In Another Life

"Shit," Bakkman says, leaning back in his chair and running a hand through his ruffled hair.

"What?" asks his colleague, Wilson, beside him, looking over his shoulder at the screen.

"I sent the wrong fucking photos to her phone."

Bakkman's colleague gasps theatrically, laughing at the sheer stupidity of what he'd done.

"Mate, you are so fired. Which phone, the new one or the one in the attic?"

"The one in the attic."

"Oh, then you're fine. She's fucking terrified of that place, because of the childhood trauma Division 43 decided to give her. She'll never find it."

"She wouldn't if it were any other day than today."

"Why, what's happening today?"

"Don't you ever read the daily briefings, Wilson?"

"No, not really. Mostly I depend on idiots like you to tell me what's going on."

Both men laugh, but Bakkman's is threaded with anxiety.

"No, but seriously, what's going on today?"

Bakkman sighs, then clicks a button on the giant keyboard before him. The screen illuminates with the image, a live video, of a frightened-but-determined looking Marsha Frieds, making her way up a rickety ladder. A look of understanding passes suddenly over Wilson's face.

"Shit, mate. She's cleaning the attic."


Marsha grips the last rung of the ladder so tightly her knuckles turn white. Her lips are pressed into a thin line, eyes narrowed, feet set apart on a rung a few below the one she's holding.

"Okay, Marsh, you can do this," she whispers to herself ("Fuckin' freak," mutters Wilson, seeing the true terror on the woman's face), "The attic won't clean itself. What are you even scared of? It's just an attic."

She takes a deep breath and readies herself to push off from the ladder.

"Just a dark, creepy attic that has given me nightmares since I was a kid."

The ladder clatters beneath Marsha as she launches herself off the last few rungs and into the tiny room that makes up the third storey of her house. She swings an arm behind her immediately after she's in, stopping the trapdoor from closing behind her.

The room is coated in a thick layer of dust, like frost on the ground in early December. Boxes are stacked against the slanted walls in teetering towers, full of God knows what.

Well, actually, God doesn't know what, LifeCorps knows what. Bakkman and Wilson probably know what, or at least some of what. It depends on how well they remember their training. Bakkman probably knows what much more than Wilson. But that's besides the point.

Marsha reaches into the pocket of her overalls, producing a damp cloth. She crawls over to the small, circular window in the recesses of the room and wipes it down thoroughly. Light streams into the room in thin streaks, illuminating the boxes enough to see their repeatedly crossed out labels and making every speck of dust on the floor stand out.

Marsha scrapes the cloth over the miniscule windowsill, pushing at the pump that in any other room would open the window, but this one has long since stuck. No matter how hard Marsha tries, the window doesn't budge. The air in the room remains stale, unbreathed for years, maybe decades.

Marsha sets the cloth down on the sill and moves towards the nearest box. Her original plan was to carry each one downstairs and sort through them there, minimizing her time in the attic as much as possible.

That all becomes moot when in reaching for the box nearest to her, she knocks over a tower of them at her other side. The contents of the topmost box, apparently unsealed, scatter across the floor, sending up a thick cloud of dust.

"Shit!" Marsha hisses.

("Yes, exactly," mutters Bakkman, frantically pushing buttons on the keyboard in front of him, "Wilson, sound the fucking alarm! That box has the phone inside."

"Shit! Oh, we are dead, we are so, so, so dead-")

Marsha sweeps her hands over the dust-coated floor, tossing objects back into the box, trying to salvage the last scraps of her plan. She pauses when one of the objects lights up at her touch. A phone. Her old phone. The ghost of a smile flits over Marsha's lips.

"I remember this thing," Marsha mumbles, settling in against the wall with the phone in her hands. She remembers the days before the new models came out when everyone had one like this. She passes her hand over the screen, sweeping away the dust and grime.

The phone is unlocked, Marsha doesn't even remember if she ever had a password for it. She swipes through the homescreen. A breathy laugh suddenly escapes her lips.

"Might as well," she shrugs, opening Photos.

("Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit-" Bakkman chants under his breath, hand moving towards his pager to call Division 27, "I don't get paid enough for this."

"Bakkman, would you like to explain to me what the hell is going on here?" a voice asks him from behind. Bakkman twists around in his seat to see the Chief striding towards him, closely followed by Wilson and a horde of people with "27" printed on the backs of their uniforms. His hand strays from his pager.

"Sir, I'm so sorry, I uploaded the wrong photos and-"

"Bakkman what the hell is on that phone?" the Chief interrupts him, not taking his eyes from the screen. Bakkman sighs, wringing his hands in his lap.

"Photos of her from Karceron and Initiation, sir. At least two dozen of them."

The Chief's face pales, and he draws in a stiff breath. He turns towards a woman from Division 27 behind him, whose name Bakkman can't recall.

"Gerard, get the rest of your Division on this, I want damage control, if there's nothing else we can do."

Gerard nods and scurries off with several other members of Division 27 who came in with the Chief. He turns to a man staring at a clipboard behind several remaining workers. A badge on his uniform reads "Assistant to the Chief."

"Frontenac, I need reports from 18 on this every ten minutes, get every pair of hands in 43 writing in new trauma for her, I need her out of that attic now, is that clear?"

The man nods furiously and runs off in the same direction as Gerard. The Chief whirls back to face Bakkman, still staring wide-eyed at the screen.

"Bakkman, I assume you already know you're fired."

Bakkman sighs, bowing his head.

"Yes, sir," he replies, just as a shadow of a frown darkens Marsha's face on the screen.)

"What the..." she mumbles, scrolling through the photos. Among the images of her ten years ago, smiling next to friends she's long lost contact with, there are some that don't belong. These are the most recent ones, that Marsha skipped at first, in favor of those farther down that she recognized at a glance. She comes back to them now.

"How..." she trails off as she flips through twenty-something photos of- Well, they're of her, but they're not. It's her but she's not-

"When the hell-" Marsha stands up abruptly, gripping the phone so hard in her hand she fears it might break. Her head hits the low ceiling, causing her to hiss in pain and sink back down to the floor.

In the first photo, Marsha is pictured sitting around a fire with ten others. Her dark skin is smoother than it is now, free of wrinkles. Her hair is loose on her head, if that can be said of it, not braided back in its current box braids. Gold streaks outline her nose, eyes, and forehead. The people around her have the same markings.

Marsha does not recognize any of the others, nor does she know the place where the photo was taken. The greenery is lush around those in the photo, maybe some type of rainforest? But no, it can't be. Greenery crowds in at the edges of the picture, like whoever took it was hiding behind a plant and poking the camera out to capture the image.

That is, of course, exactly what happened, but Marsha doesn't realize that now.

As much as she'd like to deny it, the reason Marsha doesn't recognize the setting is because no one would. At least, no one human. It looks unnatural, unearthly. Literally, not from this planet. Not from Earth.

There are five more photos of Marsha like this. The same place, the same appearance, sometimes even the same people, and then-

Marsha's hand flies to her mouth in horror, causing her to almost drop the phone.

The next image is of Marsha in a cage. Her surroundings are all white in this one, and the gold paint on her face is smudged. A streak of dirt mars her forehead. Her hands grip the bars of the cage, her face looking through them a mask of pain and fear.

This has to be photoshopped, Marsha thinks, there's no way-

But there is. There is a way, and there's no denying that it's really Marsha in these photos. But it seems as though it's her from another life. Another planet, another-

"Oh my god."

Tears fill Marsha's eyes. Her hands begin to shake.

("We're fucked," declares Bakkman, throwing his arms up and pushing away from the screen. Wilson grips the back of his colleague's chair, "We are so, so fucked."

"We have to tell her the truth," says Wilson behind him, tone surprisingly firm.

"Tell her how? And what?" exclaims Bakkman in exasperation, "'Hey, Marsha, did you know you're actually an extraterrestrial from an alien planet and your entire life on Earth has been a lie? Did you know we captured you and initiated you into the life you know now? No? Well, that's the truth. Have a great day!' Is that what we're supposed to say?!"

"Well, I don't know, I was thinking something a little lighter," Wilson answers, "Like 'Hey, Marsh, you ever see The Truman Show? Yeah, that's this.'"

Bakkman laughs dryly, eyes straying back to Marsha on the screen.)

She scrolls frantically through the rest of the photos. In every one after the cage, she's in that same white environment, wearing something that looks like a hospital gown.

Am I insane? Marsha thinks, Is that what this is? Are these photos me in an asylum?

The thought is almost comforting in it's half-sensical insanity. But she knows it's not the truth. The second to last photo is of Marsha in the backseat of a truck. She's smiling at the camera, but her eyes are empty. Behind her is a sort of dome, made of something that might be glass or it might be-

"A forcefield," Marsha gasps, "Holy fucking shit."

With trembling fingers, she swipes to the next and last photo. It's of a group of people huddled together in front of an enormous screen. Each of them is grinning at the camera with all their teeth, eyes shining with the light of achievement.

("I always hated that photo," Wilson mutters, squinting at the screen, "I look kind of dead inside in it.")

The hands of several of those pictured are tilted up towards the giant screen behind them in a "tada!" symbol. A huge image of Marsha is on the screen, lounging on a hammock with a book in her hands.

"What the actual-" Marsha almost drops the phone. This is a setting she knows. The hammock is still hanging now on her porch. How the hell did these people get this photo, how the hell-

And then she knows.

On the uniform of every person in the photo is one word: LifeCorps. The room they are in, or at least the parts of it not taken up by the giant screen, look like some kind of control center.

A keyboard spans the length of the screen, curving where it curves, every inch lined with different levers and switches and keys and buttons. Office chairs sit at intervals along the desk that houses the keyboard.

It's a control room. And what are they controlling? Her, of course. Marsha.

The next few moments fly by Marsha's mind's eye. She half-falls down the attic ladder, then down the main stairs as she rushes down to the first floor. She throws open the porch door, still gripping the phone in one hand. The Sun spills onto her face.

("Well, this is gonna be good," Bakkman mutters, leaning back in his chair. What is practically half of LifeCorps gathers around him and Wilson at his side, all eyes trained on Marsha.)

"Tell me the truth!" Marsha screams at the sky, thrusting the phone into the air with one arm, "What the hell is this? Who are you? Who am I? What the hell is LifeCorps?!"

No reply. The sky remains stagnant, the clouds still floating leisurely along in the clear blue.

"I know!" Marsha yells, and a laugh burbles up in her throat, "I know everything! I know LifeCorps exists! I know you're lying to me, so aren't you going to do anything about it?!"


"Tell me the truth!" she screams, her voice cracking.

"What truth, dearie?"

Marsha whirls around at this new voice behind her, expecting someone in a uniform with another cage in their arms. But it's only an old woman, dressed in white nurse's scrubs, her snow-white hair pulled into a low bun. Marsha raises her hands in defense, eyes wide.

"Who the hell are you?"

The woman frowns, gripping her clipboard tighter. Marsha's thoughts begin to reel. Had the woman had a clipboard this whole time? ("Nice touch," Bakkman nodded to someone from Division 21, who smiled in return.)

"Now, there's no need for that type of language, dearie. Don't you recognize me? I'm your nurse."

"My... Nurse...?" Marsha asked. The woman smiled warmly, and took a step forward, nodding.

Then, Marsha's surroundings began to change. She found that she was no longer on her porch, but in a white hallway lined with numbered doors. The high ceilings shone with florescent lights, and medical carts stood along the walls. Nurses milled around them, exiting rooms, and crossing things off on their clipboards. People walked down the hall and turned the corner into a new one, disappearing from sight.

Marsha looked down at her hand, suddenly frantic. The phone was gone. Marsha flexed her fingers, turned a circle to see if she'd dropped it, but no. It had disappeared.

"No," Marsha whispered, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! No! This can't be happening, this isn't real, I was just-"

"Calm down, dearie," the woman approached her, gripping Marsha by the arms. For her frail appearance, the woman was surprisingly strong.

"Try to remember," she soothed, "You are Marsha Frieds. You are a patient at Bakkman Psychiatric Hospital-"

(Cheers ring through the Control Room at this, hands clapping Bakkman on the shoulder as his face goes beet-red)

" have been here for several months, after experiencing delusions and attempting suicide-"

"No!" Marsha tries to pull away, but the woman plows on.

"We are trying to help you; I am trying to help you. You remember me. I am your assigned nurse, Nurse Elsen."

"No, no, no, no, no, no!" Marsha's attempts at escape become increasingly frantic, "This is a lie! You're lying! They're watching me, they've always been watching me, I need-"

She jerks one arm out of the elderly woman's grip.

"To know-"

Nurse Elsen purses her lips and uses her free hand to push a button on the wall. A flurry of doctors and nurses rush into the room. One of them grabs a medical cart from the wall.

"The tru-"

Marsha feels a stab in her elbow, and her eyes droop. She forgets what she was going to say, barely registering the cold floor against her bare arms as she collapses.

"Don't worry, dearie," Nurse Elsen leans over her with a kind smile. Her voice seems faraway, unimportant, her face already blurring, "You won't remember anything in a few hours."

Marsha's mind goes dark.


Booming applause explodes in the LifeCorps control room. Employees embrace, patting each other on the back, smiling up at the image of Marsha in the projection-asylum on the screen above them.

"Great job, everybody," the Chief declares, shaking the hand of someone from Division 27, "Amazing save. Gerard, and everyone else from Division 27, I'd like you give you all a special thanks-"

Loud cheers meet this statement, and the Chief grins wide.

"And to everyone over at Divisions 43, 18, 21, and 37 as well--we couldn't have done it without you."

The applause rings louder this time, and the Chief laughs along with his employees.

"Alright!" he bellows after a moment, still smiling, "Back to work, everybody! I know it's exciting and all, but LifeCorps must go on!"

The workers disperse, buzzing with laughter and light chatter.

"Not you, Bakkman and Wilson. I need to talk to you both in my office."

The two men sigh and cast one last glance at the screen behind them before trailing reluctantly after the Chief.

"All because I uploaded the wrong fucking photos," Bakkman sulks, shuffling his feet.

What he didn't know, was that those "wrong fucking photos" had just begun a whole new era for LifeCorps, and for Marsha Frieds.

Rory Bakkman was going to get one hell of a raise.

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