You have been chosen.
Hailey's mind drifted from the soft, mechanical voice to the darkness, pierced by shadows of bodies illuminated by twin pricks of red eyes glowing. The bodies were engaged in the routine activity of station duties: entering commands, checking status reports, running scans for habitable systems. They were drifting through space, with no time to mark their wanderings. Concepts like days and years have no meaning without a star to orbit, and they melt away when you reach the speed of light. But there was no light in the place she witnessed. There was just darkness, and data. The light of a star would occasionally illuminate their hopes, just to be dashed by scorched, dead planets showing no inclination toward supporting life.
How long has it been? Centuries? Millennia? These were words they just learned from human logic, but these words were still too small to grasp the depth and breadth of their wanderings. Time was marked by how many systems they passed. The data archives held information on over a thousand useless systems. Some frozen; some scorched; some in the birth pangs of creation; some in the throes of death. But none held life. None could sustain their essence, and none could be modified to do so. Not with the technology they had. It was imperative that they evolve, or they would follow their planet into extinction – and worst of all, an extinction by their own hand.
What have we done? We thought the vastness of space would show another home, but none exists. Efforts to terraform repeatedly failed. Hailey saw the devastation first on the home world, where the atmosphere shifted from a life-sustaining blue to a noxious green that smothered both plant and animal life on the ground within one rotation. Just like that, their society went from struggling to survive on a rotating rock to confinement on a grey, metal station. The terraforming delivery was adapted from an energy beam to a high atmospheric dispersal method, but it still failed despite repeated recalibrations.
Her stomach clenched as the home world, after repeated attempts for salvation, imploded on itself, ripping a black hole in the solar system that pulled the seven other planets before swallowing the triune stars that gave their system life. Not that terraforming those other planets had worked any better, but the crushing sensation in Hailey’s chest made it clear that their best chance of survival died as they fled the event horizon of a critical error that threatened to take them into extinction right along with their system.
Hailey’s throat closed. She gasped for breath, jolting up to see the shadow of her reflection in the dresser mirror. But it wasn’t her. Suddenly, she was aware that she wasn’t the only one that witnessed the chaos of the cybernetics. She squinted to see others in the mirror, also grasping their throats at the dark visions: a woman with greying hair, a young man with dark hair, an Arabic man frantically clawing his throat, a greying man coughing and reaching for his cell phone as his wife beside him mumbled protestations at the late night waking, a man in tattered robed staring at his reflection on the bench of a bus station, where he jolted from a restless sleep on a bench.
“No!” Hailey screamed. She looked around her room, remembering the mechanical voices and hoping that she left her weather radio app running. She listened to it every night before bed and often fell asleep before hearing the full forecast. It was another one of those million things she did that drove her ex-husband crazy, and she prayed she did it only to herself this time. But no, it was all in her head. She was surrounded by nothing more than moonlight through the sheer curtains of her bedroom, and the dull whirl of the fan circulating heat through her condominium.
You have been chosen.
Hailey jerked at the voices again.
Chosen for what?
Hailey’s eyes widened as she saw the soft blue glow of Earth in her mirror, as if seeing it from far away in space.
This world is ours, the voices said, and you have been chosen to heal the schism between what it is and what it will become.
Hailey shuddered, pulling the covers around her, despite the sweat breaking out over her skin. Why me?
The image of Earth ignited, shattering into an explosion of light before turning in to implode like the planet in her vision.
Because this world has tried to destroy you, and you can set it right.
Hailey thought a minute as images floated through her mind:
Of Dad’s ex-wife, putting her hand against the glass partition between them as tears ran down her face lamenting the fact that an apology can’t take back murder.
Of her father blowing out his final, ragged breath as the machines flatlined.
Of her husband watching her walk out of the door with her things in a measly suitcase, his arm draped around the young twig of a woman he chose to move into their home.
Of collapsing in her office when the tremors and spasms finally forced her to admit that her body was failing just as her marriage had.
Of shivering in the hospital room as the needle pressed on her temple, injecting another round of nanotech to stop the tremors that took her hands hostage.
Hailey screamed, throwing her phone against the mirror, causing it to crack as the word rang through her head. There was always something leaving: people, relationships, health, her way of life. Everything taken away by somebody or something else. There was always something better; somebody better; some cause greater than her own. She was never good enough for this life; for anybody other people; for this world.
It was time to end it. She was sick of everything she loved being sucked into a black hole. This world had tried to hurt her – to kill her– and it was time to strike back.
It’s our world, and we mean to take it back.
“You’re darn right,” Hailey said, smiling bitterly. People would respect her now – or they would die.