‘Soul Catcher’, Christel Bodenbender

Illustrations © 2013 Christina Cartwright

 [ Space Station, © 2013 Christina Cartwright ] The bell rang, announcing Ina’s arrival.

The machines hummed as they cast the energetic net, wrapping it around her soul, and pulled her in. Ina immediately missed the connection with Erika. She stretched her energetic fingers, trying to find Erika’s hand to pull herself into freedom again. Yet the suction of the machine quickly overpowered her resistance.

Ina materialized underneath an upside-down funnel, which spread her matrix into physical form. As she became one with her new body, she heard machines clicking and grunting all around her. A loud hiss accompanied the final stage of the process. Then the bell rang again.

Slowly she curled her fingers, reclaiming unfamiliar territory. Underneath her back, she could feel the soft cushion of the bed she was resting on.

The first breath made her body shake. The sensation frightened her so deeply that she wanted to jump up, but a force field held her back.

She opened her eyes and frowned, taking a close look at her environment. The upside-down funnel hanging a meter over her chest tickled her curiosity. Her eyes wandered to the gaping hole in the middle of the device, which radiated a slight glow that grew weaker until it disappeared altogether, leaving only a dark hole behind.

The machine looked like it had seen better days years ago.

Ina turned her head to the opening to a room on her left. Footsteps echoed in the background. “Hello?” she called. “Anybody there?”

The footsteps stopped for a moment, then they came closer.

Ina rolled herself from the bed onto her feet, surprised that her legs held her upright without any complaints. She didn’t even remember when she had used legs the last time. Yet her muscles felt fresh and full of strength.

A man, probably in his seventies, came running around the corner. His eyes grew wide when he spotted her. “Welcome,” he said and immediately repeated his greeting. His smile broadened as his eyes ran up and down her naked body.

Ina had never been ashamed of nakedness, but the way he looked at her made her uncomfortable.

“Wow,” he exclaimed when he stood in front of her.

Ina calmed her pulse, gathering the strength to speak. “Where am I?”

He took a step back. “You can speak!” His eyes almost penetrated her skin down to her soul, as if he wanted to dissect her essence. “Judging from your age, you must have barely been born when it happened.”

He patted her arm. “Don’t worry. All is well. We’ll be taking care of you now.”

“And you are…?”

He clicked his tongue. “You must excuse my bad manners.” He wiped his hand on his lose tunic before he reached his right hand towards her. “My name is Mat and I am the one in charge of the soul catchers.”

His handshake was firm, as if he was trying to discern whether she was real. “You are so young. We haven’t had an arrival in a long time. In fact, we have never had any during a meteor shower.”

Mat went to the wall next to the alcove she had emerged from. Pressing a button opened a compartment with finely folded clothes.

He gestured her to chose some and looked away while she pulled over a tunic similar to his. “Much better,” he said when his eyes turned to her again. “The blue color matches your eyes.”

Was he flirting with her? That’s not what she had expected from…

“Is this the afterlife?” she asked.

He seemed offended. “God, no. You are alive again, of course.”

“So I was dead?”

His face dropped. “Like seven billion others, you didn’t survive the end of the world.” She must be frowning again, because he took her hand and pulled her with him. “Come.”

He led her around the machine, where a large control room awaited her. Several computer terminals were arranged in a half circle, only two of them active, showing letters and symbols run over the screen. But what captivated Ina’s attention was the window on the other side of the room.

She was surprised to see only darkness outside.

As she came closer, she could make out little dots of white scattered over the velvet-like sheet of black.

“We are on a station in near Earth orbit,” explained Mat. “Your time on Earth was probably too short to remember much.” He pointed to the left, where a planet pushed its head over the curvature of the station.

Ina realized she was on a circular space station that rotated around its axis to create the impression of gravity. The bulge of the wheel was about a hundred meters wide, stretching around the center with a radius of a kilometer. Yet the station was tiny compared to Earth, which slowly filled the entire window. Grey clouds circled the planet, covering it whole.

Ina stretched her neck to see a glimpse of the surface, but her efforts were in vain.

“There is no life down there,” said Mat. He cleared a lump from his throat. “It’s only thanks to this station that anyone survived at all. The people, plants and animals on this station are all that is left.”

Ina’s emotions oscillated between sadness and anger. Eventually she clenched her fists. “What happened?”

“About thirty years ago, some minor conflict turned ugly.” He sighed. “Someone decided to use the big guns. Quickly others followed. The fire ravished the planet for months.”

He looked at her. “I was up here on a scientific mission. We saw the tragedy unfold before our eyes. After the fire settled, we tried to get in touch with survivors. But there was no one.” He shook his head. “We were only fifty. Not enough to continue the line of the human race. So we continued our research and succeeded developing the soul catcher.”

He pointed at the device that Ina had emerged from. “We found a way to resurrect people by capturing their life energy, which still lingered around Earth. Unfortunately souls age, which means that people are resurrected with bodies that reflect their soul age. It is rare to see someone emerge as young as you are. Especially now that the event is so long ago. You must have just been born at the time. We need young ones like you to sustain our species.”

“How many are there?”

“We are a bit less than two hundred. But only twenty women at an age that they can bear children. Your arrival will bring hope to everyone.” He gently caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.

Ina pulled her hand out of his grip. “I don’t think I am ready to have children--”

“Not right away,” Mat tried to calm her. “Your mind is still very young.” He took a deep breath. “Of course we can’t wait too long either.”

She didn’t like the way he looked at her. “That will be my choice,” she insisted.

“You have to consider the need of the community.”

She didn’t like the direction the conversation was going and turned away, hiding a yawn.

Yet Mat picked up on her growing fatigue.

“You should rest,” said Mat. “The resurrection process is very tiring. Plus, the last time you had a body you were an infant. You have to get used to being much older.” He nodded his head. “And learn to accept responsibilities.”

Ina wanted to reply that she didn’t choose to be resurrected but she let it go. She hoped to collect her thoughts when she was alone.

He brought her through a corridor to a cabin. A name was attached outside the door, yet the cabin was empty except for a bed and a dresser. The mattress was comfortable and she gave in to her exhaustion.

During sleep, her mind subconsciously sifted through the new load of information. Echoes of memories merged with older images in her dream. She saw herself sitting in a park with a young woman. A blanket with food was spread out between them. Yet she wasn’t eating, a book rested in her palms. There was something important she read in the book that she wanted to talk about. The smile on the other woman’s lips distracted her and she lost her thoughts. They looked deep into each other’s eyes.

Suddenly an explosion ripped through the sunny day in the park. The book fell out of Ina’s hand as the Earth shook. The other woman jumped up, grabbing Ina’s hand. They ran to the nearest university building just to be pushed to the ground by a pressure wave before they were even halfway there. Fire burned her back.

“Erika!” she screamed, ignoring the pain and instead focussing on the sensation of the other woman’s hand in her palm.

Ina woke up panting and bathed in sweat. It took a few minutes to calm her breath.

Mat was wrong when he assumed she had been an infant. She clearly remembered to be at least in her twenties when she died. Something had gone wrong during her resurrection. Or, it was the first time it had gone right. The machine recreated her body exactly the way her mind remembered it and not the way people assumed it should look after time had passed.

She got up to take a walk. Following the corridor outside, she soon found a window. Outside she could see Earth as it sank behind the bulge of the station. Then her eyes took note of small flashes of fire in the background, like shooting stars burning up in the atmosphere.

 [ Meteor Shower, © 2013 Christina Cartwright ] She realized that it was the meteor shower that Mat had talked about. Had this been her home for the last thirty years? Was there something about the meteor shower that had allowed her soul not to age? Or was it her love for Erika?

Warm feelings welled up inside of her and she sighed, cursing the resurrection machine for having pulled her out of heaven.

But life didn’t have to be hell. There was a way to change things.

Ina backtracked her steps and found the room with the resurrection machines. She made sure no one was inside before she locked the door. Then she powered up all the machines, sending signals out into the meteor shower.

Yet the computer screens showed empty graphs. She realized that she wasn’t able to catch the others to join her here.

A new idea formed in her head. She ran to the machine she had emerged from, prying open the cover. If she was right, she simply needed to uncouple the device that fed the energetic net and reroute it to the funnel to reverse the process.

The sound of banging at the door startled her. “Who is in there?” yelled Mat. “Ina?”

“I can’t stay here,” replied Ina. “Your world needs to change to accommodate people like me.”

“You are just a confused child,” insisted Mat. “Power down the machines.”

“I am not a child.” Ina hesitated a moment before she flicked the switch that powered up the machine again. “I studied engineering before the great disaster.”

The resurrection machine hummed back to work. The light in the funnel started glowing again.

“That’s impossible.” Yet he stopped banging. She could hear others join him outside, chattering wildly.

Ina quickly swung herself into the alcove. Not a moment too early. The light scanned the molecules of her body, quickly absorbing her structure, converting it into an energetic matrix.

“It is time for you to follow me,” she yelled before she disappeared into the light, being sucked upwards, released as a free soul by the net outside of the station.

She reconnected with Erika, holding her tighter than ever before. The warm energy of the other woman comforted her and Ina let herself sink into Erika’s energetic arms.

They watched the space station pass by, evading the soul catchers as the nets lashed out in their direction.

“Don’t leave me again,” pleaded Erika.

“Of course not,” laughed Ina, glad to be back. “A space station can’t compete with the wonders of the universe. And you are the greatest of them.”

Erika laughed as they followed the path of the meteors.

© 2013 Christel Bodenbender

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