Chapter 3:

Wishes Like Stars

Memory-Memorium: Mind Games

Morning sun broke through the glass of Lagrange 4’s space hangar. It seemed ironic it had begun its daily routine, rounding the edges of the Earth, peeking out from behind the dusty hunk of rock. Normally, the sun symbolized peace and warmth, but today, it was just another reminder of the uncertain and tumultuous path that had been laid out before not just Anli and Blaire, but all of humanity.

A pair of heavy metal doors opened to reveal an empty spacecraft hangar, eerily devoid of the pilots and mechanics who typically ran the place. There was a moment of uncertain peace and unsettling anxiety; Blaire was the only one given special permission to leave Lagrange 4 and head to the surface, but he couldn’t get over how quiet it was. The banging of tools on metal and revving of engines was nonexistent. Moreover, the eye-watering fumes of rocket fuel and oil were similarly absent.

A wave of unease washed over him. “Man, it still feels weird being the only one cleared for this mission, but,” he walked over to a small, white spacecraft and pressed his hand against the cool metal frame, “I guess it ultimately comes down to me to figure out what’s going on.”

The spacecraft itself had seen better days; it was covered in scratches and several dents had been hammered into the hull. It was shaped like an oversized truck just without the bed and more uniform in shape. Four tires were nestled underneath the bottom of the craft for easy storage and could be deployed for all-terrain purposes. The back half was reserved for storage space, big enough to fit a person or two, though it was currently strewn with strange scientific instruments and half-zipped suitcases.

The cockpit contained an FM radio, stick shift, two seats, and a wide dashboard. Minus the completely digital navigation system and star map of the galaxy in the windshield, it resembled the vehicles they used to sell on car lots centuries ago. It wasn’t decked out in fifty-million buttons, able to teleport people or things, or soar through wormholes. The navigation system was the most crucial component of the vehicle, but even that was based on centuries of space mapped by previous Officers and other personnel. It was perfect for trips to and from Earth, but that was about it.

Blaire turned his attention from the craft and took one final look at the hangar. “It’s crazy to think that all of this happened in just a matter of days. Hell, this place used to be bussin’. We always had a different playlist of music every day, someone would always crack a bad joke… Man,” he said, “we even had specially catered meals during lunch or if we were working late; it’s a ghost town in here now.” He picked up a small wrench that had been left on the floor, placing it on top of a nearby workbench.

While he was no stranger to life’s typical one-two punch kind-of-blows, the whole ordeal with Anli felt unfair. What had she done to deserve something as psychologically terrifying as the complete erasure of her entire sense of self? Whatever the reason, he was determined to find his own solution to the problem; he could care less who thought what.

A sharp metallic clang echoed through the hangar, snapping him back to reality. He spun around, promptly finding the culprit of the sudden distraction: a large blowtorch had fallen from the wing of a nearby spaceplane. It had probably been left by one of the other pilots, forgotten about after the emergency had been declared. Even so, it was too heavy for the air to move; he hadn’t touched it, either—there was no reason for it to have fallen.

“Odd,” he mumbled to himself. He looked up and down the hangar—definitely alone. “Maybe I’m just haunted, and this is all part of a plot to a horror movie,” he laughed. “I’ll have to ask Anli what she recommends. She loves that stuff.”

He climbed into the cockpit of his craft and fired the engines as the hangar door creaked open, revealing an endless sea of stars and one brown dot nestled amongst the stellar arrays. It made him sick having to leave Anli behind, and in such disarray, no less, but he’d wasted enough time already. Thankfully, the situation on the surface hadn’t grown into an unmanageable whirlwind yet—the extra time he’d spent on Lagrange wasn’t a waste. While cases had continued to climb, the curve remained steady—even the death toll sat at zero.

“Still, I spent two extra weeks up here when I should have been on Earth. If this thing is really going to gradually eat away at her memories until she’s nothing more than a shell…” He shook his head. “I don’t want to imagine a world like that—where the person I love doesn’t even remember herself, much less me.”

With a loud crack and a trail of smoke, Blaire was off, wading through the cosmos. A small chirp alerted him of his ETA: 2 days and 17 hours until arrival on Earth’s surface.

“Until then, I guess I’ll just kick back and do some research into the glass city. If I can find even the slightest trace of something, then I’ll know for sure whether this place is real or not.” Several quick swipes later and a new screen appeared in front of him. “This net crawler will do most of the digging for me, but if this place is actually real…”

He pulled up a second screen, swiping, then dismissing, news article after news article. Some briefly discussed the failure of world leaders in handling disease outbreaks, others heralded the successes of a new type of space travel while yet more sought to discredit the claims of conspiracy theorists. His favorite was an article titled "We’re All Inside of an Alien Simulation” that talked about how the changing climate was nothing more than an elaborate, artificial simulation run by aliens, claiming world governments were in on the whole thing, too. The internet quickly laughed the author off the internet, and the article was buried in the troves of digital literature.

“Wait. That looks important,” he said, reading the headline of a different article aloud: “Famed City of Glass: Fact or Fiction?” He scrolled a couple pages, skimming the contents. “So, this did gain enough traction to even make into the mainstream news cycles back then, huh?” One short paragraph stood out in particular.

“After years of excavation and deep-earth imaging, there remains little evidence to support the theory of a famed city of glass, however, the team’s findings remained inconclusive. Despite the apparent failure to procure any reasonable evidence that could either prove or disprove the existence of such a place, recent scans have revealed something hidden beneath the surface of the sand. Further excavations will be needed, but funds have recently run dry, forcing the team to all but abandon the project.”

Blaire bookmarked the article, saving it to a folder aptly named Folder. He knew there were rumors, but his conversation with Alph surprised him—the rumors were more common than he had realized. He continued swiping through article after article, looking for anything that mentioned the famed city in some way. After an hour of doom scrolling through nearly every media archive he could find, he flicked both screens off.

Entrusting navigation to the autopilot, he exited the cockpit, climbing into the cabin of the craft. It was sizeable and well decorated despite the its overall modest size as warm, yellow lights cast a comfy glow upon the space—a stark contrast to the cold, dark void outside. A hollowed-out storage area just above the cockpit was reserved for food items and other consumable materials that could slide around during transit. Two large windows spanned the length of the wall on either side of the cabin, and, like the cockpit’s windshield, they also reflected the current ETA and star map of the galaxy. Automatic shades could be deployed in accordance with the sunrise and set times on Earth, though manual deployment offered greater control.

The floors were made of soft, grey marble but could easily be converted into a series of sleeping pods by swapping which side of the floor was currently in use. Several books were stuffed into the backs of the black leather seats, likely for reading pleasure during trips to Earth; small plushies of Blaire’s favorite animals were seat-belted in during times of no occupancy. However, each occupant was made well aware they were to hold said plushie of their seat or ensure it was belted in with another in any unoccupied seat.

Everything was right where it should have been, until he looked a little closer. Food crumbs lined the floor and fresh fingerprints smeared the windows. What confused him the most were the two suitcases that had been turned upside down—one’s contents had been strewn across the floor. While he’d purposefully left the suitcases half zipped, he’d secured them well enough that they wouldn’t shift mid-flight. He stood there for a moment, analyzing the mess, wondering if maybe he actually hadn’t secured the luggage well enough after all. The food crumbs and fingerprints on the glass were another matter, though. While there was a slight chance he’d just forgotten to clean the place, it was a small chance.

“Either I’m forgetful, or,” he said raising his voice, “I have a stowaway who shouldn’t be here.” He waited in silence for a moment—no response. “Alright, fine. We can do this the hard way,” he said, pulling at what looked like thin air until a figure emerged from beneath a cloaking shield.

Anli lounged against the wall of the cabin, half asleep, with a cookie in her mouth. She was mumbling something about chocolate chip bananas, only adding to the absurdity of the situation. His suitcases had been littered across the cabin, food supplies broken into, and navigation panels smudged by dirty hands Without warning, the craft lurched to the side, avoiding a near-miss with an asteroid, causing Anli to fall over, disrupting her nap.

“What?! What happen…ed…” Her face looked as guilty as a shoplifter caught in the act. She closed her eyes as she began wailing in dramatic fashion. “Ohh!” she shouted, “I seem to have forgotten where I am and how I got here. How ever will I get back? Will this poor girl ever find her way home?” She opened one eye to see if Blaire was buying her performance.

“I can’t believe you,” he said, trying to keep from lecturing her. “Not only did you disobey your senior Officer by leaving the Medbay, you also made a mess of my things! You know, I hope you have a really good reason why I shouldn’t call Commander Wrait and have you sent back to Lagrange 4.” He folded his arms across his chest.

Anli sighed, ending the dramatics. “I’m not stupid, Blaire,” she argued. “I know you could never live with yourself if something happened to me and you weren’t there. Moreover, what was I supposed to do? Sit there and watch every part of me wither away into nothing because this thing inside me is hungry?” Her voice was steady, but her words were scathing.

“Anli, you can’t just sneak onto my—”

“Yeah, Blaire? And what will you do since I did sneak onto your rickety little spacecraft? Huh? The fact of the matter is, I’m scared, and you couldn’t even acknowledge that. I had a literal psychotic breakdown yesterday and the best you could do was put me back in the bed?”

“It’s for your own good, you idiot!” Blaire fired back. “We know next to nothing about this thing. It sure seems to get off to your memories, all while it unleashes plagues upon innocent people! Hell, I was able to narrow down how it moves between hosts, but that’s all anyone knows! How am I supposed to take care of you when I don’t have the resources to do so?” He was frustrated. “Do you understand that? A life without you in it is worthless.”

“And I appreciate the return sentiment since it seems you did hear what I said, but I refuse to be locked away in some glass box for everyone to gawk at and experiment on. What kind of life is that? Who in their right mind would ever want to live out what remains of the dwindling time they have left as themselves like that?” Anli had moved into a sitting position. “What if I wake up tomorrow morning and I can’t even remember who I am anymore? How would you feel?”

“You know I hate open-ended questions like that,” he frowned. “I’d be devastated, but I’d spend the rest of my life trying to find a way to bring you back.”

Anli’s heart jumped. “Romantic, but it was just a hypothetical question… Still though, what if I do wake up not knowing who I am?”

Neither Anli nor Blaire spoke for a solid minute; the silence was all-encompassing, filling every corner of the craft with ever-growing anxiety. Blaire didn’t doubt that she was scared, but he wished she’d found a better way to approach things—sneaking onto his craft just to argue wasn’t how he envisioned his day going.

Anli was well aware of the risks she faced pulling such a stunt, but it was either lose herself, locked away in the Medbay with no one to comfort her, or maybe find a way to put an end to the madness. She didn’t know if her memories would be consumed all at once or if it was like some kind of background process on a computer; there was still the chance she’d wake up in the morning and not even remember her own name. Joining Blaire on his journey back to Earth seemed like the best option out of the choices she had been presented with.

“I am curious though,” Blaire said. “How did you manage to sneak on here? The hangar was so quiet—there’s no way you could’ve snuck on without me knowing.”

Anli giggled. “While you were busy with the falling tools, I used the echo to cover my footsteps and snuck on while your back was turned. All I had to do was sit outside the hangar and wait for the perfect opportunity. Truthfully,” she said smugly, “I was going to throw a couple pairs of scissors I stole from Alph and use those as a distraction, but it all worked out in the end.”

Blaire narrowed his eyes. “Now explain to me how you got out of the quarantine room because there’s no way Alph left it un…locked… He left the door unlocked, didn’t he?” He facepalmed. “When I get back, he’s getting an earful.”

Actually,” she said, emphasizing the word, “the door was locked, but I snuck his keycard several days ago. When he would open the little slot to send things through, I would study the way his keycard bounced against his leg and how far out it would come.” She made a gesture with her hands, likely meant to be the keycard, though it looked more like she was trying to make shadow puppets. “So, I stuck my arm through really quick and was just barely able to grab it!”

Blaire shook his head. “You always did have a knack for things like that, acutely aware of everyone and everything around you. Did he notice?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Do you still have it?”

“Mhm! Right here,” she said, holding it up like a trophy before Blaire snatched it from her fingers. “Hey! You could have just asked, you know? I would have given it to you,” she pouted.

“Maybe next time,” he said, locking the keycard away in a small safe. “Anyways, we’re,” he turned to the ETA on the window, “approximately two and a half days to Earth. Until then, please try not to cause me any more trouble. In fact,” he poked his head back into the cockpit for a moment, “I have a little task for you.”

A small chirrup emanated from somewhere behind Anli. Blaire looked at her expectantly. “I don’t have it. I, uh, left my device in my room,” she said with a nervous smile.

“So, you won’t mind if I just check the assigned name on that small little device that’s hanging from the front pocket of your bag then, right? I just want to make sure someone didn’t lose one in here somewhere, you know? Gotta make sure it gets back to its rightful owner out of the countless people in the room and all.”

Anli sighed. “Sometimes, you’re really unfair, you know that?” Reluctantly, she looked him in the eyes. “I hate when you do that rhetorical-question-sarcasm thing so much. Whatever,” she said, rolling her eyes. “What is it you want me to do?”


“The glass city? I thought that was just a myth?” Anli said, surprised.

“Well, I did too until I had a meeting with the little friend inside your body. I hope you can hear me in there, you little shi—”

“Aaanyways~ You just want me to do some research?”

Blaire held his tongue, re-addressing Anli. “Pretty much. I figured two heads were better than one— Err… Sorry. No pun intended…”

Anli smiled. “I hope I won’t ever have to forget the awkward way he apologies,” she whispered to herself as she turned her attention towards her newly assigned research project.

“I really appreciate it. Let me know if you come up with anything interesting,” he said, returning to the cockpit. “Also, I’m not done scolding you yet, so don’t think you’re off the hook.”

“Okaaay mom.”

Blaire smiled. “You’re free to join me up here at any time,” he said as he returned to the front of the craft.

Two days passed without further antics. In fact, Anli had gone back to poking occasional fun at Blaire every time he peeked into the cabin to see how she was doing or if she had any leads on the glass city. She’d spent the last two days combing old internet archives for any clues and even recent media outlets, but her search also came up short.

Blaire wasn’t surprised—even his net crawler had come up empty handed. It seemed what rumors did exist were as scarce as he originally believed after all, though he admitted it seemed strange there were entire news articles and conspiracy theories about it. Even so, this posed a problem. Earth was a glorified desert; the glass city could be anywhere if it were truly buried under the sand. He’d wanted to start his investigation there, but until he had more information and precise coordinates, it seemed he would be starting his investigation on the outskirts of Colony 96, after all.

Since today would be Anli’s first day back on Earth, she wanted to look as good as she was excited, despite her nerves. She thought she looked cute, but, to her surprise, Blaire had his reservations.

“I’d tell you you’re not allowed to leave the craft, but I know you’ll fight me on that, too,” Blaire said. “So, you’ll be tagging along with me.” Anli’s face lit up with excitement.

So, my outfit did do the trick,” she thought. She stooped down to lace a pair of brown leather calf boots. “Say,” she said, standing back up. “What do you think? Dark brown leggings with the skirt or with undershorts? Or do I skip the skirt and go for pants instead?”

“You know I’m going to have to keep a tight leash on you,” he said, holding up a small harness that looked like it’d fit a child—not a grown adult. “But if you want my opinion,” he weighed the choices, knowing she wanted to look nice, “then I’d say do the pleated skirt and leggings. The legwear will keep the blowing sand from buffeting your legs, and, knowing you, you still want to look nice.”

“Ohh… good idea,” she said, ignoring the harness joke. “Hey, tie my shirt off in the back for me. I can’t reach it,” she frowned. “Also, do you think the colors on everything else will go well with the black shirt and gold trim, or should I go black leggings and a more bronze-colored boot?”

“I think the other colors will be fine,” he said, tying Anli’s shirt into a twist knot, “but I was being serious about the harness, I just want to cover my bases is all, ok?”

Anli’s face went from excitement to displeasure faster than Blaire could blink. She was finally home. She’d planned everything from the outfit she’d planned to wear to the pins in her hair for the occasion, but if the harness was some kind of prank, she was not happy. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said, dropping the pins in her mouth. “What are other people going to think?! Why do you have to cause me such misery sometimes?”

“If you’ll promise me something, we could avoid the whole ordeal.”

“And what’s that?” she said, narrowing her eyes.

“Promise me you won’t run off somewhere I can’t find you. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here. If something happens and you begin to forget who or where you are, I might not be able to find you.” He lowered the harness. Truthfully, it was more of a joke than anything, but he also knew that if something did happen, he’d never forgive himself.

“As long as you’ll get rid of that stupid child’s harness, I promise.”

“Then, ladies first,” he said, ushering her out of the back of the craft.

“Hey now— I still need your input, Mister.” She wagged her finger. “Black leggings, bronze boots, or vice versa? Also, thoughts on skirt color?”

Blaire furrowed his brow. He was being tested. He already knew what outfit she’d picked out; she always had something for every occasion. “Black,” he said, pointing at her legs, “and bronze.” He pointed at her current pair of boots. “Match the skirt color with the boots.”

“Very good! You already knew what I had picked out,” she said. “And now, for the finale.” She pulled a jacket from God knows where and slipped her arms through the slick, bronze leather. “Here I am,” she thought, turning away to finish buttoning her skirt. “Finally Back on Earth for the first time in over a decade. This all seems so surreal, but at least I look good.

Sand blew in the wind, briefly obscuring her view—everything was so brown. It wasn’t that she’d grown unaccustomed to seeing sand everywhere or that she’d forgotten what it looked like—quite the opposite. She’d spent loads of time in the Lounge, venturing through different worlds and unique places filled with wonders she could only dream about.

One time, she’d chosen to take a self-guided tour on Earth, walking through abandoned buildings as she laid in the warm, desert sands. It was all a simulation, but the Lounges’ technology allowed for such extravagance. Another time, she had chosen to explore a flower garden; it was an experience she’d never forget. She loved the aroma of budding flowers, vibrant petals, and sturdy stems; the garden was like a painters’ canvas, splashed with crimson, aqua, lavender, and more—even the way the sun felt on her skin as it beamed through the glass of the botanical garden filled her with joy.

Despite her familiarity with the various Earth-like ecosystems, she was still nervous; her heart pounded in her chest like a drum. “I started all of this, and now I have to fix it. That’s the entire reason I snuck onboard, but I don’t know if Blaire even sees that… He’s so dense sometimes, but other times he’s so emotionally tuned to me it’s like he can read my mind.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and counted to ten. “I can do this. I have to do this.

The back hatch lifted open, showering Anli and Blaire with a blast of hot sand. Everything was sand: left, right, up, down—sand. The wind had picked up as well, creating an unpleasant, sand-blasted, experience.

“I think there’s a storm blowing in,” Anli shouted over the rush of wind and sand. “Are you certain we’re at Colony 96?”

“Yeah. It’s just up ahead,” Blaire shouted back. “Let’s hurry and get into town. I’ve already reserved a couple rooms at a local Inn.” He wrapped a large, open hood around his head to keep the sand away from his face. “You’d better grab one, too. They can treat dust lung pretty well down here, but you still don’t want it.”

Anli stared at him before breaking out into a fit of laughter. “You look ridiculous!”

Blaire held the harness back up. “Need I remind you?” He was clearly unamused.

After several excruciatingly sandy minutes, Anli was finally able to make out the perimeter of the colony, Blaire trailing behind. Rusted metal gates groaned in the wind. A small guard post stood between the entrance to the colony and reprieve from the storm.

“Stop,” the guard shouted. “I’m going to need identification and your reason for entry to Colony 96.” He was covered in desert-camouflage tactical gear. Anli wondered who would ever volunteer to wear something so oppressive and heavy in the middle of a desert. “Both of you.”

“Officer Anli Rezalti, sir. I’m with Lagrangian Systems for Lagrange 4. I came at the request of my senior officer, somewhere back there in the sand, to lend support towards his mission.” She tried to keep a straight face, but the image of Blaire and his stupid hood refused to leave her mind.

The guard stood firm. “What mission are you here on, Officer Rezalti?” he said.

“She’s with me,” Blaire said, finally bringing up the rear. “I’m the Lead Planetary Systems Agent, Blaire Eintor, for Lagrange 4. We’re here on a special mission to investigate the cause of the recent microbe outbreak,” he said, sharing a holographic copy of his and Anli’s IDs with the guard.

“Lead Officer Eintor and Officer Rezalti, you are cleared for passage into Colony 96. I’m sure you’re current on the latest information, but I will remind you there is now a strict 9pm curfew in effect until further notice. We will have to report any infractions of this rule to your commander. Please stay safe, and I wish you success in your investigation.”

Anli waited until they had entered the colony, past the guard, to speak. “Thanks for covering me back there, but when did you get a copy of my ID and,” she tugged at the child harness, uncomfortably squeezing her chest, “when will you take this damn thing off?”

Blaire snickered. “I have access to anyone’s ID that is ranked below me. I knew there was a guard station, so I trailed behind to pull yours up. As for the harness, I think I’ll leave it on a little longer since you told me I looked ridiculous. Unless you didn’t mean it?” he said with rising intonation.

“Why are you so mean to me sometimes?” she whined. “Will you at least take it off before we get to the Inn? It’s squeezing a rather… sensitive area…”

“I can, but so can you. Press the tiny button in the center.” Anli did as instructed. “See?”

“I hate you. I hope you know that,” she pouted as the harness fell at her feet. “Anyways, I see the Inn, so I’m going on ahead. Feel free to come apologize whenever. I’ll be waiting,” she said snootily.

“Aw, come on Anli. Don’t be like that. It was just a joke,” he said, mouth aslant. “You know I didn’t mean any harm by it.”

Anli flipped her hair over her shoulder and walked off towards the Inn, secretly smiling. She knew he was just playing; they’d been friends for well over a decade, after all. She just wanted to see him step outside of his comfort zone, but she also wished he’d stop treating her like a child.

It had only been a couple weeks since her twenty-third birthday—by no means did she want to be treated like an adult in every situation. There were times when she preferred the innocence of child-like fun or equally silly jokes, but she felt like she was constantly third wheeling. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been given the reins on a mission, much less taken seriously. Blaire’s promotion to Lead Planetary Systems Agent was great and all, and she was happy for him. He had been working incredibly hard and deserved the promotion more than anyone, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling she was becoming nothing more than a burden.

Anli walked into the Inn, throwing her own oversized hood back as she pulled her hair out from under the thick cloth. It was a relatively nice place, considering Colony 96 wasn’t exactly known for its interior designers. Large posters hung on the walls of what Anli assumed were the Inn at different phases of its construction. Several workers stood in the center of the frame with their arms and helmets in the air, ecstatic at the progress they were making. Beige carpeting and embroidered throw rugs demarcated the divide between the tile of the lobby and guest rooms as her boots tapped against the floor.

Large, crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, glistening in the daylight that streamed through the windows. Directly beneath each chandelier, soft polyester couches and chairs, adorned in alternating colors of black and white, waited patiently for their next occupant. A TV on the far wall droned on in the background as Anli continued to take in the sights. For a moment, she’d completely forgotten about her plight—instead, enjoying the ornate design of the Inn and the sparkling atmosphere cast by the chandeliers. The lifting of restrictions just before she left for Lagrange 4 had done wonders for the colony, it seemed, but something else must have happened for such a dramatic shift in style in less than two decades’ time.

She walked down a long hall lined with guest rooms on either side. Small scanners on the doors indicated occupancy or an open room; scanning one’s ID would reserve an open room. Since Blaire had already reserved two, she wandered around until she found her name on one and Blaire’s on another… on the top floor. He must have chosen the rooms before they arrived, though she surmised that, since the rooms were right next to each other, he’d done so to try and keep her on a metaphorical leash.

“The top floor is probably just because he likes the view,” she whispered to herself.

A soft chink from the scanner on her door confirmed the reservation. Bold white letters slid across the center of the door as a welcome message greeted her upon entry:

Reservation For: Anli Rezalti. Reservation Status: Indefinite. Welcome, Miss Rezalti. Please Enjoy Your Stay With Us.

She walked in. The guest rooms weren’t all too different from the lobby, but there were a couple notable differences, namely the window wall and walk-in shower; baths were considered taboo due to the limited supply of water on Earth, and showers were restricted to a maximum of fifteen minutes per person.

Anli walked up to the window wall, pulling the curtains back to brighten up the room; the approaching storm seemed to have died down finally. She could see for what felt like miles. Colony 96 had done extensive renovations in her time away, so much so that it had become a glorified mini city, but the feel was entirely unique: streets were no longer victim to the environment and had been fully enclosed with a thin, glass-like material, still grippy enough for foot traffic. Asphalt and concrete had been phased out for over a century, replaced by obsidian, making for little to no maintenance and a sleek, otherworldly appearance—the colony must have finally clued in to its use.

Small, one-story homes, once made of stone, had been renovated with metal frames—incomparable to the towering high-rises that climbed into the sky. Signs and lettering adorned many of the buildings throughout the colony these days. Once night fell, it would become a wonderland of illumination and reflections as the streets shimmered in neon brilliance.

A hover drone floated by the windows indicating which way the markets were and when curfew was in fancy, bold lettering. “Where did they find the resources for all of this?” she pondered aloud. “I hardly recognize the place, aside from the layout.”

The air conditioning kicked on, knocking a brochure off the kitchen counter as it fluttered to the floor, landing at her feet. Anli stooped down to pick it up. “Project Revamp: Behind the colony’s mission to gain energy independence,” she read aloud, thumbing through the plastic-y pages. “Colony 96, with the help of a rare-earth mineral source, has exploded in redevelopment over the last decade. We hope you will continue to support our little home in the years to come!” it concluded. She placed the brochure back on the counter, weighed down by a small paperweight.

The colony had changed a lot, but so had she. It was as if her growth and maturity as a young woman had coincided with the redevelopment, but at the same time, she felt completely isolated from the world. All she ever wanted was a peaceful life. The parasitic monster residing within her had upended not just her life—it had upended her future. She thought she had it all figured out: she wanted to learn how to sew, cook her own meals, and maybe even learn a new language. Were different languages even still a thing? But what about Blaire? How did she feel about him? Most of all, though, she was looking forward to the potential promotion. Now, her career was just as up in the air as Colony 96 had become.

People were suffering because of her and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She’d come to Earth to rectify her childhood mistakes; the only problem was, she didn’t know where to start. With the outward expansion of the colony, she wondered if the meteorite would even still be where she’d left it all those years ago.

She closed the curtains, deciding she was tired enough for a nap. “Since Blaire has my ID, I’m sure he can come and go as he pleases,” she said, kicking off her shoes.

She grabbed a blanket from a nearby holder and curled up on the couch. If Blaire dropped by while she was asleep, so be it, but she did want to talk to him about giving her a little more free reign, even if it was only the first day back on Earth. Until then, a well-earned nap would be her welcome-home-gift. After all, it seemed she’d be staying for a while.


Anli stood in the center of her room. She felt indecent as if she were half-naked, yet she was fully clothed. She shuddered, unable to shake the awkward feeling. Moreover, she felt like someone was staring at her, eyes boring holes into the very essence of her soul. Was she dreaming? She felt completely awake and fully lucid.

What’s this? You came to visit me, instead? How fascinating a human you are,a familiar voice said.

She spun on her heels as her hair whipped around her. She knew the voice well and it pained her to make that realization. “You know what? I’m not going to let you have your way with me. This is crazy and—”

Is it, though? Is it crazy, Anli? My hunger grows and I’ve yet to begin my feast,” the voice whispered in her ear.

She remained steadfast, not moving an inch. “This is my life, and these are my memories. You are nothing more than a parasite that thinks it can do whatever it pleases, and I’m through with that!”

I like my humans strong-willed! Ahh… now this one looks appetizing.

A shimmering bubble floated in front of her; she held out her hands as it rested in her palms. She gasped, realizing what it contained—a memory, but not just any memory. The bubble played back like a movie, detailing every moment.

“You wouldn’t,” she whispered harshly. “Of all my memories…”

What you don’t understand is that it is me who is in control, Anli,” the parasite said. Its words reverberated through the room. “I take what I please.

The bubble burst in her hands, plunging Anli into a new, dream-like trance. It was an early summer morning; she was with her father. This was a memory she had treasured her whole life, and to watch it taunt her with its final, fleeting images made her heart sink.

Unlike her mother, Anli’s father wasn’t as hellbent on the rules of the colony, especially since he worked for one of the top firms spearheading the colony redevelopment. As the lead researcher, he was always engrossed in his work, usually setting aside little time for his daughter. With the discovery of a new, rare-earth mineral and its potentially boundless use as an energy source, he was oftentimes holed up in his office or the lab. The prospects were exciting. If they could somehow harness the energy produced by the new mineral, it would not only catapult the colony into a new age, it would also bring about a revival of Earth’s entire biosphere.

This memory was a very special day. Anli had turned nine and a half, and her father had taken her to work with him that day as a sort of treat. She’d always begged him to talk about his work and let her come see him during the day. Instead, he’d just put her on the head, smile, and say “Maybe some other time, honey.”

Today, however, was that some other time. She gawked at the large drills and people wearing shiny white hardhats. It was an entire other world; one she had never seen before. It meant everything to her that she was able to spend the day with her father, seeing as their time together was often very limited. The whirs of machinery and shouts of the workers as they went about their duties fascinated her. Finally approaching her father’s work office, she couldn’t help but glue herself to a three-dimensional display of various gemstones as they hovered above a projector.

“Daddy, when can I become a smart scientist like you?” she said, tugging at his lab coat.

“You’re still pretty young, but I’ll put in a good word for you, how about that?” he chuckled. “You’ll make a fine scientist one day, I’m sure.”

Her eyes lit up. “Really?” She pranced around the office in delight. “I’m going to be as smart as you someday, watch me!”

The scene shifted, causing Anli to regain some degree of lucidity. This time, she seemed to shadow her younger self rather than reliving the past as if she were in the moment. The memory played on.

Curiosity immediately took hold. She tried sitting in her father’s desk chair first. To her surprise, she was able to interact with physical objects despite the memory’s trance-like atmosphere. She wondered if she could grab things as well, like some kind of poltergeist she’d seen in the movies. It didn’t surprise her when, upon attempting to lift a pencil from the desk, it remained in the same position.

Wandering around the room, she noticed stacks of rolled up blueprints jutting out from a bookshelf in the corner. Still not entirely certain what was happening, she stood in the floor, watching as her younger self suddenly bounded into the room with unabated enthusiasm. She watched herself place a large red circle emoji on the current date.

This was the day dad was set to present his findings on the new mineral,” she said, before abruptly covering her mouth. Her younger self didn’t seem to notice she’d said anything though, only further compounding the mystery of the memory. “I wonder” she said under her breath. “Umm, little me? Hello-o-o? Can you hear me?” She waved her arms around, but there wasn’t the slightest hint of acknowledgement. “It looks like whatever I say and do has no effect on the memory,” she said.

Following herself through the open door, she rounded the corner to find her father standing there, arms crossed in triumph. “Your daddy just got his research approved for Phase 1 of testing,” he said excitedly, twirling the nine-year-old version of herself through the air.

She giggled. “I knew you could do it, daddy! You’re so smart,” she beamed.

“Should we call it a day and go home and tell mommy the good news?” Anli nodded her head. “Alright,” he chuckled. “How do you think we should surprise her?”

In an abhorrent twist, the scene abruptly melted away like wet paint on a wall. She watched as the unthinkable happened and the plant began to erupt in flames, little Anli happily walking down the hall, smiling with her hand in her father’s. There were no screams, no shouts—it was instantaneous. She watched on in horror as blistering heat seared the flesh from their bones, eventually reducing them to piles of ash.

“Stop it! I can’t take it anymore! Stop!!” she screamed as she squeezed her eyes shut. “This isn’t right! That didn’t happen!”

Without warning, she began to free fall into a dark void of nothingness, spiraling down into an endless abyss of torment. She tried to grab something, anything, to hold onto but to no avail; she was falling and there was no way out. Panic set in as she twisted around in the dark, falling deeper and deeper into despair. What happened when she hit the bottom? Was there one?

Her hands slammed onto a cold tile floor as the familiar scent of the Inn wafted into her nose. She was back in Colony 96, but the damage had been done—several memories had all been mercilessly devoured.

Hair was plastered to her forehead with sweat, and her eyes were the size of marbles. She looked up… and immediately became sick. Tears streamed down her face, but she couldn’t think of why she was so sad. She felt like she’d lost something important, something of incredible value. She continued to gag for another minute before finally regaining enough strength to, shakily, move. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she went to look in the mirror.

Her makeup was smeared, and her skin was whiter than snow. One of the straps from her top had snagged on something and was beginning to unravel. God only knew how that happened. Her jacket had also fallen off, the bronze leather now draped around her waist. Even the zipper on her skirt had come off its track as it lay in the floor.

She walked away from the mirror. Her head pounded like she’d been hammered with a brick, and her stomach gurgled in protest of its emptied contents. A new wave of nausea rolled over her like a fog, scattering any sense of collectedness she had been able to regain. Clumsily, she slipped on the loose skirt, faceplanting into the arm rest of the couch; she would be out cold for the remainder of the day.

She fell into a deep, lucid dream—vivid, but unapologetically sad. She stood on the beach, warm sand burrowing into her sandals. The sun kissed her skin with an ambient tan, dark enough to make most other girls jealous. Salt lingered in the ocean spray, making her skin sticky each time the waves crashed upon the shoreline, aided by the wind. What would normally be a bustling vacation spot was absent of all other forms of life—a frightening feeling as she turned her gaze to the sky, bluer than sapphire. Puffy clouds soared overhead, reminding her of old-Earth delicacies like cotton candy and squishy marshmallows.

She wore an oversized straw hat to shield her face from the sun’s rays, holding it in place against the wind with one hand as her soft pink nails shone in the light; her sundress billowed in waves of white against a backdrop of ocean and sand.

Approaching the pier, she seated herself on a sandy step. She felt lonely, but she smiled as a series of stars twinkled in the sky; they were out of place amidst the midday sun, just like her. She leaned forward, putting her elbows on her knees, hands on her cheeks. The sky was vast, endless; there was an infinite universe up there with trillions of other stars, but only the select few had come to greet her. Even though she grew bored, fantasizing about the universe, she still appreciated the company.

The ocean looked so beautiful, she thought, her brown eyes filling with endless blue. A sandy walk to the shoreline later, and she found herself wading in the waves. The water was cold but refreshing as it splashed against her feet. Stooping down, she traced her finger in the wet sand as she made a single wish.

“If, someday, I cease to exist as myself, I hope that whoever I may become… I hope I can make them just as happy as everyone I’ve met so far. Truly, if I could have just one wish,” she paused as she finished tracing, “even if I’m no longer me, it would be to make everyone happy over again.” A longing look crossed her face. “I hope I never have to see that day come, but if it does, and I’m to be left with anything, let it be that… one… wish.”

Anli had carved her name into the sand but, like her mind, there were parts missing, testament to the war that fragmented her mind.

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon