Alice was a girl with pale lemon hair and ripe blueberry eyes. She swung on the swing under a gray dishwater sky. A soft chime pulsed in her mind. The corner of her mouth twitched in surprise and she blinked. It was her first think-link request. Nobody had ever wanted to think-link with her before.
Alice scrunched her nose and her mind's eye showed her a slightly older girl with dark chocolate hair and smooth vanilla skin. The girl was smiling the sort of smile that made Alice's heart race even though she wasn't quite sure why.
Alice knew, although she wasn't quite sure how, that the girl's name was Aurora. It sounded strange but also somehow just right. Alice knew grown-ups said not to accept think-links from strangers, but most of those grown-ups barely even knew how to think-link in the first place. Her father did not have a think-link, anyway, which was definitely for the best. Alice blinked again. She let Aurora into her mind.
Aurora's presence swept through Alice's brain. Alice felt as though a wave was washing over her. Aurora sounded amused.
You have strange thoughts, don't you, Alice? You're different. It's okay—I'm different too. I was like you, Alice. I was lost. I was scared. I was confused. I had so many thoughts, so many feelings, and all of it hurt. But Alice, it doesn't have to hurt.
Alice felt a confused blur of hope along with something else. It doesn't?
Aurora laughed knowingly, like an older sister, and Alice felt as though she was being hugged, although not quite by an older sister.
No. The world can be a very scary place, Alice, but you know that already.
Without being able to help it, Alice saw her father's face in her mind's eye. She knew Aurora could see it too. She blinked.
Aurora's voice grew softer. All that pain can go away, Alice. Do you remember your mother?
Alice had only the vaguest memories of her mother. They were mostly sensations. Soft...warm...safe...
She felt Aurora smile. Exactly, Alice. What you're thinking of is your mother's womb. Free from pain, free from sadness, free from...
Alice's father's face flashed in her mind. She blinked. She didn't realize she was thinking of him again.
Aurora continued. All the chaos, all the cruelty—is it really worth it? Everyone tells you that you have to face the world to grow up. What lies, Alice...they tell you going out into the world means freedom. Wasn't it more peaceful in the dark? They say leaving the safety of the womb is liberation...they tell you to celebrate your birthday. Alice, I have a better idea. Just the two of us, let's celebrate your unbirthday.
Alice sat perched on the swing, silent in thought. Just the two of us...
Today was Alice's special day.
Alice stood on her tippy-toes as the Unbirthday Balloon inflated around her body. In the moment before it fully sealed around her, Aurora flickered in her mind's eye.
Alice was confused. What she was seeing was not Aurora.
The thing that was not Aurora crooned softly, "Happy unbirthday, Alice." Everything was so dark and quiet...
Alice lived peacefully ever after.