Sable Lianés. The identification card was a hard metal, its cold edges digging into flesh that didn’t belong to me. How could something metal also be translucent? I held up the card to the light, focusing hard on the carved text. One step at a time, I needed to figure out where the hell I was.
The engraving glinted in the light: Date of birth, 18th day of the Sentinel Sun, 710. Place of birth, Azurya, Capital City. The woman in the photograph stared ahead with an imperious glare, her crimson hair coiffed into an immaculate bob. Unintentional theft still counted as theft, right? Shit.
I glanced around the room. Frosted glass walls and sleek chrome furnishings surrounded me. No matter how foreign a place was, if you grew up poor you could tell when stuff was expensive. Material that didn’t crack under your own weight, sleek walls that didn’t betray haphazard plaster cover-ups. Nice stuff made you afraid to dirty it with your hands.
“Good Morning, Sable. Would you like to hear today’s announcement?” an ethereal voice reverberated around me. I jumped and whirled around. No one.
“Uh… yes?” I muttered, my eyes darting around. The floating city beyond the window wall glittered in the dark. Contraptions that looked like mopeds zipped through the sky, vaporous trails slogged behind them. I couldn’t tell if the burn in my stomach was stress or imagination.
“It is the 34th day of the Magnia-Rexus Moon, year 730. The weather will be cool today with a high of 89 Cadus. You have an afternoon fitting at Atelier Felicity and then a shareholder meeting tonight at headquarters.” All of that was nonsense, and none of it helped.
“Who are you?”
“I am version 192.8 of the Odeus Intelligence System. Would you like to check for an update?”
“No, no need,” I paused, thinking, “Can I wake up now?”
“I’m sorry Sable, I do not understand. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No, thank you,” I sighed. Coffee. Finally, one thing I recognized. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the mental warble that usually woke me from my nightmares. Wake up, wake up, wake up. The words crashed over my hammering chest like the tide swallowing the shore. The warmth on my skin, the flutter of red hair in the anterior of my vision, it all felt real. Had I taken too many sleeping pills before bed?
A melodic ringing broke through the silence, and I lurched upward.
Brr-ing. Brr-ing. Brr-ing. The repetitive bleating was making my head pound.
“Fuck-I, I mean, Odeus, answer the call.”
“Call accepted. Connecting you to Unknown contact.” I heard a muted click and the stagnant air filled with the low rumble of someone’s breath.
“Greetings, am I speaking to Sable Lianés?”
I gritted my teeth. What was the right answer? “…Yes, this is her.” The voice was silent. The hair on my arms prickled. A flash of gold appeared on the horizon, the scintillating curve of three suns rose from the dark.
“What? No, I-” I panicked. My eyes bristled as I whirled around and stammered, “No! I don’t even want to be here. Who the hell are you?”
A chuckle filled the silence and I heard a sharp inhale, “My, I didn’t realize you’d be so on edge. Aren’t you happy?”
“What do you mean? Who are you?”
“It’s not important, Sable.”
“I’m not Sable!”
“You are now.” If bullets had a voice, I imagined they would sound like this man.
“You keep repeating the same question. I thought we made an intelligent choice for a replacement. However, I suppose I should be sympathetic to a new transplant,” the voice drawled.
I forced my breath to steady. Wet trails prickled down my neck in hot streams. “Transplant? You need to explain to me what you’re talking about.” I was drugged, or unconscious—something. His voice started sounding further away, sound waves like gnarled knots. I must be dead, and this was a terrible delusion. Wasn’t I supposed to be reliving my own life?
“Oh, of course. There isn’t much to explain. We have chosen you.”
“Chosen?” My teeth clattered, the muted clang echoing against this foreign skull.
“Yes, chosen. In a grand design for our world.”
“I don’t under-“
“It’s simple. The Sable Lianés that used to exist was a leech. Someone fated to squander their precious life.” The voice protracted at ‘squander,’ and dipped into a growl. Painful heat prickled on my skin in response.
“... is Sable dead?”
“That’s no matter. She is unable to return. All that matters is that you, you, make proper use of this glorious life you’ve been given.” A cramp. Then, gnawing that stretched from the pit of my stomach, edging toward my heart.
“I don’t want it. I need to go home. This fucking hurts.” My jaw was raw from the clattering. I clamped hard, grinding down to stop my shaking.
“Don’t fight it, dear. Don’t you want it? A life full of beauty. A life where you don’t have to fight so much.” His voice stabilized, a soft-pedal drone that pulled me close. What would it be like, not to fight? “Won’t you stay here and make the most of it?”
I faltered—an image of my apartment flickered for a second—the incessant drip of my faucet, my landlord banging on my door. Then, my voice seized, coming out in a hacked warble. A colossal shadow swallowed the room, blocking out the rising sunlight. A blimp? It floated past, sleek lines and aggressive black metal devouring the surrounding light. Etched text glittered—LIANES CORP.
The voice laughed again, “I very much look forward to meeting you tonight, my dear.” The burning was spreading, intensifying as it clawed up my throat and into my eyes.
“You’ll have to get used to the sensation. Thieves have to live with the memory of the stolen, after all.” Click.