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Found in Translation

J. Kosakowski is a New Yorker. Their interests include crochet, cannibalism, and mythology. You can find them on Twitter @kosakowski_j.

I have died a thousand times before and I will likely die a thousand times again. Teleportation hasn't improved much--it's still like dying in Zone A and having your copy appear in Zone B. The fact that people use this technology might speak of their own desperation.
There is one thing I know for certain: empty space is too big.
Ships pass by one another so rarely. Communications are rarer.
I stalk the halls of this ship. The residents are kept in artificial sleep, resting in cryotanks, swimming in green ooze. Bodies hairless, four limbs, two eyes. I watch them for far too long.
If one of them woke, what would they make of me?
Long have I not seen another flesh-and-blood awake. I would like to talk to another, to learn their fruitless purpose for this journey. But I am afraid. This ship runs on old tech. Nuclear propulsion. No droids or proper security.
I tap behind my ear, mask folding into itself.
Objective: speak with another flesh-and-blood.
Objective: find food, water, and a comfortable berth to spend a few hours.
Most of the ship is dedicated to the cryotanks. The other chunk is for storage. I take a few packets of something perishable. Freeze dried; yum. My translator tells me one is beef stew. Another is ice cream. The last contains strawberries. All have packages written in some variety of Origin.
I eat and discard the foil wrappers, right out of the air lock.
There is a thud.
I duck down, sliding out the daggers I keep in my boots. I take one out and slink along the halls towards the source of the noise.
There is an animal in one of the halls. It looks like something I should recognize, but I don't. It's grey with stripes. Green eyes. Triangle ears. It blinks at me, lets out a petulant noise, and licks its paw. It couldn't be a craituit or a krul or even an e'haas.
"What are you?" I ask the creature, putting away the dagger.
It lets out a small noise and washes its face.
Maybe it was not capable of speech. Many were not.
"Little craituit," I say. "Why are you awake?"
There is a collar around its throat, with a little golden bell and a small tag, as though the poor creature belonged to an army. I kneel and hold out a hand. It presses itself against my fingers, its whole body rumbling like an engine. I take hold of its tag and let the translator do its work.
"Princess?" I say.
The craituit lets out a little sound. It sounds happy. And not... afraid of me.
What a thing to name an animal!
I pause.
If the animal has a name, then someone must have given it. Someone must be awake.
I rise carefully to my feet. "Shh," I tell the craituit when it lets out a string of complaints. "Careful now."
I walk through the interconnected halls. It is difficult to be sneaky when there are automatic, electric lights. Do I even have to be careful? Who could name a little predator after royalty and be dangerous?
The sound of rushing water comes from a narrow room.
I let myself in.
There is a flesh-and-blood inside. Body hairless, four limbs, two eyes. The hair on their head drawn up and away from their face. They startle and let out curses. That is what my translator tells me.
My eyes stray past the alien and to the wall--a mirror hangs above the running water (sink, says the translator). My reflection meets me: four limbs, one eye, another dark pit. A scar runs across my face--my brow, the bridge of my nose, what is left of my lip.
I too might have let out such drastic curses were I not used to this.
Princess presses up against my leg, its engine running fiercely.
"Princess," says the flesh-and-blood, holding out a hand. "Come here."
The craituit is notably lacking a translator and does not leave my side.
"What do you want?" asks the flesh-and-blood. They are afraid of me, voice quavering.
"To talk," I say. It has been a small eternity since I have spoken with another and had them reply.
Their face scrunches up when they hear me, like they heard something distasteful. They stare at my mouth, the glint of my teeth visible through the scar. "Why?" they ask.
"Lonely," I say. I don't mean to. The word falls out of my mouth.
"Really?" says the flesh-and-blood. Their heart is pounding. "What... what happened to you?"
This is not something I wanted to talk about. They cannot stop staring.
I shut my eyes and call forth my mask. Why did I think this could ever end well? I reach out. There is a trading ship several lightyears away, almost outside of my range.
Teleportation is like taking a step across the stars. So, I jump, hoping that I would fall.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

Author Comments

The teletransportation paradox has been on my mind lately. It brings up a lot of interesting ideas about identity--are you the sum of your memories? Are you the collection of your cells? How can you tell what you even are? For this story, I wrote of teleportation as a form of self-destructive behavior, a method by which the narrator copes with the loneliness of space.

- J. Kosakowski
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