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This Is Matis

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The lounge was full to capacity. Stefanie could drink the quiet energy in the room.

At every table, men and women in pressed suits and dazzling gowns sat, whispered, flirted, laughed. Couples on dates, businessmen making their impressions on clients. Tourists, pleasure-seekers. Everyone was here for their own little reason, but to Stefanie, those didn't matter. Right now, their eyes were on the stage.

Right now, their attention was on her.

A smile crossed her stained lips. Her heels clicked with the sway of her hips, as she sauntered across the dark stage floor to the microphone stand. Delicately, she freed the device from its clasp. It was wired, in the style of old Sol performance houses. Inefficient, quaint, romantic. She looped the wire around her finger, eyes searching the nameless people below as the musicians struck up a slow rhythm.

These people belonged to her, for the next few moments. The conversation at the tables guttered, and died. When she opened her mouth, the lyrics came by themselves.

"You moved like honey, in my dream last night.

Yeah, some old fires were burning...

You came near to me, and you endeared to me...

But, you couldn't...quite discern me."

Stefanie crossed the stage slowly, letting the red satin of her cocktail dress cling to her in all the right ways. She found the eyes of every man and woman who tried to seek hers, and gazed right through them. A wordless understanding, between the singer and her captivated audience.

"Does that scare you? I'll let you run away.

But your heart will not oblige you.

You'll remember me - like a melody...

Yeah, I'll haunt the world inside you."

"And my big secret - gonna win you over...

Slow like honey, heavy with mood."

The musicians played to her voice, everything perfectly controlled. Stefanie's eyes drifted to the back of the room, drawn by something imperceptible. She sung to the shadows there, hoping to reach someone she somehow knew was present.

"I'll let you see me, I'll covet your regard.

I'll invade your demeanor...

And you'll yield to me - like a scent in the breeze,

And you'll wonder what it is, about me..."

"It's my big secret - keeping you coming...

Slow like honey, heavy with mood."

All sound in the room had died away, save for the instruments, and her lonely voice. She shut her eyes, not needing them to see the audience.

"Though dreams can be deceiving,

Like faces are to hearts,

They serve for sweet relieving,

When fantasy and reality


Too far...


In the moment, she knew it was Jacob, in the corner. Her eyes fluttered open to find his, and the song seemed to lapse. Her ears rung with the noise of the silence, and then with...something else.



Stefanie woke with a grimace, not quite able to see the bedroom ceiling in the dark of an early Biesel morning. Across the room, her 0330 alarm was buzzing angrily at her. Above it, the message console was alive with pending notifications. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying for one long moment to return to unconsciousness. It never worked.

She pulled herself upright, nude and alone on the king-size bed, and slowly roused herself to awareness. Her head ached, like it always did after this particular dream. She dragged herself to her feet, pressed her hand hard into the alarm mute, and fumbled her way into her dark bathroom. Lights, on. Shower, on.

As she let the cold water wash over her face, she reminded herself that she'd never owned anything in red.

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Doctor Neumann was a company doctor, and as such his office was a stark, standard-issue affair, designed to be inoffensive to the sensibilities of NanoTrasen executives. Black, plush seats, a clean glass table, a desk with too many curves and not nearly enough edges. Vistas of the eastern Eosean coast faded in and out in digital picture frames. They were pictures trying to impress the open sea and sky upon their viewers, but they just made Stefanie wonder when it was she had last worn a swimsuit.

She lied still on the therapist's couch, shoes and suit jacket on, hands clasped neatly over her belly, focusing on a particular discoloration on the doctor's ceiling. Maybe it was mold? A touch of something unclean in this sterile place was at once maddening, and a strange relief. The wonder was chased from her head as Neumann spoke.

"And does that make the third time this month?" The bald man peered at his notes and not at her, a habit they'd established after their first session had led to a bout of uncomfortable staring.

"It does. They're getting more frequent."

"Always accompanied by the pain?"

"Indeed, doctor. I'm beginning to think that the implant may be somehow defective." She brushed fingers into her hair, rubbing the tiny, smooth spot on her scalp that served as the evidence of her procedure. "It isn't as though I can control what I dream, and I'm not taking any actions to trigger the response."

"The study of how the device affects the mind at sleep is ongoing. There are the obvious stressors of work in space to consider as well."

"I've been out there for half a decade, doctor, I hardly think now is the time my body would decide to start having fits."

"And by the look of your records you've adapted quite well - still, it doesn't mean that your body or your brain were meant to exist in the conditions such as those found on board the Redemption. Not for such significant periods of time."

"You're aware that I can't really choose to reassign myself."

"Of course, of course, I just...when was it, the last time you used any of your time benefits?"

"God." Stefanie shut her eyes, forced to think about that for more than a moment. "...August, 2454. Jacob and I spent the month on holiday in Nilis."

"Perhaps it's about time you considered a vacation? You've got to be coming up on your sabbatical." He peered down at her for a moment, as if just now seeing some measure of stress in the woman. "It's my opinion that you need to give yourself the time and the freedom to sort out how you feel about him."

"I didn't have the restraining order filed because I wanted to think about him, doctor."

"You didn't used to have recurring dreams, either. They present patterns that you need to pay attention to, Stefanie. Suppose that your device isn't defective, but you're subconsciously interpreting your ex-husband as...some sort of subversive element?"

"In my sleep." She couldn't keep the derision out of her voice.

"Why not? He's caused you considerable strife, a long divorce, the ah...incidents we've previously discussed, as well. You've impacted each other's ability to do your work. It could, in some way, be affecting the efficiency of your departments. Do you believe that no part of you is capable of thinking like that?"

She paused, and groaned. The headache she had now was most definitely just the doctor's fault, and yet she couldn't deny that he might have a point. The despair of an auditor who married an auditor.

"They hardly tell you these things when you sign the form." She muttered it to the mold spot on the ceiling, a joke with no energy.

"Alas, no. But put in for that time, I say. The sooner you redefine your relationship with the man, the sooner you can explore a headspace that might be healthier for you. And I...believe we're coming up on the hour. Is there anything else you'd like to bring up with me today?"

"You're going to suggest Hydralazine again." This was always the part where he tried.

"Well I--"

"I don't want it."

"It's been proven quite effective in cases similar to yours. It might even relieve a little of the pain." He motioned to her head with a shaky hand.

"I don't want another chemical in me trying to tell me how to feel, doctor. You can prepare the paperwork if you like, I won't be getting a prescription filled."

"It is, ultimately, your choice to help yourself, Stefanie."

"Indeed, doctor." She sat up on the couch and soothed out her suit. "I know."

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