4k words. A young woman recovers from her flu to find herself in a very different world.
(Tags: Ascention, body modification, cloning)
Patience, derived from the Middle English term pacience, borrowed from Old French, who in turn derived it from the Latin term patientia, suffering. Suffering. The term feels fit to Patience’s feelings as she stumbles to her door for the first time in days. Days of choked coughs and cold sweats, days of fever dreams and headaches, days of watered-down stale ramen that had run her sense of taste ragged faster than the illness could. She thought sick days were supposed to be times of solid carefully constructed R&R, not abject misery. She could barely enjoy being off from work when just waking up in the morning felt like such an abject pain.
It wouldn’t have hurt so bad, Patience notes, if she had had something in the figure of good tv or internet or something. But no, her internet bill had to come due just the day after her sickness, and she could barely think straight enough to put together a sentence, never mind calling the company to try and pay it off. And then she went over on her phone bills, so that went out the window too. It was a small miracle her electricity and water bills were paid forward to the next month, or she would have been in some serious shit. Still, being totally cut off from the broader world hadn’t done her mental health many favors. She’d been meaning to try and start putting together a video to publish on her Youtube channel, just going over her thoughts and feelings since getting sick. That sort of lifestyle content wasn’t really her style, but with how she’d been for the past week it wasn’t like she was going to be pumping out any high effort film critiques anytime soon.
Still, she tries to focus on the bright side. She hadn’t vomited in 24 hours, her fever had finally broken, the antibiotics had finally started paying off. The doctor said she wouldn’t be cleared to return til she had at least a few more days without a fever, but that would give her at least some time to try and get her utilities up and running. And some more downtime couldn’t hurt. She takes her sweet time taking a shower, making breakfast, and getting her room tidied up for once. She dresses up in a nice spring blouse and some nice newish jeans, some running sneakers- she wasn’t quite “on aces” but compared to the rotation of pjs with gross grease-stained sweatshirts this was her Sunday best’s Sunday best.
Patience steps outside and things get weird. There’s no one in the street, there are no cars in any of the neighboring driveways, and also there’s a huge plastic bubble over her house. Her head cranes up to follow the covering, and… yeah this just about checks out all the way to the top. It’s something out of a sci-fi film, thick layered film held up by gigantic thin wiry poles that traps her lawn, driveway, and rather small house under its protective coverings. There’s really only one way in or out, a metal sliding doorway that is right now slammed shut. Or at least there ordinarily only be one, because right beside the doorway, right where her driveway would be, are several immense slashes made.
Patience hits a crossroads. She’s been living in her house for a week, never looked outside, never went outside, but also never heard anything close to the sort of construction that’d be needed for this to go up. Without a phone or internet, she doesn’t have any real way to get up to speed. She could call 911 but… she should call 911.
She calls 911. No answer.
Her stomach lurches. Nothing about this makes sense. She wants to feel scared but there’s something almost thrilling about the mystery. Her analytic mind races, crawling for answers. This is real, it feels realer than any dream in the past week. If she stays at home, she knows nothing will change. Any answers will only come on the road. She slides into her car. The radio’s static. Concerning. Unsurprising. She revs the engine and drives out.
The neighborhood’s as empty as the immediate surroundings. She finds more barriers, police barricades long since broken up. Shit went down while she was out. Patience’s thoughts drift in a few directions, but she reserves her judgement for now. Right now, she’s a detective, investigating the incident, gathering evidence to draw later conclusions. If nothing else it’ll make for a really good video essay on her channel, assuming there’s still a society left to maintain video hosting servers to upload it on.
The drive into town is short. She comes up on the outskirts first, lower income housing and poorly maintained roads. They’re predictably empty, but what strikes her is how relatively fine they seem. Nothing like what she’d expect in a zombie apocalypse with dilapidated bodies and torn down homes and boarded up shelters. None of that here, not enough to stand out. Patience’s sedan slows to a crawl as she takes her sweet time on the highway, making sure to take in as much as she can before moving on.
Nothing. Nothing nothing nothing comes up and it’s starting to drive Patience a little bit insane. That or the isolation. No signal, no wifi, no nothing. It’s like the world up and vanished. This might be the actual case, she notes. She discards the thought as quickly as it came. Simultaneous rapture didn’t explain the military bubble around her house and no one else’s. Was it a piecemeal rapture? It could definitely have been a piecemeal rapture.
Her car rolls to a stop in downtown. All around her, big empty giants of glass and metal shoot up into the sky, blocking out the day’s blinding light. It’s good shade, if nothing else. Patience takes her first step outside, into the unknown. She’s half expecting to disappear. She’s half disappointed when she doesn’t.
“Hello????” Patience shouts out.
She immediately regrets her words, because the second the last syllable leaves her lips she is keenly aware she is being watched. She doesn’t know where from, but she knows it. She can feels it, two eyes in the distance boring holes dead into her, unblinking. Breathing. Every step she takes echoes. There’s something else she realizes. The ocean must be less than a hundred meters away but… she can’t hear any seagulls. No birds at all, really. There’s the light sounds of waves crashing against the beach, a few gusts of wind picking up pieces of litter and bridging them about. Nothing else. Nothing alive.
The mystery’s charm dulls as the reality starts to sink. Patience’s composure starts to slip a little, just a little. She takes another step.
She spots the figure out of the corner of her eye. There’s a small park at one of the street corners, fenced in bushes, a few trees, a swingset. A sad little flair of civic pride. A good hiding spot. Patience isn’t sure she even wants to step in. Whatever did… all this, did it fast. One wrong slip could have her go the same way. But Patience is a curious woman, whatever thoughts of fear she has are soon blotted out by the burning painful desire to know, to understand, to learn. The words on her diploma might read “Bachelor of Arts in English”, but she’s a scientist at heart, god dammit. It’s the only thought that shines above the sea of overwhelming dread.
She doesn’t announce herself as she moves forward. Breath held, movements wide and planned, she would have stolen the squeak off her sneakers if she could. Someone’s still watching her, but Patience doesn’t think it’s the figure. The presence is different. She couldn’t say how it’s different, not even at gunpoint, but it simply is. She approaches slowly, calmly, and then-
“G-get away from me…” a voice mumbles out from the bush. A woman’s voice, a familiar one.
“It’s okay, I’m not here to hurt you,” Patience whispers. “I just want to talk.”
“Stay away,” the voice responds. Patience picks up on the hushed tones. “Don’t come any closer.”
“Please, I don’t know what’s going on, I just-“
“I said, stay aw-“ the voice starts, before stumbling out of the bush.
From behind the bench, Patience can just about make out the woman. Black like her, but shorter than she is with far messier hair. Her clothes are tight, two sizes too tight.
“Are you okay?” Patience whispers. “I can help you, my name is Patience, I’m a-“
“I know what you are, monster.” The woman responds.
The woman reaches for something in her back pocket as Patience’s eyes widen.
Patience’s voice jumps up in tone. “Wait wait wait! Hold on! We don’t, we don’t have to”
The stranger’s head shoots around. “Shit,” she mutters to herself.
“Wait wait wait- I can-“
The woman keeps a pistol trained on her, while getting back to her feet. She doesn’t seem fully trained on Patience though, keeping a wide berth as her head scans the surroundings. She’s clearly looking for something, but what?
“Who are you looking for?” Patience responds, dropping the whispers outright. “What the hell is going-“
Patience doesn’t hear it coming. A warm body pushes her aside, having snuck up on her with incredible dexterity. The woman lets out something between a curse, a battle cry, and a whimper as she fires at the body, not bothering to look as she turns to run. The body doesn’t respond, vaulting over the fence like a gymnast as it-
No. Patience refuses to sit by and let this happen. Whatever nightmare this is, it ends here. She pushes forward past her own fear just as the warm body jumps on top of the strange woman. Patience pulls herself over the fence as the woman breaks free for an instant. For a moment, Patience extends her hand out, and she sees the woman consider the option as she stares Patience in the eyes. And then Patience gets a good look at her face.
It looks just like her own.
The woman’s indecision costs her, as the warm body leaps back onto her. The woman screams out, in a voice not entirely dissimilar to Patience’s own. Patience runs up and, damming the consequences, shoves the warm body aside. She screams, some guttural noise from beyond herself that seems to shake off the body. It grows back and hobbles aside, leaving just Patience and the stranger.
Patience’s focus turns back to the woman wearing her face. She’s struggling, like there’s something horrible inside her chest that’s about to burst out at once.
“Are you- we need to get you to the hospital!”
“If there’s- if there’s still some of you left in there,” the woman begins, every syllable a painful burden. Her grip on her pistol loosens. “It’s just like in the movies, cock the top part back to reload. Just one right in me- I think the brain’s the last part to go so my head should still be pretty squishy, just right between the eyes, hell twice, thrice even if-“
There’s the sound of something bubbling, squelshing, schlorping just underneath the stranger’s skin.
“There’s no time, please!”
She forces the gun into Patience’s shaking hands.
“I- I can’t. I don’t- I”
She swings to tear the gun out. Her hand splatters into pink, vicious goop. A yogurt cream smelling like cotton candy and bubblegum that coats both woman in it. And then the stranger screams, a pained, tortured cry as her head rolls back. And then the scream, too, drowns, as her mouth fills with more goop, goop on goop that bubbles over her mouth and torso. Patience squirms back, trying to flick the goop off her to little avail as the stranger starts to shift, change. There’s no glowing light, no golden shift, only the slow horror as her body stretches and changes, goop coming in to fill space. Soon nothing of the stranger is left but a shapeshifting mass. And soon that mass, too, begins to change, shape, glorp and grorp with all sorts of disgusting squelshing noises as pieces begin to form into view. New, longer legs. A fuller, bigger chest. Every part shaped like a sculptor shapes clay, every part covered in slime as the horrible process does its work. Patience wants to turn away, wants so desperately to look away from the sight but she can’t, won’t.
And then the scream. A horrible, inhuman noise that seems to tune slowly but surely into something warm, sensual, a scream of horror to a scream… very much unlike horror. Something full, something satisfied, something confident, the true elation of the soul and yet the thing that really scares Patience is how utterly identical the voice that comes out is to her own. And when it dies down Patience understands, well and truly understands. Because when she finally gets the courage to stand up, to gaze over the new warm body as it, too, stands up and begins to examine her own, only one thing is clear.
She’s looking at herself.
Exactly herself, one to one identical. Clothed, if you can call it that, in something resembling her usual outfits- this one like a mockery of her work clothes blouse pulled tight to accentuate horrifically exaggerated breasts. Well, not exactly herself. Every aspect is distorted to the perverse, the hips, wider, the skin, smoother, the face, a haunting ethereal beauty trapped behind features she had until this moment pegged as bland, unremarkable. The same flat nose, the same thick eyebrows. The same mascara, even, all tuned to a point where the dissonance between how they are and how they feel induces nausea.
And then her clone recognizes her.
“OH MY GOD!”
And then her clone screams. No, not screams, more, delivered a high pitch frequency only described as a scream. Patience hears the echo, and then hears the rumble. The sound of tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of footsteps descending upon her location. Patience realizes only now her misstep. She thought she couldn’t discern where the eyes on her had come from because they were so well hidden. No, she couldn’t pinpoint their location because they didn’t come from a location, they came from every location. And so they did. A flood, a literal actual flood of warm bodies came nearly sprinting in, hopping over abandoned cars like superhumans, crawling in from the sewers, one even drops down from the trees in the park, no doubt having been hunting the stranger like a wolf stalks its pray. No, like a cat plays with its food.
And then the voices start.
“ohmygodpatienceyou’resopretty!” “whatnoitsyourtheprettyonestupid” “hipatienceimpatience!” “heyhasanoyoneseenpatienceithinkshefellintowaterearlieri” “myfeethurtimbored” “ughwhyistherenogoodreceptioninthisstupidfreakingcityiseriouslydont” “whyarewehereagain” “iwannagobacktohangingoutwithpatience” “hipatiencemynamespatience” “whosepatience”
It’s a chorus, a shrill chorus of herself, repeated over and over again as far as her eyes can see, which isn’t far considering the fact that the crowd is at her exact same height if not taller with heels. She can’t see this far but some part of her knows if she could look into those buildings she’d see countless more Patience packed in tight, crawling over each other for just a glimpse of her. Patience. Slowly but surely though, the voices start to die off as someone starts to make their way through the crowd. Someone who is, unsurprisingly, also Patience. This one seems less stupid than the rest though, wizened almost. She has a softer smile, than the rest, she’s a bit shorter, too.
“Hi Patience! I mean, the original Patience.”
“HIIIIIIII PATIENCEEEEE” the ghostly chorus echoes.
“What are you?” Patience says. Her voice trembles as she speaks.
“Ugh, I’m you, dummy! We all are!”
The rest of them laugh. Patience clutches her ear from the sheer pain of it.
“I don’t understand. What’s happening? Where is everyone, I, I don’t,” Patience feels herself about to break into tears before the shorter Patience stops her.
“Don’t be like that, Patience,” the clone says, a smaller chorus supporting the phrase. “Don’t be sad, you’re among friends!”
“Please,” Patience repeats. “I just want to know. I just want to know.”
“Fiiiiiine, if you insist. I’m the first one, you know. Well, the second, after you.”
“The second what?”
“The second patience! The Patience One to your Patience Zero!”
The endless crowd chuckle while Patience feels some horrible gears snap into place all at once.
“Yeah! Turns out the doc’s decision to send you home waaaaasn’t great. I mean, sure it might have looked like the flu, but giving you some antibiotics and sending you home while the gang ran stuff through the lab? Not what I would have done, if I was him. Sometimes illnesses can have, let’s say secondary side effects.”
“You’re…. I… I did this.”
“I was, at least, I think I was, the guy who lived in the house on the right. At least I think it was the guy, maybe it was the wife? I don’t know I’m just, I told myself I’d remember when you got here and look at where we are now, right?”
“You- you were a person.”
“I’m a person now, but, whatever you’ll get used to it. Whoever I was, couple days into your flu they started feeling weird. Were they always this short? Were they always black? Didn’t they have a name? Little things at first, really, things you wouldn’t miss if you lost them one day and couldn’t remember ever having them. And then one day everything was different. One day their SO walks in and, well, they’re smart, they hightail it outta town, call the military call 911 call everything. They put a biiiiig bubble over your head. Course by that point it’s too late.”
Patience is despondent.
“Come on silly head, lighten up a little! Not like you can fix things, what happened, happened. Where’s the curious little scientist? You should see the essay channel some of the girls have been trying to set up, you’d looooove it.”
“Why was it too late.”
“Hm? Oh, right, the story. What, did you think your flu only turns people into you?”
A small Patience crawls out from the crowd. She has dog ears, a little tail that wags as she yips in a disturbingly human voice. Patience steps back, then hears her boot crush what she soon realizes is a very, very tiny Patience with antennae, barely taller than a bean. Her eyes widen.
“But the, the-“
“The trees, you. The grass, you. They don’t show it but boyyyy can they feel it. Hey, girls, how about a cotton candy blue, just for the hell of it?”
All the foliage in sight turns cotton candy blue as the other, stupider clones gape in awe and wonder.
“See? These forms are pretty temporary, they can shift them howeeeever they like. Course no one ever stops being you, why would we? Being Patience Gardener is the best thing a person can be!”
“And it doesn’t stop there! Turns out if you grab a microscope and go aaaaalllll the way down to the microscopic level, you can see tiny little Patience germs! They’re so cute, we really should show them sometime! Viruses so tiny and light they float on the air! Breathe ‘em in, sweetie.”
Patience’s breath stops short.
“It’s fine, they’ll be safe! Hardly little princesses. And besides, hon what are you gonna do? Not breathe air? We’re literally all around you! And, vice versa, you’re literally around us! By the time the big piggies came with their big trucks to make their big barriers what were they gonna do? Shoot the air? We’re stronger than that.”
Patience is at this point starting to realize many of the other Patiences in the crowd are naked. Most of them, actually, with the full count rising horrifically fast. So many seem to be giving into whatever moment the short Patience, the leader, seems to be incurring here.
“Haven’t you always wanted to be stronger? Faster? I mean of course you do, otherwise we wouldn’t be like this! So I guess that kinda makes you our mom too, but that’s a little too weird even for me, pal.”
Moans are erupting from the crowd. Some of the Patiences have begin making out, violent passionate embraces that seem to cause other neighboring Patiences to topple down and join the scene. Out of the corner of her eye she can see one Patience brushed up against another, both naked, the first’s fingers worming their way into the second.
“Honestly, as far as virus apocalypses go sweetie yours was pretty tight. We got Baltimore in a day, tops. DC? Three.”
“Wow girl you’re behind, were you living under a rock? Everything within 50 miles of ol’ Balti got written off, like, a whole day ago. I mean, pockets have already spread far, faaaaar further than that, but they don’t need to know that yet, do they?”
The clone steps forward. Patience doesn’t move.
“Am I? Aaaaam I?”
“Ugh, I knew you’d say something like that. We can be like that, you know. Stubborn about stuff we already know, saying we don’t want what we do want, saying we do want what we don’t want. Look, you hate other people, and you hate being alone. Two facts, full stop. Now there are no other people, and you’re never alone! Genius, right?”
She’s so close Patience could reach her hand out three inches and touch her.
“Don’t touch m-“
And then her clone touches Patience’s skin and her mind erupts. It’s a sudden blankness that would be unbearably painful if it weren’t so unbearably wonderful, like an endless fountain of strawberry milkshakes as her mind unravels into licorice strings. She can feel it, the little bit of contact as rich brown melts into wonderfully soft pinkness and worms its wat through her and inside of her.
“Say it, Patience. Say you don’t want this. Say you don’t want to feel like this forever, surrounded by people who love the things you do, who want the things you want.”
She imagines it, vividly. An army, spanning the horizon, of Patiences as they swarm the great cities of the world like a single wave, unbreaking, unending, every single person fleeing the scene being overtaken by the flood of her and brought into the intimacy. She imagines it just as tangibly as the finger slipping into her mouth that tastes so brilliantly of sweetness and love and wonder and creativity, just as tangibly as the finger slipping into her other lips and filling them, too, with the same sort of power.
“Say you don’t want every last human being hunted down and made into more of you, more of us. Say you don’t want to keep going, conquer global warming, conquer nature. Say you don’t want to build a ship to go into the stars so you can spread the peace on earth into heaven. Say you don’t want to feel this way forever and ever until every last light in the inky black has your face engraved into it.”
The crowd has turned to orgy, revealing the hundreds of thousands, millions even, packed into this one city, shoulder to shoulder kissing and hugging and talking and thinking and smiling and loving and fucking and fucking and fucking.
“Say you don’t and this can end right now, right here.”
“I love you.”
And she realizes in that moment she isn’t saying this through her own lips, so passionately engaged as they are right now against her pair’s. No, this is being said by everything else, the trees and the grass and the very particles of Patience in the air dangling so delicately yet warmly all responding with what voices they can generate so loudly it shakes into the air, past the plastic dome high, high over head as it, too, slowly tears and wears as a terrified Earth waits for an end so unstoppable it might as well be inevitable. And the heavens and the earth align and Patience sees through an unthinkable amount of eyes a world that could be so perfect.
Patience is a virtue, after all. The only virtue there ever was.