BY WILLIAM SUBOSKI
Copyright is held by the author.
JOYOUS WELLS Sysops lay in her bed warm under the thick duvet, no longer anxious, merely dispirited, four months after the Path had collapsed. The anxiety came and went but the room helped and if she didn’t think too deeply it could almost be her room on Earth . . . and not what it truly was, a copy built by Maincore as a psychological crutch for a human stranded alone 12,400 light years from home.
She lay listless in bed. No reason to get up. No reason to stay in bed. No reason to do anything. A small thump at the door. The Maincore was discreet. Always respecting her privacy, this room a copy of her childhood bedroom on Earth, her sanctum inviolate. Yet also never leaving her fully alone, not allowing her time to brood.
She opened the door and collected the breakfast tray. Waffles and scrambled eggs. She sat eating at her desk, the food good, filling the smallest part of the hole in her. She read the note three times – not really understanding.
“Good morning, Ms. Wells — I hope you enjoy this meal. When you have time I should like a few moments conversation. — Maincore”
She ate slowly. Trying again . . . another day . . . to find a reason to begin another day. The food was good. At times she wanted to rage. Mostly she wanted to cry. She chewed mechanically.
Joyous Wells Sysops — friend and “surgeon” to Maincore — was now herself being tended by Maincore. Lured, enticed, nursed, choose a verb. Could a computer give her a reason to continue? Maincore had tried. He proposed that this unchosen time be used to best effect. He could improve her, make her stronger, smarter, faster — but for what? For what?
Irony on irony . . . she had always considered herself introverted and quite asocial, a self-illusion that collapsed within days of her total isolation. Joyous now a society of one, yearning for anyone else. But even that was untrue. All of this would be tolerable, if only Jacob were here. She blinked away a tear.
She sat a few minutes then spoke to the air:
“I haven’t decided, Maincore. I just don’t know.”
The answer back, a soft tenor.
“No, Ms. Wells, it is not that. Something else, a small point.” A pause. “You are from Iowa? It is Christmas day in Iowa, December 25, and I wanted to wish you a happy Christmas.”
She bit back a harsh response and kept her voice gentle.
“Merry Christmas to you, too, Maincore.”
“Thank you, Ms. Wells. When you have time please come to the gallery. I want to show you something. Please don’t wait too long.”
A few minutes later and dressed in drab utilities she walked the few hundred feet to the gallery window. Something — something was happening. Swirling white dim to almost grey, it was snowing into the cold stone canyon. She stood transfixed. Falling flakes, how could this be?
“It last snowed like this, smaller and fewer flakes, 26 years ago on March 3. What was your best Christmas, Ms. Wells?”
Any Christmas with Jacob, but that wasn’t true. She had promised herself she would not become a living memorial to a reality that never was. There had been hard times with Jacob and hard Christmases.
Flakes swirling down. Floating into the window “glass”. She looked up and out into an infinity of flakes — swirls and curls of angel hair.
“Fourteen. I was 14. I liked the boy next door. We shovelled the walks together, had a snowball fight, made snow angels, wandered around the yards in each other’s footprints and utter stillness and he kissed me. My first kiss.”
“A beautiful memory, Ms. Wells, thank you.”
She stood and watched the flakes for the next hour, not aware that she was slowly dancing, and only later that day, after she had unwrapped the sweater and socks Maincore had presented her — a Maincore with a sense of humor — and stared at the real gift, the framed photo of her own smiling face at the gallery window, did she realize she had smiled at all, which made her smile more.
“Maincore . . . Alan, is it? Named for Alan Turing, I presume? My name is Joyous . . . please call me Joy.”
Alan ufogged a Christmas tree, a vision from Dickens. A thousand million twinkling lights and strings of popcorn and cranberries and carved wooden ornaments and gossamer stringers of wispy beauty.
Curled up in bed, filled with turkey and stuffing, warm under the duvet and with a smile on her face, “Thank you, Alan. Yes. Let’s begin after the holidays”. She laughed and fell asleep.
Bill is an aspiring fiction writer with a background in computer programming. He is still trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. Born in Indiana, Bill is a transplanted Hoosier living as a Buckeye by way of Canada and the Netherlands. Contact Bill at WSuboski—at-yahoo-dot-com.