Strange Reality


Alina shot up out of bed, the threadbare blanket falling around her ankles. The only light was the faint flashing from the billboard across the street making it in through the cracks of her window shield. The only sounds came from the street three stories below. And her heart, thudding in her chest and sending blood woosh woosh woosh-ing through her ears.

Dead asleep. Exhausted from a double shift at the docks. Drunk from the double forties she’d had on the elevo back. If someone had wanted to do a little b’n’e they could have stripped the whole phloxing place and left her in the middle of the empty floor. Why anyone would want to steal from her was a phloxing mystery, anyway. She didn’t own shit.

Her room was empty. Every direction her eyes darted to held nothing but what little she owned and a lot of darkness.

“Lights on.”

The yellowed recessed bulbs obliged and she forced herself to look around even through the pain of wide open pupils. Door lock. Windows closed. Nowhere to hide. Alina was alone.

So who the phlox has smacked her awake?

Alina took a breath. Her arms had been up in dukes since she had woken up, and she let them relax next to her. Her right arm fell to her side, a hand on her hip.

Her left arm did not. It stayed in a fist, gleaming dull in the light. No matter how much she told it to go down, it stayed there. Frozen.

It smacked her again.


One step away from the bed and her foot got caught in the blanket. Alina went down heavy. Her right arm went up to protect her head from the steel floor. Her left hand tried to smack her again.


Phloxing great. She was exhausted, hungover, on the floor, and now her arm was malfunctioning. She had gotten the stupid thing updated only a few days ago, too. Some buggy as phlox update. The point of the update had been totally lost on her, as had all the others, but Alina was sure it hadn’t been to install a ‘random slap’ upgrade.

Now wrestling with her own arm in the middle of the night, trying to reach the kill switch in the armpit, Alina had time to reconsider every shitty choice she had ever made in her life. Mostly she regretted drinking that second forty.

Her arm tried to smack her again and she ducked underneath. Thank the stars I never had the chains for the brain jack. It waved around, trying to jerk her across the floor, wiggle her, keep her from reaching the kill switch. But when she had finally found it and was a couple of seconds into the ten second press, it finally stopped.

It hit the floor a couple of times. Held up palm with all the fingers splayed. Then held up two fingers.


Alina squinted an eye and released the kill switch before the ten second mark.

The hand gave her a thumbs up, and then made another motion over and over. Holding a pen. Writing something.


Somehow this phloxing, malfunctioning arm managed to look exasperated. It opened and closed its fingers, then made the writing motion again. Then threatened to smack her.

“Okay, okay,” she told the mechanical fingers. “Phloxing thing, hold on.”

Stars, do I even have a pen? A marker? Pencil? Paper?

The answer, of course, was no. There wasn’t any reason to have any of that dreg, and if she couldn’t afford a brain jack she definitely couldn’t afford a pen.

The malfunctioning arm waved.

“I’m thinking!”


Her sink and cabinet were on the other side of the bed. Tucked on the little silver shelf under the sink was her bag of makeup. It had little pink pigs on it. The malfunctioning arm was not helping, so Alina had to get the bag open and the eyeliner out with one hand.

“There, there!”

Clumsily, her left hand took the eyeliner and got it in position. Still, it just waved around. Looking for something to write on.

“Eh, phlox. Uh….”

Paper, paper, she didn’t have any paper! Flyers, receipts, phlox, everything was digital now. Annoyed, confused, and wondering if she was still in the depths of a bizarre dream, she went to her little table by the window and guided her left hand to it with her right.


Alina blinked. Her malfunctioning mechanical arm didn’t write anymore, merely tapped on the table insistently.



A sound from outside her front door. Small. Unmistakable. In any other situation ignorable. Alina looked at the words smudged on the table. The sound again.


It’s just a neighbor. Yeah, that’s right, it’s just Mrs. Aliskin. Wandering the halls. At two in the morning.

The window shield opened quietly enough. The window itself, which hadn’t been opened anytime in this century, not so much. Luckily for her a couple of speedpunks were racing by, revving their engines with the intent of waking the entire block and maybe winning a race, who knew, not Alina, all she knew was by the time the roar of the bikes was fading the window was open enough for her to slip out onto the grated fire escape.

Slip out of my own apartment. Running like I’m some kind of lander. This is ridiculous.

Still, she ran. Something felt wrong. She was halfway down the creaking, rusted fire escape, wearing only a thin top and shorts, arm miraculously working again (still clutching the eyeliner), and wondering if she had maybe gone completely insane in the past few hours, when from above her a new sound trumpeted out the still-open window.

Her door being blown in.


She jumped off the last landing of the fire escape. A slapped burn curdled her feet as they hit the pavement at the wrong angle, but Alina didn’t have time for that.

They were coming.

To be continued…

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