4. Attollo

004attollo

Credits.

Written and Assembled by Brian Martinez

Performed by Jason Hill

Theme song by Voltz Supreme

The sound for this show was made possible by the amazing audio community, including freesound.org, and the work of the following engineers:

Nexotron, Deleted User 7146, Acclivity, thelukasbanana, ethraiel, Seth O’Dale

Transcript.

Growing up on the Ark, little Jenny Ashby would watch the Captain walk past her in the hallway wearing his pristine, black uniform and his confident smile. She would imagine how exciting that man’s life must be. The daily adventures, days of setting and reaching impossible goals, of making tough decisions for the good of the people. To her that man in black was larger than life, a hero. No, a superhero, responsible for every life on board, human and otherwise. And that man, he would nod down at her as he passed, a striking image of the self-assuredness that came with power, yet not so superhuman that he couldn’t take the time to acknowledge the small girl peeking up at him.

Now she knew the truth. So much of being a Captain was reading reports. Hours going over statistics, from plant growth updates to population counts to system status details. It wasn’t an adventure but a daily trudge. She remembered how space was once the great unknown, a frontier harsher than any other in human history, full of excitement, with danger hidden around every corner.

The reality of space was that, more than anything, it was empty. Just an uncaring wasteland where even sound went to die.

Jennifer had learned the sad truths of adulthood the hard way. For all of its limitless potential, nothing much happened in deep space. Aside from occasionally navigating around an anomaly picked up by their sensors, the most interesting days were the ones they came across an asteroid. Then it was a lovely dance of automated machination and human ingenuity, various departments and systems coming together for one, shared goal, the goal of mining the floating rock for all its resources. But until then, it was the reports for her.

Captain Ashby rubbed her eyes, giving them a short break from the screen in her lap. She let her gaze pass over the ship’s bridge. The circular room had five workstations in total, each with its own array of screens and instrumentation, as well as the center command chair where she sat. The bridge normally glowed bright with artificial sunlight, twenty percent brighter in fact than her predecessor had kept it, the extra energy usage justified by explaining how important it was for morale. She wanted the crew to see the bridge as the brightest place on the entire ship- short of a few of the more desert-like environments, of course. Today, however, she had requested that the light be kept low. Though she’d blamed it on a headache, the truth was she was feeling distracted, a feeling compounded by all the bright lights and steady beeps, all those screens vying for her attention.

Before she’d been that little girl peeking up at the Captain, she’d been an even smaller girl. Scared. Alone. Taken from all she’d ever known and loved, torn from the ground like a weed, its roots ripped painfully from the dirt. Those first steps onto the Ark had felt like a death march. Even at such a small age, she could imagine nothing more for her future than a slow, quiet death; a stinking weed, rotting in the sun.

As her thoughts shifted back to the present, Captain Ashby realized someone was speaking to her. She turned to see First Officer Oberlander at her side. He was a young man, not quite as young as she’d been when she held the same position, but still inexperienced. The look of concern on his face made her wonder how long he’d been standing there trying to speak to her. Ashby glanced at Hopes, the Communications Officer, and caught him trying not to look at her.

“What is it, Oberlander,” she asked, placing the screen on the table next to her.

“You asked me to update you when today’s thaws were completed.”

She paused, giving him a disapproving look. “The what?”

“Revivals,” he corrected himself.

“How many were scheduled for today?”

“Three. Two male, one female. Would you like to see the reports?”

“Send them to me. I’ll be in my office for the time being.” She stood from the center chair, smoothing out her uniform as she walked past Pagani, the ship’s Navigator, to the stairs that led down to her private office. “The chair is all yours,” she added over her shoulder.

“Of course, Captain,” Oberlander replied. In his voice she could hear the doubt of youth, and maybe something more. He still needed a great deal of guidance if he was ever going to take over as ship’s Captain, but it would have to wait; she was in no mood to babysit. She walked down the metal stairs and through the door, the design of which was made to echo the look of ancient submarines, closing it behind her with a solid push.

That small girl, little Jenny Ashby, had felt so lost her first day on the Ark. Hours earlier she’d been standing on Earth, begging her parents to come with her, the two of them smiling through tears as they explained they couldn’t, that they had to stay behind, they were too sick to go. It had taken three attendants to pull her onto the lift ship and strap her in, and when she wouldn’t stop screaming they held her down. A quick press of a medgun to her wrist later she was swimming in euphoria, the countdown starting over a speaker. Her eyes swam in her skull as the lift ship began vibrating, the rumbling growing so strong it felt as if the world was breaking apart. Thirty seconds later she felt the heaviest weight she’d ever felt pressing down on her. All became white light, until finally she couldn’t keep her eyelids open anymore and she slipped into a warm bath of sleep.

Captain Ashby glanced around her office. It was impeccable, and not just because she scheduled the cleaning crew to pay it a visit every other week. She was a strong believer of the saying ‘clean desk, clean mind,’ and so she was very selective about what she kept in her private sanctuary. There was a shelf on one wall, the kind that would be perfect for trophies and awards if those actually existed in space, which displayed the few, small keepsakes she allowed herself. There was the unexplained space junk they’d recovered on a mining expedition, a hunk of black rock somehow perfectly square. Next to that was a framed photograph of her parents, one she’d printed from the screen they’d packed in her bag. Their smiles were genuine in the photo, not hiding pain like they’d been on that terrible day. Lastly there was a beautifully-rendered sculpture of an elm tree, its branches proudly reaching for the sky, skillfully rendered by hands she knew very well. Aside from those objects the office was sparse, cold even, and that suited her just fine.

Ashby sat behind her desk, sinking into the soft chair as she allowed her eyes to close for a moment. It had been a difficult week. She could feel the sleep hunting her, wanting her to keep her lids shut and possibly never open them again.

Little Jenny Ashby opened her eyes. The lift ship had already docked, its engines shut off. The attendants ushered her out of her seat and to the exit to join the others. The sedation had mostly worn off, though she still felt sluggish. Her legs were heavy as she stepped through the airlock. Those drugs didn’t have the crash they once did, but she felt the comedown nonetheless as she realized she would never see her parents again. The last time they’d seen her she was crying and screaming. Jenny didn’t want that to be the last image they had of her, but then she didn’t want any last image- she just wanted to go back to them.

It didn’t take long for her to wander off from the group, numbly exploring the new place on her own. It was tremendous, full of sights she’d never seen before. She knew, even at her age, that not many ever had. Under any other circumstance it would have been the experience of a lifetime, but just then, in the midst of her grief and confusion, she felt like a recently deceased soul standing at the precipice of Hell, staring out across a lake of torment.

It was some time before an adult found her and returned her to the group of newcomers. They were still filing through a processing area, having their bodies scanned and their quarters assigned to them. Jenny was lumped in with the young kids who didn’t have parents or chaperons, who had come to the Ark alone. But they were more than simply unaccompanied minors here- they were orphans.

As she was pushed to join the group, she caught the sight of another girl in the crowd. The girl was about her age, but there was something so mature, so mesmerizing about her eyes, the way she looked around and studied every, tiny detail in the world around her. There was a mystery in those eyes that made Jenny forget everything else around her. As she stared at the girl, the girl turned and noticed her.

And then the girl smiled.

Tapping on the screen in front of her, Captain Ashby called up the number to her quarters. After three, soft tones, that same face she’d been reminiscing about materialized in front of her, a three-dimensional light rendering of those same attentive eyes, that same, brave smile, just a number of years older. “Hello, love,” the image of her wife said, and Ashby felt her shoulders relax.

“How are you today,” she asked. Her wife’s smile wavered as she swallowed roughly.

“It hasn’t been a great day.”

The Captain frowned. “Well. Maybe tomorrow will be better.”

“If I remember right, you said that yesterday. I’m starting to think you might be lying.” She was using her playful voice. For the first time that day, Ashby smiled.

“Are you talking back to your captain?”

“Always.”

The Captain continued to smile as she glanced up at the tree on her shelf. Ness, her wife, was an artist, primarily sculpture, though recently she hadn’t had the energy to go into her studio. In fact it had been a few weeks since she’d even left their quarters. “I wish I could be there with you right now,” Ashby said. “Maybe I can cut my shift short. Just for today.”

Ness shook her head adamantly. “No. Don’t do that. Stay for your shift, I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Not soon enough.”

Ness smiled. And maybe it was a trick of the light from the hologram, but Captain Ashby’s office lit up. “It’s never soon enough, love.”

They disconnected, and Ashby watched the rendering of her wife’s face deconstruct and fade away. She stared at the empty space it left behind.

After a while she pulled up the reports Oberlander had sent her, checking on the three revivals that should have already been completed. They all appeared to have been successful. Recognizing the name of the female patient, she called up the camera feed on the patient’s Medlab with a few taps of her finger. She was pleasantly surprised to see the woman was looking as fit as ever, letting her eyes wander briefly over the woman’s exposed skin before switching to the next Medlab. There she found an older gentleman snoring loudly, asleep on a medical bed while one of the nurses attempted to wake him. She laughed softly, giving serious consideration to clicking back over to the half-naked woman in the previous Medlab. Instead she checked on the third and final revival.

The room was empty.

Captain Ashby leaned forward in her chair, her brow furrowed, and checked the lab number. It was the right room, just no patient. “Sunn,” she said, “can you tell me where the patient from Medlab 3190 is right now?”

3. Intellexit

003intellexit

Credits.

Written and Assembled by Brian Martinez
Performed by Jason Hill

Theme song by Voltz Supreme

The sound for this show was made possible by the amazing audio community, including freesound.org, and the work of the following engineers:

Nick121087, Vospi, Pushkin, 1o, Eguobyte, Soundscapes55, Gabyantigravity, Luka Kotar, Mmaruska, Soundscapes55, Suntemple, Neocrey, InspectorJ, Antoineopeng, DCPoke, Voltz Supreme

Transcript.

The moment the young guy and girl finally left the Medbay, with the door contracted shut behind them, he sprang up from the bed. His head pounding, he ripped through the room looking for something, some sign of not just who but where he was and what those people were doing to him. Doctor Hannigan had appeared friendly, but that didn’t mean he was going to lay back and wait to see if he could trust her- and whoever she worked for- with his life.

The screens were no help. Either he couldn’t get them to activate or they showed the same, useless medical information the doctor had told him. They were still monitoring his levels. His heart rate and body temperature were much higher now than when she’d read them. The readouts and graphs meant little to him, except they all had one thing in common: they showed flat lines rising from nothing, no activity at all, to little spikes and eventually sustained levels of something resembling life.

An image flashed across his vision. A memory like a slice of the past, no larger than a single fan blade passing in front of him. He saw plastic closing in on his face as a piercing cold gripped his veins. He struggled to take a breath from an oxygen mask before realizing it was no longer there. He was back in the room of computers wearing next to nothing, goosebumps covering his arms.

“Back in the land of the living,” he whispered.

The metal floor was cold under his bare feet as he explored the room. There were no personal things left in the room, no wallet, no ID, just walls with vertical sliding panels full of medical instruments. Handheld diagnostics and laser tools for simple cutting were pressed into perfectly-recessed silhouettes. He palmed a small blade with a button in the handle before sliding the panel back into the wall.

In the lockers he found the clothes the doctor had mentioned, plain rows of dark gray pants, shirts and shoes in various sizes. Not even knowing what size he was, he eyed them up and took his best guesses, dressing quickly as he watched the door for the Psych Doctor who was supposed to be along. As he slipped the shoes onto his feet, he imagined how the evaluation would go. What would they be looking for? Were they worried he might be insane? Would they strap him back down and medicate him into a stupor until he behaved the way they wanted?

Is that what he needed?

He moved to the door and stopped to listen to the hallway beyond. With his ear pressed to the metal he strained to hear conversations, movement, any signs of nearby people. After a few seconds he made out the clear sound of approaching footsteps. The person wore the same shoes as him, except they moved with the light steps of a woman or perhaps a smaller man. He pressed the button next to the door and hid to the side as it dilated.

The metal hallway stretched a few hundred feet before splitting off into two more passages, both of them leading out of sight. The floor had alternating stretches of solid metal and grating. He peeked further out. Plants hung from the ceiling, vines snaking up portions of the walls. A dragonfly flew past him, its long body carried on the air by four, translucent wings. He watched it move away, the buzz growing quieter as the footsteps grew louder. Whoever it was that was approaching, they were just around the corner now. If he moved fast enough they might not see him slip away. If he stayed, did what he was told, they wouldn’t be angry with him, and maybe he would even be safe, among friends.

A second flash hit him. The cold moving across his skin, like icy fingers sliding up his legs. Lungs sucking in smaller and smaller amounts of frigid air that tasted of medicine, and his eyes closing, closing, the darkness taking him in like a dry sponge sucking in water. Then a moment later he was back in the room, gasping and taking in big gulps of warm air.

He didn’t care who those people were, if they were his employers, enemies or friends. He didn’t even care if they were family- he wasn’t going to let them do that to him again.

He slipped out the door and into the hallway. Immediately, more sounds came to him from far off, the low humming of machines and screens mixed with the chirps of crickets and birds and the soft movement of air through leaves. With his new shoes padding on the metal floor, he hurried away from the room he’d woken up in just minutes earlier and scurried to a recessed part of the hallway, reaching it and ducking out of sight just as the footsteps rounded the corner.

With his back crushed up against the wall, he made himself as flat as possible. He stayed perfectly, deathly still. The footsteps reached the door he’d left open and paused at the threshold. He held his breath and prayed, prayed as he waited for what came next. Would it be angry shouts? A blaring alarm? Some bizarre form of violent death seeking him out, a drone or even an animal of some kind? What unexplained thing would this world throw at him?

“Idiot. Can’t even get the room numbers right,” a voice mumbled.

He’d been right about it being a woman. Judging by her voice she sounded to be in her fifties or sixties, and more than a little annoyed. At the same time, her reaction was of the minimum-security variety. More and more the place wasn’t seeming like a jail- no locks on the doors, relaxed attitude- yet without being told much, he couldn’t afford to give them his trust so entirely. He had to assume danger, and act accordingly.

A few, breathless seconds later, the woman turned and walked away, heading off the way she’d come. With a little luck her confusion would buy him enough time to make his escape.

He left the recessed area behind and continued down the metal hallway, noting the amount of plant life present, including what grew from the grating beneath his feet. The light panels overhead emitted sunlight so warm his eyes could almost believe it was real.

Door after door after door he passed, and all of them looked the same. Each had a small screen on its right side with the word “Med” followed by the room number. On a whim he pressed one of them, the panel for Med 3212. Under his finger it changed to the word “Unoccupied.” It was good to know there weren’t more mysterious horrors happening on the other side of the door, but it didn’t help him get out of his situation any quicker.

He continued through the strange hallway, glancing occasionally up at the greenery that hung and arched over his head. A small mouse darted across the walkway ahead, slipping under a vent panel. A minute and a few turns later, a sigh of relief escaped him.

An elevator.

Even better, it opened at a press of the panel. The inside of the elevator car was more than spacious, able to comfortably handle at least twenty people at once, and maybe as high as forty if they stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Standing inside, he studied the button panel. He was on the third floor by the look of it. The lights indicated seventeen floors in total, starting with the first floor at the top and increasing as they went down. Did that mean the building was underground? If that was the case, the top floor would likely be the exit.

With little time to decide he pressed the top button, floor number one. It lit up red: no access. If they truly were underground, and the top floor was the way out, then apparently no one was allowed to leave.

He picked again. The second floor button lit up.

The door closed, and a moment later the elevator car hummed as it ascended. Whatever the place was, their machinery ran smoothly. A few, short seconds later the elevator stopped and the door opened. It was bright out there. He stepped back, hoping not to find himself face-to-face with his captors. Luckily, his wish came true. He stepped out before the door could close again.

Coming out into a small area, the first thing he noticed was the sound, that unmistakable noise of people gathered in one place. Voices layered on top of one another, a mixture of laughing and coughing and the shuffling of feet, the rubbing of clothes and elbows. They sounded calm enough, civil, but maybe that was because they didn’t know an undead prisoner had escaped from the medical bay and was walking among them. That might change their attitudes.

A wall in front of him blocked all those people from view, creating a small area where the elevator had been neatly tucked away. It was almost entirely covered by a screen that acted as some kind of community board. At the center, larger than any of the other messages, was an announcement for a gathering at nineteen-thirty hours. A few children’s drawings had been added as well, colorful sketches of people playing in fields, along with various messages and advertisements.

It was time to find out who these people were. Slowly, cautiously, he walked out of the elevator area.

2. Machinamentum

Holes

Credits.

Written and Assembled by Brian Martinez
Performed by Jason Hill

Theme song by Voltz Supreme

The sound for this show was made possible by the amazing audio community, including freesound.org, and the work of the following engineers:

Speedenza, Badgie42, Oneirophile, Joelaudio, Boksholm, Jagadamba, Gabyantigravity, Zabuhailo

Transcript.

Gunnar hated Deck Twelve. The air there hung heavy with unspeakable things, broken up only by a sour breeze that stunk of death. As a Fabricator, he had one of the few jobs that required him to visit nearly every corner of every deck of the ship, from the bathrooms to the cafeterias to every one of the environments. But none of them, not one of them, smelled quite like the Recycling Plant.

As he headed toward Wastewater Processing, where he’d been summoned minutes earlier, Gunnar looked up at the two miles of pipes that weaved overhead, occasionally snaking along the walls and down underfoot. Inside those pipes, pressurized waste of all kinds moved in the dark, their destination a series of massive vats that stood a hundred feet high. Deck Twelve was extra tall to allow for the sheer size of the vats. The waste inside them went through a series of highly-specialized processes in which the components were broken down and separated into their atomic building blocks. The sound of sloshing and squishing was ever present, and the odors that wafted from the vats left little to the imagination.

Yes, Recycling may have made their way of life possible, but it was still disgusting.

Gunnar crossed a catwalk, increasing his stride to clear the vat of black liquid below, thick bubbles popping on its oily surface, and wiped a bit of sweat from his forehead. The extra humidity generated by the processing meant the artificial sunlight was kept to a minimum on Deck Twelve, lit instead by computer displays and bioluminescence. It lent the deck an eerie color, nestled at some uncomfortable point between green and yellow.

Reaching the other side, he passed a group of men and women in orange uniforms, Recyclers crowded around a game of Bohap. The dice were currently in the hands of Saam, a man Gunnar knew too well. Saam had cheated at every game Gunnar had ever played against him, which wasn’t many once Gunnar caught on. Still, it was a lesson that had cost Gunnar more than a few Trade Points to learn.

“Look out, boys,” Saam said, “we got a yellow-suit on deck. If you’re not careful he’ll fabricate a knife right into your backs.” The others chuckled. It wasn’t uncommon to see mistrust between the Vocations.

“He’s the one you should watch. I’ve never seen a bigger cheater in my entire life,” Gunnar replied.

The dark-eyed man squinted at him as he rolled the dice on the ground. “Ehh, ignore him. He’s just a sore loser.”

Before anyone could stop him, Gunnar stomped the tumbling dice under his boot, eliciting a round of angry shouts. But when he lifted his foot, showing them the crushed dice with their shattered microchips inside, the angry shouts shifted toward Saam. “Harum zadeh,” Saam cursed under his breath.

“Enjoy your game,” Gunnar said with a grin, continuing on his way. A short while later, after making his way to Wastewater Processing and taking in the scene, he turned to Abigail. The slightly short but very curvy woman stood watching him in her orange uniform, her eternally dirty hands on her hips. “It stinks in here,” he told her.

“It usually does.”

“Yeah, well today it really stinks.”

“It’s like I told Seth, the scum skimmer is unresponsive on Clarifier Three.” She pointed to the large vat, this one more wide than it was tall. It usually hummed and churned with the sounds of dirty water, but for the moment it had fallen silent. “If you want to get out of here quickly, fix that and you can be on your way.”

Gunnar turned to Seth, who was watching him with multiwrench in hand. He’d worked with the Mechanic for a while now, yet he’d only drawn one conclusion about the guy: he was better looking than he was mechanically intuitive- and he wasn’t that good looking. “Did you try kicking it,” Gunnar asked him.

“I tried everything required when a scum skimmer is unresponsive.”

“Does that include kicking it?”

Seth shook his head. “It’s a defective Clarifier. You’ve had a look, now can you start fabricating a replacement unit?”

Gunnar laughed at the idea. As a big guy the sound carried far, echoing throughout the deck, probably down to where Saam was still explaining himself to an angry crowd of gamblers. “You want to replace the whole unit because of one bad skimmer?”

“It’s not just the skimmer. The analyzer is showing low sample line pressure. I checked for leaks, I checked the pumps, I even checked the suction header. They’re all perfect. And now the switchover isn’t communicating. No matter what I do, nothing works.”

“It sounds like you have a faulty brain,” Gunnar concluded.

“Excuse me?”

Gunnar moved to the Clarifier’s control panel. Ignoring Seth’s complaints, he opened the back of the panel and took a look inside. When everything looked good and clean he moved to the smaller, secondary panel that housed the power coupling as well as the breakers. Something caught his eye. A brown-black mass between two contact points. He smiled, proud of himself, and pulled the dead cockroach from the control unit. He tossed it on the ground, where it slid to a stop at Seth’s feet. “You’re supposed to be the mechanic,” he said, “not me.”

Abigail tried powering up the unit. The startup process started successfully, and within seconds it was humming along, back to its nasty business. She gave a dirty thumbs up to Gunnar.

“A temporary fix at best,” Seth pointed out.

“That’s true. It’ll probably only buy you another eight or nine years,” Gunnar replied.

Seth didn’t have much to say after that, so he gathered his things and left. After the Mechanic had gone, Gunnar closed the secondary panel and wiped his hands on his uniform. “Skitstövel. I can’t wait to get rid of him,” he sighed.

“Come on, he’s not that bad.” Abigail had begun running diagnostics on the Clarifier, her fingers moving expertly across the screen as she navigated its menus and submenus.

“Are we talking about the same guy? Seth, the one who just left? He’s all manual and no instinct. If I wanted to work with a computer, I’d ask Sunn for help.”

She snorted softly. “Well Sunn partnered you two up, so I guess you’re stuck with him.” Then she noticed the smug grin on Gunnar’s face. “What?”

“Desanto gets thawed out in two weeks.”

“Ahh, your buddy, the all-star Mechanic. You must be up crying every night waiting for him to thaw.”

“If that’s sarcasm,” Gunnar said, “you’re really bad at it.”

Abigail punched him in the arm. He tried to hide how much it had hurt. “You think they’ll want you two to work on that hull problem you’re always going on about?”

“If they’re smart. If not I’ll make sure they know how important it is. When I plead the case to the Captain, I bet you Desanto and I will get reassigned immediately. Then it’s goodbye to the walking manual.” He nodded to where Seth had been before he tucked tail and left.

“Well, if you want something to do until then, I can think of a few things to keep you busy.”

Gunnar’s eyebrow raised. Was Abigail hitting on him? He had to admit to some curiosity about what she was hiding under that uniform, but she’d never shown any interest in him short of a little workplace banter. Unless perhaps he’d misread all the signs. A typical Fabricator, he thought, better at reading schematics than people. “Like what,” he asked.

“There’s a D-13 malfunction code on Separator Six, for one thing.”

He nodded. Of course she’d meant nothing by it. “You know what the best thing about that code is?”

“What?”

“It’s not my problem.”

“Nice.”

“Call back Seth, he probably hasn’t slinked off too far.”

She laughed, and he tried not to look at her mouth. “Oh, come on. What are the odds I can convince you to stick around and help me?”

“Picture an ice cube in an atomic furnace,” he said, “then grab a hammer.”

“You missed your true vocation, Gunnar. You should have been a poet.”

“And miss out on beautiful life experiences such as these?” He checked the screen on his wrist. If he hurried he had just enough time to finish the next task on his list before he grabbed something to eat. As he prepared to leave, he noticed the dead cockroach he’d tossed at Seth’s feet was gone. He was sure of the place where it had landed just a minute ago, now just an empty spot on the vented floor. “Hey,” he called out. “Do you happen to know what eats cockroaches?”

Abigail put her hands on her wide hips and thought about it. “I don’t know…everything?”

“Then I hate to tell you, but I think you’ve got yourself an everything problem.”

1. Resurgentium

youtube

Credits.

Written and Assembled by Brian Martinez
Performed by Jason Hill

Theme song by Voltz Supreme

The sound for this show was made possible by the amazing audio community, including freesound.org, and the work of the following engineers:

Seth O’Dale, Gabyantigravity, Dimbark1, Nosebleed Cinema, Duckduckpony, Speedenza, Speedygonzo, Caseymoura, Reznik Krkovicka, Badgie42, Gerainsan

Transcript.

“Can you hear my voice?”

The sound was like an angel calling out in the vast darkness. Every direction he looked, pitch black void met his eyes. No sight of the angel, nor the heaven it called home, just that sweet sound, humming through the abyss.

“Are you there?”

A pinpoint of light formed in the distance, not over the horizon that didn’t exist, but far off in the darkness, a distant star blinking in a sea of numb. He began to move toward the light even before the woman asked him to come forward, to follow her voice. He felt not like a man but a pair of floating eyes drifting through the void. Sure enough, when he tried to look at his hands he found he had none, the same with feet or legs or body. He was pure and hollow, a memory of a dream of a thought, a formless being drifting through the ether; drawn to a sound.

“That’s it,” she encouraged, “that’s it, keep it up.”

The pinpoint grew and grew until it was a glowing tunnel of light that drew his bodiless form further in, the speed increasing as its warmth whispered into him, the glow overtaking his vision and thoughts and all other sensation. The light became all that he was and all he’d ever known. As he moved further inside it, the light changed from pure yellow-white to an entire spectrum of dazzling colors that mixed and danced along with a funnel of swirling sound. Then the colors began to separate, morphing into differentiated shapes with soft but distinct lines, and the noise, too, became unique, beeps and hums and voices discussing him as if he weren’t there, until everything drew into focus and the light that had drawn him in became the light being shone into his eyes by a see-through man.

The room was too bright. He squinted painfully, barely able to open his eyes. A woman called for the room to be dimmed. A moment later the light was cut in half, enough to make out the woman in a white lab coat. He turned his head looking for the see-through man who had held the light in his eyes. Instead, he found he was lying on an inclined medical bed in a room full of screens, observed by a young guy and an even younger girl.

“Well, hello,” the woman greeted him. She had a warm smile, her blue-green eyes bright and sparkling clear beneath bright red hair. “I trust you slept well.”

He tried to ask her where the ghostly man had gone, but no sound came to his lips. Not even a whisper or a grunt.

“Don’t try to talk. Your vocal cords are still waking up.” She checked a panel of light next to his head. “Along with the rest of you. Don’t be alarmed if you feel a little…tingling in certain areas.”

The young guy glanced at the young girl. The girl smiled.

“Keep it together, you two,” the woman in white warned. They both wiped the smiles from their faces.

She returned her attention to the display, where soft beeps accompanied the dancing lights. “Your circulation looks excellent, as do your muscle and bone densities. Body temperature has climbed to ninety-six. Respiration rate is approaching normal. You’ll have to test out your excretory system on your own. I’ll assume it’s functioning properly unless you tell me otherwise. The same goes for your reproductive functions.” She shot another look at the young girl and guy as she tapped her finger on the light panel. “Endocrine levels are slightly low, as is immune response, but that will improve. As for your nervous system…”

Something jabbed the bottom of his toe. An electric tingle shot up his leg, causing his entire body to jump against the smooth bed. He hadn’t realized until that moment that he was being held down by three, white straps stretched from one side to the other. His muscles strained against the tight fabric.

The woman in white smiled down at him. “You appear to be a slightly ticklish, but otherwise healthy man.”

At the press of a screen the straps released him, withdrawing across his naked skin to disappear inside the bed. He sat up, suddenly wanting to be off the bed more than anything. But the quick motion made his head swim. The woman rushed forward to hold him up as he nearly doubled over to the floor.

“Calm down,” she said. He looked down at her warm fingers on his cold arm, suddenly realizing his groin was barely covered up by a thin band of material. She withdrew her hand and brushed the hair over her ear. “Take your time. It’ll be a little while before you’re yourself again.”

There were so many questions he wanted to ask, questions he was just finding the words for, starting with what the hell had just happened to him on that medical bed. Again he tried to speak, taking a breath and pushing the air back out. “Hhh..whhh…who,” he managed to ask.

“Sorry, I should have introduced myself. I’m Doctor Hannigan.”

He shook his head. She straightened, realizing what he’d meant.

“Total memory loss. Sunn really did do a lot of work on you.” She made a note on the screen before turning back to him. “Just relax for now, I promise this will all make sense soon.” She checked the display on her wrist. “I’m sorry, I have to be going. There are some clothes for you over there.” She motioned to a series of lockers. “One of the Psych Doctors will be here soon to perform their evaluation.” The woman in white walked to the door, pressing a button which dilated the door open for her. It moved so smoothly that it barely made a sound. The young girl and guy were lost in conversation as they shut their systems down and gathered their things.

Ignoring the inane chatter coming from the two young ones, he turned back to the woman already halfway into the metallic hallway. “Wh-where am I,” he asked hoarsely. She stopped and glanced back, giving him one more smile to warm his cold skin.

“You, my friend, are back in the land of the living,” she replied. Without another word she disappeared around the corner, down the metal hallway.