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Science Fiction Speculative Suspense

No one really knew what happened inside the Bath House--all they knew was that the people who went in were not the same who came out.

Well. Not technically. Sure, they looked the same. They had the same mannerisms. The same essence. But that was about it. It was like looking at a stranger twin of the person you used to know. A stranger because they didn’t recognize you. They didn’t recognize anyone, or anything, from their old life. And all it took was one appointment.

Move on and move into the new you--the Bath House’s very own slogan.

No channels or podcasts had ever managed to interview any clients of the Bath House or gather any relevant information of what was really going on inside the ‘boring building on Blane Road number 10’. All the media had was speculation, wild conspiracy theories. Even after that one time an especially motivated reporter tried breaking in and instead broke his leg falling from the downspout.

That was the first time Lenny heard about the Bath House. That was when he knew he had to get a job working there. He just had to. It took a while. A few months. It took patience. The screening process was rigorous. The paperwork endless. But then. Finally. They called back.

When he announced the big news, his friends looked on blankly. The where what now? His sister rolled her eyes and murmured something like ‘whatever’. His parents were skeptical but congratulatory anyway. Whatever you want, son, you do you.

He still wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly. Maybe their cautious doubt was understandable. Both his parents were spaceship designers for the Galaxy Corp. His sister had gone on to major in molecular physics. And Lenny was…well.

Lenny knew his parents had borne through his multiple career choices over the years—‘career’ being a generous term--no matter how farfetched or strange or hard to explain.

That time he signed up for the six-month Mars expedition. The Infantry training against Alien Invasions—heck, it was 2045, the year they really thought it was going to hit. He learned some basic coding, hacking imaginary enemy fire shields. Mostly he learned that he hated waking up early and sitting at a desk for fifteen-hour shifts.

Anyway. He’d lasted longer at the Bath House than everyone thought he would. What do you even do there? His sister asked him every night at the dinner table.

He’d explain it, every night, again: some people have a shit time, a bad streak of luck, say a traumatic experience. The Bath House helps them to move on. He just facilitates the process.

Yeah but how? His sister always persisted. And what do you do? Like open the door for the doctor?

Somehow she couldn’t imagine him doing anything important. He wanted to tell her that the Bath House didn’t exactly have ‘doctors’—not in the usual sense anyway. But that would be discussing company secrets and see, he’d signed an NDA way back when. Technically, he couldn’t tell her, or anyone, really, anything about his job or what he really did there.

At the Bath House he usually clocked in at the regular time because he was a punctual guy—he always prided himself on that. Commitment issues aside (or so his therapist used to tell him), he could always commit to being on time. Maybe that was why he got so many job offers, why it was never hard to slip in and out of jobs—people liked guys like him—guys that just showed up.

The Bath House was definitely a boring building—and by boring there was nothing remarkable or imaginative about it—square, white concrete, a film of windows on each of the ten stories. A flat roof. It didn’t even have a sign up front or on the door. Just a number. Ten.

It could have been an office building or a bank that went under for all anyone knew. Derelict weeds adorned cracks in the parking lot and groped the side of the building. Lenny always thought it was kind of…depressing. Ironically so, because ‘moving on’ was their whole game show and ‘moving on’ was supposed to be, well…cheerful, wasn’t it? A hopeful prospect, a fresh perspective?

Even the receptionist was nondescript—a woman with glasses and a bland beige cardigan and a fixed smile. There was nothing that stood out on her face and she was neither bad looking nor pretty, she was the kind of woman you’d forget the second after you turned away. Lenny felt a little bad about it—he felt worse he never remembered her name, but he reasoned it must be a plain name, too—she looked like a Sue.

It unsettled him she didn’t remember his name, either. She called him ‘the tech guy’. When he walked into the front door and scanned his badge, she picked up the phone and said, in a voice that couldn’t have held any less enthusiasm, “The tech guy is here.”

Usually, he rotated the rooms on eight floors. The top two were restricted access. The regular elevator didn’t even go up there. He tried not to eavesdrop as the ‘transition counselors’ led the clients from the waiting room to the consulting room to the changing room. He tried not to listen when they discussed personal matters that really wasn’t his business but sometimes he just couldn’t help it. Anyway, it’s not like they ever noticed he was even there, loitering in the hallway.

The stories were real downers. Yesterday there was that woman whose sons had cut contact with her. Last week, there was an elderly man whose wife left him for her nineteen-year-old art student. And the first day he was here, a couple had lost their twin children to a freak car accident.

It made Lenny realize his life was well, rather ordinary. Mars stint and alien shield hacking aside. He’d never experienced gut-wrenching trauma or horrific tragedy like those people and finally he felt like he was doing something that mattered. He was helping them. He just wished he could talk about it. Tell his sister and mom and dad. Show them that he was actually finally doing something that sort of mattered.

Even if all he did was change the filters in the baths and replenish the water supply and plug people in. Okay, fine, maybe he didn’t want to tell his sister that her suspicions were accurate and that he really was just a ‘tech guy’. But still, let her wonder. Let her imagine him being cool and important just for a little while.

The process was simple. The client entered the Bath Room in their issued white body suit, looking skeptical and apprehensive and awkward. Lenny delivered his lines. There’s nothing to worry about. Make yourself comfortable. It won’t take a minute. He guided them to the water filled pod in the middle of the room. Usually there was relaxing spa style music playing—a waterfall or random tropical birds fluttering. The client would then lie inside the water until they were partially submerged. Lenny would dim the lights. Apparently it was better to dim the lights before plugging people in because well, they’d probably tried it the other way around and that didn’t go so well. As much as the client had been briefed for the process, no one liked actually watching the plugs getting buried into their skin.

The clients usually got a sedative before getting into the Bath so they wouldn’t splash around or cause a fuss. Lenny continued to say soothing stuff he’d learned in training like, You’re doing great. Almost there. Just try and relax.

Then came the plugs. They looked like rubber wires and had incisor tips which dug a centimeter into the person’s arms, legs, torso, and feet.

As the sedative kicked in, Lenny worked on the plugs. There were about eighty of them. It usually took a half hour.

Usually, no one complained. They were too drugged out to feel anything. You’re doing so well, Lenny would say. Just try and breathe.

The final stage had to be just right. Once all the plugs were in, Lenny would transfer the client’s tailored identity sequence into the main processor connected to the plugs. Then he waited for the download. Another hour, and the entire process was finished. No more Dark Past. No more unwanted memories. All gone.

The last client of the day took him by surprise. She was young—early twenties, close to Lenny’s age. Tall and slender with crow black hair trailing down to her waist. Strikingly beautiful. But Lenny was a professional—he was the tech guy—he didn’t linger. He was even more surprised when she introduced herself. Kate. Mostly, clients preferred to remain anonymous.

She didn’t ask any questions like people usually did. Will it hurt? How long will this take? Like they were getting a tooth pulled instead of an entirely new persona. Kate wasn’t like them--anxious or impatient.

There was something about her eyes though. Even as she was lying in the water looking up at him. Trusting. And sad. As Lenny plugged her in, he saw the scars on her wrists. They reminded him somehow of tally marks on the wall of a prison cell. He thought it curious that she chose to leave them there.

As Kate drifted off, he wondered what new identity she had created for herself. He wondered where she came from and what had brought her here.

Today, there were no birds, there was no waterfall. What sounded over the speakers was a long and distant electronic hum that sounded as though they were flying through space.

Being a tech guy, Lenny didn’t have access to personal information. He couldn’t actually open the client files and see what new personality they’d created for themselves, what new memories, what enhanced coping mechanisms. Not that he wouldn’t if he could—he just didn’t have the password. All he had was a sequence which he now typed into the processor and downloaded into Kate’s brain. He wondered if she wanted to keep her name. Mostly, clients adapted new names. New addresses. Sometimes, they awoke speaking a different language. There was not one vestige, one shard, of their past selves left behind.

He felt a little regretful they hadn’t talked more. Maybe he and Kate would have had things in common. Maybe they would have been friends. Maybe more. But he’s getting way ahead of himself.

The processor notified Lenny the download was complete. Maybe Kate would open her eyes speaking Russian and introducing herself as a pole vaulting champion named Natasha. People sometimes got carried away.

At least, that was what Lenny wanted people to think. That it was all their idea. Their imagination. Their fantasy.

He was, after all, just the tech guy. A step above the janitor, maybe, but still no one the ‘transition counselors’ looked twice at or even bothered to address unless they needed one of the hard drives looked at. It was the same old story. Back at the Mars habitat—the team leader sure liked his coffee hot and punctual but never thought to ask Lenny for anything that really mattered. He would never know about Lenny’s ideas on heat shields or rebooting the system for faster turnovers. It didn’t matter anymore, anyway.

Here he could make his ideas heard. Even if no one ever found out it was his idea in the first place. It didn’t matter. Each day, clients came in with their own program, their own agenda. But at the end of each day, they left with his. In a way, he liked to think that he was sending his creations, little pieces of himself, out into the world. In a way, he was. And they would never know.

Kate opened her eyes with a gasp.

Yes, she was still Kate. Lenny didn’t want to change that part about her. But that was the only thing he hadn’t changed. He’d had fun with this one--he’d given her something special. Yes. It was his finest design yet.

Lenny stood to greet his new creation.

January 08, 2021 17:49

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2 comments

Joy Andersen
01:25 Jan 14, 2021

This is fantastic! You really keep the intrigue, right from the beginning I wanted to know how it ended. The style and perspective you used was great too - how conversational it is and how he sounds so reasonable and good so the reader connects to him, how he feels like just an average guy, makes it so surprising at the end! Really enjoyed this.

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Theresa Anna
11:06 Jan 20, 2021

Thank you!

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