Chapter Eleven – Reciprocity
The thrust forward blends through the colors as I exit and blur my way back to where I begin, full stop. My heart flutters like carbonation in my chest. My breathing mildly erratic—nothing life threatening. I blink and I’m back in the merge room.
The cast chair straightens. The pressure increases restricting my breathing. I close my eyes and mouth and breath through my nose focusing on the pleasant sounds and pictures of the ocean and the waves breaking towards shore and seagulls floating on the wind.
Focus, breath, focus, breath, focus, breath.
When that doesn’t work, I start to sing low: “I want to break free, I want to break free,” and so on. I sing the song until I’ve steadied and recovered, and I recover quickly as I’ve plenty of practice.
My hands cold, fisting into and out and my palms clammy and bloated with emotions.
I must calm. No use in overreacting emotionally. The past is done and there’s no way to alter it.
No, I won’t give energy to false hopes while this plays out bizarrely right in front of me like a tragic play. What is, is. When you’ve been in these situations repeatedly, the focusing to find peace becomes almost natural—perfunctory. This was my childhood, my adult, and now livelihood. I am a product of that.
I open my eyes and look around: chaos. Steady flashes of pink and thin beeps of pale blues and Ami and Beni purposely engaged with displays working arduously at trying to contain the chaos; commanders and directors in some type of panic. Wynne is gasping uncontrollably trying to catch her breath, gripping the cast chair arms till her fingers turn ashen, her eyes wide and tears flowing freely down her face staring at me in her own kind of panic; each of the directors and commanders in this same condition.
Standing and moving to the center, I send up a shrill whistle getting everyone’s attention. I make my tone calm and soothing: “Look at me. Focus on the sound of my voice. Listen. Close your mouth and breath in through your nose and concentrate on the sound of your breath. Breathe in, breathe out, in, out, in, out. If you need to, close your eyes and picture something relaxing. Keep doing this till you feel calm.”
Ami and Beni—tasked with auditing vitals during each merge—operate displays to correct what they call debilitating incidental signs via nanite medical management. I make eye contact and point to my wireless link. With my help, they quickly identify what’s happening to the group when I start to give focusing instructions and work to adjust via the brain merge and nanites. I’m not positive but my words appear to work faster than the nanites, which is odd and somewhat concerning to me. I figure something more is at play and dismiss it in lieu of bigger concerns.
Lalita and Wynne are the first to recover followed by the rest of the group. Standing at the center of the room, all eyes on me, I recognize another significance of what just happened, but this? This is real. How did I not see this? Wynne told me. She explained this to me. I hadn’t understood her.
Hands on hips, I make direct eye contact with them. “These aren’t memories. These are … real trips through time, aren’t they?”
I’m a cynic. I expect people to fail me because I was raised around people that did just that. I have trust issues. I’ll be the first to admit. I own it. I don’t deny that. I’m hesitant to believe anything that Wynne and the others say. I want to believe. I continue to try. Every day I meet Wynne on the bench waiting for the haze to break and rings to emerge. It’s become a ritual. A comfortable one, but still, I hesitate. They’ve given me my space and allow me time to do my own thing doing whatever I want. They haven’t been cruel or oppressed me in any way. I’ve been told to review the archives and familiarize myself with their society and history and to matriculate. Regardless, I don’t trust them. You get yanked fifteen hundred years into the future, cloned, and exploited as entertainment and experiment fodder and see if your trust issues improve.
“I never asked, do I get a salary for selling my body for experiments and my consciousness as anthropological entertainment? Or … do I even need money?” I ask Wynne as she sits down next to me.
“We no longer use capital.”
“You mean capitalism doesn’t survive 900 million miles and fifteen hundred years later? Society no longer bases your worth on the amount in your bank account and your credit score? How very enlightened of your culture.” I grin and snicker from the satisfaction of knowing that I cannot fuck up my credit here like I did so many times back on ancient Terra-Firma.
“That pleases you?”
“Couldn’t stand the stuff. Brought me nothing but heartache.”
“You were impoverished, yes?”
“Yes, and therein lies my point. I definitely had it a lot better than some.”
My hands are fidgety. I needed something to do with them. I’ve always had something in my hands—a book, Kindle, tablet, a pen, and paper, or charcoal and a sketch pad. I never was overly attached to my iPhone so it rarely occupied my hands like it did so many others, unless I was reading off it. Not having something in my hands has begun to bother me.
“If you and yours here on Anderas are living such a privileged life, what about … the others? And I’m not referencing Lost.”
“The others? Lost?”
“Where there is privilege, others suffer—I was an other and there were lots more others than me. I know the way it works. I doubt it’s changed much because it never has.”
Wynne, quiet, moves past that subject entirely. “I will supply you with everything you need.”
“What if you don’t have it? I mean, how do you get things or make things here? I don’t see a Wal-Mart or Target on the corner.”
“I will supply you with everything you need. Message me a list.”
A pleasant silence widens in contemplation till I find words.
“So, time is not … linear?” I say simply and casually out of the mask of mystery and haze. We have yet to talk about the ginormous elephant under the dome.
She glances at me. “No, it is not.”
There’s a lot of things about this entire experience that’s gone completely over my head. I’m nothing if not clueless on many occasions. That time is not linear is something that has not escaped my comprehension, and I’m floored and mute and meditative and wondering … what next?
“Did it not occur to you that this small fact may have been lost on me?”
I’m not sure she understands this and I realize that my perceptions have been clouded by my assumptions and lack of imagination. Looking back over our conversations, they were all perfectly candid in telling me what it was we were attempting; yet, I failed to deduce what exactly they meant by experiences. I nod my head in a dawning awareness of my underestimation of what exactly they can do. I rub my temples. We’re in the thirty-sixth century. The merging arena is not three-dimensional, but five—a room or door to other rooms. I feel like a total idiot now that I think on it, which I’ve avoided up until this confrontation. We hadn’t discussed it after that freakish trip and little discovery earlier in the day. They’d been bothered by their reactions and the nanites inability to stabilize the group. Still gathering data trying, to understand what happened, they were preoccupied with that while ignoring me. I stuck around long enough to hear that my irregular and volatile mind, along with the merge of experiences and emotions, overwhelmed them and sent them into a paroxysm of emotions. I laughed and walked out yelling mind-blowing paralyzing empathy. Who would’ve thought.
Wynne continues to watch me closely. “You have discovered your error, yes?”
“Are you implying it took me long enough?”
“Yes. Your error did take longer than the average Saturnian to deduce.”
“I beg your pardon. I am an imperfect human and a mediocre white girl. This is all a bit new to me still.” Bites of irritation, mockery, and amusement coat my tone.
My frustration seems to confuse her. “No apologies necessary. You are how I created you,” she says indifferently.
My snort of laughter and continued chuckle abate after a bit and my fluctuating emotions and reactions appear to confuse her more by a little tick and upswing of a … frown? I’m wondering if she’s starting to mimic my facial expressions and body language. I move on to my next question. “Why not go back in time … err …” I’m searching for the right word, “… corporeally?” Q pops it into my display as I say it making me grunt in frustration.
“In a sense, we are. Atomized and defused as to not undermine, we are there to observe, not to interact. This execution is less … intrusive for them.”
This makes me laugh again. “Oh no, we wouldn’t want to be intrusive, would we?”
“No, we do not,” she says earnestly.
“What does this mean for me? Back there? Am I still alive? Where’s my … body?”
“Your original body is in the twenty-first century and will remain. You will remain here.”
“Until such time you’re sick of me?” I ask concerned.
She turns towards me. “No, Peyton. You will remain here till you expire.”
I see no deceit in her eyes. Her words seem genuine. “No expiration date then?” I ask softly.
She hesitates attempting to translate. “Until such time your body ceases to maintain.”
“You’re not going to throw me in a biomatter recycler then?”
Her full-on frown almost makes me laugh if I wasn’t anxiously awaiting her response. “No. Your imagination seems to be evolving.”
I chuckle. “No, unfortunately it’s always been like that. I’m still waiting for y’all to pull me apart by my atoms and rearrange me or some kind of funk.”
She starts, but, hand up, I stop her. “No, nevermind that.” I roll my eyes. “I don’t wanna know.” A pause before something else occurs to me. “If you can transfer a person’s conscious into a new body, why not keep doing it? After their body expires, that is? Like the Cylons?”
Turning away from me, ignoring another pop culture reference, Wynne’s reticence says so much. “This is under discussion. It is a…politically contentious issue. We do for certain circumstances allowed by code and request.”
“Gender and sex transference. Terminus, however, is…undecided.”
I don’t push the conversation further as much as I want to, especially regarding gender and sex transference.
I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted and tension surrounds the terminus topic.
Sometimes I feel her holding back, hesitating, wanting to say more, needing to express more. Her emotions boil under the surface waiting to explode in an array of spinning sparks I eagerly await. Perhaps a bit too much. I spent my life around impassioned women. Anything less than a fierce response and I question the sincerity of their character. I know, hypocritical and ironic given my steadfast resolve to stay stoic in most situations. Maybe because of being the target of many of those impassioned scenes? The intensity of the responses can be intimidating and overwhelming and scary given the history of my confrontations in the past with my dad and the rest of my family—my own personality quirk and annoyance on many levels. I wait for Wynne to release that which she’s held back. I coax her when I can. We’re both circling each other relaxing into a friendship that has the stirring of a deeper connection. I give a little, she gives a little. Fitting, really—reciprocity?
Will it evolve?
I hope so. I never was a tit-for-tat person.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins