Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Story 205: As It Should Be

There's a sort of visual distortion, like you would expect from something engaging a cloaking device in an old sci-fi movie.  A ripple, a fading of color, and then nothing but stars where the Earth should be.
"Will it be fast?  Will they suffer?"
The Captain looks at me and bobs his main stalk, the equivalent of a shrug.  It's not something that anyone cares about enough to put thought into.  I won't care either, in a few hours.  I head towards the medical bay for decommission, my human body clumsy in passageways not built for people with two legs.  When I arrive another ambassador is pacing back and forth; she looks at me, silently asking the obvious question.
"Yes," I answer. "It's over."

She seems to deflate somewhat, all of the anxiety replaced by weariness.  "I can't wait to shed this body.  I don't want to think about them anymore."
I nod.  Part of me wants to reach out and comfort her, but I feel self-conscious under the gaze of the Captain's Guard that has followed me.  It's not standard protocol for us to be under observation, but there’s nothing standard about this.  We're not supposed to assimilate this deeply, not supposed to be invested in what happens to the planet we're sent to.  Someone miscalculated something I guess.  So we just stand there, avoiding eye contact.  After a few awkward minutes a chute opens up and the Captain's Guard instructs us to discard our clothes.
"What about the others?" I ask.  There's a pause, a sense of nervousness that I wouldn't expect here on the ship.  The guard's stalks are swaying from side to side.  If he were a human he would be fidgeting and looking around like he was preparing to run.
"They stayed behind, didn't they?"
The guard instructs me again to deposit my clothes in the chute.

There's no reason why they couldn't have stayed.  If they were careful, and waited until the last minute, it wouldn't be hard to remove the transmitters.  Painful, certainly, but not fatal - I picture that empty patch of space where Earth had been and correct myself... not directly fatal.

The other ambassador has dropped her clothing down the chute and is looking at something.  A photograph of someone smiling on the beach.  I remove my own clothes and open my pod, but before I can climb in the Guard stops me and points to my hand.  Of course.  I carefully remove the simple golden band from my finger and watch it tumble over and over as it bounces away out of sight.  The photograph flutters after it.  We both situate ourselves in the pods and finally I give in, casting a smile in her direction as the lids reach out to cover us.  She gives me a pleading look and barely manages to get a question out before the lids seal and I'm plunged into a silent world of white.

"It had to be done, right?"  She had asked.  The question echoes in my mind, and there's no reply.  Nothing I could have said even if she was still able to hear me.  A hum starts all around me and I know that in a few moments the answer will be provided to both of us.