Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
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by Lachlan Liesfield

Her eyes opened as she awoke from her sleep, dreaming of worlds strange and familiar. Light flood into her eyes presenting to her the off beige of her pillow. Crawling out of bed she stretched, attempting to shake herself out of her tiredness. Rousing herself she ran a steaming hot shower, bringing her suddenly into the conscious world. She opened her wardrobe, searching through for her best clothes. She picked a floral dress she had bought overseas years earlier. It had been a favourite of hers ever since, and she knew she looked good in it; yes they would be perfect. She looked at the clock; it was later than she had thought. Rushing downstairs she made herself a quick morsel for breakfast and drained a glass of water.

Pulling on her coat she stepped out into the cool breeze of the morning. She had been excited for this day and everyone had noticed, her friends, her family. She was positively giddy as she glided down the street, pulling her coat tight around herself to stave off the bite of the chilly breeze. When the wind was low it was almost a perfect day out, few clouds, a gentle midday sun.

Low sets of apartment blocks cast shadows across the roads as the sun rose behind them. She was due to meet him in the centre of the city, a mere dozen blocks or so from her apartment. She had chosen the spot herself, a café called Patrice, its slightly gaudy sign belying its fantastic food and rather upmarket prices. The city centre was as busy as it ever was on a Saturday afternoon. So many people from out of town came in on the weekends, tourists and sightseers all clogging up the streets and alleyways.

When there came a gap in the cars she sprinted over the street, she was jaywalking but she couldn't have cared less, she had far better things to focus on, things far more real and important to her than a jaywalking fine would ever be.

Turning into the side street she caught the aroma of fresh coffee and olive oil, two constants of Patrice. Street artists had begun painting across the walls of the cafe. Every day the walls became more colourful and vibrant, with more complex and creative images appearing each time. She spotted him sitting out the front, a glass of water on the table in front of him. She began to walk to him, she closed her eyes for slightly longer than a standard blink and when she opened them all she saw...

Was darkness.

She looked forward, seeing nothing but darkness. As her eyes adjusted she began to make out a layer of glass before her face. She reached out to touch it but her hands would not move, held back by something though she could not tell what. A flash, suddenly light shone through the glass and flooded into her eyes. She regained feeling in her arms and felt the glass. It was icy to the touch and she pulled away quickly. She tilted her head around; she was inside some kind of tube or chamber that was sealed shut. She was regaining feeling in the rest of her body now; she urged to stretch out her limbs. A hiss, a series of clicks as the glass door to the pod allowed air to flow into it before abruptly sliding up above her and allowing her access to the outside world.

She dropped to her knees, not entirely of her own accord, and threw up. She couldn't control it, as soon as the outside air entered her lungs she felt sick. There was something strange about it, a slight acidic taste that made her mouth dry and her lungs burn when she breathed. She looked at herself. Her arms were covered in filth, as were her clothes, though they appeared to be nothing more than rags. Even within this short time she had started to sweat profusely. It was so hot, the air so dry.

She lifted herself off her knees, the pain in her chest easing a little and the queasy feeling in her stomach subsiding. She looked around the room, the pod she had come out of lay in the direct centre of the room, long, thick cables snaking out behind it and connecting to a desk to her left.

A holographic screen projected itself from the opposite side of the desk, the controls for the strange pod she had come out of. The room was tall and open; the walls, made of a dull red stone, were weathered and beaten. There were windows crudely cut from the stone along the wall in front of her. She took a few cautious steps around the desk behind her, her feet feeling every small indent in the stone floor, and moved to touch her hand to the unfamiliar keyboard.

Please do not touch that, a voice asked calmly from some unseen position.

She jumped back, she had just become used to the unnatural silence of the place only now to have it so suddenly broken. The voice was so unexpected for a few moments she struggled to breathe.

Welcome, It added a moment later. She calmed herself and began to breathe normally again; she kept her hands tightly by her sides.

Please, relax, it said in its digitised voice, the acclimation can take some time.

She wanted to speak but her words choked in her throat.

"Who… who are you? Where am I?" she forced out. She looked around trying to discover where the voice was coming from, though it seemed to be coming from everywhere all at once.

I am this system's technical A.I, I am responsible for the lives of those placed in the Life Pods and to ensure all correct waking and acclimatisation protocols are followed. It answered, You are currently on floor eighty-five of Life Pod tower module A-01.

She walked around the desk and headed towards one of the windows on the outer wall. She looked out over the world, there were thousands of other towers like this, spread out across the landscape. The ground itself was nothing more than sand blasted rubble, rocks and dirt.

"What happened to this place?" she asked the A.I.

There was sharp buzzing sound, the sound of dead radio channel, then it replied, Redacted.

She wondered what had happened here, what had caused a world to become this.

It is good to finally awaken someone, it has been many years since and only now is it safe to allow people back into the world, it informed her.

She looked out over the dry, lifeless land of whatever world this was.

"Where am I? I mean more broadly than last time," she queried, curious to know where she was.

You are home, the A.I replied.

Home? Surely not, this wasn't her home, at her home there were streets and people, at her home there was LIFE, there didn't appear to be any of that here. At her home there was a café called Patrice and at that café would be...

"How many others are there, still to be awakened?" she asked suddenly.

Number of those still to be awoke… zero, the machine answered. Other Life Pods could not be sustained. They were shut down to preserve what power we had. You were the last to be sustained.

No one else, no one but her. She had no memory of this place, of why this had all happened. This wasn't her home, her world; she knew what that looked like.

And she knew how to get back.

"I want to go back in the pod," she said as she pushed herself off the window ledge "I want to go back home".

This is your home, replied the A.I.

She moved over to the front of the Life Pod, running her fingers along its edges.

I must inform you, we do not have the energy required to sustain the Life Pod permanently. It will fail, and when it does you will be left with nothing but darkness, the A.I continued, sensing her longing to return.

She didn't ask when it would fail, she didn't need to know and she didn't want to know, nothing it could say would change her mind.

She had made her choice. Climbing back into the pod she closed her eyes, chemical agents making her body numb, and slipped comfortably back into the dream.

Back into darkness.

Her eyes opened suddenly, light rushing through her bedside window. Her alarm beeped at her incessantly, telling her it was time to get up. She checked the date, the twenty-forth, same day she was supposed to meet...

It was that day, wasn't it?

She shook herself and focused, running herself a hot shower to wake her up. She got dressed into her best clothes and rushed down to the street. She double-checked the date, the twenty-forth, it was the right day, it felt right at least. The street was crowded with cars and people, all forcing their way through the city roads. She came to the small side street where Café Patrice would be. She looked over at the umbrellas, out the front sat the man she had come to meet. The sense of unease left her after a time and stayed away, until the day she awoke...

To see nothing but darkness.


© 2014 Lachlan Liesfield

Bio: Lachlan is currently a 12th year student.

E-mail: Lachlan Liesfield

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