I woke up in the dark and I didn’t know where I was. I could hear voices but no words. My body complained to me in unfamiliar ways – dizziness, disorientation, and a strange feeling of being about to fall. It shouldn’t be doing that, I thought.
The voice cut through my dizziness this time. I tried to reply but ended up with little more than a groan. My body felt all wrong – slow, imprecise, and strangely reluctant to act.
“Everything looks all right, Arbiter. Take your time, I know it can be tough waking up.”
I shifted myself forward but felt restraints almost immediately. I sagged back and made a second attempt at speech, no more successful than the first. It got through to the speaker, at least.
“Easy, easy. I’ll raise the lights a little, then get you some water.”
Light followed, and sight with it – a cramped and windowless room full of unfamiliar devices, and a figure in front of me. Androform, probably biological, possibly female, short with dark hair and pale skin. Dressed in a uniform of sorts, grey and black and strangely loose, holding a bottle of sorts, not properly attached to the floor. Floating. I still couldn’t think properly.
My attendant floated closer and brought the bottle to my lips; my mouth seemed to know what to do better than I did and I found myself drinking, sucking and swallowing without quite understanding how or why.
“There you go. Hang in there, you’ll be fine. The sedative should be wearing off pretty fast.” She smiled and pulled the bottle away – I coughed but felt much better. She pulled back a little and studied me. “My name is Peri, Arbiter. Explorer, crew management and communications.” I decided to gamble on speech a third time, but my attempt to tell her that I couldn’t think properly came out garbled. Peri gave me a smile.
“Just relax, Arbiter. Weightlessness is always tricky, but your body will get used to it; it’s designed for space work, after all. You’ve only been mapped for an hour, so it will probably take some time to get used to it.”
I did not feel reassured. The sharpening sensations throughout my body made my first successful sentence a statement, not a question.
“You put me in a meat body.” The timbre of my body’s voice made it even more obvious. Peri paused for a second before nodding and bringing a mirror in front of me. A stranger stared at me, breathed with me, froze with borrowed outrage and disgust. Brown skin, black hair with a strange slash of green, a prominent nose, a strong jaw. Broad, lean shoulders mostly covered by a uniform much like Peri’s. Breathing, sweating, almost crying.
There it was, then – the dizziness and the strangeness and the unbearable slowness all in one. Nausea because I had a stomach and intestines and blood and hormones to make me feel dizzy. This awful sluggishness because each thought had to crawl its way through a brain and then force its way through lungs and throat and lips and tongue to make itself heard. It had been so long that I had forgotten what it was like.
“Why am I in a meat body? And a male one, at that?” I glared at Peri. She glared right back.
“Neuter, actually, though I’ll agree it’s a masculine frame. It’s the only one we have, Arbiter. Perfectly serviceable and well-adapted for the demands of ship work.” She turned aside to stow the bottle in a wall locker and busied herself at a terminal. “I’ve no doubt you’re finding it stressful, Arbiter, but I’d prefer you kept that language to yourself.”
I realised, then, what I had said – and then had to wonder just how badly my condition had confused my thinking. Meat was not a word you threw around, even when you were angry or confused. Billions of people were meat and were no less human for it. Most of me had been meat, even if it had been a long time ago.
Peri was meat.
The churning I felt from the weightlessness and the drugs had a new component, as shame worked its slow, chemical way into my mind. This was not going to be an easy assignment, especially if Peri decided to hold a grudge. My discomfort only grew as I tried to think of a reasonable response.
“I am sorry, Explorer. It has been a very long time since I have been organically embodied.”
Peri nodded and kept about her work. It was probably me she was working on, I realised – a few parts of my body were tellingly numb, so it was probably still connected to its housing in a few places. Was it just drugs, or was it fed intravenously? I would have to learn these things, I realised. Peri finished at her terminal and moved around out of my line of sight before coming back with another one. She removed the restraints around my arms matter-of-factly.
“You’ll probably need to rest for at least a day before you’ll be fit to move around. Doctor Hu assured me that the mapping went smoothly, but the weightlessness will make it much harder for you to adjust. Our visitor bodies have a good deal of helpful reflex built into them, but every mind needs time to adjust.” She placed the new terminal on a table in front of me. “Your body does have direct interface capability, but I’d strongly recommend against using it until you’re properly oriented, just to make sure the mapping holds. If you want to distract yourself then you can use this in the meantime.”
“As you say.” My head was feeling clearer now, but I was fairly sure it would be addled as soon as I tried to move. “You are the expert, Explorer. I’ll do my best to follow your advice.”
She paused a while and offered me a smile. “Peri is fine, Arbiter. You’ll be up and feeling better soon, trust me.”
I attempted a smile of my own. “You can call me Trinn, then. And once you’ve discharged me, you can tell me everything you know about this murder.”
I think this is the most confident work of yours I’ve read! I know you mentioned issues with paragraph breaks, but nothing stuck out to me while reading—it flows well. The premise has my attention, also. My ears pricked up at the part where Trinn is disgusted to realise he has internal organs.
Some things: I enjoyed how you give us a glimpse of the setting’s social issues with the meat business. You have a good pace of filling in the scene and our understanding of it as Trinn wakes up, and by the time we feel like we’ve solved the mystery of the present moment and we’re ready for something plotty to happen, you have that well-timed cliffhanger.
Turns out it’s a bit tough critiquing just the first part of a story (I guess it’s a good thing we both did it!), but here goes. I think the dialogue is the weak point. It’s functional, but it feels quite stiff and informative. I wasn’t able to extract much about these two from their conversation. On a more finicky note, I’m not sure about the phrase organically embodied’. I can’t imagine somebody saying it who isn’t in a lab coat holding a pen and a clipboard.
I also wasn’t sure if Trinn’s stilted way of speaking was due to his condition or just his manner. Especially towards the end he started to strike me as someone who is only imitating human interaction. He’s very robotic. I’m thinking of the almost aggressive clarity of lines like You are the expert, Explorer. I’ll do my best to follow your advice.’ But maybe that was your intention—hard to usefully appraise things like that without spending more time with the characters.
Anyway, I don’t think it’s destructive to the piece, which I found very effective in the broad strokes, but definitely something to be aware of. Keen to read the next part!