DISORIENTATION • by Mark Bilsborough

I’ve forgotten something, I know I have.

In fact, now I come to think of it, I’ve forgotten everything.

“Hey, Smith,” someone shouts, “move it!”

I seem to be dressed in combat clothing; green camouflage. I’m holding a weapon, though I don’t recognise the type. A sci-fi reimagining of a rifle. I’m in a vehicle, being jostled around. It’s a small chamber — cabin? hold? — and I’m strapped in. My stomach lurches, something smacks the floor and I realise gravity’s kicked in. Air, space, whatever — we’ve landed. Wherever I am, I’m sharing it with a dozen or so men and women wearing the same clothes as me. I see shaven heads, tattoos, determined expressions. Everybody’s moving. I shrink back into my seat.

Someone is in my face, yelling.

My restraining straps — he wants me to remove them. I look sheepish and unclick. The guy yells some more then moves on to shout at someone else. The woman next to me grins and says something that involves a lot of swearing. I nod, though my brain’s too full to process what she’s saying.

A door opens and bright sunlight streams into the cabin. It’s tinged with red — not Kansas then. I briefly wonder what Kansas is before being shoved by the force of the people behind rushing out.

A ragged group of people greet us. Someone waves. A kid. Gap-toothed and smiling, dressed in last decade’s fashions. This is a farming colony, I recall. Peaceful.

Next to me, soldiers open fire.

The gap-toothed kid falls to the ground, blood spilling from multiple wounds. The rest scatter.

I remember the mission. Something’s compromised the colony, infiltrated the locals, made them rebellious. Don’t be fooled by the smiles, these people aren’t who you think they are.

I remember more. This colony is more than a group of hick farmers. There’s a research community too, checking out all the abandoned alien tech. They’ve — we’ve — made a breakthrough. And consciousness transfer is a beautiful thing.

I curse myself for my initial disorientation. It’s not the colony that’s compromised, it’s the grunting thugs sent to restore order with their boots and guns. Like the one whose body I’m wearing. With sudden clarity I turn my weapon on the guy who yelled at me.

I have the element of surprise. I gun down half the squad before they realise what’s happening. Then they turn their weapons on me.

But they’re too late. I switch again, back into the landing ship. I’m the gunnery officer now, and the sense of fear I wake up to cuts through my disorientation. I train my guns on the remaining soldiers, now scattering for cover.

The Captain — Kane — turns to me, perplexed but angry. Memory-seep tells me he’s a bullet-headed lifer with a mean temper and a tendency to shoot at anything he doesn’t understand. He reaches for his weapon but staggers back, eyes open wide. I relax.

“Took you long enough,” I say, relieved. I’d hoped Clarice would get there earlier, which would have saved me a load of hassle.

But then Kane’s — Clarice’s — eyes harden and she brings her weapon up.

“You’re still confused,” I say.

But then she — no, he — shoots.

Not Clarice, then. I barely have time to jump clear.

I wake back in the lab, heart racing. I pull at the electrodes covering my head and sit upright. Next to me, Clarice lies comatose. Shocked technicians scurry around. I grab an arm: a skinny technician with panic in his eyes.

“He resisted,” he says. “The Captain.”

“That’s never happened before.”

“Like he knew it was going to happen.”

“But I’m out now. Panic over, right?” I say.

I glance over at Clarice. She’s still unconscious but she’s shaking and I can see her eyeballs moving fast under closed lids.

“Something else…”

Then I see the banks of red on Clarice’s monitor.

Clarice, fully alert, reaches for a scalpel. It’s at my throat in seconds, at a speed only a trained killer could manage.

Kane grins at me through Clarice’s eyes.

I close my eyes and wait to die.

But instead he says, “Where the hell am I?”

Disorientation. We’re definitely going to have to sort that out.

Mark Bilsborough is a UK based science fiction writer whose stories usually take him to other worlds, times and dimensions. He’s been published in The Colored Lens, Electric Spec, K Zine and elsewhere.

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