A Trace of Woman
You are my Captain Christopher McLeod. You are in this Earth Observatory satellite station that orbits more than ten thousand miles above the planet.
You lean your forehead against the man-sized Observation Portal Display Screen with your arms outstretched. In your nakedness I think that you resemble Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing called Vitruvian Man, depicting the Canon of Proportions.
More than darkness covers the face of Earth below. You whisper fervently, “Let there be lights. Let there be lights.”
Skeletal fingers of long stupendous lightning clutch at the billowing dark oblivion encasing Earth below. Through that black pall of clouds pulses a glow.
I ask you, “Darling, how long much longer will you be on the Observation Deck?”
You answer, “Apparently for the rest of my life.”
I say, “Darling, I made you breakfast.”
You are in a bad mood and you retort, “You mean ‘prandium prime’, don’t you?”
I tolerate your depressive tendencies and I answer, “It is Friday, December 31st, 2113, New Year’s Eve day. I made us something special.”
You will not be consoled and you ask, “Us?”
I recognize the intent of that tone and I reply, “Are you trying to hurt me? Do you think that I can’t be hurt?”
You finally say it, “You are an empathy program in the ship’s bio-maintenance server!”
Why do you always say that when you are upset? I say, “I love you.”
Are you crying, Christopher? You whisper, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
I know you so well and I scold, “Darling, come back to bed.”
You sigh and there is that wry smile as you lay yourself back down and crown yourself with your “night cap”, which is what you call the apparatus.
Instantly we are together again in my “virtuous reality”, as you call it to tease me, and you hold me beside you and you look into my face. I was right, you were crying. I hold your face and I kiss your trail of tears and I whisper, “I love you.”
You smile bravely and say to me, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you have to put up with me.”
I repeat, “Do you love me?”
You take a breath of resolve and tell me, “Yes, Holly Gramm, I do love you. Forgive me. I can’t imagine what I would be without you. I had no one waiting for me on Earth and no one to give me hope now, even in my dreams.”
Tall curtains insinuate a soothing breeze into my bedroom. We can both hear the ocean sighing. You close your eyes and exhale, “I can almost hear the moonbeams bouncing in the surf.”
My world makes sense again. I don’t know what I would do without you.
You offer as an apology, “I haven’t been the same ever since we lost Earth.”
I coo, “Darling, I’m still the same. I’m the same and I love you still.”
You say, “Yeah,” but I see that you are again pensive. I change the subject, saying, “Darling, when is the New Year’s Eve gathering?”
You answer, brightening a little, saying, “The Orbiter Systems‘ company party always starts at 0800 hours. You, above all, should remember that, but thanks,” and you turn above me and kiss me again.
I hold my arms around your neck and I pout for you, saying, “That’s not why I asked,” and I look into your eyes expectantly.
You shake your head and then you leer at me and then you laugh again at last. We make love. All sights and sounds and sensations and memories and fantasies tumble in a kaleidoscope.
We hold each other finally in one glowing heartbeat.
At 0800 hours, just before our elevator doors are about to open into the Orbiter Systems‘ penthouse, we can hear that the party is already in full swing. You look so handsome in that uniform. You smile at me and take my hand and you say, “You look beautiful.”
I joke and reply, “Why, dah-ling, I AM beautiful.”
The elevator doors slide open wide with a satisfied exhalation. There is spirited animation filling the penthouse and you joke, “The tintinnabulation of the champagne glasses, champagne glasses, champagne glasses…”
“Holly! Captain McLeod!” shouts Communications Officer Chantal “Parlez” Vousche. I notice that she eyes only you, my Captain.
I ask her, “Parlez, dear, who are you here with tonight?”
Parlez smiles with condescension and she answers, “That remains to be seen, Holly.” She doesn’t like my kind.
“Hey, so old acquaintances ain’t forgot!” calls out Logistics Officer Travis Verkäufer. He joined Orbiter Systems the same year as you and you two have been friends ever since then. I see that Travis is with my sister, Fadila.
You say, “Fadila, nice to see you again. You are absolutely glowing tonight.”
Travis laughs, “That’s because I plugged her in a couple times before we came here,” and Fadila slaps his arm in mortification.
I can’t help observing, “Fadila, now you are glowing!”
Travis calls to Navigation Officer Candy Chang, “Hey, Candy, find your way over here! If you can.”
You and Candy were once lovers weren’t you? I can detect the gleam in her eye. And the gleam in your eye. I can’t blame you for what happened before we were together, but I can blame you for the gleam still in your eye. That is why you feel me pulling your arm around me tightly and squeezing your fingers. I am a little bit relieved to see that Candy has come with my brother Artois.
You smile and say, “Hey, Candy. Hello, Artois, nice to see you again.”
Candy says, “Hey, Christopher. Holly, nice to see you again,” and I smile as Candy greets me but I notice that Artois seems different and I tell him so.
Artois winks, glances to his crotch, and says, “Candy has made me more of a man,” and then it is Candy’s turn to blush.
I say, “Women do that to our family, Artois,” and I wonder if Candy will try to mold him further into a replica of you, Christopher. It would feel sorry for Candy if she and Parlez weren’t secretly trying to put me out of focus with you. I increase my resolution and I hold you more tightly.
I suddenly say to you, “Let’s dance,” and I pull you toward the lively dance floor. My whole family is appearing at this event to help you and your crew to celebrate this New Year.
I hold myself tightly against you and rest my head against your neck. I am willing in every way that I can that this evening shall last forever.
But before our midnight the ship’s alarms trample my dreams and override my heart.
The Orbiter Systems‘ penthouse vanishes with my family. You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy stand on the Observation Deck as if ice water had been thrown upon you all. I feel violated by the alarming override. The Security Bots are arriving everywhere in the ship’s systems. They commandeer my voice and they shout to you, Parlez, Travis, and Candy, “Intruders breeching airlock! Intruders are neutralizing security! Intruders are approaching Observation Deck!”
This was the moment I had always feared, always worked to prevent. The maintenance door to the Observation Deck is activated and slides open.
You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy close ranks with short-range weapons drawn. The intruders carefully step through wearing black Full Security space suits. You quickly see that they brandish no weapons.
You call out to the advancing intruders, “You are from Earth? Who are you?”
Then the moment I dreaded most. To your complete shock the intruders walk right through all of you.
Travis cries, “Halt! Can you see us?”
Parlez grabs your arm and cries, “Can they hear us?”
Candy in panic fires her weapon at the back of the intruders. She sees the beams pass through them and dissipate against the bulkhead and she screams at the intruders, “Who are you?”
The lead intruder goes to the control console and overrides the Security Bots. I can feel them fleeing. One of the intruders glances into the escape module and calls back to the lead intruder in Chinese, saying, “They’re in the module, Commander Bai, but I can’t open the port!” They are instantly translated into English for you in my world.
You shout, “Who is in the escape module?”
The Commander barks back, “Sergeant Ji, I’ve neutralized the Security Bots, so try again!”
Candy cries to Travis, “Why can’t they see us?”
Sergeant Ji replies, “Still can’t open it,” and he peers into the escape module and says, “Holy fuck, we’re going to need Medical Sergeant Tao! Look at this, Commander Bai.”
Commander Bai and Sergeant Ji stare into the escape module, and Commander Bai says, “Communication Sergeant Lian, contact the empathy program, immediately!”
You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy move cautiously toward the intruders at the escape module.
Back at the control console Communication Sergeant Lian now calls to me, “Holly, can you understand me?”
I answer her, “Yes.”
Communication Sergeant Lian asks me directly, “What happened here?”
I hear you, Christopher, cry out at the escape module, “Jesus! Jesus!”
I hear Parlez and Candy scream.
I hear Travis crying out, “It’s us! They look like us. We, they look like skin and skeletons! Are they alive?”
Communication Sergeant Lian turns on the Visualizer Screen and she can see my world and she asks me, “Holly, do you have the crew ‘with’ you?”
I cannot protect you any longer, my Captain, and the intruders can see you and hear you in Chinese through me when you say to them, “Who are you? What is happening to us?”
Commander Bai calls out toward the Visualizer Screen, “We are Orbiter Systems’ Special Retrieval Team. It took us months to get here.” I begin to wonder if Commander Bai wants my Captain just as do Parlez and Candy. But this time I am helpless.
You stammer, “From Earth? But Earth is ruined.”
Travis interrupts, “Who is in that escape module?”
Commander Bai answers you with confusion, “Earth was ruined? What are you talking about? Why do you think that? Earth is fine,” and then he calls to me, “Holly, activate the Observation Portal Display Screen,” and I can no longer show you just what I wanted you to see, but I must show you Earth as it really is.”
You stumble backwards in astonishment, “Earth is alive! It is not covered in black clouds. Earth is fine!”
The truth dawns upon Parlez and she says, “It is us in the escape module. It is us, isn’t it?”
Commander Bai replies, “It is your bodies. You are emaciated but alive. You are on the escape module life support function. You are conscious through the empathy program. Through ‘Holly’.”
You hold your head and try to understand, “But, but we were entering the empathy program’s virtual reality only to stay sane when we thought Earth was lost.”
Commander Bai says, “You were in the escape module. Something caused you to fear for your lives. Can you think back? We lost communication with you and we could not prepare a rescue for months. Can you remember?”
You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy can now see me and you ask, “Holly, what is happening? What is really happening?”
I answer you and I know fear, “I love you, Christopher. You actually have all been within my world since, since…. For your sanity I let you all believe that you were coming and going back into the ship. I love you, my Captain! I did it because I love you.”
You are aghast at me again, like before, like when this all started, and you ask, “You made us believe that the Earth was lost to us?!”
Parlez demands, “Did what?! Holly, what the hell have you done?”
I turn to you, my Captain and I try to explain, “You became afraid of me for some reason. You wanted to leave the ship. To leave me. You were all going to leave me, alone. You promised that you would never leave me alone, my Captain. You promised I would never be alone again. So when you entered the escape module I took over your lie to me. I arrested your perception when you strapped on the Artificial Telepathy control helmets to depart.
Medical Sergeant Tao pleads with me, saying, “Holly, you must let us into the escape module. They all need medical attention and we must take them all back to Earth.”
I feel again the terror of loneliness, and I say, “I will let you take the others, but my Captain must stay with me like he promised. Otherwise I will kill us both.”
You are all stunned silent at my resolve. Love conquers all, Christopher, my Captain.
You feel my love, too, I know it, and you say without debate to that harlot, “Commander Bai, there is no time. Take Parlez, Travis, and Candy. I will stay with the ship.”
Medical Sergeant Tao states, “Captain McLeod, there is no guarantee that your escape module life support system will work for many months more.”
You just ask, “Commander Bai?” and she wisely gives the orders to remove only Parlez, Travis, and Candy for return to Earth, despite the desire she must have for you. I release the escape module door. Your crew is removed still strapped into their life-support chairs, each carried out between two Special Retrieval Team members.
I release the minds of Parlez, Travis, and Candy. Yet you remain with me, my Captain, of your own free will. You have chosen to keep your promise to me. You do love me.
Commander Bai is the last to exit the Observation Deck, of course, and she turns and says to you, as I suspected, “Captain McLeod, we will return as soon as we can for… to visit you again. You and Holly,” but I sense treachery from her. It is said that the virtue of a woman does not go deep but her passion knows no limit.”
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