Thursday, January 29, 2015


                On his return to his room, holding a tray of indistinguishable packs of liquid and solid food, 67-9 walked in on a man sitting at the edge of the bed and staring at the floor, his head in his hands. The man was startled when an air vent directly above him initiated in a high-pitched whistle.  The visitor appeared to 67-9 as both youthful and elderly. His skin was bright and taut around his cheekbones, and his eyes were clear and darting though under thick, grey brows. His body shook, too, in peculiar spurts, and his shoulders bent down in front of him to form a strange, inhuman concavity in his chest. I have seen you before.
                 They both stared at the other.The visitor managed to smile but said nothing as if allowing 67-9 the courtesy to continue his examination. With some difficulty, he stood and then reached out his hand. 67-9 received it, though hesitantly,  
                “Captain Murray.” The man spoke, his voice cracking and hoarse. “Has been…three hundred years since we last spoke.” He covered his mouth and cleared his throat, made an effort to swallow. “Haven’t seen each other since we discovered…the cave dwellers in Kentucky, yes?”
                67-9 stiffened upon the mention of the cave dwellers. “The Commander has not yet permitted us to speak of previous missions. She will inform us when that will be possible.” 67-9 gripped his tray. “If at all.”
                The visitor paused, then nodded. “Yes, I know.”  He patted 67-9’s shoulder, steadied himself in the process. “Old friend,” He regained his grin, “I am well aware of that peculiar rule. No need to…worry about that. Does appear, though…pardon.” He took in a deep breath. The wall behind the bed took on a bluish hue where the visitor’s shadow had cast. “Appears that this new mission…will not be as comparable in excitement.” He returned to the edge of the bed.
                “What do you mean?” 67-9 asked, his patience running thin and wondering when the man was going to leave.
                “Let’s just say this one appears to be....more or less…maintenance.” The visitor seemed to take notice of 67-9’s red, swollen face. “Does not matter anyhow. See that you have reacted…to the skin lasers. Are you…in pain?”
                The visitor chuckled and slapped his knee. “Mildly! Oh, my friend. Happy to see you again, Ronnie.”
                67-9 recoiled upon hearing his name. He stepped away from the visitor and walked over to his desk where he sat the tray down.
                “I see your appetite has returned.” The visitor looked down between his parted knees at the metallic floor as if to glance at his distant reflection, “I must admit, Ronnie, mine has not. But, please; go ahead and eat. I only wanted to… excuse me.” The visitor was cast another fit of coughs; as unproductive as it was violent. 67-9 turned and stared at his tray, the episode alarming in its ferocity. 67-9 thought to help him, but hesitated. The visitor cleared his throat and placed a larger-than-life smile despite his trembling shell; squeezed his knees until the fit subsided.
                "I can get you some water."
                “No. It does no good. I apologize. As you can see…I have yet…to overcome some…nasty post suspension disorders. I trust that yours...are few. Have you suffered…PSDs?”
                67-9 sat at his desk, but swiveled his chair so that he was facing more the door than the visitor. “I am fit, for the most part. There is slight muscular degeneration in my neck, wrists, and ankles, yet nothing seriously debilitating. I have minor memory lapses. I have acclimated to water and heat successfully. I hope to do so with food.”
                The visitor’s face lit up once again, having not gotten the hint.
                “Very good to hear that, Ronnie. Very good. As you…no doubt can tell, suspension…has not been kind to me. I am suffering from tissue damage…in my throat and lungs, and…who knows where else. I suspect my…stem cells were not responding…as orderly upon induction. Forty-five percent tissue death was detected…in the liver. And…as much in the kidneys. Suspect the medbots overreacted on a few cancer biomarkers. Considerable bone loss.” He shook his head as if annoyed. Placed in the chamber soon after we landed...of course. Fixed what it could."
                 "I was informed the gravity well fluctuated within our EDT."
                 "Yes. A hundred years’ worth of fluctuation… I feel as if my legs were made of lead.” The visitor seemed to pause for a reaction, studied 67-9’s expressionless face. He continued when one was not given. “No brain tumors, happy to say…no... No serious calcification either. Just minor bone melt in…rather odd places.”
                The shoulders, thought 67-9. It is obvious.
                “Enough about me.” The visitor then gripped his left side. "I am more interested in hearing from you."
               No. “You said that you thought this mission is maintenance?” 67-9 asked, thankful the conversation was different, and then he thought: Software engineer.
                “Pardon? Oh, yes. Yes…I do. Once we get the satellite up…we will be sent back to our...happy hibernation.”
                “You do not believe 2092-A was destroyed by missile?” The visitor. He is a software engineer.
                The visitor chuckled as he rubbed his chest. 67-9 patiently waited for a more appropriate response. The visitor made a strong effort to scoot along the bed closer to 67-9. He failed. Clutching the bedspread to steady himself, he gently leaned back on his arm. 67-9 only stiffened in his chair, thought about his tray of food.
                “Destroyed by a missile. May very well be true. But I doubt…Ronnie...we will ever be able to do anything about it.”
                Bergman. “What if the missile was sent by the Rebels?” Vander Bergman.
                “Possible. Possible. In fact, what we do know…is compelling. The trace chemicals detected…are similar to fuel components…used during the final years of the war. Damn fanatics. We were too...involved in our own know it at the time, but those Rebels... They had some pretty nasty weapons. Smart weapons. Brilliant weapons. New technology that matrix compound…those NRG-bots…making fuel from almost anything…pulled out of the air. Vacuum energy -- if never quite confirmed. Almost cost us the war...control of Lunar. However…whether or not it was sent…to destroy that satellite. Not likely."
                “Why not? Satellite 2092 detected ongoing tracking of radio-isotopic labeled amino acid distribution. Such cache of information would detail life showing resistance to nanobot contamination.”
                "Consumption." The visitor blinked. “Yes. Whatever happened to it, I doubt we will ever confirm.”
                “Why must that be so?” He was always soft on the Rebels…
                The visitor released the bed sheet and clutched it again, took a moment to regain a sudden loss of his breathing rhythm. His wheeze harmonized with the whistle of chilled air injected from the vent above him.
                …Always too optimistic.
                "That missile may have been orbiting the Solar system since the Rebellion… 2092 may have found unintentional target. One last score for the other side.”
                “You are supposing, it was not sent?”
                “I guess I do not suppose anything. The Rebels are dead. Their Mars utopia vaporized. They hadn’t…the means to hibernate…as we do. Regardless, without good reconnaissance…of the breach, we have few accurate… We have very little evidence…in determining the source of deployment…thus the time of initiation. We may never know.” He threw his hand out towards 67-9 in a sort of snap, then immediately clutched the bed sheet. “And your guess?”
                 “My educated guess is that it was intentional. The window used to breach the Tower’s security is too coincidental.”
                67-9 gauged the visitor who he now remembered as Bergman. Bergman struggled to stretch out his left arm, holding the elbow up with his other trembling hand perhaps to test his own faculty. Bergman quickly gave up. He met 67-9’s stare.
                “I see. You are thinking that whoever sent that missile…knew of the Tower’s 12% scan deficiency.” 67-9 did not answer. “But what does it matter now? We will help…the Tower to close up such windows of opportunity…and we will then return to bed. Unless, of course, the Tower can track the source. Otherwise, a futile and unnecessary…search will have been conducted. A rude awakening…of sorts. We cannot attempt to apply blame or…burn our resources in pursuit…of Rebel ghosts.”
                “And if they are not ghosts?” 67-9 asked as he stood from his chair, leaned back on his desk, his arms folded. “And that missile came from a Rebel base?”
                “From where? At this hellish stage…in Earth’s terraformation? Certainly not here. Impossible.”
                Bergman chuckled, to the annoyance of 67-9. Bergman replied, dryly, “Lunar Tower has satellites all over the solar system…and beyond. How could there possibly be a base? No place to hide.”
                “Circuitous caverns under Mars.”
                “No. Our blasts were quite confirming.”
                “Asteroids.” 67-9 challenged. “Europa. Ships beyond Oort. We can have the Renegades arrested, and their facilities destroyed.”
                “Renegades? That old bugle call." Bergman filled his chest; the light of the room increased noticeably and a bluish hue around him grew in intensity. "How did it go? Their wicked nanobots against our good nanobots? They, the radical leftists; we the United among Nations. Did it matter in the end who were the saints and who were the saviors? Look at what we did.”
                 "They will stop at nothing.” You weak, you foolish…
                 "Again; without the technology of hibernation? Without…without any evidence of further confrontations for over thousands of years–“
                “–That we are aware of.” 67-9 stated. “Lunar Tower is under no obligation to inform us of other missions.”
                “Very peculiar, Captain, is it not?”
                Bergman’s true voice came through clearly and strikingly youthful. 67-9’s arms fell to his side as he remembered that voice and as he watched Bergman straighten up higher than he had yet, but then collapse forward. Too much. Bergman looked at the floor between his feet; stared at the metallic floor that mirrored the man's reflection but, strangely, nothing else. Bergman steadied himself on his protruding knees with his emaciated arms; the blue hue about his body lessening in intensity. Somewhere in there, under his flesh, was the young man, the friend, that 67-9 remembered.
                The friend I–
                “Strange, don’t you think,” Bergman challenged, “That only our EDT and only our little team of eight–“
                “–Would be awakened for such a grand mission?” He snapped his finger at 67-9. “No. We are to launch a new satellite while investigating all possibilities, not just sabotage. We will find nothing, log it, and then return to our dreams. No more. Let your old conspiracies die, Ronnie.”
                “Facts," He is a 10-37. "I choose to never forget what those criminals did to us. The future of Mankind and all of life was at stake, and they chose to–“
                “–Chose to what? Protect Earth based on their own scientific philosophies.”
                “Scientists? They were terrorists!"67-9 slammed his fist down on his tray, flipping the food pouches over the desk. "Murderers! Millions of genetic information destroyed before proper cataloging!”
                “We did the same to them when we nuked Mars.”
                “Enough! Please return to your quarters.” 67-9 was too angry to have noticed his own blue hue increasing in strength.
                Bergman stayed seated, his eyes crystal clear and piercing. “You’d think after three hundred years that you’d learn to be more considerate in your arguments. either black or white and no grey with you. Oh, you know damn well...I feel the same as you.” He then pushed himself up and stood with apparent new strength. “They had their terrorists. Yet, we certainly had ours! And I can be convinced that our satellite was hit by one of their missiles. But not one that was sent today. That missile...was unloaded by a man from his backyard, five thousand years ago. And it has been riding the solar system randomly...on a mission to nothing in particular and just happened to hit one of the millions of satellites orbiting–”
                “–It is an international crime to violate the Earth’s Corridor, and it is punishable by death or destruction of life records. Such a governing body is subjected to be destroyed–”
                “–What governing body exists anymore?–”
                “–Regardless of the amount of time that has passed.”  67-9 folded his arms again and stood taller and straighter than Bergman, as if mocking the man's state.
               Bergman appeared to study 67-9 again. His dry lips slowly parted.  “Time which has passed, indeed.”
                Bergman walked towards the door, turned swiftly and offered his hand once more. “Your commitment to the UN is as strong as ever, Ronnie. Oh. It is 67-9 you prefer, isn't it? My apologies.”
               67-9 responded with a single nod, but refused to take Bergman’s hand.
               “Still," Bergman continued, drew his hand back, "I am more pleased to know that you are in good health.” Bergman then placed his palm on the scanner. The door opened and Bergman took cautious steps towards the hall. He dragged his crooked fingers along the door's edge and turned with a grin; a grin that 67-9 did not believe was legitimate. “There will be many more missions…coming your way. I am certain of it. Yet, I fear…the same cannot be said of me.”
                Bergman turned to leave, his actual age hidden somewhere in the arch of his back, in the smoothness of the skin of his hands and arms, in the thick grey of his brows, in the radiance of his face, and in the careful steps he took towards the hallway. Bergman's youthful profile was one 67-9 could not help but remember as handsome, despite the illnesses. And 67-9 agreed: the man’s amalgam of extreme states was prophetic.
                “Your full examination, 10-37...,” 67-9 called out as he half-stepped toward the man, “It will indicate the locality and extent of tissue damage. The physician, 1-10; she will address these matters with the appropriate therapy. It is your right to heal in a reasonable amount of time for future duty.”
                 “Yes," Bergman turned once more, "Yes, that is true, Captain." He then caught a good breath. "Commander Chorizo will do just that.” He cleared his throat, waited a moment to reaffirm his voice, his grin, whether real or fake, more pleasing to 67-9 than he wished it to be. “Tell me, Ronnie. Have you…had a chance to look over your previous mission reports?”
                “Yes.” 67-9 responded, only slightly annoyed to hear his name this time.
                “Those weeks after our last mission. They were wonderful! Do you remember the crew? Roger, Scotty, and Lydia?”
                Yes. I do. “Our mission was accomplished, and thus decommissioned. I do look forward to other missions in defense of Earth’s corridor and to the re-establishment of the natural biomes.”
                The lighting in the room reduced to half strength. 
                Bergman nodded and, perhaps lost in his past, lost his grin to gradually extinguish. The vent in 67-9’s room closed inside its ceiling register with a piercing slap, leaving the room deafeningly silent. Bergman looked up at the register. 67-9’s eyes were already drawn there.
                “Such cold, cold air.” Bergman said, his voice low and weakened to a whisper. “So sterile. Loaded with nanobots, you know. Hurts, sometimes, does it not…to breath it all in. Just knowing…they are there…those damned micro machines and their chemical complexities…tearing through our tissue with every breath; maintaining what God would have allowed to perish millennia ago.” 67-9 studied his old friend’s demeanor. “Amazing technology." Bergman continued, "Yes. Keeps us alive; keeps us functioning and…moving onward, one mission after another, one millennia...after…”
                Bergman pulled himself upright, clutched his chest to apparently prevent yet another fit. He cleared his throat, stared down at the floor at a face that could hardly be recognizable. “You may be correct. Might be more to this…knocking about the sky…than what I gave credit. Indeed, you must ask yourself…why did the Tower awaken…a landing crew such as ours? Military, engineering, scientific, medical…a potent bunch. To launch another satellite clone? Robots could do that. Do so all the time. Only the Tower knows. And God, I suppose.”
                “Agreed.” 67-9 acknowledged. God does not exist.
                Bergman turned and entered the first wave of LED which lit up as he moved against the dark edges of the empty hall as a blue hue in place of a shadow on the wall followed. As the door was closing, 67-9 heard Bergman say under his wispy breath, “Take care, Ronnie.”
                The door closed and the light from the corners of the small room grew to annoyance. Then the vent cracked open and more air injected into the room. Cold, cold air.


  1. Disturbing and detailed. Lovely characters.

  2. Thanks, Professor. Again, I had to clean up some grammar but then couldn't resist adding better detail. I really need to think: Edit first, Publish second". Why can't I do that? Why?! By the way, in case you are wondering, I largely accomplish the right order with other functions in life...(!)

  3. LOL! ALL functions, except the one where I make the bed after I leave it. Seems the bed is already made by the time I go nighty-night. It's like magic!