Lillith woke up. The first thing she noticed was the gentle breeze flowing over her. The shade of a tree. The tickling itch of the grass beneath her. Slowly she sat up and looked around.
A rolling countryside was spread out before her. Picket fences snaked along the sides of hills, while in the small valley below rows of cherry trees stood in military-like order in an orchard.
I wish this were real. She thought solemnly.
I wish I were real.
Lillith got up and felt the grass tickling her bare feet.
Can I wake up now?
No, Lillith. Not yet.
Birds sang in the trees around her, and flitted their black shapes across the blue sky. Cicadas buzzed, their tune almost in harmony with the gentle rabble of the creek nearby.
She walked out of the field onto a stone path, driven as if by some magnetic instinct towards a house that sat gleaming white in the sunlight. Smoke was rising out of the chimney.
Please. Let me wake up. This beauty is too painful.
No, Lillith. We need to find him.
She walked along the path, the cobblestones warm against her feet. She stopped as she was crossing the stone bridge. She looked over the ledge and saw a clear river with metallic silver flakes floating on the surface like miniature slabs of ice. She followed the source of the river up to the mill by the old house in front of her.
Are you sure?
She continued walking up the path, towards the house.
How can you be sure?
Lillith stood in front of the door.
Earth was never this nice.
She opened the door and found herself staring into a harsh, metallic interior that appeared to be exponentially larger on the inside than it was on the outside.
Is he here?
Yes. You can only play with the laws of physics so much until you give yourself away.
Amongst the coils of wire and tubes of copper and panels and circuitry and buttons was a figure standing in front of a huge glass cylinder that was filled with water. Inside the cylinder, Lillith could see—
“Arnie,” she said.
Her son turned around. For a moment, he was still the 8 year old boy who cried in her lap and laughed in her arms. But now he was older, and more mechanical than human. His one human eye showed the spark of recognition. But the other—the cold, mechanical scope—merely whirred as it processed her features.
“Mom,” he said. They were silent for a moment.
“Arnie. You need to stop this. You need to let me go.”
Lillith looked at the body suspended in cryofluid.
It didn’t look a day younger than the day she died.
For a moment, Arnie—or Arhiman, as he preferred to be called now—seemed to agree. But the mechanical side of his body took control.
“You’re one to talk. I should have known they’d have sent a skintalker. The Zenarians may have copied your brain into a computer. But you’re not my mother.”
“I know that. Arnie. I’m gone. Your mother—me—she died a long time ago. You know what I am. I know what I am. But you can’t bring me back.”
Arnie stared at Lillith.
“Why’d you have to go? ”
” I didn’t have much of a choice. ”
Arnie looked at the body of his mother. Lillith did the same. It was just an empty shell– a keyhole peering into a time now long and lost.
” And neither do I.”
Arnie grabbed a laser cutter from the desk and stabbed Lillith in the stomach. She did nothing to stop him. A dull, fiery pain erupted in her. He jerked it out and in one swift slash cut Lillth’s head clear off.
She watched as her body —no, not her body; this body —crumpled to the floor. Arnie turned away and returned to his work.
As the neural circuits of the mechanical body began to lose power, Lillith could feel herself being recalled.
Can I wake up now?
Yes. Hold tight, we’re recalling you.
This was the closest Lillith ever felt to falling asleep. The world dimmed into darkness. The last thing she heard was a faint “I’m sorry.”
This is a good example of dealing with an unexpected element that pops up in your writing. Look at the story dice and you’ll see that one of these things obviously is not like the other. When I started writing this, I struggled with how I could incorporate the alien into the story. At first I tried describing the scenery through an alien’s point of view, but it didn’t work.
But writing is a funny thing. Sometimes you just have to make it up as you go. I’m sure you probably noticed it in this piece. I started writing without a clear direction of where the story was headed—I just let it unfold as I wrote. The story shifted as I wrote, and gradually morphed into a sci-fi story. I kept the aliens in the background of the story, letting the reader make up their own mind on their role in the story. This allowed me space to focus on the human element.
It’s tempting for writers to resort to the exposition dump (a long chunk of text dedicated to explaining backstory) and sometimes it’s necessary for rich, detailed worlds. It’s very common in fantasy novels. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a technique called “in media res“, which means “in the middle of things”. No back story, no explanation, the writer just explains things as they happen and expects the reader to fill in the gaps as they go. It’s common in science fiction novels (Ender’s Game does this to some extent).
In keeping with in media res, I didn’t explain the “science” part of the “science fiction” because I didn’t feel I had to. It’s easy to bog your writing down with technical details and miss the heart of the story: in this case, the story of a (robotic) mother and son.