Welcome to another free read Wednesday!
We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.
Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!
Arad shares his limited experience of the DemiShou process.
Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Roku stood silent while Arad gathered his thoughts. Deciding which beginning to launch from was difficult. He kicked himself for divulging his degrading position as cabin boy earlier, so he didn’t want to expand on those details. There had to be a more relevant—and less damning—event to start from.
“After the crew died, the ship updated me to captain. Since I had access to everything, I started exploring everything I’d been barred from.”
“Like the cargo bay.”
“Yeah. As the scapegoat, I couldn’t be trusted to know you guys were here.”
Still examining the cryotubes, Roku nodded. “Pretty standard tactics for smugglers.”
“I couldn’t find any data files for DemiShou so I kept watch. Hachi had a seizure. It passed and he quieted down like nothing happened, so when you had yours after your status switched over to SYNAPTIC and you crashed, I aborted the program and got you out.”
Roku fingered the edges of Shichi’s monitor, careful not to touch any controls. “My status switched over?”
“Yeah. From BIOLOGICAL.”
“Did I change during that period?”
“Physically. Your animal traits became more and more pronounced.” Arad read the remaining active monitors. Hachi and Shichi both were in the SYNAPTIC stage of their development. How much longer did they have until they were complete?
“How did the machine do that?”
“Roku, I’m a mechanic who used to lived on the streets.” Ignorance made Arad’s voice rise a notch. “I didn’t build this thing, and it didn’t come with an instruction manual.”
“I’m sorry. I just want to understand.”
Arad sighed, dropping back down to a more reasonable volume. “Yeah, that’s fair. I know how scary it gets when everything you knew is gone. I want to give you answers, but I only know so much. They don’t teach this stuff in a workhouse.”
With earnest intent, Roku focused that much more on his sleeping brethren. His intense concentration bordered on the theatrics of streetwise psychics, except Arad knew those hustlers were only trying to fleece funds out of weak-willed pedestrians. Roku was desperate to understand his existence.
Another wave of curiosity buffeted Arad. “Do you remember what it was like? In the tube?”
A slow pause ended with Roku’s quiet, haunted words. “Darkness. Silence. Burning through every pore.” He glanced over at Arad. “I remember a kind voice in the distance.”
“Really? What did it say?”
Roku shook his head. “It was too distant to make out, but it made the fire bearable at times. How long was I in there?”
“I never saw a time stamp, but it’s been a couple weeks since I found you guys.”
He didn’t ask more, but Roku’s scrutiny of the DemiShou intensified, becoming more critical.
“They’re strong. You don’t make something this powerful without a purpose.”
“I have no idea. It’s like there’s claw marks across my brain, leaving bloody scars caked over my memories.” Roku brushed his fingers along his temple. “I can tell they’re there, but they’re buried under these… wounds.”
“I wanted to ask before, who you were, but when you couldn’t remember your name… You looked so hurt. I figured we could get back to that.”
Arad watched Roku processing every detail. Analyzing. Not what one would expect from a zombified tiger. The intellect behind the DemiShou’s eyes was sharp.
“Whatever they did, it didn’t scrub your brain completely. You walk, you talk. You know how to do things. You have a personality. If they did, I’d think you’d be more childish and drooling everywhere.”
“True. I haven’t been lobotomized. Not exactly. All of my knowledge is being kind of fickle, like looking at something out of the corner of your eye. You know it’s there, but if you try to focus on it, then it slips away.”
Another round of silence was filled only by the tiny sounds of the cryotubes. Arad knew what he wanted to ask but worried about crashing the solemn moment and upsetting Roku. He’d been through so much. However, the question had been scratching at the back of his skull all day and it needed saying.
“When you woke up, you were kind of… feral. Do you still feel that?”
Roku turned, his gaze meeting Arad’s. Guilt spread across his feline face, knowing why Arad asked. He’d lost control when they met.
“If I think about it, I can tell it’s new, something added. Everything is brighter, sharper, more primal, more black and white. I can feel the feral cravings prowling under the surface. At the same time, it feels completely natural, like it was always there, woven into me. And then I see my reflection and know I’ll never be myself again. I’m not sure how else to describe it.”
“The animal part. Is it dangerous?”
He reached out to Arad, possibly in comfort, but stopped his hand short. “It’s not separate from me. It is me. But no, I’m not dangerous. Not to you.”
The admission satisfied Arad more than he thought it should, but Roku hadn’t actually hurt him. The circumstances were incredibly embarrassing, and regret stained his every inch of Roku’s composure. He was being far more honorable than the sort Arad was accustomed to dealing with. Usually, he didn’t trust people like that. Usually.
“All of this makes me wonder who you were before this happened.”
Roku’s voice became all too distant. “Me too.”
Hachi twitched in his tube, his massive muscles flexing, and his horns tapped against the glass in his tight confines before he went still once again. Not a seizure, but the brief event stiffened Roku’s shoulders.
“I don’t know what I am, or what I’m supposed to be. But I know even less about them.” Roku pressed the PAUSE command on Hachi’s panel and did the same to Shichi’s. “Until we know more, they should keep.”
“Are you sure?”
“If something went wrong, I don’t know if I could protect you from both of them.”
Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!