Stories on the edge of familiarity

Virtual Girl (excerpt)

Note: This is all I have so far of an experimental sci-fi story code named Virtual Girl. Expect it to be confusing.

Faded chalk art makes me think of the things
that could have been
and might be again.
Does that make sense?
I don’t know what does
it should have been so simple
But here I am again
thrown back
Blackness
Immobile
The beeping of machines that can never
Never
Wake me up again
When will I see again?

Must be programming
Must be the code
I hide out on the waves again
A digital ocean
‘Tell me, tell me’
I say
‘Why didn’t it work?’
But they don’t know
they never know
But they have the luxury
of being able to feel their fingers
Stop.
Stop
Not knowing
Not seeing
There was rain yesterday
And the dragon on the concrete
Has turned to shadow
And all I want
are my legs back.

‘We’ve never done anything like this,’
he says in Korean.
I translate for my brother and add
‘I hate this’
‘I know Korean,’
my brother says
‘Oh
Sorry’
Who thought astral projection
through the internet
would be so hard?
Easier than owning my body again
it seems
but both are supposed to be impossible
and here I am
why can’t I have this, too?
‘You’re thinking out loud again’
my brother says
The Korean scientist is confused
‘Tell him it was a mistake’
I say to my brother.
It seems I can only use the translator
when I’m emotional.

‘I think I found something’
my brother’s excitement does nothing
How many times have I heard it?
Each time, I settle
I move
I see
I say
‘Now’
He pulls the plug
and I come crashing down again
until the beep resumes
and machines fill my lungs again
tell my heart to beat again
Either way, it’s life by machine
Either way I die
But better my body than me
Right?

Humanoid, humanoid
it had to be humanoid
fully functioning
They were all big dogs here
and arguments about alien refugees
(granted, there had the aliens, too
but they also had better robots)
‘No, no, I’ve really found it’
‘So tell the scientist,’ I say
‘I can’t, that’s the problem
They know I know’

‘I swear, if you put this—’

‘They sent someone to the house’

‘Who?’

‘Them’

‘Why the hell are you researching them?
They can’t even remember’

‘Ever wondered why?’

‘What do you mean?’
I swim through the file
‘It’s got to be a conspiracy theory
How did you get this?’

‘You did’

Seems I use more than translators
when emotional

‘They want to know more about you’

A freak of technology

‘You’re a vegetable
They know
They know it’s impossible’

‘Do they know I want to live?’

‘They can’t wake you up’

‘So what good are they?’

‘What happened?’

‘Don’t yell,’ I tell my brother.

‘But what happened?’

‘Someone turned me off.
Wait
What the hell
What the hell’

‘What?’

‘Look’

‘I’

‘He’s them, isn’t he?’

‘They sent him to me’

‘I need to talk to him’

‘What—’

‘Get him back. I’m moving my body
before they mess with life support
again’

How do you find the right scientist?
Search engine?
Stalk universities?
No
You know someone
who knows someone
who knows someone
who knows a guy in Korea
“who’s working on something like that”
How does that even happen?
How am I even here?
But they don’t know
They can’t know
They want something
Here I am, run from
concerns of the day
only to be thrown
Right back into them.
How convenient, though
that he would know
who knows
who knows
How convenient

He’s at the apartment
My brother isn’t sure
He didn’t like last time
But how else to scare them?
(And he did like it last time
liar
I could hear him composing papers
in his mind
papers he could never write
but he would, anyway)
‘Wait’
My brother texts him to wait
I see through the webcam
I anticipate this “friend”
his shock
as I speak to him
I relish this
I just want to live
with privacy
with absolute privacy
‘Okay’—my brother’s voice betrays
his nerves
he hesitates
but puts it on
connects his brain to my reality
funny how the thing
that stuck me in the hospital
now gives me so much power
Here goes
Here
goes
I
in
in
in

The first thing to do when I’ve settled in my brother’s body is to take off the virtual reality interface and orient myself again. He mutters under the surface of me—it’s so weird having someone else’s self-talk in your head. But each movement of his body reminds me how different it is. Shorter, thicker. Male. I tell myself what I’m doing as I do it to get used to speaking with his voice. My own body, miles away, want to do the same. I can feel it moving to obey, but powerless to rise and communicate.

Ready, I text my brother’s friend. Acquaintance? What do you call someone who’s likely been using their relationship with you to exploit you? I think his name is Jason. I check the phone. Yes. Jason.

The chair beneath me squeaks as I stand, a little wobbly, but more steady as I walk across the apartment to the door. Moving through cyberspace is never so grounded as this. I have physical space around me, light through the windows, footsteps and the shift of clothing on my body with each movement.

I open the door.

“Hey!” says Jason.

“Hey yourself,” I say in poor imitation of my brother—I can hear his scornful undertones. Jason’s eyebrows draw together, but he comes in and takes off his shoes. I close the door.

“What did you want me over for?” he plops on the couch, limbs outstretched in comfort. I consider playing the charade a little longer, but this is better.

“I’d like to tell you…” No. That thought dies before my brother’s vocal cords can shape it. “I’m not particularly fond of people who cut my life support.”

Jason’s eyes bulge. He reminds me of a fish. “Your sister’s life support, you mean.”
I sit down exactly like myself and smile. “No, I meant my life support.”

“Do you have multiple personalities or something?”

“Look, Jason, or whoever you really are, I’m going to make this really simple: You’re looking at my brother’s body, but you’re talking to me. And, last night, you snuck into the hospital, shut off my life support, and turned it back on. Moreover, my brother informs me you came by the other day about some files I dug up that it seems you and quite a few other people have an interest in keeping hidden. What would people think if they knew these refugees came to Earth not because they were fleeing anything but because they were very, very interested in… what was it? ‘Harvesting latent potentials in the human populace for the improvement of our own abilities’?”

The following bout of stuttering is most gratifying. Jason peers at me.

“Why did you shut off my life support?” I ask.

“I didn’t—”

“Do you want stills from the security cameras, or should I stream the whole feed?”

“Is there some medication you should be taking?”

“Jason. Think. You interrupted my life support. No one at the hospital noticed. No one said anything about it. I’d love to know how you managed that, but that’s not really what’s on your mind right now because you know the only way I could be telling you this is if I wasn’t the vegetable you thought I was and, at the very least, I could tell my brother what you did. After all, outside of whoever else you’re working with, only I would know what you did. That’s how you set it up.”


This story originally appeared on The Twins of Darkness and Good, where Liana Brooks, Amy Laurens, and I post short, unedited, mostly-weekly fiction. It takes place in the same world as I Never Expected the Stars.

Amy Laurens is currently running a serial story called The League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheroes. There are six parts so far and the latest one involves the main character being an idiot with girls.

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