal dusk of darkness.
Beyond the dome, all but obscure.
“Windows, screen, full,” Ami orders and the windows go from translucent to a faint frost masking the view and illuminating the room in a soft soothing white light. “Review and rest,” and with that, I watch them depart. The door disappears and reappears, an illusory swish-swish of entry and exit, leaving me standing there staring after them.
“Lights off, please, and show windows,” I instruct hesitantly and awkwardly. The windows become translucent again sending the room dark if not for the ambient lights of the city. I sit on what I assume is the sofa and it conforms to the contours of my body transforming into a bed. I pull my feet up and under and lay my head pillowed on my arm and a supple-like headrest emerges underneath it. My smartsuit transforms automatically into some sort of short and tank romper that I assume are thirty-sixth century PJs.
I think of the twinkling paleness of lights and the pale blue glow of a shield in a city on a moon 900 million miles from Earth.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins