Chapter 1: ????: Awaken
The first thing that you notice is your own breathing. Not the sound of it, but the feeling; the sensation of air entering and leaving your nostrils. The feeling is strange, alien, the air tickling flesh that you didn’t know that you had. The rest is void and blackness.
Or maybe it isn’t. A strange taste fills your mouth from back to front. It’s sweet and bitter. For a moment it reminds you of candy, but only for a moment. After that it tastes like medicine and carpet cleaner.
Then comes the smell. And what a smell! It’s so much more detailed than anything you’ve ever smelled. At first you’re too overwhelmed to make sense of it, and then it starts to break apart. It’s the smell of metal and sweat and bleach. It fills your nostrils, swirls around in them. You try to roll, to get away from it, but there’s something on your arms and chest and legs and you can’t move.
As you struggle against your bindings, sight and sound add themselves to the cacophony of sensation. The light starts out soft, as if it were filtered through curtains, but it soon turns the inside of your eyelids bright white. It hurts, and you flinch back from it.
The sound you have trouble with. It’s too loud, too focused. There’s someone talking, you can tell that, but you keep getting distracted by scratching and scrabbling sounds. You manage to pick out a single word from the speech, though, one that is repeated over and over again.
“Calliope.” Well, something like Calliope. The pronunciation changes slightly every time.
“Its okes, Calliopse,” the voice says. “You’re safe.” Something about this calms you. You’re not sure whether it’s the words or the tone, but either way you stop struggling.
You open your eyes slowly, letting them adjust. At first you can only make out a blurry silhouette above you, but you blink your eyes until they start to clear, and the blur becomes a teenage girl. Her hair is shoulder length blonde, bending to awkward angles at the ends. Her skin is very white, or it would be, if not for the bright flush in her cheeks. Her eyes are sparkling.
“We did it!” she shouts with glee. “I am the awesomest haxor and everybody must bow to my leet haxor skills. Now arise, my cretation!”
You try to speak, but nothing comes out. The muscles in your face seem all wrong. The girl standing over you notices your attempts and leans in closer, trying to make out what you’re saying.
“Umgth…” you manage, trying to work out how all the bits go together. “I thoth… I don think I can thand up. Thereth thomething on my armth.” Your voice sounds strange in your ears. It’s difficult to pick out what it is, since there are so many things wrong with it. There’s the way it’s too loud, too distinct, but that seems to be the same with everyone’s voice. Even accounting for that, the voice that comes out of your mouth sounds nothing like you. Maybe it’s the fact that your mouth still feels like it’s stuffed with rotting cotton candy, but you don’t think so.
“Omigosh,” the girl says, and she bends over and starts unsnapping your bindings. “I’m so sorry, I din’t even think about that, Calli. I’ll hav you out in a jiff.”
You sit up, rubbing your wrists, and take a look around. You’re sitting on a hard metal bed in the middle of some sort of laboratory. All of the surfaces of the room are metal, actually, which explains why the carapace creatures’ foot-claws are making that grating scraping sound. There are monitors all over, and some of the carapaces are checking them, pressing buttons, and gesturing silently to each other. On one of the keyboards sits a ventriloquist doll. It’s wearing a blue shirt and a grey cap. Its cheeks are bright red circles. It reminds you of Roxy that way.
You turn your head to look to the side, but your neck is tight, as if it hasn’t been used in a while. You reach back to massage it. Your skin feels soft beneath your fingers, with the exception of a warm metal circle in the back of your neck.
“What do you think?” she asked.
You turn back to her, intending to answer her question, but you aren’t really sure how. There’s something else that’s been bothering you, though. “Do I know you?” you ask.
“Yeah. I mean, weve never met in person, but we’re totes bffsies on the grid.” The girl blushes bright red and holds out her hand to you. “I’m Roxy.”
You feel yourself blushing in turn, and you take her hand. You’re still not sure you know who this girl is. Her name isn’t familiar, but then again everything seems strange to you right now. You try to think back and remember how you got here, but there’s nothing. The first thing that you can remember is darkness, and then you woke up.
“I’m… Calliope?” you ask, almost afraid to.
Roxy frowns, and you wonder whether it might not have been better to just assume. It’s too late now, though. “Course you are,” Roxy says. “Who else would you be?”
“I don’t know. I just can’t remember… well… anything,” you finish lamely.
Roxy frowns at you for a moment longer, and then breaks into a grin. “Dont worry about it. Probly just a side effect of the trasnfer.”
It’s sort of hard to follow what Roxy is talking about. You think you’ve mostly gotten the hang of hearing again, but Roxy’s speech is kind of slurred. “Tranthfer?”
Roxy suddenly looks away from you, which is strange, because this whole time she’s been looking straight into your eyes. This isn’t an entirely unwelcome change, since you were starting to get uncomfortable with her staring, but…
“I was going to tell you about htat later, but I guess now is as good a time as any. Your not in your body.”
“You sent that puper, that pruppet to my friend with your capsule in it.” Roxy points to the wooden doll. “We had to give you a new body.”
That explained a lot, actually. “Whoth body am I in?” you ask.
Roxy sniffs and wipes her hands across her nose and eyes. She turns back to you, giving you a smile that only goes up to her cheeks, and blinks slowly a few times. “Ist…” she starts, and then hesitates. She takes a deep breath and scrunches her forehead as if she’s concentrating. “It’s my mom’s.”
Chapter 2: Calliope: Follow Roxy
You look out the windows as you walk. There’s a city out there, one that rises into the sky. You can’t see the ground from here, but even so you can see motion outside. There are bridges from building to building, some made of metal, some that look like they’re made of nothing more than twine. As you’re staring out, you catch sight of your reflection. You stop and look at yourself; reach up and trace the line of your cheek and chin with the tips of your fingers. You look into your eyes. They’re purple grey, and for a moment you’re spellbound by them. You finally look away and take in the rest of your face. You have blonde hair so light that it’s nearly white, cut in a bob and held by a headband that matches your eyes. Like Roxy’s, your skin is so pale that it’s nearly white. In the center of your face is a little stubby nose. You reach up and trace it with your finger.
“She’s beautifle, isn’t she?” Roxy asks. You had almost forgotten that she was with you.
“What happened to her?” you ask. Your words still have a slight lisp to them, but your voice has cleared up quite a bit now, even if the voice that comes out of your mouth isn’t your own and sounds tinny and nasally in your ears.
Roxy’s face twitches. “We don’t know,” she says. “We found her body like that, laying on one of the brigdges. Her capsule was gone. Sometimes I imagine that she scaped, that she’s somewhere in a different body, still fighting againts Lord English.” Roxy unconsciously rubs her upper arm with the opposite hand. “She wasn’t captured by the drones. She’s too good for that.”
“Drones?” you echo.
“You really have forgotten everthing, haven’t you?”
You try really hard to remember, to think of anything connected with the word drones. There’s nothing there, though. It hurts, and you feel like crying, but would be stupid and pointless so you wait for Roxy’s explanation instead.
“The drones work for Queen Crocker, who works for Lord English. They swoop down and tatack. They grab as many as they can, pop out their capsules, and then ‘Pchoo!’ back up to the surface. Sometimes they destroy the bodies, sometimes they don’t. That’s what it’s like down here in the slums.” Roxy’s voice is bitter. She sighs. “C’mon, Dirk is waiting for us. He can explain the rest. I need a drink.”
Roxy leads you a bit further down the hallway and through a side door. You enter a conference room. There’s a large rectangular table at the center with at least a dozen chairs around it, although only one is occupied. The boy is sitting at one of the table’s corners. He has bright blonde hair (and for a moment, you wonder if there’s any other color of hair, but you quickly discard the thought as stupid). The lights are off in that half of the room, so he’s sitting in the shade, but he’s wearing sunglasses anyway. He has on a sweater with what looks like an orange hat printed on it. It seems strange, but maybe this is normal attire. You don’t know.
Immediately upon entering, Roxy walks over to a cabinet and removes a glass and a crystal glass bottle. She pours some of the amber liquid into the glass, then reaches back into the cabinet, produces two cubes of ice, and drops them into her drink.
“Really Roxy? Another one?” the boy asks.
“Yes, Dirk. It helps me work.” Roxy takes a sip from the glass. She grimaces, and for a moment it looks as if she’s going to spit out the liquid onto the table, but then she makes a concerted effort and swallows it.
“Good?” Dirk asks.
“Delicious,” Roxy says, and takes another sip, this time free of theatrics, and sits down at the table. She pulls out a chair for you, and you sit beside her.
“Now that you’re all settled, we can get down to business,” Dirk says. He reaches up to his shades, pops something out of the side, and deposits it into a projector that’s sitting on the table next to him. In the next moment the projector starts up, displaying the words “The Plan” in white over a black background.
“First of all, we need to go over English’s security measures,” Dirk continues, and the slide changes to a complicated diagram full of small red and blue dots. “It’s a serious problem and oh, god, what is it Roxy? Put your hand down.”
Roxy, who had raised her hand, puts it down sheepishly. “She has amsenia.”
“What?” Dirk asks.
“She can’t remember stuff.”
Dirk raises his hand to his face, covering the lenses of his glasses with his palm. “Okay, what can’t she remember?” he asks.
Roxy considers for a moment. “Anything.”
“Okay.” Dirk adjusts his shades. “We can deal with this. We can start from the beginning.” He looks at Calliope. “How much do you know about Lord English?”
“He’s bad?” you say. “And he controls the drones.”
“I guess that’s a start. Yes, Lord English is bad.” As Dirk speaks, the projector changes. It shows a picture of a large green man wearing a coat with rainbow colored lining. He looks familiar for some reason, the green, skull-like face especially.
For a moment you get a flash of his face, a memory from a different angle and some other time, but it doesn’t connect to anything. You don’t know whether you’re remembering seeing him in person or in photograph. You aren’t really sure that it’s a real memory.
The slide shifts again, this time to a view of the world you saw outside of the window, a gritty cityscape built upward to infinity in terrible disrepair. The slums, Roxy had called it. “He also rules everything. Everything from the slums down here to the sky mansions up there and the other planets in our system.” As Dirk lists off locations, the slide fades from a view of the slums to a picture of mansions, and then a zoomed out image of planets around a green sun.
Then the projector changes back to a picture of the slums. It’s a street picture. People are running from large red creatures covered in spikes. Their bodies are insectile, chitinous sectional armor covering their bodies. “For a while now, he’s been raiding the slums, sending down drones to steal capsules. Right now, we have no idea what he’s using them for. Presumably he’s not destroying them, since he goes to so much trouble to collect them, but it’s a mystery to us.”
“What exactly is a capsule?” you ask.
Dirk looks at you. You wish you could read his expression under his sunglasses. It makes you uncomfortable.
“A capsule is a person’s memories. More than that, it’s a person’s soul.” Dirk smiles, as if he’s just made a joke. “Well, their mind at least. It’s the part that makes you… you. For you, it’s what makes you Calliope. You’re still Calliope even though you’re in Rose’s body. That’s because of your capsule.”
Behind Dirk, the slide had changed again. It showed an oval, like an egg but more regular. There were metal bands wrapped around the center in either direction, but the rest was made of clear glass. Through it you can see some sort of liquid. Even on the projection screen it seems to glow and shimmer.
“I have one of those inside me?” you ask.
Dirk nods, and reaches towards the projector.
Suddenly, a voice seems to come from all around you. “What are you doing?” it asks. It’s Dirk’s voice, but Dirk didn’t move his lips.
“What was that?” you ask, looking around for the source of the speech.
Dirk looks at you, his hand still poised. “It’s just Hal. He’s a friend.” Then he turns to the projector. “Relax, I just want to show her.”
He pulls an object out of the projector and brings it toward you. It’s very small, and you can’t really see it until he’s standing right above you. He holds it in the palm of his hand. It’s only about a centimeter long and less than that wide, but it casts a red light against Dirk’s palm. “This is a capsule. You have one of them in a slot in the back of your neck.”
You reach out and poke it with your finger. It’s very light, and hardly takes any effort to roll backward on Dirk’s palm.
“Calliope, this is why you’re so important to our plan,” Dirk says. “We need your help to stop Lord English.”
“Stop Lord English?” you ask. “Me?”
“It’s the security system,” Roxy says. She sets her glass on the table. It’s empty except for the ice cubes.
“You shared a body with Lord English,” Dirk says, “for a long time.”
“I can’t disable the sercurity, not completely. I’m the best, but…” Roxy pauses. “You’re differnt, though. I can make the security system think you’re him. You can sneak into Lord English’s fortress.”
You can feel your eyes widening. “I can’t do something like that,” you say.
“You can,” Roxy says. “We talked about it before. You can get in and stop Lord English.”
You shake your head. “I don’t know how,” you say.
“We’ll teach you,” Dirk says. “We’ll…”
Dirk is interrupted by the sudden blare of a loud siren. The lights in the room suddenly go red.
“No,” Roxy breathes.
“Drones,” Dirk says. He looks at Roxy. “We’re under attack. We have to get back to the command center.”