The usual focus, inhale-exhale isn’t working. My conventional tactics are faulty, absent even. My mind is blank. Confusion reigns. I cannot seem to catch my breath. I lean forward and take several large breaths as the cast chair straightens before trying again.
I don’t notice the tears leaking from my face.
Closing my eyes tight, I clench teeth and purse lips to slow my breathing, to no avail. I hear Q far away endeavoring to right the situation. My display flashes pale blue and pink criticals. Wynne appears kneeling on the floor in front of me trying to get my attention. Lalita and the others stand behind her staring at me still somewhat rattled by the scenes from my life they’ve just witnessed. I feel a vague sense of empathy wash over me even as they stare impassively, like walls closing in around me, smothering me.
I glance over Wynne’s shoulder and see Ami and Beni behind her working at the floating control panels. An encore of the first trip, yet now, I’m at the center of this angst. I can still hear the sick sound of fist hitting flesh and my mother’s grunts of pain and the look in dad’s eyes revealing the suffering, self-hate, and the uncontrollable anger.
The amalgamation of toxic emotions makes me queasy.
I lock eyes through the tears with a blurry Wynne. The burn of pain pulsates: “I … I … can’t,” I get out between gasps, shaking my head no, hoping to disrupt the flood of emotion, holding out my hands towards them in protection to stop them from touching me or advancing any closer.
Wynne—unaccustomed to this kind of scene and the emotion bleeding from me—places her slightly warmer hand lightly in my cooler one. I jerk back not wanting the contact; she pushes patiently forward connecting, and compassion ensues. Her voice soft, lulls me into the depths of The Mirror by Sylvia Plath. Each word takes flight and I seize every beat as she breathes them through me basking me in the warmth of our newly formed friendship. My muddle recedes as the words settle in and around me, slowly easing me off the edge of my panic.
I remember the first time I found Sylvia and heard this poem. How Ms. Plath fed my soul and guided me towards a destination. Her words encouraged and instilled in me an appetite for more, a pathway to others, and a desire to persevere. I close my eyes and concentrate on the last stanza as it falls off Wynne’s tongue. A very long minute later, I open my eyes. She stands, releasing my hand, and moves back from me.
Mumbling my thanks, I exit the room.
I find myself on the edge of the city having run nonstop from the merge room and the Handar Tower. Anderans stare at me as I run by them. I stop, out of breath, heart pounding rapidly in my chest, leaning forward, gripping the bench. Uncontrollable sobs roll out of me like storm waves. Breath beats against the keening like wind. I scream. I fucking scream. Long and loud and piercing, bouncing off every structure and nanite and the vacuums of space. The pain. I cannot see for it. I ache for them, mom, dad, and for that little girl—me. The empathy physically cripples me as I watch those images and sensations play out again and again and again. I taste the spaghetti turned to bile souring in my stomach creeping up my esophagus like a slow-moving tsunami suffused with sensations of my past, present, and future. I feel lost in the wave as it overtakes me throwing me this way and that.
Wynne finds me sitting on the ground, my arms wrapped around my legs at my usual place in front of the bench overlooking Titan and Saturn. She walks close to the edge nearest to the dome and stands staring out.
We’re quiet for some time before either of us say anything.
“The trips—everything is heightened to an almost painful intensity—not pain, but a pleasant ache. I’ve never felt anything like it.”
“That would be the drug we use to connect. It’s a natural occurring drug we discovered here on Titan. I believe in your time and world, it can be best described as a psilocybin.”
“That would explain the surrealism.” I hesitate in order to collect all the words. “I can taste the colors and smell the words. The lines are like edges—unending that I’ll follow off the side into nothing. The emotions—vibrate into tones. At first I thought it was only in my head—my imagination and how I saw the world. The small things.” I swallow emotions as they flood over everything evident. “How did you know? About the poem?”
A side-eye communicates her reply.
“Omniscient and omnipotent. Lovely,” I mumble sarcastically.
Reading each other’s thoughts must be a breach in etiquette and not otherwise illegal or forbidden. I wondered for some time if my thoughts were being monitored and studied, exposed to all. I sigh and move on. I am who I am—might as well own it.
“I owe you an apology. Probably many, but we’ll start with this one.”
She stares ahead. “The women from your time were prone to apologize frequently without cause.”
“Yeah, okay, sure. This is a true genuine apology.” I stop and take a breath. “The soft bigotry of low expectations. I should know better. Lizard brain, I suppose. I dunno. I don’t really like that phrase and the history and context of how it was coined, especially from whom it was written by and for. Zealot nutters, they are—were. Here’s a thought: if time is not linear than should we always speak in the present tense?”
DID THAT MAKE ANY SENSE, Q?
NO. I BELIEVE WE GET THE GIST FROM TRANSLATING YOUR EARLIER MEANDERING CONVERSATIONS.
YOU’VE DEVELOPED A PEYTON TRANSLATOR? IMPRESSIVE.
NOT SO MUCH. YOU USE A LOT OF UNNECESSARY WORDS.
I frown. “Adjectives and adverbs expose all the messy humanness. The flaws. The hypocrisy. The truth.”
“I beg your pardon?” Wynne asks glancing back at me briefly.
I roll my eyes just as Q drops the same emoji. “I…nothing.” I realize that I’ve voiced aloud to Q again.
“If you believe the Saturnian expedition is ‘low expectations’ then what are high expectations?” She asks.
I laugh. “Yes, exactly. I’m sorry that I assumed that you were placed here instead of the most obvious.”
“You viewed Origin?” She asks.
“Yes. It’s…amazing and…overwhelming. What they did to get you here…was nothing short of extraordinary. With everything they were going through.” She says nothing and I intuit concern. “You disagree?”
“There were steps taken that were unethical and questionable. Some would say amoral.”
“Self-preservation usually comes at a cost.”
Q displays a cache of information on that expression that dates back to the early twenty-first century when it was forged and framed interchangeably of which I distinctly remember like it was last year because it was.
I give her a small smile when she glances back at me knowingly. “I understand.”
I stare with more envy and awe as she turns back towards the horizon.
“I’m sorry for your pain,” she says out of nowhere.
I feel my face harden as I grind teeth and look away from her trying to collect myself and all those emotions exposed by the genuineness of her apology. She notes my discomfort and moves on quickly.
“Saturnians are assigned advisers to aid and challenge us in our development as we grow.” Soft, her voice holds steady. “To keep us dynamic and mindful; a continuing awareness of self and circumstance. Each chosen to aid the other in our advancement; symbiotic relationships that compels virtue and wisdom; a partnership; an invariable alliance.” She hesitates only briefly before continuing. “Mine was…an integral part of my own origin and life. She…was…indispensable to my advancement…and happiness. She was…my…best friend.”
Her change of subject is sudden and not without precedent. I had gotten used to it. The relaying of personal info is new and unexpected. Her vulnerability fumbles forward in some kind of awkward dance exposing herself to me in esoteric wisps that only I can, on occasion, uncover being as blunt as I am. This, however, escorts me to the door and invites me in to her inner world. After revisiting the ugliness from my past that I can still feel shanking my spirit, this revelation is like a hug. I’ll take what I can get I’m so desperate for her friendship.
“Was?” I ask.
“She is…no longer here.”
“I…I’m sorry, what? The translation is…”
SUSPENDED, says Q.
The dearth of information Q displays on the topic is disconcerting. No transparency on this. Not for me, at least.
“Where is she?”
“You miss her?”
“Why not look for her?” I ask sincerely.
She looks back at me and I sense the subtext of what she isn’t saying.
I give her a short nod. “Oh. Yes, of course.”
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins