“Only one way to go,” she had said. “You’ll find him in the last room on the left side. You can’t miss it, he’s our only patient.” The faint words had floated up and around Yul, disembodied like faded flowers interred in the forgotten pages of pressed memoirs. If only she had stopped there; but the polite lady in white, seated behind her immaculate whey counter, every spadiceous hair in place and apparently without a worry in the world, droned on.

Yul felt her ire rise as steam from a kettle. Yes, he was a good patient. Yes, he was doing so well. Yes, yes, yes, what the hellocks do you know. Every fiber of Yul’s Hynerian hide ached to cry out bullocks. You don’t know him; you don’t know what the hellocks you are saying, so just shut the frail up. In days past, Yul would have exploded, for she did not suffer fools, but today was a new day and she just didn’t have the energy. So these petulant thoughts cavorted with her other thoughts and everyone just smiled their insincere smiles and moved on.

Yul looked up. This was it: Corridor C. She cracked her neck, straightened her polished glass tile jacket, took a breath between her pursed wet purple lips and stared down the hall. One light shown, just as the nurse had said. In five breaths she would arrive; five more lonely breaths before the door, the one of light, the one with Rog inside, or was it her future. She wasn’t sure as one merged into the other as inexorably as day into night.

The corridor looked longer than it was. Distance and time changed clothes as colors muted into shades of gray and sound traveled as if from under a heavy sea. Her doe eyes saw neither shape nor form but past and future through windows rained. Light, try as it might, could not, did not chronicle without the mind’s praetorian permission.

From somewhere sounded a click, and then a clack. Click. Clack. Click, clack, click, clack and her mind swirled in memories as shadows dark. One more step, one more click, one more clack and the light would draw a line before her toes as surely as any starting line before intrepid sprinters lathered in the sweat of anticipation, a crystallization of mind and body into the narrow beam of now-ness, drawn toward the glitter of gold as babies to their mother’s teat.

From darkness to light, Yul leaned, fearful her choice attire would signal her arrival as surely as a signal light in the fog. He was better, would fully recover, she had been told. That much was remembered. As if drafted into service against its will, her lower lip quivered. Aggravated by resistance, her left cheek joined forces with a disconcerting twitch that threatened to let loose the essence of her dark confusion as melting snow gushes down the mountainside in spring.

My Janus, she thought. What is wrong with me? Peeking from her secluded perch she spied Rog sitting up in bed looking better than she felt he had a right to look. Said he was a quick healer, he did. But this was beyond quick. He looked perfectly angelic, a childlike joy written across his face as only the boy from the ranches’ of the Southern reaches could display. What a specimen; and why it pissed her so, she could not say, or truth be known, would not admit. She had suffered worry and doubt. Damn him, he should suffer the same. Still, that shiott-eating grin, well, what could one say.

So, why? Why the hesitation she wondered as her back protested the undue angle of posture. Wasn’t this the outcome she wanted? Wasn’t this the moment she had craved, had lit candles and offered barter? And yet, with a twitching cheek and pregnant eyes she stood frozen as icicles at midnight, letting the breath of life dissipate in undocumented hesitation. Slap yourself and get in there beotch. And so she did.

His eyes lit up like a young child on Christmas morn, and it didn’t help. “Yul,” exclaimed Rog, “look at me.” His signature smile filling the room like helium in a birthday balloon. When Rog smiled that smile of his, it was hard to notice anything else. His face seemed to expand to twice normal size, all teeth, cheeks and eyes. Lifting his arm with a twist of his hand resembling the flourish of an ancient Nusian dance, he snapped his fingers. “Good as brand-spanking, snoot lifting, hide blessing, frailing good new. How ‘bout them fricken doodledums babe?” And then he laughed that laugh he did with scintillating eyes casting glow upon cheeks rising in joy not seen since before the confrontation.

“Come here baby,” said Rog, still too consumed in her unexpected presence to recognize the slight hesitation. “Grab my hand!” She did. “Feel that?”

“I do.”

“Ha, Ha,” he bellowed as if the very words were going to lift him out of bed and carry him out of the room to some imaginary dais waiting his victory speech. “Tell us Mr. Rog, how did you do it?” More laughter issued forth from Rog and Yul wondered, if not worried, whether the supply was endless. “I don’t know who this John is, but hawt damn, I’m a believer.”

“Believer?” asked Yul, puzzled. This was not the Rog she knew.

“In miracles darlin’. Look at me. Can you believe it? Good as frailing new. Did I already say that?” More blissful oblivious laughter ensued. “Well, its true potato cake, look at me.” And Rog lifted both arms and flexed his bulging pythons like bookends holding his megawatt smile in check.

“That’s just great baby,” said Yul, her forced smile holding back the flood, as Rog’s hand tightened its grip on hers, instinctively feeling her pull away.

Rog sat up straight, his mirth gone as quickly as the sound of last call, her tears washing away the veneer of his self-absorption. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she breathed as much as said, breaking eye contact with her wrist to wipe the tears, more subterfuge than necessity.

Brushing the tears from her face, Rog lifted his hand and rubbed his fingers together. He said, “This is not nothing. And these are not tears of joy. What’s up?”

Yul’s eye darted (clicked) to the left of Rog’s face and quick as rabbits under pursuit jerked (clacked) across his furrowed brow to the right. [ed note–alt passage: Yul looked across the expanse of Rog’s face as if surveying the horizon on the open plains, searching for some clue as to where to go next.] The sound, click, clack, clanged in her mind like the chains of banished eidolons haunting her conscious. You, you selfish beotch, this is not about you and your algid pity. May your tears fall on hearts of stone, their patter as laughter for your callous soul. Come, bear your chains. This is where you belong.

Yul summoned all the strength she could find. “This is your moment baby and I am thrilled beyond words for you and this miracle. I can’t believe it. Really. Miracle is the only way to describe it.”

Rog squeezed her hands again and smiled. She was thrilled for him, an interesting, if unsettling, choice of expression he thought. Why for him and not for us? Between “him” and “us” might as well been a vast glacier, just as frigid no less. Naïve he wasn’t. She wasn’t telling him everything. Thinking better than to push the issue, Rog said, “You look marvelous tonight, although at this level, I do find having a bazillion reflections of my teeth staring back at me a bit unnerving.” Then he laughed in the way he laughed with Chaz on the dock only he dared not tussle Yul’s gorgeous mane. She smiled back as those who finish second smile.


One Hour Earlier

John stood and walked around his antique wooden desk, a gift from his grandfather, who, if he had known John had removed it from the manor and placed it aboard the carrier would surely have returned from the beyond. His office onboard the Aegis bordered on museum order and cleanliness and bespoke a cultured mind with insets lit of remembrances past. Soft light created a warm soothing feel like an old pub known only to locals. From somewhere a subtle sound, running water or white noise it was hard to say, complimented a relaxed and inviting yet focused ambiance. “Come in Yul. I’ve been expecting you. Please have a seat. Can I get you anything?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.” Her glass jacket came alive in the subtle play of warm light and she looked electric. John had never seen such a garment and he asked of its origin and so the conversation went for some time before matters of concern took their natural place in queue.

John sat at the edge of his desk and cocked his head with a paternalistic nod. “How are you feeling?

“I feel like crap. Care to explain what the frail happened in the bay?” Yul crossed her legs to the sound of her jacket crinkling. The room felt too . . .–oh she couldn’t put a word to it, but it made her feel out of place, like she didn’t belong. Part of her just wanted to get up and mess up some of the papers on his desk and throw her jacket to the floor. Still, she had to admit, the room and the man breathed confidence and since Rog was in his hands, perhaps a less judgmental approach was best.

John smiled, softly. “Trev said you were feisty, I suppose he wasn’t kidding. Let me rephrase the question. How have you been feeling?

“Fine.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

John walked around to the back of his desk and picked up a translucent file, which glowed with multi-colored lighted tabs. The light reflected and danced off of Yul’s jacket, linking the two as if the light knew to whom it belonged. “You sure?”

“Frail. Just say what you got to say. You know what’s in that file and I’ve got better places to be.”

“Okay. I’ll cut to the chase. After we quilled you and Emy we did a full body scan—of you both—medical that is. Quilling should do no harm, but with an alien species like yourself, one can never be sure. Dosage, reaction, etc.”

Yul sat up; her eyes widened (click) and then narrowed (clack) like the aperture of a camera seeking focus. “Don’t even frailing tell me—“

“Nope. The quilling worked as it should. Outside of what might feel like a slight hangover neither you nor Emy will have any lasting side effects.” John paused. Yul sat silent, her eyes not leaving his and appearing as long as they were wide.

“Okay,” she said, calling his bluff as she turned to leave. “Thanks for the update and all. Nice to know.”

“Wait.” Time froze and Yul felt her heart drop to the floor as if the very word lassoed her ankles. “There’s more.” Yul turned. “I thought you’d want to know.”

“More?” said Yul, more raspy whisper than her usual strong diction.

“Please sit Yul and listen closely to what I’m about to say.” John laid it out. There was a growth. Abnormal. Spreading. If she wasn’t feeling ill, that would soon change.

Yul was seldom speechless. She stood and walked closer to John, her glass tiled jacket clicking and clacking, the only sound in the room. “How certain?”

“I’m seldom wrong. I can show you the scans if you like?”

“But how? How can you know? You’ve never seen a species like ours before?”

“That was the first question we asked ourselves. So we compared your scan to the other crew members in addition to the medical database that Trev shared with us. The growth inside of you, well, we are fairly certain of three things. First, it is abnormal, shouldn’t be there. Second, we did a biopsy. Mutation is spreading at ten times normal healthy cell growth.”

And the third thing?”

“We don’t know?”

“What?”

“How long. We don’t know how long you’ve got?”

“Can you cut it out? Fix it? Like Rog. You can do that right? That’s why you’re telling me this. Because you’re going to fix me. You’re going to cure me. And you need my permission, to operate. So you’re asking me. You are asking me if I consent.”

John pursed his lips.

“Damn you, tell me you need my permission. Tell me that folder in your hands has some sort of consent form. Give it to me. I’ll sign it. Yes, I’ll sign it. Right here. Now. Yes. Frail yes.” Yul reached out and grabbed the folder. Flipping through the charts her fingers moved faster and faster. Papers fell to the floor like leaves in autumn and the rain came down upon the tiles of glass as fact worked its way from inside out.

Yul dropped the empty folder. Blue streaks ran down her face. “There is no consent form is there?”

“Yul, I’m afraid not.”

“I see. Well, I think I need some time. I need some time to process. Is that okay? Can I have some time?”

“Yul—“

“Oh, and can I go see Rog? I hear he is much better.”

“Of course. I think he will be very happy to see you. Yul, I was –“

“One promise John.”

“Go on.”

“Tell no one about this.”

“As you wish. I would like—“

“Later John. Later. Okay. Later. Please.”

The walk back to her quarters was like a dream. Shapeless, formless lights, as one might see from the window of a train at night, came and went, conversations coursed like swollen rapids in the tempest of her mind and the whisk of the door opening and closing were matters of fact if not noted in memory.

Yul walked to her study. Under her desk stood a small metal cabinet with three drawers, each with its own cryption. Her trembling fingers punched the code on the first drawer and with a burst of compressed air, the drawer slid open on rails molasses smooth, quiet as the morning dew. Reaching inside she pulled out her modified oblivion oculators.

Oblivions, as they were called, were small devices similar to eye glasses. The legal version allowed one to erase all memories, assuming one wanted to, that were recorded while wearing the oblivions. Mostly they were used for books and movies with the idea that if a book or movie was good enough, one could, at a time of one’s choosing, use the oblivion to erase all memory associated and thus reread the book and rediscover the thrill all over again and again for as many times as one liked. The oblivions were very popular with university students who would read a literary text, take copious notes, erase the memory, and then reread taking notes anew only to compare one session to the next. Often the notes were very different, which gave credence to the concept that context, emotional or otherwise, influenced how information was seen and processed. Of course, debate raged as to how safe these devices were and political factions demanded they be banned or regulated to death with a stranglehold of bureaucratic red tape.

As with most popular technology, there were those with the means and desire to modify the devices. Hynerian neural physiology, as had been postulated for many decades, created a neural “time-stamp,” which is to say, every memory, within its very structure carried information as to creation. Well, a rather intelligent and enterprising scientist figured out how to modify an oblivion such that with proper programming, it could erase discrete memories within a definite period of time using neural time-stamp technology. The device was less reliable with older memories but, apparently, was very effective with recent ones. As one would imagine, the powers that be immediately declared modified oblivions illegal; price and desire skyrocketed. Yul had told no one, not even Rog, but she had one.

Dialing in a series of parameters, Yul placed the oblivion over her head and tightened the two rear small circular wheels locking the device firmly in place. Opening her eyes wide, the device hummed lightly as it moved through its calibration procedure. Lights blinked and Yul slid her left thumb over the activation button. Click. She pressed it again. Clack.

Categories: Story, Yul, Rog, John Discovery

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