by J. Daniel Batt
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
My link says, “I want you to know why I’m doing this. You’re the last living person I’ll ever see.” I hear the hope in her voice, and I also feel it. There’s such wanting flowing through the Mix.
This time I remember to tap my microphone so Trent can’t hear. “Please, please stop.”
The name I heard earlier floats through my mind. Kate. “She was my twin. It’s why they chose me to go.”
“Stop,” I say. And as I feel myself turning around, I realize I’ve said it to her and myself.
“It was just two years ago, and she’d just gone out to get a tub of ice cream.”
My link is sitting there, strapped into the chair, unable to move. Unable to escape. Her eyes are closed and she is even younger than I thought. She’s beautiful. I wish I knew her name.
“Stacie. Katie and Stacie. Our parents weren’t original.” Images of the two of them together fill my mind.
Ed’s voice pipes in: “Almost there. Get ready. I’m trying to reset the countdown at thirty. Don’t want to leave you in the Mix too long.”
I see Stacie and Katie unwrapping birthday gifts. Sleeping in a tent somewhere. At some boy-band concert screaming their lungs out. I feel happiness.
“The driver wasn’t actually that drunk. But it was enough. He slammed his Suburban into the side of her little Mini at over seventy-five. It was quick. Too quick.”
I see it all. The sirens. The hospital. The funeral. I feel that horrible demanding ache that Kate’s absence forces into our lives. Stacie’s life, I remind myself. These aren’t my memories.
Stacie continues, “Life wasn’t the same without her. So when they showed up, saying I could actually be with her again, even if I had to die to do it, I went with them.” Dread and a pounding sadness wrapped in a thin sleeve of hope.
Ed’s voice comes in too loud again. “Got it. How are are you doing?”
I mutter, “Fine,” as I stand awash in Stacie’s life. More memories move along the Mix.
Ed repeats himself: “Hey, how are you doing? You okay? Need you to respond.”
I had turned the microphone off. I tap it and mutter, “Fine.”
“Cool. It should be resetting any—”
He’s cut off as the computerized voice blurts, “T minus 10 seconds.”
Ed shouts, “Wait, no! We’re supposed to be at thirty.”
I blink and stagger back. I can’t focus. I keep seeing Stacie’s life and feeling Stacie’s emotions. I mumble, “No. Abort. Stop.”
“T minus 8 seconds.”
“What’s going on?”
I close my eyes as her life flashes before my eyes. It’s all there. Every image, every moment. I see the two sitting on the side of the pool daring each other to jump in first. Kate tumbles in first and their mom comes screaming out the door, diving into the water to rescue her. Neither of the girls could swim at age five.
I grunt, “She talked.”
“T minus 7 seconds.”
Ed’s voice grows loud and hollow. “No! How much?” Then his voice drops and I know he’s turned around to shout at someone in the room with him, “Shut it down. Now!”
“T minus 6 seconds.”
Stacie mumbles, “I miss her so much.” There’s flashes of images one after another with these words. Stacie alone in her room with a gun. Stacie walking along a bridge, peering over the edge into some strange flowing darkness. The water below her seems to bubble off in the room, and I feel like I’m drowning.
Ed’s voice is back. “It’s not working. We didn’t bring everything back online when we reset. Bloody hell!”
“T minus 5 seconds.”
Ed continues, “You’ve got to do it.”
The room is spinning and I find myself walking towards Stacie, wanting to reach out and put my arms around her. To hold her. She’s been so lonely for so long. I mutter, “Do what?”
“T minus 4 seconds.”
Stacie sighs. “It’s fine. I’m going to see her now.” A wave of peace follows this.
Ed is still shouting. “The emergency release! There’s one in the sphere!”
“T minus 3 seconds.”
Why would I do that? I wonder. I want to follow Stacie. To never leave her side. I feel like I’m being pulled up a mountain. Like I’m on a roller coaster about to plunge over the first crest.
The coasters. Six Flags.
And then, for strange moment, I’m back in my head. In me. But I can feel her world tugging at me. I can feel her soul bleeding into me. The Mix is so balanced, so perfectly designed to ensure there’s the connection, but to avoid this. I’ve failed. I’ve listened to her. I have to stop this. I won’t come back if I don’t.
“T minus 2 seconds.”
Ed is screaming into the mic: “Hit it!”
The emergency release. I turn around and see it to my right. The big red button. It’s huge. It’s on the other side. If I’d been in my designated spot, I could’ve hit it easily just by reaching out. But I discover I’ve drifted far across the room to stand next to Stacie.
I charge for the button, hearing my huge boots clang on the grate below me. The suit is huge and heavy. And there’s Stacie, there’s a gravity to her. I want to be near her. Underneath my suddenly lucid thoughts, I feel a cold tug back to her.
“T minus 1 second.”
Ed roars, “NOW!”
I lunge. Trip. Fall, and miss it by inches, my fingertips brushing the red metal. I clamber to my feet and stretch my hand to—
“Zero. Launch engaged.”
Hit the button. It’s too late. The room turns bright white. I hear a click. I spin, but I’m too slow. I catch a glimpse of Stacie from the side of my visor. The bolt guns on both side fire, sending six inches of solid metal through both of her temples. At the same moment, I know her blood stream is flooded with chemicals designed to kill instantly.
I see her life flash before my eyes. She’s so happy. She and Katie playing in their backyard. Running home after school. Kissing the same first boy. High school. Prom. College. The wreck. The funeral. The men in dark suits offering her a way to be reunited. Joy. Anger. Jealousy. Fear. Hope. Her emotions are a magnet, and I’m pulled along. I see me in her memories. I see the moment of the bolt firing.
And I can still hear her thoughts. She gone from here. She’s searching. She’s looking for Katie. I hear her beg me, “Come with me. Let’s find her together.”
The motors buried underneath the sphere chug and spin. The room moves from blinding white to supernova as I’m pulled along in Stacie’s movement from life to death to afterlife. I leave the sphere far behind.
I’m through. The air around me takes shape with hundreds of faces. Some blank. Some full of sudden surprise. Some in strange horror. A woman twisted in agony. All of us are on the edge of death. I know that these are the faces of those who have just died.
I see an old man stare at me. His face contorts in rage. I shouldn’t be here. He knows I’m wrong. I’m still alive, and I’m in the tide of the newly dead, the incoming rush of all those across the earth who have just died. There are so many.
I blink. I’m the first. I’m the first living human, the first woman, the first anything not dead to cross this. I’m the first necronaut. The journey into the world of death. It worked. I’m here.
My eyes glance to the corner of my faceplate. Fifteen minutes of oxygen. I blink. I’ve been here only for seconds. How have I used up half my oxygen?
“Katie!” I hear Stacie’s voice scream inside my head. I feel Stacie’s exuberance. Then I’m jerked, and I leave the newly dead behind. I’m standing next to Katie and Stacie as they embrace. They float inside this strange white world as the faces of the dead, blue and cold, float beyond.
I glance at my oxygen again. Five minutes left.
“No!” I shout. Katie and Stacie look at me and both hold out a hand. I start to reach for them knowing I’ll be jerked along. Knowing that my oxygen will run out, and I will die. I will be the first one to die in the world of the undead. I can just stay here. Forever. With them.
I gasp and cough. My oxygen level is blinking a red “one minute left.” I’m dying. I panic and swim away from Katie and Stacie. They look back at each other; they’ve already forgotten me. What do I do? How do I get back?
Then I remember. I chomp my teeth together and swallow the anesthetic. The Mix is off. I can’t hear Stacie. I can’t see her. The blinding white of this world turns black. My eyes roll back in my head as the phantom faces fade away.
“You okay?” The words are far from me. I blink. All I see is white. I’m still in the world. I didn’t make it. I sit up in pure panic, sweat pouring down my face.
“Calm down. You’re safe. You made it back. You’re okay.” It’s Ed’s voice. I’m in the medical room. I try to talk, but the words are strange, and I think I’m just babbling.
Ed puts a hand on me. “It’s fine. You’re here. No need to talk.” There are others in the room. I struggle to remember their names. They all look familiar.
My voice is weak. “What?”
He smiles. “We thought we’d lost you. Four hours. You were gone for four hours. We kept getting a ping back, so we knew you were still alive, but we were afraid you weren’t coming back. You only had a half-hour of O2. Not sure how you made it stretch.”
I shut my eyes. “It was only seconds.”
“Seconds. I was only over there for a few seconds.”
“You had no oxygen left. You used up thirty minutes of oxygen. Our clocks said four hours.”
“It’s all wrong. It’s not like...” I feel dizzy and reach out to Ed. He leans me back on the bed.
“It’s okay. We’ll figure it out later. Just rest.” I see him motion the others out of the room. He shuts off one of the overhead lights. “You did it. You were the first.”
I mutter before drifting off, “The first.”
As I fall asleep, I grow strangely happy. There’s no reason for this emotion. I shudder as I realize it’s not mine. The world grows dark, and I dream that night of a world beyond this one. Dreams fueled by emotions and a world that are not my own.
Copyright © 2017 by J. Daniel Batt