For what felt like an eternity, Marlowe Kana felt hot and wet and red all over.
She was drenched and clad in her undergarments, standing in the shower room of the Atlanta Phoenix, the last-ranked team in the United American Football League. They had just finished the first day of spring training, and she had just finished her first day as a rookie on a professional sports team. She had never showered in front of anyone before, much less an entire team of players for a professional football team. And all of them were laughing at her.
She scanned the room. Frozen figures locked with faces twisted in mid-laugh, chortles and sneers… the members of the team showering with her covered in sudsy soap, the rest standing at the threshold of the shower room pointing and snickering.
It was a rite of passage, she would be told later that afternoon. But it would take centuries for Marlowe to get to that part of the memory. For now, she had to suffer through this particular moment of this traumatic experience from her life… One of hundreds she’d been forced to relive over the past sixteen days.
At fifteen years old, she had been the youngest player to ever join any professional sports team—not just after the Second Civil War, but in all of American history. As such, she had never really gelled with the other players on the team. She was always appreciated, but never truly accepted; a three-year pattern that had started the day she showed up for her first practice. Marlowe had just been forced to relive the memory of the post-practice tradition of convincing rookies to do a belly slide in the mud patch just behind the locker rooms. What the rookies hadn’t been told was that the drainage from the toilets and showers had been purposely disconnected from the septic system and allowed to flow into the field specifically for this ritual.
From the memory of beginning her sprint toward the mud, to the moment she landed belly-first in sewage and soap, took a little over seventeen years by her count. She spent roughly another two years to wipe the muck and filth from her jersey, and another year and a half to double-time it to the locker room and hop in the shower, which took almost a decade to heat up. She stripped a year’s worth of pads and clothing, but couldn’t bring herself to shed her sports bra or underwear. As embarrassed as she was to be fooled by this team of supposed adults, baring her privates in front of them was beyond mortifying.
Time dragged slower with each chuckle and each laugh; with every point of a finger and every jeer. The hazing was short-lived, as Marlowe would prove after just two short weeks of spring training why the management had traded three receivers, a linebacker, two safeties, and the first six rounds of draft picks for the rights to acquire her. The people who were pointing and laughing now would be hoisting her on their shoulders in celebration of their first ever New Super Bowl win, and slapping her on the back as she received a ring and a trophy for attaining the status of the game’s MVP. But that wouldn’t take place for another nine months, or nine thousand years from Marlowe’s current perspective. In that moment, she was a teenage girl far out of her depth, thrown to the wolves.
To be forced to watch every detail of that moment, amongst many others, stretched out for a million seconds in either direction, along with hundreds of others, was beyond agonizing. It was torture. Her biological mother had explained that the process of reconnecting her synapses after rebuilding her muscular system was going to be painful and slow. But they had assured her, three, maybe four days, tops. It had taken ten so far, according to the calendar. But to her, it felt more like ten million… Give or take.
Inside her head, Marlowe had survived epochs. Universes had exploded and expanded and collapsed inside themselves again. Time was irrelevant. There was no way to notice the passage of time, except to glance around every few days to see what around her had shifted, however slightly.
She had thought for years about how she could have put the candy bar back before walking out of the store the day her father had caught her shoplifting. She was forced for decades to consider that she could have just been the bigger person instead of the overprotective big sister when Maribelle Stewart had called Jen a bitch – instead of kicking the girl so hard, her tibia had splintered and ripped through her thigh. She could have finished at the Imagen Advanced Academy instead of listening to the USFL scout and entered the draft so early. She could have allowed her coaches and trainers to cover for her after the new body scanners installed at Oz rang in alarm as Marlowe had arrived to play in her fourth New Super Bowl. She could have let her father and the League pull strings and tell NewsFeed any number of stories, instead of insisting they tell the truth—that she had been an advanced experiment and her augmentations had not been disclosed to the league… Or to her. She could have accepted the counseling offered by doctors and therapists to cope with the sudden realization that she was an Auggie. She could have pulled the razor up her forearm instead of across her wrists.
Eventually, a reprieve would come as the world faded to white and a feeling of euphoria washed over her. She would open her eyes and find herself immersed in the viscous, nutrient-rich fluid of an immersion chamber in a lab in Oz. No matter how numb she tried to make herself to the process endlessly scrutinizing every emotional moment of her life, the joy of the lights coming up was always overwhelming. Her tears of relief were invisible to all around as they instantly intermixed with the fluid in which she was suspended; still they flowed all the same.
“Heart rate is lowering,” a woman sitting behind a multi-screen workstation to Marlowe’s right announced calmly. The reflection of her workstation’s terminals glowed in her spectacles, a classic black-rimmed pair that contrasted with her bone white shoulder-length hair. This woman was not augmented, Marlowe ascertained. Why would anyone purposely wear glasses? And yet, here she was, working on the most advanced augmented human being on the planet.
“Moderate sedation levels—but this time, please keep her at least mildly under,” a man seated behind a similar workstation on Marlowe’s left requested. His bald, white scalp glowed purple in the hue of the lab’s ultraviolet light. Marlowe had studied the hard lines in his forehead and his sandy grey beard and moustache every moment she had come up for air.
She couldn’t wait to kill him.
“Yes, Dr. Eigenlicht,” the woman on the right answered. A beep echoed through the room. “Sixty-eight percent neural pathway conditioning…” She sighed loudly. She pulled the glasses from her face and massaged her nose.
“Problem, Dr. Anderson?” Dr. Eigenlicht asked.
Dr. Anderson’s head sunk toward her terminal. She sighed loudly. “…Permission to speak freely, Doctor,” she replied.
Dr. Eigenlicht replied with his own exasperated sigh. Aggravated, he reached up to the screen before him and tapped a button. The sounds of the lab—the beeping, the echoes, the breathing of the people in it—all suddenly replaced by the sound of Marlowe’s own thudding heartbeat as the external microphone was muted.
The cobwebs cleared enough for Marlowe to watch as Dr. Eigenlicht laid into Dr. Anderson for daring to question his methods yet again. She was never privy to the exact arguments, but she had figured out that Dr. Anderson was not at all pleased with the efforts to complete Marlowe’s rehabilitation. Dr. Eigenlicht, however, never showed any signs of fatigue or frustration. In fact, the gentle smile and look of delight on his face each time he brought Marlowe out from the memory hole elevated her heart rate and triggered a tingling at her jawline. She wanted to retch. She wanted to flee. But more than anything, she wanted this man to stop torturing her.
Dr. Eigenlicht pointed furiously at Dr. Anderson, and then pointed to the exit. He then held his finger up at her and shook it. Marlowe read his lips as he mouthed the words “One more time…”
Dr. Anderson nodded and averted her eyes from her superior as she swivelled back to face her own desk. She looked up at Marlowe, who saw an expression on the doctor’s face which wavered between pity and aggravation. She reached up and tapped her screen. The sounds of the chirping and living lab swelled in Marlowe’s ears, followed by Dr. Anderson asking “…Marlowe? Are you ready?”
No matter how many times she failed, Marlowe still tried to scream, “NO!” She wanted to tense her body and burst through the tank. She wanted the heat of her body to boil the liquid and put her out of her misery. All she could do was blink and think the worst thoughts imaginable.
Nothing appeared in the chat window for Marlowe Kana on Dr. Anderson’s workstation.
“Still with the silent treatment, hm?” Dr. Anderson asked with a concerned look. “I really wish you would just accept this procedure and let us rehabilitate you. This would all be over by now if… I mean, couldn’t you at least tell us what’s going on with you? Just one sign… Please…”
Marlowe’s eyes narrowed. Dr. Anderson shook her head slightly, and her eyes focused on Marlowe’s. Suddenly, something caught Dr. Anderson’s attention from the corner of her eye. Marlowe watched as Dr. Anderson’s suddenly twisted to her right.
“What… What was that?” Dr. Anderson said.
“What was what?” Asked Dr. Eigenlicht as he quickly swivelled in his chair to face Dr. Anderson, who was leaning in her chair looking slightly past him at his screen.
Dr. Eigenlicht frantically raised his left arm to block the view of his screen. He then slammed his fists on the desk in front of his terminal. “I have grown weary of your constant second-guessing, Doctor!” He snapped. “If you would like to be reassigned to some other project, simply say the word, and I’ll speak to Dr. Patel on your behalf!”
“Of… Of course not, Doctor,” Dr. Anderson said, returning her attention to her own terminal. She looked again at the chat window with Marlowe Kana’s neural linkup. A long string of messages from Dr. Anderson’s voice transcription sat ominously unreplied to.
Dr. Eigenlicht held his eyes on Dr. Anderson as he slowly rolled his chair back to the front of his desk. He glanced down at a tiny window on the far left of his monitor. Several messages from Marlowe Kana sat, waiting to be read.
Marlowe Kana: She saw it
Marlowe Kana: I know she saw something… PLEASE, let her have seen it…
He looked up at the drifting, completely motionless woman in the tank before him. Her face was gaunt, but her body was finally showing signs of nourishment. She floated passively in the massive hydrostatic tank in which her body was recovering from the complete rebuild of her muscular and nervous system. She looked adrift and at peace. However, her eyes told a different story. Wide and filled with fiery ferocity, they stabbed at Dr. Eigenlicht.
His fingers rested on the keyboard before him. Very methodically, he typed out a reply:
Dr. Eigenlicht: I’m afraid it’s just the two of us still, Marlowe. And we’ve got so much more to go.
Marlowe Kana: YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! I WILL CHOKE THE LIFE FROM YOUR HOLLOW__
Dr. Eigenlicht didn’t bother reading the rest. His tranquil smile returned. He looked up at Marlowe, who was attempting to shatter the tank with the force of her glare. Her eyes suddenly relaxed and began to roll back into her head as the room blurred and swirled, growing violet, and then pink, and then white. Terror gripped her as she began yet another thousand-year journey through seconds-long fragments of her own memories.