Wednesday, 28 January 2015

January Pictonaut: Beneath a Square Sun

This one kind of got away from me. I had no real idea what the ending would be until I got there, and it surprised me. It's a little stream of consciousness, but I hope you enjoy it.

Beneath a Square Sun

The painting had always haunted her. Ever since she had first seen it in a gallery as a little girl, she hadn't been able to get it out of her mind. It was an abstract, pop-culture piece that made absolutely no sense outside the world of art

And yet...

The world the astronaut stood on seemed familiar somehow. But that was impossible. The idea that a human astronaut could one day step foot on a another planet; that was not so far fetched. Even the notion of the blue grass and a pink sky were scientifically plausible, given enough tweaking of the chemical and physical variables at play. But the square sun; now that made no sense at all. And yet that was what was most familiar to her: she had seen that sun before. She wasn't able to shake the feeling that she had once stood on that world, under the warm rays of that strange, familiar sun.

There had always been something a little different about her, something that didn't quite belong. Maybe the resonance of the painting was a result of that: the human astronaut certainly didn't belong on that strange, impossible planet. Maybe it was her feelings of isolation and not belonging that made the idea stick. The notion that she truly was an outsider was so tantalising she could almost taste it. Maybe...

The fact of the matter was this: that the painting existed, and it evoked some sort of familiarity in her. For a long time she didn't even think about itshe simply put it out of her mind and got on with her life. And then one day, when she was quite grown up, she stumbled upon the painting again.

She hadn't meant toshe'd been out for a walk on her lunch break and, on a whim, decided to visit an art gallery. No real reason, no prior planning and no real thought behind it. It was just a whim. And yet there the painting was, in all its glory. Her childhood memories flooded back and just for an instant it felt like destiny. She and this painting, whatever it depicted, were somehow bound together.

That the painting still called to her she could not deny. She'd never really shaken off the feeling of being outside, of not quite belonging to this world. And now, all these years later, confronted once again with this painting, she began to wonder anew.

What if she really were alien?

It was a delightfully bizarre thought, but one she couldn't dismiss entirely. She had been adopted, and there were no record of either of her birth parents. Her origins were a complete mystery. But even if she succumbed to the rather far-fetched notion that she was a being from another planet, there was still the prospect of that pesky square sun.

But even so... if she closed her eyes and thought hard enough. When she dreamed she felt the pleasant warmth of its rays on her skin, and smelled the gentle peppermint scent of the blue grass. It was a fictionnothing morebut a pleasant fiction nonetheless.

There were no more answers forthcoming: no more half forgotten memories or fragments of dreams. Nothing else about the strange blue planet with the impossible square sun. Not until the night of the accident.

It had been raining hard all day, and visibility was terrible. She could see barely more than a hundred yards in front of her, despite the headlights. It was no wonder she didn't see the lorry until it was too late to stop. All she could do was watch the enormous hunk of metal collide with her tiny car as if it were in slow motion. There was a horrific squealing and crunching of metal, and then silence.

Everything was a little fuzzy after that, a blur of white lights and peoples' faces and shouted medical sounding words. And then everything went dark. From the darkness floated a strange vision. It looked much like her memories of the hospital, but everything was somehow wrong. She had been quite sure the doctors shouldn't have blue skin...

Whatever language these beings were speakingand it almost certainly wasn't Englishshe found she could understand them. It seemed she'd been in some sort of accident and was badly injured: they were trying desperately to save her life. She blinked and the vision shifted and she was back at the hospital. The real hospital, with human doctors and the sense of things not being quite right.

She woke up in ICU, battered and broken but thankfully not dead. The people around her kept using words like "surgery" and "extensive damage" and "lucky to be alive". She mostly ignored them, strangely fascinated by the world she had glimpsed while in her coma. Was it possible that she'd been right all along? She really didn't belong here?

The doctors kept telling her that she had some kind of head trauma, and hallucinations were a potential side effect of her injuries. But in her heart she knew what she saw was no hallucination. As she floated in and out of sleep she seemed to drift from world to world, one moment here on Earth and the next on the strange planet. Each transition seemed like a TV screen glitching, and it lent to the sense of unreality that she now felt constantly.

One world was the real world, and one was false. And she couldn't tell the difference any more.

They kept talking about the fact she'd need further surgery once the swelling in her brain down, but she wasn't listening to the details. She was mostly looking forward to an extensive period of unconsciousness, when hopefully she might find her answers. The needle went in, she felt that clearly, and then she was wide awake and everything suddenly felt real. She looked down, unsurprised at the blue tone of her skin.

"What happened?" she asked one of the techs who stood off to the side.

"There were a few problems with events in the simulation manifesting physically," said the tech, his voice metallic and almost mechanical. "We seem to have corrected it now."

"So the simulation works?" she asked.

"You tell us. Did it feel real?"

"Too real. I almost felt like I was one of them."

"Excellent. The director will be pleased with our progress."

"Can I go then?" she asked and the tech nodded.

She swung her legs off the bed and wandered down the hall to her quarters. The window was open and she could smell the reassuring scent of peppermint. She rested her arms on the windowsill and looked out at the pale pink sun in all its angular glory.

It was good to be home.

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