Transformed Nexus #1
by Stephanie Hansen
In the year 2163 a corrupt World Government controls everything on our planet and beyond.
Sixteen year-old Sierra has been so caught up in her own world of saving animal test subjects and her father’s disappearance, she hasn’t paid much attention. When she finally finds his location, she and her friend set off on a covert interplanetary mission to rescue him, she begins to see the corruption first hand.
Discovering that her father has been on the front lines secretly trying to save human test subjects inspires her to join a revolution. But she is afraid of the collateral damage of hurting the people she loves. Will she find the strength to make a deal with the mad scientist Cromwell to save not just her friends and family but everyone?
BUY THE BOOK
To make a smoke bomb all you need is potassium nitrate, sugar, water and a fuse. Programming holograph messaging to be ‘smoke screen projection only’ is much more difficult. It’s a digital version of invisible ink and completely security cam resistant. I pull up Yesha’s incoming call. The smoke allows her image to take shape and it almost feels like she’s in the room with me.
“I can’t believe you talked me into this, you little gomer.”
Yesha frequently begins conversations in the middle, no introduction or formal interrogation into my life. I think that’s why I like her.
“It didn’t take much to convince you.”
“Did you receive the package?”
I hold up the box addressed to me, Sierra, but I’ve removed the contents.
“Yep, right here, see.”
Yesha’s laugh is like a chorus of toads with hiccups. Her image vibrates on the smoke.
“That’s only the box, you drone bug!”
I hold up the syringes that had been inside the box.
“Be careful with those. Check the labels.”
I roll a syringe in my hands like Kitchen, one of our home bots, does with pretzel dough.
“One says healing serum, which I asked for. Why does the other say anti?”
“Backup. You always need an emergency abort mission option.”
“All right. Thanks!”
Yesha interrupts before I collapse the projection.
“Just be sure not to give the anti if you haven’t given the original serum.”
After she’s gone, I look at my subject.
I shouldn’t be doing this, but I find the koala’s eyes drawing me in like a poli-magno crash about to happen. It’s impossible to turn away.
The Science Olympiad team’s going to put me on probation again, which stinks since they’re the only local, human friends I have.
Following protocol gets us nowhere, however.
Mom’s going to be agitated because this isn’t the first time I’ve broken the rules.
I guide the koala out of the cage, leaving her brothers inside. I have to shake off feelings of jealousy. I don’t have any siblings.
“Why ya look so sad?”
Uplifting experiments have given us animals who speak.
“Why do you look so sad, Eucarpo?”
The koala glances back at her brothers and then her eyes look up at me past her round, stub nose, and adorable ears. The sensation of an infant wrapping tiny fingers around mine envelops me. I can’t let them endure more unethical testing just so we can have the best DNA combination. I was okay with the testing when the purpose was to help those that were sick and it was beneficial to the koala species, but I can’t stomach testing these sweet things just for superficial reasons.
“Hate leaving ‘em behind.”
“They’re going after you if this works.”
“What ya mean, if?”
“Healing adaptation experiments have just begun.”
“But ya aced the test?”
“Well, yeah, but that was just practice. This is the first time I’ve used it on a living being. Don’t worry, it should all go as planned. I’m just being paranoid.”
It would be nice if I could stop blabbering when I’m nervous. Sometimes you just have to go for it and see where the cards fall. That was something my dad used to say. Before he disappeared, he used to tell me lots of things. He’s been gone almost a decade, but I might as well as have “Missing Dad” tattooed on my forehead.
“Ya paranoid? Ne’er!”
As she raises the fur above her eyes, I scratch behind her ear, and she leans into it like a bear scratching its back on a tree trunk. Her fur is soft as manufactured silk charmeuse.
“Ah yeah, right dere.”
“You sure you’re ready for this?”
“It gets us closer to freedom, so I been ready a long time.”
She takes another glance at her brothers, and I pick up the syringe with self-healing serum. I begin the sedation process as no one wants to be awake when artery lining fortifies, muscles pull with new agility, and brain tissue encases itself with a biting, thin metal sheet. Another reason I’m jealous of Eucarpo is that she responds to sedation, and I don’t.
As Eucarpo drifts into a peaceful sleep, I look out the school windows and see only the steel and glass of surrounding buildings. Their reflections mirror the sky. Today the unending blue gives the impression of being in the middle of the sea. On gray days, it’s as if I’ve been swallowed by thunderclouds. I can only imagine how green fields would look. People used to love the smell of fresh-cut grass. That was before an asteroid broke through the atmosphere damaging our ecosystem and killing all plants, causing our world to work together to save Earth and its remaining, limited vegetation. The only vegetation left is kept in guarded areas and labs.
I think I can hear the machines used to keep the atmosphere from collapsing but the sound isn’t right. Instead of a hum, I hear iron clanging. The serum glides through the syringe into Eucarpo and her breathing intensifies as the cells within her body multiply. No, that isn’t the machines. It’s locker doors slamming, followed by footsteps of someone coming down the hall. No one should be here now. They should all be at the assembly that I’m skipping. I must finish before anyone else arrives. I look at the oxygen and pulse readings, cringing with every spike. It feels like an hour passes as I look at the screens, but I know it’s only been seconds. I count breaths and clock ticks, staring at Eucarpo’s oxygen and platelet numbers rising.
“Come on, the science minds keep refreshments in here.”
I think I recognize the voice coming down the hall. Every muscle in my body wants to stiffen, but I can’t freeze now.
Luckily, the serum is fast acting and Eucarpo’s readings are settling. I inject the awakening treatment and then I throw the syringes and all remaining evidence into the incinerator. The burning and sanitizing process will turn these things into energy or something else useful. Eucarpo stirs a little when I hear the door sensor click.
As the voltball captain and visual arts queen walk in, I step in front of Eucarpo.
“Look, we found someone avoiding the assembly,” Milcah says as she nudges Danver in the ribs with her elbow.
“Didn’t want to surround yourself with the rest of the school body, Sierra?” Danver asks.
“Looks like I’m not the only one.”
“Hey, we have authorized passes.” Milcah pulls out the sensor card that allowed her access to this room.
Milcah’s mom is a World Government politician, consequently she gets whatever she desires, not that she needs much help. She’s beautiful in that genetically enhanced kind of way. Nevertheless, it didn’t help her when she wanted to sneak into the locker room off hours. I had to override the code for her. It hasn’t seemed to put me in her good graces as I’d hoped it would. I roll my eyes.
“I just needed to work on a project. Why are you here?”
“Thought you were banned from working solo,” Danver says.
“Like you two don’t cross lines now and then. Like cheating on an exam…I still have proof of that you know.”
“Yeah, but that seems to be all you do. Is it because your dad ran off? My mom says he escaped with a sexy scientist,” Milcah adds.
A bitter taste enters my mouth at the mention of my dad. I pinch the skin on the back of my hand aggressively to keep the haunting premonitions at bay. The media attention the day he vanished causes repeat coverage every anniversary. So, while I’d like to forget, though there’s no way I could. Everyone around me is reminded of it too like a reoccurring nightmare.
“Shut up! You don’t know anything about him.”
“Yeah, I think they’re in Barbados studying sea life. Bet you wish you were with him.” Danver chuckles, enjoying getting under my skin.
“That’s it.” I grab a beaker, readying to throw it. Milcah’s the smaller target, but Danver’s muscles would possibly act as his own shield. Before I can decide whom to throw the beaker at, I hear another voice.
“Who here?” Eucarpo’s awake.
As Eucarpo peeks her head around my body, Milcah reaches for her sidearm. Eucarpo jumps to the cage holding her brothers and releases them. They all run for cover. Eucarpo then hops to the table beside Milcah and Danver. Milcah raises her gun. She pulls the trigger, and a tranquilizer shot hits Eucarpo in the abdomen.
“Why did you shoot her?” I ask, outraged, and take a step toward the pair, glad the beaker’s still in my hands.
“She was flying at me!”
Eucarpo stirs on the ground and pulls out the tranquilizing dart.
“What have you done?” Danver asks.
“She done what’s right,” Eucarpo defends me.
“Sound the alarm,” Milcah yells.
Her eyes blaze in anger like a mad shooting star.
Danver pulls the alarm lever in the wall. I come to my senses and go to the window next to where Eucarpo’s brothers have taken cover.
“Move behind that table.”
I usher the koalas away from the window as I set down the beaker to grab a stool. Once they’re under the table, I hurl the stool as hard as I can. Glass shatters over me when the window breaks. Eucarpo runs to her brothers.
“Follow me,” she says to them as she goes to the window and clears the sill of shards.
I watch her paws break open and bleed. I gently grab one, move the two thumbs aside, and turn it over to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. Before I can grab clotting material, the skin sutures itself.
“Guess the healing adaptation really did work.”
“Knew ya could do it.”
Eucarpo looks me in the eyes, and I’m gratified with my work’s results. She healed fast enough not to experience any pain. The koalas all jump out of the window, finally free.
“What did you do?” Milcah’s right next to me watching the koalas jump from ledge to ledge out in the open. She reaches for her sidearm again, but I grab her hand.
As I see Eucarpo on the street below, I know I’ve been successful in granting the koalas their wishes. I feel triumphant like when the hypothesized flame test color appears. It’s the best emotion and it’s the reason I keep breaking the rules. A wrong set right and a pause from the heartbreak.
Principal Skidmore walks in, staring at my hand on Milcah’s.
“What’s going on here? Why do you have your hand on another student and why’s our expensive window smashed to smithereens?”
“I can explain.”
“You can explain in detention, young lady.”
* * *
After detention, Mom picks me up from imprisonment and the mood in the car’s as thick as drying cement. At a red light, she adjusts the magnets so our poli-magno comes to a halt and drums her fingers on the steering wheel while letting out an exasperated sigh. I open my mouth to speak.
“Just don’t,” she says before a word escapes past my teeth and I’m sitting there with mouth agape.
“But I,” my mouth closes at the sight of her straightforward glare. There must be an academy that teaches mothers this annoying form of communication.
She turns the magnets and we’re moving with traffic again, but my heart feels like it stayed where the car stopped. I guess, since Dad left, I’ve perfected the avoidance of emotions by building a wall that won’t crumble, but it can be a lonely existence that way.
“There’s always a rationalization as to why you behave the way you do, isn’t there.”
“It’s just, the koalas, if you could’ve seen what was happening to them with your own eyes.”
“Sierra, listen to me closely because you always find an excuse. What are you going to do when they finally kick you out? I’ve invested too much money sending you to that school.”
“I never asked to go to private school.”
She grips the steering wheel so tight I’m afraid her handprints will permanently mold into the metal. She doesn’t have to answer me because I’ve heard the response too many times to count. It had been my dad’s dream for me to attend private school and then graduate from a prestigious college. Neither of us speak for the rest of the trip. I fold my arms across my chest and stare out the window, wondering if Eucarpo and her brothers made it outside city limits. I should’ve planned better so I could have escorted them there. I wasn’t even able to give her brothers the healing serum. I know Eucarpo, though, and have no doubt she’ll protect them at any sign of danger.
Building after building goes by and I’m amazed with this month’s artistry. To make up for the lack of vegetation (not confined to labs and other protected areas) the government decided to put abstract art on our buildings. The current piece is of a fire that flows from one building to the next for an entire block. Red turns to blue as we progress. The next block has a peacock with the most colorful feathers. The external wall cells have been adapted to automatically change with the weather and seasons. New artists are chosen each year so that there’s a continual sense of surprise and awe.
Mom parks the car in front of our complex and we get out. I hope she’ll break the string of silent reprimand, but I only hear the solar disks rise around the car for charging. As I follow her inside, fearing the punishment she has in store, the quietness continues. Once we’re inside, she sets down her briefcase and looks at me. Then she looks at the refrigerator.
“Kitchen, make Brussel sprouts, the cure for stubbornness.”
“As you wish, Dr. Perierat.”
“Mom, you know there’s no actual scientific proof of that, right?”
“You can have a meal to your liking when you stop breaking rules.”
Kitchen looks like melted steel that’s cooled except with the fluidity of a slithering snake. As Kitchen’s metal arms assemble dinner, Mom and I move to the living room.
“Mom, why can’t you see that I did the right thing?”
She puts her hand on my shoulder, which I find has tensed. Actually, every muscle in my body is stiff but I hadn’t realized it before.
“Ms. Skidmore told me that you said Milcah and Danver insulted your Dad.”
I look away, wishing I could fall into myself and become a black hole. I don’t want her to see my face because it’s full of hate, an emotion she doesn’t approve.
“You have to stop sticking up for him. I swear it’s as if you think by misbehaving, you’ll bring him back.”
I look at her, knowing she sees hope like stopping an invasive species, pretty much impossible but not completely unattainable.
“He’s not coming back, sweetie. It’s been years.”
“Don’t say that because you can’t know it. You don’t even know where he is or what happened to him.”
She looks down and shakes her head from shoulder to shoulder, a canyon of emotion with everlasting echoes.
“Why don’t you go meditate in your room?”
I open my mouth to speak but close it again. She pats my shoulder, walks to her room and logs into her work account from the holograph. Mom probably had to leave work early as a consequence of my behavior. Usually, I take the public transit gliding pod home and she’s able to work as late as she needs. I guess I deserve meditation even though I don’t get it, but Mom swears by the practice. Her psychological studies have proven it increases mindfulness and builds otherwise dormant cognitive capabilities.
I go to my room and sit on the floor. I bend my legs into the butterfly sitting position, straighten my back and close my eyes. I breathe in, feeling my lungs stretch as far as they can. I breathe out until my chest is compressed, imagining a large, dark circle. Within it forms a violet circle and inside that a blue one. I inhale and exhale again before green, red and yellow circles form. There they freeze and oxygen exchanges without thinking. Finally, the last circle expands like the sun expanding toward the Earth.
I continue as usual but a violent image uploads into my meditation practice. Mom claims that with enough practice I might one day be able to see full pictures, but I never thought I’d master clairvoyance. The image is of Mom running through our house, tears streaming down her face. My eyes pop open as if someone’s choking me, and every cell in my body screams to run from my room but I don’t want to startle Mom. It could have been a random image and doesn’t mean anything at all. I sense it’s real, however, and a sudden urgency swarms through me.
When I get to the living room, Mom’s on the couch crying but not running.
“Mom, I’m sorry, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart.”
“No, your statement was merited, I don’t know where he is.”
“I know, but I shouldn’t have said that.”
Now I’m laying my hand on her shoulder, a reversal of roles.
“Are you all right?”
She looks up at me and the sense of urgency resurfaces.
“I just can’t live like this. We can’t keep hoping that someday he’ll be back.”
Before I can say a thing, she gets up and walks rapidly across the room. She grabs the multidimensional prism photo hanging on the wall, the last picture taken of all three of us. She looks effervescent in the picture and she hasn’t looked nearly as happy since.
“We really should have a more recent photo of you and I up here. Don’t you think?”
She walks to the hallway and removes the first photo. That one is of dad and his Nobel Prize award. I’ve never imagined that photo not being in its rightful place. His smile in that picture reaches out to you as if the dimples on his cheeks are lunar craters that watch over you while you sleep. She piles photo after photo and marches to the incinerator in the kitchen. They won’t fit but she’s on a mission.
“I’m taking these to the complex dump. It’s time for us to move on.”
She’s determined. I haven’t seen this much zip in her step ever. I never thought she’d succumb to getting rid of his memories. My body shakes like a microscope slide tray when the stage clips are loose, and the focus needs to be shifted. I want to run after her and rip the multidimensional prism photos from her arms. Then I remember she forgot one, so I go to her room knowing I’ll find the photo of Dad in her dresser. I open the door, glad she’s turned off the World Government sensor. She doesn’t believe the government needs an inventory of her clothes. Guess I’m not the only one who breaks the rules.
When I open the drawer, I see the multidimensional prism photo I expected. I pick it up and clasp it to my chest, wanting to fall to the ground and somehow mold it to me. I look again at his questioning eyes. When my dad looks at things, he doesn’t see what others do. He’s looking for the reason why something is the way it, well, is. The rest of us see gas, liquid and solid matter. He’ll look for Jahn-Teller metal, a state most of us outside superconductors don’t even think about.
But an angry pain finds its way to my heart. Dad might have run away. He might have meant to leave us. Everything they’ve claimed about him could be true. Mom’s right we need to move on. I crumple the photo in my fist and the tension releases from my shoulders. It’s like he’s been a weight I’ve carried too long. I turn to close the drawer feeling as if I were closing the door to a chapter of my life, but something catches my eye.
Fluttering like a holographic prism shadow, I notice I’ve disturbed an archaic piece of paper by moving the multidimensional prism photo. When I grab and lift it, I see writing I’d recognize anywhere even though no one really writes now. Dad enjoyed taking notes on the holograph screen with his finger and the slant is the same. I can almost visualize the pen in his hand. Holding this note is like walking into a pyramid tomb, lifting the lid of a sarcophagus and witnessing a mummy rise. It’s like I just popped half a dozen endorphin candies in my mouth. Why did Mom keep this from me? For a moment, my happiness is stabbed with pain. How long has she known and what else has she hidden from me? She and I will need to discuss this later but for now I’m thrilled with my discovery.
All my childlike happiness returns as if with this I’m ensured to solve the mystery despite my knowing how futile it might be. I gasp as much in fear as excitement until I realize I can’t read what he wrote. It makes no sense until I stare at it longer. Too bad Dad didn’t put periods between the individual numbers because it makes deciphering his message much more difficult, but I figure it out. Separate the vowels and consonants, then pair them with prime and composite numbers. It’s an old number game we used to play with our naming scheme too.
My dearest Marie,
Cromwell has taken me to Planet Vortex for scientific study that is illegal on Planet Earth. There’s no way for me to return. The government allows him to rule here freely and he has taken drastic measures to meet his goal. I will be fine. He needs me. Please take care of yourself and our sweet daughter. I promise to find our baby son. You must try to remain out of the media and continue the front that I have run off. I know this is hard, but you are being watched. I will always love you with all my heart.
Son? What son? I have a brother! How come no one told me? This is more information than I’ve had about my dad in years. He’s alive! He didn’t run off with a sexy scientist or at least Cromwell doesn’t sound too sexy. I can find him. No, I will find him, and I will ask him about my brother because there’s no way Mom’s going to crack and tell me, not after she’s hidden it from me for this long.