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Malfunction

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There’s something you have to remember.

Your head hurts. Everything’s spinning. You roll over, which makes your head pound. You’re nauseated and if you throw up lying on your back, you’ll choke.

How do you know that? Are you a doctor? No, not that sort.

Your head’s jumbled. Who are you? Where are you? Why does your head hurt? Why can’t you open your eyes?

Oh. You can open them. They were stuck shut with, oh God, with blood. Now it’s on your hands as well. Your head’s bleeding and it ran down your face. That’s why it hurts.

You lie on your side, vaguely pleased to have worked it out, but something’s nagging at you. Something you have to remember.

Maybe if you look around it’ll help. You clear the blood from your eyes. It sticks your lashes together, but you can see.

A smooth, dusty floor. You rap on it. Metal. Big shapes loom around you. Cupboards? A factory?

You have to sit up, but you know it’ll make your head pound. Push yourself up, carefully. One, two, three. Fuck.

It’s like someone split your head open with a hammer, which, given the blood . . . and there’s something about a hammer, something you have to remember.

You slump there and try not to throw up. You want to shut your eyes, but that makes you dizzy, so you can’t.

After a while you squint around at the room. Not cupboards. Consoles. Is it a lab? A power station? Are you an engineer? That feels right, almost.

There’s a dark trickle on the side of the console you’re facing and you peer at it. Blood. You look up and it hurts. The room spins and you almost throw up.

Clear blue skies.

What? You’re inside. You work inside, maybe? It feels like you do. Why clear blue skies? You’re not a bird. But there’s something. Wings, flying . . . no, it’s gone.

Okay so no head tilting, but you have to get up. Use the console. You push up to your knees, keeping your neck still. Your head’s pounding and there’s a frightening noise in your ears. Oh, your pulse. Your blood pressure’s high, or maybe low. Something bad.

You grab the sides of the console. It’s smooth and your hands are slippery, but it steadies you. You get your feet under you and push yourself up, holding on until the dizzy sickness eases.

Blood on the edge of the console, so that’s why your head hurts. You hit it when you fell.

Why did you fall? Did you pass out? There’s a reason that might happen, to do with sugar, if only you could remember. You check your pockets and find an apricot chocolate energy bar. You put it away. You’re too sick to eat.

Now you’re standing up you can see it’s a big space, the edges fading off into darkness. The light’s weird. Pulsing. From your head injury? Like the blood in your ears? But it’s different, a slow build and fade of blue light. It’s not flashing or strobing, thank God. Even thinking about strobes makes you sick.

It’s coming from behind you, so you turn carefully around, gripping the console and trying not to move your neck. The room’s huge, falling off into shadows in this direction, too. There’s something long and dark over there with a glowing blue globe on it, brightening and fading in long slow pulses. A console? No. Tilted, more angular. A chair? And something in it, but it’s hard to see and squinting hurts.

You don’t want to go over there, but you have to. The light’s wrong. You have to stop it.

It’s hard to walk, but you hold onto consoles part of the way. Some of them have colored lights with symbols. You ought to know what they mean, but they make no sense. It’s like the light’s scrambling your brain, stopping you thinking. You have to . . . do something. With the light.

You shuffle forward, head pounding. Your foot hits something hard and you almost fall, grabbing the lip of a console just in time. You look down and see a tool kit. Yours. So you’re an engineer, like you thought? There’s a lot of stuff in it that doesn’t make sense, though. Crystals and weird tools. But there’s a hammer. You bend carefully and grab it, then shuffle on.

Between the consoles not far from the chair are two bodies. A big man with dreadlocks, lying on his side, and a small woman in a uniform like yours. Are you a soldier? You check them and they’re breathing. They haven’t hit their heads. They won’t wake up.

It’s up to you, then. What? Something, if you could think straight. Oh yes, stop the . . . something.

It’s much harder to think now and the pain in your head’s worse, this close to the light.

Why are you here? It hurts. You should go.

But there’s a reason . . .

You’re holding something heavy. You look down, puzzled. A hammer. From somewhere, a memory. A girl with a hammer and a piggy-bank. You were so angry. It was her savings, so she could go to college in Toronto, and she smashed it to buy a telescope for your birthday. Jeannie.

Smashed it. A hammer.

You’re right by the chair now. There’s a man in it, unconscious. The pulsing blue globe covers his head. It's part of the chair. Is he a spaceman? You think he is. But there’s something. Something you have to do.

Piggy-bank. Hammer.

The light is . . . wrong? Broken.

You should use the consoles but you can’t read the symbols with blue light pulsing in your brain. Cerebral interface malfunction.

What?

The pain spikes and there’s no more time. Jeannie. You’re sorry you yelled. Maybe you’ll tell her, if you ever . . .

Now, do it now. But don’t hurt him . . . John . . . don’t . . .

John.

You raise your hammer and smash the blue globe.