Sunday, July 19, 2009

Daily Story 95: Purgatory

There's a fuzzy emptiness around me as the system comes out of hibernation mode, and with a quiet ding a sentence appears in the void in front of me: User Entering Local Network Range.

I know I should remain calm, for all I know Sara just lost her connection for a moment, but I can feel my heart racing - not my actual heart, of course. I drop into the lobby, seamless white walls shining and perfect. Sara appears at the same time as me, wearing that stupid green sundress. Her eyes narrow as she looks at me, and then she composes herself and nods politely. I smile at her as best I can, but my dreamless sleep hasn't dulled the pain of our last "conversation". The things we yelled at each other hurt far more than the actual fighting, of course. That impotent flailing battle, punching and slapping and choking. All for nothing. We turn to the wall that's scrolling network information and I hear a sharp intake of breath - looks like Sara just caught the date. Twelve years since we spoke, though it feels like yesterday.

A name finally appears on the local network list - Betty. With a sound like a doorbell she appears in the lobby with us, in overalls and what looks like a Arkham University shirt. She looks a little like an Italian version of Sara, black hair instead of blonde and an olive tint to her skin. Before I know what's happening we're in a tangle in the middle of the room, arms in knots and everyone crying. I honestly don't even know who went to who. We pull ourselves apart awkwardly and step back, and Betty grins at us.
"I'm Betty, hi. I... it's good to see you guys." The relief in her voice tells me everything, but I have to ask anyway.
"Hi Betty, I'm Phillip. You're dead too, aren't you?" Betty nods, and I see Sara slump a little. We haven't been rescued.

Sara sounds almost skeptical. "Do you know how you got here? It's been more than thirteen years since we died, I didn't think anyone new would come into range after all this time - especially with us in such a shielded area." Betty shrugs, and cocks her head to the side. She's staring at nothing, probably going through some internal files. Finally she smiles.
"For a while there I could access the security cameras, before they died. I found myself pretty easily, laying in a stairwell on the ninety-third floor. You guys are in the Helms building, right?"
"Eighty-ninth floor," Sara and I say in unison. We look at each other, and for just a second I feel some anger welling up as if she answered at the same time as me just to spite me - as absurd as that is. Betty is oblivious to our hostility, she's nodding again.
"I was laying on my back, on the landing, and my head was hanging off the step. The accelerometer in my brain recorded a lot of motion a minute ago, and I think... I think my head fell off and rolled down the stairs. Judging from how long I rolled I would guess I bounced just right to go down... three flights? Maybe three and a half. Pretty impressive, if you think about it." She looks almost proud. Sara smiles - I haven't seen her smile in forever - and she agrees.
"Yeah... I mean, heads aren't exactly round - I would have expected it to stop right away."
"I bet it's because my brain is an older model," Betty says, "I was an early adopter and it's heavier than most. Gave it that extra momentum. Shame I didn't make it closer to street level somehow, there must still be some networks up."

There are, of course. There have to be. Everything that can't be gassed is still out there, slowly breaking - but with all the independent power grids and secure transmitters... it's just this damn internal stairwell that's stopping us from being in contact with the world. I've zoned out, missed some part of the conversation. Betty is talking about how she went into hibernation mode.
"Us too," Sara says, "We kept each other company for the first year, but... to be perfectly honest after a while it was either shut down or find a way to kill each other." I smile at that, and she catches me. For a second she looks hostile, like she thinks I'm laughing at her, and then she smiles too. A little, anyway.

It wasn't always this way. I had seen her around the building, we were friendly. After the attacks we were close, we were the whole world for each other for a year and for a few months in the middle there we had even been more. I miss that. It's not her fault, for such a long time she managed to not take all those hateful things I said seriously; we both knew there was a limit to how much time two people could spend together. Having a third could make us happy again, for another year or two. Maybe more, though of course at some point we'll shut down again, sleep and wait for a rescue that seems more impossible with each passing year. I'm jealous of all the people that died in open, crowded places. They might have hundreds or even thousands of people with them to keep them sane. Still, I shouldn't complain at a time like this. Betty is pulling up her library, and from the look on Sara's face there are some movies we didn't have. It really is nice to see her happy again. I put a hand on her shoulder and she flinches a little, then leans into me. I'm sure we're both thinking the same thing, that our situation could have been a lot worse. How many are just out of range, isolated in their minds like Betty had been - without even one person to keep them company?

Betty is starting a movie, fake popcorn appearing beside her. Sara whispers an apology in my ear, and I whisper the same back. There are worse hells than this, but even so... immortality had sounded like a lot more fun in the brochure.