At the door leading to ‘her’ bedroom, May stood transfixed at the gleaming floor, walls, and furniture dominated by silver and white. Two of four walls were actually uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling windows, creating an elegant, one of a kind, frame for the breathtaking vantage point of Atmos.
This far up, with nothing but the tips of neighboring buildings to disturb the view, May could easily mistake the city as an abode for immortals, especially when the sky began to turn from gentle pink to dark purple as night drew closer and all three of the planet’s satellites became more pronounced.
Hints of blue, green, and other calmer color interrupted the room’s otherwise monotone theme. Like the light blue curving canopy made of scale-like beads that shimmered over a bed pressed against one of the solid walls. It billowed gently over the round structure, undulated independently, like small waves upon an aquamarine sea.
On the other side of the room, between the wall and window, was a workstation. Boxes piled up above and below it, and the chair tucked into table resembled a floating green eggplant. In the center of the room, a round depression not unlike the one in the living room, only smaller, signaled the presence of a holo-viz. She spied a door in one corner of the room, most likely leading to the bathroom.
It was a cozy room. Strangely normal despite its extravagance.
May Ling had a good taste in decorating, May approved mentally.
She was about to enter when her eyes caught a set of a coffee table and two small chairs, floating above the vicinity of the holoviz, blending in with the rooms’ décor despite their unconventional positioning.
This house likes its floating items too much, she groused privately, nudging her hover-chair forward.
The Earth-native eyed the airborne furniture – for she spotted a couple of cabinets as well – with due wariness, before recalling the glass she used for lunch, then shook her worries away.
As bizarre as the hover technology made her feel, May had no right to complain, not when the alternative meant suffering through a flight of winding stairs without aid. May didn’t know what expression she made when she first laid eyes on the steps, but EVE had immediately deployed a hover-chair that Kajakh had prepared for her (bless that man!).
May scanned the white room while making her way further in, noting each and every cranny she could from her seat. In one glance, she could see all there was to see in the room, making her doubt if May Ling truly kept the proof of her clandestine activities here. In a room this open, she doubted it was even possible.
Not to mention the City Guard had swept the room clean. Case in point, that blue officer found the problematic Thranh tea in the workstation. May held little hope that any cabinet and container she spotted now had escaped inspection.
A hidden cache, perhaps? People don’t usually keep intimate secrets that far away from them.
With that thought, May abandoned her hover-chair and made for the workstation.
On her way, a gleam of light caught her attention. On the far side of the room close to the bathroom door, a full-length mirror hung between a pair of three-chests stacked vertically. Their simple design added to the elegance of the silver metal that crept up and spread out like vines forming spiral patterns on their surface.
Her eyes zeroed in on the chests.
Intimate secrets kept in a place one uses every day.
She approached the dresser, heartbeat increasing as her hand approached the first chest.
What better way for a woman to keep a secret compartment that she doesn’t want a man to know than keeping it in a place men are not likely to search?
Then she stopped.
Do I want to know?
Her hand twitched, frozen in its track.
Will there even be anything in there?
Will it be useful?
Will it be another disappointment to add to the pile?
Will it –
May jerked back, shaking her head sharply, dismissing her spiraling thoughts with ruthless efficiency. Not for the first time, May reined in her negative thoughts with indomitable logic; optimism stopped being useful the third day she had to deal with doctor Purple-Giraffe.
I need a clear mind, she kept telling herself. Pessimism chips at logic like a pickaxe. I cannot afford unnecessary distractions. Be analytical. Be creative. Be calm.
She inhaled deeply, followed by an even long exhalation, then repeated her actions several times. Breathing exercise was her number one coping method, one no one raised an eyebrow at since she claimed it helped in reducing the random attacks.
It didn’t really, but they didn’t need to know that.
It’s only been a day, she reasoned. The fact tasted bitter and her heart struggled to believe that. Cannot expect an express result. Do you really expect to find your answers so soon, so easily?
Swallowing hard, May dropped her hand, fingers curled into a tight grip. Not today.
The memory of Kajakh slumped on the kitchen table flashed in her mind eye and she inhaled sharply to stifle the gasp of pain at the sudden ache that pierced her chest.
I can’t…not today. Not anymore.
Her logic rebelled at that, but she didn’t care.
She allowed herself this compromise. She must.
There was no telling just how long this road she walked on stretch and without an ending in sight, pacing became paramount to avoid overlooking anything.
I’ll search again…later. I had enough excitement for the day.
Rubbing her tired eyes, May was about to head for the bed when a movement in the corner of her eyes piqued her curiosity.
The reflective surface of the mirror – though she could tell it wasn’t made from any material she was familiar with – showed a young woman at the cusp of adulthood with raven hair that fell down to her waist.
Pale features contorted in a confused expression gazed back at her, and as May reached out, that person’s dainty hand did the same. Round dark eyes stared out, a ring of deep purple stark against black irises, surrounding her pupils.
May inhaled sharply, surprised and terrified, panicking even more as the girl she saw copied her every gesture.
Logically she knew she was occupying May Ling’s body, but until that moment, she didn’t have the chance to actually see the change. She’d caught glimpses of a young face on various reflective surfaces in the hospital, but back then, all she cared about was finding ways to get out of that sterile place.
Even seeing the holopic and holovid of her body’s original owner felt like watching someone else’s photo album.
That is May Ling, she had thought absently, noting the fact, but not truly processing it.
But now, seeing that stranger mirrored her mannerism, her movement, her expression –
I’m a bodysnatcher.
Clamping a hand on her mouth, May forced down the bile that threatened to come out at seeing proof of the abomination she committed without knowing how or why.
Her other hand clung at the mirror’s frame with a white-knuckled grip, the girl’s horrified expression now marred with disgust. The purple in her eyes – purple?! – began to spread out, consuming the original black.
Breathing became harder as her heart accelerated. The pain that had previously been background noise in her body intensified, clawing through her muscles and organs, causing her to fall against the mirror.
Shit. Another attack?! She pressed her forehead against the cool surface, closing her eyes to block the sight of that unnatural purple-black and began regulating her breathing, for whatever good it brought her.
Terror squirmed in her stomach like maggots that threatened to come out of her mouth the moment she let her guard down. Confusion thundered with every painful beat of her heart, as it always did before the pain settled enough to torture her properly instead of intermittently and her brain could only count seconds before it ended.
Rage coursed in her blood at the injustice of it all, dominant among her emotions, the only driving force against the crippling agony. Hot anger coursed in her veins as she thought at how she had to suffer all this when she had done nothing to deserve it.
A moan escaped her before May gritted her teeth tighter. Her short pants barely gave her body the oxygen it deserved, but as her windpipe refused to cooperate properly, there wasn’t much she could do.
The doctors had long since given up any medicines as each one would only make the attacks worse.
May could only wait it out, second by second. At least there is no epilepsy involved, she thought morbidly.
“Calling Kajakh Mun’ahsa,” EVE’s voice came out of nowhere, delivering the last thing she’d wanted to hear in this condition.
“Belay that!” she roared amidst her pain, forcing her voice to work while her lungs struggled to expand enough for her to breathe.
“Your health is paramount,” EVE said, but she didn’t call Kajakh and that was a victory in itself.
“I’m – ” May gasped, cutting herself off when another wave of pain forced her to close her mouth with a click or scream. “I’ll be fine,” she finally made out. “This is a minor attack. Nothing worth going back to the hospital for.”
“I said this once, I’ll say this again. My medical records. Read it. Tell me I’m wrong.”
The AI remained silent then, “As long as May-sa could still manually cancel the call, Kajakh-jo will not be alerted.”
Meaning to say, the moment she lost enough coherence when EVE announced her call, May would be made.
May’s lips curled up as the pain receded, leaving her with trembling muscles and sweaty skin. She showed one too many teeth for it to be a smile, however, as she acquiesced, “Agreed. Keep doing your job, EVE. I know how much my body can take.”
The silent returned to the room, reminding May that unless she was threatened, EVE had no access here. She huffed out a laugh for forgetting just why this room was important in her search for the truth.
Mustering all her leftover strength, the Earth-native pulled herself up and limped towards the bed. She crawled gracelessly onto the soft surface and managed to turn on her back before dropping her tired body on top of the cover.
“What a day,” she whispered. No one replied.
She looked out at the pink-purple sky and the sunlight that streamed gently into the room through the massive window.
No wonder EVE was worried when May Ling enacted the Blackout protocol. Windows this big must be a major security risk.
Sighing, May stared at the top of the canopy, mulling over the fact she was sleeping in a dead girl’s bed. It didn’t bother her more than the possibility that this harmless-looking room might hold the key to her salvation.
Frankly speaking, May did not look forward to exploring the place with a fine toothcomb; not when the room belonged to a dead person with too many secrets who might or might not have attempted to take her own life.
A person whose life May still had to delve into so that she could find a way back home.
If it is even possible. May considered bitterly.
In her search, she had not seen even a hint of anything that could possibly bring her here. No strange myth, no artifacts, no super-advanced secret tech…
She threw an arm across her face, obscuring her eyes from the world.
Okay. Stop being a whiny bitch and sleep. Tackle the problem again with a fresh mind and fresher eyes.
May aggressively slept the rest of the day away.
Kajakh came for dinner as promised, a couple of hours after May had hers.
When he arrived, May was watching May Ling and Kajakh’s childhood holovid in hope burying herself in the past could make her feel productive even when she knew she’d get nothing concrete from it. She saw him entered the house after shedding his dark poncho, leaving only the dark tunic and pants, offset by a crimson waistband.
“Welcome back,” her mouth spoke before her brain could register the words that came out of it.
Kajakh’s eyes widened with surprise, something May also felt but did not show. “I’m back,” he replied, barely pausing, though the smile that tugged at his lips told May that this might be a tradition between the two.
It’s cool. I’m cool with it.
And May surprisingly was. She’d save her panic for other more important things than adopting May Ling’s habit without even knowing it.
“Have you eaten yet?” he asked, already making his way to the kitchen.
“I could eat,” she said loudly, seeing his hand wave through the transparent dividers. Secured in the knowledge that he’d take care of her second dinner, she resumed the paused recording. The two children began frolicking on brown grass, apparently fighting for a toy. Laughter spilled from the person behind the lenses.
A glass appearing in her line of sight heralded Kajakh’s return. He had a server-bot acting as his table while he enjoyed his dinner – some kind of meat and vegetable.
“You’ll get to eat this again soon,” he assured me, taking her staring at him as envy for his food.
She did not dissuade his misunderstanding. After all, she couldn’t really say it was his tired mien that grabbed her attention. Exhaustion lined his face, his shoulders slightly slumped as if carrying an ever-present burden. May wanted to ask how his day went, but considering how late he came, she’d chalked it down as ‘busy’ and left it alone.
“Can’t remember where this was,” he mumbled around his dinner, eyes fixed at the recording that now zoomed into a picnic spread, a person’s voice kept explaining or commenting on each dish.
“Label said ‘Musturi Resort Planet’,” May said evenly, turning to smile at the man. “Looks like a fun place.”
Because she was looking for it, she caught the minuscule twitch in his hand, the only sign that the name bothered him.
“It is,” he said, smiling. May admired that casual quirk of lips – for it did not look fake at all – and his audacity to suggest, “Maybe I’ll bring you there one day. Might jog back memories; our families often spend our holiday there…though it’s changed a lot since then.” He nodded at the recording.
“Sounds fun!” May responded.
Then May’s mother entered the frame and she returned her attention to the recording, mind racing miles a minute.
Should I ask?
May side-eyed the man who was watching the recording with muted delight.
The investigation team surely updates him on the case. There has to be some sort of progress since.
But she recalled his hunched form and his broken pleas on the kitchen table.
She observed how haggard the hybrid was, looking like what she felt after an attack.
She understood that he too was suffering, albeit differently, fighting back pain with sheer willpower just to move a step forward.
So May swallowed her questions, accusation, curiosity, along with her nutrient solution.
Not tonight, she decided.
Tonight they’d rest.
They both deserved it.