Chapter 1:

That Which We Do Not Understand

Memory-Memorium: Mind Games

Anli stood on her tiptoes, trying to part the drapes just enough to peer between them. The thick, woven cloth swayed gently with each swipe as she struggled to reach the window. Her fingertips brushed the frayed edges of cloth until she finally grabbed enough, causing them to sway back and forth. Colorful geometric designs ornamented the fabric, creating an almost wave-like motion as Anli continued to swing back and forth.

Bright sunlight splashed the dark interior of the room revealing a dusty floor with limited furniture other than a few small tables and an old sofa that looked like it had been pulled straight from the year 2000. A series of family pictures lined the back wall; the frames were covered in dust and there were streaks where someone had tried to clean them off. The only noise came from a small holographic display somewhere down one of the hallways, but it was too faint to make out what was playing.

With a loud tear and subsequent fit, Anli found herself planted on the floor as the drapes she had been swiping at fell over her head—the curtain rod fell missed her by inches, cluttering to the ground with a clash.

“Anli, what was that?” a motherly voice called.

“N-nothing, Mama,” she said, biting her lip to keep from crying.

“Nothing, huh?” The sound of footsteps slowly approached Anli’s sprawled position on the floor. Anli’s mother pulled the fallen drapes off her daughter’s head as she stooped down to level-height. “How many times have I told you not to play with the drapes and that they’d fall?”

“Sorry, Mama…”

Her mother sighed. “Are you hurt anywhere? Did the curtain rod hit you?”

“No,” she said, trying to avoid eye contact. “I was just trying to see outside. I haven’t seen the outside in days.”

She hoisted Anli off the ground, dusting her off. “We’ve talked about this. The outside is dangerous for small children. You’re only nine years old—you’re still growing and there isn’t a doctor in our Colony if you get sick or hurt. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said softly.

“I’m glad you understand. If you want to see the outside that badly,” she said, replacing the curtain rod, “we can go together to pick up the family’s rations tomorrow. How does that sound?”

“Okay,” she said, disappointed. What she really wanted was to run wild, to roam free. She was tired of being cooped up inside. The barren desert landscape called her name, but she feared she’d never get to see it up close, that she’d never feel the warm sand between her toes or the sun on her skin.

“Let Mama put the drapes back up and then maybe you can help me make your favorite birthday dinner.” This caused Anli’s face to light up. “I thought you might like that. I know it’s a little late since your birthday was a few days ago, but I was able to find just enough of the ingredients we need,” she said playfully. “I’ll come get you when we’re ready to start, okay?”

“Okay, Mama,” she said, venturing off down the hall towards her bedroom. Birthday dinner was nice, and she always enjoyed her birthday, but it didn’t compare to the hunger she had for adventure that could only be satiated by a trip out of Colony 96.

She was lonely. No one ever came over, and the same droning report played on repeat on the holograph in her parents’ room. Having just turned nine, she knew her time on Earth’s surface was drawing to a close. The family would be given a notice that Anli was of sufficient age to begin schooling on one of the five Lagrange ships and that was where they would live and work. Once she turned ten, she would wave the Earth goodbye and begin a new life on one of the Lagrange ships.

Stories of life on the ships were scarce, but she’d heard rumors of virtual worlds that felt as real as life as on Earth. The validity of such claims was none of her business nor did she care. A virtual body in a virtual life? Right now, what she wanted most was to experience being human, not live a life restricted by rules and regulations that told her what she was supposed to do and how she was supposed to live.

I just want to feel the warmth of the sun. I want to watch the clouds fly in the sky. I want to experience what it’s like to live on Earth, she mulled over in her head. If we’re all going to be virtual people in a computer, I don’t want to live that life.


Night fell upon Colony 96. Anli had been glued to her bedroom window as soon as she’d finished dinner, watching as the sun sank below the horizon, waiting for darkness to blanket the streets. She’d stayed up well past her bedtime to ensure everyone was asleep—not just her parents. Her escape from the imprisonment of her home would occur tonight and she was prepared to face the consequences if caught.

“But that just means I have to be super extra sneaky,” she whispered to herself.

She slipped on her socks, noiselessly gliding across the floor, fine particulates of dust and sand trailing behind her. A sign on the front door listed several rules for after-dark hours. She gave them a quick glance before sticking her tongue out in protest of the restrictive regulations.

1. Travel outside of the home after 11pm is prohibited. Violators will be punished.

2. In the event children are discovered outside of the home after 11pm, regardless of parental presence, the parents will be punished in the child’s stead.

3. Blinds are to be lowered and curtains drawn until sunrise. A monetary fine may be imposed for homes violating this rule.

4. Lights are not allowed. They will attract the Unburie. You will be held liable for any damage to the Colony or loss of life.

With a small lift from her tiptoes, she undid the first of several latches on the door—the rest were too high for her to reach without the aid of a chair or stool of some sort. She looked around for anything she could use to stand on, eventually deciding upon cushions from the living room furniture. Plumes of dust filled the air as she tossed them down, one on top of the other. It was a wobbly, dangerous, idea, but she was determined to escape the confines of the house—she could care less about the dangers posed.

After a precarious couple of minutes, the final latches on the door were undone. All that remained was the deadbolt lock, a challenge unlike the latches. The lock would occasionally stick, making it hard to unlock the door without a little extra force which created a loud click as it retreated. The risk of waking her parents was fifty-fifty. If the lock was stuck, she would have to force it and run the risk of it striking the face plate. If she was going to test her luck, there was no better time than now.

She turned the lock, but it was stuck, just as she feared. There was no other way out of the house; the front door was her one and only option. She tried again, this time able to loosen the deadbolt knob slightly—progress.

Several repeated attempts later and she had loosened the knob just enough to finally get the door open. She held her breath as she watched her fingers turn the knob. Seconds felt like eternity; her heart pounded in her ears. She closed her eyes as she turned the knob the rest of the way. It gave a dull thump but not loud enough to wake her parents. Freedom was now the turn of a doorknob away. With one final glance, she checked to make sure her parents were still asleep and grabbed her shoes; she was out the door.

The night air was surprisingly crisp and cool. A light breeze skirted through the dusty streets giving the tiny grains of sand a free ride to anywhere and everywhere. Anli stood outside the door, mesmerized that such fantastical things happened even at night. It wasn’t that she was unaware of the natural environment around the Colony, it was that she never got to see it at night. Trips to get rations and supplies with her mother were limited and involved the same routes each time—there was nothing new about the same things she’d seen a thousand times.

Moonlight lit her path as she ventured through the streets. She danced and twirled under the pale illumination like a fairy, overjoyed to finally see the world in a new light. Everything was new: the stars in the sky, wind in her hair, luminescence of the full moon—it was heaven.

The steady hum of machinery suddenly grabbed her attention. Curiosity followed her around like a plague—she had to know what was making such an interesting sound. She turned corner after corner until she finally came to the edge of the Colony; a large-scale mining operation was taking place several miles outside the perimeter. Bright white floodlights bathed the dig site in a milky glow. Cylindrical, translucent pipes were entrenched in the ground, digging for something, as materials were transported straight up into the sky. The sifting of rocks and soil intermingled with the occasional shouts, yells, and hum of mining equipment.

She started for the site, entranced by the strange machinery she’d never seen before, but a celestial flash and resounding boom later and she was gone, in pursuit of a foreign visitor from the edges of space. Sprinting, she chased the fiery tail of light until it crashed into the earth with a large thud, dulled by the sand. She’d sprinted the distance of Colony 96, far from the mining operation. Her new focus was the large, sizzling space rock that had come for a visit, further indulging her curiosity.

“Did you come to play with me, Mr. Rock?” she giggled, climbing over the rusted metal gates that lined the perimeter of the Colony. “Can’t wait to see what you look like, space rock thingy!”

Dust lingered in the air from the impact as Anli approached. She took her time, examining the small shards of rock and metal that littered the meteorite’s path, glinting in the filtered moonlight. Despite the meteorite’s fiery journey through the earth’s atmosphere, its shards were surprisingly cool to the touch.

“Do space rocks have a smell?” She took a whiff before throwing the rock away dissatisfied. “I wonder why these rocks are cold. Shouldn’t they be hot?” She crept up to the side of the crater the meteorite formed. “You’re a weird rock.”

The meteorite had formed a small crater upon impact, just big enough for Anli to slide down the down sandy slope for a closer look at the celestial body. Like the smaller shards, the main body radiated intense cold rather than heat and with no one else around, Anli had all the time in the world to investigate her newly discovered, other-worldly, friend.

Its surface was a cool grey, pocked by numerous holes of varying sizes. On the surface, it seemed like a normal meteorite. Still, she was hesitant to move closer than within a few feet of the rock. Despite her curiosity, something told her getting too much closer could present unwanted consequences. Still, she inched closer, hesitantly eager to discover what unknown treasures could be hidden inside the rocky-metal shell; her imagination filled with vivid thoughts of unimaginable wealth, ornate food to last a lifetime, and a house ordained with decorations mimicking that of a fairy tale.

Her nine-year-old mind found itself lost in enchanting forests, mazes of wonderment lined with beautiful flowers and sculpted hedges, and an innumerable number of puppies. She didn’t know how such feats would ever be possible, but she didn’t care.

“Just a quick look, then I’ll go,” she said, leaning in to peer inside one of the larger holes. “Maybe there’s—” Her foot slipped in the shifting sand, causing her to lose her balance. She fell forward, saved only by quick thinking. Her hands slammed against the icy shell, sending a shocking chill throughout her body before pushing herself off. “That was close. I almost fell into you, Mr. Rock,” she said, sprawled on her back in the sand, face full of shock.

Scurrying up the walls of the crater, she noticed a small cut on the inside of her palm, likely from the meteorite—she’d conjure up a lie about where it came from later. For now, she needed to get back home before the sun rose completely; illustrious shades of red and purple had begun to line the fringes of the horizon. Just as the dawn of a new day had arrived, so too had a dreadful feeling that she’d unknowingly gotten herself sick. Her body ached and her legs felt tired; she felt exhausted for no reason. The moment she got home, she crawled straight into bed where she took a nice long nap. She would worry about her sandy clothes and shoes later.


Anli stood above the Earth, watching as the once-blue marble below her spun on its axis, making another trek around the sun. It was a mostly brown ball now, having undergone extreme desertification after a mass-methane expulsion plunged the planet into centuries of mass-climate change, but something felt off. Outer space was supposed to be cold, oxygen-less, and deadly. How was it she stood there, perfectly content and breathing? Something wasn’t right, it was wrong. She felt trapped inside a fever-dream, unable to wake up or call for help—just like the nightmares she’d had as a child, ending abruptly after she turned ten.

At the time, she’d chalked the nightmares up to stress and anxiety about living on one of the Lagrange ships, but as she grew older, she realized the correlation between an unstoppable plague that ravaged the Earth and her anxieties about Lagrange didn’t line up. The nightmares were terrifying, oftentimes falling victim to whatever plague had been unleashed upon humanity herself. They were so terrifying she’d purposefully fight sleep some nights, fearing her death in her dreams again.

Suddenly, she found herself back in Colony 96, but she was alone. Despite the lifting of many restrictions just before her tenth birthday, there was no one around whereas the streets were usually bustling with life—another thing she never got the chance to experience much of. She wandered the streets, the warm, dry wind twisting her golden-brown locks around in the sunlight. A small voice rang inside her head, almost as if it were leading her somewhere. Sand rushed between her toes as her sandals sank into the dunes that now lined the streets; the Colony felt like a ghost town despite her only being in Lagrange for the last thirteen years.

She ventured under a shaded overhang, hoping for relief from the blistering sun as she rubbed her arms with unease. Her ivory skin was lined with small red splotches that stood out like a sore thumb. They weren’t heat blisters, yet she couldn’t recall when the last time was she had a run-in with any rashes. No—she did remember, but it was a memory so triggering she’d pushed it into the deepest, darkest, depths of her mind, hoping she’d never remember it again.

When she returned home from her venture out of the Colony fourteen years ago, she did go straight to bed, but when she woke up, her body was covered in an irritating red rash. Her parents were baffled and concerned; they completely ignored the fact that their nine-year-old daughter was also covered in sand for unknown reasons. The rash only lasted a few days, but it was miserable. She itched like crazy, ran a continuous fever that nearly broke a hundred and five, and the pain… The pain ravaged her body like nothing she’d ever felt before; she occasionally thought she was hallucinating, hearing voices inside of her head and having strange conversations with extraterrestrial lifeforms.

Sleep was elusive, sanity was slipping, and doctors had no answers. Just as her worries peaked, so did her condition. The final twelve hours were touch and go; she was given every pain and fever medication known to man, but nothing worked. Finally, on the fourth day, her fever broke. The next time she woke up, five days had passed.

Obviously, the small patches weren’t as extreme as when she was little and they were barely noticeable aside from their scaley, red nature. Even so, she couldn’t help but recount the horrifying experience. Life had been normal since the day she awoke—no more health scares and certainly no more sneaky trips out of the house at night.

Today was her twenty-third birthday and she couldn’t help but wonder if there was some kind of strange connection between the age of nine and twenty-three. After much deliberation, however, she concluded there was no reasonable numerical correlation between the two ages, at least not that she was aware of anyways.

Anli,” a voice hissed. She jumped, banging her ankle against the stone wall. “Anli,” it came again. “You have brought this upon yourself.” She tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come. Her throat felt swollen and dry as if she’d swallowed a gallon of desert sand. “I have slumbered for years. As such, my appetite is great and will not satiate easily.”

She spun on her heels, looking around for the source of the voice. The houses were empty, windows boarded up, and shop signs all turned to CLOSED. Unless she was psyching herself out and it was just the wind, there was no one within earshot of her.

You have a wonderful imagination and many delicious-looking memories to feast upon.” The voice grew silent for a moment. “Humans are such fascinating creatures. I like you, human girl, and I think I will stick around until my hunger is satisfied.

“I— I don’t understand,” she stammered, finding her voice. “What are you and why are you seemingly so attached to me? How did—” The realization hit her square in the face. “When I was a little girl, were you the cause of that horrible rash and the suffering I endured? I nearly died! For what? Some crazy mind-control thing?!” She looked around before lowering her voice. “Get out of my head,” she said with a harsh whisper.

The voice ignored her. “This is where it all began,” it said as the scenery changed to that of the meteorite from the night of the impact. “A plague will soon befall your kind and there will be nothing you can do to stop it. However, I will give you two choices in exchange for my benevolence as I will not inflict such disease upon you.

“You call that benevolent?! Forget the suffering I went through for a moment— If you mean to say the rest of the world will experience something similar to what I did fourteen years ago… What do you hope to gain from something like that?!”

Not like you—much worse. The negative emotions and feelings of humans help to satisfy my hunger, but they are nothing compared to the immaculate delicacy that are your memories. For example, do you remember what you were doing before you saw the meteorite?”

Anli scoffed. “Look, I don’t have time for stupid games. It’s not like I really care what you do because this is all just a dream.” She took a moment to think about the question anyways. “I was… I…was chasing this cute animal! Yeah! It had a small, bushy tail and had brown fur.”

Incorrect.” A memory played in front of her like a movie. She stood at the western perimeter of the Colony, awed by the sights and sounds of the mining operation. Her face was plastered with amazement by the intricate scientific tools and mathematical equations that went into such an operation. “I’m sure you believe me now.

She was horrified as the memory played every second back like a movie. She subsequently watched her nine-year-old self climb into the crater where the meteorite struck the earth. “Th— This happened, but why can’t I remember it happening? This feels so familiar like—”

Like you’ve already done that? You have.” The voice fell silent again before announcing the choices given to her. “You have two choices. You can save your…

The mysterious voice trailed off, growing fainter by the second. Confusion jumbled Anli’s mind, and her thoughts grew chaotic. “I can save my what? How did I forget that night in the desert? Why am I back in Colony 96? Wh—” A new voice suddenly arose from the confusion, calling her name, but it sounded familiar… She blinked a few times, trying to regain a sense of composure.

She blinked again and was promptly greeted by a young man, about her age, hanging over her. His fluffy brown hair smelled like vanilla as he stared back at her with ocean-blue eyes. She could think of worse ways to be woken up.

“Blaire, we’ve talked about you hanging over me while I’m asleep. What if I was having a bad dream and I suddenly sat up and we bashed heads?” She was far from ready to explain the mystifying-horror of a dream she just had. “It’s really sweet that you come to wake me up, but please try not to hang over me. Besides, someone might get the wrong idea,” she said, nervously.

He smiled endearingly, flashing his perfect white teeth at her. She melted. “Sorry. I tried to wake you up, but you were out of it. I’ve never seen you sleep so heavily, and you were mumbling something. Everything good?” His voice garnered a slight tinge of concern.

“It— It’s fine. Just another bad dream is all. Look, can we talk about this later? They’re about to close the Lounge for the night.”

The Lagrange ships were more than just hunks of metal floating around in zero-gravity. They offered a multitude of living spaces and opportunities for their residents. From working on the mining operations, to ensuring the cybernetic security of the Virtualscape, there was a myriad of ways to support and ensure the safety of Lagrange, including Lounges of varying sizes, fully customizable to suit the needs of each user.

Anli had refused to let go of her childish delights, even after coming aboard Lagrange 4. She loved adjusting her Lounge’s lights, creating makeshift enchanted forests as she hummed her favorite songs. Occasionally, she’d opt for something a bit more mature such as a sandy beach under a vibrant sun or a patio on the top floor of a high-rise building, watching as the sun set over a large city. Preferably, her venue-of-choice was the enchanted forest look, but she liked having options, too.

“The day’s over for the most part, so, yeah, I guess they would be closing the Lounge,” Blaire said. Several people emerged from a nearby Lounge, likely headed back to their quarters for the evening. “Hey! I just had this bomb a—”

Anli cut him off. “Please don’t say it. I’m kinda tired from that nap anyways. I think I’m going to head back to my room and go to bed. Sorry, Blaire, but thank you for coming to wake me up. It would have been a hassle to deal with other Lagrangian Systems Officers.” She gave him a weak smile, but her eyes told a different story.

“I know when something’s up with you, Anli,” he said, motioning for her to follow him as they exited the Lounge. “I’ve known your brown eyes for more than half my life and when you start getting bags under them… You can’t hide things from me. I’m your best friend which means I’m obligated to make sure you’re doing okay.”

“No, like, I really do appreciate it—I’m just tired. I promise.” She waved bye and set off down the hall towards her room. She could see Blaire’s reflection in the windows as she rounded the corner, standing there, arms crossed with a worried expression.

It wasn’t that didn’t think she could trust him, she just didn’t know how she was going to handle her own problems, much less have someone else worry about her. Besides, there was a lot to think about: there was the earlier nightmare, the promotions ceremony for Lagrangian System Officers in the morning, and how she was going to celebrate if she was promoted.

With a small whoosh, the door to her room slid open. It was dark, the only light coming from the window near her bed, filtering the Earth’s reflection across the walls. She kicked off her shoes and, with a little effort, her socks.

The space was modest in size, plenty for one person. Since her time on Lagrange 4, she’d been exposed to all kinds of new cultures and forms of entertainment—far more than she ever had access to as a child. A large screen was built into the wall at the foot of her bed. Meant primarily for work-related purposes, she used it for anything but. There was so much to do: watch movies, play video games, listen to music—she even liked to write her own novels from time to time. There was no lack of entertainment on the Lagrange ships.

Truthfully, her favorite pastime was admiring the Earth from her window. She’d fought tooth and nail for her specific room as it was the only one with such a clear view of the planet. The others were either on the opposite side of the ship away from the planet or the sun was too bright, obscuring any potential view. Despite her limited interaction with much of the surface, she still loved Earth and she wanted a room that had the best view of it, even if it was mostly just a brown ball of dirt now.

She shook her head. It was getting late, and she still needed to prepare her outfit for tomorrow. “Now the question is, do I have any spare hangers to hang tomorrow’s outfit up with? You’d think, with the sheer amount of clothes I have in here alone, there’s bound to be one somewhere,” she said standing in the entrance to her closet.

The closet itself was impressive, not because of its size but because of how she’d managed to use the space. Skirts and dresses hung in ornately ordained patterns, T-shirts were neatly folded atop the shelves, and frilly blouses hung opposite the skirts and dresses. Several pairs of dress pants hung in the corner alongside coats and jackets of varying materials and designs. On the floor, she had managed to make room for multiple pairs of boots, some for work in the Lagrangian gardens, some for everyday wear, and others for admiration. She even owned several pairs of luxury-brand heels, pricey tennis shoes, and flats—all remnants from a time that no longer existed.

Several minutes of clattering hangers and the soft fwip of fabric later, she emerged from the closet, hanger in-hand. “Now, I need to make sure I have everything in here ready for the morning,” she said walking into the bathroom.

The black marble counters were littered with everything from shampoo and conditioner to makeup brushes and several unopened packs of toothbrushes. “I think a light pink color lip color will work for tomorrow—nothing too bold or too light.” She scurried back into the front room, adding the note to her digital board. “Even if I don’t end up with a promotion, at least I’ll look nice,” she mumbled, spacing out several other products such as moisturizers and body mists.

The only thing left to do was compile the final pieces of her outfit. Langrangian Systems would be holding the promotion ceremony in the gardens, for aestheticism she presumed, which meant a low boot which also meant socks or tights of some kind—the one accessory that could make or break her ‘fit. With a brave face, she dove her hands into the top drawer of her dresser. Colorful fabric of various uses and designs soared through the air, finding new ways to hang off lamps and bed posts. A mass of waded underwear she was too lazy to undo sailed into the makeshift television screen as it flickered on. A headline scrolled across the screen, but she was too engrossed in her hunt for the perfect pair of footed accessories to notice:

Reports of unknown illness in Colonies: investigations underway

“Ahh! Finally!” she exclaimed. “Although, maybe it wasn’t so worth it…” The room was now littered with various legwear, types of underwear, and the occasional pajama set all for the sake of a single pair of socks. “In my defense,” she said, trying to justify her actions to herself, “these are really cute socks.”

She held them out, admiring the subtle bear cub faces and frills at the cuff. They were her lucky pair and if she was going to be without them on a day such as tomorrow, she might as well not show up altogether.

Exhausted from the day and satisfied with tomorrow’s chosen attire, she hung the outfit on the wall and neatly placed the socks atop the dresser where she’d see them in the morning—she’d clean her mess up after the ceremony.

She crawled into bed, pulling the covers up until all but the top of her head was buried. Her earlier nightmare would be something she’d handle tomorrow. For tonight, she was looking forward to getting some rest. There was no world in which she was going to pass up the opportunity to snag a possible promotion to Planetary Systems Agent, a once-in-a-lifetime promotion that would allow her to conduct operations on the surface. She enjoyed life on Lagrange and the amenities it had to offer, the Lounges and freedom of entertainment being her personal favorites, but she missed Earth. If by some miracle she managed to land a promotion in the morning, she knew exactly what mission she wanted to be assigned to first.

She pressed her hand to the window. The icy glass made her shiver. “Maybe today was just an off day and tomorrow will be better,” she said softly, trying to reassure herself. “Let’s hope the for the best…” She pulled the window shade down and fell into a restful sleep.


Knock, knock, knock. “Anli? Are you in there?” It was Blaire. “You’re going to be late if you don’t hurry,” he said into the door camera. “Today’s the big day and I’ve heard rumors your name is on the list of possible promotions.”

The door swished open with a gentle hiss, Anli standing in the frame. “Yes, I know,” she said with a hair-tie between her lips. “Come in and help me find my socks. I literally can’t find them!”

“Okay, okay,” he said, putting his hands up in appeasement. “Where did you see them last and,” he looked around the room, strewn with clothes, “what were you doing?” No response. “Anli?” He walked into the entryway of the bathroom, catching her mid-makeup.

“That’s the problem,” she said, making eye contact through the mirror, “I can’t remember where I put them. I came back, found what I wanted to wear for today, found the socks in my top drawer and everything after that is just blank. I’m actually about to have a meltdown right now.”

“So they’re probably somewhere around your dresser then.” He turned to take another look at the clothes-strewn room. “Knowing you,” he said, making eye contact again, “they aren’t far, but also knowing you… This is a little offhand for you, Anli. Are you sure you’re okay?”

She flinched, streaking an eyeliner pencil across her upper eyelid. “If you’re referring to the mess out there, that’s because I was too lazy to clean up last night. If you’re referring to yesterday…” She paused. “I’m fine, Blaire. Anyways, please help me find my socks, they’re literally my lucky pair and I have to have them today.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said laughing, trying to lift her spirits. He weaved through the mess of multi-colored decadence, trying to avoid stepping on her clothes. Upon reaching the dresser, he noticed a small pair of white socks, folded atop the mahogany finish. “Expensive taste in furniture, as always,” he teased. “Are the socks in question white and do they have frills at the cuff with bear cub faces on them? There’s a pair here on top of your dresser that are folded up and kind of out of the way.”

He already knew what her lucky pair looked like; he’d seen her wear them for every major event in their lives. She wore them the day she arrived on Lagrange 4, got her first job as a Lagrangian Systems Officer, and for every birthday she’d celebrated on the ship. They came up in conversation at least once or twice a week; for her not to remember what such an important item to her looked like only furthered his suspicions.

Anli emerged from the bathroom, makeup finished, hair tied in wavy ponytails that fell over her shoulders. “They’re actually… Uhh…” She stopped for a moment, trying to remember what her ‘lucky pair’ looked like.

He drilled her. “Just out of curiosity, didn’t you wear them when you got that job as a Lagrangian Systems Officer? I think you also wore them when you came to Lagrange 4.”

“Oh, yeah! You’re right, I did!”

He held the pair of socks up so she could them. “Are these your lucky socks? They were right here on the dresser, like I said.”

She studied the pair with extreme scrutiny, taking them from Blaire. “They look kind of familiar, but I don’t think these are it. Maybe they’re still in the drawer,” she said, hopeful.

“I’m going to stop you there,” Blaire said, holding up a hand. “Let me show you something.” He pulled a thin, rectangular object from his pants pocket, grabbing each side with one hand. “This,” he said, pulling the device open to reveal an LED screen, “is you the day you turned twenty-one.”

Anli was centered on the screen, posing for a picture. She held a large piece of cake in the air, stuck to the end of a fork; her face was filled with glee. In the other hand, she held a small pair of white socks that, at first glance, didn’t look like anything special. Upon further inspection, they were the same pair of socks she was currently holding.

Blaire watched as the color drained from her face, knowing the reality had set in that she had forgotten what the socks looked like. Underneath the photo was a single-lined message: Celebrating 21 with cake and my lucky socks!

“You send me these goofy photos every year,” he smiled, “but you realize we talk about them at least a couple times a week, right? It’s hard to imagine you’d forget something so important to you and that’s why,” he grabbed her hand, “we’re making sure you aren’t late for the ceremony now and we’re having a talk about what’s going on later.”

She grabbed the edge of her desk, knocking several loose papers and a book into the floor. “Blaire, wait. I know you’re worried about me, but don’t be. Really, I’m fine.” She gave him a hearty smile.

“Then explain to me why you’re wearing a bold red gloss today instead of the light pink you said you were going to wear?” He turned her attention to her note board, filled with digitized notes. “It says right here you were going to wear pink, not red. Was that an intentional choice?” he asked sincerely.

“Well, it was—”

“Yes or no.”

She sighed. “If I said yes, would you believe me?”

“Afraid not,” he said with an aslant mouth.

“Tell me you at least like all the cutesy little emojis I put all over my notes?” she smiled weakly.

“Anli, I—”

A loud warning siren blasted through the halls of Lagrange 4, causing Anli to jump. Blaire looked her dead in the eyes. Warnings were rare, happening once a decade on average. This warning, however, was the first in over two.

Warning. Unknown microorganism detected in Colony 96. Number of citizens affected is currently unknown. All Planetary Systems Agents report to Operations immediately.

How will you tell him?” the voice from before hissed inside her mind.

“No, no, no, no— Not now. Not today!” she quietly panicked. “It was real, after all?”

We have more to discuss, human girl.

A sharp pain erupted in Anli’s side causing her to double over in pain. She gasped for air as the room began to spin. Her hand held the edge of the desk with an iron grip before slipping off. The scar on her hand from the meteorite had begun to bleed, coating everything she touched in a shade as red as her lips.

“Anli? Hey!” Blaire rushed to her side where she’d curled into a ball on the floor, crying, “Anli, what’s wrong?!” She pointed to her head with what little strength she could muster. “Your head? Wha—?”

The warning broke again, but the message was different:
Warning. Unknown microorganism detected in Colony 96. Number of citizens affected is currently unknown. Blaire Eintor, please report to Operations as well.

“I’ll…tell you everything,” Anli squeaked, “but help…me, Blaire.” She locked eyes with him for a moment before passing out. Her hand continued to bleed profusely.

He pulled the small device from earlier out again; it hovered in the air as a ring-like tone emanated from within. Suddenly, a face appeared on-screen. A title above their head indicated it was the head nurse from the Medbay.

“Get me the Medbay Director now and have the facility prepare a quarantine room. I’m bringing Lagrangian Systems Officer Anli Rezalti over to you as we speak,” he said, picking her up from the floor.

We can’t just accept new patients from out of nowhere, Blaire. You know the rules,” the Medbay nurse said.

“I don’t give a damn about rules,” he countered. The screen rotated in midair, placing Blaire and Anli center-screen. “She’s been called by Operations, and I need to let them know she’s currently incapacitated, but I can’t do that until we end this call and you take her from me.” He stopped, took a breath, and started again. “Please. She’s everything to me. There’s something happening on the surface and I need to find out what.”

“One moment,” the nurse said. Muffled chatter could be heard in the background. There was a brief shouting match about taking her in because she was a Langranian Systems Officer and another retorting about the potential she was infected with the unknown microorganism. “Ok,” he said, a little ruffled, “the Director said we’ll take her, but I have my concerns about this, Blaire.”

“Fine. I’ll take the heat if need be. Right now, Anli needs medical attention.” His face was filled with sincerity.

“Stay where you are. We’re bringing a Transport Capsule. We want to limit the spread of anything she might have. Additionally, the Director is notifying Operations as we speak. Until the capsule arrives, try not to do anything hasty.”

“You know me.”

“I do. That’s why I’m worried.”

“Look, Alph. I know we’ve been friends for a while now,” Blaire said coaxingly. “All I need from you is to do a full workup on her and tell me she’s okay. I’ll owe you one for this. I’ll take you down to the surface sometime and we can have lunch at this killer place I found.”

“So you have been down to the surface!” Alph said accusingly.

“Err. Don’t tell Anli this, but I kind of got a promotion recently.” He lowered his voice. “I’m the lead Planetary Systems Agent. Trips to the surface are kind of a luxury perk I get.”

“Right… Anyways, please make sure Anli is secured in the capsule. It should be arriving any moment now. When that’s done, hit the Return button on the control panel and it will bring her back to us. I’ll call you when I get the results from her workup.”

“I appreciate you, Alph. You’re a real one for this.” Blaire ended the call just as the Transport Capsule entered the living quarters.

The capsule was made of a thick, amber-colored material that minimized spread from any ill inhabitants. A soft padding lined the outside for comfortable transport of the patient. The underbelly blinked several colors: red meant that emergency transport was in-progress, yellow for non-emergency transport, and green meant the capsule was empty.

He placed Anli inside, tucking a small note under her other hand—hopefully she’d find it when she woke up. With a small hiss, the capsule closed, securing Anli inside. He pressed Return and the capsule began transport back to the Medbay, as described. The underbelly flashed red as it zoomed off.

He turned his attention back to the floating device in front of him. “Request special permissions to lead a solo investigation into the new microorganism,” he said. “This is Lead Planetary Systems Agent, Blaire Eintor.” The device remained silent for several seconds before the screen flashed an Audio Only message.

“Lead Officer Blaire Eintor, are you requesting special permission to head a solo investigation into this new microbe on the surface? Is that my understanding?” a deep, masculine voice came.

“Yes, Commander Wrait, that is correct.”

“And for what reasons are you wanting to spearhead this thing?”

“I have a suspicion that Langrangian Systems Officer, Anli Rezalti, has come into contact with this new microorganism, sir. She is currently headed to the Medbay for a full workup and quarantine, as you are aware.”

“Based upon what evidence are you suggesting she’s come into contact with this thing? We’re 19 million miles from the planet itself. Unless we’re talking about an outbreak of something here too, I’ll need something definitive.” The Commander asked, curiosity piquing his voice.

“It’s just a hunch, but…” He walked over to the corner of the desk, now stained with blood. “She’s had trouble recalling certain things over the last day. Yesterday morning, I found her passed out in her Lounge. I came back several times, tried to wake her each time, and failed. She was unsteady on her feet after she woke up that evening and refused to explain anything.” He scraped a sample from the desk’s corner and placed it inside a small tube of blue liquid he pulled from a hidden gear belt.

“Again, I’m going to need more conclusive evidence, Blaire—not a suspicion. Anything you can give me that might lead me to think she is, in fact, infected, and I will greenlight your request.” A light rapping came from the device’s speakers. The Commander must have been drumming on his desk.

The liquid inside the vial began to foam erratically, nearly bursting through the top of the tube before Blaire sealed it off. His optimism in Anli’s condition faded. She had contracted something, as was evident by the reaction with the liquid in the tube, but what remained a mystery.

“Commander, I think I have your evidence. Please, turn your camera on.” The Commander did as requested. “Officer Rezalti has contracted something. The liquid in this vial only reacts when a new organism is introduced to it. When children are brough to Lagrange for the first time, a DNA sample is taken and subsequently introduced into the system so that they are on-record—this prevents the introduction of false-positives. However, it’s also used to detect foreign, biological entities.” His face was serious, but his mind was filled with worry.

“Lead Planetary Systems Agent Blaire Eintor,” the Commander said, “your request has been approved. Please take appropriate precautions before you depart. Do not be reckless. I wish you success in your Mission.” He leaned into the camera. “We do not know what this thing is and how it affects the human body. If this is indeed what Officer Rezalti has contracted, you are best accustomed to figuring what the hell we’re dealing with here.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you for your approval of the request, sir,” he said.

“Take care of yourself, Blaire. Dismissed.”

He closed the device, placing it back in his pocket. “We have no information on lethality, spread, or incubation,” he mumbled to himself. “The sooner I can get down to the surface, the better.” A small beep alerted him to a new message. He swiped the air, activating a new transparent, holographic screen.

Lead Planetary Systems Agent Blaire Eintor, your request for special permissions to lead a solo investigation into the recently discovered, unknown microorganism has been approved. You are to depart for Earth’s surface as soon as you have made the necessary appropriations.

You will be embarking on a special-threat mission. Additional details are currently unavailable. If you are to contract this foreign entity, you are to remain on the surface until you have been cleared for return to Lagrange 1-5.

Do you accept this mission?

“I accept.”