Author : Suzanne Borchers

Bea stared through the 10 mm thick window at the metallic mining equipment covering the gray landscape. One more plate to wipe then she’d be able to read and escape this. She’d be in a colorful world filled with fascinating sights and enchanting friends.
“Dammit, I hate this place,” she muttered. She swept her gaze around the kitchen area. Had her husband heard? He must be outside securing one more plate on the roof. She caught her breath as she stifled a laugh. “How long has it been since I’ve seen one drop of rain? How long have we been here? Forever?”
“Lonely?” The quiet question came from behind her.
“Oh, James. You weren’t supposed to hear that.” Bea turned to wrap her arms around her husband’s waist.
“I never should have married you, Bea. This is no place for a woman. You were happy with your family…, friends…, parties…, travels.”
She wanted to say that this godforsaken rock was no place for a man either. Instead, she drew him closer and rested her head on his chest.
A motion outside caught her attention.
“It’s the supply shuttle! Maybe they’ve brought more library chips!” She pulled away from James’ arms, running to retrieve the case holding the old chips.
“Bea.” His voice seemed to stick in his throat. “It’s not the supply ship.” He drew her over to the window.
Bea’s eyes widened at the sight of the approaching white suited androids. Their measured steps inevitably brought them to the outside airlock door. She didn’t see them enter and close it, but her heart knew. Soon they would be inside.
“James! Hide me!”
She pressed against him.
“There’s no place to hide.” Tears crowded his eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
Bea ran through the room, from one wall to another and then back, like a mouse searching for a hole. Meanwhile, metallic appendages pounded the door.
“No!” she screamed.
James opened the door and let the androids into their santuary, their home.
She beat his back with one small, tight fist. “No!” Then she sunk onto the floor, still clutching the case in her other hand.
One android blocked off James from interfering while the other android herded Bea into the tiny room in back.
“James! Don’t let him touch me!”
James stared at the floor. “I can’t stop them. I’m so sorry. I wish I could. Damn that supply ship.” His head swayed with each word. He wiped tears and cursed beneath his breath.
“No! Get away!” Bea’s voice echoed through the cubicle. “But, I’ve never seen the Martian Vaults, or the Baths of Otics, or…” Her voice died away.
The android emerged into the main cubicle and turned to James. He held the case of chips. “Rules cannot be broken. There is a waiting line.”
“But the supply ship didn’t come on time.” James said. “We couldn’t trade for other chips. We haven’t seen a ship in months. Have pity.”
“Rules cannot be broken.” With that, the two androids left James standing alone.
Bea staggered out from their sleeping pod. The chip insertion socket was gone from the tiny cavity in her temple. A small drop of blood intermingled with a tear down her cheek.
“No more worlds to view,” she murmured.
Bea turned and scanned the tiny colorless cubicle. “Ever.”
James moved to Bea.
She whispered.
James leaned toward her.
“They never let you borrow another chip when…” She touched the empty cavity with a finger. “Never.”
“We’ll still have each other,” James said.
He drew her in close.
Bea felt nothing, enclosed her endless gray world.


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