Today's Reading

Two options, viable and unviable, both of them meticulously planned for.

Except, if you flip coins often enough, send enough of them into the air, something else can happen, something miraculous and yet statistically inevitable. Send out thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of colony ships—each another spinning coin—and eventually one of them will surprise you.

One of them will land on its edge and remain there, balanced and wobbling, full of awful or awesome potential. It will be neither heads nor tails but something else.

What follows is the account of one of those rare coins. It is the story of my home.


PART I
OUT OF THE VAT

CHAPTER ONE
ABORT

I was fifteen years old before I opened my eyes for the first time. Fifteen. Not quite an adult—halfway between boy and man. Before that moment, I had learned everything from visions directly implanted into my brain. I had been stuffed with virtual lessons and life experiences as my body grew inside a vat.

The training programs I grew up with were wont to flit about, out of sequence and irregular. It was often just me and the colony AI in his several guises, maybe a few virtual students to serve as examples or to keep me from going crazy. One minute, I'd be walking through the woods, listening to Colony lecture. The next, I'm in a counseling session, pretending to do therapy with two virtual colonists who can't get along. This jostling of my consciousness feels absolutely normal, for it's all I've ever known.

Then, I woke up. I saw the real world, solid and unyielding, and it made far less sense.

I came to in a square column of glass. The first thing I noticed was a girl waking up in the large vat adjacent to mine. Thick amniotic fluid flowed down our naked bodies, the level receding as the drain at my feet gurgled. Bubbles floated up from the drain and burst on the surface. I vomited two lungfuls of bluish slime, dry heaving, hacking, coughing—my body knowing innately what to do as it began to breathe for the first time. I shivered and wheezed, the air around me cold but able to sear my lungs, burning me and freezing me at once.

I wiped at my stinging eyes; my senses were overwhelmed and confused. I had just been learning regression therapy, and now I found myself in a strange place, naked—but not alone. Lost on me was the ironic reversal of the dreams I had been taught to interpret: the waking up in public with no clothes on.

The girl in the adjoining vat slumped against my glass, her shoulder flattening out where it pressed, her neck straining as she coughed and wiped at her eyes. Both of us were coming into our lives with all the spasms and grace of a torturous death.

My vat slid open on one side and a cacophony of sounds assaulted my unused ears. Just as with my vision, I had been "hearing" for fifteen years, but only by having the auditory centers in my brain directly stimulated. Never had it been through such physical, intimate, sonic violence as this. Noise that presses flesh. Noise like a second heartbeat. Noise you can feel in your bones.

Screams. People shouting. The crackle of...flames? Behind it all was an oddly serene voice calling out as if from everywhere: "Stay calm. Please make your way toward the exit."

But nothing about the situation was calm. And there was no clear exit. Were it not for my wobbly legs, I would've thought it an emergency drill.

In all my training modules, however, my body had known how to balance itself. That was no longer the case. Even with legs artificially stimulated to remain strong, I struggled to control them.

I grasped the edge of my vat's opening, stepped over the jamb, and joined the narrow stream of other naked and confused colonists beyond. We packed ourselves into the narrow passageway between the empty chambers like animals chuted for slaughter. Slick bodies came into contact with mine, overwhelming more of my senses with bizarre newness.

In the distance, someone yelled, "Fire!" and the already tight space became a horrific crush of human frenzy, of elbows and knees and shoving. Strangers shrieked at the top of their lungs. We became one quivering mass of fear and confusion. Bodies became like cells, forming a new blastocyst with awful potential.
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