Andrea had never had to wash blood off of her hands before. She dripped the clear dose of hydro-oxygen conservatively over her fingers to flush the crimson stain down the reprocessing disposal. Sweat dripped down her forehead and cheeks but never reached her mouth, which was still covered by the air-processor mask. The device flung the harsh echo of breathing around the blue-tiled room.
Andrea washed and washed and washed until all the blood was gone. She pulled open the plastic pack to remove the drying towel, which she placed between her hands to rub the moisture away.
Just then, the comm-screen in her bathroom came to life and through the initial static a disembodied head appeared on its surface. “Ms. Nickels, the Coalition of Health has confirmed your recent gift to its cause. Did you bring the trophy?”
Still panting, Andrea reached into the vac-sac and removed a bloody license from its confines. When she held it towards the screen, the head tilted and looked her over. “Please place the item in question in the decontamination compartment for scanning.”
Pulling open the little grey drawer at the bottom of the screen, Andrea slipped the license in and slammed the drawer shut. She watched the green light turn red and listened to the hissing sound resonating from the device. She glanced back up to the screen, her mask distorting her voice. “When do I get the clean air?”
“Once the scanning is complete we will enable the distribution of clean non-viral air into your paid quarters.”
As she waited, Andrea reminded herself to take the knife that she had used from the kitchen and dispose of it. Filthy blood and dust particles couldn’t be allowed to roam free in her new air. Not when it came at such a cost.
“Andâ€¦ will the police be after me?” She was getting nervous, and she knew the head could tell.
“Andrea, our services are one-hundred percent safe. We have arranged for a percentage of the funds to be transferred to the government. Your service has been made completely legal under the Self-Offense for Healthy Living Act.”
Just then the red light switched to green and a click could be heard behind the wall. Andrea felt the cool blast of fresh air pump into her apartment and she immediately tugged the mask down to rest at her collar. Breathing deeply, she laughed out loud and spun in a circle, as exuberant as a child in a summer rainshower.
“The Coalition of Health wishes to thank you for your service and hopes that you enjoy your three months of clean oxygen. You will also receive a free catalog of viruses in your area” By now the head had faded and the screen shut down, but Andrea was still reveling in the smell of absolutely nothing. Once the viewscreen’s static had subsided she walked over to wash her face once more. The water trickled over her hands and soaked into her washcloth. She smiled until it hit her face.
Then she started to worry about the water.
“Don’t worry Miles, you’ll find me attractive. After the change you’ll be programmed to find me attractive.” Auroras voice sounded like two voices, a harp and a flute playing together. She stretched her lean blue body against the circular view port, the lights from the outside of the ship shining on her alien body.
“I know. It’s just scary.” Miles leaned his head back into the pillows of what used to be their bed; she did not sleep with him anymore. She hadn’t slept next to him since she had decided to undergo the change a week ago in the ship. Everyone was to undergo the change before planet fall, but Miles was holding back.
“It’s just a big change for me.” Miles looked at Auroras blue skin, the twelve slender five- jointed fingers on each hand. He drew his knees up to his chest. “I’m happy with the way I look, the way you used to look.” He waved his hands in the air, as if trying to dispel his last words. “Sorry Aurora. I didn’t mean to. . .you were beautiful then, you are beautiful now, it’s just different.”
Aurora emitted a high flutelike sound that Miles knew was laughter. “Darling, I don’t feel upset by your personal feelings about my appearance. I’m free from those kinds of concerns now. I was free from the moment my genetic reconstruction started.” She walked over to him, her movements graceful, the muscles in her long legs constricting and relaxing like coils under her skin. “Miles, you were the one that talked me into this, you were the one that didn’t want to be on the crash and burn course of humanity.” She towered over him.
Miles got to his feet. “I still don’t! I just feel, I don’t know, like we’ve failed, like we are running away.”
Aurora made a hand gesture over her abdomen, a sign of understanding. “Abandoning humanity?”
“I guess.” He moved to the other side of their small, shared quarters.
She watched him with her multifaceted green eyes. “Miles, you are one man. This group is just under ten thousand. We couldn’t change the whole of humanity even if we wanted. We just need to let the humans go, make life elsewhere.”
“Carry the code.” Said Miles, repeating the group mantra.
“Carry the code of life.” She moved towards him, her strange hands outstretched. Miles found himself inadvertently wanting to move away, but he forced himself to go to her, to reach out his arms and fold into her. When they had designed their new forms, they kept touch as a sense of comfort. Miles was suddenly glad of that. Aurora stroked one hand through his hair. “Maybe someday humans will get over all their problems, and maybe someday we will find them again. We’re doing the right thing Miles; we are making life that has a chance of survival. You were the one that first told me that Miles.” She brought his chin up so that they were looking into each other’s eyes, his hazel, hers a thousand shades of green. Her fluted voice seemed to play a sour chord. “Miles. I miss you.”
“I’m right here.”
“You are here, but I can’t be with you. Miles, I want to make love to you again; I want us to share the understanding we once did. I don’t want you to flinch from me anymore.”
His cheeks turned bright red. “I’m sorry, I never meant to do that.”
“I’m not mad Miles, I don’t get angry like that anymore. I’m not physically capable of it.” She knelt before him, her head at his shoulder. He touched her face, and her chest purred.
Miles nodded. “I’m ready Aurora.”
She sang with joy.
Thereâ€™s blood up to the windows. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, to stack the bodies in the Mercer Building, to get â€˜em off the Rail. But I canâ€™t help wondering if the allusion to gore behind those art-deco panes is worse the actual carnage.
At least theyâ€™re off the Rail. At least thereâ€™s that.
My brother took his classâ€”God, how many would that have been? 50? 60 schoolchildren?â€”to the History Museum just yesterday. Show them the Independence Day exhibit, remind them of the two decades spent fighting the Earth Alliance so that the Mars colony could be a world in its own right, beholden to none. Took the Rail, Line 4â€”site #1 of 15. Had they made that trip today, on Independence Day itself, then their screams would have been the first.
Fifteen bombs, throughout the city. Crippling not only the Rail, but also the ComNet. All com systems were shut down, in order to stop more bombs from being set off remotely. I canâ€™t imagine what this did to the survivors, though, who counted on their coms to call for help.
As a paramedic, Iâ€™m only any use in the aftermath. Arriving at Olympus stationâ€”site #7 of 15â€”I was surprised at how helpful most of the â€œciviliansâ€ were. There were no gawkers, no brawlers, none of the usual characters that make my job more difficult than it already is. Only assistants. People moving debris and corpses, being directed by myself and the other emergency personal. We were all helping, those who could. And we stayed silent for those who couldnâ€™t.
They say it takes a particular kind of person to live on Mars, a temperament out of place on Earth or the Moon. Looking back, on what we did on that day of chaos, of fifteen bombs and fifteen major disasters, I can see how true that statement is. And it fills me with an immense pride.
No oneâ€™s taken credit for this destruction yet, but it doesnâ€™t matter.
Mars won’t be beaten. We spent 20 years under the shadow of the EA, after decades of carving a life out of red rock and poison air.
We are used to terror.
The orphanage was in the ghetto of the city, below the levels that Anodramidaâ€™s mother had forbidden her to visit when she was a podling. It smelled like metal and sulfur, and the darkness made her shake. Christopher wrapped her tentacle around his arm, and his warmth evoked an involuntary purr, from deep within her throats.
Her mother said that humans were ugly, all those holes on their faces, the creases and the tangle of hair. Her mother thought that hair was the worst, it seemed filthy to her, the way it fell everywhere. Anodramida had thought humans were creepy till she separated the telepathic link from her mother and went to University. Without her mothers influence she found herself attracted to the humans heat and innocence. Christopher was all warmth, and he had hair on every section of his body, Anodramida knew this from examining his body in detail.
Christopher signed all the documents and told the robot caretakers that she was his lawyer. A lie, of course, but humans were good at lying. They walked the rows of cradles and looked at all the little humans. They were asleep; drugged or in stasis. Humans reproduced like bacteria, so much that they could not always afford to keep the children they produced. They were very territorial too, here, on their rusted home world, aliens were forbidden from adopting human children. Humans would rather keep their young in stasis than allow them to be raised by an alien.
To take home a child, Anodramida would not be able to return to her home world till her child was a legal adult. The child would never be allowed off world without Christopher, who would be his legal guardian. That would be twenty-two years on Earth, one of the most politically unstable planets in the galaxy. Anodramida wanted to grab all the children at once, made a little pod nest of all of them, like back at home how she was raised. Of course, she had read that human children required more care, and since they didnâ€™t have a psychic link with a mother, they would be much harder to control.
The robots let them pick a child to lift out of stasis. All curled up, he looked like a little pink bean. She wrapped her tentacles around him, but he didnâ€™t wake up. The robots took him to wash all the stasis fluid off him, and he slept through all of their scrubbing. Anodramida watched and thought they might be handling him a bit rough, the little thing looked so small, so delicate, like parts of it were almost transparent. When they were done toweling him off they handed him back to her, and she examined his little toes, the feathery hair, and the pudgy tummy. This child would grow and change, and get covered with hair and eat human food, oh divine energies, she would have to make human food!
Anodramida felt like she was breaking inside. She looked at Christopher. What had she been thinking? Had her idealism been overwhelming her good sense? How did she get to be here, holding a pink thing, giving up her life for this little person she didnâ€™t even know! She couldnâ€™t do it. She would tell the robots to put it back to sleep. Maybe it was good to want to help but maybe it wouldnâ€™t be possible, she couldnâ€™t raise an alien.
She looked down at the little one. â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€ She said, in her native tongue. She gave him a careful squeeze and his eyes opened. She stroked his head with a free tentacle, and his lips curled up into a human smile.
Anodramida took him home.
Bernard held the letter loosely in his hands. He sat down on his bed, staring at the blank taupe walls of the Renewal center and didnâ€™t look at the letter. Bernardâ€™s Renewalist, Maureen, had suggested he try and read the letter again today. Heâ€™d been trying for three hours.
Slowly, Bernard unfolded the letter, catching glimpse of the clean type at the top.
To Myself, Upon My Renewal,
What a strange way to start–
Bernard crushed the letter in his hands, and threw the ball of crumpled paper across the room. He closed his eyes tight and shook his head over and over before burying his face in his pillow. Even with his eyes closed, Bernard knew the letter was there. Waiting for him.
He had to read it today. Maureen had said as much, implying that this was a necessary block he had to get over before they could move forward. He had to read it today.
Slowly, tentatively, as if it was going to explode, Bernard approached the crumpled ball. He carefully smoothed it out, and began to read.
To Myself, Upon My Renewal,
What a strange way to start to a letter. Still, I donâ€™t know of another way to address you. â€œClone,â€ just seemsâ€¦wrong. Youâ€™ve got all my memories, after all. Well, most of them
Which brings us to the reason you are receiving this reintroduction letter. I have not been negligent in my updating. Granted, more than a year has passed, and at lot has happened since the last bit of memory you possess. Luckily, the reason I was renewed wasnâ€™t anything suddenâ€”not an accident like poor Thomas, thank God. I have cobbled together an extensive collection of videos and snapshots and written material to better acclimate you, myself, my clone, me back into the world. But I wanted to start with this letter. Because there is no sense trying to obfuscate why you’re here, in this state.
Eight months ago, Mom died–
With a howl, Bernard tore the letter in half, and then in half again, and again, in smaller and smaller pieces until he couldnâ€™t read it, until it wasnâ€™t a letter, until it was only confetti about his bare feet.
Bernard took a deep breath and thumbed the intercom. â€œShelly? This is Bernard, patient number 235674. Could you have Maureen send over another copy of my reintroduction letter. please?â€
Shellyâ€™s sunny voice crackled in. â€œCertainly, Bernard. How far did you get this time?â€
â€œYouâ€™ll get through it. This is just a difficult day for you.â€
Dust filled the air as a sand blast landed on the flames coming from the cathedral of St. Liz. Brother Kyleâ€™s red mechanical eye, the Snipers Lover, adjusted to the lower light as he ran towards the Archbishops secretary.
â€œBrother Alexander! Who is in the garden?â€
â€œWhat?â€ Alexander clutched his data pad to his chest and stared past Louis toward the blaze.â€ Kyle grabbed Alexander and shook him.
â€œWho is holding St. Liz? Who has the pillar?â€
Alexander shook his head. â€œAh, itâ€™s noon, mid-meal, so itâ€™s one of the acolytes.â€
Kyle muttered a curse. The pillar of St. Liz was a forty-pound architectural marvel that was held at a crucial intersection in the cathedral. If the pillar were to be dropped St. Liz would crumble. Kyle had seen simulations of the twenty-eight hour collapse, wood and stone crashing inwards leaving only a few outside walls standing. The St. Liz pillar was designed as a representation of the peopleâ€™s connection to the body of the church, and under the dome, it had special relevance to the interdependency of the lunar community.
Another gust of sand and ash blew over the cathedral scattering tourists and clergy as the domes emergency system, millions of spider shaped drones, swarmed over the fire. Kyleâ€™s lungs, manufactured during the war, filtered out the excess oxygen produced by the malfunctioning pumps. The excess oxygen produced by the environmental system in the dome had started the fire. Warnings flashed on the inside of his skull that the concentration of toxins in the air was exceeding recommended doses for normal human capacity.
Brother Kyle caught the eye of Ruth, a Sister in the order who he had never spoken to before. Both of them had purposefully given each other distance. After the war, most veterans did. Now, he found himself calling to her.
â€œSister Ruth! Move Up!â€ She leaped, her steel extensions unfolding under her robe. In two seconds she was standing next to him, boosted five feet in the air by her Steel Razors, the legs that could cut through bone. They headed down through the maze of the cathedral, built with the native grey stone. Ruth snatched Kyle up into her extended mechanical arms and vaulted over patches of intense heat. When she began coughing Kyle grabbed her face and mashed her mouth against his, exhaling into her lungs.
â€œIâ€™ve got the Sweet Breath.â€ he explained nervously. In the war he had given out a thousand breaths, but after a few years in a monastery, he was suddenly squeamish about touching lips.
At the entrance to the underground garden fire was crawling up the graceful trees, bright like jewels on a womanâ€™s hand. The acolyte stood in his red robes coughing, struggling to hold up the pillar. The acolyte cried out when he saw Kyle and Ruth.
â€œThe fire!â€ he said, tears in his lashes.
Kyle yanked the acolyte close and forced a breath into his throat. The kid was too surprised to do anything but inhale. â€œItâ€™s okay, Iâ€™m here to take over.â€
â€œNo!â€ yelled Ruth, her voice dimmed by the roar of the flames. â€œWeâ€™ll all getting out.â€
Kyle took hold of the pillar. â€œIâ€™m staying in the garden. I have the Sweet Breath, I can do this.â€
â€œThe church may collapse anyway! If you force me I will carry you out of here.â€
Kyle nodded and hit the acolyte on the back of the head. The acolyte folded like silk onto the crackling grass.
â€œYou can only take one of us Ruth.â€
â€œDamn you! We all did shit in the war. You donâ€™t need to do this.â€
â€œThis isnâ€™t about the war. Get that kid out. Iâ€™ll survive; Iâ€™m the only person in that can do this. I need to do this. Let me go!â€
Ruth picked up the kid and danced into the flames.
Brother Kyle curled himself around the pillar, leaning his baldhead against the lacquered wood. Smoke clouded his vision. His lungs flashed red warnings on the inside of his eyes. He thought about being on tourist duty, carefully handing the pillar to a young woman posing for a picture with her parents.
â€œIâ€™m not really a believer.â€ She had said.
â€œMaybe not.â€ Kyle remembered smiling. â€œBut right now, you are holding up the church.â€