Author: Kim Kneen
Recently I have taken to sitting at portholes. I angle myself so I can see my reflection; reach out as if to clutch a hand or stroke a cheek. I choose remote locations where Gala can’t find me and remain as long as I dare.
My eyes ache from focusing on glass rather than the void beyond.
Gala has picked up on my discomfort.
‘Impaired function of the extra-ocular muscles.’ Her soothing tone is a welcome feature of the v.IX. ‘Common in middle-aged humans.’
I concur, pleased to have deceived the bot, and in the spirit of co-operation suggest she adjust the resolution on my screens.
Deprived of the companionship of my reflection I watch the old propaganda films. The splinter of stone as earth ground to a halt. The lengthening days. Broken children hurling rocks at the camera before retreating on all fours shrieking like monkeys.
“Your child deserves a better life.” I mouth the words in perfect time with the narrator. I must have watched this film a thousand times. When I was six, broadcasts like this persuaded my parents to move to a camp, like the one on the film. The race was on to find The Bridge; a child with the attributes required to reach old age.
The morning the army came, Mum tied a bright scarf to the door of our tent. She ran alongside the truck for as long as she could, shouting, “When you get back, Lena, look for the yellow.”
My results were so promising I made the shortlist with six other children.
I never went back.
“Congratulations, Lena.” Sally, our tutor, crouched by my desk. “You’re going to save mankind.”
I never saw Immy again, or Dai, or any of the other four Select. I often wonder if they were returned to their families, to the tattered tents on what was once the ocean floor.
It was the first time I’d been above ground in three years. This time I wasn’t bundled in the back of a truck but seated up-front, next to Sally, at the head of the convoy.
The Core rode in the vehicles behind. One hundred strangers I had pledged to maintain on the journey to Hydrax. They would lie dormant. It was my job to ensure their survival, to bridge the seventy-three years between this world and the next.
A gate opened in the perimeter fence. The ship hovered above the bedrock, edges undulating in the heat.
Sally described how the launch site had once offered rich pickings for redshanks; the shellfish that used to live in the mudflats and sustain the migrating birds now long gone.
“Safe trip, Lena.”
I succumbed on my birthday, seven years after Comms ceased.
The Core slept silently; the tranquillity broken only by the occasional drip of condensation that fell from their respiration tubes. I whispered their details.
“Daria, nineteen, Triage Nurse. Samuel, thirty-six, Architect.”
I bent over Samuel and probed the transparent wrap that clung to his face; the need for human contact overwhelming. I hooked my index finger beneath a crease and pulled, slid a finger inside the hole I’d created. His skin was cold and rough. Disappointed, I breathed warm air against his cheek, pressed my lips to the pink that bloomed on his skin.
When Samuel opened his eyes, I stayed calm. I couldn’t risk him waking the others. I hooked my finger around his respiration tube and squeezed.
Still nine years from Hydrax, I keep up the pretence of maintaining The Core. They’re almost all dead, of course, eased gently by me into the next world rather than the new world.
I resolve to stay away from portholes. If Gala found out about my on-going struggle with loneliness she wouldn’t hesitate to initiate behaviour mod. My state of mind is her priority after all.
For I am The Bridge.
Very deft switch from the pathos of loneliness to the pathology of a fruitcake! Great work.
That’s a fine tale.