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Alternative pasts and genders arise from a failed quantum energy experiment in this debut novel. Alexandria Jane Merk is a white Army veteran who, “at twenty-six, had left her soul on the streets of Tikrit, Iraq” when she couldn’t save two young boys. She...becomes affected by a physics experiment that causes her to lose “contact with herself,” creating alternative pasts for two separate identities into which she splits. One is college freshman Sarah Beth Merk, who generally feels that life is good, although she has almost-buried memories of a horrifying childhood event. The other is Alexander “Alex” James Monroe, an Army vet with disturbing childhood memories of his own centering on his great-great-grandmother—“Babushka”— and the mental gymnastics she forced him to undergo with a set of matryoschka, Russian nesting dolls, covered with mysterious writing.
The dual entity, their friends, and government researchers must race to solve mounting puzzles before Sarah Beth loses control. …
The gender what-if is central and has a remarkable twist… Gene’s dialogue is naturalistic… This sci-fi tale remains thoughtful and emotional. (Kirkus Review)

Crows pecking on my corpse

Archives: Witnesses of the South Pacific Crisis, Folio B.113.017, interview with Sarah Beth Merk-Addams part 1, age 140. 

[Archivist note:

Ninety years ago, aliens neutralized the entire nine nation South Pacific Task Force. At the height of the crisis, with all of Earth’s defenses defeated, the aliens surrendered. All detailed records of that time have disappeared. The one person who could have possibly caused this, Ms. Merk-Addams, has kept her silence.

Three years ago, the attempt to get Sarah Beth Addams’ account of the South Pacific Crisis halted when the archivist asked about her children. All electrical and electronic equipment failed and all doors and their jambs exploded.

With no archivist willing to take such a risk, the unNaturals Bureau took on the task. The following is the record not redacted by the Bureau.]


Quitcher bitch'n.

This is my story, and I'll tell it as I see fit. Seriously, you archivists are like crows pecking on the bodies dead after a battle.

My origin story was a bit long, but now you know how I became two separate people, Alex and Sarah. The two had the power to manipulate causality and gravity. A second quantum energy accident recombed them back into one person, me.

… I said to quit bitching. I'll get to why I didn't save the nine-nation Pacific Task Force during the alien invasion.

Life is not a first-person-shooter video game. Get over it. Give your thumbs a rest and use your brain for once.

For the next ten years, I struggled to regain the sense of oneness stolen from me by Mort or Tod or whatever the bastard called himself back then. Alex and Sarah played out my warring obsessions and failures, curing each and creating the next set of crises, like nesting dolls, Matryoschka. More or less, they cured me. I was one again. However, I still sensed energy level changes at the quantum level. Unfortunately, this distracted me at critical moments. The most common result was severe synesthesia, like tasting the roughness of gravel or hearing the color purple.

I kept my sanity by embracing my temporary identities from ten years ago. Alexander James formed my moral compass, and Sarah was my drive and need to help others. Their influence in me fought a lot. No voices or body takeovers. They just rattled around in my poorly formed thing others call a soul. All of which explained my obsession with two goals. I sought to bring both back but in their own bodies. And away from me. It wasn’t guilt. They’d cured me of combat stress disorder and childhood abuse and deserved their own lives.

Another obsession was protecting Alexi. In the short fifty-five days Alex and Sarah existed, Alex met and had planned to marry our chief of security, Leala. Born after my recombining, Alexi, the impossible child of Alex and Leala, grew like a weed. Sorry for the cliché but it fits. At ten, she was age-appropriate chunky, with the personality of her missing father, Alex, and the drive of her mother, Leala.

My third obsession was more straightforward. Kill everyone responsible for sundering my body and soul into Alex and Sarah. They were too close to discovering how fragile our Reality is.

It was bad enough I could ignore causality. No one else should have that power.

I wished I didn't.

With that, I arrived at my next instar of development, unprepared and heading into a confrontation with the only thing I feared, myself.

2.              Monster

Sarah Beth: age 36, ten years after re-incorporation, Alexandria, Virginia. Penthouse converted into a Lab@@

“Negative results aren't a waste.”

Who the hell ever said that? Certainly, never me. I record this snark in the metadata for this run. I encrypt it and ghost copies to my servers in my closet two floors down. I'll number-crunch the raw data for nuggets, but …

I've failed. Again.

The feathers, coins, and tennis balls I tossed into the experimental field didn't stay in suspension. Their bounce or chink on the shielded floor cemented my failure more than any data accumulation. The final coin rolls into the power supply, ringing before flopping over. The feathers floated teased by the heat currents off the equipment. A faint burn of ozone annoyed my nostrils; I'll investigate which high voltage component needs adjusting. Tomorrow.

About the author

The richness of interacting with diverse people, especially the most important diversity, that of thought, lead me to put ideas down on paper and ultimately to my four-novel Matryoschka Heritage novel arc: Matryoschka, Matryoschka’s Daughters, Matryoschka’s Effect, and Matryoschka’s Time. view profile

Published on February 01, 2020

Published by Matryoschka heritage

100000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Science Fiction