TRANSCRIPT: Michael Jachowicz has written sketches and comedy scripts for podcasts as well as some comic strips. You can hear some of his scripts with Starlight Radio Dreams, a Chicago based comedy podcast. He tells us, “I found a quarter today, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Content Warning: This story depicts drug use. Please care for yourself while listening to this piece of fiction.
The crowded subway car was a cacophony of life, but Arabella could only hear the sound of her heart beating wildly in her chest. She tugged at the cuffs of the oversized club jacket she had found thrift shopping with Celeste. Celeste had told Arabella that a baggier jacket would look good on her. In fact, the more Arabella thought about it she realized that Celeste had essentially picked out the entirety of her outfit. Even the beat up, old Chuck Taylors she bought back in high school were only to match with Celeste. Arabella was looking forward to seeing Celeste tonight; she was almost shaking. She was going to make tonight count, she was gonna get something out of tonight. No, she was gonna get everything.
Arabella bit the inside of her bottom lip- which she often did whenever she was deep in thought. She thought back over all the years she had known Celeste, playing back the memories in her mind like a movie- well, not really so much like a movie. More like a music video set to some pop punk song she would listen to in jr. high, probably something by My Chemical Romance or some Nightcore remix of a Jimmy Eat World song. The memories of Celeste and her began to flow and shift, one leading to another in no particular order until they landed on a specific memory, the memory.
It was when they were both in highschool theater. Arabella and Celeste went out for the same role and against all odds, Arabella got it. It was one of the proudest moments of her life, but then Celeste cornered her backstage after school. Celeste convinced Arabella to give up the part she wanted and go back to stage crew. Arabella was happy to do it. Celeste’s attention was everything to Arabella.
The subway screeched abruptly to a halt. Arabella was snapped out of her thoughts and into her surroundings. She looked up to see what stop they had pulled into, but it didn’t look like they had even made it to a stop. Outside the window of the subway she only saw the tunnel walls. As she was looking out the window she happened to make fleeting eye contact with the man sitting across from her. He seemed disheveled and panicked which, to be fair, wasn’t all together uncommon for folk in the city. However this guy seemed really shaky, his eyes kept darting to the door next to Arabella. She followed the man’s gaze to the door and as if on cue the door opened. A police android with the Synthetic Taskforce walked in.
The android stood motionless for what felt like an eternity, then it’s electric yellow eyes began to glow bright as it silently and methodically scanned the subway car. Arabella clutched her jacket closed, trying to hide from the imposing officer. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but she couldn’t help herself, something about the police androids unsettled her. Maybe it was how you could see their robotic skeleton underneath their translucent navy blue skin. Watching the false flesh twist and stretch over the artificial man just reminded Arabella how fake they were, no matter how close to real the state tried to make them.
Suddenly the officer’s head jerked towards the man across from Arabella. “Henry Gordolski, you have been charged with possession of illegal substances including narcotics and Stemsplicers with intent to use and or distribute. Come with me.” The android’s voice was calming and had the cadence of human speech, but was distinctly digital, nothing more than an advanced simulation of a human’s voice.
The man sitting across from Arabella was sweating profusely, his eyes whipping frantically around the subway car. Arabella made sure she was staring at the floor, feeling her feet tremble. The man across from Arabella stood up slowly and shuffled towards the police android. As he got close he pushed the artificial officer which caused the blue automaton to stumble back a few steps. The man reached in his pocket with blinding inhuman speed and pulled out a knife. In one fluid motion the man struck at the machine, like a cobra striking its prey.
“GET FUCKED YOU POPO-ROID! YOU STUP-AAUUUGGHH” The man was cut off as the android caught his knife wielding hand midway through the stabbing motion and swiftly broke his hand. Then the android grabbed the man by the neck and squeezed. There was a loud crack then silence.
“Thank you for your cooperation. Have a great rest of the day!” The android spoke genuinely, however it’s words rang hollow as it dragged it’s victim off the train. The doors closed behind it and the subway began to move again.
In recent years the state had really started to crack down on Stemsplicing, it was unpredictable and hard to control. Using Stemsplicers, people could rewrite their DNA to make themselves into anything.
Of course as with anything that powerful, Stemsplicing had major negative consequences with prolonged use. That’s why the state created the Synthetic Taskforce, to combat the Stemsplicer threat. What had just happened to Stemsplicers like Henry Gordolski wasn’t uncommon in the city, in fact it was the new normal, but still… The car was silent for the rest of the ride.
Arabella was so relieved to step off the subway she actually ran to the nearest pillar and hugged it. She took out her phone to see where she was supposed to go to meet up with Celeste.
“It’ll be good to be with friends after all that.” Arabella thought to herself when she heard someone call out to her. She turned to see Celeste waving at her with a big smile on her face. Celeste was standing with a couple that Arabella didn’t recognize, but she hardly noticed. She was drawn to Celeste, her bright blue eyes and her curly blonde hair were so inviting and innocent. Arabella felt a smile force its way onto her face as it pushed past all the shit that happened on the subway. Including digging up the memory from high school.
“It’s in the past,” Arabella thought “None of that matters now.” The two friends embraced in the middle of the near empty subway station. Celeste took Arabella by the hand and brought her to meet the two people she was with. One was just Teph, a burn out Celeste and Arabela went to school with. Arabella said hi to Teph who just kinda widened their eyes at her. Teph was already strung out on something or other. They had always been a pothead, but that turned into a full blown drug habit after high school. Arabella had even heard that Teph dealt Stemsplicers.
The other person Arabella didn’t know. She was tall and thin with strong features. She had white facial tattoos that contrasted elegantly with her ebony skin. Arabella wanted to ask if the tattoos meant anything, but then the woman looked at her and Arabella forgot how to make the words do the word thing with her mouth.
“Is this everyone?” Said the tall woman, her voice low and powerful. Celeste nodded and in her usual bubbly way started talking about how great Arabella was and how she was like a sister to her and that they were family. Arabella couldn’t help but be a little hurt by that description of their relationship. The tall woman held up her hand to signal to Celeste to stop talking, her open palm turned into a finger pointing down the subway tunnel, meaning to head that way.
As they walked Arabella noticed the woman was holding a steel box. She was about to ask what it was, but before she could the woman stopped. They were at their destination, apparently, an abandoned stretch of tunnel. The tall woman set the steel box down and then took out three syringes.
“This is primer. Inject this, then inject the Stemplicer your friend has brought and enjoy yourselves in The Box.” She said handing out the syringes before standing next to the box like a statue.
“What does she mean?” Arabella asked, sheepishly fiddling with the syringe she was given.
“It’s, like, so cool Bella!” Celeste said, her voice ringing like a bell on a spring day as she shot herself up with the primer, “Teph brought some “Shrimp Sauce” Stemsplicer so we take it and we’ll shrink small enough to party in this totally bitchin’ club!”
Before she could say anything Teph and Celeste were putting the Stemsplicer syringe labelled “Shrimp Sauce” into their arms. Teph looked at Arabella, handed her a syringe and said, “Look The Box has everything. Sex, music, drugs. Everything. Shit’s lit.”
Celeste and Teph began to writhe and their veins began to glow. They both doubled over and Celeste fell to her knees. Arabella rushed to her side, but before she could do anything Celeste began to shrink. Arabella’s eyes went wide, she had heard of the wild effects of Stemsplicers, but she had never seen them in person. She watched as her friend’s bodies contorted in unnatural poses as they grew smaller. There was also this horrid stench, like burning hair, from the energy given off during the transformation.
After what felt like both an instant and an hour Arabella was towering over her two friends who were now no taller than a grain of sand. She watched them march like ants into The Box. Arabella looked to the syringes in her hands then to the tall woman who hadn’t moved during all this. She then looked to The Box. The Box which had swallowed Celeste… Arabella wanted, for so long and so badly, to be noticed by Celeste, but this was insane.
Arabella dropped the syringes, her mind flashing back to the ride down here on the train and how much the man who was killed for this shit reminded her of Teph, how Celeste would never notice her… no that wasn’t it. Arabela’s mind flashed back to the memory and for the first time she saw it, really saw it. Celeste had noticed Arabella, she’d noticed her and decided she could use her. Arabella put her hands in the pocket of her jacket and walked off down the train tunnel. She got nothing out of tonight and that was more than enough for her.
Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. She loves telling stories, especially about the past, and considers it an honor to tell new ones that people come up with. By day, she talks about animals at Shedd aquarium. By night she creates as much as she can. Kate is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay holding degrees in Theatre Performance and History.