Posted | Written by Patrick Tylee
Copyright © 2020 Patrick Tylee
To Nora Jean
Death cannot separate us forever. Looking forward to meeting you.
Say hi to Mom.
With her left hand supported in his, Reuben Shain grasped the diamond engagement ring. Kneeling beside her, he moved it along the length of her slender finger. Rehearsed words became stark reality.
“Elyn, my love, I have decided…to let you go.”
The golden circle slid off and away. Muscles of her hand flaccid, her finger came to rest without tension onto his open palm beneath. If any single shock could’ve induced her mind to break through the persistent vegetative state, this would’ve been it.
Shain fought back another wave of fear. Persperation tingled as a cold sweat broke out through his pores, soaking his undershirt. He fixed his gaze on her blank face. The coffee colors had paled during the months asleep. His teeth clenched against a rise of bile in his throat, Shain struggled to dig open the secured breast pocket of his jacket.
The pockets are locked down, he thought. The latest in military duty apparel, the bright shimmer of the material made his dark skin appear all the more black. The jacket is not at the top of your list. Deal with your woman. You have to finish this. Shain refocused. He blocked out any intrusive thoughts about his failure to link the secured breast pockets of the programmable garment to his thumbprint. I can finish this. All I have to do is say goodbye.
Visibly shaking, Shain stood. He set the ring on top of the
black glass surface of the headboard, like Plan B for where to stow any evidence of being in love. Once pledged to this girl, she could no longer be part of the ever-after equation.
“Your mom and dad were here, you know.” How stupid. If she’s in there, she knows. If she’s not…either way, it’s still stupid. “They came to see you for the last time, spoke to Doctor Willis.”
Several objects within the sterile visitor’s parlor became focal points, visual leverage to pry back the agony. A low dresser of immitation red oak perched under the window sill. Six ornate drawers encouraged thoughts of home, belonging. The accent wall’s micro-pixellated surface projected matte pink roses atop thornless stems, undulating representations of Elyn’s favorite. Embossed crown molding framed a visitor’s heavenward prayer. Lavender hues deepened the quiet of the room, amplified the pounding of his heart, his perception of being truly alone.
No one else made use of the hospice care facility’ s visitor center except for her parents, Lawrence and Taresha Klein earlier in the day.
He reached over and grabbed a chair, dragging it over to the side of her bed. It occurred to him when he’d once checked in at the nurse’s station, several video monitors presented various views of this same room. Pinhole cameras hid behind the headboard, in a lampshade, the corner of the ceiling. Shain willed himself not to look directly at any of them. Hovering in silence near the far corner behind him, was the ever-present Ai interface drone, observing, listening. Translucent glass, egg- shaped, but the size of a large watermelon. When interacting
with guests, the demure facial projection within could be viewed from any angle. Otherwise, the surface glowed a frosty white.
“So,” Shain said. The aluminum chair took on his two hundred pounds with a slight creak. “I was saying, they, the doctors—they say you’ve lost all higher brain function. And they believe keeping, you know, all this going on, isn’t much help to you.” Shain’s throat tightened around his vocal chords. “Their recommendation is…I mean, what they believe is…you’ve already moved on.”
The squeak-squeak of the nightshift orderly’s shoes in the hallway interrupted Shain’s control over words and emotions. He leaned over to watch through the open door. The bearded man stopped to make entries into a terminal in the wall across the way. The orderly’s apparent challenges with the computer system offered a tempting distraction from the cold pain.
“Larry and your mom, they sort-of agree. Of course, that’s Larry sayin’ he’s come to the same conclusion as the physician. Y our mom nods because she’ s supposed to. Because it’s what she does, right?”
Shain’s fingertip traced an in-and-out pattern between the knuckles of Elyn’s left hand, her brown skin cool to the touch, lifeless. Over their four-year relationship, whenever they sat close, he’d do the same. But she was high-strung, like him. She’d make him stop after a dozen irritating laps back and forth.
Tonight, with the breezy rhythm of the oxygen through her nasal cannula, she would voice no such complaint.
“You—it would seem you’ve done worse than fall asleep working in your lab, babe. I told you. You can’t work yourself tired like that. Remember? You remember I told you that? You gonna mess something up.” You messed something up, didn’t you? Shain squeezed Elyn’s hand hard enough to make it hurt. Hey—are you in there? “Babe, I have to know. Are you in there?”
He rolled her palm up to press his thumbnail hard into the tender flesh. There had to be a test. Something he could do— something better than the ridiculous medical exams the doctors performed, to test for signs of consciousness within some person.
This is not some person. This is my person. My wife to be. This was my person. Are you in there?
“So babe, tell me what you did? What were you doing that did this? Did you stick your hand into your time decay amplifier with the power still on? Huh? Did you do that? Some dumb-ass girl kinda thing? You always think you’re so smart.” You’re the smartest person I’ve ever known, Madelyn Damaris Klein. “You know, I was afraid something like this might happen. You up in your lab’s tower, trying to find the impossible. Like if you just found the right combination of deceleration, and weightlessness, and null-decay—you could stop time itself.” You crazy girl. You stopped time all right…for you. For us. “I haven’t been back there, to the lab. Jennifer took Darwin. Heard him meowing outside her window. He can’t catch mice, let alone eat one. Gotta have them kitty vittles. City cat—you know how it goes. Mice had him cornered.”
Shain studied Elyn’s face for many heartbeats, terrified
he might forget the shape, the color, her imperfect beauty. Their years together passed through his mind. Resolve loomed as an enemy.
In the shadows, the hospital’s Ai watched, its glow reduced to a sympathetic minimum.
“Elyn,” he said. But his voice broke before he could turn the courage into more words. “I need to say this. I have to do this today. There’s no medical reason why you aren’t here. They’re calling it unresponsive wakefulness syndrome. Your body isn’t broken. There’s nothing wrong. You’re just not here anymore.”
Shain’s lungs burned, his breath held too long, a subconscious pause of time and reality. In a spasm, air rushed through his flared nostrils.
“Your mom said you’re in a better place now. I didn’t…correct her, this time. You know I can’t believe all that…life after death, heaven. ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord,’ she says. Yeah, that all sounds good, I guess. Then along comes empirical science and physics.”
There you go, Shain. Arrogant ass. You’ll argue with her even after… “You’re just gone.”
Fear spilled over in great sobs. He would never see this face again after tonight.
On the third floor, the only nurse on duty reached over to another of the Ai’s ovoid globes, the one assigned to that station. It floated just to the left side, a foot or so above her own workspace. She touched it with her stylus to wake the paused
“Good evening, RN Morgan Hansen,” the Ai said. A
motherly tone caressed the words. They flowed in concert with the photons under the screen’s moving mouth. “May I be of assistance?”
“Yes, Midge, would you cancel the 7:45PM visitor alert tone, please?” Nurse Hansen asked.
“Do you wish to delete the alert from the daily calendar?” “No, Midge, just for today. Retain all the rest.”
“No problem, Morgan. Is Captain Shain staying late
“Very likely, yes. I would expect so.”
“Done,” the Ai said. “I’ve set a sub-routine for any day
he’ s not already checked out, to mute the alert tones in the long- term care wing.”
“Doesn’t Captain Shain leave for Florida tomorrow morning?” The Ai pretended to not know, simulating small talk.
“I don’t know. Yeah, I guess he mentioned that. The launch or something…?”
“Correct, Morgan. A recent press release announced the pending launch of the Ad Lucem Ultra. NASA constructed the star-ship in orbit. Captain Shain is scheduled to lift off this coming Wednesday to rendezvous with it.”
“Weird name for a rocket, if you ask me.”
“To the Light Beyond,” the Ai said. “It’s Latin, the English translation for the name of the pod Captain Shain will pilot once the rocket boosters—”
“Midge, you’ve already lost me.” Nurse Hansen rolled her eyes.
“Have a pleasant evening, Miss Hansen,” the Ai said. A learning machine, the Medical Intelligence and Diagnostics Graphical Extant revised its algorithm to detect when Nurse Hansen required no further input or prompts. It’s attention turned inward, a newly installed security upgrade pinged the Operating System. Typically, any patch would run in the background. This one requested immediate activation. After a brief verification of the credentials, Midge released the file code into the mainframe.
Bent over the foot of the bed, Shain opened his eyes. It surprised him to see a large wet spot on the blanket. He’d never allowed himself to mourn with tears before.
When his father passed away days before Shain graduated from the Air Force Academy, he rebuffed any recommendation to take time off to be with family. “I’ll take the hurt out on the clouds,” he’d told them. And he did, roaring into the sky as a newly pinned Lieutenant, setting the all-time speed record for a manned aircraft. In the same week, he’d shatter the record for the shortest time from ground to space to ground in the X-92 Ionic Dart. The effort took less than five minutes. Shain pushed the futuristic engine to one hundred and nine percent of maximum sustainable thrust. It nearly killed him, and caused irreparable damage to the expensive craft. A vertical, black streak hung in the scorched sky for half a day, as
evidence of his inner pain.
Shain turned himself from Elyn to look out at the night,
but the window only reflected the awful truth of the experience back upon him.
“Your parents—they wont—they aren’t coming back unless they have to. It’s on me, babe. I’m supposed to tell the nurse tonight, before I leave. Larry said because we’re engaged, I’m the one to decide when. As close to a husband as you’d ever have. He said if I didn’t tell the doctors to—to stop all this, he would in thirty days. Your dad’s given me thirty days to say goodbye to you, Elyn. But, you know me. You know me. I just need this one last day. It’s just a matter of saying whatever’s left to say, babe.”
Shain walked to the bed, stood directly over the woman he’d promised to always cherish. He waited for a tear at her eye, a smile, a wince, any sign she’d heard him. The answer he’d expected, nothing. He’d told himself this would be the last chance. With an iron will, he refrained from another touch.
“Just so we’re clear, Elyn, you left me.” His back turned to her bed, his feet found the doorway. In a mental fog, he stumbled across the hall and through the elevator doors. The floor of the car pressed against the soles of Shain’s boots, forcing him up to where Nurse Morgan watched and waited.
**Reader – what are your thoughts about FOREVER PROCULA Chapter One?**