Whilst working on a short story yesterday I’ve decided to tidy up a few others. ‘Mind Fly’ is in a state I’m happy with and I’ve also finished a second draft of ‘Y Darlun’ which I’m not so happy with. Overhauling characters entirely in a theatrical script was very difficult for me, and I’m still struggling writing in Welsh, but I’m learning a lot so that’s good. I’m finding writing for theatre very challenging, having to visualise what’s going on is a lot more difficult than film, but it’s still very interesting. What’s good fun and unique to theatre is thinking about the effect on the audience, so I’m trying to incorporate as much of that into the writing as possible.
I’m moving to Japan on the 1st of August for five years, so aside from shitting myself and practicing bowing like a idiot in the mirror I need to make sure my scripts are all finished, so there might be less procrastination projects coming up.
Here’s the finished ‘Mind Fly’, please have a read if you have time/ give a shit/ enjoy amateurish stories about nerds in space/ want to write something scathingly nasty about my writing/ are having a shit at work/ your internet connection has stopped and you only had this page loaded on a train or bus.
Huge thank you to Kayleigh for her detailed feedback.
We’re getting somewhere despite these ridiculous expectations Allana’s putting on us, I’ve bitten my nails down to bloody stumps. Not the first time I’ve done it but this throbbing pain isn’t going to let me forget it this time. Between the three of us we’ve managed some incredible breakthroughs in the last couple of days, I feel strangely proud, which is a disturbing thought when I remember what we’re doing. I’m probably an idiot for writing this down, if they found it my frontal lobe would be floating in a jar, but it seems too significant a thing to not document. I’m sure their records will be classified for the foreseeable future at least so let’s just say I’m doing it in case something happens to me, people deserve to know.
The breakthrough came when we successfully mapped an imp brain in a static state, but that was just the easy part, we’ve now also indexed the exact synapse location of specific memories inside the human brain as well. We started with Catarin, as she seemed bizarrely keen for us to see inside her head and exactly what she was thinking about. We mapped her brain in a static state, no problem there. Then when she was under the scanner we asked her to think of a goldfish, as soon as she did we mapped the part of her brain that lit up on the scanner, again no problem there. I began to get excited when we asked Catarin to think of a shark eating a goldfish, we mapped the location of both creatures easily enough but then, as we’d speculated, she began to exhibit flakes of emotion in connection with these two memories, we speculated fear and anger, which we mapped in relation to the medulla oblongata, this is what we’ve all been looking for; a way to map and read human thought to convey intention and reaction in the human mind. If we can successfully map the brain in connection with its emotions we can effectively read human minds. Terrifying really.
Of course it’s not as simple as Allana would like it to be. Human brains are uniquely different to one another: Where one person stores a goldfish in their mind another might store a top hat or absolutely anything for that matter, which would then affect all of the surrounding memories. That’s not even considering how emotions vary according to their memory or disposition. So reading a person’s mind without scanning them first would be impossible. Allana did not take it well when we tried to explain to her that we had only mapped a brain in a static state and that thought tracing and mind reading would be unachievable at this stage without scanning the person’s brain first. Allana cursed and threatened us relentlessly I felt so sorry for poor Catarin, Allana can be terrifying when she’s angry. Catarin assured her we would get there and mobile brain scanning was not impossible, but it would take time and may never be perfect, Catarin couldn’t even tell a white lie or sugar coat the truth for Allana, ever the pragmatist. Of course Allana blew up at this point and threatened Catarin with ‘decommissioning’ if she did not begin showing ‘respect for her superiors’. No point arguing with a superior, not under these strict military procedures, and there’s no one else who’d listen to us stranded in the emptiness of space. But we all knew that when we took on the project.
So on we work, my mind is racing with excitement, what a breakthrough we’ve made! But I can only see our discoveries being used for ethically questionable operations, which is why I write. Poor Catarin, she is a resilient girl dedicated to her work, after several tongue lashings from Allana over the last few weeks she has kept her head down and worked, though I have noticed that she’s starting to look a bit pale. I have enormous respect for Catarin and she’s probably the most capable of us. I will write again when we’ve reached another breakthrough.
Dr. J. Hughes,
Lead neurological research officer aboard the UNOE Space station Califia.
‘We just poison their food, it’s easier that way and they all go at the same time.’ Jordan mumbled, his eyes full of doubt as they searched Catarin’s face.
Catarin couldn’t speak, she knew Allana, had given this order. Probably more out of spite than anything. Rage swelled inside her, she clenched her jaw tight, until she heard something crack.
‘Don’t look at me like that Catarin, they’re Allana’s orders, I can’t refuse them, and we’re on thin ice as it is.’ Jordan looked nervous, she’d never seen her friend and colleague look unsure of himself, there’s a first time for everything.
Catarin willed herself to speak, not Jordan’s fault she told herself, she wanted to tell him she wasn’t angry with him, but the words wouldn’t come out, as if her own anger was blocking her windpipe.
‘Allana has a point Catarin, they’ve been exposed to far too much radiation for their species, and we need to get rid of them.’ Jordan’s eyes betrayed his true feelings.
‘They are not tools to be disposed of Jordan!’ Her pulse quickened, her face felt hot but it felt good to shout.
‘I expect this from Allana, that vindictive bitch, but not from you Jordan, we are scientists not soldiers, we do not just kill as we please.’ Catarin drew a sharp breath, and then noticed the tears on her face, she spun around and stormed off towards her office. She slowly felt a creeping shame from her outburst and clenched her fists in disgust with herself. Then came the guilt as she recalled Jordan’s hurt eyes as she screamed at him. This wasn’t his fault. She slammed her office door behind herself and collapsed into her chair, allowing cathartic tears to flow until her head ached and her body shook. She sat in total silence for god knows how long.
Catarin sipped at her tea, it was bitter but she liked it like that. Her other hand toyed with a series of chrome buttons fixed onto a panel in the wall. One of two noticeable features on the deck, besides the glass panel that occupied the entire wall of one side of the room. Catarin stared outward into space through the glass. Normally she was greeted by black emptiness punctuated by a scattering of tiny white stars. But recently anyone who entered the observation deck would be greeted by another star. The only star that mattered, the Sun. It now occupied the majority of the Vista through the glass pane, though now sinking slightly below the ship’s observation deck as the station drifted carelessly above and beyond the Sun’s North Pole.
Catarin carefully adjusted the light filters on the glass allowing tiny amounts more of the Suns heat and light in with every tap of the button, she felt her heart quicken and eyes tear up. Her Horizon now filled with towering flares of flame, she stared until she could stare no more into the burning abyss, and she felt insignificant and naked, as if only her sight and thoughts were real or not consumed by fire. Her watch chimed, someone was coming. She drained the remainder of her tea, and reluctantly turned her head away from the glass, slowly turning the filters down to a safer level. She pressed another button and a door appeared in the seamless white wall behind her. She rubbed her eyes and saw stars again. She walked towards the door and a stooping man suddenly appeared in her path, smiling mischievously.
‘Catarin! I thought I’d find you here. Walk with me would you?’ Jordan sounded almost apologetic. Catarin smiled and blushed, embarrassed from the memory of her outburst.
‘Jordan wait, I’m sorry it wasn’t your fault, I shouldn’t have shouted at you.’ Catarin felt a weight lift as she spoke.
Jordan smiled, he winked at her as if nothing had happened. She smiled back, relieved.
‘It’s been a long week, no need to worry. If it wasn’t for the bottle of scotch I keep under my bed I’m sure I wouldn’t be as calm as I am. Come on, follow me I’ve got something to show you.’
They both laughed, it felt good to smile again.
‘Jordan, you wouldn’t hurt a fly, that’s about as dangerous as you get hiding contraband whiskey in your underpants drawer.’ Catarin mumbled.
He smiled again, tutting his head.
‘Come on follow me.’
He led them on again down the corridor leading her with his arm. Catarin glanced at him as they walked down the deafeningly silent and empty corridor, permeated only by their rhythmic footsteps. Catarin saw a deep burden of worry and care in her colleague’s old eyes, though he hid it well with his eccentric persona. His back was bent from a childhood defect and so he walked with a limp and a hunch, his eyes were mismatched, one being much lower on his face than the other. His hair was greying and unkempt, in parts curling and other straight but always shooting off in every direction. From beneath his white coat she saw dark gnarled and hairy hands that looked as though they could crush a man’s skull, but probably never would. Catarin was very fond of Doctor Jordan Hughes, a kind intelligent man, who’d never concerned himself with ego or vanity, his eyes spoke of a thoughtful, sometimes troubled mind, but more than that they were eyes that listened, that never left your lips until you’d finished what you had to say.
‘You sure you’re ok Catarin? Maybe a day off couldn’t hurt?’ Catarin smiled down at him.
‘Dont be silly Jordan, Allana would skin me if I took a day off. Besides what’s there to do on this floating science lab?’ Catarin smiled to let him know she was joking.
‘At least you haven’t lost your sense of humour.’ He took his hand off her back and began chewing at what was left of his nails.
‘I’m fine honestly, we’ve just get a lot on our plate at the minute you know that.’
‘I do indeed my dear, an exciting time to be a scientist! Come on I’ve got something to show you.’
Jordan strode ahead, with his strange limp.
Catarin saw the fluorescent light directions as they turned down the corridor, and sighed in mock weariness.
‘The live specimen lab? You really know how to show a girl a good time.’ Catarin could hear the animal’s howls before she saw them. Jordan chuckled as the door swished open as they approached. The live specimen lab and observation deck from where they had come were situated on the outer layer of the station. The station itself consisted of two spheres, one smaller, about half a mile in diameter. And a larger sphere 10 times its size, surrounding the first and serving as a protective outer hull for the whole station. The two spheres were connected inside by hundreds of structural cables, shoots and corridors, so that when you stood and looked out from one of the many Windows or observation panels inside the station, it looked as though you were caught inside a gigantic spiders web. Everything was white, which seemed to compliment the ever present silence. Normally the space station Califia was stationary, as the name suggested, but recent Earth politics had dictated they move around the solar system, to keep their experiments away from prying eyes, they were now under orders to orbit the sun until further notice. At least those were the rumors, most of the personnel on the ship weren’t permitted to interact and were confined to their decks or their labs, so the whole station always seemed empty.
Catarin heard the strangely welcome sound of chimpanzees howling in play as Jordan led her through the door. Her senses came alive again as she saw the greenery of their habitat room and their pungent smell.
‘They seem happy Jordan.’ She smiled at him again not realizing how much she’d missed company or simply any noise but the silent hum of the stations engines.
‘They must not realize they’re about to be put down.’ He chuckled whilst he placed some food into a draw which appeared again inside their glass enclosed habitat when he pushed it. A few of the chimps came bounding towards the food, Catarin’s stomach clenched.
‘She wants us to put the chimps down as well?’
‘Afraid so, it’s an animal clearance sale, everything’s got to go!’
‘This isn’t funny Jordan, we have over two hundred animals on this station.’
Jordan frowned in mock shame. But then looked away, continuing to feed to the ever excitable chimps. Catarin rubbed her temples in frustration, she felt anger bubbling up in her stomach again, like a kettle about to pop.
‘What exactly did you want to show me?’ She spat through gritted teeth.
‘Ah, completely forgot what I was doing. Follow me.’ Jordan began mumbling incoherently to himself as he limped away. She followed Jordan into a smaller room of the habitat where they kept individual animals for experimentation, she saw the outline of several imp bodies in bags lined up against the wall. She felt sick when she remembered their smiles and their laughter, and then worse when she recalled how they had been stuck with needles and scalpels, whilst they lay awake on operating tables. All part of the job, Jordan kept repeating. Now they were dead, their purpose served. She felt thankful her own work never demanded that she hurt the animals in the same way as Allana and Jordan did. Her role was strictly observational, analysis, graphs and write ups: Jordan and Allana both regularly operated on live specimens, something which neither of them had ever expressed any distaste in. ‘For the betterment of man’ Jordan would often say. Allana probably never felt the need to justify her cruelty.
‘Ah here he is.’ Jordan beckoned and pointed with his large gnarled hand. Catarin turned and her heart almost stopped, an imp stood behind glass chewing on a bone hungrily. They were recent creations, using mixed DNA from several species but primarily reptile, primate and no small amount of human. They were hairless and bipedal, almost like a bald human child, but with a blue green hue to their pink skin and eyes the size of large oranges. Many researchers found them hard to work with, found them creepy, but Catarin loved them, she had fallen in love with every one she had ever worked with; she still felt an emptiness for all of the ones put down. But now some happiness returned as one remained alive behind the glass in front of her.
‘I managed to keep one alive, the radiation levels weren’t as bad in this one, and if Allana finds out I’ll simply say were not finished with the pre-human brain tests yet and had to keep alive a few specimens.’ Jordan smiled, like he’d just robbed a bank.
Catarin could have kissed Jordan, she knew he’d done this just for her.
‘I think this one’s called Arthur, no, Ar-‘
‘Ari’ Catarin interjected, it had seen her now and held her gaze. It dropped its bone and smiled at her. She smiled back.
‘Surely she won’t let us keep it Jordan?’ Catarin thought of Allana’s cruel red face screaming at them to destroy it, or be destroyed themselves. She shuddered.
‘Leave her to me Catarin, I think she hates me slightly less than she hates you at the minute.’ That much was true, Allana had shown Catarin nothing but irrational malice since they had begun working on the project, Allana was a cruel stern women at the best of times, but there was something dark going on behind her pale eyes, something she would rather not know.
Jordan held something out to her, something that looked like a large syringe.
‘What’s this?’ She asked intrigued by the mischievous look on his face.
‘This is what’s going to keep our little friend Ari alive, this is what’s going to keep Allana off our back for the time being, and this is the biggest scientific breakthrough since penicillin. This is a mobile brain reading droid… Well the Droid’s in the syringe. It injects neatly into the back of Ari’s head, and reads his thoughts, which then appear on our screens. We’ve already mapped his brain so anything which goes through his tiny impish mind, we should be able to read on the computer screen. We are now mobile, this little chip, if it works properly, should be able to detect thought and emotions in a mobile fluid state which we can cross reference with the static brain scan.’
Jordan took a breath and his eyes drifted off elsewhere.
Catarin smiled wearily at Jordan, at times he seemed absent minded, but she knew it was only because his brain was elsewhere, constantly thinking and solving problems.
‘I thought it would be weeks before we finished this? How did you get a prototype ready so quickly?’ She knew he had been working on something but never realized how quickly he worked. He leant in close towards her, beckoning her towards his lips. She chuckled and leant her ear towards him.
‘I used you as my inspiration’. He whispered.
‘Get me out of your head you old creep!’ They both laughed until Catarin was again wiping tears from her eyes with her lab coats sleeve.
‘Go on then give it a go.’ Said Jordan excitedly whilst still suffocating the last breaths of laughter.
Catarin took the syringe from his hand and opened the door to Ari’s cage. He saw her approach and smiled. He instinctively crawled excitedly towards her and clung to her like a child clings to its mother.
The imps had been bred to be overly trusting, overly affectionate. Their pain receptors had been turned down until a breaking bone might feel like a dull ache. They were the perfect creature for science, willingly laying down on the operating table for the supposed betterment of mankind. Catarin had been told that their intelligence was negligible and that though they seemed to understand and pick up language, this was just part of their human DNA and they were really quite brainless. Catarin felt different, she knew from the way Ari looked into her eyes, the way they flicked back and forth analyzing everything she did in anticipation that they were only a stepping stone behind humans. She questioned herself every time she watched Allana or Jordan open an imp’s skull to see its brain working in real time. What did intelligence really mean when life could be created just to be destroyed again? She smiled at Ari as he looked up at her face whilst he clung to her chest. She rocked him back and forth gently as she slowly pushed the needle into the base of his skull and pressed down hard and fast. Ari’s pupils flared as the droid shot into brain, his eyes widened in fear, but her gently stroking of his head soon calmed him. She put him down on the ground and sat at the chair facing the computer screen, Ari held around her leg and stared about the room until his eyes settled on Jordan, who looked at him with mild bemusement.
‘So does it work?’ Jordan had already forgotten about the tiny creature clinging to Catarin’s leg and was peering over her shoulder at the computer screen.
‘Hang on Jordan.’ Catarin navigated the screen until it displayed a three-dimensional model of Ari’s brain; it was pulsating with thousands of tiny currents travelling from one place to another. She leant down and stroked Ari’s head whilst keeping her eyes on the brain. As her hand connected with his smooth dry scalp, the image of the brain flourished with color and movement, like a miniature fireworks display.
Catarin looked up to Jordan, this meant nothing to her yet.
‘What does it mean, Jordan? All I can see is predictable brain activity.’ She’d stared for hours at so many digital graphs; tables and diagrams that everything began to look the same. Jordan wagged his finger and screwed up his already wrinkled face as if to make a point. He leant forward, pressing an icon on the display screen, a display box appeared next to the image of Ari’s brain.
‘Ah, we’ve already mapped the location of Ari’s memories and emotions in the computer, now, this display box should tell us exactly what he’s thinking, and not just where in the brain he’s thinking it. Quickly, ummm, ask him to find his bone.’
Jordan wandered away to his workbench as he spoke.
Catarin again leant down and faced Ari, looking into his eyes as they danced excitedly all over her features. A smile began to appear on his face, she glanced at the computer and words began to spring up the display box next to the model of his brain; Love, happiness, excitement, food…
‘Ari, where is your bone?’ Catarin whispered into the imp’s ear. Ari leapt into the air with excitement, he charged into his open cage and retrieved the gnawed mutton bone that had once been his meal. Jordan crowed with excitement behind her.
‘It works! Look Catarin, its working.’ Jordan would have been leaping on the spot if his legs had let him. She turned and faced the computer and there in the display box amongst several other flashing words; Bone, food, finding, retrieving. Jordan grasped her shoulders and kissed her on the lips, frantic with excitement.
‘Haha, we’ve done it Catarin, this is unbelievable.’ Jordan was now shaking his hands at the ceiling with excitement. She smiled at him, but then saw Ari at her feet again holding up his bone to her. She took it, and patted him on the head, whispering ‘thank you’ to the imp.
They spent the next few hours working tirelessly, Catarin ran test after test with Ari making sure the droid was recalling correctly everything Ari was doing. Jordan sat next to her typing furiously, scribbling notes in his journal and tinkering with several more ‘mind fly’ droids, as he’d now come to call them. Jordan barely spoke a word for over an hour. Until at last, with a rasping tired voice and flaming red eyes he turned to Catarin from his workstation. He held another mind fly in his hand.
‘That’s it, I must sleep.’ He looked as if he was about to pass out. Catarin smiled at him, his hair flew in every direction as if he’d been hit by lightning.
‘Go to bed Jordan, I’ll put everything away.’ She felt tired as well, but his age was showing more than hers. He nodded and stood up slowly, using his knees as support.
‘Those droids on the table,’ he said pointing to three new mind flies he’d been tinkering with for the last hour, ‘Be careful with them, they’re the next stage of this experiment.’
‘What’s the next stage?’ She murmured, slightly apprehensive.
‘Human testing of course.’
‘Yes I’ve made three, based on the prototype. One each for us and one for Allana. We’re the only three whose brains have been fully mapped on the station.’ Catarin shuddered; Allana’s name and memory had been blissfully far away from her thoughts for hours.
‘Well, goodnight’ Muttered Jordan as we waved, the door hissed shut behind him, Catarin felt suddenly relaxed having no one around her but Ari, who sat on her knee gnawing his bone. She stared at him for some time and then at the console, which displayed a stream of endless words that were his thoughts. ‘Chew, bone, happy, tired, chew, bone, meat, hungry, excrete, chew, happy.’
Catarin saw the word excrete and squinted at Ari.
‘Don’t you dare do your business on me you filthy creature.’ Her tone was soft; she saw new words on the screen rush to match Ari’s features as she caught his gaze. ‘Love, happy, mother, safe, play, eat, food, mother, safe, excrete, mother, excrete, excrete, excrete.’ Catarin frowned at him again, she lifted him up to take him to his cage, as she did so, a stream of stinking yellow urine rained down onto her lab coat and trousers. She dropped him on the floor; he hit the ground running and leapt into his cage to hide amongst the bedding.
‘For fuck’s sake Ari.’ The urine was warm against her skin and the smell made her queasy. She looked up and saw on the screen new words flash up, as she heard Ari making his strange happy chuckling noises. ‘Amused, happy, excrete, mother, amused, excited, trouble, happy, funny.’ Catarin laughed with him. She’d needed to laugh at something for a while. Ari hopped back out towards her with a coy smile. She picked him up and held him to her breast.
‘Don’t worry Ari, I’ve had far worse said and done to me since I’ve been on this station.’ She looked at his big dark eyes and his strange but adorable features.
‘And so have you.’ She remembered all of the times Jordan and Allana had taken their kind under the knife, and suddenly she had nothing more to laugh about. Did Ari remember these things? Why did he still trust them after all they’d done to him? Then she had a thought. She turned to the computer and began typing. She thought of all the times Allana and Jordan had raved about the importance of ‘mind reading’ and the massive implications of being able to tell what was happening inside the human head. Catarin thought as she typed, of how much she hated her kind, how everything was about taking and not giving, stealing not sharing. Then after what seemed like hours, she sat back and faced the computer console, Ari was asleep in her lap. In front of her was a newly created dialogue box, a different kind to one that read Ari’s thoughts. She had studied all the places in Ari’s brain that held specific memories and emotions and reversed the process of reading them. She clenched her fingers before she began typing.
As the words appeared she saw the corresponding parts of Ari’s brain light up. And then so did he. She saw his wide eyes open and then his smile.
ARI, BRING BONE.
And then he smiled again, hopped down from her knee and dutifully brought the bone to her feet.
ARI, MY NAME IS CATARIN, CATARIN LOVES YOU.
His whole face seemed to fill with joyful light.
Catarin woke to the sound of Ari gnawing on his bone at her feet. She raised her head from the desk, various pieces of paper were glued to her face with her own drool. She tore them off and rubbed her eyes. Not the first time she’d fallen asleep at her desk Ari climbed up into her lap. Catarin flicked on the thought display screen, just to make sure last night hadn’t been some strange dream. All the data sat there in front her, she took another minute to soak it all up, what they had achieved. The intercom pinged, her heart missed a beat, the intercom only ever meant one person; Allana.
‘Catarin, my office in 5 minutes if you would be so kind.’ Allana’s voice was icy, most people would assume it was calm and clear. But Catarin had known Allana for too long, the hidden anger was always there, the calculated malice that hid behind her calm tone was too much for Catarin. She instinctively looked up to the camera in the corner of the room, wondering if Allana was watching her right now. Probably. It’s all she seemed to do these days, she and Jordan had seen less and less of her over the past few weeks.
She patted Ari on the head and carried him carefully back to his cage, she closed the door and wiped the sleep from her eyes. She looked down at her lab coat, filthy and stinking of animal urine, but no time to change. She quickly scrubbed her coat with a an old kitchen rag whilst gulping the remnants of a long cold tea. and began down the long white corridor to Allana’s office deeper inside the station. Now and then she would pass a window or a porthole, and she would pause to stare out across the criss cross of cylindrical metal corridors, thick spiraling wires, and gleaming steel support shafts, that formed a giant web between the outer sphere and the inner sphere of the station. Everything led to the inner sphere, it hung ominously in the center of the station, featureless and white except for the corridors and supports that shot out from it at various points. That was where she was headed, Allana’s quarters. Most of the senior researchers and military staff were housed in the central sphere, and underlings like herself and Jordan were only allowed there if invited. Not that they wanted to go there, rarely were they ever invited for anything positive. Catarin slowed her walk, the sphere grew larger every time she saw it approaching through another window or porthole. Her stomach filled with dread.
Eventually she came to a dead end in the corridor. Only a camera in the ceiling giving any indication that the corridor had any reason to exist.
‘State the purpose of your visit to the central sphere.’ The voice was automated, a computer.
‘Invitation from Dr. Allana Palakis.’ Catarin stared around nervously afraid to look directly at the camera.
A door appeared in the featureless wall and swooshed up revealing another long white corridor and two tall guards, their uniforms were black with a tiny red insignia on their breast, their faces were hidden beneath black visored masks. She knew without asking to follow them. They said nothing anyway.
They walked in silence for several minutes until they reached what felt like the center of the sphere. Another door appeared and the guards stopped, she knew to walk in.
Catarin’s senses were instantly overwhelmed, light smog clouded her eyes and the heavy scent of geranium and incense filled her nose. Allana’s quarters were not the white featureless silence of the rest of the station. The circular room was many shades of red, purple, crimson, and black. The floor, walls and ceiling were covered in rich embroidered oriental fabrics. There were green leafed plants standing and hanging in various places throughout the room. Along the walls were great spherical glass tanks, with strange insect like creatures, the size of dogs and cats, peering out or clinging to the leafy vined plants that sat in their cells. The room was uncomfortably warm and humid, and the constant hum of the air conditioning had gone, replaced by soft oriental music playing on Allana’s speakers.
In the center of the room was a large round table of black glass, Allana sat there. she appeared to be reading over some notes, her intense dark eyes were magnified by the thick rimmed glasses she wore. Catarin hadn’t seen anyone wear eyeglasses except in old film, but here Allana sat at her desk like a vision of the past, her black and red dress like a homage to a French noir film. Allana looked as though she was once beautiful, and perhaps still was, but her excessive make up and dark hair pulled back into a bun gave the impression of a woman desperately clinging to dying looks. Allana looked up and caught Catarin’s eye, Allana’s jaw was tense and her gaze was ferocious, she beckoned Catarin to sit.
‘How long have you worked aboard this station Catarin?’ Allana’s mouth barley moved as she spoke, but her dark eyes scoured Catarin’s face looking for a glimmer of fear.
‘Nearly one year doctor, another month and I will have completed my military service and can return home.’ Catarin had not meant to say as much as she said, but Allana’s eyes seemed to draw everything out of her like a lie detector. Catarin saw that her hand was shaking against the leg, she gripped it with her other hand to stop it.
‘Nearly one year?’ Allana’s eyes appeared to bulge as she spoke. ‘A scientist does not estimate. You have been here eleven months and two days as both you and I know very well.’ Allana briefly turned her head down to her notes. As her eyes left Catarin’s face, Catarin felt herself relax momentarily.
‘Do you know why you’re here?’ Allana did not look up this time. Catarin chose not to speak at once in case she blurted something unwanted out. There were several reasons she could have called her, but she chose the obvious one.
‘Ari…I mean… the imp? We were not ready for human testing and we needed him for the more brain scanning tests. I may need him for some time longer.’
‘Shut up you fool, I don’t care about those filthy creatures.’ Allana raised her head and met Catarin’s eyes with a furious stare. Catarin felt her nervousness begin to be replaced by anger. Why had she ordered most of the testing subjects destroyed if she did not care about their usefulness? She met Allana’s eyes for as long as she could manage. With every second that passed she knew she was pushing her luck further.
‘I know well enough it was Jordan who kept that thing alive against my orders, and don’t try and argue with me I can see everything you do. No, I called you here because there are forces at work greater than both of us. The intelligence agency wants a functional human brain scanner ready for them to use by the end of the week. The situation on Earth is escalating quickly.’ Allana’s gaze changed slowly, to one of fear, the same fear that Catarin and Jordan felt when Allana pressed them to work harder or face charges every week.
‘They want the software to scan a mind, and the device to read them, ready to use on captured political enemies imminently. If we do not get them, all of my threatening will pale in comparison to the real consequences. Believe me when I say Catarin, if you do not do as I say we will all suffer, myself included, and I will not let that happen. You may have struggled up here for less than one pathetic year. But I have worked my fingers to the bone, roaming aimlessly in space, away from prying eyes, for the best part of ten years. I will not allow a foolish, overly sensitive, moralistic whelp to destroy my work and life, do you understand?’ Allana breathed out and pulled back a strand of hair that had fallen in front of her eye. Catarin simply nodded, quelling her own anger and fear into a lump in her throat.
‘Your friend Jordan stopped by earlier at my request, he delivered to me several mind probes, much like the one in your…imp. What is it that he calls them?’
‘Mind flies’ mumbled Catarin, somewhat ashamedly. Allana exhaled in frustration.
‘That deformed fool has the mind of a child.’ Allana remarked venomously.
‘I have ordered that 5 people, randomly selected aboard this station, will have the devices inserted with immediate effect, including myself making six in total. You will compile a report telling me the name rank and occupation of these people based on your readings from the devices. You will bring me this report in person in 3 days. Then I will know if this technology works and if it can be depended on. Do you understand?’ Allana seemed calmer, as if giving orders soothed her. Catarin nodded.
‘Allana can I ask a question?’ Catarin wasn’t sure this was a good idea but she had to know. Allana raised her eyebrows expectantly.
‘Why would you volunteer yourself?’
‘Why? Why would I not? Unlike yourself and that skulking eccentric you work with, I have nothing to hide. More importantly, who knows me better than myself? If you can prove me wrong and tell me that you know me as well I know myself, then I know this device works and I will have no problem submitting it to our government’s intelligence.’ Allana stared at Catarin for a moment, as if sizing her up.
‘One final thought before you go Catarin.’ Allana’s gaze grew more intense, so too did the humidity and heady scent of the room, at least that’s how it felt to Catarin.
‘Do you know what happens to scientists who are discharged from this station for failure in their duty?’
‘I was never told.’ Catarin had heard rumors, terrifying things. Where was there to put someone they did not have any use for in deep space?
‘There’s no need to be coy with me Catarin, I’m sure if I were to put one of those mind flies in your head there would be a writhing nest of worries and speculations from all the other anxious, small minded, pseudo scientists aboard this station.’ Allana leant closer to Catarin as if she were about to whisper a secret.
‘I will tell you exactly what will happen, to you and Jordan, if you fail. Your minds will be wiped clean. There are too many important secrets for a disobedient scientist to have in their head. Then we take your frontal lobe, negative feelings towards the Earth government are very dangerous things. And finally we cast you into space in a frozen capsule, much like the mutinous sailors of old. If you are ever found, or even less likely, if you are bought out of your stasis, you will be an empty vessel. Useless to anyone.’ Allana leant back then stood up. She paced towards one of the glass cases, which held what looked like a large stick insect. Some two foot in length. She began feeding it smaller insects, which it moved towards with alarming speed eating them greedily.
‘You may leave.’ Allana did not look up, she continued staring intently at the giant insect as it chased and ate the smaller insects in its glass case.
Catarin stood up and left. As the door opened the fresh air and the silence of the white corridor felt like reaching the surface of a deep pool of water and taking the first breath in a long time. She didn’t remember much of the walk back to her quarters and laboratory, every encounter with Allana was draining, and all she could think of was the report. Could it be done? Did Jordan’s mind flies work as well with humans? She saw no reason why not, but a lot depended on it working. She looked at her hand, it was shaking. She grabbed it with the other to steady it.
Catarin sipped her tea and let the heat and light wash over her. She relished every second of silence, every second that not a word was spoken. She’d only ever felt truly relaxed on her own. The station had now begun a close orbit of the sun, its engines were off and the star’s gravity was doing the work for them. Catarin stood on the center of a large glass pane that made up the floor of this observation deck. She was surround by 4 featureless white walls, but below her, beneath her feet, was a sea of burning fire. She was told they had reached the peak of the sun’s magnetic North pole; it looked exactly like every other part of the sun as it raged white hot below her. She imagined this was what flying over hell might feel like. She sipped her tea and let the silence and burning white light consume her.
A door slid open to her left, she sighed in frustration silently.
‘Catarin! Where have you been?’ Jordan was swaying, which made his limp even more pronounced. There was only a tiny pool of translucent amber liquid swilling from side to side in the large glass bottle in his deformed hand. She was scared at first. She had never seen Jordan drunk. But then as he hobbled towards her over the plate of glass she smelt the spirits on his breath.
‘Jordan you’re drunk.’ She frowned, hoping he would see he’d interrupted her.
‘As a scientist Catarin you should look deeper than th’surface.’ He swayed and she caught him. She laid him down on the glass so that he looked as though he was falling into a pit of fire. Then she saw his eyes were filled with tears.
‘Yes I’m drunk. But the question is why am I drunk? Or maybe even, whyaryoou not drunk?’ He grimaced as if hiding some pain, Catarin saw that he had lost his usual carefree eccentricity and suddenly felt for him. What had happened?
‘Why are you drunk Jordan?’ Catarin began to see the severity of the situation, this wasn’t like Jordan, and tears ran down his face afresh.
‘How long have you been monitoring the staff with the mind-flies?’ his voice was clearer now, but filled with emotion.
‘About 10 hours I think. I just sent Allana a summary report on the data I have gathered on the staff so far.’
‘Did you notice anything unusual about their thoughts?’ His tears ran freely now, Catarin felt her face tighten in fear.
‘Jordan, everything is going well, there’s no need to worry, better that I expected actually. I think I may already know which mind fly is attached to Allana, I was worried too originally but I can do this Jordan! Honestly I thi…’
‘Shut up! Shut up you naïve little girl.’ Frothy drool flew from his mouth as he shouted and the warm stench of liquor washed over Catarin’s face. She grimaced and stared sternly back at him unable to contain her anger.
‘Did you not think of the consequences of sending her raw data from random subjects?’ He seemed to calm, but his eyes were now blurry with tears.
‘Did you ever meet Vladek? Nice lad. Yes a lovely boy. Always came to see the animals.’ Jordan’s eyes were fixed intently on hers now and there was no avoiding his gaze.
She did remember Vladek, a creepy skinny young military officer who always touched her on her arms, despite her telling him to stop. He came every week to look at the imps, said they reminded him of a zoo back on Earth.
‘I remember.’ She said defiantly deciding to hold his gaze as long as she could bare.
‘You remember him do you? Good, hold that thought. He was decommissioned last night. Neither of us should know this, nor anyone else for that matter but people blabber, and when a man is dragged away kicking and screaming during sleep designated hours people tend to talk.’ Jordan’s voice wobbled as he talked. Just shut up Jordan, Catarin had heard enough, a cold flush of guilt washed over her, she’d been so preoccupied with saving her own skin and so caught up in the positive results she’d forgotten what she was actually doing, looking into people’s minds.
‘What should I do Jordan, just ignore Allana? Send her falsified scans? I’d be the next one dragged away in the night if that happened. You’ve got the cheek to call me naïve when you’re stood there swaying like the village idiot. This is a horrible situation Jordan but you know as well as I do there’s nothing we can do.’ Catarin forced herself to believe her own harsh words, what else could she do?
Jordan stood staring, and then reached out his arm to steady himself against the wall, he emptied the liquor from the glass bottle in his gnarled hand and threw it carelessly against the wall.
‘Do you know what Catarin? You’re right.’ Jordan waved pathetically and wiped his tears before turning to leave. Catarin tried to think of something to say, but anger and guilt choked her brain.
She sat at her desk, she was preparing another scan for Allana, the clock ticked on the wall beside her, she was progressing well, but every stroke reminded her there was no time for anything else. She’d identified most of the scans and who they belonged to, including what she thought were Allana’s though pattern, words flashed from Allana’s thought train;
Contact colonel Mather
What was remarkable about Allana’s thoughts was their unremarkable nature, Catarin had been terrified of the woman since the first time she met her, now her soul was laid bare on the dim glow of a computer screen, and she was suddenly unremarkable, painfully boring. Everything about the scorn in Allana’s voice was gone, Catarin felt unafraid for the first time in a long time aboard the station, how could someone hurt you when you could see what they were thinking?
Catarin felt calmer than she had when Jordan had stormed off, she felt terrible again for scolding him and pressed the intercom button on her computer screen.
‘Dr. Jordan Hughes please.’ They’d both have a laugh at looking at Allana’s thoughts, nothing like shameless voyeurism to bond and forgive over she thought she felt herself smiling. She hoped he’d sobered up enough to come to the lab, he was taking his time answering. The intercom computer stopped the call and cut in;
‘Dr. Hughes is not present in his quarters I’m afraid.’ Strange, Catarin thought.
‘Locate Doctor Hughes and contact him on his personal intercom device.’ It began ringing, once, twice. At least they haven’t dragged him away in the night yet, Catarin though grimly to herself. It kept ringing and Catarin felt her pulse quicken as every second passed.
‘Where is Doctor Hughes?’
‘Doctor Hughes is currently in the primate lab.’
Probably passed out drunk, she’d seen him finish a whole bottle before at a Christmas party and it hadn’t ended well. She stood up and hurried to the lab, she felt like apologizing, but apologizing to everyone around her was starting to grate. This was a shitty situation and she felt like she was the only one could keep her emotions in check. Catarin shook her head in frustration. Then she saw something strange, Ari was rustling at Jordan’s arm, chewing, she saw blood.
‘Ari get away from him!’ The imp looked up to her and smiled. Catarin recoiled, his sharp teeth were glistening with blood, and it spattered down his hairless chest. Catarin ran over to Jordan’s slumped body and grabbed Ari by the neck.
‘Ari what the hell are you doing?!’ The imp looked completely oblivious and began licking Catarin’s face with his foul blood drenched tongue. She threw him to the ground in disgust and wiped her face of Jordan’s blood. Then she saw more blood, running from the bite in his arm. A lot of blood. A deep bite, Ari looked as if he’d been chewing for a while. But there was blood elsewhere, everywhere. She leant down over Jordan’s body to his face, she saw his hand hanging limply by his head, loosely clasping a gun. And where the back of his head should have been a fist sized hole.
Catarin stumbled backward, struggling for breath. Her scientist brain said ‘he’s dead, no need to check for a pulse.’ She hated herself at that moment. She stood motionless except for her shaking hands. Fear filled her head. Grief. Tears splashed the cold white floor. And then a wave of anger. Anger at all the people who put Jordan in this situation, who had abused his intelligence and driven him to create something he hated. Catarin picked up a mind fly from the desk with her shaking hand. She dropped it on the floor and crushed it beneath her heel. The cracking plastic grabbed Ari’s attention and he came shuffling towards her with gleaming eyes. Catarin picked him up took a long look at him and locked him in his cage. She wiped away the tears on her sleeve and left the room for her desk. She thought of Ari as she walked, chewing on Jordan’s arm like he’d always been just a piece of meat. That’s all we are, she thought. That’s all Allana is. Her door swished open almost silently and she sat at her desk. In front of her were the lists of the subjects attached to the mind fly. Their thoughts flying past at varying speeds. She selected Allana’s;
Catarin thought of Jordan’s corpse, drenched in his own blood. They wouldn’t take long to find it. They probably knew already. Camera’s everywhere. They were probably on their way. Catarin clenched her fists in anger. Clenched her jaw. She bought up the dialogue box which reversed the process, next to Allana’s thought stream. It had worked with Ari, why not a human? Same principle. Catarin didn’t really care if it didn’t work, something twisted in her head wished for something to go wrong, and even if it didn’t she would make sure it was unpleasant. She placed her own dialogue box next to Allana’s computerized thought stream, she clenched her fists and began typing;
What have I done?
Dr. Hughes is dead and it is my fault.
Dr. Hughes is dead and I forced his hand.
Catarin heard the swishing of a door. The camera monitor showed her two soldiers in visored black uniforms walking quickly down the hall to her quarters. Her heartbeat quickened, but a part of her felt a morbid excitement.
How many have died because of me?
What I’m doing is wrong
Catarin heard the soldiers outside her office and quickly shut down her computer. The door swished open. Two black visors faced her menacingly.
“You have to come with us.” A woman’s voice? Catarin couldn’t tell.
“Why?” She’d found a new courage, or maybe she just didn’t care anymore. The visored soldiers stood motionless for a few seconds as if thinking up some plausible reason to abduct her.
“Now.” They began to walk towards her. She wouldn’t let them touch her if she could help it.
“Ok. I’m coming.” Catarin stood up and dusted her lab coat as if to compose herself.
“Where are we going? Should I bring anything?” She mustered as much innocence in her voice as she could manage.
“You won’t need anything.” A man’s voice this time. Or at least different to the last voice. Catarin walked right past them as if to lead the way. She knew where they were going.
The endless white corridors didn’t seem so endless this time. The spider webs of steel and plastic that shot out from the center of the station passed in a blur. A hopeless emptiness filled her stomach, but something else tickled the back of Catarin’s neck. Excitement maybe? She thought about Jordan again, not dead this time but with his strange deformed smile that warmed her every time she saw his face. He was the only thing that had made being up here worth it. The only thing that had made her feel safe and human out in the middle of this bleak emptiness. Her passion for the work was gone, it had been gone for some time she realized. Only a fear of failure had kept her working, a fear of whatever was about to happen.
She recognized the door to Allana’s office. It was white and featureless like every other door. She remembered the amount of time it took to walk the distance from her own office. How every time she had been there how her heart beat so quickly she thought it could stop at any second. Now it wasn’t beating so quickly. The two soldiers walked in with her. As the door opened the haze of perfume and incense stung her eyes and nostrils. The colour and warmth of the room felt inviting this time. She’d missed colour. The last time she’d seen red it was running from Jordan’s body across the white floor of the primate lab. Allana sat stony faced at her black glass desk. There were no notes in front of her, she sat with her hands intertwined staring at a large blue spider that crawled slowly across the surface of the desk. Allana’s black eyes had changed. They no longer stared, motionless and cold. They darted back and forth noticing each movement of the huge spider’s slow crawl. There was a vacancy in Allana’s eyes that Catarin hadn’t seen before. She seemed not to notice Catarin as she walked in, as she approached the desk Allana slowly raised her head. When she recognized Catarin’s face her brows furrowed and the motionless stare returned and bored into Catarin.
“Sit.” Allan’s voice was as cold as ever. She picked up the blue spider carefully and let it walk slowly up her arm, its legs were the size of Allana’s fingers.
“We have a problem.” Allana now looked intently at the spider as it came to her shoulder.
“A problem? I’m on schedule.” Catarin tried to hide every ounce of knowing from her voice.
“We have another problem. One that can’t be solved by your little narrow mind.” Allana’s eyes held Catarin’s, looking for any sign of weakness.
“A problem, which you are well aware of. Our cameras tell us that you have seen this problem with your own eyes.” Allana picked up the mutant spider by its thorax and placed it on the table facing Catarin. It slowly paced across the desk towards where Catarin’s hands rested. Catarin’s careless confidence was vanishing fast. The dread and emptiness in her stomach began turning into palpable fear.
“I see only one solution.” Allana’s eyes darted to the spider, fascinated by its slow crawl towards Catarin.
“That deformed creature saw fit to save us the trouble of destroying his memory, albeit in a far messier way than I would have liked. Now we have only one outstanding problem.” Allana’s eyes met with Catarin’s again.
“Me? I have done nothing but what you asked Allana.”
“Be quiet you petulant little girl.” Allana spat, beneath her white makeup beads of sweat were beginning to form. Catarin sensed something different in Allana, she was nervous.
“You did not report this situation as you should have. My superiors feel that you can no longer be trusted with sensitive information.” Allana’s composure was returning, control was her calming balm it seemed. Catarin felt a wave of tingling dread spread across her body.
“However, despite your sniveling ways you have done as I have asked and I am prepared to give you a chance.” Allana’s eyes bored into Catarin’s expectantly. Was she supposed to thank her? As scared as she was she was beyond the point of groveling.
“Compile the data and bring me a working Mindfly, we’ll see if we can get you de-commissioned in one piece. You’ve got two hours.” Allana held her gaze for a moment longer, Catarin dared not look away. She felt something tickle her hand. The spider. The biggest one she’d ever seen, its foreleg probing at her finger for a place to climb. Catarin sat up and brushed her hand. She nodded at Allana and turned without saying a word. She’d never said anything to Allana that elicited a positive response, she wasn’t’ going to start trying now. The guards led her out, they walked her down the endless corridor, she was back at her desk and her mind was still whirring by the time she realized where she was. Compile the data, bring Allana a Mindfly. Easily done, wouldn’t take ten minutes. The best and worst thing about those in power is they are so detached from what they are supposed to control.
Catarin sat back and stared at the screen, the endless thought train of everyone they had attached a device to, and the blank screen of the young officer who they had taken away. They’d either removed the device or he was dead. Catarin didn’t need to guess. Would she do it? She’d never questioned her orders before, not whilst she and Jordan had felt they were making a positive difference. She knew different now, none of this technology would bring anything good. She could do what Allana had asked her, but some gut wrenching instinct knew there would be no ‘de-commissioning in one piece’. With a few touches of the screen she could send a million randomly generated words into any one of the on screen minds. That could be dangerous, the brain wouldn’t accept it. Catarin thought of scrambled eggs. A strange calmness swept over her as she started to accept her fate. She would have liked to have been on Earth, with friends. Not alone. Not so far from home adrift in space. Sharing what was left of her time with Jordan would have been a consolation. Maybe she was being overly dramatic. Maybe Allana was telling the truth?
It’s been a dramatic week. But our effort and hard work has paid off. These Mind flies are incredible, the report speaks for itself. Their potential for use against political and state enemies is massive, we could end the war in a matter of weeks. One high ranking prisoner and a mind fly are all we would need to get names, locations, dates, well anything, anything we could ever want that’s stored away in the brain. It was shame to lose the creator, Dr. Hughes was a gifted mind, though clearly troubled. Allana may recover, but even if she does I’m not sure she will retain all of her mental faculties. I will unfortunately have to seriously consider her for de-comissioning. She was a fine officer and commanded respect, but I fear she lost control of the scientists towards the end. Catarin, now that was a challenge, what to do with the finest mind on board? One who nearly destroyed everything she worked so hard to create, morality is certainly a curse of the intelligent mind.
We begin our final rotation of the sun in the next few hours, and then back to Earth with our findings. A strange few days, ones that will no doubt be of great historical significance. Would it really be wise to credit such an amazing discovery to a suicidal drunk and his bleeding heart colleague? I shall have to ponder it on the way back.
Lt. Colonel Hector Aquila, chief of military and scientific operations aboard the UNOE Space station Califia.