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Science Fiction

Claris beamed azure rays onto the panel at the far side of the room. The light ricocheted off its canted surface and for a split second something shined back. 

“What is this?” Jack removed the loot pack from his shoulders and let it slam the floor. 

Claris rotated, scanning everything in the room with a pulsing light. “I—Don’t know. An abandoned control center, maybe.”

Jack wiped the sweat from his brow. “Am I seeing things?” He took a cautious step forward and pointed. “Do you think it’s just—”

“Phosphorescence? No,” She said. “I detect no organics in this room.” As Claris hovered closer, she abandoned that pretty blue in her light. Instead, beaming pure white light, revealing light. 

She’s nervous. Jack thought. She was exposing every detail, scattering every shadow. The surface of the instrument was checkered in old buttons, the labels were illegible– even to Claris– worn away by the centuries.  

“Turn it off.” Jack said. 

Claris spun on him.

“Hey!” He yelled, throwing his hands in front of his face.

“Sorry.” She dimmed.

“Turn it off. No lights. Let my eyes adjust. I wanna see how bright it is.”

The backlit panels of her Grottan metal frame cycled across the full spectrum before she went dark—like the RGB accents he’d seen in the cockpits of other diver’s Mechs, and he’d been so jealous of. 

He laughed at himself. The Jack from two leagues up—He had his priorities all wrong. He didn’t know a relic to save his life. He thought. Couldn’t appraise for shit.

He blinked away the afterimage of her brilliance. For a moment he was blind, but when his eyes adjusted, the veil of darkness lifted gently. Then the panel was alive, pulsing crimson from a microscopic diode above a switch. 

“Yep,” Jack said, “it’s powered!”

“I don’t see how.” Claris said. 

“I don’t know. You tell me. Can you connect with it?”

Claris drifted through the air towards the light, humming on that strange forgotten technology of hers. Blue scattered across the panel, dotting the buttons and switches in flashes of scanner light. 

“I believe I can.” 

Then something screeched and they both turned towards the door.

“A whipper!” Jack snatched the pistol from his holster and spun towards the entrance. “It was a scout. More are sure to follow. I’ll watch the door. You find out what that thing is.”

A tiny rod protruded from the far side of the control console—a connection port. She recognized it immediately. Her father had access to every facility in the gearworks. He’d often bring her with him, behind the scenes, and the workers were more than happy to show a curious little girl around. They’d let her see all the different machines and explain to her how they functioned to maintain a city so deep beneath the crust of the planet. She understood none of it, but was fascinated none-the-less. 

She connected to it immediately.  

Jack tapped a small shard of metal in his ear. “Mike.” Then he hissed. “Mike, are you there?” 

“Affirmative.” The mech responded. 

“I’ve got a connection,” He said over his shoulder, “but it’s bad-- lots of static. We’re too deep.”

Claris didn’t respond, but the room lit up again. He looked back to see her, and she was sparkling. Oscillating fluorescent hues shined out of her in every direction blanketing the walls in rippling waves. 

“You okay?” He asked.

She didn’t reply.

“Girl. You good?”

He went to her, placed his hands beneath her, struggled for a moment to get a firm grip on her spherical frame, then he yanked upwards, disconnecting her from the port.

“You okay?”

“It was the tuner!” She shouted.

She tore out of Jack’s hands and glided around the room glowing purple again, the same shade he’d seen on her the day he found her.  

“Too many people tried to harmonize at once.” She said in a rush, “The crowds were frantic—piling in. They demanded to be sent, they wouldn’t wait. Couldn’t wait.”

Jack didn’t know what she was talking about. 

“So they forced their way in, jeopardizing the whole project. That’s why I didn’t harmonize! The presence of so many people interfered with the frequency.”

She turned to him.

“Jack! The Tuner overloaded the power grid. It was forced to shut down.” She dimmed and turned towards the red light. “It reverted to back up power.”

When she said nothing more, Jack spoke.

“What does that mean Claris? I don’t know what any of that means.”

“It means the system needs to reboot. Like the breakers on Mike. Someone needed to be here to reset the switch, but it was chaos, everyone was desperate to harmonize with the bodies waiting for them in New Cana. It means the Tuner wasn’t destroyed, as I thought, only tripped. It means the backup generators are still actively maintaining crucial systems. It means…”

She turned lavender again, pacing in that way she does, humming around the room. 

It means, what? What does it mean?”

“It means—well, I think it could mean, that the life support systems are still functional.”

Jack squinted. “You mean…”

Claris Rocked her lights up and down, nodding like he taught her.

“You—your body—”

“Yes.” And by the odd pattern and shade in her lights, Jack recognized that she was crying, as only a Grotton transference orb could. “My body may still be alive. Held in stasis by the pod.”

The pod? “You mean the crate I found you attached to?”

She nodded again.

“So you’re telling me that the box I found you attached to had a person inside it?”

“I’m telling you, I’m inside of it.”

Jack collapsed to the floor. “Oh my God.”

“I checked, and from what I can tell, the stasis rooms have remained virtually undisturbed for several thousand years.” 

“Oh my God.” He said again. He returned the gun to his holster— too overwhelmed to trust himself with it. “Claris, the room I found you in had dozens of pods. And I’m certain there are more rooms like that one, maybe dozens more.”

“4,000.” Claris said, then she looked at Jack, illuminating him. “Jack, we need to reset the power. It will continue the transference process and finally unite all those people with their families on New Cana.”

“That’s assuming they still have cloned bodies in New Cana, that, after all this time, their bodies are still there and still prepared to accept the transference.”

“They do. And they are.” Claris said. “I know my people, if nothing else, we are a people of hope. New Cana will–no, have–maintained the bodies for thousands of years and will for a thousand more if they have to.”

“And if they didn’t, and we launch those peoples’ consciousness, or whatever, across space to find no bodies there to accept them?”

“It doesn’t work like that. It’s a harmonization of frequencies, it’s instantaneous. If the Tuner cannot find a perfect synchronization, it will reject the transfer.”

“And.”

“And then we wake them up. Tell them it didn’t work.” 

Jack rubbed his face. “Holy shit." This job just took on a whole lot more responsibility than he anticipated. "What do we have to do?”

Claris pointed a laser at the switch beneath the red light. “Flip that switch.”

Jack stared at it. “Just flip it. That’s it? And the Tuner will restart automatically?”

“Yes.”

“Well then let’s do it!” Jack rushed towards the panel. 

“But Jack!” Claris Yelled.

“What?” He spun. “What’s stopping us from fixing this right now, to finish what was started two thousand years ago? The swarm could return any minute, this may be our only chance.”

“Jack, once you flip that switch, the Tuner will begin the process. I won’t have much time to make it. I need to leave now and connect to my pod again. Before the Tuner harmonizes. Give me ten minutes before you flip the switch, okay. That’ll give me time.”

She floated to his arm and nudged it. Jack didn’t react. He felt his wrist mount computer vibrate as she connected to it. He just stared at the switch. 

“A deal’s, a deal. Right?” 

He said nothing.

“I’m sending you the locations to all the best loot—all the places I know my people would have stored our greatest tech. You can sell it to the corps for more than you’ve made in your whole career.” 

Without breaking his gaze from the crimson controls, he pulled his arm away, and tugged the sleeve over the wrist-mount, as if covering some indecent part of him. 

“You’ll be rich Jack—You and Scott both, you’ll send relics up to him he never dreamed of in his time as a diver. You can upgrade Mike—make him smarter. Better A.I. Better weapons.”

The room was silent. 

“Now you can finally say you got what you were looking for-- found that ‘score of a lifetime’ you’re always talking about.”

She nudged him again. 

“A deal’s a deal, right? Am I saying it right? A deal is a deal?

He nodded. “A deal’s a deal.”

“So, I think I should go. We should do this quickly before another swarm comes. Mike’s only got so much ammunition left. Besides, now you can finally contact Scott—let him know your safe. That you made it back up. The trading post is only a few clicks out. You survived Jack. You made it.”

“Yeah.” Jack said. “And you can finally be with your family. After all this time.” 

“So, “Claris said, “I guess this is goodbye.”

“I guess so.” He said, “I do need to call Scott. I’m sure he’s already organized some sort of rescue team.” He chuckled.

“I’m sure he has.”

They stared at each other for a long time without saying anything. And then she left. Simple as that, she left—floated through the door, coating the halls in magenta as she did. Or was it lavender? He wished he could have figured out the differences—the subtleties. 

He set the timer on his wrist-mount. It counted more slowly than ever.

“Jack.” A voice said. It was his mech.

“It appears you’ve lost some of your loot. It just floated right past me.”

“Mike,” Jack yelled, “how many times do I have to tell you? She’s not loot!” His voice trailed off. “She’s a person.”

“But as I’ve told you before, according to my appraisal projection software, the object is still the most valuable relic you have. It would be the only object of its kinds on the market.”

“I know!” He yelled, feeling like he was talking to a dog, or a child…or himself. “I’ve been appraising everything I see down here my whole career.” 

The timer beeped, and without another thought, he flipped the switch. 

“You think I don’t know how to recognize treasure when I find it?”

“No,” Mike said.

Then the Grotto awoke. The subterranean city roared to life and light—brilliant, pure, light. Every shadow gone in an instant. And then in an inexplicably insightful phenomenon of chance, accidental wisdom, Mike, ignoring the monumental event, said. “I think you don’t know how to treasure it when you have it.”

Forsaking the loot, his path through the strange corridors now lit for the first time–new to him–beautiful, he ran, chasing after the girl, the “score of a lifetime.” 

March 20, 2022 14:12

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13 comments

15:58 Mar 26, 2022

I like the possibilities of this supernatural setting and the story you've woven to support it. I could see it being novel length and maybe an adventure series with Jack and his team. Great job!

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Brian Stanton
18:22 Mar 26, 2022

Thank you so much! It's was actually working on a novel about it. I got about 60 thousand words in, and then I realized I didn't want to waste the story on a bad writer. So I set it aside and decided to practice writing by trying my hand at short stories for a while. After I've spent some time getting better I plan on finishing. Claris is actually a character that I hadn't introduced in my novel yet, I stopped just before the chapter she was to be revealed, so this prompt was the perfect opportunity to write in that world again and it was ...

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14:53 Mar 27, 2022

What?! NO! :) Go back and keep writing that story! You only get better by continuing :) You can always get a few beta readers for your novel, tweak it, and then voila! A novel :) It's a solid premise with interesting characters. Don't wait. I'll be the first non-relative to buy a copy :)

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Brian Stanton
15:00 Mar 27, 2022

Thanks! You're so encouraging.

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15:39 Mar 27, 2022

That's why we're here, aren't we? To get feedback and encouragement so we can keep going and become the true writers we are trapped inside our fragile egos?

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❀Leo Fall❀
00:17 Mar 31, 2022

Hey, Brian. I was directed to your story by the Critique Circle. I love your story, it sounds like the teaser for a roleplay or something. I don't know exactly what's missing, but this feels like a draft. Maybe you could flesh the story out a bit, maybe describe what the Turner's are and all that, not in full detail, but a bit of description could help the reader. Perhaps a tad more explanation on Claris too, not much but a bit more. That's all I can think of adding to the story however, everything else was wonderful!

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Brian Stanton
01:24 Mar 31, 2022

Hi Leo, Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I can imagine all those details would be difficult to understand. I have all those details in my head, and sometimes it's hard for me to tell when someone else isn't getting it, or doesn't know what I know. So I appreciate the feedback. I'll definitely work on that!! Thanks for reading!

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❀Leo Fall❀
01:35 Mar 31, 2022

Of course! I get that, especially if you think you might be giving to much away. It's a thing to master as a writer. I can't wait to see what else you come up with!

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Brian Stanton
01:37 Mar 31, 2022

Thanks! I'm gonna try and pump out a new story every week. :)

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Brian Stanton
01:37 Mar 31, 2022

Thanks! I'm gonna try and pump out a new story every week. :)

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❀Leo Fall❀
01:40 Mar 31, 2022

I'll keep an eye out!

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Robin Davidson
20:48 Mar 27, 2022

This piece shows off your wonder, your whimsy--your incredibly vivid imagination. The writing is strong and concise. I thoroughly enjoyed your use of color—I saw the glowing blues, reds, and purples. I’m also really amazed at your ability to assign body language to a non-humanoid shape. Once again, I’m struggling to find anything critical to say. I guess I only wish I could have learned more about Jack (because you’ve shown me enough to know he is a complicated guy), but then again, I realize there is only so much room in a short story. I al...

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Brian Stanton
14:55 Mar 28, 2022

Hi Robin, Thanks for reading this, and thanks for the helpful feedback. You are such an encouraging person, my wife just told me you commented on her story too. :) Thank you. I completely agree with what you said should about the pay off! That's an excellent point, and I wouldn't have even thought of that had you not said anything about it. I've written around 60k words in this world so far, so I have a very clear idea in my head of what the Grotto looks like, so I didn't even realize I had neglected to provide any details about the enviro...

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