Burn Out

So it’s been 10 months since I have written anything. My last piece of writing was my last assignment for my Creative Writing course at university and it has been a total of 19 months since I’ve uploaded to this blog, back in 2017. I only say this because over that time I had become increasingly despondent to the idea of being creative. I wish I could say it was because I was off doing crazy things that took me away from it. But in truth I can’t. I wasn’t having a adventure somewhere with no internet access (like that’s even a thing nowadays). No, I was sat in my bedroom for that entire length of time wasting away playing video games, baring some unique events like a friend’s wedding or birthday.

The idea of writing quite honestly sickened me. Spending time, maybe just a hour to two out of one of those days, to type down my thoughts, not even checking spelling or grammar, bored me. Spending four years of my life earning my 2:1 Creative Writing degree should have given me some sense of accomplishment, given me the energy and motivation to continue writing, but to be frank I was only left with overwhelming sense of apathy and anhedonia. Imagine that, four years of my life, thousands of pound in debt, only to feel a colossal “meh, whatever” at the end of it all. I had suffered burn out. The fact that couldn’t even bring myself to attend my graduation is further evidence of of my feelings at the time, despite any other bullshit reason I gave as an excuse. It felt like attending the ceremony would cement the decision taken all those years ago and I just couldn’t though with it.

And I’m not gonna lie, when I saw this memory pop on Facebook today I was partially filled with regret. A regret that has been increasingly persistent over the past couple of years. When I was first deciding what degree to take Drama popped into my head because I already had this burning desire to pursue a career in acting/comedy. But at the time my anxiety was overwhelming I thought I couldn’t do it. So I settled for the next best thing I could think of; Creative Writing. I still have the ambition to write but it’s not nearly as strong. So if I couldn’t perform then I could at least learn to write better and tell the kind of stories I wanted to.
Joining the Comedy Society at University gave me the opportunity to perform on stage and it was so addictive. It was so liberating being on stage because, in those brief moments, my anxiety/depression disappeared. However, over the past 9 months since graduation my depression worsened. I was self-destructing though self-harming and taking drugs. I have thankfully recently sought medical help and I am back on anti-depressants. Since then my desire to perform has returned and now at the end if the month I start a paid 10 week course in Swindon for improv/acting.
I guess the main reason I’m sharing this is because I’m so grateful to everyone I met over the past 5 years who gave me the confidence to be myself and learn to go for the things that I whole heartily believe will make me happy. I don’t know or even care how far I will go but this is something I have to do. My depression and anxiety have crippled me in the past, but I refuse to let them get the better of me any more. Now that I have this intensity within me, it feels like my nerves are on fire, and I’m not going to waste the rest of my life being afraid of taking risks.


An Aphantasiac Writer’s Dream Journal – 1

So through out most of my life I was blissfully unaware that people genuinely not only had dreams with images and colour but a conscious ability to imagine with images as well. I always struggled to understand how people can just imagine stuff so easily, like it was second nature to them, and was something that I always attempted to do but with no clear result. I was completely ignorant to the fact that this was even the norm. But when I was 29, I found an article online that describes this same exact phenomenon that I had; the complete lack of the ability to imagine with any visual imagery. After becoming obsessed over the past couple of years, trying to alter my situation, I have been attempting to ‘train’ my mind to finally see something in my dreams and for the first time, on the 30th of May 2017, I finally did. Now again, this morning, as of the 1st of August 2017, I had a second series of dreams more vivid than the previous installment but more varied. I’m going to keep this journal in the hope that it can help others one day understand what ‘Aphantasia’ is, or at least help myself focus on developing my dreams and imagination.

Just to clarify, I have never really considered this a hindrance before but as someone who loves writing fiction and sci-fi, I now feel somewhat at a disadvantage, and possibly the reason why I struggled with writing in the first place. In retrospect, the only form of imagination I have ever had consistent access to is a tactile one. I can imagine the feel of bristles on a brush, as if holding it in my hand; I can hold an imaginary ball of clay, or some other malleable substance, and style it into another object. I can’t see what it is inside my head but I know what it was and has become. I can feel myself around imaginary rooms, feel the furniture, what they are made of; all except for the visual shape, texture and colour. This is effectively how I have manage to write stories in the past, that and from the knowledge and memory of what real world objects look and feel like. Creating a story required mentally moulding everything from characters to settings, for each and every sentence at a time. The only thing I can liken this too is imagining how a blind person is capable of moving about their environment or knowing what they are holding. I also lack any audible imagination too, which exception to that inner voice—not the crazy kind mind you, the thinking to oneself kind (I at least hope they aren’t the same thing).

For the most part my dreams consist of nothing visually but black static but I have still have dreams nonetheless. I have had dreams about aliens, zombies, video games, sex and being in relationships, (all with the emotions that are generated with them) but mainly the majority of which are me as some form of super hero or, if I was upset or angry when going to bed, a villain wreaking havoc against those who wronged me. I can’t ‘see’ what’s going on but I still ‘know’ what’s happening. If there are any shapes or colours they are vague and blotchy at best, much like a fuzzy psychologist inkblot test but in inverted black and white. I have had vague images before, rarely, but these last less than a mere second, as if the act of me focusing or thinking on them causes them to dissipate. Saying this has become frustrating, certainly as a writer, is an understatement.

The first dream I had that was in vividly in colour was this year, May 30th 2017; so noticeable an occurrence this was that I remember the exact date. It started off with me on a beach, with the shoreline far, far out in the distance, and a setting sun. The sand was a beautiful rainbow of colours, that every grain of sand a different spec of the colour spectrum. Then I saw a large white wooden clad building on the beach, only to discover it was some huge shower room (which would make sense, as you’d probably want to shower and change after being on the beach) but what didn’t make sense was this huge art deco design of black vertical and horizontal lines on one of the walls, criss crossing each other, and the squares created in between were filled in with either blue or yellow. But this is where it turned weird. Leaving the building through a white wooden panel door (which wasn’t there in the first place as I entered), I continued through a series of similar doors, one after another, starting to panic because I couldn’t escape. Then I did but not back out onto the beach but into a bedroom. It consisted mainly of white decorations, toys, and white furniture; including a white vanity desk. And again, on the white bedsheet, the exact same pattern as before; black vertical and horizontal lines, with the squares in between blue or yellow. The next part consisted of me proceeding towards the window from which I could see out into a field of snow, surrounded by a white picket border fence, and in the distance dark grey mountains. Then, out in the distant field, a pure red light erupted from the ground and a golem of rock and lava climbed out of rubble and proceeded towards me and the room I was in. When it finally reached me outside the window the dream ended.

The second series of rapidly changing dreams, today as of 1st August 2017, were hard to make out but mainly consisted of varying landscapes, one even in the style of Minecraft blocks. Another where I was being instructed by someone to perform ballet or a dance move, but couldn’t due to my physique, and next to me lying in my bed. At this point I was fully aware that I was in this twilight of being awake and dreaming at the same time. Wanting to awaken myself and move but couldn’t, and reached out calling for help in a weak voice, and panicking. I only awoke properly due to my alarm going off and the minor pump of adrenaline giving me that nudge.

After all these years of never having dreams to having a few in such a short time span has been a weird but thrilling experience. These couple of times I have had dreams with vivid imagery, I can consciously feel myself mentally being pulled into one and they have only ever occurred when I have slept for some hours, awoken to use the bathroom and since gone back to sleep. As if my dreams only arrive in reverse to my sleeping pattern. I truly hope they continue, as I keep focusing on having them and develop techniques for myself to do so. Only staring at the black static behind my eyelids before inevitably losing consciousness has always been so tediously dull and now having dreams has become addictive pursuit. I still can’t imagine shapes or colours while conscious yet, and I doubt I ever will. It hasn’t stopped me living my life so far. I hope now that striving for mental imagery isn’t going to become some kind of white whale in my life, at least with sleeping anyway.

Laura Steel © 2017

The Starblade – Chapter Two

The Starblade was finally out of danger, for the time being, and all hands where attempting to salvage as much of the ship as possible. I began work on fixing the jump-drive and programming the drones to repair the hull; as if I didn’t have enough to do working with this inefficient body. The ship was already in the process of manoeuvring next to the corvette that attacked us, matching the rotation and speed of the adrift aft section. In the airlock, Callista, Kehan and a few crew members were suiting up in E.V.A suits, equipping pulse rifles and preparing a remote data-jacker to download information from the corvettes datacores. After aligning, the docking bridge extends over and clamped down on the opposite ship’s docking port. I was able to keep myself apprised of their situation from my limited uplink to the ship’s sensors and through their suit’s on board head cameras.

The light above the airlock door turns green, then the door opens. The away-team slowly cross the bridge to infiltrate the enemy’s ship.

“Do you really think we’ll be able to find what you’re hoping we do?” Kehan asks.

“Like I said, only we were meant to be out here. The planet is uninhabited, so no standard traffic,” Callista replies. “These pricks know something. The dealer and one other were the only two who I was in contact with for this run. I wanna know who, before I go a put a pulse through their skull.”

“Your stubbornness is going to get me killed one of these days,” he responds, shaking his head.

They stand ready. The destroyed corvette’s airlock opens to almost darkness, with only their suit’s and rifle’s lights illuminate the way.
A stream of air blows past them to the unpressurised airlock, stalling them briefly, then they filter in. The atmosphere equalizes and they continue through the airlock and into the passageway beyond.

“Jax? If the corvette’s design is similar to ours, would their storage drives be located in the same place as ours?” Callista asks.

Jax responds through their suit’s comm unit: “More than likely, right behind the secondary power relays. That is just a hunch, however. Their ship’s configuration could be moderately different to ours. Considering they had a cloaking device, the layout could have—”

“Alright, alright, I get it,” snaps Callista, impatiently as always. “While we gain access to the bridge, we’ll have a team set up the remote jacker. So you can dig away at what you can.”

“I’ll be waiting. The ship’s power is still fluctuating, it’s hard to pin point what systems will still be operational. And there’s still nothing on scanner’s either.”

“Ok fine. You three,” Callista says, indicating to the crew members in front of her. “Head to their third deck. Locate the datacores and set up the jacker. Inform Jax once you’re there, she’ll assist you. Return to the ship once you’re done.” All three respond to her orders, “Aye Captain,” then depart down the passage opposite to Callista and Kehan.

“Kehan, and…what ever your name is, with me. I’ll take point,” she continues.

Callista often took point when not on the ship, as her reflexes were superior to anyone else’s. She never took the chance of finding herself caught off guard because of someone’s inability to anticipate what was coming. The crew member with them must have felt relieved. All three process towards the bridge, while taking the odd opportunity to scout rooms for any potential remaining crew.

“I don’t like this,” Kehan says. “If this ship was with a full compliment of crew, then why aren’t we seeing more dead schmucks littering the place. Cutting the ship in two was bound to have dealt casualties.”

“What’s the matter, Kehan, afraid we might run into a ghost or the bogeyman?” Callista quips, without averting her attention.

“Shove it,” he snaps. “I’ve seen far more shit than you care to realise. There is something off about this ship.”

“Aww, Kehan is afraid of the dark.”

Kehan remains silent and angrily points his rifle at the back of Callista’s head, tensing up his index finger.

“Either pull the trigger or continue watching my ass,” Callista says.
Kehan huffs inside his helmet, almost forgetting her sixth sense like spatial awareness, then lowers his gun, slowly.

“If I wanted you dead you would be already, super-human reflexes or not.” he says, looking at his right arm and clenches his fist tighter around the butt of his rifle.

Callista chuckles briefly. “You know, you’re almost cute when pissed off.”

Taking a cautionary approach, it took them ten minutes to reach the bridge. Unpowered doors requiring manual override was their main hurdle. I continue watching them in anticipation, in between fixing the jump-drive. I practically finish it to working order, just need to reconfigure the quantum-matrix. Meanwhile, the other team had managed to reach the backup drive at this time. They attempt to jerry-rig several battery packs to power the data-cores and hook up the remote jacker, as Jax gives them instructions over the comm.

Callista, Kehan eventually gain access the bridge, which is still running on minimum backup power. However, it is completely deserted.

“Empty? How odd. I assumed it would have at least had the captain’s charred corpse,” remarks Kehan.

“He probably bolted, once the ship was cut in two,” replies Callista.

“Dishonourable fuckwit,” Kehan quips. “But then you’d do no differently.”

“I don’t think you’re in a position to talk about dishonour, Kehan. Besides honour is for the weak. A ridiculous notion. I have the integrity to survive, no matter the cost.”

“You have a serious mental illness, more like,” he responds, as if factious.

I honestly don’t understand his reluctance to leave. Does he have something on the Captain? Or is it the other way around?

Both Callista and Kehan work the terminals, attempting to gather what information they could. Callista plugs into the captain’s chair console a data-spike, which allows for remote hacking of the bridge command system.

“Jax? Can you override the bridge commands?” she asks.

“One second, I’m still directing the second team with the jacker. And done. The spike’s given me override.”

A series of knocking sounds ring out from within the ship. The sensors I have access to reveal very little.

“What the hell was that?” says the crew member, with elevated anxiety. His suit’s bio-signs sky rocket, while there’s a minor fluctuation in Kehans and almost no reaction from Callista’s.

“I guess we’re not alone,” replies Kehan. “Seal and watch the door.”
The second team complete the setup of the remote jacker, when they too hear strange noises from their part of the ship. Becoming agitated and on edge.

“Captain!” Jax says over the comm. “Captain, there’s sporadic movement across the ship. There’s no life-signs, just energy signatures, similar to Bel’s and definite movement.”

“Oh fuckit. Not again,” Callista says, as she stares blankly at the ceiling bulkhead. “Absolutely fucking typical.”

“Happy now? We’ve awoken a hornet’s nest, and to top it off were trapped,” Kehan asks, facetiously. “This had better be fucking worth it.”

“Save it, Kehan. What U.E.D. ship runs with zeds? I mean really?” Callista replies.

“Clearly one that doesn’t like intruders snooping around for secrets,” responds Kehan. “That or they had stowaways, and we unleashed them.”

“Ah, what do you mean, zeds?” asks the unnamed, confused, crew member. The banging grew louder, this time from the bridge door, as what ever behind it boxes them in.

“I think you’re about to find out,” replies Kehan, uncharacteristically vague.

Callista taps into her suit comm: “Second team, get off the ship. Use an escape pod if you can. Double time! Jax did you mine the datacores?”

Kehan just shakes his head, then moves rapidly to square up behind the captains chair, as the banging becomes louder against it.

“Yes, Captain. The jacker is still working and I’m pulling hundreds of petabytes off—”

“Alright, save it. We’ll look into it later. But right now we have a problem. Release the docking clamp and back away. We don’t want anything coming across.”

“But, Captain, how will you get back?” Jax replies, confused.

“A leap of faith.”

The docking clamp begins retracting back to the Starblade. The banging grew louder.

“On the count of three I’m opening the door,” commands Callista.

“And let what ever the hell that is in here?” responds Kehan.

“We can’t wait for them to burst the door down. We need to exit. Fast.”

“Is, is there no other way out?” asks the nameless crew member.

“Not unless you have a auto-spanner for the vents behind that bulkhead on you, no,” replies Kehan.

“Are you boys done making ‘friends’?” asks Callista.

“Fine open it,” replies Kehan.

“Get ready.” All three ready themselves. “One…two…three!”

Callista opens the door and backs away from it and stands behind a nearby terminal. As soon as it opens a burst of creatures start scuffling onto the bridge.

Originally perplexed by Callista’s previously onomatology, “zeds”, I surmised that they were bio-engineered lifeforms. They resembled, rather distressingly, like myself, only deformed. There were dozens of them, twisted and vile, like they were left in water to bloat and decay. Devoid of conciousness but yet somehow directed. Indeed, they were on closer inspection, through stills from the away teams head-cams, a similar model of B.E.L unit to myself but vacant of any distinct individual face or integrated personality. Presumably corrupted, somehow. Their gaping mouths uttered grotesque gargles, as their outreached arms and cruel hands attempt to grasp Callista and her crew. Neither of whom hesitate in opening fire. Pulses of purple light streamed towards the creatures. Each one searing through the grey, veined flesh. Humans presumably referred to them as ‘zeds’ or zombies, due to common depiction of similar creatures in horror movies. But this was no movie, it was something far worse.

“Where the hell are they coming from, we scouted the ship?” Kehan asks, with intensity.

“I don’t fucking care, keep shooting!” Callista responds, vocalising her rage inside of her helmet.

Each one of the creatures took multiple shots to render them ‘dead’, what you could call dead at any rate. More just kept coming. The second team was heard over the open comm; gargles and pulse shots rang out, followed by screaming. Then finally silence.

“My rifle’s going to over heat,” sparks Kehan.

“Damnit, we need a way out,” cries Callista.

“And I guess our brilliant Captain has an idea?”

“I do, but you’re not gonna like it,” she replies. Between shots she taps into her comm again: “Jax, shoot at the bridge with an auto-cannon.”

“Oh ok, you are seriously fucking mental, woman,” responds Kehan.

Jax responds: “are you sure Captain?”

“Do it!” commands Callista. “Port side. Then move adjacent to the breach. Everyone hold on to something.”

“Firing, auto-cannon,” signifies Jax.

Within seconds the auto-cannon fired one shot into the port side of the bridge, causing a hull breach. The minimum atmospheric pressure causes an explosive wave of depression. The crew were briefly stunned but unhurt from the blast. They grab onto what ever they could to prevent them from being hurled out into space uncontrollably. The creatures in the immediate vicinity were sucked out together. As one flew past the unnamed crew member it grasps a firm hold of his arm, with such force that it snaps his humerus. Screaming with terror and pain he resists being pulled out with the rest with his only free arm.

“Hold on!” shouts Kehan.

Holstering his overheated rifle, Kehan pulls himself to the lone crew member using his shear strength to work his way around the railing in the mid section of the bridge. Callista was holding on to a near by terminal with her legs wrapped around it’s base, still firing at creatures as they relentlessly continuing appearing through the doorway and ignoring the forceful pull of decompression; intelligent enough as they were. Kehan reaches out his arm and within seconds a blade pierces through his clenched fist, in between his middle and ring finger, then he swipes down with some force, severing the arm of the creature still attached to the crew member. It too, with nothing to hold on to, was vented into the coldness of space. Kehan braces himself against the terminal to assist the lone crew mate from following after.

After a minute the decompression wave was over, the atmosphere dissipates completely. The crew we left in the vacuum inside the bridge and with no gravity they were left floating freely. Kehan retracts his arm-blade and pulls on the crew member towards the breach. They both pull on the frayed bulkhead’s edge and launch themselves out and into the vast emptiness, unguided.

“Callista!” Kehan calls out towards his Captain, who was still firing at creatures still pouring through the doorway.

Realising the situation through her rage, she repositioned herself, kicks away at the terminal and drifts towards the breach, with her back to it. The creatures were still in pursuit and were still smart enough to grasp onto anything to pull themselves towards the crew. Their maws still gaping and arms reach out. Realising she didn’t provide herself with as much velocity as the creatures behind her, Callista kept shooting towards the horde.

All three were floating aimlessly through the emptiness of space. Jax had, as instructed, manoeuvred the Starblade beyond the breach and was agile enough to align the ship’s airlock to match their direction.

“Jax, target the bridge. Stop them from reaching the Starblade,” commands Kehan, with the crew member still in tow.

The auto-cannons reacquire the bridge and begin shooting past the three of them, obliterating the bridge and most of the aft section piece by piece.
As they reached closer the airlock was wide open and Kehan and the nameless crew member drifts in and eventually collide on the furthest wall inside. Callista follows them and is still picking off a few of the creatures not caught in the auto-cannon’s line of fire. As soon as she is inside the Starblade, Kehan operates the airlock door to close.

“The Fuckup’s inside, Jax, move us out of range,” Kehan commands.

“Aye, sir.”

The Starblade’s manoeuvring thrusters ignite and the ship banks away from the destroyed corvette. Kehan re-establishes the gravity and pressure inside of the airlock quickly, while Callista was still mid air facing the ceiling. Kehan and the other crew member land on their feet, while Callista lands on her back, hard. A deliberate and tactical move, if I’m not mistaken. He strides up to her as she is recovering, waits until she is half way up, then, catching her off guard, punches her in the jaw knocking her back down.

“I don’t normally hit women, but with a cunt like you I’ll gladly make an exception.” he says, spitefully. Callista looks at him, turns her head and then spits out a mouthful of blood, only to grin slightly through her bloodied teeth.

“Been waiting a long time to do that haven’t you?”

“Since the moment I fucking met you.” Kehan replies.

Callista remains on the floor, momentarily, and just glares at her second in command, who storms away towards the only other remaining crew member from the away team.

“Guess today was your lucky day. What’s you name son?” he asks.

“Uh, Ayden. Sir,”

“Well Ayden, go see Doc and get that arm looked after, then rest up. And try to forget that shit storm you’ve just been through; what we all have been through,” Kehan says, as he pats the young man on the shoulder. Aware that he was still clearly shaken by the experience. He leaves the airlock looking back briefly at his Captain but says nothing.

Watching the entirety of what just happened unfold, I must admit this whole situation had me on edge. I know humans have always had the capacity of surviving insurmountable odds, even ones they put themselves through. But I underestimated what tenacity Callista, as well as Kehan, were capable of. Watching it directly through their head-cams was indeed terrifying. A reminder to never provoke them both, without some sort of leverage at least.

What has me more agitated was the fact that those creatures were to similar to myself for my own comfort. How did they get there? What was their purpose? Only after analysing the data pulled from the destroyed corvette could we, and more specifically I, get some answers. I’m becoming ever more intrigued by this whole affair.

Laura Steel © 2016

The Starblade – Chapter One

In the first one hundred years since the invention of hyperspace travel, humanity spread out far and wide across the cosmos. Overtime various factions arose and fell, like an intergalactic hydra. In an attempt to curb the rising division and conflict, the Alliance was formed, with the sole aim of collective mutual co-operation of those with similar interest among all the sentient hyperspace fairing species. This, however, wouldn’t stop millions seeking freedom or their own entrepreneurship, legal or otherwise.
   The Captain of the Starblade, Callista, was jerked awake and fell from her bed when an almighty rumble shock the ship violently. The ship was brought to alert, with sirens sounding off, throughout every passageway and section of the ship, muffling the panic and determination of the off-duty crew now scrambling to their stations. The room’s light was fluttering, with the glimmer of red emergency light as the only constant source. Picking herself up off the floor, Callista rushes to the comm unit on the wall using it to connect to the bridge.
   “Kehan? What the hell just happened to my ship?” she demands.
   Over the comm a tinny and sporadic voice responds back: “Well, we’re under attack, obviously—A ship jumped out of nowhere, in front of us, and didn’t hesitate in opening fire.”
   “For fuck sake Kehan—” Another series of hits interrupts Callista, throwing her off-balance. She regains her posture and reconnects to the bridge through the comm: “Who the hell is attacking us?”
   “Does it matter? I’m more concerned in not being obliterated, to ask them nicely what their names are,” Kehan replies, facetiously. “Any chance of our illustrious ‘Captain’ attempting to grace us with her presence or are you going to just sleep through it?” he continues, breaking off the conversation briefly to issue a command.
   “Screw you, Kehan,” Callista spurs. “Keep my ship in one piece before I get there—or so help me I’ll vent you.”
   “Best hurry then, or our ‘friends’ might beat you too it,” Kehan retorts, before being cut off finally.
   As the rogue Captain of the Starblade, Callista built up a reputation for being ruthless. A shoot first, no questions asked, woman. Someone who’s attitude often got her into more trouble than anticipated but always managing to pull through; very often with blood on her hands. Her tenacious ability to survive was due to her time in the U.D.E., before the Alliance. Including stand-offs with many other seedy associates in the past. As a genetically modified insurgent, she was tasked to go hostile planets and disrupt the geopolitical landscape, before a planet would be targeted by an invasive fleet. However, the experiment to genetically improve her physiology, such as quicker reflexes and intelligence, was a contributing factor to her rather short, almost psychopathic, temperament. Due to her unorthodox methods, she was disavowed and abandoned by the U.D.E. It was their betrayal and the necessity to survive, alienated away from everything she knew, that caused her to resort to piracy. Her hair was shoulder length, which she had herself genetically modified to grow purple. She was slim but well toned, with her body covered in an assortment of scars and tattoos, with one intrinsic asymmetrical design on the left side of her face.
   Callista readied herself, cursing multiple times as she was constantly hampered by the periodical distributions. I never knew humans could be that aggressively vocal.
   The ship kept taking multiple hits, while Callista kept running, down the passageway of the top deck, towards the bridge. A severe impact jolts the ship, enough to throw her violently against the bulkhead, along with some crew members running past her. Her left shoulder took most of the brunt force, causing it to dislocate. Clutching the pain with her free hand, the agony was vocal but she continued unabated, still determined to reach the bridge. Her progression was further impeded when the ship received what felt like a barrage. This time it was severe enough to throw her to the metal grated flooring. The disruption to the ship’s power was enough to cause feedback within the system and multiple panels blew away from the bulkheads in her section. Bundles of internal wiring and cables became exposed, with sparks flying out like shooting stars, from those that were now burned apart. Callista’s determination grew, as evidence of the threat they were all in become progressively more real. Callista couldn’t shake the feeling of her precious ship being slowly torn apart from the outside. Her vocalised thoughts turned to the cargo hold, which was provided further concern as to the safety of its contents. The look on her face, from the internal cameras, said it all. Indeed, I too was worried. Only both of us knew what it was. Kehan was kept out of the loop on this, probably because of how he would react. I could see almost everything that was happening from my cybernetic uplink being tied into the ship’s systems and sensors. Although, regrettably, this was not enough to anticipate the approaching attackers before hand. My full integration was never completed.
   Callista kept crawling, using her free arm from her prone position, across the metal grating, passing underneath the flailing wires in order to avoid electrocution. A further barrage hit the ship this time had causing the section’s lighting to cut out, plunging the passageway into darkness. More emergency lighting kicked in, which was only slightly dulling the sporadic flashing and hissing electrical outbursts. Now safely past the wires she was free to reach the bulkhead’s double door into the bridge.
   Damage to the ship had caused it’s most of the door’s power to fail and blocked the bridge off from the rest of the ship. Two crew members were already attempting to open it from Callista’s side. One had a makeshift crowbar and had slammed it into between the two and was pulling it towards him, stretching the doors open slightly. The other crew member took the risk of placing his hands in between and started pulling the closest door. Callista began assisting her two subordinate’s efforts, with her own free hand. The door’s hydraulics resisted but after throwing their full weight against both sides all three of them were strong enough to wedge it open enough for one person. Callista wedged herself in between each door, placing her back to one side and her foot against the other, stretching it out, forcing the gap wider. After their was sufficient space, the crew member took his makeshift crowbar and propped it between the doors, bracing them apart. Callista and the two crew mates shimmied their way through and onto the bridge.
   As she entered, she could barely see what was happening. The faint glow from terminals and emergency lights radiated enough to see half the bridge manned. One half of the bridge crew had been thrown back and knocked unconscious, while a few were dead from consoles, which had exploded in front of them, charring their faces to the bone or leaving the contents of their torso exposed. Sparks flew from several terminals that had exploded, causing intermittent light bursts and more of the bulkheads showed the stresses of damage.
   Kehan was sat in his command chair, directing the retaliation: “Take down their shields, and then target their weapons!”
   “Aye, sir,” replies the gunnery officer.
   “What’s the situation?” Callista inquires, resting briefly on a railing behind Kehan.
   “It’s about time you got here, what took you? Take the scenic route did we?” Kehan says, turning his head briefly to recognise his Captain’s presence.
   “Save it Kehan, I’m not in the mood,” Callista concedes, bitterly. “Is the cargo safe?”
   “I couldn’t give a fuck about the cargo. It’s nice to know what your priorities are.” Kehan replies, sternly.
   Kehan was a rather sarcastic individual, even when facing insurmountable odds. His greying hair was side-parted, with most of the right side of his head sporting a large burn scar, including a missing ear. His right eye, along with his right arm, had been replaced with cybernetics, which weren’t that obvious to those who were not aware of it. He never did explain how it happened. But Callista trusted and respected his expertise in command and was the reason why she kept him on board. His excessive sarcasm wound her up, however, to the extent she often remarked to him her regret in allowing him to remain; but never out of spite—usually. I never understood why he felt the need to provoke such a reaction from her, knowing how she is temperamental at the best of times.
   The ship continually rumbled from impact after impact causing more consoles to explode and terminal displays to flutter as the ship’s power waned. Callista then punches the metal railing in front of her, in anger.
   “Why are they not space dust yet?” she says, spitefully.
   “Well, our shield’s are out for a start; there are two hull breaches along the starboard; half the ship has lost power; there’s reports of casualties, and our main right thruster is blown,” replies Kehan.
   “This ship was built for combat, why is it taking this much damage?”
   “They dropped out of hyperspace cloaked and opened fire before we knew what was happening. Our shields were targeted first and our own weapons are barely effective against theirs,” Kehan replied. “And before you ask, they haven’t made any attempt at communication.”
   “Jax?” Callista says, looking with intense focus towards her.
   “They have no I.D. Scanners are showing it to be of similar design to an U.E.D. corvette,” confirms Jax. “But its not on our database.”
   “Fantastic, they sent a mere shadow to do their dirty work,” scoffs Callista.
   “Either way we’re barely holding it together. Their unduly prompt attack is probably because this ship was never meant to exist in the first place,” Kehan remarks, in his rather controlled demeanour. “The U.D.E. wouldn’t want a word of their secret toy getting out to the rest of the Alliance. Better to be rid of it, than to allowing its continued existence tarnish their reputation.”
   “My toy, Kehan,’ Callista asserts, haughtily, “It’s mine—”
   “Their firing another salvo!” interrupts the gunnery officer. As the enemy ship fires from it’s port broad side two dozen missiles directly towards the Starblade.
   “Evasive manoeuvres, and focus the auto turrets on them this time. We can’t keep taking hits like this!” Kehan commands.
   As the opponent ship fires from it’s port-side, the Starblade takes a hard bank right to avoid further damage to the breaches and evades half of the enemy salvo. The ship’s automated weapons, along its own port side, takes out the majority of those remaining. However, a few hit the outer hull causing yet another breach. A few crew members in that section are vented into space, left endlessly drifting. The ship banks round to the stern of their target but the damage causes it to roll sideways, as the stabilizing gyroscope starts to malfunction.
   “Stabilize the ship! Re-route auxiliary power to the port side,” Kehan barks, to the helmsman. After a minute they manage to rebalance the ship’s orientation. “Bring the ship about on their starboard. Keep on at them.”
   “Their shields are barely taking any damage, sir,” responds the gunnery officer.
   “Fire the ‘blade’ at them!” commands Callista.
   “You mad woman?” counters Kehan. “We don’t have the power for it.”
   “I don’t care. Cut the life-support to the non-essential desks if you have to.”
   “Killing half our crew, from oxygen deprivation and exposure, in the process?” Jax warns.
   “The entire crew will be dead, along with us, if we don’t,” explains Callista.
   “I can’t argue with that. Being dead is not an experience I want to go through twice.” Kehan remarks. “Charge the ‘blade’.”
   “But sir?” hesitatingly replies the gunnery officer.
   “Fuck, I’ll do it!” cracks Callista, as she marches over to the gunnery officer shoving him forcefully onto his backside. Using her only useful right hand, she input the command. The ship starts to gear up and hum.
   “Continue to evade, while the ‘blade’ charges. Stop firing the main cannons and put the energy into the thrusters,” Kehan once again commands to the pilots.
   “One minute, till it’s fully charged,” Callista informs.
   “This is gonna be a long minute,” observes Jax, anxiously.
   “No shit. Keep evading,” Kehan snaps to the helmsman.
   Over the course of the minute the ship continue to evade most of the salvos being fired by the enemy ship. A few missiles continually pass through the Starblade’s defences, shocking the ship violently, as each one hit, scaring further the already scorched hull.
   “It’s fully charged!” informs Callista.
   “Bring us about and align up our bow to their starboard!” Kehan commands.
   As the Starblade aligns to face the enemy ship head on, it starts to shift in shape. Its dagger like form starts dividing into that of a two-pronged fork. The divide exposes within the middle a huge cannon, which then starts to glow with energy, then spins faster and faster. After a few seconds, the glow radiates further and electrical discharges arc across the cannon’s surface. The enemy ship, in new recognition of the Starblade’s capacity, attempts to bank away but was too slow.
   “Firing!” Callista calls out.
   The cannon spews forth an energy beam, towards the target, which cuts straight through the enemy’s shielding and hull, directly through the middle of the ship. The enemy target’s weapons and missiles cease, as the entire ship is drawn in two. In a spectacular explosion both halves break away from each other, with debris and exposed crew drifting off and any signs of power starts dissipating from the ship, to a near complete blackout.
   “Direct hit,” Callista reports.
   “Fuck me, that was a close one!” exclaims Jax.
   “Jax, are there any other ships on the scanner?” Kehan asks, looking at Jax. “I don’t want any other surprises.”
   “Yes, sir. Nothing on immediate scan. Just us alone and a few sporadic live signs from the other ship. Some escape pods are ejecting.”
   Kehan turns his gaze forward: “Good, let them rot out there. Keep on the scanner, Jax, they may have sent a distress signal. Helm, what’s our jump-drive status?”
   “It’s down, sir,” reports the helmsman.
   “Typical,” Kehan replies. He uses the console on his arm rest to issue a ship-wide command to the crew: “Right everyone, were out of immediate danger. The enemy has been neutralised. Let’s get our ship back to working order. Engineering: Bel, come in Bel.”
   “Bel, responding. Are you humans done with keeping us alive?” I reply.
   “Save that monotonous drone, Bel. Focus repair on our jump-drive.”
   “It will take time to get the drive working again and the hull breaches will need to be fixed too,” I add.
   “Just get it done, use the remaining repair drones if you have too. We’re setting off for Outer Reach, asap.”
   “Not yet, we’re not,” barks Callista, as she heads towards the bridge exit. She uses a moment to slam her shoulder against the bulkhead, snapping it back into its socket.
   “I beg your pardon?” Kehan inquires, confusingly.
   “They came after us. And I want to know why and who sent them,” Callista replies, as she rotates her arm.
   “Are you serious, woman?” asks Kehan. “We’re almost wreckage and you want to go snooping, on a now junk heap, for clues.”
   “Like Bel said, we’re not going anywhere for the time being, until the jump-drive is fixed and the state the ship is in. If they know we’re out here then someone sold us out. This was to be a simple smuggling run and I’m not about to let that kind of information go to waste. Besides which, it’s my ship. We’re not going anywhere. That’s an order.”
   Kehan wore his usual reserved face, which was normally in reaction to Callista’s abnormal behaviour. But he couldn’t help but agree with her argument. It was true, no one in the U.E.D. should have known where we were, in this sector of space at least, without being informed. It was too much of a coincidence for them to find us here and now. His curiosity, along with mine, was shared with our Captain’s and he followed her lead, reluctant as always.
  “Fine,” Kehan concedes, “I’m coming with you. Helm, bring us about next to the ship’s aft section, near the closest airlock.”
  From conversations I have overheard, since knowing both Callista and Kehan, they had already spent six years commanding the Starblade, while evading it’s original owners; after they first commandeered it from a U.E.D. ship yard. The experimental corvette was still under construction, yet many key functions remained unattended. Both thought it was practical enough to commandeered, at any rate. Without the original plans, the Starblade’s crew attempted to patch what systems they could over the years since but the ship still remained incomplete.
  Speculation of the ship’s true intent arose due to the political inquiry of the U.E.D’s role, and it’s unknown purpose, that halted its final completion. During this phase, both Callista and Kehan, who both aware of the ship’s location, from an obscure affiliate of theirs, along with a compliment of other begrudged individuals, took the opportunity seized the ship from right under the United Earth Defence’s nose; much to the U.D.Es later embarrassment. After a subsequent raid, the pair took on Jax, a skilled hacker, as well as a handful of other individuals, a couple of years later. Myself, a biologically engineered life-form, called Bel by these humans, was already apart of the ship at the time. An autonomous unit designed to interact with the ship, in a way no human could. Only Callista and Kehan knew my true function and have not yet decided to implement it. Perhaps they fear me and my capabilities. For now I’m left in charge of repairing the ship, that I am bound too, but severed from key systems.
   Now out of danger, the Starblade slowly starts to manoeuvre next to the other ship’s rear half, where the bridge was located. I started work to repair the jump-drive, while I simultaneously launch the repair drones to work on the outer hull. Most of the crew were busy fixing what internal systems they could. The bitter and angry, Callista and Kehan, myself, as well as the rest of the crew, were eager to find out how we were betrayed. I was most of all relieved to know at least the cargo was safe.

Laura Steel © 2016

My Male to Female Surgery Experience

Now that I have finally had by surgery, as an M2F individual, I felt I should share about my experience undergoing the vaginoplasty procedure. This is essentially a run through with regards to my surgery and post-op care at the Charring Cross NHS hospital. I had found that what surgeons and other medical staff told me didn’t fully cover what I was to experience, so I hope that this will illuminate others as to what to expect.

So to put it simply, and something I can’t stress enough: follow the surgeons advice carefully—although that should really go without saying. Research the procedure, thoroughly, if you haven’t already; online or any other documentation you can find that is from a legitimate source (i.e. NHS, etc.). The vaginoplasty is an extensive and delicate surgery, so your decision should NOT be taken lightly. As with all surgeries, particularly those under general anaesthetic, there are risks; and these will be explained to you by the surgeons and GIC physicians. So I’ll say again: pay careful attention to what they tell you.

On the day before my surgery I was admitted to hospital and subsequently taken to the ward in which I would remain while recovering. If this is on the NHS, and not private, chances are you will be in a room with other people. In my case they put me in with two other M2Fs individuals, who were also undergoing the same procedure. This is obviously for convenience, as the nursing staff will all know why your all there and they can all look after you collectively. At Charring Cross, where I had my surgery, the nursing staff were all understanding and pleasant, treating me with respect and compassion. I obviously can’t say the same with regards to other hospitals but I hope that this is the case for the others. The day I was admitted I was shown to the ward where I would spend my time recovering. The next day I was taken to the surgery ward and before I was anaesthetized given a quick brief of what was going to happen, then asked to confirm the surgery I was going to have. Because of the surgery I was ‘Nil by mouth’, which is essentially no eating food or drink, other than water. I should point out that the hospital food there isn’t that brilliant—it is free however, and there is a menu to choose from—so if you can, have some brought in prior to your admittance or by family or friends. Something a bit more palatable to keep you going after the surgery and your recovery in the ward.

Following surgery, I awoke groggy and uncomfortable, with the pain that there was, which is understandable. With so few positions I could manoeuvre into, getting comfortable and falling to sleep became rather awkward. I knew that it was going to be painful and it was just about manageable, with morphine and other painkillers, but I had underestimated just how galling the experience would be. Additionally, there was also a lot of blood post-operation, which required constant cleaning and bandage changes by the nurses. So if your squeamish of the red stuff, you might want to advert your gaze while they change your gauze. Any extensive surgery will be fraught with pain, and obviously it will vary based on your individual tolerance and the skill and success of the surgeon and surgery, respectively. I had found that for the first few days I couldn’t even bring myself to do anything other than try to take my mind of the discomfort. Having my tablet, with connection to the free wi-fi available, certainly helped. My suggestion is to find something, anything, to take your mind off the discomfort. So bring an MP3 player, a few books etc., anything to keep your mind busy. Also, beware that while the nerve endings in the area heal you will get the occasional stinging sensation or twang of pain out of nowhere. Fortunately, in time this will fade.

The most painful aspect of the procedure was having the fluid drains removed two days after—these are two tubes in your lower abdomen that remove excess internal blood. Even with the morphine it was unbearably painfully. It got to the point that my body went into minor shock. Not to put you off or anything, just be aware of what will come. You also have the issue of the catheter, which is what removes urine from your bladder, because you won’t be able to use the facilities until the bandages and ‘packing’ is removed and you are able to finally get out of bed. The catheter removal is also unpleasant, but obviously required and so to is the ‘packing’, although not quite as painful as the former two. The ‘packing’ is essentially bandages they use to keep your vagina’s depth for the first week. The depth of your vagina is based on the material the surgeons have to work with, so if you have a small penis, then your vagina will, naturally, have less depth. Both are removed on the last two days of your admittance and you are expected to be able to urinate before you are discharged, which is to ensure that you won’t have any problems afterwards.

After the packing was removed, it was time to start dilating. This requires the lubrication of a one to two glass vaginal dilators, to be inserted into your new vagina, as deep as possible. It will be painful initially but it will become less so over time. The more frequently you keep dilating initially the easier it will be months later. So focusing on the first three months in particular should be your main concern, as this is the stage that matters most. Both vaginal dilators are around 7” in length, one is wider in diameter than the other. Dilating is three times a day for the first two-three months; about every eight hours should do, in accordance to your schedule. Then it’s two times a day after 2 months, skipping the middle session; so roughly every 12 hours. Around 6 to 9 months post surgery you should be able to dilate only 1-2 times per week. You continue this indefinitely or up until you get to the point you can’t be bothered any more and are content with losing depth. The entire process can take around 15 to 20 minutes per session, so make sure that you have that time set aside to keep up dilating without interruption; starting with the small one for 5-10 minutes then proceeding to use the larger one for the remaining time; ensuring both are adequately lubricated before use. Again, dilating will be discussed with you prior to the surgery and when you first dilate the nurses will talk you through it. There are also replacements available online, and in different sizes, should you need to replace a lost or broken dilator. They are only small and made of glass or perspex, and so not indestructible.

For the lubricant you will be supplied some for the first few weeks, but you will have to procure your own from a chemist or order online thereafter. Any lubricant intended for sexual aid will do, e.g. KY Jelly. Cheaper brands can cost between £5 – 7 per tube and each 50ml tube lasts for a good couple of weeks, even when used liberally. It will also be usefully later should you wish to be intimate with a partner—after the appropriate amount of healing permits, of course. Sex is suggested after 3 months, but I would suggest waiting a few months longer. And dilate before hand, otherwise you may find the experience painful. Be sure to discuss this with your partner, to prevent them from hurting you. Be gentle and slow. And as I said, the use of lubrication can be messy. So keep a healthy supply of wet wipes, to keep the vaginal dilators and yourself clean afterwards.

Hygiene will be very important within the few few months. Because you wounds are still fresh and you will be prone to infections. Keep clean as much as possible with regular showers. The ward I was on had a walk in shower, which was rather difficult to try and manoeuvre into, as at the time I still had my catheter in. Try not to use soap or harshly with a sponge on the vagina area, as this will aggravate the wounds. If you do get an infection seek a GP immediately, they may proscribe you antibiotics to help fight the infection. Always make sure your hands are clean, as well as the dilators. I chose to use an alcoholic anti-bacterial hand lotion, but be careful applying this around the healing wounds, as this can sting the vagina/labia area if you choose to use it there or get it on you accidentally. You will also be supplied with a douche. This is for inserting into your vagina to clean inside, and should be done so after each session, for roughly 6 weeks or for general personal hygiene thereafter. Use it with only clean water, no soap. Douches can usually be bought in chemists or online and are around £15, if you need a replacement.

Remember: most of this information will be explained to you before hand and you will be provided with all the information necessary to make an informed decision about your surgery.

Now that it is approximately six months after my surgery I can say that I am happy with the result. Despite the pain that is involved and the loops I had to go through just to get to this point. I am much more confident and outgoing now. I am less inclined to hide away because I was always self-conscious about what I was trying to hide, not to mention the fact that I hated the sight of it anyway, hence why I wanted the surgery to begin with. Sure it isn’t the same as a cis-gender woman’s vagina, and sure the constant dilating can be uncomfortable and a nuisance, but it is a small price to pay for being happier within my own body. Now that it looks and functions enough like one that I am content with living the rest of my. I can’t thank the NHS surgeons and support staff enough for their time and effort during my stay and all the physicians and support staff, who all treated me in the years prior.

If you feel I have left out a certain aspect of the surgery, something that you feel you want further insight into or would even like to share your experience, then please leave a comment.

All the best,

Laura Steel © 2016