I got a dirty look for watching the meteor. The look came from a facilitator standing guard near the writer’s hubs, the only decoration in a barren steel hall. I had come up for air, as they used to say; I had wandered to the corridor’s only window. The moment I got there, I saw a great blast of white light — a meteor, striking a planet. The impact unfurled like the time-lapse of a rosebud, a cosmic shattering as both bodies disintegrated.
“You’re charged by the hour,” said the facilitator, standing half-hidden at the crux of two corridors. One belonged to the writers, another to the spare bathroom. Aboard the spacestay, these were the only two hallways of import — according to the brochure, at least.
“Every writer needs inspiration,” I replied, touching my fingers to the slim airlock window.
“You can view any number of immersive supernova simulations in the recorders,” the facilitator informed me.
As if I haven’t tried that, I thought, but there was no sense in saying it. The simulations gave me vertigo, and the colors were wrong. Space wasn’t bright pink, it was not lucid blue. It was more than color, a white shifting black. It was why I had stopped breathing as the galactic dust scattered, forming rays across the skyscape before me.
“Do you need the bathroom?” asked the facilitator, as if this were a mystery. Was I the only one who left my recorder to pee?
I sighed and turned around. “I’ll just go back.”
I left her for the writer’s hubs, stepping up to the hatch of my own cell and pressing my hand to the panel. The hatch hissed open, closing once more behind me. I closed my eyes with it, feeling the shape of the room — an orb-like, cavernous, and many-paneled contraption with a thin pathway to the recorder in the middle.
I reminded myself that a fall over the railing was unlikely. Besides, it would only maim me — unless I went headfirst.
“UberScriv 4.0 at your service!” piped a cheery female voice. “A thousand words a day keeps the doctor away!”
I’d changed the voice to a male tone three times now, but it never stuck.
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled, gripping the railing. Once the vertigo subsided, I opened my eyes and strode carefully along the thin path to the recorder, a shimmering glass orb-within-an-orb fitted with hallucinogenic gel as deep as my guilt. This was my last day, and my last chance. If I couldn’t produce a bestseller, it was off to the star mines, with all the others who failed their occupations.
“You are just in time!” giggled the program. “We are about to have a Sharing Session!”
I bit my lip as I pulled back the glass door and stepped into the gel. It didn’t feel wet in any normal sense — it had more of the cool sensation of flower petals. It allowed me to take any position I wanted without having to ever hold my own weight. As I waded to the center, the nanomites began to tingle through my legs, attaching, kneading, giving me exercise, as if I were a patient in a body cast and they were there to prevent deadly bedsores.
It had all sounded so silly in the brochure: Never move! No distractions! Motivational programming! Inspirational simulations at your fingertips! As the nanomites worked their way into my frontal lobe, I thought about the unused bathrooms again. Who could possibly be so inspired as to relieve themselves during their composition?
Sharing Session to open in thirty seconds, said the UberScriv, twice as loud in my head as the mites worked their magic. Please use command OPT OUT, she added, if you would not like to share.
Opt out, I thought, distinctly.
I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.
I sighed and thought OPT OUT in all caps.
I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.
Now I could feel myself sweating. No way was I going to present my two days of absolute nothing to the other women here. It was bad enough we had nothing in common. Maybe if I said it out loud —
Sharing Session has begun! cried the UberScriv, jubilant. If she had a neck, I would have throttled it.
The room around me instantly shifted into a lush Predate forest, from back before all the trees were monopolized. A ring of women in flowing fairy gowns sat on logs around a completely false campfire. I could feel its heat, but that too was not real. Only the cold glass room was real.
“Hello, authors!” said the UberScriv, more airily this time. I wondered if all these women were subjected to her, whether they changed the auto function or not.
“Hello, Jane!” the other women replied.
“And how are our projects doing?” asked the UberScriv, whom I refused to call Jane — it was an insult to the writer she was named after. “Let’s start with you — ” the campfire cast sparks at a waif-ish woman two down from me “ — Carlotta Free.”
The woman waved an absurdly pale hand, as if she’d been bereaved of sunlight for decades. “Oh, it’s going swell!” she said, grinning gorgeously. “I’ve dictated twenty-two thousand words today, and I can barely stop.”
The other women made awed sounds, and then tittered. I didn’t know how to titter, but I tried.
“And what is your book about?” the UberScriv prompted.
“About the meaning of life, naturally,” said Carlotta, whose real name was probably something much less romantic, like HAB22–46 or ARK-94.
“And your take on that?” asked the program.
“Well,” said Carlotta, and with this she leaned dramatically forward, “my thought is that we all exist for our purpose.” I looked around; the other women were also leaning in; I did too. “We are tasked with the production of a magnum opus, and the meaning of life, for us, is to produce that; but afterwards, it is to advance to the stage of projecting our opus onto the future of others….”
She lost me. They always did.
The next woman went, with another shower of sparks. I missed her name, daydreaming instead about what would happen if the sparks caught on her dress. Even if the flames were fake, would they elicit a pain response?
A shiver passed through the women; they were looking at me. I glanced down to see my dress had turned black.
“My project is about the purpose of the breath,” said the next woman, uneasily. She was far too elven to be real, but she had chosen a lackluster gray skin tone that belonged to everyone and no one at once. “That we draw in the poisons of the universe, and release purity through the truth of the soul. I dictated nearly fifty thousand words this past week alone.”
That sounded a lot like the meaning of life. The Women oohed and aahed.
“And you, Rig Veda?” asked the UberScriv. I shifted on my unreal maple stump.
“Oh,” I said. “It’s going… well. But I’m not ready to share yet, I don’t think.”
“Sharing is caring,” parroted the program. “Please, give us a hint!”
As if my nonexistent work was gossip. I thrashed about for some answer, some raison d’etre, like all these other women. Nothing came.
“I saw a meteor strike a planet today,” I said. “The impact destroyed them both.”
“Which program?” asked the program. “My favorite is Arcturus Prime, in Purple.”
I shook my holographic head. “No. This really happened, outside the Stay.”
A hush fell.
“It was… startling,” I said. “It was fresh, new.” I touched my chest. “It hit me.”
All the women stared.
I sighed, turned. “How about you?” I asked the next girl.
And the sharing dragged along.
Indefinitely later, I sat again within the nanomites, all illusions turned off, legs tingling, and I thought of the meteor. Why had I spoken of it? Startling, I had said. How could something be startling as it died?
“Startling,” I told the recorder.
Several beats passed as I considered this. “Error,” said the UberScriv. “Fragment. Please complete your sentence.”
I waved a hand, although that in itself was not a command. “Turn off grammar corrections,” I said. “And change voice to Byron.”
“Voice changed,” said a very sexy male. “Grammar functions retracted indefinitely.”
I drew breath. I saw the impact.
“Rejection,” I said. “The light of death spreading. True color, in the void.”
Byron said nothing, like he understood.
“Reaching into blackness,” I told him. “Forgetting to breathe. Wanting to know their fancy words.”
“Do you need a dictionary?” he asked me.
I almost told him no. I paused to think.
“Repeat program response,” I said. “Record.”
“Do you need a dictionary?” Byron asked again, this time a part of my composition.
I closed my eyes, saw the radiation of fairy dust, the white flow of matter and the crackling black.
“Define loneliness,” I told him. He did so.
After that, I stopped counting words.
Mica Scotti Kole is a developmental editor and the curator of the @writevent Twitter account, which promotes free writing contests and events like the Reedsy Contest. She enjoys homebrewing and is very excited about her recent creation, a “Rosemango Sageberry” Gruit that she calls “Nature’s Spiral” after an MTG card. She writes science fiction and fantasy.
For Reedsy’s curated feed of writing prompts and the chance to enter our prompts-inspired Short Story Contest, head to reedsy.com/writing.