By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire, and those that were not, consumed the ground they fell on. Charred bodies in the distance, sunk into the crispy heaps, the cloudy sky engulfed in red and an eeriness in the air, so thick, so unsettling, you could almost feel it pressed up against your cheek. There was no other explanation, no other possible cause. It was here, it was finally here, and it was looking for me…
I threw my bright red scarf around my neck and tightened the straps on my backpack. I ran down the library stairs on the further side of the building, landing on the brittle carpet blown onto the pavement. Walking vigorously through sudden mayhem and weightless leaves, some of them flung into mid air, landing onto my favourite fuzzy brown jersey. But clingy leaves were the least of my problems - I needed to disappear, I needed to hide, it was looking for me, and it was getting close.
I looked just like them - the humans. They could never tell the difference. My species bared, not all, but most of the necessary similarities. You'd think the bright yellow-green eyes would have given it away, but someone mentioned something about a rare eye condition and I just went along with it. That's why I chose to seek refuge here on earth. Their language was effortless, I was fluent in over 200 languages from across the universe. Our advanced technology allowed us to familiarise ourselves with their way of life long before I got here. Acquiring the taste buds needed to digest their abominable food however, was a different story. Bread, eggs, porridge? Where were the fermented Bambit tails or the spiced Guro whiskers? Strange place indeed. I had spent years living amongst earthlings, sure that my past would never find me.
"Dr. Zahru, what seems to be the matter? You look troubled, startled even. And after a victory of such magnitude, I can't begin to imagine what might have you so- "
"It doesn't work!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"The machine. It doesn't work. Something - something went wrong. It doesn't extract thoughts and memories, well, it does, but...it appears to extract souls too. Our subject - he's dead."
"Oh, I see. Well that's very unfortunate. We'll be sure to send him off like the hero he truly was. So, how are the arrangements for next week's first ever public exhibition? You're quite the celebrity these days you know, your fans are expecting a grand show."
"Did….did you hear what I just said? He's dead! Our machine killed him! And you're talking about the exhibition? Clearly we've missed something. It's not ready to be introduced to the public yet. We can't carry on with this - I won't allow it!"
"Dr. Zahru! Get it together! Do you have any idea how hard I've worked to find funding for this project? "The project of the century" is what they're calling it. And you just want to - to call it off? After months of scrutinising labour and sleepless nights? I lost my husband because of this project! My children hate me! They won't speak to me! I will not watch this slip through my fingers. If we can't sell it as a medical device that helps patients with memory loss, then we sell it as a weapon! But all this work will not be in vain!"
"You've gone mad!" I stormed out of the room, realising there was no talking her out of this, this - madness! I grabbed the chip, it's all I could manage in the mad rush I was in. I made my way to the portal, one of our earlier creations, and set it to self destruct the minute I landed on a new planet. Without the chip, the machine could not function - or so I thought.
The now howling wind threw the aching echoes of desperate cries through the worn bedroom window. Cries that only a monster could induce. I guess 8 years was more than enough time to threaten the team I worked with to redesign and manipulate the machine to her own despicable desires - and more than enough time to travel across galaxies in search of me.
The machine was designed to read and identify specific thoughts, memories, even dreams and energy, relevant to the individual or the situation, based on the data it was fed. A machine that was created with the intention of aiding and changing the lives of those who needed it. To restore memories after brain damage and memory decaying diseases, or transfer memories to a loved one who had been in a coma for several months to get them up to speed on recent events. It was going to change the galaxies and worlds as we knew it. We were going to share it across the universe, we were going to make history.
We made history alright.
It was safe to say that the project was a failure without the chip, the funding went to waste, the exhibition was a false promise and my narrow escape meant that all the blame, the bruised reputation, fell on the shoulders of my superior, Dr. Shukan. Who, obviously, didn't take it well. She must've used her thoughts and memories of me to track down my whereabouts, and judging by the hostile visitor, to end me and whatever planet I was on.
The screeching metal against the tar road was a growing pain inside my chest. All those people were dying at my expense, the sky was bleeding at the grasp of my creation. I frantically dived my arms into the clothes I had gathered over the years. Some bought, some borrowed and never returned. Trying to remember where I had put it, that thing, that burden. I blocked it out that night, the night I landed here, I killed the thought, the very memory of it - the irony leaves my mouth dry.
I couldn't find it. The wooden floor knocking underneath my warm shoes as I paced heavily around the room, trying to remember something, anything. The smell of burnt leaves got heavier in the chilly air, seeping through a crack in my window I could never reach even with my highest chair. I gathered the strength to peep out the window, but all I met were damp leaves stuck to the outside of the murky glass.
I leaned against the cold wall beside the window, slowly sliding down to the floor. Discouraged at how unprepared I was, how I actually thought I could escape my decision and live a normal life on a different planet, how a doctor willing to sacrifice several lives was going to spare mine, how….
"Spare my life?" I softly muttered to myself. "She's not after the chip. She's after me. And it's not looking for the me of today - it's looking for the me from 8 years ago." My hair, clothes, accent, profession, character. Everything about me had changed. The machine worked purely on the information given, it couldn't update or create its own. And as brilliant as Dr. Shukan was, even she, couldn't redesign it that far. "Dr. Shukan's memories couldn't possibly….my ship! That's how it found me. It's the only thing still relevant to Dr. Shukan's memories."
I bolted off the floor, grabbed my jacket and keys, and scurried out of the room in a race to reach the ship before my creation did, and before more people paid with their lives. I burst out the front door of the complex. The leaves were still on fire. I dipped my head below the thick umbrella of smoke and peered through the streaks of light to find my way through the chaos. The streets were dark and empty, but the screams were everywhere.
I stumbled and coughed my way to the abandoned construction site, behind the thick barbed wire fence a few blocks away from where I stayed. That's where I hid my ship. There was a corner of the fence I had loosened on the night I landed to get in and out without being detected.
I made it to the corner and threw myself onto the ground. I could barely breath at this point. I was inhaling more smoke than oxygen. I gathered all my strength to undo the small wires I used to keep the edges of the fence together. But to my luck, just as I loosened the last wire…
"Mom! I was getting to the really good part."
"Good part of what?"
"My new book."
"How do you know it's good if you haven't gotten there yet?" She giggled.
"Oh mom." I smiled.
"Well, no matter how good it is, it can't possibly be better than my famous pumpkin pie."
I gasped. "With cinnamon?"
"Lot's of it! Why don't you wash up and come have a big slice with me by the fire place and tell me all about your new book. We might even finish the whole thing before your father gets home." We both laughed, knowing how dad loves pumpkin pie too.
"Okay, mom. Will be right there."
I placed my book on the coffee table beside the couch. But, before I got up, I took a quick peep out the window, where a peaceful shade of grey coloured the sky. The leaves were on fire! Crimson, pale green, yellow ochre and golden brown fire - and it was beautiful. I smiled, rolled out of my blanket, and walked into the warm smell of cinnamon.
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