- This story was originally published in Kasma SF in June 2014
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about the author…
about the narrator…
Hugo Jackson is an author with Inspired Quill; his first fantasy novel, ‘Legacy’ is available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. He has acted and performed stage combat for years, having appeared in various film, theatre and TV productions, including The Young Victoria, Diamond Swords at Warwick Castle, Cyrano de Bergerac (Chichester Festival Theatre, 2009) Romeo and Juliet (Arundel Festival, 2005), The Worst Jobs In History, and Ancient Megastructures: Chartres Cathedral. See him at www.hugorjackson.com
That Tear Problem
by Natalia Theodoridou
“Now flex your arm,” the controller said. Her voice sounded dry and mechanical through the speakers.
“The real one or the other one?” I asked and immediately received a neuro-ping: You are real.
“Both your arms are real, soldier,” she said.
I always thought of her as a woman, but really it was just a voice. There was no way to tell gender.
“Right. Which one do you want me to flex?”
“The left one.”
I flexed my left arm. It’s one of the limbs they rebuilt after the accident. The Neuropage pinged me again, just in case: You are real. All this is real. I wondered if they figured out I had found the glitch. Was that what prompted this ping? But it couldn’t be; the pager was supposed to be entirely incorporated into the nervous system. No outside access available.
Unless that was a lie, too.
“Now the other one,” the voice said.
“How much longer is this going to take?” I asked, flexing my right arm. I could feel my legs getting fidgety. They always did that when I was strapped down for long chunks of time. Ever since the accident. Fidget fidget fidget. Even while I slept, the legs fidgeted. I would much rather sleep floating around, but that set off the security alarm. I had found that out the hard way, on my second day at the space station.
“The muscle-tone examination is complete,” the controller said. “Now on to the neural routine.”
“The neural routine. Of course.”
If she caught the irony in my voice, she didn’t show it.
“Attach the red electrode to your left arm. Good. Now let me know if you experience any pain.”
A moment passed, but nothing happened. “I don’t feel anything,” I said.
“OK. How about now?”
I waited. My eyes started to tear up. I felt the moisture form into little beads around my eyeballs.
“I don’t feel anything in my arm, but my eyes sting like hell. It’s that tear problem again,” I said.
Tears, apparently, don’t flow in microgravity. The little fuckers just stick to your eyes like liquid balls, refusing to let go before they get to be the size of small nuts. Bottom line is, you can’t cry in space. They always get that one wrong in the movies. Who would have known?
“You are reacting to an imaginary stimulus,” the voice said. “Your brain thinks you should be hurting, so your eyes tear up. Hold still. You can wipe them in a minute.”
Maybe the controller was a man, after all. Maybe it wasn’t a person at all at the other end, just a machine.
I waited for a ping, but got nothing.
“All done. You can unstrap yourself, soldier,” the voice said. “Same time tomorrow. Do not be late.”
“The Neuropage will make sure of that,” I muttered, but she had already signed off. She, it, whatever.
The first thing I did was dry my eyes. Then I freed my legs and stretched.
Time to eat, the Neuropage said. One of the scheduled pings. I ignored it and propelled myself towards my compartment. It would ping me again every few minutes. I knew it would get on my nerves–a pun? really?–and I’d have to eat, eventually, but it felt good to ignore it for a while. It was my small fuck you very much to the system. Harry would have tut-tutted at my attempt to play the rebel, he always did, but I think he secretly liked it.
I had to do this. I had to test the glitch.