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Pieces of Me

Hope Terrell spent her childhood watching sci-fi shows with her dad and writing stories. Not much has changed since then. Her favorite things are cats, boots, funky tights, and dragons. And tea. Lots and lots of hot tea, which she takes black and chugs as she madly pounds away at her keyboard. She lives in New Jersey and on the interwebs at hopeterrell.com.

It happened between the space of one breath and the next. Focus, the instructor had said as the teletroopers lined up for their solo jump. Concentrate on where you want to go, and make the jump.
Ashley had closed her eyes, stepped on the teleport platform. Deep breath. She touched the neural-interface on her headgear to reassure herself it was still there, then hit the jump key. But in the moment everything faded away, as she was disassembled piece by piece, the doubt and the panic and the fear welled up in her throat--I can't do this, I'm not ready for a solo jump--
Then it was too late.
When she hit the other side, she opened her eyes, barely daring to breathe. Physical assessment check--had she made it in one piece? Everything seemed to shift as she looked down--yes, she had a body--no, she didn't--
Her thoughts kept shifting, fragmenting. For a moment she thought she was standing on solid ground, then she thought she was floating across the stars. A line from an old textbook drifted across her mind: We are nothing but stardust--
She tried to concentrate, focus, but everything was a shifting kaleidoscope of thought and sound.
She caught one wayward thought, tried to hold onto it.
I made the jump--
But she wasn't here or there, she was--
Something's wrong--
Fragmenting. They had been warned about this, in jump school, when a smart-aleck classmate had raised his hand and declared the whole thing easy, tempting the universe with his demanded, What's the worst that could happen? The instructor's measured response was to state the two types of fragmenting, both of which were deadly, though one was quicker than the other. The physical meant quick, painful death. The mental, though--
I feel like I'm not here, like I'm everywhere.
The second meant a spiral into madness, when one scattered ones consciousness, even if their body remained intact. The voice of her instructor rang in her head, firm and commanding. In an event of an incomplete jump, whatever you do, don't panic.
She panicked. I'mgoingtodieI'mgoingtodieohgod--
She reset the jump, fingers fumbling. Focus on a destination--
She could see the platform she had left, at the same time she could see the school where she was supposed to end up, and her parents back home, and every place she had ever been in her two decades of life, shifting and colliding in her vision.
Her finger pressed the execute key even as she realized she should have waited, should have calmed down--
This time she didn't make it.
When she opened her eyes, all was black nothing. Empty and cold.
And she realized all her worst imaginings had come true.
Don't panic.
Ashley grabbed that stray memory, held it. Forced herself to focus, to calm. I can and I will complete this jump.
She mentally gathered herself together, one fragmented thought at a time, and spun them into a single image: herself, whole in body and mind, stepping out onto the destination platform.
Her boots hit something solid.
"Congratulations, Jumper."
Her eyes snapped open--I have eyes!--and she met the gaze of the jump instructor, who nodded, the ghost of a knowing smile upon his lips.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Author Comments

"Pieces of Me" is my first professionally published work. It is also my first major attempt at flash fiction. Telling a compelling story in about 500 words is harder than it looks! Sci-fi is famous for its large stakes; usually, the entire galaxy is in danger and our heroes must save it. But I've always found the smaller, more personal stakes more compelling, and that's what I set out to do with my young teletrooper; failure won't be the end of the galaxy, but it'll be the end of her time in it. Which, if I were her, I'd find a pretty big deal!

- Hope Terrell
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