LIGHTYEAR IN NEW BOOTS

First published on Broadcast Books: #TimeToRead (2020).

LIGHTYEAR IN NEW BOOTS

There is the strangest sensation of amnesia I feel when I wake. The world comes into focus slow — a computer taking too long to process new data.

"Hey, you okay? You look a bit pale." Grey hair, tan skin. Silver linings and sunshine. Blue, blue eyes. The ocean from outer space. 

Who are you? 

Who am I?

The air is stale. Processed oxygen. The room is bleach and steel. Soap, salt and solar flares. My skin feels tight, like I don’t fit in my body. If I’m not careful it’ll tear at the seams. 

"Skylar?"

That must be me.

‘My head hurts,’ I say. "Could you get me something to drink?"

A single grey eyebrow raises. What is that? Confusion, concern. 

"Didn’t you just come from the caf?"

I don’t know. Did I? I rub at my temples.

"Did you eat one of those powdered meals again?" the stranger asks. "I told you not to."

‘Sorry.’

The second eyebrow raises. Wrong answer. "Um. I’ll get you a couple of O2 orbs. Why don’t you… sit at your station or something before you keel over."

Glass doors slide open and close. I’m alone for 56.8 seconds. Enough time to walk one round of the room. Technical support or engineering. The room is designed for a team of half a dozen, but there are currently two of us on shift. Skeleton staff? Graveyard shift? 

The station by the window is the only one with a jacket on the seat. Is it mine? There’s a neon pink sticker on the volume dial. ALL I NEED IS SPACE and a crescent moon beneath. Did I put that there? Is space all I need?

The doors reopen and there’s new data. A familiar face and an alien one. Orange hair and pale skin. A ghost on fire. Freckles across the bridge of a button nose. Stardust. A single brown eye with two irises. A planet with two moons.

"Soz m’late." The newcomer presses red lips together before curling them up into a smile. Stark against pure white, like blood on snow. "Break-bar was closed. Snez ya, Cho, bringing Sky orbs but skimming me.’"

"You can get your own, Rion," the first one — Cho — says. I’m offered three clear balls filled with liquid. They don’t fit into the palm of one hand. I’m forced to leave two on the control panel. It’s impractical, this body. 

Blue eyes meet mine. The ocean from outer space.

I pop an orb into my mouth, biting down. Water floods my mouth, my eyes fluttering close. For a moment, I can imagine it’s the sweetness of blood. I chew on the thin skin of the orb and pretend it’s flesh.

A cool hand presses against my forehead. "Seriously, Skylar, you okay?"

"Yeah." I offer a smile. Pink blossoms on Cho’s cheeks and the hand withdraws. Discomfort? No. Embarrassment. Why? 

 

"T’was supes creep in the caf," the other one — Rion — says, loud. "Kids from maintenance weren’t even there. We miss a memo or summin’?"

You should head to the deck to find out," Cho says. "Drop Skylar off at medical."

How would I — Skylar — respond? Argue. Complain. But humans act different when they’re ill, don’t they? I rub a hand over my face. They run so warm, these bodies. Thirty-seven degrees is enough to melt ice.

"Whassup, S?" Rion frowns. "Nev seen ya this gone. Wan’ me to take ya to medical? Get ya checked?"

"I’m fine," I say, getting to my feet and letting a knee give way. Cho catches me before I fall, arms going around my waist. I’m a deadweight, clutching at trembling arms. For creatures so fragile, humans sure are eager to support each other at the risk of their own injury.

"Sorry," I say, focusing my gaze on the middle distance. Cho’s eyes are dark, clouded over. A storm in outer space. I think of thunder and how these bodies can be torn apart with ease. ‘Maybe I should go to medical,’ I say. ‘Head hurts.’

 

Cho’s lips part — 

"I’ll take ya’," Rion says, voice sharp. A pale arm comes and wraps around my shoulder. Cho steps away, cheeks flushed even while we’re leaving the room.

"Shouldn’t do that, S," Rion says, tone thin. A ghost on fire. "Know ya sick, but that ain’t right."

"What do you mean?" I ask. 

Rion’s eye narrows. "Ya know what I mean."

I don’t, but I’ll figure it out. I’ve always been quick on my feet, even in new boots.

"Can ya walk fine?"

"Yeah," I reply. My skin still feels tight, but new bodies always take a while to break in.