A Few Drops Difference

Submitted into Contest #156 in response to: Write a story where a character is experiencing parallel realities.... view prompt


Science Fiction Suspense

“Damn it!” Orteia muttered to herself in the quiet of her apartment. 

The only sound was the subtle scraping and clinking of the hangers that she quickly moved from one side to the other, trying to find the outfit she was looking for. She had been through her wardrobe twice already trying to find it, and she did not want to make that a third.

As she continued to move them, looking for the outfit, she flinched as she put too much pressure on the cut she had got yesterday. It was bandaged now, but it was a deep cut to get on her hand.

“Ugh fine.” She said, staring into her wardrobe, taking a deep breath, before taking out her purple skirt suit.

It was a nice outfit, she liked it, it was cute. That wasn’t up for debate, it was just a fact, but it wasn’t the one she had wanted to wear today.

After getting dressed she began on her hair. Slicked back against her scalp and into a nebula twist at the back. The way she always wore it when she went into the office.

Something felt wrong as she was doing this. There was something on her forehead, or it at least it looked that way, but when she attempted to brush it off nothing happened. There was nothing on the mirror, and apparently nothing on her forehead. But she could see it right there.

At least she could take solace in her breakfast. She enjoyed her fruit while waiting for her espresso. It was one of the few things she grew up with that she still did. Coffee is very popular on Earth, she had it plenty as a teenager before she took up arms. Here it is pretty much only drunk by the grinds. 

She really didn’t like it when her friends called her a grind, she didn’t like being associated with them. At least some of the high end places she frequented were starting to serve coffee because of them.

Orteia preferred her coffee with milk, oat milk specifically. It was nice that it was cheap all over the place thanks to oats being easy to grow on a lot of planets. Her parents would lose their minds at the price of cow milk here.

Opening her fridge, however, she found nothing. No milk. Very strange, she did just come back from a mission, it was fairly long, and quite stressful. She always got milk when she came back so there was some for the morning. Maybe she just forgot? It didn’t seem like her, but what else could have happened.

Whatever was on her face was still there. She saw it in the back of her spoon and brushed it off to no avail. Her ghostly reflection in the window also showed something which didn’t leave her face. Nor did it leave when she tried after seeing it in the contorted reflection of her metal pans, or the reflective face of her phone, or her watch.

Today was just not her day, everything was going to feel wrong today wasn’t it? She didn’t need this any day, let alone today.

Orteia avoided anything that could show her face back to her as she left the house. At least the sky wasn’t too bright. The maintenance they had been doing on the artificial atmosphere had given weeks of cloud cover that was terribly bright and reflective, almost uncanny.

She walked strong and decisive, knowing where she was headed, she easily made it through the thick crowd that was the morning rush on Xethophus. Most who lived here were in the military, or family of someone in the military seeing as it is the military equivalent of a floating rec station.

Stepping off of the path and onto the gravitation invert that would take her up to the level with the train station. It almost reminded her of elevators but if they were completely in open air. It also wasn’t moving up, it moved you up taking advantage of the gravitational anomalies on Xethophus.

Her train quickly reached Blue, the inner city. It stopped right by her building seeing as everyone who worked in the building lived on world. Orteia thought she had missed her stop when she heard the announcements claim that 8th and 2nd was the next stop. But it came after her stop at 7th and 9th. The strangeness of this morning would not end. They were headed to 7th and 9th, she must have heard wrong, maybe she should have taken the day, or gotten some more sleep. Something had gone wrong, and she had no clue what.

Getting into her office was the most normal part of her day so far. Elevator to 46, walk straight down and into her corner office at the bend. It was simple, it was easy, and it was the first part of her day that felt right. 

At her desk Orteia started up her devices, and began to prepare her desk for all of the paperwork she’d have today.

She kept her desk clear, she put everything into various desk draws every night and pulled out what she needed every morning. It was a routine she enjoyed a lot.

Pens, transfer boxes, planner, memos, messages, and, wait, where was her stapler. It belongs in this draw, it was always in this draw. Orteia looked around her office, mostly out of annoyance over the way the day was progressing, and there was her stapler. Across the room, on her file draws. Why was it over there? Did someone come in here to use it? Why wouldn’t they put it back?

With her desk set up she got to work. Her inbox, paper and digital were overflowing. It was to be expected after such a long, complicated mission, but it was a lot to deal with on an already bad day.

To make things worse she kept messing up these forms. Some of which she had filled out hundreds of times. Last week she’d have said she could fill these out in her sleep, she was putting details in the wrong places, missing questions she thought were somewhere else.

Why was it today that things went to hell?

The morning progressed in a manner befitting the start of her day, everything she had done countless times before was falling apart as soon as she touched it. It was driving Orteia crazy, what was happening? There was no reason for any of this to be happening. None, not a single one, so what the fuck was going on.

Orteia wanted to scream, or tear out her hair, or something, anything that would justify everything being just off enough to make her feel like she was truly losing her mind. 

Leaning back in her chair and taking a deep breath, something she had been doing all morning, she saw the time.

“Shit.” She said as she dragged her hand against her brow.

Frantically she made sure she had all of her things as she left her office. She gave herself a quick check with her compact mirror, and she still had that thing there. She had almost forgotten after all of the issues with her paperwork.

How she almost forgot lunch she would know. She doesn’t forget things, but she also doesn’t make mistakes and yet here today was. Orteia knew she could do lunch, she had been doing lunch far longer than paperwork, but if it could go wrong today was the day.

Lunch with some of the other high ranking women was tradition, the day she got invited to the lunch group was maybe better than when she actually got promoted. Every Thursday at Catchino, Trystana was off world right now, but the other four of them would be there and she was running late, but not so late as to be embarrassing.

Lunch was great. The first part of her day that actually felt right. She wasn’t even the last one there. Their food was all perfect, although she was coming back from a long mission full of awful food. 

“Wait, no I need you to clarify here.” Orteia said after Azela referenced something that had happened while she was away. 

“It’s not that bad.” Hyrian tried to reassure Skylar.

“Oh really?” Orteia questioned? This was shaping up to be quite a scandalous occurrence.

“I just, well,” Skylar stuttered, clearly at least a little embarrassed to speak on what happened.

“Come on explain.” Azela encouraged, very pleased with whatever happened.

“I may have got lieutenant general Karn demoted with full inquiry and suspension.” Skylar said it cringing a little but with a proud smile.

“I’m sorry what?” Orteia was impressed, Karn was the worst, but came from a pretty important family so a lot got ignored. 

“Wait, it gets better.” Hyrian joined in on getting Skylar to share.

“How?” Orteia was finally enjoying her day.

Huh, everyone's phones went off with the chime for the emergency news. It was never really any emergency thing to them, they usually already knew. This was for the accountability of the highest up the chain and for the informing of the general public and lower ranking officers. But none of them had heard of anything, or at least Orteia hadn’t. 

They all watched the feed as the woman began to speak, Orteia was unsure of what was going on and tried not to let it show. None of the others were showing any worry. Was it something she missed while she was off world.

“In the Pleiades regions, one of the titular sisters was killed. That is a rouge operation of highly skilled mercenaries destroyed the seventh sister barely missing the sixth in their attempts. Their goal is still unknown, and they are still at large, we can only hope for swift justice to fall upon those who caused this.” The broadcast cut out as it ended.

Oh no, oh no, this was not happening, this was not real. “What is she on about?” Orteia asked, as she feared the answers.

“What do you mean Orteia?” Azela asked as her brow furrowed.

“That’s not what happened, and we all know these aren’t live, or even particularly recent.” Orteia looked between her friends trying to figure it out. 

Hyrian put a hand on her shoulder, “we all know what happened, you especially.” She asked with worry in her voice.

“Are you feeling okay? It isn’t like you to not be up to date on details.” Skylar even looked confused.

What was going on? How was this day screwing her even more? Orteia was well and truly losing her mind, she had no clue what was going on. Nothing made sense and she was falling deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole of nonsense, confusion, and twisted notion of the world she thought she had known so well yesterday.

Wait. Shit. no fucking way. Was this a god damned cover up? She did exactly as she was told. She always completed her missions to perfection, and this was no exception, and they left her in the fucking dark on this? This day continues to destroy her in every moment, even in something as sacred as her Thursday lunch, and in something as important as her biggest mission of the quarter.

“You’re right, I think I just didn’t get enough sleep.” She gave a breathy laugh as she looked between the others before continuing, “you know how I am, I’ve never been any good at taking a day off.” She shrugged before finishing her coffee.

“I should get going, I have a few more things at the office and then I can head home and get an early rest.” She gave a smile before leaving her share of credits on the table. 

Hopefully she could leave the office soon, as long as nothing more went wrong, but today that was not the best hope. In all likelihood she’d leave late, because this day was barely holding itself at the seams. 

Orteia was convinced it would rip any minute.

Almost the second Orteia sat back  at her desk her phone began to go off. Her office phone only rang if it was interdepartmental, so as she imagined there was indeed an issue. Extension 362, recovered items maybe. 

“Commander general Orteia Muying.” She answered in the stern demeanor she attempted to keep whenever she had to pull rank, or impose status.

“Hi, I’m Andrea, down in artifacts, we could really use you coming down and seeing what we’ve found.” She sounded quite pleasant, but Orteia didn’t need cursed artifacts making her day even worse.

“You should be aware that I just came back from a long mission, I can come down into artifacts day after tomorrow.” Orteia tried to compromise with artifacts, and she very much so should see it if they are requesting it. It was likely either very bad, or perhaps very good.

“I understand commander general, but I really think you should come down here now.” She sounded somehow worried and excited. As if they had found something eldritch to behold.

Orteia relented only because she felt Andrea would not be taking no for an answer. “Where in artifacts?” she asked lazily.

“Lab 2-8-3.” Andrea responded pleased that Orteia would come to see whatever this thing was.

Great, basement two, row eight, lab three. Having artifacts down in the basement was the right decision, there was no arguing on that front, but it's a long elevator ride down, and who knows what has gone on down there. Orteia wanted this day to just end, and this would lengthen her day even more.

By the time she came out of the elevator that far down, Andrea was waiting for her, to take her to the lab.

“So what is the artifact?” Orteia asked.

“Well, the mirrors you brought back.” This girl would not stop smiling, it was almost unsettling.

“It’s incredible, it's like intergalactic signals but on top of us rather than countless light years away, it's…” Andrea lost the words as she spoke

“Can I see the readings?” Orteia was interested by the implications of what they believed they had found.

“Oh yes, yes, of course.” She waved her hands around as she went into the research space of the lab.

Orteia began to look through all that they had gathered, and the current readings being given off. It was exactly as she had said, almost identical to intergalactic signals but not quite, it does indeed appear as if it is a reading from on top of the Andromeda galaxy, rather than thousands of light years away, from another galaxy. It was almost as if, no that couldn’t be.

“They are coming off of all of the mirrors, but this shard. We think it might be simply due to the size.” She pointed out the mirror that was not giving off signals. 

That was the mirror that she cut herself on yesterday, no it couldn’t, could it.

“I’ll be taking the unresponsive mirror, I want a separate team working to figure out why it is not giving a signal.” She said, commanding the respect she had earned.

“Uh, yes, of course commander general,” Andrea looked around her at her team, unsure before continuing. “We could set up a separate team for you, or get it to a different…” she trailed off under the harsh glare Orteia was giving her.

“I’ll take care of it.” She said it without breaking eye contact.

One of them went into the room of mirrors to retrieve the mirror for her. It was wrapped up for her as it was, as she knew very well, rather sharp. 

“Thank you.” She turned and left. 

She rushed back to her office, well rushed was not quite the right word seeing as the elevator ride was so long. This couldn’t be what she was thinking, it, there was no way. It was not possible. But it just might be.

She had a stand in her office that it would fit nicely on, it wasn’t a proper mounting, but it was close enough that it would look like decor to anyone else.

Looking into the mirror, she saw herself and for the first time today without that thing on her forehead.

“I think we need to talk.” She said into the mirror, at her own reflection, and saw its mouth not move with hers.

“I think you’re right,” It responded. “But you are me so that’s to be expected.” She smiled, that smile she gave when she was getting ready to win by any means necessary.

She was right, the blood, her blood was why the mirror wasn’t working. Or maybe why all the others were.

Nothing was wrong today, she was wrong.

July 26, 2022 12:43

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