1263 BC

Pi-Ramesses, Ancient Egypt

We slipped into it so suddenly, that I was barely able to notice the rest of the buzzing that surrounded us as we floated on. His eyes on mine, in a place they should not be, truncated the noises of the insects that rose above the surface of the Nile. Our boat was drifting away from the pharaoh’s new capital city, a place I had come to despise for reasons I could not rightfully explain. We were headed to a mecca of older times, a metropolis my father called Memphis. Yet, my father’s eyes were not the ones penetrating mine in such an inexplicable way, as silence overcame me. No, the pharaoh was not on this boat. Instead, a man with golden hair, unlike that I had ever seen, was the character who arrived just in time to change me.

At the bend of the river, where the Pelusiac branch of the Nile Delta began to depart the east and head toward the main stretches of where its mother laid waiting, I consumed the sight of the bronzed blonde man whose gaze had finally left me. He was clearly one of my father’s slaves, a worker on the boat that would ensure my safe passage from Pi-Ramesses to where Memphis lay in the south. I knew I should not have even acknowledged his existence, as a daughter of the great Ramesses II, I had lived my life as a princess of Egypt, and certain things were expected of me. Having a conversation with a shirtless male slave, a folded white loincloth the only piece of fabric hiding his parts, was nothing short of taboo. Nevertheless, the urge of the unexpected overtook me, so I followed it. I got up from my chair located in the center of the vessel and walked over to where he sat rowing his paddle along the water’s edge.

“What is your name?” I asked him as I arrived at the spot directly at his side.

“Princess Rashida- I- I-” he began to stutter, still rowing as I watched the muscles in his tanned back swell and then sway. Only looking up at me for a brief moment, his eyes turned back to the task before him.

“There is no need to be shy. I only have a simple request, and it is to know who you are.” I waited for him to respond, as singular strands of my long dark hair shifted in the breeze.

“I am no one. Merely a slave of the pharaoh, here to serve and to row, to be a part of this crew, to deliver you to Memphis.”

“You are not no one if I notice you. And so I have. Now, give me your name. I wish to know it.”

His stare returned to rest on my face, as he spoke the name he had once been given. “I am called Chathis. I am humbly at your service, dear princess.”

“Chathis,” I said his name aloud, letting the weight of his identity cross over my tongue. “Stand up.”

“What?” He asked incredulously, his body still rowing, unable to stop the task he had been asked to perform in fear of being punished by the overseer who paced across the deck behind me.

“I would like you to stop rowing and stand up, so I can talk to you properly. I want your attention to be fully upon me, not the paddle in your hands. Stop exerting. Let it go and face me directly,” I told him with conviction as I noticed the attention of the other slaves gravitating to where I remained.

“But the overseer?” Chathis asked nervously.

“The overseer answers to me. I am the only passenger on this vessel with royal blood. He knows to respect my desires.”

With hesitation, Chathis stopped paddling and slowly let go of the wooden oar. Using his hands to push himself off the floor of the deck, his body, which had been previously folded, now stretched itself out in front of me, so I was able to witness the entire sight of him.

“How did you come to be a slave of my father’s?”

“It was the only way to survive. I never knew my mother, her life came to an end as mine began. My father died when I was a child, constructing a new building for the pharaoh. I had no way to fend for myself alone without brothers or sisters. Just as many of us end up in servitude–”

“And what do you think of the pharaoh?” I asked him, cutting him off before he could finish his account.

“I am not worthy of my own opinion of him. As others have said, he is greater than the sun in the sky, more monumental than all of the structures that have been built to honor him.”

“Have you ever met him?” I asked, wondering how much further I should go with the conversation before I got myself into trouble. The overseer would respect my wishes, but that did not mean he wouldn’t report back witnessing this exchange to the powers that be, so that it eventually would reach the ears of my father, who sat upon his throne in the new capital he had named after himself.

“No, I have not, and I’m sure I never will. I have no qualms in working to get by. Why have you approached me, Princess Rashida? I do not deserve your attention. I am a simple man who exists to–”

“You do not have to call me princess,” I told him, interrupting him once again, truncating the shame he continued to display before me. “Just as you have a singular name, as do I. And it is only Rashida. You should not be so hard on yourself Chathis. We are both human, albeit of the opposite sex. I do not want you to think of me as superior because of who my parents are. I had no say to whom I was born, and neither did you. In another world, perhaps the rules are reversed and you are the prince and I am the slave girl.”

 “This is the world where we live,” Chathis said, forming a rebuttal, his strong jaw clenched as his mouth moved and informed me of his beliefs. “We must recognize what is true and what is fantasy. You are a princess and I am a slave. We should not be talking. You are better than me and always will be, in this life, and for eternity. I appreciate your kindness Rashida, but you do not know me, nor do I know you. I am honored to have spoken with you, even for these brief moments, but I must return to my work. It is what I am meant for,” and with that, Chathis turned away from me, folding his body in half again so he could return his oar into the thick water of the Nile flowing underneath where we lingered.

“I will remember you,” I told him quietly, before I walked away, not knowing that in four years, I would see him again.



1504 AD

Florence, Italy

“Do you really think he’s going to be entirely nude?” The redheaded girl half-whispered into the ear of the woman at her side.

I couldn’t help but smile at the idea overheard, as I too was immersed within the large crowd that continued to grow in size, where we all stood outside the main entrance of the Palazzo della Signoria, waiting in anticipation. The unveiling of Michelangelo’s enormous statue was about to take place, and from everything Fabrizio had told me, I knew I had to be present when it was first shown to the public. It was already in front of us, so I could tell the immense size had not been exaggerated, but since a dark green cloth covered it, the details of the sculpture were as of yet unknown. I looked up at the large town hall looming greatly before me, its sand-colored stone reaching up to the sky where the cube-like shape eventually narrowed to the rectangular clock tower that advanced even higher.

Suddenly, the bells began to ring, announcing the arrival of a new hour, and with it came a small entourage of men pouring out the main doors of Palazzo della Signoria, heading toward where the covered statue waited. The spot where I stood was rather close to the front, with only a few lines of bodies in front of me, all of whom were now standing very still. Thus, I was caught by surprise when I heard a rustling and shouting from my rear, where the crowd began to shift, pushing toward the palazzo and away from the piazza behind us, where the congregation dissipated out into the realms of Florence beyond. As the movement compounded upon me, I was knocked to the ground by an unknown individual, who then tumbled to the ground himself, adjacent to my location.

I quickly moved from my disheveled position, lifting my body upward as I picked up my hat, only to be interrupted halfway on my return, where I rested on bended knee.

At first, the arrangement of his frame and limbs mirrored mine, but it wasn’t long before he became erect, reaching out his hand to help me back to a standing position. I looked at him unwillingly, but decided to grasp his hand, and as soon as the flesh of his skin touched mine, I knew he was of my kind.

As my head emerged above those gathered and became level with his, I studied his handsome face, taking in the green of his eyes. His blonde hair jutted out from underneath the hat he wore, begging to be noticed. The nose in the middle of his face was thin and straight, while his jaw was widely defined. When his mouth opened to speak to me for the first time, an undeniable quiver slunk up my spine.

“I’m so sorry for knocking you over kind sir,” he began with a flourish, removing his hat and tipping it toward me so the shocking lightness of his hair shone in the sun. His Italian was perfect, but I noticed an accent immediately, his letters forming words in a way unlike how most Florentines constructed their speech. “Due to the intense passion I have for artwork and the excitement of today’s reveal, I must admit my nerves got the best of me as I made my way closer.”

“It’s quite alright,” I began, as I heard the men at the front starting to speak. I moved away from the stranger, assuming our exchange was over, but as I looked to where all of the eyes of the crowd were directed, I could feel his still upon me.

I turned back to face him as the men prepared to remove the green cloth, unable to resist the desire to look at him again. And there he was, shyly smiling at me as he extended his hand.

Without thinking, I took it, the ends of our beings connecting for a second time. “Who are you?” I asked, almost feeling as if I had met him before, even though I knew deep down it was the first time my eyes had ever seen this face.

“Ciro Aprensa,” he answered. “It’s a pleasure to meet you…”

“Renzen Bicati,” I told him, holding onto his hand tightly, before he abruptly pulled it away, his attention distracted by the gasps of the crowd emanating from all around us.

We altered the angles of our stances so we could focus on the reason for our location, and were confronted with an electric white collection of marble that had been expertly crafted into the most breathtaking form of a man I had ever witnessed. The statue’s nakedness was on full display, the outline of his manhood grasping my attention as I tried to pull my gaze away, only for it to move from his genitalia to the thickness of his legs, to the strength of his arms, to the breadth of his chest. I knew this was not a real man, regardless of how divine this statue of David appeared before me, but I could not hide the sexual urges I felt for his shape, as I questioned the kind of man I was.

“He’s beautiful,” I heard Ciro say beside me, taking the words from my mouth, as if he pulled them out with his own tongue.

The clamor of the crowd began to die down, but I could sense the anxiety of the atmosphere, as those present were in complete awe of the masterpiece Michelangelo had worked on over the past three years. I didn’t know what to do next, as no one around us seemed to want to leave. I knew I had to go though, I had to get away not only because of my homosexual thoughts, but because I was afraid I would say something out loud that would make my desires known. Not for the unliving statue everyone was gawking at, but for the handsome man who was very much alive at my side.

“I have to be heading back now,” I said to Ciro as I motioned to the space behind us, where Florence waited in all her splendor.

“But you just got here. Aren’t you going to stay a while longer to look at him?”

“I believe I’ve looked at him long enough. Besides, I must get back to the shop, Fabrizio will be waiting for me.”

“Who’s Fabrizio?”

“The artist I work for, I am his apprentice. Have a lovely day Ciro,” I told him in finality as I turned to go, willing myself away from the confluence of everything I thought I had already escaped.

I didn’t get more than two steps away before I felt a firm hand grasp the back of my arm. Twisting around, knowing who had stopped me, I contemplated telling Ciro the truth of why I had to leave, but from the look on his face that he presented to me, I could tell he already knew.

“I’m afraid too,” he started, the smell of his breath delivered to my nostrils, his mouth only mere inches away from mine as we were jostled closer together by the gathering throng.

Even though he could have been referring to nearly anything, something deep inside me knew we were on the same page. “Gli Ufficiali di Notte haven’t been arresting men for nearly two years now. We shouldn’t be afraid, at least not as much as we once were.” I spoke in normal tones, as a blanket of secrecy covered us due to the chatter emitted from the mass of people who stood in every direction. We were at the center of it, the center of everything.

“Nevertheless, the officers of the night did terrible things to the men they claimed were sodomites. We’ll never be free I fear,” Ciro told me, his face carrying the shame men like us so often felt.

“I don’t want to believe that. I will hope for a time, whether it be in years or decades, when a man can love whoever he wants, even if it is another man.” I had never said such things aloud before, let alone in a public square, but the moment had overtaken me, and the intoxicating presence of Ciro convinced me to go on. “Come with me.”

“To where Renzen? There is nowhere we can go.”

“There are some places. Florence holds certain sympathies for men like us if you know where to look,” I said to him as I returned my hat to my head, covering my dark hair that existed in such contrast to his.

I don’t think I realized it then, but a part of me loved him from that very first day. Among the hundreds of bodies surrounding us, deep down, it was as if I recognized there was never going to be any other soul for me. No woman, no man, no one else in the entire enormity of Italy, except for Ciro, the stunning blonde of exquisite masculinity who was of the same rare breed, even as his lips quivered and he told me the opposite of what I wished to hear.

“No. I’m sorry Renzen, I can’t.”

I should have known the prospect of Ciro agreeing to go with me was slim, even if he was open about his sexuality in parts, the entirety of how we were endured as an enigma.

“Perhaps one day you will change your mind.”

“Perhaps I will, but I’m afraid today is not that day. For now, the closest I can get to anything of the sort is here, shaped in the form of marble before the palazzo.”

With that, I began to depart without saying anything else, the hollowness of my heart feeling unbearably heavy. Leaving the crowd behind, I pushed myself away from the rest of the beings who continued to contemplate art and what the form of a man truly meant. I went back to the Florence I knew, hoping I would find the pieces of her that could shelter a man such as myself. I assumed I would never see Ciro again, forgetting that the minds and decisions of men were elements that could not be controlled.

As soon as I left him, he regretted letting me go, but he was not brave enough to follow after me. Instead, he stared at the unmoving David for a while longer, until the amount of people around him lessened, and he decided that one day soon he would try to accept the depths of his identity.




Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Jamming out to Here I Go Again by Whitesnake, which was blasting on the radio as I cruised down Interstate 279, I watched the snowflakes tumble down in rapid succession from the clouded heavens above, their intricacies hitting my windshield one by one. I was driving back to the city after an extended weekend at my mother’s in Northwest Pennsylvania for the Thanksgiving holiday. The song, amplifying my current mood, burst into the climactic chorus just as I turned around a curve, the hills pulling back to reveal the glittering skyline positioned between the three rushing rivers that made the city what it was.

And just as the scenic facades of steel and light were uncovered before me, so too was a far less attractive sight, as the white station wagon in front of me inexplicably stopped. I slammed on the brakes as quickly as I could, and although the action caused my car to slow down quite a bit, it was too little too late, as I crashed into the station wagon’s back bumper.

My neck jerked forward as I heard the front of my car crunch into the idiot’s vehicle in front of me, my face nearly colliding with the steering wheel. The seat belt dug into my chest, and as I pulled back to gain my bearings, I could already feel the burn from the force of the belt’s material imprinting itself upon my skin.

“Motherfucker!” I screamed, furious over my unforeseen bad luck. “A fender bender, really?” I continued shouting out loud to myself as I pulled my car to the side of the road, watching the station wagon do the same. Once parked and out of the way of the oncoming traffic, I removed my seat belt, wanting to get out of the car as quickly as possible so I could confront the moron who had caused this fiasco in the first place.

I got out and looked at the front of my car. It was in pretty bad shape, but it wasn’t totaled. I knew I could have it repaired at my grandpa’s dealership for free, but that didn’t negate the amount of fury rising up inside me. I was already running late for my evening date with Desiree, and I knew she would be pissed to be kept waiting.

Traffic continued to rush by as I momentarily abandoned that mess of mine, all of it created by some stranger I didn’t know. I approached where they waited ahead, ready to pull them from the driver’s seat with the wrath I planned to deliver, but instead, I was confronted with the reality of who they were before given the chance.

I’m not sure who I was expecting to see get out of the station wagon, but the tall stunning blonde woman who emerged had not been on my radar of anticipated suspects. She quickly moved toward me, glancing over to the back of her car and then to the front of mine, tears on her face, thickening as she gasped in dismay.

“I’m so sorry! This is completely my fault, I’ve been having a terrible day and I dropped the cassette I was trying to put in and I reached over to try and grab it and somehow my foot moved off of the gas and hit the brake. I can’t believe I did this, oh my God, you probably think I’m some silly bimbo that can’t drive,” she went on, the panic spreading across her face as she looked up at me. “I swear this is the first accident I’ve ever even been in. I’m so sorry!”

I wanted to yell at her, to tell her I thought she was an imbecile, and that this was indeed her fault, but due to the construction of her appearance that had put me in a trancelike state, I was unable to do so. Besides, in reality, I was the one who couldn’t drive, I had already been in seven different car accidents since I got my driver’s license, and I was only twenty-five.

“It’s going to be okay,” I said aloud, my first words to her of a compassionate context. “Do you have insurance?”

“Yeah, I do. It’s in my car,” she informed me as she began to wipe the tears off her cheeks, aiming to fix the mascara that had started to smear. “I’ll go get it.” She turned around and went back to her car, leaning in to retrieve the documents resting in the glove compartment. I stayed where I was, waiting for her to come back to me.

Moments later, she returned, walking straight toward me as everything else around us slowed, time melting into a precipice unlike itself. I was transfixed by her long blonde hair, which happened to stop right above where her sprightly breasts existed in perfect form. Trying not to ogle at her femininity, I quickly looked away from her chest as her face landed in the space directly before mine, a foot away. People always commented on what a tall guy I was, so it was a new experience to almost see eye to eye with a woman of such stature. Somehow, I had gotten into a car accident with a runway model.

She reached out to hand me the papers, and as I took them, I was unable to filter my thoughts, speaking the words that had formed in my mind. “You’re gorgeous.”

She immediately blushed, the color of her high cheekbones evolving into a light shade of pink. Her gaze diverted away as she bit her lower lip, trying to suppress a smile. This action only made my blood burn hotter, as I felt my yearning for this unknown woman engulf me.

“What do they call you?” I asked her, wondering if she was indeed someone I should have known.

“Why don’t you look at the papers in your hands?” She retorted, as I realized how eager I must have looked, requesting an answer I already had. I glanced down at the insurance forms and saw her name shine back up at me.

“Claire Dumfries,” I read, stating the moniker of this someone else, instead of she herself, the owner who was called by it.

She laughed, a rather high-pitched sweet inflection that gurgled up inside her delicate throat before reaching my ears. “You said it completely wrong.”

“I did?”

“It’s Claire Dumm-Freeze. Not Claire Dumb-Fries. Although I must admit, you’re not the first to pronounce it that way,” she continued, stifling the giggles wishing to endure.

“I’m sorry. I’ve never been very good at–”

“Reading?” She interjected, her body shifting closer to where I stood. She wiped her hand across her forehead, rubbing off the snowflakes that had melted there, the whiteness of our altitude thickening with each passing second.

“No. That’s not what I was going to say. I’ve never been very good at pronouncing things, not only names, but words I don’t know. It’s as if my mouth has to become accustomed to what it’s not used to for longer periods of time compared to most people.”

“Well, maybe it’s just a matter of accepting the unknown. After all, it’s not like you’ve ever heard my name before, how should you know how to say it?” She asked, her eyes diverting coyly from my face to where her papers were clenched in my hands. Was she flirting with me?

“I guess you make a good point,” I responded, not knowing what else to say as I stared at her.

“So, um…are you like going to write any of my information down? Or should we continue to just stand on the side of the interstate in the snow and wait for something better to happen?”

“Shit. My bad, I guess I just got distracted,” I admitted, embarrassed she had noticed how I’d been affected by her close proximity. I took a few steps back and went to my car, retrieving a pen and paper to write down all of her information, taking down not only her name, but her insurance details, and her telephone number as well. As I wrote down the digits of how to reconnect with this girl, I figured maybe after a few days I could give her a call, and ask her out on a proper date, but then the thought quickly faded, as Desiree pushed herself back into my head.

Once I had taken down the facts I needed, I handed her back the materials she had given me, as I speculated on what would happen next.

In reality, I should have known our interaction was coming to a close. It wasn’t like we were going to sit down on the side of the road and fill each other in on the life stories that had led us to this point of colliding together. She was just a girl, a woman who I would know simply in this collection of instances, the minutes coagulating into memories that would soon exist as fragments alone.

The papers now in her hands, I waited for her to guide us in the direction she wished to go. Although we were both drivers, she was in front of me, the leader of this slice of destiny.

“And what do they call you? I suppose I could always just refer to you as the tall muscular man with the most fantastic head of hair I’ve ever seen, or even just tall, dark, and handsome for short, but I think my parents would probably be upset with me if I just let you collect my insurance information and I didn’t take down any of yours,” she went on, the words again flowing out of her like triumphs instead of the tragedies that would come.

“Right, I guess that would only be fair.” I knew she was being playful on purpose, but I couldn’t accompany her in the charade, afraid of where it would lead us, as I fantasized about it somehow guiding the direction of our bodies out of the snow and into a common bed. I hadn’t forgotten about Desiree, my girlfriend of over three years, but my introduction to Claire Dumfries, rather, the impact that had brought upon the convening of our souls, meant more to me than what it probably should have.

I returned to my car and retrieved my papers, letting the documents go under her control as I watched her study them, trying to instill a sense of patience into the thrumming discord of my beating heart. She did not speak once the slivers of deceased faded trees rested in her hands, not trying to pronounce my simplified name, as I had hers. Instead, Claire only let the syllables of who I was become a sound she knew once she was done.

“And here you are Reed Smith,” she said, giving me the papers back. The snowflakes accumulated as we silently faced each other, questioning who we were and if we should mean anything to one another. She, breaking the hush eventually, spoke with the words she strung together. “I suppose we’re done here then. I apologize again for causing all of this. I’m sure this was the last thing you wanted to deal with today.”

“Accidents happen,” I admitted to her. “And besides, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I think we can both drive our cars still, right? Do you live far from here?”

“My apartment is only a few exits away. I think the damage hasn’t destroyed this little bitch entirely,” she said as she laughed, lightly smacking the back end of her station wagon.”

“Alright. I don’t have too far to go either. Be careful, okay?”

“I’ll be as careful as I can.”

I wanted to push myself toward her, to touch her in a way that would imprint her forever upon me, but I knew I couldn’t, knew I shouldn’t. She walked away from me, returning into the driver’s seat of her car, only to pull away, to evolve her spirit further, on to other days.

I watched her go.




Buenos Aires, Argentina

“I’m sure you’ve all heard quite a lot about what Bender is, and what it can do, but believe me, the actuality of it is more than anything you could ever fathom.” I read the lines imprinted upon my eyes while standing at the magnified podium, my fluorescent blue dress shimmering in the spotlight. “I’d like to welcome my colleague Dr. Artnes Hall to the levitron now, so he can further explain his revolutionizing invention that will change the way we understand humanity.”

As the seated audience began to applaud I moved backward away from the center of the floating stage, passing Dr. Hall as he came forth from the shadows. His face full of excitement, I winked at him as we traded places, quietly telling him “You’re going to do great.” Once I made it to the periphery of the levitron, and Dr. Hall had become enshrined in the magnitude of light being filtered upon him, I took a deep breath, relieved my part of the presentation was complete. Dr. Hall was an associate of mine, but his most recent project, the reason we were all at this conference in the first place, was more of a secret than what I had let on. He was the only one who really knew what Bender was. The technology he had devised in the AstroLab was said to be profound, but how much further could we really go before we lost all sense of ourselves?

“Thank you for coming today,” Dr. Hall started, his voice sounding calm and composed as he addressed the thousands spread out in the Suflon Dome before him. The levitating cameras whizzed to and fro, capturing the event live, broadcasting the footage across the world, onto the tablets, screens, and inner-eyes of anyone who cared to watch. To say today’s announcement had been tremendously hyped would be an understatement. “As Miss Riley Dawes mentioned, I know that you have heard many rumors about the new process I’ve invented, and I am here today to clarify fact from myth. First of all, I have to admit Bender is less of an invention, and more of a discovery.” Dr. Hall tapped the podium, bringing up a four-dimensional display screen behind him, where it was projected out to the audience so they could see, hear, and feel the images that began to be shown in rapid succession.

The faces of people of all different ethnicities, genders, ages, and cultures were pictured, blending into one another as if they were transforming and evolving into someone very much unlike themselves. I noticed many of the photographs were from different times, as the quality of some were clearly from centuries past. The word Bender was hovering in front of the faces, the identity of those shown, unknown. They appeared as a prelude to the idea we were about to be exposed to. The six letters of the word Bender changed colors as they grew in size, while the sounds paired with the images expanded in my eardrums. The whirring multiplied, my mind reaching outside of me, wondering if this would ever cease as I felt an overbearing power take hold of my soul.

“Stop!” Screamed a woman toward the front of the crowd, just as I too ran back toward the center of the stage, nearly tackling Dr. Hall as my vocal chords shouted the same request. The photographs stopped evolving, the word we all wished to have explained disappeared, and the sounds went extinct. The darkness behind the levitron returned, as I heard Dr. Hall silently chuckle in the space beside me. I looked out into the crowd, to better scrutinize the other woman who had also requested an end to this unexplainable madness, wanting to know her better. As I scanned the faces of those seated, I realized no one else looked the least bit distraught. The only other face that held any kind of anxiety, the same I had felt overtake me, was the blonde woman who was standing, the one who had called out.

“My, my, my,” Dr. Hall began. “I must admit I am somewhat taken aback you are a subject Miss Dawes. I knew the probability of affecting at least one person in attendance was very likely, but it appears we have two,” he said motioning out toward the woman in the crowd. “Riley, why don’t you ask her name?” A microphone flew over to the woman’s face, faster than it should have, bumping into her mouth so that she swore in agitation.

“What? Why?” I asked, utterly confused by what was transpiring.

“Please do as I request. Things will start to make sense, I promise,” he assured me.

I looked out to where the woman waited, her eyes staring straight into mine. I tried to activate my inner eye with her connection port, so I could scan her identity, but as I heard a low beep in my earphox, I knew her settings were classified. Whoever she was, she was someone important.

“Please state your full identity, nomenclature in both word and digital form.” I hated myself for sounding so robotic, as if a droid was implanted within my throat, but Dr. Hall was in charge of this presentation, and it was in my best interest to follow his orders, regardless of how bizarre they were.

“Catherine Wharton ST-69473.”

“Catherine, please come up to the stage,” Dr. Hall requested.

As if on cue, a piece of the levitron melted away from the main chassis, moving down to the lower altitude of where Catherine waited for it to summon her. She stepped upon the thin-circled disc willingly, even though I could tell from the look on her face that she felt uneasy.

“Now, as Catherine makes her way to join us, I’d like to explain why both she and Riley reacted in such a way to the videogram that just played. While to the majority of you, it was just a normal four dimensional experience, to these two ladies, it emitted a force that stirred up an old harmony, one that plays on quiet repeat within the most sacred chamber of their souls.” Dr. Hall paused dramatically as the disc Catherine was standing on rejoined the main body of the stage. He motioned for her to walk over to us. She did so, as I watched her approach, mesmerized, as if she was an arrow coming to claim every measure of me. Once at my side, our very womanhood facing the crowd below that stretched out across the world that was watching, she grasped my hand in hers, making the ends of herself a temporary part of who I was.

“Catherine and Riley have both lived previous lives,” Dr. Hall began, as some in the crowd gasped, realizing this was what Bender was all about. “The videogram was able to identity this information by connecting with a piece of them that is not physical, but mystical. Once the identifying niche of the contour was touched, the key word stop had no other choice but to burst from their mouths, thus allowing us all to become aware of their previous truths, so I could use them as real life examples to preface what I’ve learned.”

The words washed over me, and although I heard them, I did not believe them. All I knew was that Catherine’s hand was resting in mine, and that no matter what happened, this stranger and I were bonded together, in whatever capacity that would unfold next.

“Bender itself is not simply a videogram that plays. This technique has been used just for today to reveal the capabilities that are possible. You see, Bender is a machine that scrutinizes the fabric of who we are, going deeper than the reality of the body, delving into the spirit of the mind, transferring into the soul to find out where it has gone before. Many of us have lived other lives, yet the majority of us have not. I have performed trials on hundreds of subjects over the past year, and found individuals who have lived upward of seven lives, dating back to over 4,000 BC. There is a marker on the soul that Bender is able to identify, which informs us it has been present on Earth previously. I can explain it in layman’s terms by saying my machine can analyze this data and let us know if the soul being studied is a repeat. This aspect of our humanity, the one Bender connects with, is simplified into a pattern that reveals in order, the times, places, and even certain aspects of the identities the soul being scrutinized has formerly been a part of.

“I am not yet certain what causes some of us to live multiple lives, while most of us do not, but as my research continues, I hope to further uncover these mysteries. Bender has the capability of answering the kinds of questions we have wondered about since the beginning of our species. Who are we? Why are we here? What happens to us when we die? Where do we go next? Bender may not be the answer to all we seek to find, but believe me, this is a massive step forward in the hopes of achieving a better understanding of the fabric of our universe.

“The purpose of this presentation was to find a new subject or two whom the public could follow along in this journey. If Miss Dawes and Miss Wharton are willing, within the next few weeks we will be able to prepare them for Bender, have the technology study their beings, and reveal where their souls have journeyed before. Our hope is to have the process and the results be displayed live on screens across the globe, so the world’s twelve billion inhabitants can better understand what I have previewed here today. So what say you, Riley and Catherine, are you in?”

Immediately I felt as if I was paralyzed, unable to speak, incapable of moving a single muscle to respond to the preposterous question Dr. Hall had presented us. I had been bamboozled in a way that caused pinpricks of pain, as if what had transpired had burrowed itself under my skin. I didn’t want to agree to the process Dr. Hall had explained to us and everyone else who was watching. The very idea I had lived a previous life seemed absurd. All I knew was the present, the reality of the body I resided in, my dark complexion, my Spanish heritage, and the sound of my mother’s songs. I was no one else but who I was, or so I told myself. Therefore, the fact that my answer was the opposite of what I intended it to be was something I could not rightfully explain.

“I’ll do it,” I said, giving him those three words that would change the course of everything I thought I had come to know.

“I knew I could count on you Riley! How extraordinary that you will be one of my subjects. Science and technology applied to a scientist herself, I think this will work nicely for the audience, as they are sure to trust a woman whose own work in the field of botany has been so successful.”

“Whatever you say doctor.” I didn’t want to speak any further. He had my cooperation, and that was all he would get. I wanted nothing more than to run off the stage. I couldn’t move though, not when we were all still waiting so earnestly for Catherine’s answer, as I remembered her hand was still clenched in mine. I had been so caught up in my emotions that it was almost as if the delicacy of her flesh had become mine.

He waited for Catherine to speak, but she remained silent, staring out into the crowd as if she was searching for something.

Moments passed, and she offered no recourse, causing Dr. Hall to grow impatient, resulting in his address once more.

“Catherine? What do you say? I urge you to join in the project we are about to undertake. It will be so much more enlightening if you decide to do this together.”

“I can’t,” she answered, giving no reason.

“What do you mean?” He asked, seeming thoroughly surprised.

“No, I mean I literally can’t,” she went on, finally letting go of my hand, hastily severing the connection. “I’m an astronaut for SANASA. I’m leaving on a mission to the Andromeda Galaxy in a few weeks. I won’t be coming back.”

The admission came to me in droplets of severity, as I recognized the reason for Catherine’s inaccessible identity scanner. Government officials such as herself, a high-ranking astronaut about to embark on a vital exploration, were above the law of universal contact. Who she was and what she knew were details too important to be openly available.

The crowd was stunned into silence. The cameras flew around the open air slowly, zooming their lenses in to catch that crucial close up of Catherine’s face.

“Perhaps there is some way to get around it. I deem it highly important to have the both of you in on this. The chain of today’s events has brought us here. Who are we to abandon the higher calling Bender has delivered?” Dr. Hall asked, more to himself than to anyone else who was listening.

“I can’t be a part of this. And even if it weren’t for the mission, I wouldn’t want to share who I’ve been or what I’ve done in previous lives with the rest of the world. The reason I’m alive in this body is because I was born into it, and I don’t wish to reveal the details of what is already gone. There’s no point looking back,” Catherine stated steadfastly before reaching out and grabbing the camera that had flown up into her face. Grasping onto the sides of the hovering device she pulled it back with all her might, slamming it down onto the floor of the levitron so the echo of its intricate parts breaking ricocheted for all to hear. “I’m done here.”

She ran from the podium, away from Dr. Hall, leaving the unwanted notoriety that had been thrust upon her, creating a distance between herself and me. Taking a disc from the levitron, she floated down to the main level from which she had come, dodging the cameras that swarmed, as the audience aimed to engorge her. She moved quickly, the stamina of the ordeal powering her on, and out of my sight.

The attention shifted, Dr. Hall grabbed me by the wrist. “Find her.”

I knew I would follow his orders, not because he wanted her, but because I knew I couldn’t go on without understanding who she was, who she had been, and what, if anything, she had meant to me.