by Mark Bonica
|Table of Contents|
8: FPP Year 837
“Damn you!” Jim howled, his motions more like thrashing, incoherent movements as he made to beat at what he knew was a holographic projection. The computer understood that these movements were not the type that were intended to input data and form an interface between man and machine. As Jim spun and screamed, spittle flying from his tongue, the three-dimensional images that had constituted the diagnostic panel simply disappeared, leaving only bare plastic walls.
Perhaps it was the sudden disappearance of the reminder that he could not change anything that stopped his rage and left him standing quietly in the small room facing the wall opposite his bed. Or perhaps the appearance of solid and unchanging matter brought up a sense of calm from within.
Whichever it was, or neither, he stood facing away from Persephone, staring blankly at the gray panels that were set evenly at one-meter intervals and that ran from floor to ceiling. He found himself sobbing as the anger once again passed through him and changed into grief.
“Jim,” came Persephone’s soft voice. She coughed then. His hands were dangling at his side and he was acutely aware of how ridiculous his body had been moving: jerky and popping like a marionette.
“I’m sorry,” he said, turning back to her. She lay on their bed, her head and upper back propped up on pillows. Her face was white like bitter snow and paper. Her lips had oranged, and they were that much starker for the contrast.
“I don’t want to die,” she said, the tears running down her face.
“I know. I know,” he said, kneeling now at the edge of the bed. He closed his eyes and rested his head on his forearms as he leaned onto the cool linen.
“What happens to me if I die?”
“You’ll go to heaven, of course. You’ve never done anything so bad that God wouldn’t take you.”
“God.” She coughed, sat up partway as the spasms wracked her body. Then she lay back and closed her eyes. Pain in her side, she had said. Her hands were curled up like claws. Her face softened and she was asleep.
Sixteen years of looking at that face and no other, he knew what every angle, every twist meant. The muscles of the jaw tightening, the forehead furrowing one way, the eyebrows raised another way.
Even as she lay there, he still thought of her as beautiful. Not in a sexual or physical way. Her appearance had come to mean more than that to him. It had come to symbolize the life that they had had together these last thirteen years. The dreams they had shared, the challenges, the loss. The hope. This vision was not uncomplicated by human nature and the illogical resentments of past arguments, past wrongs that were the fault of circumstance and not reality.
When he opened his eyes and focused on her orange lips, she was asleep. He wanted to reach out and wipe them clean. He wanted to slap her cheeks, not hard, but enough so that they would remember the pink that once had inhabited them, had made them human and not like a machine.
Her breathing grew irregular and deep, rasping, rattling. She opened her eyes and sat up from her pillows for a brief moment before falling back. Her glance darted about the room — “Where am I?” and seemed to calm — but then she cried “Why have you abandoned me!?” then she gasped, and her hands flailed up once and collapsed back by her sides. Her eyes closed again.
“I haven’t abandoned you! You’re home, sweet one. You’re safe. You’re with me. We’re together, we’ll always be together. I’ll never leave you. Hang on until they rescue us, we’ll be able to get help for you. They’ll be able to cure you.”
But her breathing had turned to rasping again, her eyes were closed, and he knew his words went unheard.
She didn’t open her eyes again. In an hour it was over. He knew she was going, because her breathing became ever more violent, then took on an odd sound, almost like she was trying to sing her soul from her body.
He closed his eyes and reached out, imagining the soft, flaccid skin, clammy with sweat. He wanted so much to touch her, to draw comfort from her trueness. Then she was gone.
It was a week later that the FPPS Long Line made contact.
She was gone, absolutely gone. There was nothing left holding him to this place that he had realized only too late was his home.
On board the ship, the men clapped his back and congratulated him as if he were some kind of hero. The captain himself led him all the way to the officers’ mess. When the door to the mess opened, the smell overwhelmed him and he retched all over the white tablecloth and napkins. He was back in civilization.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Bonica