For the second time that night, she gasped awake. For an awful moment, she was still in the frenzied dream. Even as her thoughts turned toward it, the dream drifted away from her, as easily as smoke through grasping fingers. She took a deep breath and let it out with a trembling exhalation. The sheets clung to her clammy skin unpleasantly. She sat up and slid her legs off the side of the bunk. Sitting in the darkness, the deck plates cold beneath her feet, she put her head in her hands and refused to cry.
She could feel the tightness behind her eyes, the tears waiting to fall, waiting to betray her. And a tightness in her chest, that not-quite-pain, as her heart slowed from its thundering pace. It felt like the air itself was pressing in on her, or like her skin had become just a little too tight. It was always like this after. Quiet, distressed minutes. They weren’t nightmares really. Not quite. It wasn’t fear that made her desperately wake.
“It’s too much,” she whispered.
As if the words themselves were her tears, they fell together. A broken whisper carried forth on a single sob, traitorous tears making a mad scramble down her cheeks. She stood up and stalked to the refresher station, angrily swiping at her eyes with the sleeve of her nightshirt. The lights above the mirror slowly brightened as she approached. She looked a mess. She wasn’t the type of girl who cries prettily. Not this time. Her hair was tangled and slightly damp from sweat. She splashed water on her face and looked in the mirror, watching the droplets run down her face. Just water. Her fingers traced lightly over the scar running down her face. She didn’t know why she kept it. It was a foolish affectation.
She closed her eyes for a moment and then reached into the back of the storage cabinet. Her fingers found that familiar black leather case tucked behind a stack of towels. It was small, no bigger than her two palms together. She opened the case and rested it on the edge of the sink. On the left were a series of liquid-filled vials, held in place against the cushioned lining of the case by simple loops. On the right were small zippered pockets holding tiny plastic bags containing small quantities of pills and powders.
She looked at the case with a mixture of longing and distaste. She hated what was happening to her. Every night, it was worse. There were only two things that helped. The first was her little black case. The second was so much better. Her mind skittered away from that line of thought. She hastily dug out a little plastic bag holding two blue capsules and dumped them into her mouth. She leaned down to drink from the faucet, the pills sliding down her throat uncomfortably as she swallowed. Blue Pill was enough for now. It was. The lie wasn’t much easier to swallow then the pills.
She stood there for several minutes staring at her face in the mirror, occasionally tilting her head this way and that, studying her features. After a time, she started to feel the Blue Pill taking effect. Even as she felt the languorous bliss creep over her, it was the forgetfulness that she craved and waited for. To be free of the memories for just a little while. She sighed and stretched, luxuriating in the feeling as the full effect of the Blue Pill hit her.
She walked over to the food prep station, grabbing a can of Quafe and a pre-packaged meal. She carried her breakfast over to the lounge and broke the seal on the food, setting it down on the table in front of the couch. She could hear the internal heating element sizzling. She sat down, popped the tab on the can of Quafe and took an eager chug as she tapped a key on the the interface pad on the table, bringing the room’s main monitors to life.
The larger central screen blazoned the latest alert from CONCORD before shifting to various advertisements. The news ticker marched its snippets of headlines across the screen. The screen on the right currently displayed a shifting series of camera feeds of picturesque scenes of dawn, sampled from various planets in the local constellation. Pretty. She smiled lazily, watching the shifting scenes with unfocused eyes.
The center screen suddenly broke from its advertisements with a flashing red incursion warning. It took a moment for her thoughts to coalesce from under the blissful haze of the Blue Pill. The incursion was only seven jumps from here. She felt her heart start beating faster. She put down the can of Quafe and stood up, staring at the monitor as it displayed camera feeds of Sansha’s Nation fleets warping in. It was a massive incursion.
She turned and walked away, heading for her quarters’ exit. She felt the adrenaline starting to flow as she walked toward the hangar. She pulled her nightshirt over her head and dropped it on the deck plates behind her. It really didn’t matter what you were wearing, or not, in a pod. She could see her Federation Navy Comet suspended in the hangar ahead of her. She felt that familiar excitement looking at its sleek lines. It was almost a shame.
She didn’t bother with pre-flight, walking past the hangar console and down the steps to where her pod was docked. She climbed in eagerly, fitting the wire cap in place as the shell of the capsule closed around her and the interior filled with ectoplasmic fluid. There was a brief sensation of falling as she uplinked her consciousness with the pod interface. Within minutes, her Comet was in the automated traffic queue to undock from the station, her pod nestled deep within the heart of the ship.
By the time the station computer released navigation control to her, her course was plotted and she immediately aligned to the first gate. Out of habit, she accessed the most recent intelligence updates on the incursion as she warped to the first gate. Comms were already heavily active as capsuleers began to converge on the staging system.
She closed all her active comm channels. Consulting the intelligence reports, she made a correction to her plotted course, bypassing the staging system. She consulted the list of recorded sites. There. A Nation Mining Colony. Perfect.
As she completed the series of warps and gate jumps that would take her to her target system, she found her mind wandering. Daydreaming. It was a strange sensation while interfaced. A hallucinatory effect of the Blue Pill, maybe. Usually the mind was too active processing information to daydream when actively controlling a ship.
As she warped through a system with a yellow sun, the light radiation absorbed by the shields translated to her as a feeling of warmth on her face. She remembered being a little girl, surface-bound, spinning around and round with her face uplifted to the sky, the warm sun shining down on her, the wind on her hair. She remembered being a young man, standing on a battlefield under a sky filled with stars, rifle held loosely in her hands. She was an old woman, ill and aching, laying down for the last time to rest. She was a middle-aged woman giving birth, sick with pain and fear. She was a grandfather, alone now, standing over fresh graves. She was a leader, rousing her people with a fiery speech. She was a soldier. She was a healer. She was a mother. A father. Farmer. Killer. Artist. Pilot. Priest. She was…
She was under attack. Her thoughts snapped into focus. They were already deep into her armor. She could feel the stings of the incoming fire. Hot and painful now. Sansha’s Nation cruisers, camping this side of the gate. For a moment, she didn’t do anything. Why not let it end here? No. Not like this. Not as some pitiful suicide to a laughable camp. Shaken, she hastily aligned to a nearby planet and warped out before the incoming fire could start burning into her structure.
It had never been like this before. She took the Blue Pill because it made her forget. She knew something was wrong with her. It wasn’t supposed to work this way. As far as she knew, none of the Reborn had direct, vivid memories of their past lives like this. Something inside of her was broken, and it had made her sick.
Even as she knotted up inside with self-loathing and anger and regret, she realized she was at her destination system. That had been the final jump. The other emotions fell away as excitement rose up in their place, bringing with it that dark, secret craving. She checked her scanner and aligned to the Nation’s mining colony. What she was doing was stupid, and wasteful, and twisted. And she needed it. Her secret addiction.
It was a short jump. Her scanners lit up with enemies. Too many to defeat. She was laughably outnumbered. But she wasn’t here to beat them. She didn’t know if her body was smiling, but inside her head laughter bubbled up. She targeted the nearest enemy and engaged her afterburner.
When it came, it came quick. Losing her ship felt like ripping off an impossibly deep scab. The laughter in her head trailed away, eclipsed by sharpened expectation. It felt so good it hurt. A bright light filled her mind.
They say you’re not supposed to remember that moment when your consciousness is reduced to a simple data stream. They say it’s just a static data map of your brain chemistry and neural connections. Beyond consciousness, less than an instant between death and rebirth into a waiting clone.
For her, it was an eternity. Here, between death and life, the memories didn’t torment her. Here, she was in control. She could spend a dozen lifetimes as that little girl spinning around and round, filled with innocent joy. She could relive past glories or reflect on the sadnesses of a thousand lifetimes, untouched by their cruel bite.
Even though this between-life was experienced as an infinite moment–beyond the reach of time–always when she woke it seemed like it was too short, too fleeting. And so began that long period of withdrawal. It was so much better right after. The memories didn’t come every night. But always, they were there. Waiting to rush back and torment her with a thousand thousand memories, all jumbled together.
They came to her as mad, frenzied dreams, disjointed and discordant. It was like listening to a hundred pieces of music at once, all of them off-key and manic in their tempo. She could quiet them for a time with narcotics, but they always came back. Until she gave in to that dark craving, that sweet addiction to her own death.
Thought and emotion was strange here, somehow both formless and distinct, like some strange impressionist painting done in stark, bold strokes of the brush. Always before, she had explored her past lives with an almost gleeful intensity. This time she felt a weariness, as broad and deep as her own ancient soul.
Here, in this place where memory was obedient, she could choose not to remember at all. Even as the idea formed, she felt the echoes of craving. A peaceful, undisturbed sleep. Yes. A perfect rest before she woke again. She felt herself relax into it, and the half light of the dream faded to empty darkness.
“I don’t understand, sir,” the technician said. He clutched a datapad with the recorded readings. He offered it to the cloning facility’s medical director. “All the readings were optimal when I did my rounds.” Despite the confidence in his voice, anxiety was plainly written on his face as he explained.
“I have the transmission analysis right here,” replied the medical director. “The transneural burning scan was received with 99.997% pattern cohesion. That far exceeds the requirements.” He checked the tech’s offered readings. “I just don’t understand. I’ve never seen a mind-lock like this before. I’ve seen it happen with a fresh trainee after their first interface. But an established capsuleer? This is unheard of.”
The director paused. “This will be news. A major story, maybe even investigations.” The director blanched as the implications came to him. “It will ruin us. No one will trust their clones at this facility after this.” He looked sharply at the nervous technician. “Not a word of this, or it will be the end of your career. Reprocess the clone. Erase the logs. This never happened.”
The director stalked off, furiously keying at his communicator. The technician watched him go before turning to the vat holding the failed clone. He didn’t feel right about this, but he wasn’t about to risk his job for the sake of a mind-locked clone. He input commands on the vat’s control panel, bypassing each confirmation warning, beginning the biomass reprocessing procedure. The valve at the bottom of the vat cycled open and the clone and its nutrient bath were sucked down to be reprocessed. The technician returned to his desk station and began to excise all data related to the failed cloning.
Every few minutes, the technician glanced uneasily back at the empty vat. For just a moment, as the clone fell, he could have sworn he saw its eyes open.