Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi

Savage Writing: Blithe

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She took the 7.56 tram to the Queen Elizabeth memorial hospital on the 4th of August, and that was the day she sold her eyes. She remembered it vividly, even years later. She had crushed her ticket in sweating palms. The tram conductor found her out that day – that’s what happened – she had been showing the same ticket all month, and August the 4th was the first day the tram conductor actually checked the date on it. Yes, she had handed over the £2.50 she had brought for lunch, she had hoped that after the surgery she would be too nauseous to want to eat. That was the day they took her eyes.

Not that she hadn’t planned it for months. WANTED: GREEN EYES – HIGH PRICE. That’s what the ad had said. Those were the words that sprang out at her that night, when she was clutching her stomach to try to press away the fear. Before the words, it had felt as if a car was parked on her shoulders and was growing heavier and heavier and wouldn’t stop until it turned her into ground beef. After the words, the weight lifted, eased, until it felt as if she was only wearing a thick fur coat. She had green eyes, with perfect vision. She took a selfie in the bright light of her bathroom, sent it to the agency, and was snapped up in seconds.

They gave her the first payment at the first appointment, and that was enough to keep her afloat for a month and a half.

‘Good, healthy green eyes,’ the doctor said, shining light into her this way and that. ‘Your buyer has brown’ – always brown or blue, green and grey eyes were the rare ones – ‘and it’ll look very different. Are you prepared for that?’

Doesn’t matter how I look in the mirror as long as I can eat, she thought.

‘Of course,’ she said, with a confident smile, her customer smile, her please-don’t-get-me-sacked smile, her please-give-me-another-month-and-I’ll-pay-the-interest-I-swear smile.

Would she meet the buyer, she asked.

‘No. They don’t usually meet the sellers. As popular as it is to buy rare eyes, there’s still a certain queasiness about the practice. I know many prefer to treat it as if we simply change the colour of their birth eyes in the surgery. When people buy it for others as gifts – fathers for their daughter’s eighteenth, that kind of thing – they often prefer to mask the truth entirely.’

She signed a raft of forms, exempting the agency from any liability should the surgery go wrong, exempting the buyer from any liability whatsoever. As if she had the money to sue anyone even if it should go disastrously wrong. She’d rubbed her eyes self-consciously as a momentary wave of terror passed by, as she imagined what it might be like to be blind.

Blind people definitely count as disabled, she said to herself as reassurance. They probably got more money a month than she did.

‘You can back out at any time,’ the doctor said. ‘Even on the day.’

‘Do I have to pay back this money if I do?’ she asked.

He had blinked, as if she was the first person who had thought of it.

‘Yes, I believe you do.’

Her chains were set, then. She walked out of the doctors and went across the road and bought a massive slice of pizza and the grease dribbled all over her hands and she nearly choked for the luxury of it, eating such a huge slice at 3pm instead of working for ten hours on a stomach pumped with caffeine.

On the 4th of August, she entered the hospital. At the pre-surgery consultation, the nurse asked if she’d eaten anything that morning. She laughed. She had paid off her second credit card last night and was still high on the happiness.

While she sat in the waiting room, not long before she was called to get changed, a woman walked by. Her age was undefinable – at some angles she looked eighteen, at others thirty-five. Her lips were plump, her eyebrows were angled, and her teeth gleamed snow-white as she smiled and talked to the nurse beside her.

‘I thought, you know, “Jack’s bonus has come in, he’s already done everything for Valentine’s Day, so what else can I ask for for my birthday? I know, I’ll get the eye thing that I’ve been wanting to do for ages.” My mate Lily, she’s had it done and she’s got these stunners and I’m well jel, and I’m sorry but I can just tell that the green’ll go better with me than it does with her – though hers are a brown-green mix, she couldn’t get a pure green one – she’ll be so upset with me when she sees me. I hope I won’t have to be out for long, though, I’ve got lunch with Jack just after – I’m hoping I’ll surprise him, I haven’t told him the surgery’s today…’

The nodding nurse took the woman around a corner and the chatter faded away.

She’d expected, that if she were to ever met her buyer, she’d have envy so thick she could cut throats with it.

But she just felt tired.

A few hours later it was done. Half an hour of rest, and then she was out the door, looking around with her new eyes.

Nothing seemed different. The buyer had laser-perfect eyesight.

On the tram home, she checked her bank balance on her phone. Part of the last payment had come in already, wired in the second the hospital confirmed that she’d gone into surgery. She paid off another chunk of debt, and felt her fur coat of worry moult until she was wearing only an uncomfortable spring jacket.

At home, she went to the bathroom.

She blinked five times when she saw herself. Bold eyes, a darker, muddier shade of brown than her hair. It looked strange. There was a pang of loss as she remembered those days, that so quickly became faded memories, where she had green eyes like a princess.

The pang faded fast. She got changed, grabbed her purse, and walked out the door. There was just enough time to get a slice of pizza before her evening shift.


Written by G.J.

05/08/2015 at 10:49 pm

Savage Writing: Host

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This week’s topic was simply “spooky stories.” Well, it so happens that that sci-fi idea I’ve had involved some stuff I find incredibly scary…

One part of this dialogue is originally based off a comment on Reddit that I can no longer find. I’m not sure of the animal in question – I think it was a gazelle – but that made no sense in this situation, so I changed it. Sheep may be smarter than I give them credit for here. My apologies for being inaccurate.

This follows directly from We Will Not Drown.


Dan woke, face-down, on a stainless steel table. Prising open his eyelids, he saw the blurry outlines of monitors, machines, and wires. His mind strained through a fog of nausea that could only be drug-induced. With a groan, he peeled his cheek off the frigid surface and tried to sit up.

A spasm jolted from his lower back. He flopped down.

Reaching around with an aching arm, he felt parted synthetic material, skin…and bandages. Reaching from his tailbone to just past his waist.

Another groan, and a slow push-up, and he was upright. Hospital gown. Anaesthestic machine. Clean-edged metal. They appeared one by one as he focused his eyes.

The operating theatre was empty.

Placing his feet on the tiles, words began to jump unbidden to his mind:

Riots. Gunman. Tier 4. Alleyway. So…here? How? Where?

A thick bathrobe lay on the door-hook. He wrapped it around himself as he ventured out.

He was not in a hospital; that was apparent. It was as if he stepped into a completely different building: small office rooms, devoid of paper or clutter or any evidence of use, stood opposite the theatre. To the left was another door, and through its glass panel, Dan glimpsed a rectangle of glittering black. A window. That was a good place to start. Then he could get his bearings.

The door opened to another corridor, lined with glass walls, behind which lay MDF tables and ergonomic chairs and large panelled screens. Meeting rooms. Another twinge ran up his back and he shivered, pulling the bathrobe tight to himself.

The corridor opened to a larger boardroom. The glass wall opposite showed the city sprawled beyond, white and yellow and red smeared through the black of the night. Seated at the table were two people: a middle aged woman with greying hair, and a red-haired man. The gunman, and one of his companions. Dan’s abductors.

The screams of Tier 4 returned to him, the pain where the back of his skull had been smacked off the concrete. One step back, ready to run – and another spasm shot through his spine, blinding him. He stumbled forward, and when he opened his eyes, his hands were gripping the back of the third chair at the table.

The woman smiled in a kindly way.

‘Won’t you sit?’

Calculations creaked and whirred in Dan’s mind. They were stronger than him. He didn’t know where he was. And they had done something to his back. Escape was not an option, and they knew it.

He sat down, eyeing them both: woman smiling, gunman looking out of the window, nonchalant.

‘How are you feeling?’ the woman asked, in a honeyed voice.

‘What have you done to me?’ he croaked.

‘He’s direct, that’s something,’ the gunman said, with a smirk.

‘Now, don’t you worry,’ the woman said. ‘We checked everything over and you’ll be absolutely fine.’

A perfect non-answer. Dan pushed down the gnawing fear in his gut and tried another angle.

‘You took me here from Tier 4,’ he said. ‘Why? The riot –’

‘Is over,’ the gunman said. ‘Thirty people are dead, and most of the police force that was present has been arrested for inciting violence by private security forces.’

Images of Jamie and Caleb and his other squadmates flashed through his mind. Rage burned through him.

‘We – we didn’t incite anything – that was you! Why did you–’

The gunman turned abruptly in his seat and put a box on the tabletop. Dan fell silent, fear snapping his mouth shut.

‘Are you afraid of spiders, Dan?’ asked the woman.

The gunman opened the lid of the box and tipped it on its side. Out crawled an orange-banded tarantula, about the size of his palm.

Dan eyed the creature as it began a languid exploration of the table.

‘…not particularly,’ he said.

‘I think they’re wonderful creatures,’ the woman said, putting her hand on the table and gesturing at the tarantula as if it was a cat. The gunman slapped the table and smiled when the arachnid jumped.

‘What about sheep? What do you think of them? You ever eaten lamb?’

Inside Dan’s head he screamed: I don’t give a shit! You monster, you’ve ruined my friends – killed thirty people! – and now you ask me what I like to eat? But he remained silent, eyes on the tarantula. The base of his back throbbed lightly, like a second heartbeat.


‘Dumb things, aren’t they?’ the gunman said, with another infuriating smirk. ‘You know, if you make yourself smell right and walk among sheep, they’ll never guess you’re human. They’ll just think you’re a weird-looking sheep. You can go and stand right among their herd and they’ll never bat an eyelid.’

‘It depends on the senses,’ the woman said, as the tarantula climbed onto her hand. ‘Spiders see brilliantly, and they can sense vibrations and airborne chemicals – but they have no sense of balance.’

She tipped her hand from side to side. The tarantula skittered up her arm in response. Dan felt queasy as he watched it crawl over her skin.

The red-haired man leant back, hands behind his head.

‘Try to explain balance to a spider, the colour red to a dog – or try to explain to the sheep that what’s among them is a human, not one of their own.’

Another twitch from his back. It wasn’t centred, Dan realised. The pain came from a specific location, on his right side, a few inches up from his hipbone.

‘…what are you saying?’ he asked.

‘I’m saying – have you ever considered that perhaps there are beings who stand among the human herd, just the same?’

Dan looked at the smiling ginger man. It must have been the drugs. It must have been – because for a split second, he thought he glimpsed an outline beyond him, like a shadow: multi-limbed, non-mammalian, quasi-corporeal.

He pushed away from the table, but another wave of pain coursed through him, crippling his movement. When it passed, he found himself bent over, struggling to breathe.

‘It’s not true,’ he said – mostly to himself. ‘Can’t be. I’m still – I’m still under, I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming.’

‘We have been here a long time, Daniel,’ the woman said, voice still oozing kindness. Dan glanced up and saw the tarantula creeping across her temple. ‘Watching, manipulating, waiting. You lack the senses to see us, so we have made ourselves into a form like yours – a form you can sense, and interact with. And now we have you…our reason for being here may finally come to fruition.’

Another twinge rippled up and across his muscles. Bile rose in his throat. Something was throbbing, throbbing underneath his skin.

‘What did you do to me?’ he gasped.

‘You know,’ the gunman said, voice bright, ‘I was so impressed when you started to grow organs on animals. Ingenious, don’t you think? And synthetic meat, don’t get me started on that! But, anyway, you humans grow replacement tissue on animal bodies. We needed to do something similar, but with a human body.’

Another spasm. A second heartbeat.

‘It was very trying,’ the woman said. She pulled the tarantula off her head and kissed its furry body. ‘We’ve had so many failures, many have given up hope.’

‘Yes, because of course we tried women first – the carrying sex, and whatnot,’ the gunman continued. ‘But a womb’s a cauldron of hormones, you know – every attempt was spontaneously aborted. It made a hell of a cleanup.’

‘We should have known better,’ the woman said, putting the tarantula back on the table.

‘True – it became obvious after a while that we needed someone more…robust. And a better position for the tissue. A space with great access to human blood via an artery, in a place that wouldn’t harm the host. Well, it was obvious then, wasn’t it?’

‘After all,’ the woman said, ‘you have two, and you only need one.’

‘So we decided to take a young man in peak physical condition, and try this new location. Must say, it’s worked well so far. You’re still alive, at least.’

The tarantula crawled close to the gunman’s fingers. He slammed his hand on top of it with a bang, pulverising it, leaving only a furry wet lump on the woodwork.

‘Kurt, that was needless,’ the woman said, as mildly as if he had wasted a batch of paper.

Kurt put his hands behind his head again and grinned.

‘I thought human would be different though, didn’t you?’


‘Different from pig’s kidney. It tasted pretty much the same.’

Dan jerked up from his seat. Half-bent over his roiling stomach, he stumbled away as fast as he physically could, hitting the door open, smearing his hands all over the pristine glass corridor. Just before the second door, his legs gave way. Pain shuddered up his vertebrae, across his hips, digging deep into his bones, and still the pulse of the thing in his back throbbed, and throbbed. He doubled over and vomited, heaving out every shred of sludge in his stomach, wishing he could heave and claw out his organs, one by one, until the creature was gone.

Hands grabbed his arms. Hands and multiple feelers, wrapping around him and hoisting him up.

‘No – no – get off me!’

Noises passed over his head, untranslatable. Then a phrase in a warm motherly tone:

‘We shouldn’t have explained it all at once.’

The gunman only laughed in reply.

They dragged him back to the operating theatre, and with unbounded strength they lifted him onto the table. He couldn’t see them any more. Screaming and incoherent, Dan struggled against invisible restraints as they pressed him down.

Something pierced his neck.

Dan shrieked until the world cut to black.

Written by G.J.

30/10/2014 at 10:31 pm

Savage Writing: We Will Not Drown

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There was no set topic this week. After weeks of struggling to write, I finally had inspiration to write a scene from a sci-fi idea I’ve had rattling around in my head. Might write the whole thing eventually but it’s pretty low in my priorities right now…

This is set in the same world as that filthy thing I wrote.


The waters kept rising.

The warning had been issued two weeks before: sea water had been detected on the sensors two metres below Tier 3’s structural undergrowth. Those on the edge of the city could look down and see the murky grey shifting not far from their eyes. The cabinet were meeting today to make the decision: start evacuating the citizens en masse to Tier 4, or do it piecemeal, slowly, to ensure the richest and smartest and most valuable people escaped first – as they had done with Tiers 1 and 2. Either way, for safety purposes the power supply to Tier 3 had been immediately cut. If you relied on electricity to stay alive in the lowest level of the city, you were already dead.

So the crowds were out on the streets of the south quadrant in Tier 4, wielding banners and signs, chanting: ‘We will not drown! We will not drown! We will not drown!’ Photos of the people of Tiers 1 and 2 were passed in flyers: couples, families, young children; smiling alive and floating dead. The only remnants of the submerged, apart from what had been fished and scavenged by government forces after the first storm swept most of the lives away. Recycling is a virtue, after all.

The police were there to make sure the protest remained peaceful. Standing with his squadmates on West Cameron Street, Dan’s nerves were on edge. The air was taut with desperate rage. On the other side of the street, a gang had stopped their march to scream abuse at the nearest policemen. As women and men marched past Dan and his mates, they shot them disgusted, envious looks, for the clean clothes and strength of form that could only come from the sanitised water and fresh food of their mid-tier homes. For getting a payslip from those who were making yet another level on top of the city, yet another escape from the endless sea. For being paid to stop migrants at the border roads, paid to imprison those who tried to sneak their way up. Paid to send the penniless back down to drown.

‘We will not drown! We will not drown!’

‘I reckon this’ll blow in a few hours,’ Caleb murmured.

”Course it will,’ Jamie, on Dan’s other side, replied. ‘Look at them. Tier 3’s all but cut-off already, and here’ll be next. They’ve nothing to lose.’

Dan gripped his MP5 tight in his fingers. The streets were getting thicker and thicker with people, wooden signs bashing off of neighbouring heads, children hoisted onto shoulders for safety. Like a blocked artery, the flow of people churning slower, and slower. Passing glares turned into withering, minute-long contemplations as protesters strolled by. He held his neutral expression like a shield as curses flew towards them.

It’s like a gas-filled room, he thought. Only needs a tiny spark. Any one shriek, one impassioned ranter, one step wrong by any of the hundred uniformed men lining the pavements…here it comes, he thought, here it comes, any minute now…

No words or human voice when it came.


Every person on the street jolted. Half cowered down, half straightened up.

‘What the fuck was that?’ Jamie said.


The noise hit Dan like a punch to the ribs. Screams. The people began to scatter – only to find their way blocked by everyone else around them.

Jamie jumped onto the bonnet of the car and scanned above the heads. Fury lit his eyes as he spotted something to the north.

‘Motherfucker – gunman, Stirling Street. Can’t see any backup for Harkness – looks like they’re down –’

BANG. Even closer. A sudden surge of panic in the people, and the tide overflowed to the pavement. Dan was swamped by bodies, heat, sweat, shrieks, calls. He heard Caleb shouting orders, telling them not to push, to remain calm, meaningless words in the melange. As soon as he could get breath, Dan added his voice, habitual statements that no-one was listening to, not even him.

The swell passed. Dan breathed again and looked up the street, in the direction of the last shots. It was still thick with citizens – but for one second, a line of sight cleared, and between running bodies and discarded protest clutter he saw a young man with ginger hair place a gun into the breast of his jacket. He was heading towards an alleyway, and he moved without any sign of fear or shock.

‘Over there! Jamie – J – where the fuck is Jamie?’

No-one was standing on the bonnet of the car.

Caleb yelled something, inaudible over the chaos. Somehow three people had come between them since he spotted the gunman.

Dan knew he couldn’t wait. He forced himself through the crowd, hoping that Caleb was somewhere behind him, but knowing he couldn’t count on it. Eyes ahead, on the alley. Another bang, from elsewhere in the crowd, another gunshot. Bastards, Dan thought. What kind of sick minds would plan this kind of trouble?

One last push, and he dived into the alleyway.

The gunman stood leaning against a skip, as if he had been waiting for him.

Dan raised his gun.

‘Drop your weapon. I know it was you. Drop it!’

The man straightened. He looked Dan up and down as if he was inspecting a new car.

‘I said, drop your weapon!’

The gunman raised an eyebrow, and smirked.

Dan’s carbine fell to pieces in his hands, barrel and pins and coils dropping into his fingers, bullets tinkling to the floor.

Before he could feel surprise, something gripped his neck and lifted him from the ground. The world spun. With a crack his head smashed off the concrete, and the gunman was on top of him, fingers clamped around his throat with unyielding, inhuman strength. As Dan struggled to breathe, again the man inspected him as if he was a machine.

‘This one will do,’ he said.

The air behind his head shimmered, and three, no, four people stepped out of it, as if from invisible curtains. Old and young, male and female. All looked down at him with the same impassive expression.

‘Yes,’ an older woman said. ‘He will do well.’

The sounds of panic on the streets had faded. All that could be heard was one woman screaming:

‘We’ll not drown! We’ll not drown! We’ll not–’


Written by G.J.

17/09/2014 at 11:07 pm

Weaponised (Mechanical Augmentation)

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 The second smoldering target flipped down, and the third one on the range popped up. Serrah turned to the plexiglass wall behind her.

‘Daddy, this is boring!’

‘Just keep at it, sweetheart,’ he called through the intercom. ‘It’s a demonstration, not a test.’

With a groan, she pointed her left arm at the target. The skin along her wrist and forearm broke apart, revealing the metal innards. Her hand flipped aside.

BANG. The gun in her artificial limb fired, and again blew the head off the target twenty metres away. Another one. BANG, back to her smoking right hand. Fifth target. Thoroughly tired with such child’s play, she lifted her right leg up and another concealed gun flipped out of her knee-cap. It only took off the target’s ear, so she lifted the other leg, took the time to aim, and got it in the centre of the neck. The mistake would look bad to the suits Daddy was with, but she could only have made that shot first time if she had on the aiming program in her eye-com – and that would have only made this exercise even more skull-numbingly boring.

‘Okay, princess, we’re done. Have fun the rest of the day, and I’ll meet you at the hub for dinner, all right?’

‘Whatever,’ she said, striding to the range door. He’d be late, as always. That’s the way it went whenever he showed her off. He’d spend all day lunching with them, charming them, before bringing them to the range, and then he’d spend all evening showing them his workshop and charming them even more, before diving in for the kill.

She wondered which layer of corporate bureaucracy he was in now. It was a never-ending stairway of well-dressed people and red tape, and it got on her nerves having to show off her arms to every single group of them. But it would all be worth it, he said, once it was over. Once he had full backing, he wouldn’t need to hide her secret anymore. ‘And then we can finally get justice,’ he’d said.

Serrah walked out of the range by the side exit – the one that looked like a janitor’s closet, made specially so she could bypass the strict security of the front. It took most people months to get the permit for the range, with multiple psychological checks before they would allow anyone near a gun. Ammo was precious, after all, and bullets extremely dangerous for the ship. She didn’t get why anyone would bother with the hassle. The range was only like playing loud, recoil-heavy darts.

The door came out by 5th Avenue, on the shopping district. She perked up as she saw the new quarterly ranges in the windows: bright floaty dresses, shorts, sandals. The heat in the districts had been edging up over the past week, as the temperature controls in HQ simulated the beginning of summer. The ceiling displayed blue sky and scattered white clouds. Maybe she would get Daddy to take her to the agricultural district this week. When it was summer, nothing was nicer than to go out into the fields and feel the artificial wind buffet your hair, trying to catch the dandelion seeds as they whirred past.

‘Miss Marsden,’ came a voice behind her, ‘shouldn’t you be in school?’

She rolled her eyes before turning around. In a district of fourteen thousand people, how did anyone manage to find her so easily?

‘I’ve been at a doctor’s appointment, Mrs Holborn,’ she said to her elderly neighbour. The lady sniffed and looked her up and down.

‘Well, I suppose. But surely your limbs are fine by now? You seem to be at an appointment every second week.’

‘I’m a growing girl, ma’am. Bye!’

As she walked away, Mrs Holborn called after her:

‘I’ll be talking to your father about this, young lady! If you’ve been missing school…’

Serrah laughed to herself at the old bat’s naivete, skipping down a side street. Daddy had barely been to school, he’d said. He didn’t put much faith in it, except for meeting friends. Better to teach yourself, and question everything, he said, instead of having facts fossilised in your brain. After all, hackers teach themselves, and since they don’t play by the rules, they’re always finding new ways to wreak havoc. We have to do the same.

She decided to go to the observation deck. It was always better to visit it during the day, when everyone else was busy and the deck was quiet. So she ran to the edge of the shopping district, swiped her wristband across the lockpad, and half-stepped, half-swung herself down the escalator. It was a steep, white-walled passage down to the observation deck. She couldn’t wait for the day she was tall enough to reach the ceiling when standing on the escalator rail. Some of the boys in her class could do it already, and Daddy said she would be as tall as her mother in a year or two.

The doors at the bottom opened as she jumped off the last step, and the vista of space spread before her. Black, endless. There was a faint glimmer far away on one side that could be an asteroid, a dwarf planet, or some gleaming space junk. She could see nothing else – only the rest of the Ark, stretching for miles along either side.

It hurt her mind to think of how far they were from anything. Old people like Mrs Holborn still had an inherited anxiety from their forebears, a worry of something going wrong, a fear of extinction. But we would’ve been extinct if we’d stayed on Earth anyway, Serrah’s father had said. His generation, and hers, had grown up with faith in the Ark’s hundreds of checks and failsafes. The problem was people who would sabotage that for their own ends.

‘When we left Earth, everyone was on the observation deck,’ he had said during one of his impromptu history lessons. ‘It was packed as people watched the only home we’d ever known disappear out of sight. Then every time we passed by a planet, everyone would crowd here again.’

It had been a long time since that happened. The vast expanse between Uranus and Neptune was all Serrah had ever known. And they were still years and years away from their destination. She was born on the ship, she’d live on the ship, and die on the ship, without ever feeling natural atmosphere, and without ever seeing real sky, real earth, real wind.

She stepped up to the vista, where the projection of space outside was just as sharp as reality. Once upon a time, humans had used windows on everything, easily broken glass instead of photorealistic displays onto solid walls. Submarines were one of the few exceptions. One of her favourite lessons had been about submarines, and the ocean on Earth. Her great-grandfather’s diaries had said that space was like the bottom of the ocean: lightless, weightless, disorienting. She couldn’t imagine what ocean was like: water as far as the eye could see and with no bottom, moving because of an orbiting moon miles away in the sky. She couldn’t imagine it. Even the sea life district held only water tanks with visible bottoms and sides.

‘You wouldn’t have been able to go in the ocean anyway,’ Daddy said one night when she was younger, and he was adjusting the circuits in her left arm while she talked about Earth and gestured with the right. ‘I wouldn’t risk the damage salt water could do to you. If your arms and legs seized up, you could drown.’

That was why she hadn’t been a swimming pool since she was very little. Daddy thought of everything.

It was nice to come here and remember the past, and the mission humanity was on, but Serrah had been given her own mission and decided that the darkness of space was enough for one day. She headed back to the escalators, taking a different passage this time, up to her residential district.

Nufilly, District R18. It was hotter here than the observation deck. Her elbows and knees hurt a little bit as they changed in temperature. She’d need summer adjustment, for when it got hotter. She wondered what it must be like to not have to consider these things. She came onto her street.

The hubs ran in perfect unison on either side, and she looked to see if anyone had changed the skin display on their otherwise identical home. The Grays had changed theirs to pink for Sally’s birthday last week and not changed it back yet. Mr Neilson had changed his from a picture of one ancient Earth building to another slightly-less ancient one. And then there was her house: it still looked its original white, as if it had never been changed, but in truth it was a specially-made skin. Running along the bottom, in tiny cursive writing, was the quote:

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Daddy was weird with quotes like that, but hardly anyone noticed the line down there, and she felt like it was their own little secret that only smart people could notice.

Using her wristband to get in, she flopped down on the couch and tried to decide what to do. She had English homework, and Politics homework as well, but she didn’t want to do that right now. There was nothing on the media centre that she hadn’t watched or listened to. Her friends would be just coming out of school right now, and she didn’t want to listen to their complaints about her skipping class again.

With a sigh, she went to the fridge, hoping something new and tasty had appeared there since this morning, but as she opened the door, the display on the front blinked into life and spoke:

‘Today is: May, 21st. Reminder: Claire’s Birthday. Claire is thirty-nine years old today.’

Serrah froze, blind to the food in front of her. Mom’s birthday. She should probably go see her.

She changed out of her school uniform and left, suddenly feeling like she could do with a rest but knowing she had to go out. Everyone else’s home displays were less fun to look at as she walked further up the street. Everything else was less fun on the way to the crypt.

A door between the two houses at the end of the street opened onto the passageway down to the crypt. She stood on the walkway, no energy to walk along with the moving tiles, as it wound its way between districts, eventually sloping downwards. A few metres from the end of the walkway was a grey arch covered in religious symbols, and quotes in all languages. To the right was a flower kiosk.

‘Some pretty red ones,’ she asked, swiping her wrist against the payment pad. The keep passed her a bunch of red peonies with yellow centres. Not pretty enough, she thought, but it wasn’t right to make a fuss in such a place. She took them and walked under the arch.

Line after line of small white stones with names engraved on them, each standing over a small box of ashes. Flowers sat in vases on either side of the gravestones, the newest and most visited being most overshadowed with petals. Many graves held multiples, with urns on steps above each other, two or three levels, sometimes two to one step. There was little space in front of the memorials for grieving families, but space was at a premium on the ship, after all.

The air was filled with the half-musty scent of old flowers. The air was dimmer than upstairs, and the hush was smothering. A couple was holding hands in front of a new grave, one sobbing at the ground. The only time Serrah ever felt guilty for being rich was when she came here, when she walked past the packed lines and tight packs of mourners, to the door at the end. Behind that door, were the memorial rooms. Three could be hired for anniversaries, so families had privacy to remember their departed. The rest were permanent, and cost more to buy and upkeep than a yearly average wage. But he wouldn’t have settled for anything less, for her.

Serrah came to the room where her mother’s remains and memories lay, and – after a moment’s hesitation – she beeped in. She pushed the door open, and knew immediately that the room was occupied. It was only after she stepped in that she heard the sound of sobbing, and then it was too late.

The memorial room. Lowlit. A tight, “cosy” place. Seating ran along the left and right walls. Along the top above that, were the monitors, playing a continuous, silent loop of a woman with auburn hair, laughing, smiling at the camera, dancing in her wedding dress, holding a baby. On the opposite wall to the door, on the display, there was the box of ashes, and the stone, which read Claire Louise Marsden. Above it was a still photograph of her mother in her early twenties. And underneath, curled up on his seat and sobbing so hard it looked like he might break, was her father.

‘Oh, princess,’ he said, unfurling himself as he saw her, wiping his face. ‘Sorry…I didn’t know if you’d be coming along today. C’mere, let’s get those flowers out.’

She passed him the bouquet and he arranged them in the vase by the stone. Serrah gladly looked away from him to the videos on the walls. They always fascinated her, seeing this mythical woman who gave birth to her caught moving and smiling as if she was still alive.

‘C’mere, sweetheart,’ Daddy said, opening his arms for a hug. ‘Let’s have a look at her.’

Reluctantly, she knelt on the seat beside him and hugged into him. His chest shook as he breathed, juddering against her chin.

‘You see she was beautiful just like you.’

‘I know, Daddy.’

‘And she was the sweetest person you would ever have met. No-one else was like her at all.’

‘Yes, Daddy.’

He pulled back and looked at her. She didn’t like to see her dad all red-faced and weak. Just an hour ago, he had been convincing the richest people in the entire ship to back his secret, illegal contraptions, in the face of governmental punishment – and he did it like it was the easiest thing in the world.

‘Every day you look more and more like her, you know. It’s just – it’s a travesty that you’ll never know your own mother. Nothing’ll ever put that right.’

Serrah said nothing. She felt she had missed nothing. She had friends, other relatives, other women to help her as she went through puberty, to help her with girly, womanly things. For the rest, her father was there. She didn’t need anything else.

They sat in silence and looked at the videos a little longer. Then her father reached out and touched one of the displays, pausing it and swiping it back to the menu, putting the sound on as he did so. He scrolled through the hundreds of hours in the hundreds of days recorded there, until he found one he had marked as important. They were his memories, his recordings, after all.

‘Here,’ he said.

It was just after Serrah had been born. She felt no connection to the ugly goblin-faced creature wrapped up in Claire Marsden’s arms. Her father’s eye was very close to them both and every bag under Claire’s eyes and every wrinkle on Baby Serrah’s fingers was visible.

‘Isn’t she wonderful,’ Claire Marsden whispered, for the baby was asleep.

‘She is,’ came her father’s voice,with the slight distortion of sound that the old eye-coms always had for the wearer’s voice.

‘What should we call her?’

‘You said you wanted to call her Sarah, if she’s a girl.’

‘Maybe. But…she looks too special to be just called Sarah. It needs to be prettier.’

A brief duck in and out of Claire’s face as her father kissed her.

‘Maybe “Serrah”, like S-E-R-R-A-H. That’s pretty.’

Claire Marsden gave a tired laugh.

‘She’ll be correcting how people spell it her whole life. She’ll never forgive us.’

‘So be it,’ said James Marsden, kissing her again.

Serrah’s father stopped the video, pulling her out of the hug, his chest heaving. He struggled to stop the tears, and struggled even harder to speak once he had them under control.

‘I swear to you,’ he said. ‘I’ll make them pay for this. I’ll get the corporations on our side, dive into the rotten heart of the senate, and I’ll find the people who did this to you both. And together, I swear, we’ll kill them.’

‘I know, Daddy,’ Serrah said, tired.

He gave her a kiss on the forehead, kissed Claire’s picture by her grave, and left. Serrah sat, the weight of his grief, his anger, oppressing her. She didn’t like the idea of killing people, but it was what Daddy had said she would do, ever since he started welding the propulsion chambers into her fake arms. She vaguely remembered, when she was six, how she cried and missed her real arms and legs, because these ones were clunky and clumsy and didn’t feel right. Now she knew no better. She didn’t miss her mother. She didn’t miss her limbs.

But she wouldn’t kill for herself. She’d do it for him. So he wouldn’t cry like that anymore.

She looked at the screens around her again, and saw that the last one he had touched had returned to the menu. Serrah had never had the chance to see any of these memories by herself before now, never seen what her mother was like outside of the memorial’s silent loops. She scrolled through and saw the tags on them: Serrah’s first steps, Serrah’s fifth birthday. The last video had been viewed twice as much as the rest. It wasn’t tagged, but she knew what it was: the last time her parents saw each other alive. She scrolled away from it, back into the past, a sick sensation in the back of her throat as she imagined what it must be like for Daddy to rewatch that video, knowing he had had no idea of what was going to happen next.

She started clicking on random videos that she hadn’t seen before. Boring banality. Claire wiped up Baby Serrah’s food from her lips as she made plans for the day with James. They visited parents and friends. Boring, boring. Days and days of boring plans, smiles and hugs. She had to quickly skip past some groping and kissing, and close videos entirely at some parts. Gross.

One random video, not long after she was born. Claire was crying. A baby screamed in another room.

‘I can’t do it, James, I can’t, she won’t stop crying – I can’t do it anymore – I’m not good enough for this –’

‘Sh, sh, it’s alright, it’s alright…’

‘I can’t do it, I can’t!’

The first sign of frailty, of humanity. In bits and pieces, memory by memory, the real Claire Marsden materialised. She cried when she failed. She said she wasn’t good enough for her job, for her family, for her husband. She got angry when she thought she was being criticised. She made crude jokes. The myth fell away, and her mother came out – and she wasn’t the angel that Daddy had always said. But that was worse than if she had been unattainably perfect. Knowing she had been real, seeing what she was, finally made the heartbreak of her death true for Serrah.

She stopped after a while, tired of being in her father’s eyes but still eager to see more of her mother. She went up a menu, on a hunch. Her parents had been two of the first to get the eye-com implants. Surely, while her mother’s body sat there in that urn, her memories still existed in digital form? And she was right. Another folder, another million files: Claire.

She clicked through at random again, this time going oldest to youngest. Childhood. Fighting with friends Serrah had never heard of. It was funny seeing her aunts and grandparents when they were younger. Parties with boys (most fast skipping and closing of videos). Boring work. Then, meeting her father. More smiles and lovey crap. The wedding, which Serrah had seen a hundred times from her father’s point of view, but never from hers. Him, young, handsome, tears in his eyes during the vows. Skip, skip, Baby Serrah, tiredness, crying. Daddy holding her hand as they walked down the street, and Claire saying: ‘Look at that, aren’t you two sweet?’ Toddler Serrah throwing a fit because Daddy was going out to work that night. Toddler Serrah asking what this, and this, and this and that is, her eyes growing as they explained about Earth, and travelling through space, and how she would never see anything like Earth, just as her parents wouldn’t.

‘But it’s not FAIR!’ Toddler Sarah yelled.

‘Well, we had no choice. It’s just the way things had to be.’

Serrah hovered over the last video in Claire’s file. October 10th,Year 102. Unlabelled, but everyone knew what it was: the Hampton Disaster. When they talked about it at school, people would whisper and turn to look at her, look at the seamless joins where her real skin met her fake skin, look at how brilliantly crafted her limbs were, because her father was a genius engineer, didn’t you know, and that’s why they were rich and she had the best arms money could buy.

Serrah took a breath and tapped the file. A moment of hesitation from the computer, and then a message came up:

This file has been blocked for viewing under Ordinance 7014: Judicial Evidence.

Serrah came out of the menu and put it back on the silent video of sixteen-year-old Claire dancing in the park. She kissed her mother’s photograph, rearranged the flowers, and left the memorial room. As she walked through the crypt, she looked again at the graves, and looked around, wondering where the graves were for the rest of the victims of the massacre. No-one was going to avenge them. The culprits had disappeared without trace, leaving thirty dead and more injured besides.

‘It’s likely the disaster was a hacking theft gone wrong,’ her teacher had said. ‘The automated cars were reprogrammed and driven through Hampton in District C31, on the way to a factory storage. The hackers were probably going to take them from there.’

‘The cars were rigged with explosives underneath,’ Daddy had told her. ‘I found the remains stuck to the undercarriage.’

‘The hacking must have gone awry, because the cars crashed into the district wall. One of the gas lines inside was ruptured by one crash, and likely ignited by a torn cable from another crash.’

‘Explosions don’t happen so easily,’ Daddy said. ‘We made all the failsafes in this ship before we left Earth, and we’ve only improved them since then. It was terrorism. The government had been getting threats for weeks, and not done anything. And even now, they haven’t done anything. They’ve swept it under the rug, and pretended it was an accident.’

Deep in her memories, Serrah remembered screaming, smoke, blood and glass scattered on the ground. She more clearly remembered hospital, where she cried because it still felt like her hands and feet were there, though she had only stumps. She remembered Daddy beside her bed, crumpled like he had been today, a tight-wrought ball of grief.

Serrah gave a last look at the crypt, and made her way back upstairs. The light brightened, and the noise grew louder the higher the walkway climbed.

‘Why would anyone do that?’ she had asked – had always asked. ‘If they damaged the ship, the entire human race would die.’

‘Some people don’t think in that wide a scale,’ he said. ‘They only think about what they want now.’

She didn’t understand. She had asked so many questions, and even he didn’t have all the answers.

‘Don’t you worry, Princess,’ Daddy had said, as he fitted the last panel in place. ‘I’ll find them. I already know who some of them are. I’ll learn what’s been hidden from us. When everything’s in place, and I’m deep in their system, we’ll go after them. And together…’

Here he had ruffled her hair.

‘…we’ll make them pay.’

Serrah Marsden, as she walked home, felt her elbows and the weight of the ammunition laden in her arms. Thirty people, all with grieving, lost families like hers, all without justice. For the first time, she felt her father was entirely justified, and felt glad with what he had done to her.

She would be their weapon.

Written by G.J.

31/07/2013 at 8:44 pm