JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice:
Title: The Changing Room
The moment I stepped off my ship, I knew that there was no turning back. I was really doing this. I looked around and everything looked different to me - shiny, foreign, enticing. The dock was filled with ships coming and leaving. Mine, I noticed, was the smallest (and badly needed a good washing and scrubbing). I wasn’t that far off actually. The blue in my overalls was fading, dirt lay snug beneath my nails, and my skin was leathery and toasted from the hours toiled beneath the merciless sun. I suddenly felt conscious and...ashamed of how I looked. Everyone was in dark suits and shiny shoes that reflected the world around them. All of them walked with urgency and a destination. I couldn't help but let out a laugh. I felt lost - not a spatial kind of lost, but one of sense of being. I laughed at myself. I'm becoming too philosophical, I thought.
"Your key, sir," I heard a voice say.
I looked down and saw a mousy looking Caropian looking up at me with an open hand. He looked disgusted. "Your key," he repeated.
I looked around. Was I getting robbed? Caropians were short, tallest one I saw only reached four feet. The one in front of me stood at three. I probably could take him on. "Look, I don't want no trouble," I said.
He sighed and looked at me like how we looked at our dog, Mickey. Mickey was autistic.
"I'll be parking your ship, sir," I noticed he was saying the word 'sir' as if it tasted foul, rotten.
"Oh..." was all I said.
He took the key and walked past me and I heard him grumble the word 'Humans'.
"Hey," I said after him. He turned around and looked at me with one eyebrow raised. "Be careful of my cargo."
"Yeah, sure," he said. He hopped on to my ship and I watched as he brought it to life. The engine sputtered and wheezed before stabilizing. I watched him fly it off into one of the many numbered tunnels on the far off wall.
I found myself staring up at a metallic staircase. I couldn't see where it leads to. The walls on either side were a metallic green and I could see my distorted reflection on them. I stepped on the stairs and was caught off guard when it started to move up. I held on scared. I straightened myself and forced myself to relax. If I'd be Changing myself I knew I had to get used to all of these stuff. I kept on telling myself to calm down on the entire ride up. The top was shrouded with bright light. I'll pass through that light and I'll be Changed, I'll be better, I thought to myself.
The room was all white - the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the chairs bolted to the walls. I was the only one there that day. In my hand I held a photograph I took of my wife and four kids. I'm doing the right thing, I kept on repeating to myself. I'll be better.
The door swooshed open and a Vuveian wearing a dressed that hugged all her curves stepped in. Her obsidian black skin was a stark contrast to the whiteness of the room. Her green eyes found me and she smiled - flashing sharp teeth that could tear apart even the strongest of metals, I've heard. In her hand was a holonote. She passed a hand over the translator worn around her throat. It blinked green.
"Good day," she said, her voice coming off robotic and unnerving. "Thank you for visiting The Changing You. Kindly fill out this form and we will be back with you shortly. Please, if you have any questions regarding our process do not hesitate to ask. One of our representatives will be situated outside for your inquiries."
I nodded my head and took the holonote from her. She made a slight bow and walked out of the room. There were eleven questions on the form. My eyes rested on the eleventh one. "What species would you wish to be?" It said.
I held on to my family's photograph a little bit tighter.
In the Changing Room I was met by a Toreese. He had a suit on that looked as though it can barely contain his severely obese body. He licked his lips as he saw me walk in.
"Ah, there he is," he said in English thick with Toreese accent. "Yes, yes, I saw your application form. Nice choooice." One of his four eyes winked. "And how will you be paying, sir?"
"My payment's in my ship. It's the cargo I brought. They're--uh--they're in deep freeze right now but otherwise in perfect condition," I said. "He--here." I handed him a list.
His eyes scanned them and his fat lips curved into a smile. "Oh ho ho," he looked at me. "Yes. These will do perfectly. Yes. We'll be able to make use of them."
"So, we're good?" I asked.
"Oh, of course, of course!" He snapped his fingers then pointed to someone. "You, kindly guide this fine young man to his Changing Room."
Another Caropian, I realized. He bowed at me and asked me to follow him. I turned and took one last look at the Toreese. He waved me goodbye. "Enjoy your new life," he said.
The "Changing Room" was a cylindrical glass container halfway filled with water. Disparate sized tubes were attached on its lid and on its bottom. Beside it was a console manned by someone in a hazmat suit. He turned to us and gave a thumbs up. I noticed he only had three fingers.
"You must remove every piece of clothing and climb inside, " the Caropian said to me.
I did as I was told.
The water was cold and felt sharp on my skin. I had some kind of breathing apparatus attached on my face. The glass was thick and when the lid was put on all sound from outside faded. I could hear my breathing growing heavier. The pounding in my chest grew stronger. Water started to pour out of the tubes and it steadily rose. I started to hyperventilate. The water kept on rising. I wanted out. I changed my mind. I pounded on the glass again and again. The Caropian just kept on staring at me. The one in the hazmat suit kept on pressing on the buttons. The water engulfed me fully. I felt myself blacking out... I tried to hold on but it was hard. I let go.
I closed my eyes and everything went away.
My skin was smooth and white as the snow we had back home every winter. My body was filled with muscles and my senses had grown many times sharper than when I was still human. I opened and closed my fists.
"You look good," the Toreese said to me.
"I feel good," I replied. My voice had grown deeper and though in my head it sounded like I've spoken in English I knew that the words coming out of my lips were in Caropthian.
"We'll have your documents ready and a new ship will be waiting for you at the dock," the Toreese said. Then he fished out something from his pocket and handed it to me. "This belongs to you, I think. A little something to remember your past life. You could throw it away if you want to though." He said smiling. He licked his lips then bade me farewell.
I looked at the crumpled photograph in my hand. I folded it into squares and placed it in my breast pocket.
I stepped out of the doors and into my new life.
"How's his vitals?" Mar T'Ak asked.
D checked his holopad and keyed in some commands. "Stable." He answered.
Mar T'ak studied the human floating inside the Changing Room. The human's arms twitched, must be something he was seeing. Mar T'ak wondered what kind of dreams they're having. The ones in the Changing Rooms. She folded her arms over chest. "One look at this one and you'd find it hard to believe he'd be able to do something so...coldhearted," Mar T'Ak said.
"Humans," D simply answered.
"Would you have done what he did? Sell your own family to get a better life?"
"Gods no," D replied with a throaty laugh. "Floating in water while you're being pumped with chemical inducing dreams until you die is no life."
"They don't know that. In their heads they're living their ideal life," Mar T'Ak retorted.
D looked at his partner. "Would you?"
Mar T'ak gazed back at the human. He was smiling now. "No," Mar T'ak simply said.
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JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.