In Vitro by Caitlin Hensel

“It’s only one trip?”

“Just one,” Dr. Morrigan said. His ancient figure looked like a strong wind could blow him away; Serra wondered how he’d managed to make the heavy egg-shaped contraption sitting behind him. “One-way, one-time use. You gotta make it count.”

Serra stiffened. “That…sure is interesting.” I’m just looking around, see? The gun felt cold against her hip—she’d only used it once before, weeks ago when she’d finally found enough scraps of her mind to put a hole through her devourer.

She had made it to safe territory, where people were still people and not food, but the others of its kind had to know of her escape by now. She didn’t have much time.

Serra looked away. Morrigan couldn’t know anything. “Anywhere in time?”

“Anywhen, really. But yes.”

“How far?”

“Far enough. I wouldn’t recommend jumping too much in either direction. Things get dicey if you travel to the end of the universe, or back to the Big Bang.” Morrigan turned back to the interlocked egg, fiddling a bit. “It also stays right in this room, so keep that in mind.”

But it was an escape. That was all she needed to know.

“Enough.” Serra could feel them, the mysterious moth-like beings that came all at once and ate at the human soul like a buffet. Their attention crawled over her skin, their eyes watching from afar but slowly creeping closer. The hunger would soon follow, threatening to swallow her up again and leave her a dry, colorless husk with black eyes and no will.

She needed to leave, reach a hiding place where they could never find her. She pressed the cool muzzle of the gun against Morrigan’s neck. “Turn it on,” she ordered.

The old man only laughed, the creaky sound turning into a cough. “As the Lady desires,” he said, flicking something within the panel he was working on.

He had known the entire time. Serra felt very cold.

She ripped off his goggles. Gagged, stumbled at the black eyes staring blankly out from a bone-white face. Feedling. Why was one here? They were too far away from the Caverns, this should be safe—

“You serve them.” She had put all her bets on this escape, walked right into their hands again. Her hopes—of escape, of seeing the light beyond this gray world with gray things that ate and ate—began to fade like the sun had long ago, choked out by the moths and their endless hunger. “This is all a trap.”

“No trap, Lady.” Morrigan said, as if nothing were wrong. “Just inevitability.”

Serra’s hands shook. Inevitability? “What do you know, old man?” Had he tested his own contraption? Was he from the future?

A soft whisper of noise announced their approach. Serra could already see the edges of her vision going dark as the color leeched out of the room around them.

“You need to leave, Lady,” Morrigan said. “Unless you would like to be food again.”

They were here, dark spots at the edge of her vision that would take, take, take everything if she looked their way. Her soul crushed out of her body in a second, the memory of the Caverns overwhelming.

No. Never again. Any chance was better than that. She put down her gun, moved to his side. “Get me out of here.”

He smiled, and the interlocking pieces of the egg folded apart, revealing a tiny space inside for her. She crawled in, and it cocooned back around her, the darkness warm and close like a blanket, strangely colorful though there was no light.

“Where would you like to go?” The question outside was muffled by the warmth of the egg, and Serra no longer felt afraid. They couldn’t touch her here.

“Wherever. You know where it’s going already, don’t you? Since you’re from the future, and all that.”

“Never said I was from the future,” the old man said. His voice faded into the whirring that grew around her.

The trip was not jarring—she didn’t move in space, after all. Drifting through four dimensions felt like swimming in water she could breathe, the greatest perfection of human contentment one could achieve. She could stay forever, outside of time, just breathe and swim and live in the colored darkness. She wondered if this was what love felt like.

But eventually the dark faded, turned gray and ashy around her. The egg had run out, the timer done. The trip had to be over.

But the cocoon never opened. It only grew hollow as the blanket of darkness thinned, frayed, then fell apart. The gray seeped into her, leeching her color—it was like their feeding, but worse, because at least the moths eventually stopped from time to time, and this was forever.

She was so cold. Where was the warmth, the color of the darkness from before? This, this was too much to stand. Gathering strength, she cracked her fists against the shell once, twice, before hatching through.

She opened her eyes, felt light around her, felt warmth, and she stood, tall and fine and gray in this new, colorful world. She needed the color, the brightness, needed it inside her—she reached out without hands and took it, drained it all to gray, but the gaping void remained. It was not the darkness of her egg.

Something skittered at the edge of her vision, and she turned to see bright light, quivering blue around the edges. Her vision focused—she saw meat, wide eyes leaking water, bright sparks of color and life hidden inside. Stalking forward, she heard the meat say, “Please don’t hurt me.”

“Why would I do that?” she asked. It was young, full of life and warmth. She ached for her colorful darkness, but this would do.

She touched its face, sucked at the blues and the purples and the yellows of his light, watched it all turn gray. Then she pulled away, saw black eyes staring blankly out from a bone-white face.

“You may call me Lady,” she decided.

“Lady?” the meat whispered. It molded easily to her touch, and she decided to keep it.

“I am hungry,” she said.

Caitlin Hensel is a speculative fiction writer who hails from the Greater Pittsburgh area. She has previously published both short fiction and poetry in Seton Hill University’s award-winning literary magazine, Eye Contact. Her poem, “Just Another Icarus Poem,” will also be appearing in the Spring Issue of Buck Off Magazine.

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