A SciFi Short Story
Sometimes Endings Can Be Beautiful
A quick note about this story. It is VERY short. It was written as an entry to the Neoverse Writing Competition, and actually made it to the top 50 finalists. I am happy to offer this short story in its entirety for FREE to all newsletter subscribers. Please enjoy the following excerpt from DOLOR.
Perhaps being alone is the burden all mankind must eventually bear. The bed was cold without him. His side, still made up, had not felt the press of a body in eight months.
Eight months, three days, eleven hours and nineteen minutes. She’d know down to the second if she thought hard enough. Time was always a comfort to her. Like the knowledge that when the alarm rang in seven minutes and twenty three seconds another day would start, and she could forget about the night and the suffocating press of silence and darkness.
She stared hard, but there was no light inside her room. Not even the sliver under the door from Pietr’s early morning trek to the loo. She blinked against the blur of tears on her lashes, but she did not let them fall.
“No,” she said to herself sternly. “This must stop. You must move on.”
When the alarm rang exactly six minutes and fourteen seconds later, she pushed back her blanket and sat up in bed. She was stiff. It wasn’t a surprise, the doctors had warned her of it, but it was troublesome to make the leg and arm work naturally. In time, they promised, she would not even have to think about how to make them move. But, for now, every pull and flex of tendon and muscle had to be consciously controlled.
When she stood it was a fluid motion, but lacking whatever bit of natural grace she’d once had. She dressed efficiently, ignoring the face in the mirror. Some part of her knew that she’d have to look eventually, but it would not be today. The damage was minimal, they’d assured her, and it could be healed quickly when she returned home.
Home. She winced when she thought the word. What was home? An empty house. She wasn’t even sure she’d go back to see his clothes in the closet and his room full of musical equipment that he never played.
A knock sounded on her door. “Vixen? Are you up?”
Her lips turned up at the formal address. Vixen was her codename, but she liked it and everyone said it suited her, so she used it more than she used her real name. Who would prefer Emily to Vixen, anyway? She opened the door and let her subordinate in. Firefly was more than a subordinate, she was as highly trained as Vixen herself, but she chose to remain at her current rank rather than take the exams that would propel her higher in the command. Vixen had wondered if the woman was holding back because she liked their partnership, and as much as it worried her it made her glad. She could not lose Firefly, too.
“Is Dodge up?” she asked, pulling her hair back.
“Up and fed.” Firefly perched on the edge of the desk. She watched Vixen strap on her weapons and tie them down, grimacing when the leather tangled in her new fingers. “Here, let me.” She knelt and wrapped the strap around Vixen’s thigh and tied it tight. She grinned up at Vixen with a wink. “I’m glad I can be useful somehow.”
“You’re useful. I couldn’t get along without you, and neither could Dodge.”
Vixen ignored the troubled look on Firefly’s face. There had been a time when she might have berated the young woman’s act of kindness. She might have dismissed her angrily for daring to think that she needed help. But the last few months had taught Vixen just how much she needed the woman. How much she needed everyone on the ship. Without them she would have drifted away into the sun, untethered.
“His eyes seem to be functioning?” she asked, bringing the topic back to Dodge. Whereas she knew in her own mind that she had grown soft, she did not want to announce it to the world. Better to leave it alone until it really became a problem.
“He’s completely acclimated.” Firefly opened the door and whistled down the hall. A few moments later the heavy thump of four legs could be heard charging down the hall. Firefly stepped back and the dog, easily three times the size of a normal dog of his breed, careened into the room. Vixen knelt and he hurried to her, pressing his nose against the side of her face.
“Hello, Dodge.” She buried her hands in the fur at the nape of his neck and kissed the spot between his eyes. Where once he’d had the normal soft brown eyes of a canine, he now sported a pair of completely bionic eyes that looked somewhat like goggles on his hairy face. He licked her gently, and nipped at her chin. He was angry, she knew, because Firefly had been tending to his needs more than she. “I know, I know. I’m sorry.” She pressed her lips against his ear. “It’s just hard. You know?”
Though Dodge was a dog, he wasn’t “just” a dog. Vixen had learned long ago that he knew far more than she usually gave him credit for. And he seemed to know this, too, because he nodded once and sat, wagging his tail. He pawed her thigh, over the melding of her human and bionic flesh.
“Yes, Dodge, I’m well,” she said in answer to his unspoken question. He cocked his head, disbelieving, and she stood. “What are we doing today?”
Firefly was watching her, and it made Vixen uncomfortable. They all watched her now, all the time, as if they worried she might take a long walk out a short airlock. She could not fault their caution; the loss she had suffered had threatened to break her. But she was whole, if a bit weaker at the stress points.
“Docking on Terminal 513-B. We have repairs and furloughs for three days and three nights.”
“Good. The crew could use some time to decompress.”
“They’re worried about you.”
Vixen sighed. “I will survive, Fire. I always do. Even this.”
“That’s what we’re worried about. You shouldn’t have to live like this forever. Locked up here with the memories.”
“I like the memories.” Vixen pulled on her long coat and clicked her fingers at Dodge. “It’s a small comfort, but it’s comfort all the same.”
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