I opened my eyes to darkness and all the jumbled thoughts in my head seemed to ease up a little. Almost as if they were afraid of what my waking mind might do to them. I tried to hold on to some of the images in my head to try to make sense of them as they tumbled over each other. They seemed to be memories. I could make out the faces of my friends, Oliana and Kaliya, as we shared some laughs in the cafeteria at the Academy. Yes. That made sense. It wasn’t just a flash of jumbled up stuff.
There were lots of other faces, too. My mother and father… My father’s face was clear… he was the Zheav… our leader… I could see my brothers, Axiak and Jadidi, running and diving off the rocks and into the ocean at The Dive… There was a sea of faces that I recognised as my classmates at the Academy… I frowned up at the ceiling in the darkness. Something was definitely wrong with this picture. I didn’t have any brothers. Or parents… I was a clone… What the…?
A flash of something… Oliana’s smiling face… “Travelling to the edge of the Explored Universe,” she said, “Studying new races and exotic planets – and being paid for it – how could a New Graduate with an adventurous spirit refuse?”
My friend faded away and was replaced by the image of an old woman with wrinkles so deep that they looked painful. Tasha, the Old One. Tasha took one look at me and scoffed. “So I ask for a pupil that I can help to hone their Mind Skills, and this is what they send me? Ha!”
Tasha floated away into the depths of the ocean and then there was just the beautiful sight of so many colourful fish, swimming in and out of the coral and rocky outcrops on the ocean floor. Once the fish dissolved away, there was a large computer screen on a wall in a small classroom. The room was filled with students sitting with their heads bent as they worked on their exam papers.
Then my mother stood before me. “You are the daughter of the Zheav. You know that there are certain things expected of you. You cannot abandon your duties and run off to play with Jarleth and your brothers.”
“But Mam, we weren’t gone long…” Before I could finish pleading with my mother, that image faded to nothing. It left me confused. How could she be my mother? I didn’t have a mother…
Panic crept into my chest and I squeezed my eyes shut. What was happening? Who were these people? I knew them all, but I didn’t know them. My head was filled with memories of two distinctly separate worlds and two different lives; the civilised and technologically advanced Earth and the wild jungle planet… Sovoli, my memory supplied. None of it made sense. My heartbeat picked up so fast that it felt like it was fluttering inside my ribcage. I needed to calm down. I needed to think rationally. These memories could not all be mine…
More memories flooded in… swimming under the sea… studying computer programming at the Academy… Jarleth, a warrior of the Waikari people and my Betrothed… running and laughing on the beach… Oliana sitting in front of her computer monitor studying for her classes…
My name was Sifayah… NO, I was Zhenna! It was too confusing. Too much… I put both hands up to my head and squeezed, hoping it would help and knowing that it wouldn’t.
I could see my father’s face, but I knew that I was a clone, and didn’t have a father in the proper sense of the word. I was made in a lab and genetically altered so that I didn’t look identical to the original human that I’d been cloned from. We all were. But the image of him was there in my mind all the same, looking down on me with a proud expression… then Kaliya was there – the close friend that I affectionately called “Mum”… then my father again… Impossible! I was a clone! Clones do not have parents!
I didn’t know who I was… I felt lost. They seemed like my memories – like I’d actually lived them – all of them – but the chances of that were as slim as me flying through the air like a Hovercar.
How could this happen? Something must have happened to me before I woke up here… wherever here was. There must be something that I was forgetting…
My train of thought was derailed by the memories of what had happened in the jungle. We had boarded the shuttle from the main ship, the Acronis, and headed to the surface of the planet. Then there was the problem with the shuttle… landing to do repairs… the beautiful sights of the amazing plant life and the colourful birds… a prehistoric-looking flying thing swooping into the clearing and nearly scaring us half to death… the attack… laser fire and screams echoing through the trees…
I pulled my thoughts away from those terrifying moments and opened my eyes to the darkness once again. I realised I was trembling all over and took some deep breaths to try to calm myself, heart pounding now.
I could make out a ceiling above me with a small light fitting to my right. I also sensed that I was lying on a bed. Hearing the soft hum of a Bio-scan as it passed down the length of my body was very reassuring as it confirmed that I must be in a Medical Facility. I closed my eyes briefly and relaxed a little. The knowledge that I was back in civilised hands was very comforting. Jannali must have sent out a team to rescue us from the Varekai. At least, I thought that we’d been attacked by the Varekai. Who else would do such a thing?
Wait – did that mean that those memories were real? Was there a place called Jannali? Station Jannali… I couldn’t be sure.
Were we really attacked in the jungle by pirates? Is that the reason I was in a Medical Facility? I had so many questions. Like why would they be out here, in the middle of nowhere-in-particular, waiting to ambush a shuttle full of scientists, botanists, a linguist and a computer programmer? What would they gain from that? We’d had nothing of any real value onboard.
My heart rate wasn’t slowing down. I felt like I might be on the verge of a panic attack and tried to slow my breathing down. Maybe that would slow my heart down a bit, too. Breathe in… then out… in… out…
I needed to think rationally. Needed to sort out this mess. Those other memories of the ocean and the primitive Waikari tribe didn’t tie in with anything like this; Bio-scanners, electricity and Medical Facilities. There was nothing like that in the ocean or cove where I lived – or where whoever it was lived. Maybe those memories were just dreams… or something…
Hmmm… There was something – something I remembered in the back of my mind. Memories… There was a company I’d heard about that could implant memories into your mind so that you could have the experiences of going to a new country or new planet, without leaving home. It was like going on a holiday, without really going anywhere. It was a bizarre concept, but it could be that I’d paid to have one of those ‘holidays’ implanted and had just forgotten the part where I’d gone in to the company and had the procedure done.
Maybe that was where I was. Maybe that was why I was in a bed with a busy Bio-scan checking my vital signs. If so, I was going to tell them that there was something wrong. The memories were all over the place. Just a jumbled mess. Not pleasant at all. And it didn’t seem like a holiday. Just memories of someone’s life. It made for a pretty dull holiday. It didn’t make any sense.
I want a refund.
But I didn’t remember paying any credits to anyone or visiting a Memory Centre. What have they done to my brain?
I stared up at the ceiling again. Once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, the room seemed to brighten and I could see quite well. Or did the lights just brighten a little as I watched?
My mind wandered. Would I pay credits for a holiday like that? Was my life that boring and empty? Once I thought about it, I realised that my life was pretty sterile and ordered. I grew up within the Institute with no parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts or grandparents. My whole life revolved around my education and the betterment of the human race. Sure I had my two best friends, but there was something missing in my life that was present in the lives of the humans that still procreated naturally and who lived in family groups outside the cities: love.
I’d read about how the other people lived and it seemed to be so much better than the empty life I’d had growing up.
What had gone wrong with society? Why had humans decided to live like this? I was raised this way and taught not to question it, but I couldn’t help it. I just felt that it was wrong. Unnatural.
So maybe I had paid for some memories to be implanted in my mind as a way to escape.
I lifted my head and looked around. I was in a small white room, with discreet light fittings on the walls and a full-length mirror on the far wall. It looked like I was in a Medical Facility, with everything all white and sterile-looking. The lights didn’t look like they were turned on, but I could see everything around me clearly now. To my right there was a small plain bedside table with nothing on it – no hint of any sort of decoration or even a clock. There was a door on my left that was barely visible as it blended so well with the wall itself. I slowly raised myself to a sitting position and sat staring at it for a moment, wondering where I was and what was on the other side.
Suddenly the lights in the room came on at full brightness and the door slid open, which made me jump. A man appeared in the doorway and strode into the room as my heart did a weird dance inside my chest. He was a tall, slim-built man with hair the colour of sand and eyes that were a bright, almost sky blue. I guessed that he was in his early forties. He wasn’t what I would have called attractive, but he wasn’t unpleasant to look at either. His facial expression was cold steel, but once he turned his eyes to me, it quickly moulded itself into a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. I immediately went on alert. I’d seen that look before, and I clearly remembered seeing it on the face of one of my professors only a few months before when I entered the classroom and he’d been in the middle of blasting my classmate, Jus Sadikin, about the appalling formatting in his latest assignment. He had hold of Jus by the front of his shipsuit and his other hand was clenched into a tight fist. The professor had release him immediately and tried to plaster a smile on his ugly face and patted Jus on the shoulder as a pathetic cover-up. Probably worried I’d report him. He was right to be worried, because that’s exactly what I did the first chance I got.
I looked at the man in front of me now. Not a good first impression, I thought, and tried not to cringe. Was this man as fake as my old professor?
He greeted me with the same weird smile, “Good afternoon, Miss Rhodarma, how are you feeling?”
Rhodarma… that name was familiar… Yes, I was Zhenna Rhodarma. My heart rate picked up. Maybe I would get some answers now about everything.
When I tried to speak, my voice broke. I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m fine, but I’m confused. What happened? Where am I?” My voice sounded strange to me, different somehow…
“You are presently at Station Maztec – Althar 3’s newest research base,” he said proudly as he gave me a slightly warmer smile. “This is actually where you were destined to do most of your research and case studies. You were only to be stationed at Jannali for a few weeks.”
Yes, I could remember Jannali, but not Maztec. I couldn’t recall anyone mentioning a second base on the planet. So the memories relating to me being a clone from Earth sent to Althar 3 to study new alien races had to be real. From this new evidence, I guessed that we did get attacked in the jungle and I was in a Medical Facility.
The theory of the memory implant was looking very unlikely, but where did all those memories come from? I had no answer.
I must have been injured and taken to a Medical Facility. I couldn’t feel pain anywhere. I felt fine. And who was this man before me? My doctor?
I frowned. “Who are you?” I blurted out before I could stop myself. I cleared my throat again. Why did my voice sound so strange? It sounded higher pitched or something. Was my throat affected somehow from the attack?
I forced myself to think about what I could remember. I was face-down on the floor of the jungle with bugs and crawly things wriggling all over me, trying not to freak out or scream. The painful surge I felt before everything went black could have been a stunner. Maybe stunners contract your muscles enough to give your voice a higher pitch temporarily.
The man apologised and introduced himself as Dr Leonard Starrick. “I am in charge here at Maztec.”
So he was a doctor. I started to worry again and my heartbeat picked up speed. How bad was I hurt?
“I hope you will forgive me,” he continued, “I become so involved with my work that I forget my manners and my head, so I apologise for my rude behaviour.” I realised that I was just sitting there staring at him and looked away toward the mirror. “I’m pleased that you are feeling well and that you are finally conscious. You gave us quite a scare when you first arrived from the jungle.”
I looked back up at him. You’re kidding, right? I gave you a scare? I could have been killed!
His expression changed to that of deep concern. “Now, I need to ask you some questions to see how you are going. Are you feeling light-headed, disoriented or nauseous?”
“No.” I coughed to try to clear my throat. Maybe that would help. Maybe a drink of water would help.
“How do your muscles feel?” he went on. “Do you have a headache at all?”
“Well… my muscles do feel a bit stiff, but otherwise I feel fine,” I replied. My voice was wrong. Could it just be from a stunner? Or was it more than that?
“Do you have a sore throat?” he asked.
“I, ah – no,” I replied. “What… what happened? I have all this stuff spinning around in my head…” I pressed my fingers on my temples. I needed to make sense of it all. And get my heartbeat to kick it back a notch or two. It was still all over the place.
My brain wouldn’t slow down either… So, if I was Zhenna, who was Sifayah? And also, I felt different somehow. Not just my voice. Something else. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was just the stiff muscles…
My thoughts returned to what had happened in the jungle… As we waited for the pilot to carry out the repairs to the Outrider, we wandered around the clearing, taking in the beauty of the jungle. After the flying dinosaur thing had spooked us all, we’d all breathed a sigh of relief. The attack came from out of nowhere and I instinctively hit the ground. When I dared to look up, I saw Bazeelia get hit by laser fire. My stomach dropped. “Where are the others? Are they okay? There was laser fire and – Bazeelia – is she alright? I saw her fall…”
“Well, er… let me explain what happened…” he said, his voice taking on a sombre tone and he shifted his weight uneasily. He told me that they were monitoring the shuttle’s progress as they entered Althar 3’s atmosphere and landed in the jungle. Another ship carrying the Varekai had followed us undetected, apparently using a very sophisticated cloaking device. So I’d been right about who was responsible.
They had beamed down to the surface and attacked the group, but by the time Dr Starrick’s men had discovered them and sent troops to intercept, it was too late. They didn’t have a Transporter at the base, so they couldn’t beam there in time to help us.
My stomach sunk when I heard about how I was the only survivor and had been wounded so badly that I had died a short time after my arrival at the base. My major organs had completely shut down.
“No!” I blurted out. He just stared at me. I didn’t feel bad about my outburst. “No, I don’t believe you! I couldn’t have died. You’re lying!”
“I’m not lying–”
“No. I’m here, right now. So don’t even try to tell me that… Everyone else can’t be dead. It’s not possible. I was only talking to Mosuti onboard the shuttle, just before we landed. I was talking to Larissa right before the… the… attack… oh…” I trailed off, feeling nauseous.
“It’s okay. This reaction is to be expected.” Dr Starrick placed a warm hand on my arm in an effort to calm me. It didn’t work. “There’s more,” he added.
My eyes widened. More? Well, of course there’s more to it. I’m alive…
“Try to slow down your breathing. In through the nose and out through the mouth.”
I felt like telling him that I was well aware of what to do, but I decided to do as he suggested. I concentrated on the mirror on the far wall, trying desperately not to think of what had happened in the jungle.
Once I’d calmed down enough, he told me that they discovered that my brain still showed signs of activity, so they kept the life support going. The only way to save me and the very essence of who I was was to find a suitable body and attempt a procedure that he had mastered many years before – the Eibhlin Process.
My chest tightened and I felt a zing of adrenalin rush through me. I’d heard of this procedure before. Originally, a complicated technique had been developed to help patients with severe brain damage. Scientists discovered that they could map out the damaged areas of the brain and replace the thought patterns with new ones from another person’s brain. In most cases, it worked well. It was a revolutionary procedure that enabled many people to again live a normal, happy life.
Then a group of scientists found that they could modify the process so that they could transfer all of someone’s thought patterns and memories to another person’s brain, replacing all the original patterns. It was like a brain transplant without the dangerous operation and related risks. Their full consciousness was moved across into the other person’s mind.
The modified procedure – later called the Eibhlin Process – opened up so many possibilities. The option would be open for people to escape a body with failing health, or opt for a younger and/or more attractive body – so it, in effect, made the dream of eternal youth a reality. When a person’s body grew too old, they could simply have their mind transferred into a younger person’s body – and live longer.
In theory, it seemed like a wonderful idea. However, as the consciousness that was transferred to the second person’s brain replaced the original person’s consciousness completely, that person’s mind – and their personality, memories and identity – were wiped from existence. It was literally murder.
This meant that there were no willing donors and there was almost no legal way of obtaining them. So when the number of abductions and missing persons rose drastically, the authorities were forced to put a stop to it. The procedure became outlawed throughout the Known Galaxies.
There were other dilemmas too – moral and spiritual dilemmas – such as the question of what happens to the souls of the two people involved.
It was mind boggling just to think about it. It was dangerous, morally and ethically wrong, and it caused more problems than it solved. Although the original procedure was still practiced, the Eibhlin Process was now outlawed.
I was horrified, “You mean to tell me that you did that brain transferral thing on me?” I almost shouted the words.
“Yes, but we had no other choice,” he insisted. “We either attempted the transferral – or we let you die. It was as simple as that. We had to make a decision fast. We weighed up the risks, and the decision was made. Enough lives were lost already.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but nothing came out. What could I say? I thought about it for a moment. Dr Starrick was right. I wouldn’t be alive if they didn’t act quickly, and I was glad that they’d saved my life. But at what cost? It also meant that they had basically killed the other person. It went against everything I believed in. But what could I do? It was too late now – it was done. I was alive, but was the cost too great?
And it meant that I was now a different person. I looked completely different. But who was the other person? Who was the donor? The answer hit me like a slam to the chest: Sifayah.
Was Sifayah the body donor? Was I now Sifayah? In her body? Of course I was. It was the only explanation for where all the strange memories came from. They weren’t implanted – they were already there. They were supposed to be totally replaced, but had somehow remained. Something must have gone wrong. So much for him ‘mastering’ the technique! He had failed miserably in wiping out all the donor’s memories.
I wondered if he could fix it – then I wouldn’t have all those confusing memories scrambled up with my own. But maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea. He could make things worse. I didn’t want him to go messing around with my brain some more. I would have to learn to live with the weird memories. It shouldn’t be too hard to tell them apart from my own, once I had a chance to sort things out in my head.
The ramifications were starting to set in. I was now another person. But not just any person – I was an alien! Sifayah was an alien from a barbaric and primitive planet. A jungle planet. Just like this planet.
I wouldn’t be able to go home and carry on with my life as if nothing had happened if I wasn’t even human. I could not even hope to live life as Zhenna Rhodarma, nor could I pass myself off as Sifayah. Not that I wanted to live among the Waikari people for the rest of whatever.
What kind of life would I have now? What was I going to do? I would have to start my life again somewhere else – as someone else. I wondered why people would want to do this to themselves. Why people paid top credits for it. Maybe they wanted to get away and start again. If that were the case, it would have been their choice, but I didn’t choose this.
A thought struck me. This was the reason my voice sounded different. It was Sifayah’s voice!
This was just too incredible to believe. I realised that I was trembling. I felt my face with my hands and caught a glimpse of something black out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see long black hair cascading down my back. I quickly brought a handful of hair around to the front so that I could see it more clearly, and it was so long that it reached the blanket that was covering my legs!
I was reminded of how much I had admired my shipmate, Larissa’s, long white waterfall of hair on the trip here. I couldn’t help staring at Larissa’s long, straight hair and wishing my own hair was longer. Now mine was like that – flowing like a river over my shoulder. Just jet black instead of white. It was so dark that it appeared bluish where the light touched it.
This could not be happening, I thought desperately as my heartbeat picked up again. It must be a trick or a practical joke.
Tears welled up in my eyes. My next thought was to get to the mirror. I wanted to see myself – my mind was just refusing to believe that this could be real. Holding my hands up in front of me, I was shocked to find a pair of slender, well-tanned hands instead of my own fair-skinned ones. (But in Sifayah’s memory, these were her hands.) It was hard to see them clearly through the tears, but I could see enough.
It just seemed so unreal, but it was real. I was really in someone else’s body!
I looked up at Dr Starrick and tried to keep a rein on my thoughts and emotions. My mind was racing, trying to take in what was happening. My heart beat faster and it felt like it was beating kind of erratically. Maybe my new heart had a problem… I frowned… Maybe this body was old… Maybe it had major health problems…
Dr Starrick gestured toward the mirror, “Go on. Go and see what you look like. I think you’ll like what you see.”
But I already know, I thought wildly as I looked across to the mirror in anticipation. But still, I just had to see.
I flung the blanket aside. Carefully swinging my tanned legs over the edge of the bed and sliding off onto the floor, I sensed that the muscles in my new body were firm and taut, though they were a bit stiff from disuse. For a moment or two, it was difficult to stand and I shifted my weight from one foot to the other in an attempt to work out the stiffness. I blinked hard so that the tears fell from my eyes, which made it easier to see.
Wiping them away with the backs of my hands, I looked up at Dr Starrick again. “How long have I been unconscious?”
He paused as if calculating the time took a lot of effort, “It has been three days since you were attacked in the jungle and we had you Transferred within the first hour.” He seemed very proud of that fact. Then he added, “I think the reason you were out for so long was because of the trauma you suffered from the events in the jungle. And just so that your muscles wouldn’t deteriorate while you were inactive, we have been administering a rigorous physiotherapy program…”
He kept rambling on, but I tuned him out as I made my way to the mirror and stood in front of the opaque glass for a moment. I drew in my breath and let it out slowly before waving my hand in front of the sensor to activate the mirror. It flashed to life and the vision of a strange woman wearing a white robe appeared before me.
I caught my breath and goose bumps spread across my skin. The woman before me was fairly short, slim and well-tanned with very long black hair. It flowed over my shoulder from when I had pulled it forward and went down to my hips. I thought again of how it looked like a waterfall. A black velvet waterfall.
It’s beautiful! I sighed. And it’s so long!
Then I remembered to breathe.