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Otherworldly Sweetness (Sci-Fi, Book Award 2023)
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Fate lures readers into the world of award-winning author Kristin J. Wall’s complex and compelling creation, Copy 13, the sole remnant of the highly advanced, self-replicating Haldis species imprisoned on a foreign future earth in the year 2044. Reeling from the fated deaths of her late Primary and her twelve co-copies on a foreign, contaminated life sphere, she accepts her inevitable fate. She will face the nearly impossible task of replicating on a toxic, uncivilized, tri-factioned life sphere. There is too much at stake. She must reach stability. If not, her highly advanced species will cease to exist. Her strength, will to live, and sanity will be pushed to the brink as she embarks on a hopeless journey into the remnant city, her sole replicated copy at her side. A journey that will force Primary to decide the fate of the tri-factioned humans.
First 10 Pages

A brilliant flash of light appears in the sky. Its intensity matches that of a thousand lightning strikes. Out of the brilliant flash appears a tear in space-time. The tear slowly expands, hissing as it grows. A piercing static-like hum drowns out all noise in the surroundings. The tear reaches its maximum girth and the hum clears. Suddenly, a female figure spirals out of the tear, tumbling and flailing, falling rapidly towards an immense body of water in a clear transporter tube. She ejects herself from her transporter tube. She tries to remain collected, but feels an overwhelming sense of panic. She screams shrilly. The sound of terror reverberates through the sky. She rapidly plummets into the impending body of water. Her transporter tube sinks slowly into the ocean. She disables its controls with her mind, and begins the treacherous swim to the shore seen in the distance.

The sky and ocean are murky. She intensifies her vision, causing her large eyes to glow intensely. The nearly intolerable putrid stench of the water and air overwhelms her as she paddles. Sunset nears. Exhausted, she pauses, expectorates violently, and tries once again to compose herself. She struggles terribly, swimming in agony and finally approaches the shoreline, where she falls flat on her face onto the cold sand. Relieved, she lets out a loud cry and writhes around on the sand.

She realizes her end is imminent. She has known this for some time. She has accepted this certainty.

She forces herself to stand up. She scans the immediate area with her large glowing eyes. No one has seen her. She desorbs her copies from her body. They expel from her, one by one, from her tall, lean body. They are exact copies of her, down to the transporter suit they all wear. All her copies stand in line behind her. Copies one through thirteen. She begins to shake violently. All of her copies begin to shake violently.

All but one.

Copy 13.

Copy 13 watches in shock as Primary and her twelve co-copies become lifeless. Fall onto the cold sand. Their bodies compress and harden. Their bones desorb from their wasted bodies. Copy thirteen shrieks in horror at the loss of her Primary. Of her co-copies.

She is alone. She is now the only hope for her species. The Haldis species. Her eyes glow intensely just as her Primary’s did. She desorbs a small metallic vial from her body. The vial her Primary desorbed into her just before she became lifeless. She retrieves a small seed from the vial. She expectorates a small amount of liquid onto the seed. It sprouts rapidly. She carefully moves each of the thirteen compressed, lifeless bodies to form a circle. She digs a small hole in the sand at the centre of the lifeless circle with her long, lean arms. She carefully inserts the sprouting seed and covers it with the cold sand.

Tears stream down her cheeks, wetting the sand covering the seedling. The thirteen compressed, lifeless bodies liquefy, slowly, releasing pure water, which trickles into the buried seedling. The seedling’s trunk bursts through the sand, drinking in the pure water. The thirteen bodies of the Haldis species now fuel new life.

Copy 13 sighs in relief. The trunk grows rapidly before her, reaching her height in a matter of a few respirations. She knows that it is time to feed the life-nourishing tree. One by one, she feeds the desorbed bones of her fellow Haldis. The tree willingly absorbs them through its now massive trunk. It grows faster and faster, branching out further and further.

Soon, its life-nourishing fruit will grow and mature. Soon, she will be nourished.

Exhausted, she retreats onto the sand underneath the massive Nourisher. Sitting under the tree, she closes her eyes for a moment. Just a moment. With her heavy eyes closed, she begins to drift off, until she realizes that she neglected to detoxify herself... She opens her eyes, desorbs a purifier from her body and glides it over her entire body. The purifier releases a chemical foam which diffuses into every part of her exterior. She desorbs a small metallic scanner and glides it over her entire body. It chimes. She is pure...

Relieved, Copy 13 triggers a powerful electric field around the massive Nourisher using her highly advanced neural network. She cloaks the electrified perimeter, so that no one but her can see or access it. It is her only hope of surviving on this toxic life sphere...

Her precious Nourisher now secured, it climbs higher and higher into the sky. The toxic sky the Haldis species emerged from not too long ago. Copy 13 shrieks in anger. She is all alone. She searches deep inside of herself for the strength to carry on. Her Primary would demand that she carry on. There is no other option. Carry on, she must. She retrieves a large ripe leaf from the Nourisher, and absorbs it into her hungry body. She absorbs one after another. She is ravenous.

She scans the the large, iridescent fruit on the majestic Nourisher with her intensely glowing eyes. She is certain it is not yet mature. She will have to wait a while longer before she can feed on it. She is tempted to reach up and caress the fruit, but doesn’t. She knows better...

A memory wave suddenly washes over her. She sees her home sphere, lush and green with innumerable Nourishers. A beautiful red bird with large wings and curling tail feathers. Under the brightness of the binary star system, its body shines brilliantly, with an almost metallic sheen. The bird flies gracefully to a Nourisher. It scans the tree and assesses its maturity. Its large, dark eyes focus on the bulbous fruit. The bird sits perched on a large branching system. The bird touches the delicious fruit with its slender ebony beak, and is instantly absorbed by the immature fruit...

The memory wave disappears before her glowing eyes. Her respiration becomes more rapid. A tear rolls down her exotic face. She knows that she has to be careful. Touching unripe fruit on her native tree may end her existence. Just as she feeds from the Nourisher, the Nourisher can feed on her. She will have to be patient. Only when the iridescent fruit has reached maturity can she feed on it.

She cannot risk ending the Haldis race over a simple scanning error...

An audible noise sharpens in the distance. Under her Nourisher, with its perimeter electrified and cloaked from view, Copy 13 is safe. Darkness begins to overcome her surroundings. She maximizes her visual acuity. Hidden from view, she scans the area around her. A primitive creature nears closer to her perimeter. It walks slowly, in close range...

She examines the primitive creature with disgust. Its body covered in filth and tattered garments. It slams directly into her perimeter and receives an instantaneous electric shock. It screams in agony. Copy 13 remains silent, watching the creature at arms length. She can clearly see that the creature is considerably shorter. Less muscular. She smells the creature. An acrid odour overcomes her, and she nearly expectorates in response. Her respiration intensifies as the odd creature fall onto the cold sand. The same cold sand that her Primary and co-copies expired on...

She is conflicted. She feels for the dirty, primitive creature, but cannot do anything to help it. She can’t risk it... Her tired eyes close, her long, lean body succumbing to her fatigue.

Several respirations pass and Copy 13 awakens to find the odd, stinking creature still lying on the ground at the edge of her instantiated perimeter. A noise registers on a primitive communication device in the creature’s pudgy hands... Beep, beep, beep. The noise gets louder. Beep, beep, beep. Like a shot, the creature wakes up, and quickly hurries itself into a standing position. It walks a few paces from where it was electrified and taps something on the communication device.

“Nolt... respond. Nolt, please respond.”

Copy 13 listens. She tunes her ears so that she can clearly hear the odd, primitive speak of the creature.

“You are never going to believe what happened to me. Yes, I am at the shoreline. I looked around to see if I could find any evidence of the lightning we saw back in the city. You know, the intense lightning that we thought might be artificial. Well, I got to the shoreline and couldn’t find any evidence of anything out of the ordinary. The beach is unusually quiet tonight. No fleshers or leafers in the area. Not a trace of any dirters, other than me. Anyway, Nolt, listen. So, I’m walking along the beach minding my own business, and then all of a sudden, I get electrocuted. There was nothing visible in front of me, but out of nowhere, I get zapped. It was bloody painful. I must have passed out because I woke up on the sand. I heard your signal and got up like a shot.”

Copy 13 remains completely still and quiet. She uses her neural network to translate the primitive speak. The creature pauses and begins to breathe faster, fear reverberating through its body.

“What is a possible explanation for what happened to me? How could I get electrocuted when nothing was on the beach with me? I’m freaking out.... Okay, Nolt. I’ll take deep breaths. Yes, I’m doing it now... Okay... Yes, I have my butcher’s knife and glower. I’m going to run back right now. It must be chaos in the city by now... Yes, Nolt, I’ll be careful. I’m always careful.”

The filthy creature walks a few paces, holds its knife and glower in front of its body, pauses and turns in the opposite direction of Copy 13. It runs off into the distance, out of view of Copy 13, the last remaining Haldis who has just finished translating and uploading the entire primitive speak of the creature. She processes what the creature said. She cries in shock and sneers with a renewed enthusiasm. Shock at the inferior intelligence level of the creature...

It will only make what she needs to do easier.

She scans the Nourisher, which has now grown beyond what she could hope for on this filthy life sphere. Its perimeter has expanded with it to contain its girth. She studies its replenishing, iridescent fruit. Now fully mature. She grabs several of the bulbous fruit and absorbs them one by one into her body. They reinvigorate her. Her muscles gleam. Her hair shines metallic. Her internals strengthen. Her neural neural network hums with excitement. Her respiration is optimized. Her demeanour changes... She feels unstoppable. Nothing can get in her way now.

Her renewed vigour energizes her. The sky continues to darken. No one will see her now. She exits the perimeter, and sprints rapidly up and down the beach. Her speed is unmatched by the filthy creature who ran in the opposite direction a few respirations ago. She sprints with an advanced gait. It causes her body no pain to run. The gravity of the life sphere she is on has a minimal effect on her.

She scans as she sprints. Not far from her life-giving Nourisher, she eyes a small, run-down dwelling on the sand. It’s windows are boarded up, but she senses life within. Inscribed on the entrance to the shelter are the words DIRTERS/LEAFERS CODE in some kind of fluorescent yellow dye. Dirters. Leafers. She heard these pathetic words earlier. From the filthy mouth of the filthy, electrified primitive. She knows their meaning. She knows what to do...

She sprints back to her Nourisher, excitement pulsing through her internals. She grabs several ripe, iridescent leaves and slips them into an slight opening in her transporter suit. She desorbs a small cylindrical metal object from her body and scans it over her transporter suit. The suit transforms from a beautiful, iridescent sheen to that of blandness. Dullness. To beige. The toxic-laden hue of the cooling sand under her slender feet. She examines the new tone and sneers in approval at her less conspicuous appearance.

She absorbs another piece of the fragrant fruit, exits her instantiated perimeter and sprints along the garbage-infested beach until she arrives at the boarded-up dwelling. The door with the yellow-hued words DIRTERS/LEAFERS CODE now stands opened. A rather crude, plump primitive creature stands in front of her. She steadies her respiration.

No room for error, she reminds herself. The Haldis race must survive...

The heavyset, filthy primitive covered in a voluminous, tent-like garment glares at Copy 13 suspiciously. It opens its gaping mouth, exposing its rotten teeth. A vile stench oozes out, diffusing into Copy 13’s slender nose. She draws nearly all her strength not to expectorate at the revolting smell.

“What do you want?” the filthy creature shouts angrily.

“If you are a flesher, you better run now. I’m not going to be your next meal,” it continues in a fit of rage.

The plump primitive stands, shifting its limbs impatiently waiting for an answer.

“I don’t eat flesh, never have or will... I am sorry to disturb you. I need some help figuring out where I am and how to get to the nearest city,” Copy 13 says confidently without a trace of empathy for the filthy primitive. Her voice strong with excellent enunciation. The crudeness of the uploaded words echo in her ears.

The primitive scratches its forehead at her response and twitches its chunky nose. Its facial features become less harsh. Its mouth begins to form a small smile. Copy 13 senses compassion in the primitive’s unappealing body. Possibly. She can’t be too sure...

“You mean to tell me you’re lost? That’s not a good thing to be in the state of things right now. Come on in, dear. It’ll be a nice change to talk to someone polite. Haven’t spoke to anyone nice in quite a long time. Follow me, dear.”

Copy 13 follows the creature inside its dwelling. She feels uneasy in the presence of the creature’s filth. The dwelling is very small. Just one room, with a wooden table and two chairs covered in dirty floral seat cushions and an old, filthy mattress in the back corner. A large glass jug sits on the table filled with what appears to be murky and toxic water. Beside the water jug sits a large ceramic floral vase filled with fresh dirt. Tucked underneath the table sits a small metal safe with a durable lock sealing its contents. An old, worn linoleum floor lies under the table and mattress. The contents of the entire hovel are lit with a single battery-powered fluorescent light placed on the floor, tucked into a corner.

The plump primitive shows Copy 13 to the table, turns around to padlock the door, and sits down in one of the chairs.

“Come, dear. Have a seat across from me,” it says with a smile on its aged, fat, wrinkled face. Copy 13 follows the primitive and seats herself. She feels the uneasiness growing within her. The primitive stares at her intently, eyeing her up and down. Copy 13 begins to fidget in the wooden chair. She is not accustomed to such discomfort.

After a moment of awkward silence, the primitive lifts up the vile water jug and retrieves a key from a small pocket in its tent-like garment. It reaches for the small metal safe under the table and inserts the key into its lock. With its swollen, shaking hands, the creature jiggles the key several times and successfully unlocks the safe. Copy 13 scans the creature’s every move. A small primitive metallic weapon of sort and two small plastic cups lie in the open safe. The creature picks up the weapon, caresses it with its bulky fingers, and places it carefully back into its position in the safe. The creature pours toxic water into the two cups, spilling some of it on the table with its unsteady grip. It passes one of the cups to Copy 13, leaving the safe exposed on the table.

“Dear, have some water. You’ll feel better if you’re hydrated,” it says kindly.

Copy 13 scans the water with her highly advanced neural network. It is severely contaminated with various chemical toxins. She tries to quell her urge to expectorate and steadies her respiration.

“Thank you for your kind gesture - but I am sufficiently hydrated,” Copy 13 utters with a bit of hesitation. She hopes she is not stirring any suspicion in the odd primitive in doing so. She scans the primitive’s reaction. It appears angry or at the very least upset by her choice of words. It rubs it tired eyes and strokes its matted, greasy hair with its muddy fingers. Then, surprisingly, its mouth forms a small smile. An awkward smile, but still a smile. Copy 13’s uneasiness begins to diminish.

“That’s okay, dear. You are just so polite. I can’t be mad at you. Now tell me, dear, where did you come from? You are so beautiful and exotic compared to simple old me. Go on, dear. Talk to me. I won’t hurt you. I promise. A dirter always keeps their promise. Go on, dear.” The creature widens its eyes in excitement, and begins to drink the cup of toxic water.

Copy 13 readies herself. She forces a fake smile. No errors. No errors. No errors. She repeats this in her mind, takes a deep, invigorating respiration and begins to weave a tale of half-truths to the creature.

“I want to thank you for your kind words. They warm my heart.... What I am about to tell you is tragic. Very tragic. My homeland is a very small island. A minuscule island in this great ocean that surrounds us. When I was younger, my mother used to tell me that we were so lucky to live on our beautiful island. Away from the crowded and angry cities far away.