This is an excerpt from my science fiction short story collection, OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS. In this first story in the collection, a young volunteer for an assignment on another planet is hit by the reality of being out of contact with her social sharing platforms. All alone, with nobody but actual people to keep her company.
excerpt from “Solo For Multiple Instruments”
by Marian Allen
“Hey.” Toby Barnes, the Project Facilitator spoke aloud–well, he had to, didn’t he? With no social circuits to connect their minds, out loud was the only way to talk. He sat down next to her on the couch, his voice soft and husky, warm and calm. “Just starting to hit you?” He tapped his forehead.
Gale nodded. “It–” The syllable came out thick and rough. She cleared her throat and tried again. “It isn’t as if I didn’t know ahead of time. I knew. I was okay with it.”
“Seemed like a good idea, didn’t it, Sanderson?” Toby said. “Get some space for yourself.” Toby–he was Dr. Barnes, officially, but said he preferred Toby–greeted every new colonist personally and apparently kept up a protective observation for a while after arrival.
She nodded and dabbed at her nose with her paper tissue, which was now in shreds.
Barnes handed her a handkerchief. “Kind of like asking for a little elbow room and finding yourself alone in the haunted castle.”
She blew her nose and laughed uncertainly. “Hardly haunted.”
“My brain? Thanks, boss.”
“That’s how it hit me, anyway.” He leaned forward, forearms resting on his thighs, gaze flicking around the common area. “That’s how it still hits me. With the network, you’re never alone with your thoughts, unless you want to be. Without the network, it’s just you and memory and imagination. All these haunted castles, moving around each other, each one with one living resident looking out, trying to catch a glimpse of another living resident.”
If she had still been connected, Gale would have passed that on to her network. Now, nobody would hear it but the two of them. It seemed a shame. It seemed a waste.
“They told me it was because I’d be too far from my network to pick up transmissions. But it seems like they could connect us all in a new network–just us in the colony. It would cost something to reconfigure everybody’s software, but still….”
“False economy,” Toby said. “You’re right. Keeping us in a network would be cheaper than mental health counseling to keep us from going buggy.”
“Does the counseling help?”
The Facilitator looked at her over his shoulder and rolled his eyes around and around. “Why do you ask?”
She cackled. “Do it again,” she said, and tapped the center of her left palm three times with a fingernail.
Toby looked away, so he didn’t see her face when she remembered her video on signal wasn’t going to work.
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A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: Write about someone in an unfamiliar social situation.