I've heard that when you're in a life-or-death situation, like a car accident or a gunfight, all your senses shoot up to almost superhuman level, everything slows down, and you're hyper-aware of what's happening around you. As the shuttle careens toward the earth, the exact opposite is true for me. Everything silences, even the screams and shouts from the people on the other side of the metal door, the crashes that I pray aren't bodies, the hissing of rockets, Elder's cursing, my pounding heartbeat. I feel nothing-not the seat belt biting into my flesh, not my clenching jaw, nothing. My whole body is numb. Scent and taste disappear. The only thing about my body that works is my eyes, and they are filled with the image before them. The ground seems to leap up at us as we hurtle toward it. Through the blurry image of the world below us, I see the outline of land-a continent. And at once, my heart lurches with the desire to know this world, to make it our home. My eyes drink up the image of the planet-and my stomach sinks with the knowledge that this is a coastline I've never seen before. I could spin a globe of Earth around and still be able to recognize the way Spain and Portugal reach into the Atlantic, the curve of the Gulf of Mexico, the pointy end of India. But this continent-it dips and curves in ways I don't recognize, swirls into an unknown sea, creating peninsulas in shapes I do not know, scattering out islands in a pattern I cannot connect. And it's not until I see this that I realize: this world may one day become our home, but it will never be the home I left behind.
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Or... maybe I'm not going crazy. 'Maybe I'm some sort of android-cyborg-clone-thing, and I'm just breaking down. I'm not sure which way is worse. Dad laughs. 'You're not in your right mind, dear, ' he says. 'No, no, no, you're not.' And then- -Silence. Dad fades away. The reverie chair disappears. There's just blackness. I remember then that I am in the reverie of something dead. Whatever that thing was, it was dead. And, just as I'm starting to wonder if, perhaps, I have died, too, I see a light, far away in the corner of the dreamscape. The light isn't soft; it's not glowing. It crackles like silent lightning, burning with electricity, sparks flying out and fizzling in the dark. I don't know why-it makes no sense, the way dreams often don't-but I want to touch the light. So I do.
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I've made her relive, over and over, the last few days, ' I say softly, watching Ms. White's body. 'I've had to fill in the blanks with my own feelings and experiences. She's spiraling around those last moments, those times when she went against me, and she's feeling it from my side, the pain, the betrayal.' She thinks she's awake. I'm doing to her just what she did to me. I'm making her feel what it was like to slowly go crazy, to question everything. To watch my mother die. To fight for my life against my best friend. To feel the man who loved me try to kill me. To know that the woman I trusted as much as my own mother betrayed me. That's what I'm making her feel. I've turned her into me, and made her live the life she forced me to live. Over and over and over again.
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I am as silent as death. Do this: Go to your bedroom. Your nice, safe, warm bedroom that is not a glass coffin behind a morgue door. Lie down on your bed not made of ice. Stick your fingers in your ears. Do you hear that? The pulse of life from your heart, the slow in-and-out from your lungs? Even when you are silent, even when you block out all noise, your body is still a cacophony of life. Mine is not. It is the silence that drives me mad. The silence that drives the nightmares to me. Because what if I am dead? How can someone without a beating heart, without breathing lungs live like I do? I must be dead. And this is my greatest fear: After 301 years, when they pull my glass coffin from this morgue, and they let my body thaw like chicken meat on the kitchen counter, I will be just like I am now. I will spend all of eternity trapped in my dead body. There is nothing beyond this. I will be locked within myself forever. And I want to scream. I want to throw open my eyes wake up and not be alone with myself anymore, but I can't. I can't.
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I half believe him, but I can't risk being wrong based on a gut feeling. [... ] 'What do you want me to do?' Jack throws up his hands. 'If I could crack open my skull and let you read my brain like a book, I would!' My breath catches in my throat. Because I... I could read his brain like a book.
Across the Universe takes place entirely on a generation spaceship, and, aside from a brief introduction, is not on Earth at all. But obviously, something had to have been happening on Earth. Something that would stem from the world that made the Financial Resource Exchange (FRX) and phydus. That's when I decided to write The Body Electric, to show what was happening on Earth while Amy and Elder were in space.
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I wish you were here, ' I say, shutting my eyes and remembering the way Dad looked in my hallucination. I hear his voice again, so real that I'm worried I'm about to fall into another hallucination. Maybe that's what I really want. If I can only see him in madness, is it worth trying to hold onto sanity?
I feel alone. I don't mean i feel lonely; I mean i feel alone, the same way i feel the blanket resting on my body, or the feathers of my pillow under my head, or the tight string of my sleep pants twisted up around my waist. I feel alone as if it were an actual thing, seeping throughout this whole level like mist blanketing a field, reaching into all the hidden corners of my room and finding nothing living but me. It's a cold sort of feeling, this.
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Don't you understand? You are Elder. When you take my role as Eldest, you must dedicate your whole life to this one idea: you are the caretaker of every single person on the ship. They are your responsibility. You can never show weakness in front of them: you are their strength. You can never let them see you in despair: you are their hope. You must always be everything to everyone on board.
I wrote a book. It sucked. I wrote nine more books. They sucked, too. Meanwhile, I read every single thing I could find on publishing and writing, went to conferences, joined professional organizations, hooked up with fellow writers in critique groups, and didn't give up. Then I wrote one more book.
Mom used to say that the thoughts in our heads were nothing more than electrical impulses. I remember Dad and her talking about this over dinner. It frustrated Dad that the human brain can fire electrical sparks and think, but that the electricity he'd pump into an android brain would never give it independent thought. The body isn't that different from a machine. Humans and androids both run on electricity. That lightning spark of energy I saw in the reverie. That was my mother's last thought, an echo of electricity, something that sparked when I entered her dreamscape. That spark is gone now. Her life is gone now. Everything that made her, her, is gone now. Faded into nothing.
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As the dreamscape around me grows clearer, I slip further away from it. The mind is a magical thing, I'm discovering. A dreamscape is made of thought and is wider than the sky, able to grow large enough to fit not just our own world, but every possibility and impossibility beyond it. Once I quit thinking of it as being forced into the laws of physics, it's easy to manipulate the dreamscape into anything I want. I don't know how I know all this, no more than I understand how I know things when I dream. I just do. I throw up my hand, and a wall rises between the orange grove and me. Behind the wall, I start creating the world I need in Representative Belles's mind.
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The President called it the 'Epitome of the American dream.' Daddy called it the 'unholy alliance of business and government.' But all it really was, was America giving up. Bailing out in order to join the Financial Resource Exchange. A multinational alliance focused on one thing: profit. Fund global medical care to monopolize vaccines. Back unified currency to collect planet-wide interest. And provide the resources needed for a select group of scientists and military personnel to embark on the first trip across the universe in a quest to find more natural resources-more profit. The answer to my parents' dreams. And my worst nightmare. And I know something about nightmares, seeing as how I've been sleeping longer than I've been alive. I hope. What if this is just a part of a long dream dreamt in the short time between when Ed locked the cryo door and Hassan pushed the button to freeze me? What if? It's a strange sort of sleep, this. Never really waking up, but becoming aware of consciousness inside a too-still body. The dreams weave in and out of memories. The only thing keeping the nightmares from engulfing me is the hope that there couldn't possibly be a hundred more years before I wake up. Not a hundred years. Not three hundred. Not three hundred and one. Please, God, no. Sometimes it feels like a thousand years have passed; sometimes it feels as if I've only been sleeping a few moments. I feel most like I'm in that weird state of half-asleep, half-awake I get when I've tried to sleep past noon, when I know I should get up, but my mind starts wandering and I'm sure I can never get back to sleep. Even if I do slip back into a dream for a few moments, I'm mostly just awake with my eyes shut. Yeah. Cryo sleep is like that. Sometimes I think there's something wrong. I shouldn't be so aware. But then I realize I'm only aware for a moment, and then, as I'm realizing it, I slip into another dream. Mostly, I dream of Earth. I think that's because I didn't want to leave it. A field of flowers; smells of dirt and rain. A breeze... But not really a breeze, a memory of a breeze, a memory made into a dream that tries to drown out my frozen mind. Earth. I hold on to my thoughts of Earth. I don't like the dreamtime. The dreamtime is too much like dying. They are dreams, but I'm too out of control, I lose myself in them, and I've already lost too much to let them take over. I push the dream-memory down. That happened centuries ago, and it's too late for regrets now. Because all my parents ever wanted was to be a part of the first manned interstellar exploratory mission, and all I ever wanted was to be with them. And I guess it doesn't matter that I had a life on Earth, and that I loved Earth, and that by now, my friends have all lived and gotten old and died, and I've just been lying here in frozen sleep.
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And then I realize: this isn't dirty water falling from the sky. It is-literally-blood. I look up, and a droplet of blood splashes directly into my eye. I curse, rubbing my face, trying to get the blood out, but it's everywhere, it's like trying to dry off in the middle of the ocean. Shielding my face as best I can, I stare up into the sky. I am in the center of a cyclone. Giant white clouds swirl like a spiraling galaxy above me, the eye a tiny dark speck. The storm rages, throwing out bloody rain like punches, the wind so vicious it tears my clothes and cuts my skin. Representative Belles's mind is swirling with dark thoughts-bloody thoughts-and they have created the biggest storm I have ever seen. I have to stop the cyclone. I have to get him into a peaceful reverie, something that he can hold on to while I root around his brain, looking for answers. I focus all of my concentration on stopping the bloody rain. The drops come slower and slower. I take a deep breath, imagining the clouds breaking up, spinning into fluffy bits of cotton-candy like clouds. I don't open my eyes until the sounds of beating rain disappear and I can feel the warmth of the Mediterranean sun on my face.
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The dark sky. A hundred million stars. More stars than I've ever seen before. My eyes let me see farther, but they don't show me the one thing I want to see. I would trade all the stars in the universe if I could just have him back again. Wind whistles through the trees nearby. Birdsong weaves in and out of the sound. The hybrids emerge from the communication building, heads tilted to the sky. And then we see the end. Godspeed's engine was nuclear; who knows what fueled the biological weapons. But they explode together. In space, they don't make the familiar mushroom cloud. They don't make the boom! of an exploding bomb. There is, against the dark sky, a brief flash of light. It is filled with colors, like a nebula or the aurora borealis, bursting like a popped bubble. Nothing else-no sound of an explosion, no tremors in the earth, no smell of smoke. Not here, on the surface of the planet. Nothing else to signify Elder's death. Just light. And then it's gone. And then he's gone.
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Images of broken light dance behind my eyelids. How could this giant lamp compare to the sun? Everything is wrong here. Shattered. Broken. Like the light. Like me. I never thought about how important the sky was until I didn't have one. I am surrounded by walls. I have just replaced one box for another.
Ella!' the voice yells, but I cannot tell where it is coming from. The sound wraps around me, spreading like spilt water and then evaporating into silence. 'Where am I?' I whisper again. The darkness stretches out for eternity. I take a few steps forward, but the feeling is surreal-I cannot tell if I've actually moved or not, because everything is nothing. I feel something wet and warm slide down my cheek, and I touch the tear with my fingertips, swiping it away. Representative Belles is dead. I'm certain of that now. He's gone. I'm... I'm in the place where he was, and now he's gone, and now I'm stuck. I'm stuck in the nothingness of a dead body, and I don't know how to get out. My heart thuds against my chest, and I gasp for air. What if I can never get out? What if eternity is nothing more than me, alone, in the darkness? Trapped in someone else's death. I collapse, but it's not like I fall on the floor. There is no floor. There was the illusion of one, but as my body gives way, I realize that I'm floating. I stretch out, my fingers and toes aching to feel, but there's nothing, nothing at all, and I draw myself into myself, hugging my legs, my knees tucked under my chin. I'm alone. Maybe when Representative Belles died, I died too. Maybe this is it.
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More than the sound of my own beating heart, I miss the sound of a ticking clock. Time passes, it must pass, but I have no more assurance of moving through time than I have that I am moving through space. In a way, I'm glad: this means perhaps 300 years and 364 days have passed, and tomorrow I will wake up. Sometimes after a cross-country meet or a long day at school, I'd fall into bed with all my clothes on and be out before I knew it. When I'd finally open my eyes, it would feel like I'd just shut them for a minute, but really, the whole rest of the day and half the night was gone. But. There were other times when I'd collapse onto my mattress, shut my eyes and dream, and it felt like I'd lived a whole lifetime in that dream, but when I woke up, it had only been a few minutes. What if only a year has gone by? What if we haven't even left yet? That is my greatest fear.
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What else can you tell me?' Dad stares at me. 'What have you learned while you were awake?' I learned that life is so, so fragile. I learned that you can know someone for just days and never forget the impression he left on you. I learned that art can be beautiful and sad at the same time. I learned that if someone loves you, he'll wait for you to love him back. I learned that how much you want something doesn't determine whether you get it or not, that 'no' might not be enough, that life isn't fair, that my parents can't save me, that maybe no one can. 'Nothing much, ' I mutter.
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I realize the simple truth is that power isn't control at all- power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn't someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others so that they may have the strength to stand on their own.
We keep sending colonies up into space, ' Akilah says, 'and we don't even know what's at the bottom of the sea.' 'Yeah, we do, ' I counter. 'Fish and stuff.' Akilah laughs. 'We've barely explored the sea. There are places where the water is so deep that it has never seen light.' She sighs. 'I would like to go to those places. I would like to sink down and down and down and see what's hidden at the bottom.' The sea is a dangerous place because it makes you believe in forever. I stare back at the shoreline, where heavy boulders clutter the shore, a remembrance of the attacks during the Secessionary War. For all the hundreds of thousands of people killed in the war, more are dead and gone beneath the waves of the sea. I tread water, turning slowly, so the island's behind me and all I can see is the blue-green waters. The sea goes on forever and ever. We are tiny, almost invisible specks. It could swallow us up. We are less than the bright stars of the night sky, compared to the vastness of the sea. And it is this place, as one tiny, barely visible speck bobbing in the water, where Akilah feels safe. Maybe being alone in the sea, with its unexplored depths, its clawing-finger waves, really is safer compared to the land, where there are people and malice and death.
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That-this-is Orion's secret. It's not that the ship isn't working, that we're never going to make it. It's that the ship has already arrived. We're already here! There-there-is the planet that will be our home! It floats, so bright that it hurts my eyes. Giant green landmasses spread out across blue water, with swirls and wisps of clouds twirling over top. At the edge of the planet, where it turns away from the suns and starts to darken, I can see bright flashes of light-bursts of whiteness in the darkness-and I think: Is that lightning? In the center, where the light of the suns makes the planet seem to glow from within, I can see, very distinctly, a continent. A continent. On one edge, it's cracked and broken like an egg, dark lines snaking deep into the landmass. Rivers. Lots of them. Maybe something too big to be rivers if I can see it from here. Fingers of land stretch out into the sea, and dots of islands are just out of their grasp. That area will be cool all the time, I think. Boats can go along the rivers, up and down. We can swim in the water. Because already, I can see myself living there. Being there. On a planet that looks up at a million suns every night, and at two every day. I want to scream, shout with joy. But the air is so thin now. Too thin. I've spent too long looking at Orion's secret. The boop... boop... boop... fades away. There's nothing to warn about now. Because there's no air left. My sight is rimmed with black. My head pulses with my heartbeat, which sounds as loud to me as the alarm once did. I turn from the planet-my planet-and start pulling, hand over hand, against the tether, toward the hatch. The ship bobs in and out of my vision as my whole body jerks. I'm panicked now and fighting to stay awake. I try to suck in air, but there's nothing there to suck. I'm drowning in nothing.
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I gaze out, to the stars. I remember the first time I saw real stars, through the hatch window. They were beautiful then, but now, seeing them here, all around me, beautiful feels like an inadequate word. I see the stars as a part of the universe, and having spent my life behind walls, suddenly having none fills me with both awe and terror. Emotion courses through my veins, choking me. I feel so insignificant, a tiny speck surrounded by a million stars. A million suns. Centuries away is Sol. Circling around it is Sol-Earth, the planet Amy came from. And one of these other stars is the Centauri binary system, where the new planet spins, waiting for us. And here we are, in the middle, surrounded by a sea of stars. Any of them could hold a planet. Any of them could hold a home. But all of them are out of reach.
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I stare at the stars... And even though there are so many and they look so close together, I know they are light years apart. The glitter in the sky looks as if I could scoop it all up in my hands and let the stars swirl and touch one another, but they are so distant, so very far apart, that they cannot feel the warmth of each other, even though they are made of burning. This is the secret of the stars, I tell myself. In the end, we are alone. No matter how close you seem, no one else can touch you.
I can think of nothing but the stars. It is like a piece of my soul had been lost, empty, and it is now filled with the light of a million stars. They are all that I have ever dreamed of; they are nothing that I ever expected... I will never, never be the same. I have seen stars. Real stars.
I try not to look obvious as I wait for Mom's answer. I feel as if I am on the edge of a knife, my feet being sliced by the blade, teetering toward one side or the other. 'Oh, of course!' Mom exclaims, her voice trilling with laughter. 'How could I have forgotten?' And now I know. Really know. This woman is not my mother. I don't know who she is, but I know absolutely who she is not.
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Everyone, this is the new girl. Elder knows her. New girl, this is everyone.' A few people look up politely; some actually smile. Most, however, look wary at best, disgusted at worse. The nurse closest to me jabs her finger behind her ear and starts whispering to nobody. 'What's wrong with her?' I ask Harley as he leads me to the table he was sitting at. 'Oh, don't worry, we're all mad here.' I giggle, mostly from nerves. 'It's a good thing I read Alice in Wonder-land. I definitely think I've fallen into the rabbit hole.' 'Read what?' Harley asks. 'Never mind.' All around me, eyes follow my every move. 'Look, ' I say loudly. 'I know I look different. But I'm just a person, like you.' I hold my head up high, looking them all in the eyes, trying to hold their stares for as long as possible. 'You tell 'em, ' says Harley with another Cheshire grin.
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