Aphelion Issue 236, Volume 23
February 2019
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Pandora's Return

by Morten Stender

The moment Nicolas steps into the apartment, he sees the white orb on the kitchen table. His heart starts to pound and he freezes with the hand on the door handle. The appearance of the orb is not entirely unexpected, but he has been wondering when. He looks for signs of breaking and entering, but there are none.

As is the case everywhere where the orb shows up.

First, a couple of orbs appeared roughly 2 years ago. Then a few weeks back. And now, on average 5,000 to 10,000 reports of orb findings come daily and they are increasing exponentially.

Nicolas moves closer to the object on his kitchen table. The orb is not large - perhaps five inches in diameter. No reflections from the surface. Pure white. Perfectly round.

It is the same story everywhere: People come home from holiday or work to find an orb in their home. No explanation. The “donors” of the orbs - the official word now, even though nobody knows who they are - prefer a central location in the home. The orb is always delivered out of sight - no appearing in a flash of light or carried by a green glowing tentacled alien. No manual either, but the way it works is now obvious to everyone. At first, the authorities rejected the sightings as mass hysteria, but as the orbs started appearing in prison cells and maternity wards just after delivery, there was no denying the orbs were real. At present, 53 million orb findings have been reported - and those are just the official findings. Several “receivers” - the official word - probably keep their orb a secret. Latest projections suggest that everyone on the globe will have their own orb in less than 6 months.

Scientists have run tests where they tried to cut the orbs, spray acid on them, bomb them, to no use. Not even a scratch. After the experiments, the orb would just lie there like an enigmatic reverse functioning crystal ball. And no one likes mysteries these days, Nicolas thinks. Everyone is accustomed to instantly finding an answer to their question. The orbs are an unsolvable mystery, which must be solved and therefore you can’t help yourself from touching it...

…And Nicolas finds himself with an irresistible urge to do so.

Lauren is coming over in a few hours. What now? He thinks he loves her, but he doesn’t want this...not now. He would like to consider for a while before showing the orb to her. They have been dating for a few months and are now getting to the stage where they are getting very personal. He has planned what to reveal of himself, when to reveal it and, most importantly, how to reveal it. He is considering which lies are necessary, and which can’t be checked. And the orb changes everything…

He knows from the official guidelines that direct contact between the skin and the orb is needed for a transfer. He walks past the kitchen, grabs a towel and sweeps it around his hands. Carefully he approaches the orb. He slowly puts his hands around the orb with the towel separating the skin and the marble-like surface of the orb. He lifts it…it is light! Intuitively he expects it to be heavy, considering it carries the memories of a lifetime. He doesn’t feel any heat or cold coming from the orb through the towel - it’s apparently the same temperature as his hand. Slowly, he moves it and… it slips (or does it wrist itself out of his hand?),bumps to the floor and jumps up towards his leg. The orb touches his skin for a fraction of a second…

The world disappears and he drowns in pictures, sounds, smells, and feelings:

.....holding his grandmother’s hand, nine years old, while walking through his grandparents’ vineyard outside Sisimiut…

.... admiring the delicate stone structures of the house walls in Windermere during a diving trip

.....getting lost in a cornfield, five years old, screaming for his father...

.....trying his mother’s car after breaking the digital lock (piece of cake)...he had nearly crashed into a pharmacy on the 144th floor of the Clarke building...

......the pain and endless fear, when pulled from his mother’s womb...how had he been able to recover from that?

He finds himself sprawled out on the floor. The orb has rolled over in a corner of the kitchen. The memories have already started to fade away - the way of the brain to cope with the complete recall of an entire life. He has read in the news that the “Recollection” can be a hard experience, but normally the “receivers” will get their bearings after a couple of hours. In a sense, yes, he thinks. He will definitely remember this for the rest of his life.

He remembers more…

…a trial a month ago, that he had attended. The defendant, an identity thief, had brought his orb along to the court with the excuse, that he used it to refresh his memories. After all, it wasn’t considered a dangerous object. During the trial, the defendant had requested the judge to put her hand on his orb. “If you are to judge me fairly”, the defendant had said, “It is only just, that you take my entire life into consideration. There are some facts here, that you should know”. He put the orb in front of the judge. “The ball is in your court now, man”, he had said with a vague smile. Cheeky bastard. The prosecutor had protested, but the judge had turned down the protest accepting the request. The judge had retired to her office with a nervous assistant trailing after her carrying the orb with gloves. Next day, she had appeared again in court, visibly shaken. The press had turned up in numbers to witness the first use of an orb as a possible evidence in court. The judge had not, as many speculated, acquitted the defendant. On the contrary, she was now sure of his guilt but had only reluctantly and with tears in her eyes judged him the minimum required punishment. The defendant had seemed satisfied.

Half an hour until Laurel is here. She is always punctual - he likes that regularity about her. What to do now? He has been content with not telling her everything about his past. He is ashamed of it, but… why, exactly?

He sits down and retraces the fading memories – especially the suppressed ones, that have resurfaced. He feels, to his surprise, quite forgiving to himself. He feels surprised by the way he has turned out. “What is a man but the sum of his memories?”, he had heard in an antique computer game he had played as a kid. He has never felt quite right about that quote and later it had dawned on him: What about choice? Some of his actions had pointed out a future narrow path, where the next choice would be certain. But he hasn’t always taken the obvious outcome. He had had low grades in school, but he managed through sheer hard work to make his way into university and is now a respected junior partner in a respected legal advising company.

He looks on his hands. Tiny red lines can still be seen on his palms delivered to him by his father for failing him. Nicolas had in turn beaten other kids believing that was the right thing to do

But he had stopped. He hadn’t beaten anyone since the age of thirteen, although his father had beaten him until he ran away at fifteen years old. With all the information society valued so much, no one had been able to deduce how he was treated at home. He occasionally has pains in his palms and he expects the nerves to be permanently damaged. Perhaps that made him drop the orb?

He has never laid a hand on Laurel despite persistent images forming in his mind about beating her on her palms when he is angry with her. He has not made his peace with the images but instead a truce, accepting that they will be with him for a long time.

He honestly doesn’t know if Laurel deserves to know everything about him. But he knows now what choice is decent to let her take. Even though it would mean the end of the relationship. If she touches his orb, there is no going back.

The door opens and Laurel steps in. She has her brown hair curled up above her dreamy green eyes that are a mystery to him. A mystery he likes and doesn’t need to solve completely as long as the facts he has are enough for him.

“What’s up”, she says with a big smile. He grabs the orb with the towel and shows it. She freezes, mouth open.

He can’t speak. He can’t move. He knows the right thing to do, but he keeps on clinging to the orb. Instead, she moves and puts her arm into her shoulder bag. She pulls up a round object veiled in a woven cloth. She pauses for a second and uncovers her orb. She half places, half drops the orb on the table and it starts rolling towards his end of the table. Halfway across he lets his orb fall to the table and it starts rolling towards her.

And they both take the right choice.


2018 Morten Stender

Bio: Morten Stender is a 44-year-old Dane and aspiring science fiction writer. In his professional life, he is an environmental engineer.

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