SHELF LIFE: a short story
I've spent some time writing science-fiction shorts lately (for a reason I might divulge later). It's not exactly a new thing for me, writing science-fiction. I've done so occasionally before though I've usually found that I am too much on the mainstream mark to find pleasure in it. For writing to feel accomplished you need to feel that something in it is your own and I feel there is a voice in this piece that is my own. And so, at least for the moment, I'm a bit proud of it.
It's called SHELF LIFE and it's about 4500 words.
Enjoy, (click on the image for the eBook)
The sensation is peculiar. It’s like being tickled all over the body. Tickled lightly with a feather, not intensely but in a way that makes you giggle and squirm a bit. I have no body to control, not yet. There is nothing connected to my brain that should make me feel the sensation of being tickled, not yet.
So I wait. Patiently, I wait. I know what is to come. I know it’ll just take time and time, they promised, is something I have in abundance.
I was also promised it wouldn’t hurt. That the pain I would possibly feel would come when I was connected with the new body. I was told that my brain might interpret the new synopsis signals as pain at first, but then I would be properly connected and they would be able to help me.
But now, for a while, I’m nothing but a brain floating around in liquid unable to do anything but think. I can’t see what’s going on around me and I can’t protect myself from anything. I am completely reliant on the doctors who insisted that I would get to live forever. I live in darkness, there is just darkness and memories.
When the sensation of being tickled resurfaces, a familiar light feeling of nausea tickling my senses, I realise that something is happening to me, something is being done. In a fit of panic I do the mental exercises I was told might help me calm down. There is nothing I can do but keep calm. A calm state of mind isn’t necessary for the procedure but it does help, they stated this clearly and I went through the exercises with them to properly learn how to calm a disconnected mind. My insecurities don’t lie in the idea that they could make a mistake, it is mostly in the fact that this procedure has been done on less than a hundred people. I am not convinced they know what their talking about and though I’m quite keen on the idea of never dying, I am more afraid of the atrocity of living forever in this state of nothingness. I have no way of telling time, no way of feeling, seeing or acting on anything. I just am. Clutter in a jar. A brain, still thinking but completely unable to make herself heard. I am nothing but thought. All I can do is play back memories of before, fantasise and wonder. Thinking is easy when you’re just a brain and sleeping comes over you as if the lights are switched off. It’s a peculiar thing.
Forever seems to have passed when I feel the tickling sensation again. This feeling is more intense than before. It borders on pain but it’s not too bad. I can take this. All in the name of forever, in the name of science. I was lucky to be chosen. I was one of the lucky to have a mind that showed no signs of damage. They wanted brains of the elderly for the project and I had managed to circle the sun 92 times. I was an old woman with a clear head and a broken body when they approached me and asked if I would like to live forever.
Now who would say no to that?
I told them I’d settle with just another day in the sun. But the prospect of living it all again, the idea of being able to go back and be as good as young again? To make different decision and to use the wisdom I have acquired to do things differently was too strong. I signed all their papers. I crossed all my t’s and dotted all my i’s properly and then I fantasised about what it would be like not to feel the rheumatism in my joints any more. What it would be like to run again. When you’re 92 and have had problems with the body for as long as I have it’s hard to remember these things. It’s hard to remember what it was like to get out of bed in the morning without having to actually check if all the limbs are working first. That was something I looked forward to and I was aware that it might go wrong along the way, but what did I have to loose? My body would fail me in a matter of weeks anyway.
As far as they are concerned I’m an experiment. If it’s a successful one I will get my life back. I will get to live, not just for another 92 years, but maybe forever, if the world allows it. The new body will be completely biomechanical, made by man and they claim that with the right treatment my brain will not deteriorate either. I will not develop dementia or any age related disease that strikes the mind. The new body will see to that they insist, and if it’s all true it’s wonderful and if it isn’t? Well, then at least I took the chance given to me.
Then suddenly there is pain. A lot of pain.
I still can’t see anything, can’t feel limbs or the sensation a body gives, but I feel pain as if I’ve been put on fire and am burning constantly, continuously burning up. And there’s nothing I can do but endure, wait and hope. I can’t squirm it off. I can’t walk around, can’t turn on the other side, can’t do anything that will make the pain a little easier to bear. Not a thing.
Through the pain I start to feel a sensation. It comes to me muddled through the agony. I try to burry my way through it and get a hold of this tingling sensation. It’s a familiar tickle as if someone is poking the tip of my fingers, a stroke over my forehead with a wet cloth. The pain is too severe, but then there is more. I try to go deeper, try penetrating the discomfort, attempt to dig myself out on to the other side of this darkness, this never-ending tunnel. I prod and I push and in the end I feel a little something. It’s not a light at the end of the tunnel, not yet, but it is a sensation I can’t have produced out of memory. It’s not a phantom I pulled from my old mind, but something real.
Then suddenly the pain vanishes. It’s as if someone pushed a button. Or maybe someone pushed a needle, painkillers, inside my new body? I don’t know but am relieved that the pain is gone. And when the pain has vanished I can feel. I can feel new things. I can feel old things. I feel an ache over my chest, like anxiety growing, infesting my chest. I take a deep breath and I can feel a chest rising, not exactly my chest, but a chest. It’s easier to breath than it was before. I take another deep breath just for good measure and after that I’m breathing freely. Instinctively as if I’ve been doing it my whole life. And I guess I have.
“It’s working,” I hear a voice saying. It’s not a familiar voice, but I wasn’t expecting anyone familiar by my side. My husband died fourteen years ago. My son Johnny died when he was only forty-three. Ate himself to death, poor bastard. My daughter Amy hasn’t spoken to me since before all my teeth fell out. She probably thinks I’m dead already, and I know she’s doing good so I’ve left her to it. I always sent her birthday cards, but stopped a few years back. She doesn’t want attention from her mama and at my age disappointment is soft and familiar.
Of course I have no idea how long it’s been.
What year is this? I try to say, but my mouth won’t move.
“Don’t try to talk, it’ll take a long time before your mind can properly adjust to the body. It’s amazing, the progress you’ve made so far, so just relax and try to indicate to us if you’re in any pain. You’re on painkillers now, so if they start to wear off and you start feeling it again, do what you did before.”
Of course I have no idea what I did before. I have no idea what it was that I did, but I’m sure I’ll be able to muster up the energy to do it again, whatever it was. All I’m worried about is that my mind is too old to do this trick they’re expecting it to do. They told me there was a risk that I’d never attach to the new body, that whatever magic the brain was capable of would not be enough. To them it’s an experiment, for me it’s life and I want it! I really want it and my price? It’s out there waiting for me to grab.
Slumber comes over me. All I do is sleep. And sleep seems to come with dreams that are otherworldly and foreign, almost as if they aren’t mine at all. But there is just me. This body has never lived before. Its only chance is to get a brain, like mine, attached to it. It’s a man-made work of wonder, a miracle perfected through enormous research and relentless testing and I’m one of those testers. Thanks to endless research in biochemical robotics this is now not just a theory, but reality. My reality.
I don’t feel like a 92 year old anymore. I don’t feel age at all. That all went away with the aching joints and the heavy chest. Who knew taking a breath at the age of 92 would be such a task? Well that’s lifted and with it the concept of age seems to have gone out the window. It’s vanished from my mind. I’m nothing but the sum of my existence and now I have a second chance. A chance at rebirth.
They say that what drives a person are their hopes and dreams. That when one dream comes true you’ve already set your mind on something new. If that feeling of desperate longing goes away then we’re ready to settle down and die, we need to be striving for something all the time. If that hope dies, you find the thing you want and settle for it without moving on? That will break your spirit.
So I have something to work for. I have a thing I want and I’ll be damned if I’ll ever give that up.
The sensation starts in the legs. They’re not exactly my legs yet. I can’t wiggle the toes but I feel something when the doctor pinches the toes. And then I get a sensation in my fingers, the tip of my right middle finger is first. I try to move it but I have no idea if it is actually responding. I keep trying. I practice and then try to wiggle it when I think there is someone in the room, though I can’t know for sure if my hearing is correct. Can’t be sure my ears are functioning correctly just because I heard the doctor loud and clear before.
After a lot of practice I hear the words I’ve been waiting for.
“We have movement,” someone shouts. “WE HAVE MOVEMENT.” And I hear a door slamming and people running. My finger is moving. I’ve made a connection with this body, my brain is doing what they hoped it would. It’s making connections, pushing the limits to what we ever thought the mind was capable off. I remember the speeches the doctor made. I remember all the talk of what could go wrong, but I also remember the spark in his eyes when he talked about the things that could possibly happen, that had happened before in a few of the trials made before mine.
I am a sensation. I am the oldest mind to have adopted the new body. I am the oldest soul to exist beyond the means of my own birth body. I will soon enough be the oldest person alive, though I’m sure you wouldn’t know it by looking at me.
“There are no signs of your mind rejecting the body,” the doctor says to sooth me. I haven’t opened my eyes yet. I haven’t been able to. I’ve tried, but they haven’t worked for me so far. The doctor did warn me that the eyes were the hardest part. Not just opening them, but actually seeing correctly. The brain needs to interpret the signals and it isn’t as plain as day that it will do so in a correct manner. It’s a complicated process, the team stressed, but I’m not worried. There have been very little hinges so far. Everything seems to be going perfectly, it’s all fine and dandy except for the fact that I constantly feel the urge to pee, though I know that can’t be correct. It’s probably just my brain interpreting some signal the wrong way. After all I spent better part of the last decade feeling as if I had to pee. That’s old age for you.
I haven’t tried to use my mouth again either. It’s not because I don’t think I can yet, I think I can but I want to see first. I don’t want to start blurting out nonsense. I want to know what the situation is exactly before I start babbling and so far I have only received broken piece of information. They are still treating me like an experiment and less like a human being, a patient.
The light is overwhelming when I first manage to open my eyes, but I can’t shut them again so my senses are flooded with flashes, tickling light, colours that scream and change. I can’t make out what I’m seeing. It’s all just a bundle of shapes and colours that I don’t recognise. I’m relieved when I manage to close my eyes again. Relieved and afraid, but my fear doesn’t seem to resonate with my body, not the way fear did before. I don’t feel my heart pumping faster, it goes on in the same pace as before no matter how loudly my mind screams that it’s do-or-die-time. But due to this lack of interest - on behalf of my body - to raise the stakes and start panicking, my mind settles down relatively quickly.
And then I attempt to open my eyes for the second time. This time it’s a little easier. I’m able to keep them open without getting the feeling that I’m being bombarded by some hazardous lasers and after just a little while I start seeing shapes. I start making sense of things. There’s a window and outside there are skyscrapers in the distance. There is a tray floating beside the bed, a glass of water on it, a white button, a LED screen built into thing and a single orange is sitting on the tray. The color of it seems to sparkle, everything is so white and crisp in this room except for the orange that looks fresh but so insanely orange that I have to close my eyes again.
“Morning,” I hear someone come in and instinctively I open my eyes. Stare at this person that’s the first human being I’ve seen in god knows how long. I try to speak, but no words come out. It’s a man, he’s wearing a green coat, a stethoscope and flip-flops. The sight is so strange that I start to laugh. It’s an automatic reaction and my body seems to comply with it perfectly, sync the bursts of sound with the facial expression of giddiness.
The man stares at me. Then he turns in the door and screams, though I can’t quite make out what it is he says. In an instant a whirlwind of people in coats of different colours come rushing in. I recognise only one of them.
He looks a lot older than I remember him. I immediately stop laughing. Suddenly none of this seems even remotely funny. He’s aged, not just by a couple of years but by decades, many decades.
“Baker,” he says and leans over me. “I see you’re awake. Eyes open, can you see me?”
I nod my head, even if I am feeling confused.
“Splendid. Can you speak?”
I make a croaking sound that seems to signal a not at the moment. He smiles and pats my shoulder. I can feel his touch on me, comforting, reassuring. I look at my shoulder.
“Good,” he said, “You felt that.”
I nod my head and wiggle my toes. It’s easy now.
“Well, you might be our best subject yet. Excellent work. We’ll have you out running in no time.”
I want to see my body. I want to see my face but I can’t ask him to give me a mirror.
There’s a tingling sensation in my whole body now, one I can’t recall from before. The medical staff are all probing me, pushing instruments at me, making sure that everything is as it should be, but it’s overwhelming and I get agitated. I shake my head and cover it with my arms.
“Let’s back away people. Let’s remember that we are dealing with a real human being here, all this can be very confusing.”
I look straight at him, quickly and sharply and he understands the request in my eyes.
“You’ve been under for 6 months. We had issues with the old bodies and so we have a new model now and you’re in luck. Your mind seems to really take to it and we are having none of the issues we were having with the older models.”
Six months. But I know that can’t be right. I see it in my surroundings that it can’t be right. The furniture looks strange. People’s hair looks strange, blue and orange. Something is wrong. Something is not as it should be.
“What year is this?” I can hear my croaking voice, crystal clear in my head, distorted surely, voices are always different in our heads than in reality.
“We have language, this is incredible,” the doctor says. “It’s the year…,” and I can’t comprehend what he’s saying. I can’t comprehend it because if he’s right then I’ve been gone for fifty-five years.
That means that if my daughter is still alive she’ll be more than 120 years old, which is not out of the question perhaps but not very likely with the way she led her life. I find a tear trickling down my cheek before I notice that I’m sad. The sensation goes like a cramp throughout the body, but it sits in the head and not in the chest until suddenly it’s as if the body properly catches up and I can feel a flood of heavy motion in the chest as well. I move my hand to it, as if I’m trying to hold it in, make sure it doesn’t escape.
“I’m sorry. It’s all a bit much to take in.”
They warned me that if they didn’t find a quick way to fix the issues they were having with the bodies that they had no idea how long it would take for them to overcome that.
“Mirror?” I whisper.
And the doctor ushers everyone out of the room and asks one of the nurses to bring him a mirror. She nods her head and we’re alone in the room, just me and that doctor I do recognise, though he is so much older than he was back then. He was a young man when I last saw him. Now the tables have turned.
He sighs. “I’m sorry to do this to you. I know this wasn’t what you asked for but we had a crisis and to be honest I didn’t think you’d make it through. Everyone we’ve tried older than seventy-five has failed to attach to the body. You are incredible.”
He sighs again and looks at the door. There’s no sign of the nurse yet so he continues.
“I am sorry, but I was desperate and I honestly didn’t think you had a chance. I guess this is better than not having a chance at all? Or waiting another fifty-years because a 92 year old isn’t the best specimen to experiment with and now I can’t tell anyone how amazing this is. You’ve done so well.”
I don’t feel like I’ve done much of anything but wait for him to continue, he seems frantic and I don’t understand what he’s getting at.
A nurse opens the door and hands the doctor a small mirror. He thanks her and waits for her to exit. He closes the door behind her before he carefully hands me the mirror. Before he lets me take it though he holds it steady while I’m trying to grab it and he asks, “How are you feeling?”
I look at him. He is bald, has tufts of grey hair by the ears and looks like he’s at least seventy years old. He was such a hot-shot doctor when they disassociated my brain from my body. My disoriented mind tries to grasp what he’s saying. I try to answer him, but all I manage it a shrug of the shoulders.
“Your control of the body is remarkable,” he says. “It’s just remarkable. The body you have is a special edition. If the other bodies are hard to kill, then this one is impossible. Or we hope it is. And I’m sorry, but it wasn’t really meant for you, but for someone else. Someone I’d rather not give eternal life to and so I made a hasty decision and pulled you off the shelf.”
He lets go off the mirror and I take it. I hold my hand over it, covering it like a frightened old lady would with the arm over the mirror, holding the edge. Then I brace myself and take a deep breath. It’s remarkably easy. I take the mirror in each hand, holding it up so I can see my face.
Dark hair, piercing bright blue eyes, a well shaped nose, a fine square jaw, masculine lines. They’ve put my brain in a male model. Suddenly I feel the organ between my legs with all its might. That’s the sensation I’ve been misinterpreting as having to pee. My hands are shaking. I look at the doctor and back into the mirror.
“How does it feel?”
“Strange,” I tell him. “I’d ask for my money back if I wasn’t so happy to be out of the stasis. That is really no fun at all.” The doctor laughs at that. It is a hearty laughter and suddenly I remember his laughter, though there seems to be an element missing from it now. He used to be a know-it-all back then. A hot-shot that seemed to think he could do nothing wrong. It was self-confidence that was both frightening and reassuring. Now he seems to have wisdom buried deep in his eyes, but wisdom and complete self-assurance do not go hand in hand.
“I was supposed to be a beautiful young woman, what happened?” I ask him and put the mirror down. “There were issues with the bodies during your time. We changed the criteria and so you’ve been sitting on a shelf, waiting for a long time. What’s happened now is a bit unorthodox and I really hope you can follow my lead and not give me away though I will understand if you do choose to do so,” he sighs and smiles. It’s a disconcerting combination.
“You’re the president of the State,” he waves his hands in the air in a dramatic fashion. “I switched your brain with his. Couldn’t fathom giving eternal life to someone like him. He got shot and needed a quick fix. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving him eternal life so I switched when no-one was looking. I’m sure he wouldn’t have made it, but I could not take the risk. It is worth losing my job, hell even dying, knowing that he will never rule anything ever again.”
“Mrs. Diana Parker, you are now the President of the State, legally elected to serve for three more years. I hope you turn out to be a better ruler than he was.”
The doctor lifts the mirror for me.
“Does the body look like his?” this fear seems vain but it’s tearing me apart.
“No, he insisted on a new, more handsome one.”
I don’t know why that is such a relief, but it is. I guess the idea of looking like someone else for eternity, perhaps, was just too much to bear. After the doctor has left my side I think of the implications. Try to grasp what the man just told me. It’s a big step, going from being a shelf ornament to being a president. My heart is beating faster now. I can feel the fear rising in my body.
I get up. My mind feels weak, but the body seems to be able to hold itself upright. It’s as if something within is helping out. I walk to the bathroom and try to piss. Pissing standing up is new for me and I can’t say it’s something I’ve ever wanted, but it’s an experience. But of course there is nothing to pee out. I look into the bathroom mirror and touch my chin. There’ll be stubble growing on that chin in a while. I’ll have to start shaving.
I feel the organ between my legs. Touch it lightly as if I’m shy of my own body. But who wouldn’t be? It’s the strangest sensation in the world. I guess vanity was this man’s forte. I walk to a closet in the room and find nothing but a white gown hanging there. I take it and put it on. It’s remarkably easy to manoeuvre now. It seems to obey me completely, without aching joints.
I open the door to walk out. I had been planning to just walk out of the hospital, disappear in the mud of people and live my life, but there are three bodyguards standing outside, looking at me as if I’m a ghost. Two men and a woman. “Good day sir, you’re looking fine sir,” one of the men says.
Returning to my room I realise I’ll have to find a way through this, but at least I’m not stuck on a shelf anymore, not just a forgotten specimen, an ornament to be thrown away in the next big spring cleaning.
This isn’t the existence I bargained for, not the new existence I had hoped it would be but I do exist and now I suddenly have new dreams, big goals to fulfil and a new, interesting body to help me gain what I need.
I am renewed. A sex exchanger le extraordinaire, albeit an unwilling one and the task of coming to terms with the fact that I am now irrevocably stuck in a male body might be a much bigger thing to deal with than having to learn how to rule a country over night.
I am new and I have big dreams and high hopes. And to be honest I feel thankful that I have these new things to strive for.