Mirror, Mirror

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Things aren’t always as they seem. Neither was Charlie Branson – or Andy Niksn.

Outwardly, Charlie appeared to be the successful, respected, somewhat over-paid Captain of a commercial space liner.

In truth, it was 2025 – space liners did not yet exist, and the space liner Freedom was really just a very expensive set – a fancy simulator for wealthy clients the company took on simulated cruises into deep space to forget the real world for a while, to get away from it all – and they loved them for it!

In an atmosphere where people were locked away from reality for weeks at a time, and cos-playing and roleplaying redefined ‘normal’, telling fact and fantasy apart became more complicated than expected. For those who preferred the pleasant escape from the harsh realities of life outside, like Charlie, wishing it could all just be real became something almost like a prayer.

Andy Niksn, by contrast, was the very successful respected and somewhat over-paid Captain of an actual commercial space liner in the year 2773. Trouble was, Andy felt trapped! He was in a relationship – a dead-end partnership that had no future and promised both even less happiness. On top of that, his friend Jim had died recently, leaving Andy in the darkest place he’d ever been – and he didn’t mean space!

Andy wished he could just wake up to a different reality where everything could make sense again! For Andy, this too became something almost like a prayer!

As it turned out, someone heard them.

The answer wasn’t quite what they expected.

Details:
  • Published: August 11, 2020.
  • Words: 46,447
  • Pages: (6×9″ paperback)
  • Audiobook: to be announced.

Synopsis: [Spoiler Alert]

Duck Blind

Charlie Branson is a silent partner in a business venture called Interstellar Vacations, and for all intents and purposes, a highly paid employee. His job is to pose as the Captain of a space liner called Freedom, which is really part of a huge interactive sound-stage – a giant earth-bound simulator designed to convince paying clients that they’re really entering a space port, and leaving the Earth to go on a variety of different holiday cruises.

Before this highly successful gig, Charlie had a diverse life – but he always came out scraping the bottom of the barrel. He’s done it all, from waiting tables, to working on an actual ocean liner as a deck-hand – to a brief stint as a porn star… or, more honestly, a porn extra. Financially, his partnership with the other founders of IV was a godsend – financially at least, he’ll never want for anything again… or so the theory goes.

The reality is somewhat different – Charlie is unhappy. Yes, he loves his job – pretending to be the Captain of a space-liner and entertaining wealthy socialites paying the company (and his paycheck) for the illusion of voyaging through space and visiting a string of small sets simulating alien worlds along the way. The chicks really dig his crisp white uniform – it’s a real babe magnet! He knows every inch of the Freedom, every passage, every room, every deck, every fake, simulated control panel, instrument and feature. He loves the bridge most of all – and together with his crew, he maintains the illusion. But deep down, he wants more. He wants it to be real.

But it’s not – it’s 2025, and starships like the Freedom are still only make believe.

Then one day, the Freedom starts another voyage, and the crew and passengers embark on a week-long simulated voyage. Everywhere on the ship, Charlie is surrounded by excited passengers dressed up as their favorite aliens from their favorite TV shows. That night at the Captain’s table, Charlie meets a man – of sorts – who claims to be a galactic traveler, for real – and at first, Charlie fobs him off as another cos-playing nut… but the very next morning, Charlie finds himself decidedly out of his element.

After waking up, he begins to notice little things that are different – the news content on the TV in his cabin, the fact that his cabin door slides open instead of opening in the usual way – and suddenly everyone’s calling him ‘Andy’ and ‘Captain Niksn’. The confusion continues on the bridge of the Freedom, where Charlie notices new faces among the old – and some missing. His Exo, for one – and in his place, Francine McCain, the ship’s pretend navigator and 2nd officer sat, wearing the Exo’s bars on her shoulder!

Francine strongly insists her name isn’t Francine – it’s Mandy… Mandy Fringle – and his name’s not Charlie Branson, it’s Andy Niksn… much to his surprise, it even says so on the nameplate on his uniform! Francine insists he’s suffering from stress after the death of his best friend Jim Sykes – and his former Exo! Mandy escorts the confused Charlie – who’s now on the verge of hysteria, to the ship’s sickbay – where a doctor he doesn’t know firmly places him on sick leave for a week to get his shit in order.

Charlie decides to play along until he figures out exactly what’s going on – and once Francine escorts him back to his cabin, he realizes it’s actually their cabin… noticing things he hadn’t spotted that morning, like her clothes on one side of the closet, cosmetics on the dresser and so on. Charlie learns, much to his surprise that whoever this Andy Niksn is, he and Mandy Fringle – who is a dead-ringer for Francine McCain – have been in a relationship for some time… and furthermore, Mandy reveals to him that he’s in the 27th century!

The next morning – the first day of his enforced time off – Charlie sets out to expose this whole affair as some kind of farce or prank – or a conspiracy to gas-light him into believing he’s crazy. Motives he suspects vary – but right at the top of the list, he suspects his partners are trying to get their hands on his shares of IV!

To his surprise, every little thing he refers to, to expose the charade – secret doors that led from the Freedom set to adjoining sets are missing like they’d never existed – just like the little guiderails in the deck of the shuttle bay that the shuttle simulator rode on from the space port set! It actually seems to prove to him that it’s all true – he really is aboard a cruise ship in space! The Freedom calls in at a paradise planet and pulls into orbit. On a whim, Charlie boards a shuttle bound for the surface – after all, he reasons, this is his first time in space – his first time beyond the solar system, out among the stars – “you only live once, right?”

The Next Room

Andy Niksn is the Captain of a commercial space liner. It’s the 28th century, and the cruise liner Freedom carries well-to-do passengers across the galaxy in comfort and style. Andy loved his job, and not just because it paid well and the crisp white uniform gave him an opportunity to show off his assets – but also because it meant seeing his best friend Jim every day! Things have changed and Andy no longer feels that way. He feels trapped!

He’s been in an unhappy relationship with Mandy Fringle – another colleague – and it was a dead-end partnership that had no future and promised both even less happiness. Jim Sykes had never returned Andy’s affections – and on top of that, Jim had died recently, leaving the bereft Andy in the darkest place he’d ever been – and he didn’t mean space!

Andy, feels his life has turned into a living, waking nightmare, and wishes he could just wake up to a different reality where everything could just make sense again! That thought mulls around in his head, becoming something almost like a prayer!

As it turns out, someone hears him.

On the first night of a new voyage, dinner at the Captain’s table, Andy meets a man – of sorts – who claims to be a galactic traveler, for real – and at first, Andy fobs him off as a crazy person… but the very next morning, Andy finds himself decidedly out of his element.

After waking up, he begins to notice little things that are different – the news content on the TV in his cabin, the fact that his cabin door opens on quaint old fashioned hinges instead of sliding open in the usual way – and suddenly everyone’s calling him ‘Charlie’ and ‘Captain Branson’. The confusion continues on the bridge of the Freedom, where Andy notices new faces among the old – and some missing – and some he’d never expected to see again! His Exo, for one – is Jim Sykes – very much alive and kicking! Mandy strongly insists her name isn’t Mandy- it’s Francine… Francine McCain – and his name’s not Andy Niksn, it’s Charlie Branson… much to his surprise, it even says so on the nameplate on his uniform!

Jim escorts the confused Andy – who’s now on the verge of hysteria, to the ship’s sickbay – where a doctor he doesn’t know, rugs him – and then firmly places him on sick leave for a week to get his shit in order! Wherever this is meant to be, Mandy – er, Francine – insists they’re not in a relationship and never have been. With one problem seemingly solved, he focuses his attention on Jim… if this really is Jim.

Andy decides to play along until he figures out exactly what’s going on – and once Jim escorts him back to his cabin, he realizes that he’s in the 21st century! Or at least that’s what it looks like! The next morning – the first day of his enforced time off – Andy sets out to expose this whole affair as some kind of farce or prank – or a conspiracy to gas-light him into believing he’s crazy.

To his surprise, every little thing he examines closely proves to be fake or simulated… cheesy fake control panels with little blinky lights on that do nothing at all, and even the walls of the ship sound like hollow wood paneling! The shuttle – if that’s what it’s meant to be – runs on little guiderails in the deck of the shuttle bay – and the rails run from the pretend shuttle bay, under some kind of door – to what? Wherever – or whenever he is – it’s not on a space ship – or in 2773!

This simulator pretending to be a space cruise-ship calls in at a paradise planet, and on a whim, Andy boards the fake shuttle headed for the surface – or some sort of pretend set. The idea amuses him and he decides to check it out – after all, “you only live once, right?”

The History of “Mirror, Mirror”

“Mirror, Mirror” was born out of the merger of two novellas: “Duck Blind” and “The Next Room”. Both are completely original works I wrote consecutively through December 2019 and January 2020, and released in eBook form as a novella in February 2020. Both were released in their original form as novellas on the same day – in keeping with the synchronous theme of both stories.

Once I’d written “Duck Blind”, which describes the misadventures of Charlie Branson – a man from 2025 who suddenly finds himself aboard a real space cruise ship in 2773 and being mistaken for the Captain of the ship, Andy Niksn – I immediately pondered what might have happened to Andy Niksn, being a real space captain from 2773 who wakes up aboard a giant space-ship simulator hotel on Earth in 2025! I plunged straight into writing “The Next Room” which focused on that more mundane reality – which wasn’t quite so mundane as it turned out, after all!  In both stories I explored the relationships and experiences of the other mirror-opposites of the characters in each story, which led to a number of awkward moments for the characters!

Both “Duck Blind” and “The Next Room” together tell both sides of the same story from the perspective of a different set of the same group of characters in different dimensions and times! Together, or read in sequence, they’re a story of opposites and similarities – and it was quite a challenge to complete – and one I’m immensely proud of!

In August 2020, Brandon Mullins who is responsible for unleashing Moon Books Publishing on the world, asked me to put both stories into one book – which makes more sense really, especially where two stories that run so close to a central point contrast against each other. They are, after all, really one larger story – which is how “Mirror, Mirror” came to be.

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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2020.

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