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Gift of the Gruldak, Chapter 15: Fun with Interior Design for Compact Spaces

Updated on August 18, 2016
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Kylyssa Shay is releasing a serialized science fiction novel in single chapter increments that you can read for free only on HubPages.

Fetuses made of soap bubbles floating in space around another fetus in a water bubble, illustration for a sci-fi chapter.
Fetuses made of soap bubbles floating in space around another fetus in a water bubble, illustration for a sci-fi chapter. | Source

Will Kevin Bob's excursion to earth help change the deadly situation? Is there enough toilet paper in the shelter? Will Kevin have another nervous breakdown? Find out in chapter 15, Fun with Interior Design for Compact Spaces!

Chapter Fifteen, Fun with Interior Design for Compact Spaces

Amanda rushed into the room, stumbling a bit over the lip of bulkhead at the bottom of the door hatch.

“It’s OK, girl, I’ve got mine,” she said, slipping past me and pulling Kira up to sit on a narrow storage chest seat.

“But my link to Gerund! It’s gone!”

“Don’t panic, sweetheart, I can just call him up,” Amanda said, rubbing Kira’s back in light, small circles.

Zuri and Georgia both stood in the doorway, looking concerned.

“Ryan’s link is down, too,” Zuri said, obviously trying to decide if she should move into the room and try to find somewhere to sit or if she should try to move the congregation to the central room.

Everyone stood or squatted or sat in a moment of five-way uncomfortable silence. We made an irregular pentagon of gloom.

Amanda said, “Why don’t we all head back to the middle where there’s room for everyone?”

Georgia added, “And we should bring Ryan into this discussion as it affects him, too.”

I left the gang for the head. In its tiny confines I found myself unable to do what I’d so urgently needed to do for the last ten minutes or so.

Whoever came up with the idea of putting mirrors behind toilets was an idiot. Unfortunately it’s a decorating trend that even managed to contaminate pre-fab shelters. I tried to not think about the body I was in because thinking about it too much usually led to feelings of unreality and existential angst. Almost nothing makes it harder to urinate than mirror-borne existential angst. Or maybe it just felt like a stranger was watching me pee.

Even now I can see that stranger’s face looking back at me from eyes that knew my every thought.

Robert Evan Andrews was not bad looking. He had a firm chin and large dark eyes to match his dark hair. He was fit and in great shape for a guy his age. Kira’s moderately handsome deceased husband looked at me out of the mirror behind the toilet.

This old guy, this dead guy was almost twenty years younger than I should have been yet I still hadn’t made it out of my thirties. I wasn’t even the first copy of Kevin wrapped in a Bob and I might not have even been the only Kevin wrapped in a Bob. The others could have been undergoing anything right at that moment. But, for a certainty, none of us could ever get home.

I flipped right the hell out.

I felt like a disposable thing, a creation made for a single purpose because I was. It was my own damned fault or at least Kevin’s. I didn’t even have anyone to blame for it. That Kevin back in Guido was a made thing, too, just a tool.

My thoughts went into a dizzying tailspin that made it hard to breathe. I felt like I was dying. My breath came in huge gasps. I felt like I could stay alive through it if I could just keep breathing. My tongue dried as I panted heavily, leaning on the counter over the toilet bowl and below the mirror, looking at someone who wasn’t Kevin Wang. Mere inches away, I could even smell his bad breath.

It was too alien. It was even more alien than waking up in Guido for the first time. I was so uncertain of what I was that I couldn’t even take comfort from the familiarities of being on earth. I didn’t know if it was real or if all of this was taking place inside a constructed setting in Guido’s mind.

I also hadn’t known I was a duplicate from the get-go back in Guido; I had time to adjust to it, too. The things going on at first were so mind-blowing that minor details such as bodies stayed out of my consciousness for a full seven minutes.

That body out there in space was also not all that different from the remembered body of my teen years and the brain was a near-perfect duplicate of the final scan they took of Kevin Wang’s brain. My thoughts felt like they had been made for it. They had been made by it or by something as close to an exact match to it as ever existed.

On earth, I’d thought about my body before but my lack of language had made it hard to process. My newly awakened connections latched onto the cognitive dissonance and went waltzing around with it to the music of my mental babbling.

Someone pounded on the door.

What are those shapes in the space beyond the bubbles?
What are those shapes in the space beyond the bubbles? | Source

The pounding stopped and a muffled, feminine voice yelled, “Kevin, are you OK in there?”

It slammed my unpleasant head trip to a stop and I realized I’d managed to do what I’d come in for. Everything stood out in too clear focus and I yelled back, “Yeah, I’m fine; I just need a moment and I’ll be out,” while looking for something to wipe the seat, the floor, and my shoes. There was something fluffy sticking out of a palm-sized circular chrome fixture in the wall. I pulled some puffs of it loose and dabbed at things including but not limited to the front of my pants. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been; Bob’s body had at least a few advantages.

The puff foamed warmly where it touched my skin. That’s why I dropped it. Trembling, my hands feeling very far away and slow-moving, I saw my fingers letting go but felt nothing.

I took a few, slow, deep breaths and began to make unsteady sense of the mosaic I was standing too close to.

The puff stuff seemed to be saturated with something that absorbed both moisture and soil. It not only wiped the would-be stain away, it left the surface clean and dry and lightly scented of lemons.

That scent of citrusy refreshment flipped a switch in my amygdala and my autonomic nervous system not-so-gently prodded my fight or flight responses. It was strange indeed that my instant moment of atavistic terror triggered by lemon-scented arsewipes was what brought me fully into focus.

It took me mere seconds to understand that foam wasn’t going to suddenly engulf me and that the puffs were only refreshing super toilet wipes with extra cleansing power.

They were nicer than anything I had fantasized about when living inside Guido without toilet paper. Thankfully, Cap requested a very close surrogate within hours of his arrival. Unfortunately, he had to vocalize the fact that our waste disposal system was part of our roommate. I don’t know how long I could have kept my sanity without arsewipes after that.

I guess the fluffs in the shelter didn’t get to me soon enough.

I spent the next indeterminate period pulsing into and out of reality or at least my perceptions regarded it that way. I was seeing lines and edges too clearly. The light strips were too cheerfully bright, like neon signs in a diner as you pull up to it in the rain after a relative’s funeral. I was hollow and my stomach hurt but nothing could have eased that ache even though I sat inches from a full-diagnostic medicine chest. There were rounded metal handles to either side of the door and I had no idea what they were for.

I was in a bathroom, recording far too many variables to properly sort out. The wrapper on a bar of soap seemed to be floating in space. Its cream label printed with black looked like fading points of light pricking through the darkness. Someone may have been calling out to someone else from very far away and chains of sound like rippling thunder did not register as someone knocking on the door.

By the time I reached the end of the list of variables the first variables on it had already changed.

I’d bet my favorite comfy chair that a lot of epiphanies, mental breakdowns, and suicides have happened in bathrooms.

I heard some scraping noises and a thunk and the light went out. The door slid open and Amanda peered in carefully, shining a low-powered flashlight high, towards my face. I can’t recall what she said or what we all did but I know she finished cleaning me up, fastened my pants and got me back to the center room of the shelter. She and Georgia helped me into one of the clever, comfortable suspended beds where she did something to my arm with a small hand-tool and I fell asleep.

I might have been OK if the Trans Matters goons hadn’t messed with my brain. They'd used a matter duplicator to recreate my brain with its language connections edited out and that messed up more than my ability to speak. The doctors at the psychiatric hospital had forged new pathways using nanobots to re-string the synapses, but it was a repair. Repairs usually don’t leave things as good as they would have been if they’d never been broken.

The women got me settled in and Ryan came over to see how I was doing. He told me his hands were already doing much better. The first aid supplies were old but they had some pretty good stuff in there, stuff that didn’t exist in the 2050s. His link was still down and Kira was feeling better.

Amanda had managed to contact Gerund, Kira’s AI friend, through an old-fashioned terminal with a keyboard that was wired into the shelter. She’d handed control of her surprise packages in the pneumatic system over to him. He was watching them with what he called pseudopods, the mental ‘fingers’ he stuck in each pie. He was also spreading information about our situation to the world at large.

Help was on the way.

I hadn’t understood the revolution I’ll forever be credited with starting until then. I had been thinking of the problems as abstracts up until then, things I was horrified about on principle rather than on a gut level.

The size of it was dizzying.

We sat there planning what we’d do if so and so did such and such to us but the details evade me. It somehow felt like I was waiting, even when I was talking, a clock sat in the back of my mind counting down to something. What it was winding down to or even what number the countdown was at was inscrutable to me. I think everyone around me felt their own kind of existential angst by the time I finished explaining what had happened due to bad mirror placement in the head.

I was kind of numb. I had nothing useful to contribute and all these people, so many people were involved. There were employees in the Neuropsychiatric Research Hospital who risked their lives to try to get me out. Some people had probably already died in violence because I felt I had a message for earth.

Millions had died already, many of them again and again but that wasn’t my fault. These were different deaths and many of the other deaths were still going on. Some of those lost had faces I knew from our data bot communications.

As starved as I’d been for more human contact, those first people I’d communicated with on contemporary earth were special to me. I’d been an inadvertent time traveler, Rip Van Winkle woken millions of light years from earth and over fifty years in the future. They were the first people who gave me hope of fitting in somewhere again.

Some of them were definitely dead and others were missing. Thousands of people were involved and the rest of the world just kept on as it always had, mostly unconcerned about the mysterious disappearances, unexplained deaths, and strange rumors about MT devices.

And none of that had been changed by my arrival.

I lay on the hanging bed and listened without hearing as I focused on the emergency supplies, counting things obsessively, trying to calculate things in my head. How many days worth of air did we have? What room could we fall back to if the outer hatch were breached? Were there enough supplies for the toilet?

I looked at the handle things to the side of each hatch door separating the rooms of the shelter from each other, making note of how they were angled and the silver sheen of their textured levers. The room smelled faintly of burning plastic and old books. It reminded me of home. The toggle-levers did not.

Will Kevin Make a Difference? Or Is His Trip to Earth Inside Robert Andrews Pointless?

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