"Sea Change" by Corry Vrecken

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I was alright until I opened my eyes...

I was warm and so relaxed. I could feel my arms, my legs, even my head gently swaying in what had to be an ocean current.

That was it. I must be snorkeling. Maybe diving. There was a soft rubber mouth piece between my lips. But I didn't feel the drag of flippers or the tightness of a vest across my chest. And why was I sleeping on a dive?

I was alright until I opened my eyes...

The bacta hit my eyes with a rush, the thick slimy liquid pressing back on my corneas. That's what really scared me - the sluggish thick weight of it.

I jerked backwards, but only went a few inches before I hit a wall. It took me a minute to figure it out. I was floating in one of those narrow bacta tubes.

I admit I panicked. You would too if you suddenly woke up in a eight foot tall clear tube, completely immersed in colorless slime. Two quick kicks took me to the top of the tube, but a grey concave cap stopped my escape. I reached up to pound on the lid, but it opened immediately and I pushed out of the liquid, clinging to the edge of flat decking that circled the top of the tube. The breather skidding across the decking and fell to the floor of the med lab as I gasped for real air.

That's when the full effect of bacta hits you - when you breath real air again. That's when you start to choke on the horrible flat cloying sour smell that is almost a taste.

My hair was plastered across my face, but I didn't move it. I was too busy trying to clear that smell from my lungs.

Someone pushed my hair aside so that I could see again. What I saw was a well manicured hand. The hand went with a voice. "Colonel, you need to stay in the bacta for another 8 hours, at least." The voice went with Dr. Talgen's face.

"Absolutely not!" I'd gotten my lungs full of air now and my voice was working again. "Let me out of here!"

"You've been hurt and you need to heal." Talgen intoned in what was probably her best tank-side manner.

I've been told that I'm not a model patient. No time to change now. "I'll just heal the old fashioned way, thank you."

I put my hands on the edge of the deck and tried to push out of the liquid, but suddenly found myself dunked back in the smelly stuff. As I resurfaced, sputtering, I realized that I hadn't slipped, I just didn't seem to have any strength in my left arm.

When I looked down, the lights shining through the pinkish white liquid turned what was left of my left deltoid into a ugly raw red mass. I was shocked enough by the sight that I just stared at it.

Talgen's voice was quiet. "A plasma conduit blew out. Do you remember?"

"No." I couldn't stop staring at the horrible ruin of a muscle.

"Your back is in about the same shape. The good news is that you've healed quite a bit already. If you'll just let the bacta work, the muscles will regrow and you won't even have much scaring. But if you get out now or try to use the muscles again..."

The sight of my shoulder was quickly changing my mind about being a good patient. How long had I been in this tank?

Talgen asked, "Are you claustrophobic?"

I shook my head, causing clear opal drops to splash on the sluggish surface of the bacta. "Not usually, but..."

"It's alright." Talgen assured me. "The first time in the tank is normally the worst." A neurospray was in her hand. "Do you want to relax or go to sleep?"

"Uh, I don't..."

"Sleep it is." The spray hissed against my neck and the breather was back in my mouth.

As I sank down into the horrible liquid I thought I could hear her voice. "Just a little while longer, you'll see." I was asleep before they clamped the lid back on.

* * * * *

When I woke again, the room was dark. The only light came from the glowing elements inside the tube below me. They threw strange bluish white ripples of light and shadow against the walls of the lab. Some of the shadows scurried around, some drifted like seaweed. I felt very muzzy at first, imagining myself in a giant aquarium. My head bobbed down as I looked to see if my legs had fused into a mermaid's tail... strange stuff that neurospray.

When I caught sight of my shoulder the skin looked ice white and unreal, but the fact that I actually had skin helped to snap me out of some of the stupor.

I spent the next a few minutes peering out of the tube, looking for the wall chronometer. The concave transparisteel walls of the tube distorted the outer room, but I could tell the time - two in the morning. The display was also good enough to inform me of the time I had left in the tank - three hours.

I thought about the little miracle that was going on in my shoulder and back and I decided I'd continue to be a good patient. The best thing was to go back to sleep. Much better than being trapped in this thing for three hours with nothing to do but watch the shadows.

That's when I saw them.


The kind you usually see under a rock.

My head bobbed a bit as I jerked forward and my hair swirled like seaweed in the thick liquid. By the time I had a clear field of vision again the eyes were gone. There was nothing there. Only the flat walls with the strange lights and shadows.

Stupid neurospray. That stuff can't be good for you.

But now I was awake. It wasn't but a few minutes longer until I saw the eyes again.

A cat. It was a sleek black cat hanging on the side of a wall, the greenish lights sliding over its back, its cold green eyes watching me.

I blinked and the bacta swirled against my eyeballs. Now the cat had wings. Not feathered wings, but more like those of a manta ray. Another blink and the wings were gone. Squat, toad like legs clung to the wall. It scurried a bit now, back and forth, avoiding the brightest waves of light. But now it knew I was watching it, and it was watching me.

This little game of kaleidoscope went on for some time. The bacta would slide across my eyes and the shadow would take another form—some were grotesque, some strangely familiar. But the eyes never changed. They stayed exactly the same.

That's why I finally decided to act. The malevolence in those eyes got to me.

Looking up I noticed something I hadn't seen before—there was an internal release button on the lid of the bacta tube. Of course there would be. You didn't just lock a person in this stuff.

The release was nearly silent and I used my weight to keep the lid from opening too quickly. As I quietly broke the surface I took the breather in my right hand and used my newly healed left arm to slowly draw myself out of the liquid.

I put enough force behind the throw that the breather gave a meaty thunk as it hit the shadow. I was strangely satisfied by the high pitched squeal which accompanied the impact.

The lights suddenly came on the lab, white and glaring.

A two-one-bee medical droid quickly wheeled in. "Colonel, you still have two hours left. Please return to the tube. "

I peered out over the edge of the decking, but there was no black body on the floor below. I called to the droid. "I'll need a new breather."

The answer was a somewhat exasperated bleep, but a metal claw reached up to hand me a clean breather. Then the unit moved over to pick my old breather up from the floor.

"Did you cut yourself, Colonel?" The droid cocked its head toward me, trying to see if I'd been damaging myself. "There is blood on the breather."

I smiled knowingly. "No. I didn't cut myself."

On a better day I would have asked for a full workup on the blood. Later I would regret that I hadn't stopped the droid from cleaning and sterilizing the breather.

But I was suddenly worn out. I just wanted to return to the warm, noxious liquid. Before I went under for the third time I called to the droid, "Leave the lights on, will you?"

The medical unit nodded in an almost human way and left the room, and the lights continued to chase away the shadows.

It's hard to laugh in bacta. Don't try it yourself, the stuff tastes horrible.

But I laughed as I sank down into the vile, slimy stuff.

I didn't really need the lights to chase away shadows.