Soul bait - scifi story

He lay motionless, sprawled on the bed, gazing at the hospital walls, tall and white, spotted with grey flower patterns, and the whitewashed ceiling above.

"I'd like to run up the wall," he thought, a thin man with brown eyes, now bloodshot and sunken. "Up, up! On all my six legs. And then across the ceiling..."

He pressed his palm against the wall. It felt cold and rough to the touch. He hit the wall with his foot. Cold, and rough and hard. No sticky contact. He wouldn't be able to run up the wall even if his life depended on it. Four limbs instead of six, and all are useless! A feeling of loss struck him suddenly. He wanted to weep but couldn't: it was too human for him yet.

Human. Soft, lithe body. No chitin plates. Wingless. Defenceless. Weak. And it lies on its back! He remembered too well what it used to mean in his past life. It used to mean that you were stuck with your wings glued to a sweet kissel, twitching your six legs helplessly in the air, and that you were going to die, slowly and miserably. There was no way out.

He shuddered at the thought and then did what he never knew was possible: he bent over and sat on the bed.

"Hey! Look who's up and smiling, guys!"

The man's fellow patients put away the greasy cards they were playing and turned toward him.
"He's awake, finally. Poor guy," said one of them.
"Hey, sonny, are you hungry?" said another and without waiting for the answer began rummaging in his bedside table. "The guys who brought you here left some kissel* for you. They told us to give it to you when it's gone sour."

Had handed the man a bowl full of kissel, sour-smelling and heavily fermented by the yeast that covered it.

"Listen, pal, don't eat this," said the other man. "I don't know what they were thinking trying to feed this garbage to you. Want a sandwich? I have one."

But once the smell of the fermented kissel reached the new patient's nostrils, his face suddenly brightened up. He grinned. He beamed. He made a strange sound. Then grabbed the bowl, held it against his face and stuck his nose into it.

The next moment he was grieving for a long and flexible proboscis he'd had in his past life while trying to reach the delicious yeast with his short human tongue.

He reached, finally, but only to recoil in disgust.

He felt sick right away; his stomach turned, he threw up. He wept, terrified of the salty moisture leaking from his eyes.

The feeling of loss was different this time. It was so painful, so deep, so alien! For a moment he gazed upon the food that had meant a world to him in his past life, then began sobbing inconsolably over it with pathetic, whimpering cries of a heartbroken human being.

"There, there, pal..." His fellow patient gently patted him on the back. "Eat a sandwich, it will do for now. There's going to be a proper breakfast soon."

He learned to be human, and it came naturally to him, though he couldn't let go of the past life's memories yet. Sometimes he would catch little flies and try buzzing something to them while holding them carefully with his hands. Because of this, his fellow patients called him Fly. They couldn’t get his real name out of him anyway.

As time passed, Fly learned to measure it in a human way: with days and nights, hours and minutes. It seemed familiar somehow but long forgotten along with many other things.

Recovery of the old, alien memories was a hard and slow process, but it was much easier than learning from scratch. Each new day made Fly more and more human. Soon, the glimpses of his past life came to reveal themselves only in dreams. And then even the dreams of Fly's lost world became rare. He began dreaming of times that seemed ancient: of human childhood.

When the Visitor came to see Fly, he found him reading a newspaper. Fly lifted his eyes and saw a tall man in a dark suit who greeted him with a warm smile. The man was old but had aged well, his snow-white hair thick and shining, his blue eyes full of life.

"You've learned a lot here at the hospital," the Visitor nodded. "Do you even remember the days when you used to live in a vial of sweet kissel on my table? I doubt that." Saying no more, he took a little glass vial out of his pocket and showed it to Fly.

Fly grabbed the vial that very instant. He couldn't believe his own eyes. There, in his shaking hands, human hands, he held his homeworld which seemed so small now, barely recognizable, too. It looked like ages had passed there since Fly left it. The glass itself was dirty, stained with countless tiny footprints, plastered with empty cocoons, and almost all the kissel had been eaten. Of all the inhabitants of the world only a few flies were left, small and starving, and oblivious of their doom. They ran and flew to and fro, living and moving too fast for human eyes. Fly felt tears welling up in his eyes again.

"This hospital is just like the vial you came from," the old man said to the crying Fly. "You've grown out of it. Now it's time for you to enter a bigger world."

He took Fly by the hand like a child and led him to the exit. The promised world wasn't just big, it was huge beyond imagination. Fly fell to his knees, his head swimming, his heart pounding, and tried to buzz as if he still had had his wings.

"Get up, human," said the Visitor sternly. And Fly got up.


Fly was adapting to his new life fast and forgetting the past one even faster. He now had a human name - Ivan, - a passport, and an apartment to live in. A mere week after getting all these things he'd already been working as a cook in a local bakery making sweet cakes of dough, cream and chocolate.

The Visitor whose true name Ivan had never learned called on him often. He spoke little, smiled a lot, and always took a note that everything was going fine and according to the plan. His visits were all alike, brief and uneventful, all but the last one when he left Ivan a gift.

It was a little glass vial half-filled with sweet kissel, seeded with living yeast, and populated with several young Drosophila flies. Attached to the vial with a silk string, was a little Birthday card with a few words written on it: "Remember where you came from."

He did. And this memory filled his human existence with a depth he didn't know before.

Ivan's touching love for the little flies amused his human friends and had earned him a reputation of a funny geeky guy, but he didn't mind. The little glass vials stood in long rows on the top of his fridge, minuscule ages rising and fading away inside them.

He'd been a little fly once. Now he was their god. He washed and sterilized the dead worlds, filled them with kissel and yeast, and repopulated them again with a few chosen ones leaving the others to share the fate of their dying homeworlds. He couldn't save them all. There were too many.

When he fell in love, the feeling of loss echoed in his heart once more for Ivan had no wings to sing the love song. But then a new wave of memories rose risen in his mind, and instead of a song sung by the soft buzzing of the wings, he found words. And deeds…


In a narrow white hall, there was a long table with a row of chairs on each side. That day, every single chair was occupied. People like Visitor had gathered there, and the Visitor himself stood on the podium above them giving a speech about the scientific breakthrough his discovery would lead to. He spoke with great eloquence, but all the profound phrases and big words he was throwing around were no more than ripples across the ocean, vast, deep, and cold.

Gene therapy. Several genes taken from Drosophila melanogaster - a lab fly - and, with the help of a tamed virus, inserted into DNA of every cell of a human body. A subtle, harmless change with the most dramatic effects.

How do you change a hardened, cold-blooded criminal into a compassionate human being again without damaging their mind in the process? How do you leave their memories intact and remove the dangerous behaviour at the same time? That's how.

The suggested therapy blocks the very origin of violence in humans. It's simple, cheap and has no drawbacks. There's proof, see for yourselves.

One, two, three... ten... hundred of files Visitor puts on the long table, patiently, one by one. They are the dossiers of the cruelest criminals of Earth, and the thickest and the heaviest one is that of a man who is now known as Ivan.

People are shocked, they can not believe their eyes. But the proof is solid, the reputation of the scientist is perfect, and the results exceed all expectations.

By the end of the year, the new gene therapy will be approved for the worldwide implementation. There will be no more prisons. The world itself will change for the better. A miracle...

...A miracle. A true miracle, and there's no catch...

The blue-eyed old man smiled at that thought.

He is walking down the park lane paved with white stone and spotted with green patches of grass. Under his arm, he's holding a case full of criminal dossiers, heavy with other people's recorded sins. He knows the debates about his method will cease soon. He has nothing to worry about anymore. Not even about whether he did the right thing.

...There is no catch...

The blue-eyed old man stands on the shore and looks away; past the noisy children playing in the waves, past the horizon where the sea meets the sky, past the mortal world and into the depth of the afterlife where unbound souls soar in the infinite space.

Every living being on Earth has this little gene sequence - the "soul bait" he called it. It is simple and short, just a "code phrase" to lure a certain type of soul into a certain type of body. That's how a fox gets a soul of a fox, and a cat gets a soul of a cat, and a human being gets a human soul...

That's how it used to be, but from now on everything will change.

(May, 2005)

*Kissel - juice or milk thickened with starch. It can be either a drink or a jelly depending on how much starch you put into it.

As students, we used kissel to grow drosophila flies at home for our own experiments; in the lab, we used agar-based feeding substance instead.

Also, kissel is a tasty dish that does wonders to a sore throat when sweetened with honey instead of sugar and drunk/eaten hot.

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.