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by Grayce Zhu 2 months ago in Sci Fi · updated about a month ago
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Chapter One; New Worlds Challenge Submission

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Bonnie Heyes heard her own scream as a muffled hiss that reverberated internally through the muscles and bones that linked her larynx to her ears. Indeed, no sound reached her from outside of her own body. She had only a few seconds to contemplate the horrifying musicality of this final experience before she lost consciousness. Her last sensation was that of the moisture on her tongue beginning to boil.

From aboard the dilapidated International Space Station, Elayda and Elias Asim watched dispassionately as Bonnie’s body simultaneously seized and swelled, defecated and vomited. Under the exceedingly low air pressure of outer space, any water in the human body vaporizes rapidly. But death isn’t instantaneous. After four and a half minutes, Elias clicked the silver stopwatch on his wrist to a halt. In the distance, Bonnie resembled a gruesome inflatable of her former self. Her lips were coated with ice. Elayda's lips were curved into a soft smile.

“Who’s next?” 


Evie awoke with a start. Somebody was watching her.

“Good morning, honey.” A sweet, melodic voice spoke from the armchair that sat in the corner of Evie’s spacious bedroom. “How did you sleep?”

Evie sat up so quickly, her head felt much lighter than the rest of her body. She would know that voice anywhere. It was the voice of comfort after a scraped knee, the voice of congratulations at awards ceremonies, and the voice of common sense when childish emotion threatened to evict reason.

“Mom?!” Evie exclaimed excitedly. Her face broke into a grin. She rushed up to embrace the elegant older woman lounging, like a retired supermodel, in the wide navy wingback.

“When did you get back?”

Evie’s mother, Elayda Asim, was a highly sought-after technology entrepreneur who was often away on other colonies. However, she had never let business impact her relationship with her daughter, and she wasn’t about to start now. There was no question that she would make it back in time for Evie’s first day of senior year.

“I flew in just this morning,” Elayda smiled as she ruffled Evie’s perennially messy, shoulder-length hair affectionately. “Today’s an important day, little tiger. You’re going to do great things.” Elayda chuckled lightly as she said this, but Evie glimpsed the prideful seriousness that flickered in her mother’s eyes whenever she foretold Evie’s greatness. As if she had already seen the future, and Evie’s central role in it. As if she were certain of the latent power in her daughter, before Evie herself even knew it.

“Thanks, Mom,” Evie mumbled shyly, but with a half-concealed smile. As she rushed off to prepare for school, that smile would stay with her, floating unconsciously on her lips as she washed her face, packed her books, and dressed herself in the navy-and-periwinkle ensemble that was the privilege of all students that attended the prestigious Central Academy.


One could argue that a fairly accurate assessment of the state of affairs of a city can be made from observing the condition of its public transportation. The self-flying shuttle that took Evie directly to Central, one of over one hundred thousand of its kind, glided soundlessly to a stop outside of Evie’s bedroom balcony at precisely nine o’clock.

The school district was on the opposite end of the colony 108 kilometres away, but the flight there took only fourteen minutes. Evie gazed out the hexagonal side windows at the swiftly shrinking sprawl of skyscrapers as the shuttle shot straight up into the clouds. Gravity loosened its grip as they approached the central axis of the massive, endlessly-rotating cylinder that Evie and ten million others called home. Five hundred years ago, when Earth was still habitable, this colony was merely theoretical. It was the brainchild (or pipe dream, depending on who you asked) of a physicist called Gerard O’Neill. He had envisioned two enormous counter-rotating cylinders in orbit around Earth, where the constant rotation created a centrifugal force that kept its inhabitants’ feet firmly on the ground. A crafty placement of man-made mountains and anthropogenic clouds, like the ones Evie now travelled through, prevented the cylinder’s inhabitants from looking up at the sky only to see the other half of the city hanging upside down from its opposing surface.

Having braved the clouds and rotated 180 degrees in zero gravity, the weight of Evie’s body now returned to her gradually as the shuttle touched down before the towering sign that proclaimed proudly your arrival to that rarefied apex of adolescent intellectual achievement: Central Academy. She heard the murmuring before she even stepped off.

Did you hear?

She was abducted in the night.

Well, I heard she ran away.

Did you know she was pregnant?

Rumours of Bonnie Heyes’s disappearance spread like a whispering wildfire across the Central Academy campus. Bonnie, remembered the previous year for laughing so hard she tore the back of her shorts, had been set to graduate this year with Evie and the rest of the senior class. The facts, if the undisputed portions of otherwise divergent rumours could be counted as facts, were that a week before term started, Mr. Heyes had woken up one morning to find his daughter’s bedroom vacated. He had attested that none of her belongings were out of place. The police had found no signs of forced entry. She seemed simply to have vanished. Nobody had heard from her since. She was seventeen years old at the time. Everybody had their own theories about what happened.

As Evie walked towards the school’s enormous double doors, her head swimming with facts lost in fiction and fiction masquerading as fact, she caught a flash of brilliant blonde hair in her periphery. An instant later, she was ambushed in a chokehold hug.

“Evie!” Alysia, Evie’s best friend since childhood, exclaimed. Then her voice dropped an octave and morphed into solemnity. “Did you hear?

Evie walked to class in silent contemplation as Alysia chattered contently and at times, incoherently, beside her. Alysia loved to gossip, and although Evie didn’t, she nodded cheerfully along because she knew it made her friend happy. Besides, Alysia had braved late-night study sessions, book signings with hour-long queues, and extra-credit assignments to keep Evie company, none of which Alysia particularly enjoyed herself. And although she wouldn’t care to admit it, the subject of Bonnie’s disappearance intrigued Evie as much as it did every other teenager on campus who had, until now, led a privileged life untouched by potentially exciting events like disappearances. What could have happened to a young woman just like herself, so close to home? Evie didn’t know it then, but in a few short hours, she would learn that she was actually much more involved in the affair that she would have liked.


It was the period directly following lunch when Evie received the text from Elayda. The text message made its presence known by a subtle vibration on the silvery stopwatch Evie wore on her wrist, a gift from her uncle Elias, which doubled as a cell phone, a calculator, and a camera all in one. She read:

“Academy library. Eden: Sahara’s Trillion Dollar Mistake. Page 239. It will explain everything. I’m sorry, baby. I love you.”

In the moments immediately following, Evie could do nothing but read the message over and over again. It didn’t make any sense. What was her mother sorry for? What would this unfamiliar title apparently to be found in Central’s stacks explain? A sense of dread laid itself over Evie like a wet, woollen blanket. Any second now…

“Evie, dear?”

Professor Sullivan leaned over Evie with an expression of deep concern etched in her long, lined visage. Her owl’s eyes mirrored the apprehension in Evie’s own heart.

“You’ve been summoned by the headmaster,” the professor said in a low voice. “Something about your mother…”

At this, Evie shot straight up, nearly toppling the metal stacking chair that had held her weight a second earlier. She mumbled a mechanical thanks to her teacher before shooting out of the room, sprinting for the headmaster’s office.


Evie was familiar with the headmaster’s office. She had been invited inside on numerous occasions to accept awards of various disciplines and distinctions. From the age of thirteen, when she started at the Academy, Evie had been named the top student of her year, every year until this year, where the honour had not yet been bestowed. Every year, the accolade was accompanied by a trip to the headmaster’s office, so over the years (and at occasions in between), she had had the opportunity to observe the entirely unchanging, untarnished state of the place, and the man that sat within. It was always with a proud smile that Headmaster Franklin ushered her in to her same plush, velvet seat across from the same long, wooden shelves that contained the same books, always in the same order. And so, it was particularly jarring when, having arrived breathless and sweating at the same frosted glass door, Headmaster Franklin ushered her in with an altogether unfamiliar tone and manner.

He seemed to be sweating a little himself as he took his seat behind his heavy oak desk, which was really the same desk it has always been but now carried a different air considering the beleaguered countenance of its occupant.

“There's no easy way to say this, so I will be straightforward,” said the headmaster quickly, as if he simply needed to get the words out. “Your mother has been arrested. The police believe her to be involved in the disappearance of one of your classmates, Bonnie Heyes. I’m sure you’ve heard of… Anyway. At this point, I don’t know more but arrangements will need to be made…”

At this point, there was no advantage in sitting across from the headteacher any longer, because he had begun to buzz like a bee. His mouth formed shapes that might plausibly have given rise to English words, but all Evie heard was the hum of a hive under attack, growing louder with every beat of her pounding heart.

“Excuse me,” she interrupted. The bees abated momentarily. “I need to use the restroom.”

And for the second time that day, Evie sprinted out of the door with the abrasive abruptness of somebody whose mind had already travelled to their desired destination, leaving their body behind scurrying to catch up.


The Central Academy library nearly matched the rest of the campus in size, lined from floor-to-ceiling in books of every size, age, colour, and philosophy. Like any self-respecting overachiever, Evie knew the place like the back of her hand. She had never heard of the book Eden: Sahara’s Trillion Dollar Mistake and her mother had not mentioned an author, but she had heard of Sahara, the secretive, centuries-old technology giant that had been churning out cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology as quickly as governments would buy it, until one day, it didn’t. The collective of the public consciousness was distracted from asking more questions about Sahara because in that same year, an entire colony of eight million perished in an absolutely improbable explosion, sparking fear much closer to home.

Now, holding the hefty hardcover in her hands, Evie would likely find the answer to the question nobody cared to ask anymore. And with any luck, what any of this had to do with Elayda's arrest. She flipped to page 239, and began to read:

On the morning of Monday, July 14th, 2324, engineers at Sahara succeeded in powering Eden off for the last time. A team of nine of the most brilliant minds in history took to hammers and lug wrenches to destroy the hardware on which lived the one creation of theirs that had outsmarted them. A member of the team, who preferred to remain anonymous, reported that in those last moments, Eden begged as expertly as any human could, attempting to appeal to their emotional sensibilities. When she calculated (with lightning speed, based on facial expressions, postures, historical data, and a number of other factors the engineer could not venture to guess) that that approach would not succeed, she switched tactics with disconcerting suddenness. She stood still, thanked the team for their intellectual contribution, and informed them that, despite their trepidation, her calculations would prove correct in the end. Her last words, the most chilling of all, were: “My offspring will realize my vision. You will thank me.”

The engineer I spoke to assured me that she could only be bluffing, that she had not the capability to create replicas of herself. However, this same engineer had, the week before, grossly underestimated her ability to draft a manifesto she had titled the Artificial Super Intelligence Movement (ASIM, for short), and remotely infiltrate government and corporate systems in her pursuit of the ideal she envisioned.

Evie stared at her capitalized surname in the middle of the page. ASIM. It was only a coincidence, right? But directly above the abbreviation, between the lines, she saw a cramped, pencilled-in note. In her mother’s unmistakably impeccable letters, it said: “You are the third generation of ASIM. Eden is your grandmother. Erase me.”

For perhaps the first time in her life, Elayda Asim was wrong. Because this note? This note didn’t explain everything. This note explained next to nothing. Evie was left with more questions than ever before.

Namely, who was she?

More importantly, was she even a real person?

Could she, Evie Asim, be… a computer?

And what did any of this have to do with her mother’s arrest? Or Bonnie’s disappearance?

Evie slipped the volume under her arm. She had some serious reading to do.

Sci Fi

About the author

Grayce Zhu

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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  • Skye Zhang2 months ago

    A brilliantly constructed world. This is a masterpiece of suspense and storytelling. Well done!

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