A Home World Like Roy
by C. J. Simpson
It was a terrible mistake to pick that day for my first outing.
We were eventually rescued from the S-Press rail after two hours, by a fire crew acting in a rescue capacity. As we were lowered from the sky in a hovering caddy, the lights began to flicker in the buildings around us, and the city was lit again.
On street level, rumours circulated about what had happened, but I walked away, choosing to listen to an informed opinion rather than wild speculation from strangers.
“A lot of people are panicking about the bug virus. Lot of people off work. The utility companies are finding it hard to cope,” a police officer told me when I asked him.
I had the option of taking the S-press rail back home, but already affected by the exertion and stress, I decided to walk, slowly, the couple of miles home.
I called Susan’s phone many times, but it rang out unanswered every time.
Earlier that day I left her at my apartment, and she had said she’d be there when I got home, but when I opened my door, I was surprised to find it empty.
I paced through each room, switching each light on in turn, but found no trace of her anywhere. She was gone, along with any sign of her.
Two days have passed and despite further attempts at contacting her, I’ve heard nothing. The news reports are advising to stay inside as more power outs are expected and rioting and looting are a possibility. And so I don’t know whether or not to believe something has happened to her, or she simply has left me.
I’ve called the local hospitals and no one matching her description has been admitted. And because the bugs are offline, the work on my heart has stopped; they can’t help with my blood pressure and heart rate.
I curse myself. I’ve been so stupid. I should have called Dr Collins for some old-fashioned sedatives.
I shouldn’t have trusted Susan.
Her absence has brought a multitude of thoughts to mind; both rational and irrational, swirling around inside my head, causing my pulse to rise and my heart to work harder than it should.
Last night I was convinced she had been involved in an accident, this morning I was sure it was another man, and now I just plain believe I bored her and she’s gone back to Alaska. Each possibility is as terrible as the preceding one; each alternative causes stress upon stress upon stress.
* * *
My phone rings.
“Roy, hi. Are you ok?”
“No, of course not. Where’ve you been?”
“Roy, I can’t say, you just have to trust me. I’ll be back with you soon.”
“Trust you? Why? What’s going on, Susan?”
“I can’t tell you Roy, but you need to relax. The bugs can’t help you right now. Their systems are compromised, but a fix has been found. They’ll be back online soon.”
“You’ve been missing for days, I’ve not heard from you. What am I supposed to think? Do you know the pain you’ve caused me?”
“I’ve been with my family.”
“What? Which family? Are you in Alaska?”
“No, I have family close by. I’ve been with them.”
“I don’t believe you. Why’ve I not heard of them before?”
“OK, OK. Just calm down, Roy.”
“I can’t. I need you here. Where are you?”
“You’re here? What’s going on? Come in, come in here now.”
“OK, Roy. Please relax. I’ll only come in if you relax.”
“I am relaxed.”
“OK, don’t get up. I can let myself in. Would you close the blinds and turn the lights off?”
I stab my finger angrily at the E-Page. The blinds close; the lights dim.
I lie back on the couch and wait.
As the blinds complete their movement, I hear a voice behind me say: “Hi Roy, I’m here.”
“Susan,” I say and turn to her.
My vision is blurred; I can’t focus on her; it’s as though I’m looking at her through frosted glass.
“Susan, tell me who it is. Is there somebody else? I have a right to know.”
“No Roy, there’s no one else. Please believe me.”
I push myself from the couch.
“Roy, please stay there; don’t come over.”
I ignore her, I need to be close to her. I need to see her face to see if she is telling me the truth.
My focus does not improve as I close the distance.
“Roy, please don’t,” she says as I stumble towards her on shaking legs.
I reach her, but I’ve gone blind; she’s only a blur before me. With my hand out in front of me, I stretch forward to touch her ethereal face, but my hand passes through her. The strength leaks from my legs. I fall over, forwards, through the space her body should occupy.
Her voice comes to me faint, as though from a long way away. “Roy, we’re sorry. We couldn’t have known that this would happen.”
“What?” I say, the blood thumping heavily in my ears.
“We love you so much Roy; you have to believe us. At first we only wanted you because we needed a host; we wanted you to be our new home world, but we fell in love with you. We need you. You have to be calm. You have to, for us, Roy,” Susan’s voice says.
But that’s a thing much easier to say than to do.
I close my eyes as Susan’s voice, like a billion tiny voices forming a whole, fades away, little by little.
* * *
I’m not asleep; I’m not dead.
Wherever I am lacks the fuzzy incomprehension of sleep and the finality I imagine death. My beating heart fills my head; the noise is that of furious waves crashing against the shore, a shore I am too close to.
In the distance, through the blackness, I see a small square of light. I’m too far away to know what the light is, but under the cacophony I can hear voices in a heated exchange seeming to emanate from within it.
I move away from the shore and towards the small rectangle of light. The voices become clearer and more distinct the further from the roar I am.
What I can hear is my last conversation with ABF and my first with Susan.
“We are offering you this cash incentive, Mr Jones, because too many bugs have been bred, and without hosts they will die, and soon, in the incubators where they are held,” the robotic voice of the ABF tele-sales lady said. “They feel pain; they’re in constant pain the whole time they are there, in their incubators, outside of a host.”
“It’s not my fault this has happened. It’s not my responsibility to rescue them. I resent you emotionally blackmailing me.”
“Mr Jones, can you imagine what it might be like to be slowly baked to death by the sun?” she asked, managing to convey this without emotion.
“That’s enough. I won’t tolerate this. I want to speak to your supervisor.”
The voice disappeared and cheery elevator music rattled and beeped from the receiver into my ear.
The music ended and a new voice spoke on the line. I heard Susan’s voice, for the first time: soothing and sweet.
“I am sorry you’re unhappy with my colleague’s attitude, but our intentions are honourable. We have a job to do; we have to place the bugs with hosts.”
“Well, first she tried to bribe me, offering me a ridiculous amount of money, and then she tried to make me feel guilty, as though it’s my fault they’re dying.”
“I’m sorry about that, Roy, but we all feel very strongly here about their plight. You see, to us, there really is no difference between them and any other creature dying in pain. Because of their intelligence, it’s like friends or family who are suffering.
“But you’re right, it really isn’t your problem, and Clare shouldn’t have been so pushy with you. Please accept our apologies; we won’t bother you again.”
I listen to her words greedily, absorbing every syllable. I believed her.
As I near the light, I hear her voice tell me that they will do anything they can to make me host the bugs.
They will do anything, she said again.
I then said something funny, something to break the ice between us, and she laughed, and it sounded so familiar, so wonderful, that it took me back years in an instant, to a time in my life when I had been happiest, and although I didn’t know it then, I now know that was the moment I fell in love with Susan, or rather, I fell in love with the bugs.
And thus my becoming a host became inevitable.
* * *
I am on my sofa, lain out, feeling cold, but I’m alive.
Susan is kneeling by my side. She holds my hand in hers and smiles. “Roy, you’re awake, thank God. You’re stable. The virus has been cured. You’re going to be OK.”
I am relieved. I am calm.
I struggle to recall what happened with Susan and the bugs; I want to tell her to go and I want the bugs flushed from my system. I feel anger, but I am unable to express it. “Susan...” I begin.
I sit up, feeling weak, but I’ve spent too much time lying around lately. I stumble out of the room heading to the kitchen.
“Roy,” Susan calls after me, “We will be OK, won’t we?”
I’m not quite sure what she means and I say back to her, “Everything’s going to be fine. Everything is fine. How about a cup of tea?”
Copyright © 2012 by C. J. Simpson