When a vehicle accident claims Celeste’s life, her research runs the risk of dying with her—except Celeste’s synthetic body program is all about second chances. Transferred into an experimental body by her colleague and would-be girlfriend Lissa, Celeste is back and in the form she always dreamt of. She’s ready to extract revenge on those who want her dead and those who want to outlaw synthetic bodies altogether. But with a mysterious benefactor funding Celeste’s continued research and horrific experimental cyborgs showing up on her doorstep, Celeste quickly realizes there’s more going on than she understands… and the answers will rock the foundation of her whole world.
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I didn’t expect one the night my executive limo crashed on the way back from a fundraising banquet with the Esstek Foundation. Despite throwing a lavish fundraiser, we’d learned in private that the number one research grant Esstek offered had already been granted to LifeSciences, Inc, for their work on cloning back on Earth.
It was the best grant offered in the galaxy. Why had I even allowed myself to hope it could be mine? My work on cyborgs was groundbreaking, but now my prototype would sit on the table without a brain to go inside it. We were out of money, and therefore out of time. Cyborg research was incredibly expensive, and few were willing to put their bodies on the line for unproven technology. Even those who had lost limbs in the war had found solace in less permanent wearable technology that they could take off at the end of the day.
I stared out of the window as my assistant poured another glass of champagne. I sipped at the liquid, the bitter burn comforting. How stupid, to have ordered champagne when it was clear we were unlikely to win. Hubris was the weakness of scientists, the ability to dream that we can be more than we are becoming twisted until we believe that we are more than we are; somehow invulnerable to such petty mortal concerns as financing.
The lab would close. There was no doubt about it. All that remained was to go back to the office, pack up our things, and hightail it back to Earth or one of the nearby colonies. The colonies always needed good scientists and doctors. The pay was enough to live comfortably for the rest of my life. If I could just forget my dream—
I closed my eyes, blocking out the inside of the limo. It was too painful to bear, the thought that my life’s big dream would never bear fruit. It had been a long shot to even think of developing a technology that so few would need under the guise of helping everyone. Foolish to think I could help myself someday. I was ready, if the technology ever was. Willing to become the first person ever to endure a full body transplant into a cyborg unit. I’d even made a living will, outlining my wishes, should I die before my time. The courts would be more likely to approve the surgery if it was performed on somebody who had no other choice. That’s what I told myself, anyway.
Two purple moons loomed in Orimar’s night sky. The seers of the Outer Colonies loved to portend that heavy moons were a bad omen, those nights when it seemed they were so close they might crash into the planet, even though minds like mine knew that could never happen. Their orbits weren’t decaying; we were in no danger, but that didn’t stop the Oracles from predicting doom and gloom every one-hundred and eighty Sol days. Coincidentally, donations to the Oracles always rose about that time. I smiled at the cynicism of it, how easily people could be played when they were afraid.
Though, these days, it seemed almost as if people yearned for the apocalypse. News from Earth came daily, none of it good—yet colonists who had never been there sat glued to their vid-screens, watching someone else’s disaster play out before their eyes. We were safe from the virus, all the way out here on the Rim. The few ships that came from Earth were thoroughly scanned for contaminants. We could sit back in our armchairs and watch someone else’s world shatter like a feature film. Never mind that millions were dying. Thinking about it, I should have known that LifeSciences’ cloning program would win the grant. Earth needed that project, now that the sterility plague had doomed its future. And while its children had spread out across the galaxy, few were willing to come back and help a homeworld they barely knew. The cloning program would give them hope. Flesh and blood hope.
Nobody really wanted my solution. Few thought it acceptable—even on my team—to accept a substitute body made of steel and fiberglass, no matter how beautiful we could make it. I was the only one who truly yearned for that body. That’s why my project had failed—I was the only True Believer on my team. Now the prototype would gather dust in some warehouse, sold as an asset to pay off the debts my company had amassed. My stomach churned as I contemplated the bankruptcy paperwork I’d have to file on the morrow, the visual of my life’s work being packed up haunting me like a ghost.
I’d come so close, and yet I was still so far. If only we’d had more time.
As if hearing my thoughts and forming a response, I heard the honk of a horn and everything flipped. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t even process what was happening until the champagne glass slipped out of my hand and shattered against the window. Nothing was right, and it was then that I realized we’d come to a stop upside-down. The limo rested on its roof, the sounds of the night pouring in through the shattered window. Cries and gasps from the sidewalks. Someone yelled “By the Gods!”, another one chanted in the way of the Oracles, the alien words sounding like nonsense to my ears. For all my years of education, I’d never picked up more than Terran as a language.
A stupid regret to have now, considering all the pain I was in. I pulled a slick hand away from my abdomen and didn’t have to look to know it was bad. The table had splintered and a large wooden stake now pinned me to my seat by way of my abdomen. I didn’t need my three medical degrees and two doctorates to tell me I was dying. I panicked for a moment, before realizing a sense of peace. It was as if the world was going on without me, as if this chaotic, bloody scene at the intersection had never taken place. The sirens seemed distant, as if the ambulances were heading to some other scene and this one was happening in a dimension separate from ours.
“Hang in there. We’ll get you out.” The voice was supposed to be calming, but I felt nothing when the firefighter poked his head in. I knew by the time he operated the jaws of life, it was going to be too late for me. I felt a strange sense of embarrassment for a moment, a sense of humiliation at being seen like this. Regret that they’d never see the real me, not really. She lay on a table at my company, all fiberglass and plexisteel and long, black hair—
—twisted until we believe we are more than we are—
With that thought, the darkness came for me, wrapping me in its embrace like a long-lost lover.