• Brian Schuchert

Gone for a S.W.I.M. - a Sci-fi Short Story


I’ve been here too long. I’m starting to lose my sense of self. The only respite, the only time I remember who I am, is between hosts. When I hover in a monochromatic ocean of light and dark, free of a physical form. Just a spirit in search of a place to call home.


The brightest light is my destination. Specs of light dance around it in fractal patterns like a school of fish, each one a destination of its own, each just a small piece of a much wider network, a world entirely its own.


I would describe what it feels like to be in this state of limbo. But that would imply that I feel anything. Any connection to my body in the stasis pod has been carefully mitigated so as to not detract from the experiment. The only thing that seeps through into these dreams, the one reminder of myself, is the sound of the machine. The whirring of the fans circulating air in the pod follows me everywhere, no matter whose body I’m in. So that is the only thing I hear in this void between jumps, the only thing I feel at all.


The light’s approaching. I need to prepare myself. The next thoughts I have will not be my own.


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I made a huge mistake. I knew that before I did it. And I did it anyway. Funny thing. But it’s only a mistake when you get caught.


I never said that I didn’t do it. I never lied. That was important to me. To be honest. To be myself, in spite of everything. I don’t regret a thing. Which is exactly why they’ll never let me outta here. But you can’t regret something that ain’t wrong. Somebody had to do it. It just wasn’t supposed to be me.


This cell ain’t so bad. Nicer than the dump I used to live in. Better than I deserve, really. And these white walls, this pale, blue light… there’s something peaceful about it. Not quite the fire and brimstone I was expecting. It’s quiet. There’s a window. The cool, afternoon sun is just a simulation, but it’s good enough to fool me when I’m not thinking. For all I know, this whole thing could be a simulation. My real body could be in some stasis pod somewhere hooked up to a machine. I heard that’s what they did back when they had people on death row. Except they didn’t bother to give you a dream back then. They just threw you in storage and hoped never to pull you back out again. Although, now to come to think of it… am I so different?


A knock on the door. This can’t be good. The window turns black and a bright spotlight overhead snaps on. I cower and shield my eyes, the blinding light like knives in my pupils. They do this on purpose, the bastards.


“Rodriguez. Let’s move.”


The light clicked off and hissed. I heard the man’s footsteps echoing down the hallway. Two faceless guards grip me by the elbows and shackle my hands behind my back.


I know that name… Rodriguez.


Of course you do, it’s your name, dipshit.


Ow! Asshole guards. What the fuck could this possibly be about? I mean, I haven’t fought nobo---


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And... we’re back. That was fast. Good, I can breathe again.


OKAY - thought dump! I have to get this out quick because I don’t know how much time I have before the next host. I hope the computer’s recording this.


Rodriguez! I know it’s a common name, but to have just been hosted by an older woman named Maria Rodriguez, whose son is serving life in prison!! The odds! We didn’t program it to do this, it was supposed to be random. Maybe the machine’s trying to tell us something! Or maybe the bonds between these people is so strong that no randomization algorithm in the world could ever hope to break them apart. We’ll have to revisit this later once I get out of this damn machine, see if there’s a pattern emerging. We should be able to make a “map” of the people I occupied by looking at the data and my thought logs.


Either there’s a pattern that will blast our company into the stratosphere, or this is all a random, one-off occurrence, and I’m getting all worked up over nothing. Time will tell.


Oh, oh, and before I forget WHAT THE FUCK happened at the end there? Did I have a thought and give it to him? That’s not supposed to be possible. This machine isn’t transmitting any signals, it’s just a receiver! Did I make that up too? What’s happening? I hope this next jump can make sense of everyt--


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The cold, that’s all I can think about. The snow, the frost, the ice. Even though there’s a roaring fireplace in front of me now, it’s like the cold outside is still more real to me. Maybe it’s because I know that out here, warmth is temporary. Everything’s temporary. Everything. Except the past. The past is forever.


“You warm enough, babe? Need another blanket?”


It took a second for me to hear the question. “No, I’m fine. Thanks.”


He sits down beside me as I stare deep into the fire. “This is kinda cool, isn’t it? Kickin’ it old school in this creepy cabin. There’s not even electricity here. We’re like time travelers. Shit, we’ve at least gone a few centuries back, don’t you think?”


I nod, vaguely. I didn’t really absorb anything he said.


“You alright?”


“Yeah… I think I just need to lie down for awhile.”


I stand up and walk toward the bedroom.


“Okay… need me to get the heater on?”


“I got it. Thanks.”


I need to be alone right now. This bed is stiff as a board, but it’s better than having to make small talk and pretend everything’s alright.


BUZZ


Another message. Don’t need to check it. Just someone else telling me shit I already know, I’m sure.


Come on, check it!


The message pops up on my HUD. It’s from Maria. She’s worried about me. She’s too sweet, such an amazing woman. I should be the one worried about her. I just don’t have the energy to respond right now.


I hear the television turn on in the other room. A news report is on. Ten guesses what they’re talking about right now.


“--reinstatement of the death penalty was a hot topic in last year’s election, with a lot of passion on both sides of the fence.”


I wish I could tune this out.


“The question on all our minds, now that capital punishment is legal again, is how will this administration enforce their promise to sentence people to death who have already been tried by a jury?”


Okay, now I wish I could tear my eardrums out.


“People have raised constitutional concerns about double jeopardy, but the president says she is holding strong to her agenda. So what does this mean for people like Eduardo Rodri--”


“TURN THAT SHIT OFF, DANIEL!”


AHH not cool. That was a step too far. The silence hangs for an uncomfortable length of time.


“I’m sorry,” he says, muffled through the door. “I didn’t know.”


...


“Josephine… I… I’m so sorry.”


...


“I love you. And I’m here for you. Always.”


I can hear the tears in his voice. He stands still for a moment, trying to think of something else to say. When I don’t respond, he grabs his coat and leaves.


Now it’s just me. And the past.


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All suspicions confirmed. The odds of coincidence are astronomical. Three jumps in a row are connected. And I have proved twice that I can directly affect the decisions of my hosts with the power of my thoughts. Now I’m getting jittery. I can’t wait to get back to work. How much longer do I have to do this?


Should I feel bad when the misery of others leads to a breakthrough for me? Am I allowed to be excited right now? Does that make me a bad person? Probably.


Oh well. I’m gonna get a prize for this. Just have to withstand another few days of jumps to complete the experiment.


I need to relax. I have a long way to go still. Just focus on the fan. Only on the fan. Nothing else is real.


And for many minutes, I meditated on the sound. Waiting for the light to come.


But it never did. I’m still drifting hours later. I had time to clear my head. I thought more about Maria, Eduardo and Josephine. I let myself feel what they were feeling. Suffice it to say, I’m not excited anymore.


As I look out, a bodiless spirit in the abyss, at the swarms of little, flickering lights all around me, I began to wonder where this light came from, what it represents. From all the way out here, every light looks the same. Until you enter its orbit and see it for what it is. A unique web of light and dark, entwined with the fates of so many others. Life and death, love and tragedy, together in balance and harmony.


There’s so much darkness out here that I forgot that I bring my own light. I’ve wanted to be someone else, anyone else, for so long, that I’ve lost sight of that.

I don’t even know what I’m saying. I’m probably going to listen to these thought logs later and laugh and call myself a hippie lunatic or something. But whatever this is, this is real. I can’t explain it.


Something else has been on my mind. Something I’ve been suppressing, something that chills me. It’s the sight of my body in my mind’s eye, comatose in that pod, living the lives of others. That thing… used to be me. And the fact that I have to go back to that body after all this…

It will never feel the same again now that I’ve lived without it for so long. Will it ever be home again? Was it ever home to begin with? I’m just a lifeless cadaver in a fucking tube. Gone for a swim in the great black sea. Wondering if I can ever go back again. And I’ll be left to wonder. Until the next jum--

© 2018 by Brian Schuchert

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