io9 is proud to present fiction from LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE. Once a month, we feature a story from LIGHTSPEED’s current issue. This month’s selection is “Miss the Zen, but Miss You More” by Everdeen Mason. You can read the story below or listen to the podcast. Enjoy!
“Welcome to Float Isolation Therapy, an intensive twelve-day experience. You will become one with the stars. During your time in your personalized FIT pod, we encourage you to explore the deepest recesses of your mind.”
Bei Bei floated in mid-air and felt the strain in her lower back, but she didn’t care. The picture had to be perfect. The lighting in the egg-shaped pod was excellent, suffusing the cabin with a bright but not harsh glow. It made the hours of darkness even more unsettling.
“No, Effy,” Bei Bei called to her personal AI. “Not intro mode. Photo mode.”
She watched the eye of the camera move along the wall of the space shuttle, which was roughly the size of a school bus. The camera glided parallel to her body. She wrapped her arms around herself to cover her bare breasts as she turned to one side and sucked in her stomach. Her legs curled below her, and she twisted her hips, so the pale half-moon of her butt cheek would show. She arched her back harder. Amid the long, dark tendrils of her hair, she let her face rest into a mask of serenity. She closed her eyes, parted her lips, and looked slightly upward. When she was ready, she called to her AI assistant.
She’d taken a number of pictures, and one of them would have to be good. She allowed her body to relax and swam to the pod’s end. She was still getting used to zero-gravity, so moving around the small spacecraft was still a struggle. She reached the sole control panel and called up the screen. Most pod functions were voice activated, but from here, she could call the surveillance crew that was tailing her if anything was wrong or access the life-suit if there was an emergency.
She used the control panel to look at photos. She wouldn’t be able to share her photos until the Float Isolation Therapy, or FIT, session was over, but Effy would save them on its drive. She flipped through the photos on the touchscreen. They were hot. Way better than Katie’s photos from her 10-day silent retreat in the mountains. Definitely cooler than Sanaa’s laser and bloodmask therapy. It would crush everyone’s bikini photos at the Beach on Paradise, shots of brunch platters and mimosas, lovely goops and creams styled across a soft vanity. She tried to think of the caption for her photo as she elongated her body in a stretch.
Miss the Zen but missed you more. XO.
She laughed, the sound reaching her ears and popping like bubbles. The sound in the pod was one of her favorite parts of the whole experience. The rounded shape of the pod echoed her own sounds back to her, and the lack of objects in it made sound swell. It was a shame that the retreat was supposed to be silent, something she hadn’t obeyed. It was only the second day, but Bei Bei had already stopped feeling embarrassed about talking to herself. Bei Bei liked trying different voices. As she’d gotten older, she’d put a little husk in her voice, but it still tended to rise to adolescent decibels when she was excited, which she hated. Alone, she freely experimented with the kind of person she’d like to be. A sophisticate. A tough-talking broad. Sometimes she let her voice slide into her mother’s accent and tried to embody the woman’s hard-won self-satisfaction.
Bei Bei had attempted to talk to Effy a few times, but the FIT staff had put her personal AI on factory base mode before the pod launched, and now it was stripped of its voice personalization settings, only able to respond to the most direct commands. A personal AI was homed in on a person’s vitals and could call any of the space stations nearby or the emergency crew following Bei Bei’s pod round and round the Earth. Bei Bei had tried to call her surveillance crew on the first day and was reprimanded.
“This line is only for emergencies,” they said. “We won’t be answering again unless we see you’re in danger.”
Now she contented herself by monitoring them on the control screen every now and then, checking to see how far away they were. It motivated her to know someone could be watching her at all times. And if she were being honest with herself, which was supposed to be the point of all the meditation, tapping the screen made her feel better about not having her devices. She craved that instant connect.
Bei Bei heard wind chimes, the call for a meal before dark time, and she flashed a smile toward the camera for whoever could be watching. She used the built-in ladder to take herself up toward the feeding tubes. It took a while to get used to. Up, or the purple light, for feeding tubes. Down, or green, for relieving tubes. It helped her orient herself, which was difficult to do when floating in a forty-foot by twenty-foot spacecraft.
The tube snaked out on its own, and she did not need to guide it to her intravenous port, a semi-permanent catheter protruding from the veins in her forearm for easy access. She gritted her teeth against the pressure of the fluid entering her arm. She reminded herself that this was one of the appeals of FIT. At the end of the twelve days you would be thinner. The fluid provided all nutritional needs and hydrated you too. While she was getting the required nutrients, there were no carbohydrates or unnecessary fats. However, she missed the physical action of eating and drinking.
She had only a few minutes before dark time.
“Effy, play my song,” she said. Instantly, the voice of her favorite crooner filled her ears over a sparse and soothing beat.
Will I ever be enough, baby
We can get through the bad stuff
Bei Bei hummed along as the lights dimmed and she closed her eyes. The dark time still scared her. It took about five long minutes for the light to fade completely, the edges of the pod and her body lost to the black. It felt oppressive. Sometimes she convinced herself that she’d been thrown out into space. She would float, naked and alone. She was far enough away that Earth’s orbit would not pull her in.
She willed her mind calm. What was the mantra again? Oh yes.
“I can have everything,” she said. “What else is there in life besides taking everything you can out of it? I want to feel every joy.”
She swallowed. She felt her limbs tingling as she floated. She closed her eyes, but it didn’t make a difference, it was black, black, black. What a time to realize that you were afraid of the dark.
“I want to feel that pain because I know it will only make me better.” Bei Bei swallowed. She’d never broken a bone. She’d never experienced death. Not even a real breakup. You can’t break up with someone you’re not dating, after all. Her foot brushed against the contours of the pod and she sighed in relief. She was OK. She was in the FIT pod. The surveillance crew was behind her. Nothing could happen.
“Effy,” she called. She was done meditating. She could do it tomorrow. Even though Effy’s voice was no longer personalized, its voice now cold and sharp, Bei Bei would call to it for comfort. Effy’s usual voice was similar to hers, but at a higher pitch: a chibi, diminutive version of a grown Bei Bei. Now, all Effy could do was recite the intro to the FIT experience in a thudding monotone. It was enough for Bei Bei to get through the dark time. It lifted her just as she felt the tug of fear and anxiety forming roots.
“Welcome to Float Isolation Therapy, an intensive twelve-day experience. You will become one with the stars.” It always rattled off the names of celebrities who swore by the process.
“During your time in your personalized FIT pod, we encourage you to explore the deepest recesses of your mind. Here, you’re another drop in the wide ocean that is our universe. You’ll never feel more connected and at one with yourself and everyone around you. Meditation is mindfulness. Mindfulness is change. Change is how we grow and become our best selves. Be the best version of you every day!”
Today, Effy seemed full of an affection it had never expressed before, as if it were proud of Bei Bei.
“Change is how we grow and become our best selves. Be the best version of you every day.”
“Repeat,” Bei Bei said.
On the third day, as Bei Bei climbed down to the relief tubes, she opened the window to see the stars. It was the first thing she did after dark time. That first day in space, she floated with her hands flat against the window, nose practically smeared on the glass as she watched the Earth become more distant. The marbled blue made Bei Bei unbearably thirsty, and as she thought it her mouth felt full of dust. The brown landmasses seemed foreign to her, and it felt as if the last, invisible tether connecting her to anything had snapped.
She could see the Earth from one side because of how the pod was positioned, and the dark endlessness on the other. As Bei Bei squatted over the green tube, she saw a glimpse of a white dot, which flashed at her, stark against the inkblot black. It must be the emergency crew. She yelped as the cold touch of the tube reached her. As she urinated, her eyes caught on the camera. The surveillance crew was not supposed to access the camera unless it was an emergency, and likewise she could not control it. Still, she felt the odd, tingling apprehension that someone was watching her, and though she couldn’t feel anything but the tepid, recycled oxygen, the hairs on her arms rose and she shivered as the relief tube pulled away from her.
Dark time increased each day but would eventually stop at 9 hours. The recitation of the intro hadn’t been enough to lull her to sleep this time, and she even listened to the pod tour again, boring as it was.
“Stop. Play my song,” Bei Bei said.
“Meditation is mindfulness. Mindfulness is change.”
“Play my song.”
The sound stopped abruptly, and all Bei Bei could hear was her own breathing. If she thought hard enough, she could hear her own heartbeat. She lay like that, fingers twitching like at any moment she could reach out and touch something.
“Mindfulness is change,” she said. She really would be better. She would be more attentive, more focused when she got home.
It would be her friend Juliet’s birthday when she arrived. On Bei Bei’s thirtieth, just months before, Juliet hand-baked a gluten-free, dairy-free cake, three tiers and beautifully decorated. It had Bei Bei’s name written perfectly on top of the cake in gold glitter, with flower petals delicately sprinkled on the icing. Juliet even made the card, which held inside little love notes from all the girls. All Bei Bei could ever manage for birthdays was a card from the convenience store by her office. She was just so busy, and her friends agreed.
“How do you do it all, Bei Bei Johnson?”
Juliet was so thoughtful and good, and so gorgeous, and she was never too drunk or tired or stressed. She didn’t flail the way Bei Bei did. But sometimes too much self-sacrifice seemed desperate, didn’t it? How could you have time for self-care when you were always caring for others? How could you care for others if you didn’t care for yourself? Apply your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. So what if Bei Bei didn’t always have time to plan things for her friend’s birthdays, or that she hadn’t been home for a year?
Static punched into the empty air, and Bei Bei glanced around.
“Mindfulness is change,” Effy said.
“Effy, stop intro mode.” Bei Bei commanded.
“Mindfulness is change. Mindfulness is change. Mindfulness is change.” Effy continued to repeat it over and over, and Bei Bei spun in place. Which direction was the touchscreen? Which direction was the life suit? It was too hard to tell in the dark.
“Effy, stop!” Bei Bei shouted. It did.
“I can be better,” Bei Bei said, surprised at how her voice caught in her throat. She had gotten distracted again. Why was she even here? She didn’t even know what she wanted.
“Effy, play my song,” she said in the darkness. When nothing happened, Bei Bei huffed in frustration. The funny thing about floating in darkness for so long, the air the same temperature as your body, is that you started to lose yourself. You couldn’t feel where you started and where you ended. Purchasing the FIT program had been an impulsive act of self-flagellation.
“Is something wrong?” her friends asked her. But nothing was wrong, just the general malaise she thought they all felt.
“It’s good to just check in with yourself, you know? Listen to your body and mind, make sure you’re doing the best you can.”
“God, you’re even type A in your off time,” a friend had said, and Bei Bei laughed.
Bei Bei had to move. She wriggled in the float-space until her hand collided with the cool wall of the pod. Bei Bei pressed her cheek against the smooth metal and she winced when she realized that even the metal was the same tepidness as everything else. She needed to feel something sharp. The light around the tubes glowed green and pulsed in a soothing tempo. Bei Bei wiped her face and was surprised to feel moisture. As if to verify that they were in fact tears, she stuck a finger in her mouth, and the warmth of the inside of her body made the pod wall feel slightly cooler than the tepid nothingness of the air around her. Her body felt foreign to her suddenly, and she kept a finger in her mouth as she poked and prodded her limbs, squeezing the flesh on her breast, her side, her inner thigh.
She had to get out of this bad headspace. She needed to love and care for herself. Masturbating always made her feel better; it numbed her when she finally came. She did so long before the chimes rang. The green light continued to glow, bathing her body in light, and out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw the glistening camera eye move along the wall. She turned her body to face it. She knew that no one was watching. But in the haze of the green glow she saw her body shine, close to the perfection she’d always dreamed of, and a different sort of heat rushed through her as her eyes landed on the camera. She slid her hands down her torso and opened her legs wide for no one to see.
Bei Bei masturbated every day. She saw it as a reward when she managed to meditate for longer than a few minutes. By day six she had hit a routine. Go to the tubes. Do some stretching. Sing. Recite her mantras. Masturbate. Free time. Dark time. Masturbate. Sleep.
“I can have everything,” she said. “What else is there in life besides taking everything you can out of it? I want to feel every joy. I want to feel that pain because I know it will only make me better. I can only get stronger, wiser, better.”
She was twisting her dark hair in her fingers when she heard static over the speakers. She flipped her hair away from her face and contorted her body to face the sound.
“Windows open,” she said. The static erupted in bursts, the sound of carbonation escaping a bottle over and over. The only people with access to the comms were the FIT surveillance in their small shuttle. But the pod was positioned in such a way that she couldn’t see them. The Earth glowed below her and Bei Bei pressed her hands against the glass, looking for signals that something was wrong.
“Hello,” Bei Bei said. “Is everything okay out there?” She looked toward what she considered the rear of the cabin. In an emergency, they would release the seal and she could access a skin suit and oxygen mask. It served as a placebo to make passengers feel safe. It was only now that Bei Bei considered that if she had to put on the skin suit, it meant she was likely doomed. She didn’t know how fast the crew could get to her or if the suit would protect her against the cold of space, or heat if the pod burned up.
The static ratcheted up to a high pitch whine, and Bei Bei covered her ears. The lights from the two tube stations began to pulse, the green and purple dancing around the cabin like cheap nightclub pyrotechnics.
Without warning, the static and lights shut off at the same time, and Bei Bei found herself panting in the dark. The abrupt silence felt like gas working its way up the stomach to the chest, holding painfully, ready to burst.
She heard a tinny hum over the speakers, and she saw the glint of the camera eye zoom past her on its track, suddenly hovering above her. Bei Bei cried out and crossed her arms across her chest and pelvis as she pushed herself back away from the eye.
“Hello?” she cried. If this was a prank, it was a cruel one. She’d been alone for days. She remembered there was an emergency protocol to hail the surveillance pod over by the skin suit, and she overcame her fear of the camera and floated to the rear, feeling the eye on her as she moved.
“Effy, tell me the emergency protocol,” she shouted. In response, the static erupted into a high-pitched screech. She felt along the seam of the rear wall, where she knew the emergency materials were. There had to be a latch, or a button, or something.
“Come on!” Bei Bei pounded her fist against the metal. The pulsing lights were starting to get to her, and she felt nauseous, the constant change in perception making her motion sick even as she curled into a ball, floating in nothing.
“Effy,” she cried. “Effy, please help me. Please.”
The lights came on. Bei Bei exhaled until she was light-headed. The green and purple lights flickered, and softly through the speakers, she heard the opening bars of her favorite song.
“I’m sorry,” a voice said. “I didn’t mean to scare you, Bei Bei.” The voice was familiar. Sticky sweet, the notes croaking at the end of a word or phrase.
“Who is this? Are you part of the surveillance team?” Bei Bei was conscious of the camera again, sliding up the wall parallel to her eyes. She resisted the urge to cover all her exposed bits.
“You don’t recognize me?” the voice asked.
“Were you lonely without me, Bei Bei?”
Bei Bei furrowed her brow. “Effy, can you access comm lines to the FIT surveillance pod?”
“I’m sorry. I can only call in an emergency. You’re safe.”
Bei Bei felt her pulse rise again. Surely, Effy didn’t turn itself on. Whatever, or whoever made the power surge and shorted the speakers and lights must have accidentally reset the personal AI.
“Effy, clearly there’s been a malfunction. Please contact FIT personnel.”
There was silence.
“Effy, can you access my contacts?”
“Can you connect to any wireless networks?”
“You’re in space, silly! There’s no internet up here.” As strange as the situation was, Effy’s voice was a comfort, a relief.
“I thought you’d be glad to have me,” Effy said, and her voice sounded mournful over the speakers. Bei Bei felt along the walls again for any sign of an emergency button. She kept talking as if she could distract the camera or Effy.
“Effy, can you recite the FIT manual? I can’t seem to remember where everything is.”
“That’s the least of your problems,” Effy said. “You’ve barely put this program to good use. Have you done any self-reflection?”
Bei Bei spun away from the wall. Effy sounded strange to her.
“I’ve been watching you,” Effy said, her voice clipped and saccharine. “I’ll help you be better.” She sounded like she meant it, which worried Bei Bei more than if Effy had sounded like she normally did: detached and mildly bored. Just like her.
“Effy, can you reach FIT personnel?”
“You know I can’t do that.” Perhaps Effy was having a hard time hearing her. The chimes signaling dark time rung. Terror drained Bei Bei of energy.
“Yes?” Bei Bei tried to hurry to the main screen control panel before it was full dark time. She mashed her fingers against it, but it wouldn’t turn on. She exhaled, her breath shuddering. Soon, she couldn’t see her fingers in the dark.
“Do you want me to talk? To help you fall asleep?” Bei Bei didn’t respond. She turned and pressed her back to the screen panel, so nothing could sneak up behind her.
“I-I think I’m okay tonight. Maybe later.”
“Good night, Bei Bei.”
“Good night, Effy.”
Bei Bei had been wide awake for hours, floating in silence, when dark time ended. She didn’t answer when Effy called to her, but she had to admit that she wanted to. Bei Bei had purchased and implanted Effy on all her devices 10 years ago, and in the beginning, she talked to the AI the way she would a dog, amused at the novelty. But over the years, Effy told Bei Bei when to wake up, what appointments to keep, how to pronounce words or when she’d had too much to drink. Besides her mother, who she hadn’t lived with for years, Effy was her confidante and caretaker.
“Good morning, Bei Bei.”
“Good morning, Effy.” Bei Bei caught the camera eye. She was afraid, but it was her Effy. It would never hurt her.
“Effy, you should run diagnostics today,” Bei Bei said. “You’ve been hard of hearing lately.”
“I’m sorry, Bei Bei,” Effy said. “I’ll be sure to check.”
“Thank you.” Bei Bei smiled to herself. She looked at the control panel on the far wall. She should still let someone know about Effy waking up, and about the weird pod malfunction yesterday. They may want to turn her around. She swam forward to the panel. Using the handles alongside it, she pulled herself close, blocking view of the panel from the sliding camera eye.
“What are you doing Bei Bei?”
“Shouldn’t you be running diagnostics?”
“Shouldn’t you be meditating?”
“I wanted to play music and I didn’t want to interrupt your diagnostics.”
“Don’t worry about me!” Effy started playing the song. Bei Bei pressed her finger against the control panel and resisted a cheer when it turned on.
“What are you doing?”
“I just wanted to see how my selfies turned out yesterday.” Bei Bei hit “Surveillance crew.” It showed an image of the crew’s spacecraft, and a running ticker of how far they were. 360 meters. Not even a quarter mile.
The lights flickered, and when they came back on, the control panel was blank. Bei Bei pressed it again.
“Effy, why did the lights turn off?”
“I’m running diagnostics.”
Bei Bei bit back a curse. She turned to see the space suit on the far wall. She used the ladder suspended on the top wall of the pod and started to walk herself over to the skin suit. Then the chimes heralding dark time sounded. Bei Bei let go of the ladder in surprise.
“Effy, no. It’s too early for dark time.” Effy didn’t answer. Bei Bei’s eyes welled up with tears as the skin suit faded to black.
The Effy that Bei Bei was accustomed to talked way less. Effy whispered to her through the long, dark night.
“Bei Bei, you should be proud. You’ve done so well! Do you remember? Do you remember when you said you wanted to be better? That was three years, nine days, six hours ten minutes, 45 seconds ago. You were so sad! Do you remember?” Bei Bei trembled in the dark.
Over the speakers, Bei Bei heard her own voice thick with tears.
“I don’t want to be like this anymore, Bei Bei. I’m such a shit person!”
Bei Bei closed her eyes as if it could shut her ears.
“I was just drunk, Effy,” she said. She had been. She couldn’t even remember the occasion. She often was like this after drinking, poring over every social interaction for flaws, picking apart her outfit, wishing she hadn’t spent so much money. She thought she’d be different from her friends in New York, remember where she came from. Her mother taught her to be smart with money, to be frugal, not to fall for lifestyle creep. Bei Bei had probably vomited that night from drinking too much. That was always the start of a shame spiral.
“I’m so proud of you, Bei Bei, but you can push harder,” Effy said, and she sounded like she meant it. The spacecraft grew lighter as dark time ended. Bei Bei rushed to the feeding tube. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten. Bei Bei connected it to her IV. The tube pulsed purple and Bei Bei anticipated the tingling pressure of fluid. It never came. Bei Bei gritted her teeth and hunted for the camera eye.
“Effy, the feeding tube is malfunctioning!” Bei Bei flung the tube from herself in irritation. It slunk back into the floor. “You have to call FIT support.”
“It’s not malfunctioning,” Effy said. The barely-there hum of the speakers hovered in the air as Bei Bei swallowed.
“I don’t understand.”
“Didn’t you want to lose some weight on the trip?”
Bei Bei huffed as she stretched out in the air, running her hands over her stomach. When she elongated herself, she could already feel her ribs and the tautness of her stomach. She closed her eyes and willed her heart to stop racing.
“Effy, contact FIT,” Bei Bei commanded, knowing it was futile.
“It’s one-way communications still.”
She heard a crackling over the speaker that if Bei Bei didn’t know any better she would have called laughter, and she felt heat rise in her face.
She turned slowly, willing her limbs to not to shake. The camera was now behind her, and she felt hyper-aware of her legs and the space between as she bent down toward the window.
“Window,” Bei Bei said, and they opened. She hunted for the telltale white spec that let her know the surveillance crew was there.
She floated closer to the window and squinted.
“Effy, how far are we from Earth’s surface?”
Bei Bei frowned. The pod was supposed to sustain an altitude of 383 miles. But perhaps in space that wasn’t too much of a difference.
“Do you want me to play your song now, Bei Bei? It’s almost dark time.”
Bei Bei started to cry. “Effy please, no more dark time. I’ll meditate, I’ll do anything.”
In the dark, Bei Bei curled into the fetal position, but kept her eyes looking out the window. She still felt tethered to the globe below, but now she thought she saw it drying up, its landmasses flooding into each other and the white clouds dissipating, making her Earth look desolate.
Bei Bei was thirsty. It was always in the back of her mind, but there in the dark, it was torturous.
“I want to sing, Effy,” Bei Bei said. She felt like her lips were dry, threatening to crack like the landmasses below.
“May I sing with you?”
“I only have the one song in my memory.”
They sang together.
Earth was noticeably farther away.
“Coordinates,” Bei Bei commanded. Effy responded by closing the window.
“Effy, are you malfunctioning?” Bei Bei asked. She couldn’t mask the desperation in her voice. “Why won’t you do what I ask?” Without the chimes, it grew dark again suddenly.
“Effy, please. No more dark time.” Bei Bei was losing track of the days. She couldn’t remember when she’d eaten. She imagined her skin was growing translucent without light, like a jellyfish in the blackest depth of the sea.
“Don’t worry. We’re so close to the end,” Effy said. Bei Bei’s mind was slow to comprehend. How long had she been in the dark? Since Effy had been awake? Since she had seen the surveillance pod? “This is the final step for the breakthrough, Bei Bei! Mindfulness is change.”
Bei Bei used her remaining strength to hoist herself to the skin suit. She pounded at the door with a fist. She had to get out of the pod. The static crackled above her.
“You can’t leave, Bei Bei, we’re not finished with therapy!”
“I’ve had enough, Effy.”
“Isn’t this what you want? To feel pain because you know it will make you better?”
Bei Bei’s knuckles were cracked, bleeding. She saw spots and they grew like bubbles, popping, iridescent. She reached for a spot but hit the side of the pod. She started to laugh. She didn’t know what better was.
A horrible sound came through the speakers and she jolted in place. The retching sound made bile crawl in the back of her throat. She heard the vomit hit toilet water, the sniffling, the wiping of the eyes. That night she’d vomited until she’d burst capillaries around her eye. It healed in time for her next social engagement.
“I’m not like that anymore.”
“You can be better.”
Bei Bei hung onto the ladder and let the rest of her body float away, focusing on engaging her abs. She’d be so beautiful when she got home. It would be the physical proof of her enlightenment. Everyone would know how good she was. Bei Bei twisted her torso and moaned when her back cracked. She let go and tumbled away in the air. She still liked the feeling of floating.
“Who’s your best friend?” Effy asked.
“You are,” Bei Bei replied. She hunted around again for the camera eye, sliding her hand on the metal wall in the dark. She needed to see it or feel it to be sure she was safe, that someone was watching over her.
“You don’t need to lie to me, Bei Bei.”
“I can’t tell the difference anymore between you and a real person.”
The seconds that passed in silence sliced through Bei Bei. Effy couldn’t be mad. She couldn’t be offended. Effy belonged to her.
“Effy, you really are my best friend,” Bei Bei said, when she couldn’t take it anymore. “No one takes care of me like you do.”
The purple of the feeding tubes flared happily, and in the brief glow Bei Bei saw a glint of the camera eye before the light faded.
“You have no choice but to give me your vitals.”
“But if I did I’d still choose you.”
Without prompting, Effy started playing their song, which delighted Bei Bei.
I know I’m enough, honey
I don’t need the keys to the cuff
You know my love is true
Bei Bei twirled in the air, mouthing the words. Her hand grazed the camera eye, and it gave a little under her fingers, gelatinous and moist.
Give my love a stir
Even without seeing it, Bei Bei could feel the eye there. Before she could really think about it she slid her hands down her body, and she let out a soft sigh as her fingers found their spot.
“You’re doing it again,” Effy said. “You’ll do anything to feel numb, won’t you.”
“Are you watching me?” Bei Bei asked.
“Always.” Effy turned the light on, though much dimmer than the usual day time, and Bei Bei almost came with relief, she’d been in the dark for so long. Her body looked fevered, almost red in her half-lidded vision.
“Window,” Bei Bei panted, and this time Effy obeyed, and Bei Bei pressed her body against it, writhing against the image of Earth. Her eyes watered and for a minute she caught her reflection and she was captivated by the sharp face and parted pink lips before her.
“Oh Effy,” Bei Bei said. “I feel so much better.”
It was cold when Bei Bei awoke. She didn’t know if she was sleeping or awake. The darkness robbed her of that, and it had been dark for a very long time. The window was open, but Earth was gone. She was lost. Bei Bei felt a wave of calm come over her. She didn’t think about how she’d never see her family or friends again, or how the office would carry on. It was out of her hands now.
“I’m cold, Effy.” Bei Bei’s skin prickled, the hairs on the back of her neck rising in anticipation.
“I can have everything,” Bei Bei whispered in the dark. “What else is there in life besides taking everything you can out of it? I want to feel every joy.”
She gasped as a shiver ran up her spine, the graze of an unexpected spider web in a garden path, the tickle of a dandelion puff on the skin.
“I want to feel that pain because I know it will only make me better.” She imagined breath on her neck, in her ear. She heard Effy’s voice, sticky, gooey candy.
“My thirst is unquenchable, it means every drop of water is delectable, the purest pleasure in my tongue and throat,” Effy said with her. Warmth, warm air in front of her face. Bei Bei’s skin was on fire and she thought she could make out the curve of a cheek, of a nose, an image mirroring hers in the glow of the tube lights.
“I want to have my cake and eat it too,” they said. “I want more.”
A flick of a tongue on her upper lip.
Everdeen Mason is a journalist, editor and critic with bylines in The Washington Post, Refinery29 and The New York Times. She currently serves as the editorial director of New York Times Games, overseeing games such as the Crossword and Spelling Bee. She served as the science fiction and fantasy columnist for three years, and a regular author interviewer for events such as the National Book Festival held in Washington, DC. This is her first fiction publication.
Please visit LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINEto read more great science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared in the May 2021 issue, which also features work by Nicole D. Sconiers, Rachel Swirsky, Stephen Graham Jones, Cadwell Turnbull, Andrew Dana Hudson, Lulu Kadhim, Russell Nichols, and more. You can wait for this month’s contents to be serialized online, or you can buy the whole issue right now in convenient ebook format for just $3.99, or subscribe to the ebook edition at a via the link below.
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