A Blue Bird In A Field Of Anemones
Conroy listened to the painful audio transmission for what seemed like the umpteenth time that day. He didn’t understand why it caused his heart to stop every time he listened, but he knew one thing for sure: his co-workers were beginning to show concern for him. He rolled his eyes.
“Still listening to that train-wreck transmission?” Ace walked up to him from behind. A co-worker he’d talk to from time to time—nothing special.
Train-wreck, huh, he thought in a bitter silence. He wasn’t wrong, Conroy hadn’t been lying when he said the transmission sounded painful. A single note; a high pitched ring that reverberated through his ears. It was enough for any man to believe he had tinnitus.
“I guess I am. I can’t help it,” Conroy exclaimed. “I know just listening to it isn’t getting us any closer to its location.” He was mildly irritated. The thought of something being so close but just out of reach—the thought alone was infuriating.
“That’s the thing, we’ve searched everywhere,” Ace said. Conroy had a feeling he was trying to get at something. Conroy raised an eyebrow in impatience. “What about it?” He urged him to continue.
“We searched everywhere,” Ace repeated, “everywhere except here.” At first, Conroy felt bewildered. Ace had a point. The first few avatars created were sent to planets habitable by humans as a test run. They hadn’t expected anyone to keep their avatars on Earth because, frankly, who would pass up the opportunity to see a planet first hand?
“You think that the avatar is here?” Conroy challenged
“What other explanation could there be?” He sat in his seat for a while, quietly thinking to himself. Could it have been under their noses all this time? Not too far away from them was a table that held trackers laid in neat stacks, a creation made by Avatar Inc. solely for this purpose.
“Alright, what are we waiting for.” The two of them grabbed a tracker from the desk and proceeded to head outside.
The Spring air was refreshing on Conroy’s face; the sun was shining in his eyes; the temperature was just right. It hadn’t been long since Conroy separated from his partner; both of them concluded they could cover more ground this way. He listened intently to the sound of his feet tapping against the paved sidewalk and the occasional car that drove by him, its wheels crackling against the road.
He had a faint thought of asking a couple that had just passed by if they happened to see a stray avatar lying about somewhere, but decided against it. Had they found something of the sort, it would have been reported by now.
He hummed to himself and glanced down at the tracker in his hand. It blinked a calm cadence that would have been pleasant to look at had it not been for the fact that he was looking for the opposite reaction—he needed it to pick something up, to blink faster in confirmation, something, anything. He pointed the tracker in different directions, watching the slow, unchanging swing of the pulsing red light.
He forced himself to look away from the tracker before he snapped it in half due to his growing impatience. Not that he could do such a thin, anyway.
The scenery in front of him was nothing new; clean sidewalks, grassy fields with benches, and trees with flowers that could take your breath away if you were undoubtedly delighted by such things.
Within merely two steps, he was off of the sidewalk and meandered aimlessly in the lush fields. The tapping of his footsteps became a noise of shifting. He passed by the numerous trees that seemed to swallow him whole as he continued to wave the tracking device foolishly.
Still, it kept its steady pace.
He strolled further off-trail, entranced by the flowers that had sprouted from the ground, accompanied by stray leaves that had fallen defiantly from their holder.
It was a remarkable sight—which is why he had grown puzzled by the fact that: the farther he sauntered into the forest, the more prominent the landscape developed into a state of despair.
The ever-looming trees that had once brought him a sense of comfort—were now smothering to the point that they veiled any light from getting through. The only light he had that was considered the least bit helpful, and that was going by the long run, was the light from the tracker. The steady swaying light turned into a frantic blink, and the next moment, Conroy stumbled down.
“No shit,” Ace let out a bemused huff and crossed his arms, shifting in his position to lean his weight on one leg. He stared down at the worn avatar right in front of his eyes. Moss patches covered the avatar’s limbs; it’s copper metal plates were rusted over and had been stained with the soil from the sunken pit Conroy had been fortunate to find. His legs: not so much. The avatar slumped over limp, lifeless in a way. It had been brought back to Avatar Inc., where they could examine its chip.
“Yeah.” Conroy shook his head as he peered down at the avatar. It was worse for wear, and it left him wondering just how long it had been in that pit for it to have this ailing outcome. “Let’s hope the chip wasn’t damaged,” Conroy said. If the grunt that came from Ace’s direction meant anything, it was the sound of discouragement; Ace gave up on the avatar already.
Conroy shrugged off the discomfort it brought him, reached towards the back of the avatar’s neck, and pressed gently. The plate sprang off after a few endeavors at prying instead, and the chip came out. While it made Conroy sad to think, he couldn’t help feeling somewhat shocked at the chips’ appearance. Despite the avatars’ condition, the chip was pristine and intact.
“Pop it into the computer, then.” Ace raised his arm in advance. Conroy promptly turned the computer voer and pushed the chip inside. Like a newly constructed film, a video appeared. He wasted no time in pressing play.
The first thing she noticed was the bright light. A light so bright, she had been forced to close her eyes shut. She was dreaming—but this had never happened to her before. It almost felt real, she thought. Until she realized it was real.
“Our avatars will enable you, temporarily, to transfer your cognizance, your being, to another remote location. All you have to do is sign here, and you’ll be able to go outside again,” a man said before continuing, “without you moving an inch out of this here room.”
“True to their word, she found herself outside in a grassy plain that seemed to extend for miles. The air smelt fresh and clean. Flowers laid out in lazy rows. And the wind—she could feel it brush against her skin, and it was cold, but oh so refreshing.
As she took a step, she crashed down. A string of pain rushed up to her legs, and she gasped out a mute yelp of protest. She glanced down her body to her legs. Her body was decorated not with skin, but a pure copper metal. And suddenly, she was reminded that this was not her actual body, but a substitute. An avatar.
It was ugly. She was ugly.
She didn’t want to be picky, really, but when you’re stuck in a room, and the only means of escape is by dreaming, this becomes old news. She desired genuine help, not a distraction.
Regardless, it was a meager price to pay if she wanted to feel normal again: like all the other kids who didn’t have to live in a hospital.
She attempted to get up once more, this time, managing to get in a crouching stance before, shortly after, dropping. They said this would happen. Her limbs, not accustomed to moving for a sustained period, the nerves needed to get used to having a function.
It took her a month to learn how to manage the avatar’s limbs, and even when she was able to use them efficiently, it nevertheless felt wrong. The pressure felt weird. Having to balance her whole weight felt off. And through it all, she craved at least to have someone support her through it.
She was grateful that she was surrounded by things she likes. The flowers were still standing proud; the trees around her looked clean and beautiful. She hadn’t remembered seeing the trees so healthy before. And the ponds were so clear—like a mirror. She’d peer over, excitement bubbling in her chest, only to be slapped in the face with an insult; a cold reminder of her situation she’d never be able to escape.
In a way, maybe she was the reflection in the water. Drowning, trapped, fated to be there with no means of escape.
Ripples distorted the surface of the pond, like someone throwing rocks carelessly. Water splashing on top of water: no matter the weather, it would always be blamed on the rain.
Three months dragged by, landing her in July. The trees were still beautiful, she could feel, she could walk, she could skip, and no one would be apt to stop her from doing so. Not that any would, or could for that matter.
One thing she had become accustomed to was staring at her reflection in the pond: her enemy, yet—ironically, her only friend. She could remember when she wasn’t in the hospital.
She’d stare at a mirror for long periods. If she stared hard and long enough, it began to feel as if she wasn’t staring at her, but someone else. The thought of someone staring at her for so long scared her, but she didn’t dare look away. She didn’t dare blink, wanting her reflection to lose the staring contest and show signs that there was, in fact, another person on the other side of the mirror.
The pond was no exemption to this. The only discord was: that her reflection wasn’t her staring back. There were no familiar characteristics of her blue eyes and blond locks that unwelcomely got in the way of her sight. It would always be a copper metal machine.
Now was one of the times she’d stare at the pond with intent. However, this time, she aimed for something different. She reached out her hand, allowing it to touch the surface of the water slightly and forced herself to gaze about the ripples she caused instead of what she was thinking of doing. The machine did the same thing. Despite already knowing she was alone, she took a cautionary survey of the area before staring back at the pond.
“Hello,” she started with a hesitant tone, her eyes closed. “My name is Aurora.” When she allowed her eyes to open back up, the reflection opened its mouth.
“Hello, Aurora. My name is Serenity.” Aurora said, pretending it was the reflection that was talking. The image tilted its head, almost mimicking a look of faint curiosity. She saw the contour of the machine; it lacked feminine traits and held no curves. Thus, she took the avatar for a male. She wondered why, in that case, she gave it a female name.
Instead of pondering over the curious turn of events, she felt herself smile—although in the reflection, she wouldn’t have even known she was. It was not her, after all.
“I like it,” Aurora confirmed.
A month passed and—finally, she didn’t feel so alone anymore. She had someone who was just as trapped as she was. While the thought disheartened her, it felt pleasant to have someone understand what she was going through. If it meant sleeping for all eternity, she’d gladly do so if it involved talking to Serenity.
“Hello again, Aurora!” Serenity spoke enthusiastically. As usual, Aurora and Serenity reached their hands out to touch.
“Hello, Serenity!” Aurora replied. Serenity seemed to pause. “What’s wrong,” she asked and watched as he tilted his head. It didn’t register to her that she hadn’t made the action herself.
“I should be asking you that,” he said. Aurora felt her heart spike, and her eyebrows narrow. In sheer fright, she awakened, and her avatar slumped over.
Her eyes opened to her mother sitting beside her bed with other doctors in the room. “What’s wrong with her?” Her mother demanded.
“I...” The doctor stammered, “I’m not completely sure. Her heart was stabilized—it shouldn’t have done that.”
When they finally realized Aurora was awake, they masked their concerned faces with a happy facade and smiled down towards her. “Good morning, Aurora. How are you feeling?”
Aurora didn’t know how to express it. A sensation hefted against her chest, making it hard for her to breathe. Something was amiss. She didn’t know what it was, but something was wrong. She blinked, and swiftly, she was back in the grassy plains, staring at her companion.
“Welcome back, Aurora!” Serenity said. Aurora felt herself beaming once more. She was troubled, but this made her feel a bit better.
“Thank you, Serenity.”
They continued their conversation when within a single blink, she found herself back in her hospital bed; an oxygen mask was placed over her face.
A glimpse to the side and her calendar was there.
September 10, 2076
September? That couldn’t be true, just yesterday it had been August! Perhaps they had made a blunder. She’d ask her mother once she saw her again. She was positive she was at work by now, anyway. Aurora closed her eyes and found herself back in her usual field.
Upon impulse, she headed towards the pond, but something felt unusual. She couldn’t put her finger on it. Maybe it had been her limbs? Her legs were feeling outrageously heavy.
She reached the pond and greeted, “Hello, Serenity!” Serenity didn’t respond but rather took to looking to the side.
“The trees have changed,” Serenity said. Aurora was in shock; never had she heard him sound so depressed… “I don’t think I like Fall.”
“How come?” Aurora asked. Serenity shook his head in sorrow. “It’s so pretty, isn’t it? Beautiful even!” Aurora sought to console Serenity, but it didn’t seem to work.
“Pretty, yes, but at what cost,” Serenity graveled.
Aurora looked at her surroundings just as she had seen Serenity do. It was only then that it dawned on her what he had found perplexing.
The leaves are dying,” Aurora acknowledged belatedly, and no sooner later, she felt a force on her chest, and all the air had knocked out of her lungs. She doubled over in shock, her face nearly brushing the surface of the water. Serenity drew in close, demanding to know what was wrong. He sounded panicked—and she had to wonder; what was wrong?
“It’s okay,” Aurora said. The stress slowly came to a standstill, and everything was normal again. “I’m okay.”
She blinked, and suddenly she was back in her hospital room again. The heart-rate monitor sounded a steady strum, relaxing even with the faint flicker it gave off.
Aurora jumped out of her skin. She hadn’t even noticed her mother sitting next to her. “Hi, mom.” Why did her voice sound so tired? All she’d been doing was sleeping lately, so how could her voice sound so weak?
How are you feeling?” Why did her smile look sorry? So distressed?
“Tired,” Aurora heaved and looked to the side.
October 15, 2076
“What’s going on with the calendar?” Aurora asked. Her mother stretched out her hands and grasped Aurora’s hand with them.
“You’ve been slipping in and out of comas, sweetheart. You had us worried for a while...”
Aurora took the time to register what she had discovered. She had been in, not one coma, but many? She felt stumped, like a computer with a blue screen. And yet, her head was racing. She didn’t know what it was contemplating, but it must have been a worry—for her heart rate was beginning to increase.
“It’s okay,” Aurora’s mother stiffened her shaky grip. “You’re okay.” Aurora felt a peculiar sense of deja vu.
“I’m cold,” Aurora said suddenly. Her mother got up in an instant and rushed to get her another blanket.
Serenity stared at his reflection, worry sketched on to his copper metal machinery. He reached his hand out to the pond, just as how Aurora did. Except it didn’t feel the same when she wasn’t the one doing it with him. She was awake at the moment, and that left him alone.
He never thought he’d miss the girl this much. When he noticed her new tendency of talking with her—no, his reflection, he believed it to be ludicrous. He didn’t understand emotions well, but from what she had taught him, she was feeling lonely. He guessed being by oneself made one do bizarre things such as talking to yourself.
And here he was, doing the same thing she had been doing. Hypocrite. He took his hand away from the pond and stood up to look at the trees. Leaves were scattered in piles on the ground, once a group of flames turned into a crisp brown.
He made his way back to the pond and sat there, waiting for Aurora to get back to sleep so he could see her once again. Days turned into nights, stuck in an endless loop. More and more leaves stared to fall until the trees were all barren.
Still, he continued to wait for her return. And she did return. She was stumbling towards the pond, just like she had back in Spring, and peered into the water.
“Good morning, Aurora,” Serenity said. He smiled down at her, but he doubted she could tell.
“Hello, Serenity.” Aurora sounded weak, and an odd tremble came over him. Or was it her who was trembling?
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Serenity asked as he looked over to what little remained of the colorful leaves. Serenity looked back towards the pond to see if Aurora had gazed about, but something told him she hadn’t made the effort to look.
“But at what cost,” she said.
Serenity was frozen in place and reached his hand out to the pond, wanting to connect with her. Almost simultaneously, she reached out her hand, but it felt lifeless. Empty.
“Aurora?” He called out, watching his reflection’s mouth move with what he asked. Suddenly, he was hyper-aware. Paranoid. Was he looking at her, or was he just talking to himself like he had been before? Had she ever been there to begin with? Was he alone again?
He felt empty.
Conroy felt conflicted as he watched the machine touch the water repeatedly, not saying anything until suddenly, it let out a piercing, single note he had become familiar within the transmission. A scream of misery and isolation.
“What the hell?” Ace stumbled back in shock and looked towards the molded avatar as if demanding for an answer. But it remained there, slumped. Conroy shut the video off and took it off his screen. He clicked back on to the audio of the transmission and lowered the pitch, wondering if his presumption was correct. Sure enough, it was the sound of a heart-rate monitor. A flat note.
“Ace, is there a hospital near here?” Conroy asked. Ace looked at him confused but didn’t question it.
“Yeah, not too far away, actually,” Ace said with a shrug. All that time they spent talking to each other. Serenity had been so close to the girl and she was just out of reach. The very thought alone was infuriating.
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