This week’s flash fiction, for the challenge found here.
This one came in just over a thousand words, 1,025. It feels pretty skint to me, tbh; I think I could have used another few hundred words.
Lexi came to with a shuddering gasp, her body rocking forward, upright, painfully rigid.
Except there was no pain. She knew it should hurt, she knew her eyes were dry and her throat scratchy, but there wasn’t any pain. The details were just a catalogue of this and that. Her head felt like it was wrapped in layers of cloud and cotton. She chased thoughts slowly, like one last vegetable in a bowl of thick cream soup.
“Alexis Broadmore?” The man smelled nice, like cold lemons on a hot day. He bent his head to meet her eyes. She was confused for a moment at his expectant look, then realized what he was waiting for. Lexi nodded. Alexis. Yes. Alexis. “Welcome to the Department of Re-appropriation. I’m Agent One-Oh-Two-Five. I’ll be taking care of your transition today.”
Lexi watched him shuffle papers from one pile to another, efficiently chattering at her at a speed she couldn’t quite catch hold of. She curled her fingers into fists and then flattened them rhythmically. The movement felt familiar. She bent each finger purposefully, slowly. Wasn’t there a noise to go with that? Her eyes wandered up again. “—there are so many more bodies to fill now, so you may feel a bit out of sorts at first; we can goose it a little to help but you’ll probably always feel like something is missing. Should balance out with an undefinable sense of purpose, though, so it could be—“ One-Oh-Two-Five broke off as he finally looked at her again.
She blinked at him. Slowly. He heaved a huge sigh. “Heroes. Goddamnit. Here, lean forward.” He put his hand out, middle finger held by his thumb, and flicked her hard in the middle of her forehead.
A lifetime came back to her in an instant, thumping into her with a roll of thunder. She was four, gently hugging a kitten that would spend the next two decades sleeping at her feet, so full of love it hurt. Lexi was nine, standing forlornly as her so-called best friend laughed as her homework blew across the school parking lot. She was in her teens, always alone, too weird for friends. She was at college, now with too many friends to count, going to the parties and lunches and lazy afternoons she dreamed of. She cried too many tears in her twenties over too many doors slamming in too many different ways. It was worse later, when she had run out of tears. And then that empty space filled with purpose and charities and causes and things felt ok again. She remembered shaking off the vague weariness from the feeling of a hundred lives lived.
Lexi remembered her last day.
She was on the sidewalk outside the Sparrows, coffee in hand. She was tired. Exhausted. Spent down to nothing. There was a man arguing with a woman who was trying to ignore him. She sidled around them, trying to tune out the anger in his voice. She remembered thinking she shouldn’t care, but when she saw the knife, she threw her body in front of it without a thought. It was shorter and faster than she expected.
“Yep. That all did happen.”
Startled, she looked up. “What? I know it happened, it was my life. Where the hell am I?” Everything was too bright and loud now. Somehow she saw beyond the walls of the small white office to see thousands more like it stretching out in all directions, each filled with two flickering lights. “Why does my body feel so weird?”
“Again. I am Agent One-Oh-Two-Five, this is the Department of Re-appropriation. You are here because you died, and now we are going to reallocate your biological energy to another body. Your body feels weird because it doesn’t actually exist, it’s just a corporeal construct to make your transition less disorienting.” He muttered to himself as he pulled a few papers from a stack he set aside earlier. “Honestly, why the fuck do heroic actions fritz up the system, it’s beyond me, tens of thousands of years and not a single fix, third one this week…”
“Uh, no, thank you. I’m done. I did my time. I don’t particularly want to go back. I’m ok with what I managed.” He gave her a long look and slumped back in his chair.
“Look, we understand why you did what you did. Heroics are about half and half true heroism and suicidal lack of bodily preservation. We don’t care. Energy is a limited resource, and humans are producing more bodies at a constant rate. You don’t get a choice.”
Lexi felt her mouth fall open, aghast. “Ok look, maybe it was a little bit of each. Couldn’t you just, like, balance my books? Take out your scale and see that I lived a decent life. You could just let me be. Go on, talk to the Big Man. I’ve got all the time in the world.” She leaned back in her chair. Her life wasn’t great, but she lived it. Besides the world was just getting worse all the time. Who would want to do that again? That’s where Hell actually was, a life lived over and over and over.
“Ms. Broadmore, there isn’t god, not like you may have been taught. There is us. We are the end and the beginning, a constant to manage a limited resource. Your memory of this life, and the others less immediately previous, will fade, but you can’t just opt out.” Lexi willed tears to her eyes, surely this was a time to cry if nothing else, groped for some righteous anger, anything, but her feelings were a dull buzz. Fucking corporeal construct.
“You can live recklessly, you can kill yourself quickly or slowly, you can live a long and full life with a satisfying and comfortable end fading away one night tucked in your bed. But you will eventually end up here.” He tented his fingers, looking at her steadily. “And then you’ll go back, again. I’m very sorry, Ms. Broadmore, but there is no exit.”