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ISOBEL

4.5 in the Exilon 5 series

A Quantum Silence Story

Eliza Green



ISOBEL

A Quantum Silence Story (4.5)

Eliza Green


Copyright © 2017 Eliza Green

Smashwords Edition


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All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Copy Editor: Andrew Lowe

Proofreader: Sally Vince

Cover Design: Design for Writers


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1



Isobel watched in her mind’s eye as she floated above her thin mattress on the stone floor of her private quarters. The pitch black of her room, carved out of the sound-insulating omicron rock, offered none of its usual comfort. If anything, she felt strange—different somehow. She hadn’t quite been herself, not since she had found out she was human. Isobel touched the near-translucent skin on her arm. Her clothes—a light tunic and trouser ensemble—fit her lean and tall body perfectly. Her hairless head was smooth, unblemished. She was an Indigene. But something was pulling her back to her other life, the one before she was altered. Another vague memory invaded her thoughts. It was of him: her husband when she was human. She had begun to remember partial things, like how it felt to be touched by him, or snippets of conversations. But the words, the things they had said to each other, were still out of reach. She concentrated on the sound of his voice, his touch. The one sounded strange, the other lacked comfort.

Her husband’s face was a clear memory, but the detail of it would not come to her. It was difficult for her to hold on to the sounds and sensations that had been natural to her as a human, but were alien now. But she kept trying. The sounds in the district that evening were no more than a series of low murmurs through the rock; it was easy for her to block out the distractions. In one of her memories, which had recently returned to her, her husband had spoken in a voice that lacked clarity: ‘We’re always going out. How about I cook tonight?’ Did her husband cook? She had no idea. But she did remember that they were rarely alone when they ate.

‘I can rustle up something from the replicator,’ he had said. ‘What do you want?’

Isobel recalled having a vague dislike for replicator food, but she couldn’t be sure if that was her Indigene half-talking. Would the reversal treatment change her attitude to human food, to humans in general?

The peace treaty that covered Exilon 5 had come into force in the last seven years. District Three elders Stephen and Serena had made some progress with the humans over that period of time. In 2163, a war between the Indigenes and World Government leaders broke out on Exilon 5. There were many casualties on both sides. The peace treaty grew from that war and covered an agreement to allow the Indigenes to live as they were, and to give them access to exclusion zones where they could hunt without interference. The treaty was initially set up to protect the Indigenes and their districts on Exilon 5, but it was extended to include a promise to reverse the genetic alterations that had been carried out on an Indigene if the individual requested it. Perfecting the reversal treatment had taken time. Isobel hadn’t understood others’ yearning to have the treatment until her own human memories started to trickle back on their own. Ironically, her disconnect from them fuelled her desire to understand more about her former life and she eventually considered reversal. She wondered what the treatment would feel like. For many weeks, she had toyed with the idea of becoming human once again.

There was a rumbling noise above District Eight, where Isobel lived, that sent tiny shudders through the floor and her mattress. The humans were building on the surface to accommodate those who had come from Earth and settled in the last seven years. Over half a billion people had been transferred before the ships had stopped coming. But with new cities came new problems. The humans were encroaching on the Indigenes’ territories again. The peace treaty designed to protect Indigene territory was on shaky ground. The humans were busy expanding their domain, which had started far out in the desert but was inching closer to their environmental bubbles that marked out the allocated safe hunting grounds. Stephen and Serena were keeping the elders in the other districts updated on the progress. Isobel tried to ignore the noise. The memory of her husband was drifting further away. She reached out in her mind and it returned to her, but not fully. She wanted to remember more. This man had loved her once. The urge to know who else she had left behind grew stronger each day.

A dark swirl of black existed in the place where her husband’s face should have been. She didn’t even remember his name. ‘Would you like to order from the machine, miss?’ he had said, pointing to a square black object on the counter. A white cloth was draped over his arm. She remembered asking for something.

He placed a plate of food in front of her. She lowered her head to inhale. It smelled of rock and cold and humidity: her private quarters. She reached out to touch the plate. Her fingers passed right through it. The man and the memory faded. She grasped at both again but they slipped away.

‘No!’ Isobel sat up and screamed. Her heart beat against her ribs. She stood up too fast and toppled back down onto the mattress. She tried again, a little steadier this time. Her quarters—a single room with a mattress and a table with a few items—felt claustrophobic and she couldn’t catch her breath. She walked to the door and rested her head against the cool metal. Her frustration slipped away, leaving her only with embarrassment. ‘I’m more than this,’ she muttered. ‘I can feel it.’

She yanked the door open and stepped out of her quarters located on the top floor of a three-tier accommodation block, a circular space deep underground.

She hesitated on the top step. ‘I need to know who I am.’

A shadow moved below the stairs and she took a step back. ‘Who’s there?’ Speaking out loud gave her a sense of control that telepathy did not. Lately there was a drop in privacy levels in the district, with some preoccupied with the few who were interested in opting for the genetic reversal and when it might happen. The shadow moved and a leg appeared. Isobel relaxed. She should have known it was her. She navigated the stone steps with the grace of a dancer. Margaux stepped out from the shadows and entered the circular space. The elder from District Eight was smiling. ‘Hello, Isobel. I hope I’m not intruding.’

‘No of course not, elder.’ Isobel could sense Margaux attempting to communicate telepathically. But Margaux always spoke out loud. Isobel was used to her strange ways. She wondered what it would be like to live without the ability to hear everyone’s thoughts. Gabriel and Margaux, husband and wife, were the elders in District Eight. It was common knowledge that Gabriel’s wife had been instrumental in helping to prevent a war with the humans. It was her insight—so often overlooked, others had said—that had given the Indigenes the edge when the war for power had occurred eight years ago. She had seen what Serena was capable of when others had not.

Margaux clasped her hands to the front. Her gaze, distant at first, sharpened when Isobel stopped in front of her.

‘I’ve been watching you, Isobel. Gabriel said I shouldn’t, that I was intruding on your life. But I told him I needed to.’

Isobel had felt a presence in the tunnels for a while, but she hadn’t been certain someone was there, until now. ‘For how long?’

Margaux chuckled. ‘I always wondered about you, about why you didn’t question where you came from.’

Isobel had wondered the same thing. ‘Because I couldn’t remember anything.’

‘And now?’

‘I’m beginning to remember bits and pieces. It’s still unclear.’

Margaux reached out to touch her, but Isobel stepped out of the elder’s space. She wasn’t comfortable with being exposed to the full extent of Margaux’s ability. When Margaux looked annoyed, Isobel stepped back in and allowed her to touch her. Margaux’s hands were cold but gentle as they cupped her face.

‘I sense something you’re preventing yourself from seeing. In your past.’

‘Like what?’ She could barely remember anything about her old life.

‘Something you’d rather forget.’ Margaux closed her eyes. ‘It’s why you haven’t spoken up before about wanting to change back into a human.’

Isobel stepped away from her. ‘I never said I wanted to change. Who said I did?’

Margaux laughed as if someone had just whispered a joke in her ear. ‘You did, silly girl. You’re deluding yourself if you think you can keep the truth hidden.’

Isobel’s heart quickened and she frowned. ‘I’m not hiding from anything.’

Margaux relaxed her expression and mood. ‘Your mind says otherwise. There’s something you’d rather forget.’

‘What?’

Margaux shrugged. ‘That’s for you to tell me.’

Isobel could feel the anger rise. ‘I thought you were supposed to know everything.’

Margaux smiled and started towards one of the tunnels at either end of the circular area. ‘Contrary to popular belief, I don’t know everything. Will you take a walk with me?’ Isobel’s hesitation caused Margaux to turn round. ‘Please.’

Isobel nodded and followed her. ‘Where are we going?’

Margaux began to hum. Isobel sighed. The elder’s moments of lucidity usually didn’t last long.



Isobel and Margaux arrived in the core of District Eight, a large cavernous space that connected all the tunnels belonging to the area. It was used as a meeting and teaching space. Isobel heard chatter; not telepathic murmurings, but the sounds of Indigene conversation. The odd, collective noise bounced off the walls and the high ceiling.

‘I suppose I should practise the art of speaking out loud,’ said one as they passed. The World Government on Earth had given them all files, including Isobel, on their lives before they had been altered into Indigenes. Other than what her file said, Isobel knew nothing of her human life. It was over the last few months that her memory, repressed when she’d been altered into an Indigene, had returned. Some of the others were now considering reversal treatment to regain their human traits. Part of the treatment was to gain lost human memories. In the process, they were expected to lose their ability to communicate telepathically with each other. Isobel scanned the room. There was a mixture of ages.

The further into the core Isobel walked, the more she realised the older Indigenes had come more out of curiosity than to practise speaking out loud. She sensed resentment among them.

The first-generation Indigenes were called the originals: humans who were altered and transferred to Exilon 5 nearly sixty years ago. The second-generation were the children born from two original Indigenes, like Stephen—District Three’s youngest-serving elder—and Anton, his closest friend and confidante. Then there were those who came after, like Serena, a product of human and second generation descent. Isobel hadn’t been sure which category she fell into, and without a memory of when they had turned her, she believed she was a second generation. It was Gabriel, closer to his repressed humanity than Margaux was, who had explained her origin to her. She was human and had been altered on Earth eight years ago. She had arrived in District Three at the same time as Serena.

‘You are what we call a first generation, once removed,’ Gabriel had explained. ‘Your blood test shows you were changed with a basic genetic mix, not with DNA from a second-generation Indigene as was used to create Serena.’

There were many who cherished their Indigene identity, but not everybody embraced the changes that had happened since the peace treaty had been implemented. Stephen and Serena were pushing for any Indigene who was unhappy to consider the improved reversal treatment, to become human again.

Margaux walked on at pace through the core. Isobel noticed Gabriel just ahead, leaning against the rock, watching them. But Margaux bypassed him to go to another female Indigene close by. The female had her back to them, talking to someone else. She seemed to sense Margaux’s approach, and turned round and hugged her. Isobel’s eyes widened with surprise. What was Serena doing here?

She watched Serena, with her strange blue eyes and genetically perfect features, listen to what Margaux had to say. Margaux pointed at Isobel and Serena’s gaze followed her finger. Margaux was smiling but Serena remained expressionless as they both walked towards Isobel.

Isobel noticed the males eager to get close to Serena while the females gave her space. It was the effect Serena had on them. Her presence in a room promoted desire in the younger second-generation males, but not so much in the first-generation onlookers. Isobel remained where she was, unable to move in the company of one of District Three’s leaders. There was no sign of Stephen.

‘Isobel,’ said Serena, still not smiling. ‘Margaux tells me you want to change into a human.’

Isobel faltered for a moment. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Well in case you do, I’d like to be the one to explain to you how the process works.’ Serena looked around her. ‘Somewhere a bit quieter?’

Isobel nodded. Margaux led them to the soundproofed Council Chambers and left them to talk. Serena closed the door and took the rare opportunity to look around the space that belonged to Gabriel and Margaux, before addressing Isobel. ‘The process of reversing the genetic anomalies is straightforward, these days, but the changes that arise are difficult for some to bear. It’s not for everybody. Are you remembering anything about your past life?’

Isobel nodded again. ‘It’s sketchy.’

Serena leaned against the desk. ‘I can help, if you’d like me to. But it’s just a temporary fix. My help will only serve to partially draw out the memory already there, as long as we’re both touching.’

Isobel hesitated for a moment. The sketchy memory from earlier had left her frustrated. She was curious to know what was locked away inside her head. ‘Okay,’ she said quietly.

Serena stood in front of her. ‘Hold onto my hands. Concentrate on the memory you’re most struggling with at the moment.’

With Serena’s help, Isobel could feel the tightness surrounding the last memory loosen a little. Her husband, with a swirl of black for a face, was standing by the replicator machine. ‘Chicken or fish?’ he asked.

‘Umm...’ For some reason, Isobel was unimpressed with having to stay in. ‘I guess chicken.’

He pressed some buttons and placed the plate of food down in front of her. She could see shapes now. The plate felt warm and solid to the touch. Heat radiated from the chicken.

Isobel looked up at her husband, hoping her connection with Serena would allow her to see more. But his face remained vague in definition.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Serena. ‘It will come back when the reversal process is complete. Are you ready for all that comes with it?’

Isobel smiled, feeling more certain than before. ‘Yes, I’d like to try.’

‘Margaux says there’s a secret from your past that you’ve yet to discover.’

‘She said the same thing to me.’

‘How will you feel when you discover it?’

Isobel shrugged. ‘Depends on how bad it is.’

Serena seemed lost in her thoughts, leaving Isobel unsure about what to do next. Serena was still touching her. Should she wait, or speak more?

Serena let go of Isobel’s hands and studied the leather inlay in the top of the writing desk. ‘I guess we won’t know how you’ll react until you reverse. The process is simple enough. You are injected with nanoids that work to reverse the original changes to your code. The process takes a few days. You will experience excruciating pain as they navigate your body and undo the changes. You will feel conflicted: neither human nor Indigene. You will question your reason for doing this and beg for the process to be stopped. It can’t stop, not until the nanoids have finished what they need to do. Any interruptions will confuse them and they’ll start making other changes. Devastating ones. What I’m saying is, if you do this, you must see it through until the end. Are you ready?’

It was a lot to take in; more than Isobel was prepared for. ‘Can I change back if I’m not happy?’

Serena shook her head. ‘The reversal only goes one way. The nanoids don’t survive to be reused and there aren’t enough to go around if reversed Indigenes change their minds.’

Never changing back? A small jolt of panic gripped her. But then what life was she turning her back on?

‘Will I keep any of my Indigene traits?’

‘Honestly? The process works differently in each body. You may keep some of your Indigene traits: your speed, your hearing, your physical appearance. Or you may lose all of them. You may start to grow hair. You may lose your ability to see in the dark. You may even lose your special ability to see into structures and identify weak spots. The main change you’ll notice will be the return of your memories from before your alteration. In time, you’ll remember everything.’

Isobel paced the chambers. ‘I need to know who I was, who I am. But a part of me is scared.’

‘I understand that, which is why it must be your decision.’

Isobel chewed on her bottom lip. The pull was too strong not to try. ‘When can we begin?’

Serena let out a small breath, as if she’d been holding it.

‘As soon as you’re ready. But first I need to take you to District Three to speak with someone there who’s been through reversal, so you might understand it better.’

‘I don’t need to talk to anyone. I’m ready now.’ Isobel wanted to remember.

‘If you’re sure. Say goodbye to friends. Take only what you need.’ Serena walked to the door and turned the handle. ‘You won’t be coming back here. Be ready tomorrow evening. We’ll travel by night.’



2



Isobel packed up her meagre possessions and stuffed them into the cloth shoulder bag given to her by Serena. She dressed in a long-sleeve cream top and matching trousers. She had only two outfits; the second was a similar black set she was supposed to wear while hunting, although she had never been.

The next evening she said her goodbyes to the Indigenes she called friends and the district that had been her home for as long as she could remember. It had felt like a lifetime to her; forty-three years to be precise. But only eight years of those memories were real. The rest were a falsified smokescreen to mask her repressed human past.

Her bare feet navigated the uneven tunnels; they had been designed that way to disorientate unwelcome visitors. The tunnels were softly lit by a string of lights at the base. She didn’t need the lights to see in the dark; her vision was exemplary. Isobel wondered if that would still be the case after the reversal treatment. Water dripped from tiny fissures in the tunnel wall, making the floor feel both damp and cold. She relished the cool air. Her body, as with all Indigenes, overheated too fast.

Telepathic murmurings reached her, and she was tempted to listen in one last time. The murmurs vanished as the other Indigenes moved out of range. Her heart ached for the loss of something she’d taken for granted all these years.

She stopped at the large door leading to the outside, constructed from the impervious omicron rock. She gripped the three parts of her air filtration device: one part for each nostril and a larger piece for the back of her throat. Isobel had been told it wouldn’t be necessary to use the filtration device after the reversal treatment. She didn’t see how it was possible. She looked around one last time and drew in a deep breath as she fitted the largest part of the air filtration device at the back of her throat.

A beam scanned her body and the door slid back inside the wall. She felt an immediate burning on her lungs as she sucked in the new air. Steps led up to a hatch on the surface. She took them slowly, adjusting the position of the filtration device as she ascended. She opened the hatch and emerged in the early night-time. Serena and two human military females were waiting for her close to the entrance. A large black military vehicle with all-terrain wheels and blacked out windows stood idle.

There was no need to hide from the humans any more, not since the peace treaty had been established. An exclusion zone, incorporating their main hunting paths and the entrances to their tunnels, was protected by the treaty. But it still came as a surprise to Isobel to see the humans casually waiting for her. She fought against her desire to run.

Serena was wearing a similar outfit to Isobel. The expression on her face was set to neutral. ‘Have you everything you need?’ She nodded to Isobel’s shoulder bag.

Isobel nodded. ‘Yes. Let’s do this.’

Serena climbed into the back of the vehicle and Isobel got in after her. The female military pair sat up front and one of them gave an order to the driverless dashboard.

As the car moved off, Serena explained the presence of the two human military personnel. ‘The reversal drug and nanoids are kept at a military base. The peace treaty doesn’t cover where we’re going and you can’t just walk in there. The military humans will escort you inside the building.’

Isobel frowned. ‘You’re not coming in with me?’

Serena looked out the window. ‘I’ll be outside. You’ll return to District Three with me when you’re done.’



A half-hour drive later, the vehicle came to a stop outside large imposing gates protecting the front of a walled compound. Serena hopped out. ‘Good luck and I’ll see you after.’ She closed the door and the car idled in front of the gate. The military women were quiet. Through the door of the car, Isobel could feel the hum of the electricity from the gate. The car proceeded through the open gates and parked beside other vehicles in an area to the front of a large white building. One of the military females hopped out and opened Isobel’s door. ‘Follow me.’

Isobel slung her bag over her shoulder. The door pinged with electricity it had stored from passing through the gate and tiny sparks jumped from the door to her skin. Like all the Indigenes, she was a magnet for energy.

Isobel got out and shut the door. The military females came around the car and stood beside each other. She tried to read both their moods. The vitriolic thoughts pouring from one surprised her.

Isobel was pushed through a set of double doors to the front of the white building. A new fear spread through her as she entered what appeared to be a medical facility inside a large warehouse, partitioned into several sections. Everything was white and sterile with low overhead lighting. She was led into one of the partitioned sections with a reclining chair. Beside the chair was a trolley with several steel instruments laid out neatly on a strip of paper. She examined the instruments, noting some sharp and pointy ones that she hoped weren’t necessary. The female stood outside the section watching her closely.

What will the reversal treatment feel like?

Isobel set her bag on the floor and wrapped her arms around her middle. Others had gone through the treatment and they had come out the other side in one piece. At least Serena would be waiting for her. A familiar face would be just what she needed afterwards.

A doctor in a white boiler suit appeared and waved away the military female. He was as tall as Isobel and spoke in a cool, measured tone.

‘Hello. My name is Dr Frank Jameson. There’s no need to worry. We have a high success rate in reversal treatment.’ He gestured to the chair. ‘Please take a seat.’

As Isobel sat down, she tried to concentrate on the thoughts of those around her. But the noises were dull and indistinguishable.

‘You can’t use your abilities in here,’ said the doctor. ‘We have a dampening field flooding this entire compound.’

Isobel moved her arm, but the speed looked too slow to be natural. Her gaze sharpened at the realisation she was trapped.

‘Please try to relax,’ said Dr Jameson. He turned to the trolley and picked up a syringe with a thick needle. The barrel was filled with a blue liquid. Were these the nanoids Serena had mentioned?

Isobel tensed in the chair. She stared up at the ceiling and reminded herself she had chosen this treatment.

‘The next part will be a little uncomfortable,’ said the doctor. ‘I’ll try to be as quick as I can.’

Isobel tried and failed to tap into her Indigene abilities, wondering what would remain after the treatment. She squeezed her eyes shut and drew in a sharp breath as the doctor forced the needle to break through her skin, kneeling on the side of the chair for leverage. She heard a small popping sound, then felt the liquid being pushed into her arm.

The doctor removed the needle and placed it back on the tray. ‘I need you to sit still while the nanoids do their work. Concentrate on the human memories that are the clearest. As the nanoids take effect on your hippocampus, the area of your brain that stores memories, you will start to remember more. You won’t recall everything at first, just the things that meant the most to you.’

Isobel looked at him. ‘Will I look different after the reversal?’

Dr Jameson shrugged. ‘Every Indigene is unique. The organic make-up of the body is complex. Your absorption of the genetic mutations is as individual as a fingerprint. We’ll just have to wait and see.’

She looked away and closed her eyes, concentrating on the changes going on inside of her. The first spasm came as a blow. She wasn’t prepared. The scream that followed sounded like it was from someone else. Her instincts drove her out of the chair into a standing position. She felt herself sway on the spot.

She could hear Dr Jameson say, ‘I need help! This one’s a squirmer.’ Several blurry shapes appeared before her. They grabbed her and pushed her back into the chair.

‘Tie her down!’

Tie me down? ‘Give me something for the pain!’ she said.

Dr Jameson’s aged face came into view. ‘It’s just a sign the nanoids are working. I need you to sit still. It will all be over soon.’

The medical staff grabbed a limb each and began to bind Isobel to the chair. They barely looked at her. Were they disgusted by her current form?

Another spasm began in her stomach. It felt like bones being crushed, and quickly spread to her arms and legs. Every part of her body jerked. With her limbs bound, the pain was intolerable. ‘Give me something!’ she said again, regretting her decision to go through with the treatment. ‘I can’t stand it!’ The staff stood back as she struggled beneath the restraints. The pain heightened, then dipped, then started all over again. She could see the time projection on the wall: 10pm. The spasms had started ten minutes ago but it felt like an hour of torture.

Her head tingled and a sudden itchiness spread across her scalp. Something crawled beneath her skin and made her shudder. She wondered what the nanoids were repairing next: her hair follicles or her hippocampus? She brought forth her last memory, the one of her husband that was the strongest. ‘Alex Sinclair,’ she said. Her husband’s name. The black swirl of his face reformed. New details emerged: his smile, a cute scar above his left eyebrow, black hair neatly swept to the side. He was wearing his Earth Security Centre uniform. The spasms retreated and Isobel felt the tears fall. How could she have left him behind, her husband, her soul mate? What was he feeling now? Was he even still alive? Had she been forced to leave him? The memories of her alteration had yet to return. She wondered if they ever would, if the doctors would deliberately keep them from her.

Through the tears, Isobel smiled. She was finally going home. But then the smile faded.

Eight years was a long time to be away.

Dr Jameson hovered over her, exuding a bedside manner colder than the metal trolleys. ‘I take it you’re remembering?’

Isobel nodded. She looked down at the straps on her wrists and legs. ‘Could someone remove these, please?’

‘Of course.’ Dr Jameson motioned to the medical staff who untied the straps. ‘How are you feeling, Isobel?’

‘A little overwhelmed, if I’m being truthful.’ She felt tears prick her eyes.

‘Yes. The nanoids only reverse the mutations. They don’t prepare you for the effects of that reversal.’

Isobel wondered how much she had physically changed. ‘Could I please have a mirror?’

Dr Jameson stared at her for a moment before nodding to someone. One of the male assistants hid behind the mirror as he held it up for her.

She studied her appearance, touched her skin. It still felt the same. ‘I thought I would look different.’

‘As I said, the changes are different in every Indigene. Yours may manifest over time. Do you need to talk to someone about it?’

She didn’t warm to the doctor’s clinical tone and she didn’t see how talking to someone equally as cold would make any difference. ‘No. Am I free to leave?’

The doctor stood back from the chair. ‘Of course. Welcome to your new life.’

She shimmied off the seat. ‘What can I expect now?’


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