Every third Thursday of the month Elizabeth Porter found herself two ciders in and laughing merrily with her coworkers at the Stars Above on 2nd Street. Tonight was no different than any other night. They sat tucked in a corner, in the same booth they always occupied, trying hard not to discuss work, but inevitably always going back to it.
“Another presentation done!” Michael shouted, holding up his glass. The group of five, three men and two women, raised their glasses together with a resounding cheer of excitement that sent the eyes of the patrons in the tavern their way.
The group laughed and went about their meals and drinking until late into the evening and well past the point that they should have all gone home. Elizabeth melted against the table, resting her head on her arm and staring at the last bit of drink still left in her glass. She knew she should finish it, at least for monetary sake, but her stomach was full and her head swimming.
“I wish today were Friday,” she muttered, worming her cheek against her arm.
“You wish that every time we come here, Ellie,” Michael laughed.
“Because I drink too much when I come here,” she sighed, sitting straight in the booth and smoothing her hands over her business attire. “And the next day is always regrettable.”
“Could always call in,” snickered her manager with a gleeful look in his eye.
“And who will get your coffee?” she asked, smiling at him.
He was a handsome young man, too young for his position, but his father made sure his son was well taken care of in their family-owned technology firm. Michael Helgar had a model’s jaw, blond hair, warm skin, and honey-colored eyes. Even without a drink, he was enough to make her question her morals, or at least where to draw the line between business and something-more-than-friends. Especially when he gave her that sly smirk, the same smirk he was displaying that very moment.
“I do need my coffee,” he admitted, sipping at his drink.
“See? I’ve just got to make it in tomorrow.” She pushed the half-finished drink away and stood, groaning as she stumbled into a lazy stretch. “Sooo, I’m going home.”
“Awwww,” came the typical protest from the group when one bailed early in celebrating another big win.
Elizabeth waved her hands at them before Michael helped her into her coat. She buttoned it from the top down, wrapped her scarf warmly around her neck, and headed off to the door. Michael coughed loudly and grabbed his coat. “Ellie, wait, I’ll walk you to the bus. See you all in the morning!”
The bus wasn’t very far from the bar, but she knew Michael well enough to know it wasn’t concern that motivated him to ensure she arrived at the corner stop. She pushed her ebony hair behind her ear and nodded as he opened the door and motioned for her to exit. She walked next to him, at the edge of her metaphorical seat, waiting for him to say something. Elizabeth could tell by the twitch of his jaw that there were words barred behind clenched teeth, begging to be set loose. But, as they reached the bus stop he simply stooped just slightly to give her a hug and drew back with a smile.
“Have a good night, Ellie,” he mused.
“Good night,” she replied. The tired rush of air that was her short retort concealed the tinge of disappointment. His lack of advance was for the best, she knew this, but still couldn’t help her wishful thinking. She stared a bit too long after him as he disappeared in the crowd and steam wafting up from manhole covers.
The bus arrived shortly after, and she found it relatively empty. There was a flat monitor on the front and back walls, scrolling the latest news alerts from the day. Famine. Disease. Another country collapsed under the weight of resource depletion. She ignored it, didn’t even see it, really. Like always. None of that affected her, and she was far too small to ever do anything about it.
Elizabeth tucked herself into the far end of the seat, pressed against the window, and closed her eyes for a moment of rest.
Several hundred years later…
Choshinsei, a vast, dark warship, roamed just shy of a dead star. Colors swirled, bright and glittering, threads of light being pulled towards the center even as they reached out into space.
Within the Choshinsei, two male Immortalizers dressed in seafoam-colored plastic suits worked circles around a pair of near-identical lifeless forms, each stark naked save for a white medical sheet pulled up to their navel. One body had a gaping red hole in her chest, the edges of the hole singed and black from heat. She was pale and stiff to the point her lips were as blue as her short cropped hair. The other looked more lively, with color in her cheeks and long, wet strawberry-blond hair. Her skin was slick with a thick jelly substances and her chest did not rise or fall with the breath of life.
The Immortalizers, those tasked with bringing the dead back to life, attached each body to a machine, connecting cords to their temples with long, thin needles that pierced impossibly small pre-drilled, metal-lined holes in their skulls. They took great care in wiping the jelly from the blond body, attaching electrodes and monitors to her chest. With a quick press of a button, an electric current rattled through the body, causing it to arch up off the gurney. A pulse thrummed in the machine, but no brain activity registered on the monitor.
“Are we ready?” Immortalizer Odus asked. He was a tall, lanky man with a shaved head and a pair of round glasses with rose-tinted lenses. The other Immortalizer, Immortalizer Lee, a man of average height and slick black hair, nodded. “We are ready.”
“Stations,” Immortalizer Odus said, adjusting his rose-tinted glasses and turning his attention to a wall of one-way glass. He motioned with his hands to whoever stood behind it that they were about to proceed with reviving Vena Helgar, a notorious intergalactic warlord, from the dead.
Immortalizer Lee stood at his post, a cart carrying the machine that would revive Vena Helgar, and a semi-opaque screen with a flat panel and a metal ball sunken into the surface. He rolled the ball beneath the palm of his hand, controlling the machine inside the cart with the slightest hint of movement. “Searching for marker,” he announced. A bead of nervous sweat dripped down the side of his temple.
When too much time passed for Immortalizer Odus’s liking, the man in the rose-colored glasses stepped forward.
Immortalizer Lee lifted a hand. “One more second, I’m just having trouble locking on to the marker. I’ve got her though, don’t worry.”
“It shouldn’t take so long to go back one lifetime,” Immortalizer Odus muttered.
“Got her!” Immortalizer Lee huffed, a twitch in his cheek. “Egress in three. Two. One.” He reached forward and pressed a flashing yellow button at the bottom of the screen before him. A green blinking progress bar signaled the transfer of data. When the progress bar filled to a solid green, all eyes turned to the blond body lying motionless on the gurney.
She jerked but did not gasp or blink or shout to life as many Immortalizers were used to witnessing from those who had met brutal and violent ends. Instead, the clone woke as if from a peaceful, dreamless sleep.
Vena Helgar blinked her eyes open and reached up to wipe them, pausing when she noted the wire and plastic band around her wrist. Her gaze, lazy with sleep, lifted to look around the large, sparsely furnished room of gray walls and lighter gray floors. Panic-stricken and mortified to find herself naked, she shot up to sit and wrapped her arms tight around her chest. Vena reached to her head and, feeling something stuck there, tugged with a terrified scream to pull the cable free.
* * *