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This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap

Sneha, our hero is one of many clones being raised within a research lab on earth. Unlike the others, she has free will. In the last chapter, we were left wondering if Sneha would get caught after switching places with another clone – a clone that was set to travel into space.

Chapter 2: Sudden Moves

Sneha was surprised how easily she got away with switching identities with another clone. They did not really care to investigate XT87’s death. She was now part of the group traveling to the Positron cloud and ready to get off of this old decaying planet. 

Two days later, Sneha sat strapped in the chair with her eyes closed and heart racing. She could feel her head pounding as the equipment whirred around her. 

They moved quickly from hypersonic to warp speed and she felt her inners lurch for a split second before a strange calm settled on the ship. She unclenched her hands and dared to breathe. Earth was behind her for now. Instead of being one of 3000, she was now one of 30 traveling to the positron cloud around the Fornax Void. There were nascent pockets of activity and the most recent research showed expansion of dark matter and the existence of multiple infantile positron clouds around voids and dark holes. Space had mysteriously been shifting violently for the last 5000 years with no indication of slowing down.  

This was going to be a rough and interesting voyage with the crew navigating many firsts. They had to avoid pathways linked to dark energy filaments across galaxies. Sneha was listening to the crew discussing the upcoming stop in 9 days on the base station close to the Sculptor Wall. Day 2 & 3 were easy to manage but days 4 & 5 got boring with very little opportunity to learn anything new as the crew restricted access due to systems checks.

On day 6, as they were out on the movement deck, Sneha realized something was not right. She overheard snippets of conversation from the crew…..“ new communication”….”old base” … “shelter for few days”…

The main deck hovered with communications. Things felt off and she felt shivers go down her spine. She waited to get back to her compartment and closed the door pretending that she felt disoriented like some of the others. Once inside, she touched the screen on the wall and started typing codes from her memory, hoping to get access to the communication channels. She knew she was shooting in the dark here. 

Soon she got frustrated, closed her eyes, and drifted away to sleep. She was jolted back to reality as a shrill voice repeated emergency instructions. They were making an unplanned stop on an old base HR 4189-GR within the Antilla Constellation. She remembered reading about it in the memoirs of some explorers that managed to survive on HR 4189-GR.

What made this constellation memorable were the rumors of alien life on its planets. Never verified, these accounts had become legendary since early intergalactic travels. Despite early romantic visions of interactions between alien species, it had been almost impossible to communicate or understand each other’s language, science, or other critical concepts. What had been documented was the expected life spans, conditions that led to the demise, and unique birthing phenomena for a few species that humans and humanoids could comprehend….at this point, any further conclusions were more art and imagination than science. 

She braced for landing. They had warned it would be tough as gravity was fluid in this constellation with the magnitude of its stars shifting constantly. Once secure on the surface, they were assembled on the transport deck and divided into two groups. Ten of them would stay here on the planet as backup and the other twenty would continue their journey towards the positron cloud. Her heart sank when she realized she would be staying on the planet. This was not why she came! She was meant to travel and be out there!

They had lost communication with Earth and a couple of other planets in the Virgo cluster. Incoming reports mentioned that the cosmic ripples traveling through the cluster led to the core of multiple planets collapsing. Sneha sat stunned as they narrated the loss of the research facility and their colleagues. She waited to hear some words of regret for the loss of so many Snehas. None came. There were no tears in the eyes of the crew….They were just samples- numbers in a log…Hundreds of samples lost in a catastrophe. She tried to contain the immense grief welling up inside her. 

As they exited the ship, Sneha was sharp again, absorbing everything she saw and sensed. Something told her to look at the far left corner of her vision. She was not sure what she saw but it was enough to shake her up. She felt her breath being torn from her for a second and then it started to become normal. Or so she thought momentarily …  but something stayed odd – she had two visions…it was almost as if there were two of her within one body! On one side she was seeing the path she was walking with other Snehas towards the shelter but on the other she saw something she did not quite understand – a vision of a dark path and moving shapes that seemed to drift between transparent and opaque forms. Her head started to hurt and she felt both visions collapse into one as she tumbled face forward, unconscious.


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

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