Short-story adaptation of For You and Me
by Sam Lord
Copyright © Hypostatic Studios September 2020
The upstairs of the hospital was nothing like the downstairs.
The Emergency Room downstairs was full of bodies on stretchers, automated photography drones snapping pictures for the evening news, frantic doctors and medical robots trying to find where the bleeding was coming from before it was too late. Lots and lots of screaming.
The upstairs, however, was Patient Recovery. It was clean and calm, decorated with floating fountains and leafy green plants shimmering in the hazy Los Angeles sun. The upstairs was supposed to be where the crisis ended. Those who waited upstairs, however, might disagree with this assessment.
David stepped out of the elevator into Patient Recovery, and his crisis was far from over. He was eight hours into a twelve hour emergency rotation, the announcement of which had filled his worker dormitory with flashing red alert messages and sent his day off to a dramatic conclusion.
His curly black hair was now greasy and his shirt was damp with cold sweat. He had not showered since yesterday, and he only had an apple and some iced coffee for nourishment since arriving for duty.
He passed through the main lobby of the recovery wing silently, hurrying to get to the other side before he was cornered by families. Seeing the fresh blood on him, they would know where he was coming from. They would want to know things like is she still alive? and have you seen him?
He was in luck. Towards the center of the room, nurses, patients, and family members were clustered around a news hologram.
The floating head of the Chief Executive of the Southern California Region was suspended in the air, her fierce digital eyes piercing through David’s heart. “Now that we have confirmed that the Central Intelligence Agency was behind the attack, we must demand that the United Republics of America end their support for such rogue elements,” she said slowly and solemnly. “We must remember to always be on guard against those who threaten the freedom and democracy we had to retake for ourselves. We must remember that our independence comes with a price that every Pacifican must shoulder. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! ”
As the news feed switched back to the presenters, the assembled crowd began bickering quietly about the world outside.
David had seen it after other attacks. They were desperate not to think about those in operating rooms, so they argued instead about demanding Pacifica bomb Chicago or New Manhattan in retaliation, about recalling the Chief Executive or giving her even more power over the region’s militia. It was so much easier to imagine the violence they could do to others then remember the violence that had been done to the people they love.
There might have been a time not so long ago when hearing the Chief Executive’s would have filled David with passion and zeal. He had grown up in a time when words about the future were all they had to protect themselves from the horror of the present.
Now though, the words of the Chief Executive simply blended into the background noise of shuffling feet on linoleum floors and the quiet whispers of worried loved ones. After an 8 hour shift in the ER, especially on the day of a bombing, he wasn’t prone to feel much of anything.
The only way to keep the contents of his stomach down, the only way to keep his heart rate in check, the only way to keep himself from screaming was to turn the hospital into a holographic video game. When his mind entered this mode, the colleagues who passed him were little more than ghost-like impressions of people floating past him. His surroundings looked like a hyper-realistic painting, two-dimensional with saturated, dull colors. On days like these, his consciousness was trapped inside of a transparent glass prison in his mind, while some automated system did all of his walking and talking, breathing and seeing.
David arrived at Doctor Kazadi’s ward and placed his hand onto the windowless metal doors. The door opened at his touch. The room was softly lit and filled with beds. Patients filled each bed except one, their eyes closed with electrodes running along their foreheads. Holograms showing their vitals signs hovered over them.
“How are the Sleeping Beauties?” David asked.
Kazadi stood by one of her patients, her afro bouncing as she looked up towards the door.
When she saw it was David, she turned her attention back to the holoscreen projecting out of her gloved hand. “It’s so interesting how they’re talking about all of this on the news service,” she mused, flicking through articles and videos. “They talk about the war in the past tense, like it isn’t happening right in front of them.”
“Can we talk about, like, literally anything else?” David groaned, flopping down on the empty bed.
“Oh, you just came from downstairs, didn’t you?”
David nodded as Kazadi squeezed his hand.
“How long do you have?” she asked him as she fiddled with the settings on the bed.
Only an hour,” David said.
“I’ve been playing with the time matrix, so it should feel like twelve hours inside. Let’s say a 6PM dinner before a 6AM shift.”
“Works for me.”
Kazadi nodded and spent the next few minutes furiously tapping the hologram. “I don’t know how many more times we can get away with this,” Kazadi said, her voice suddenly becoming stern. “This tech is in limited supply, and the ward is basically full.”
“Finn’s rotation on the border will be over soon. I just really need this today. Please, DiDi.”
Kazadi smiled while rolling her eyes. She reached into a drawer under the bed and pulled out a Cortex. She handed him the small crown of electrodes, motioning for him to take a seat. She placed the device on his head and he felt the electrodes lock into place on his temples.
“Say hello to Finn for me.”
She switched the device on. A deep vibration, emanating from somewhere in his innermost core, consumed him.
His senses were destabilizing. His vision was obstructed by sharp lines and shapes made of a powerful blue and purple energy.
The room divided itself into brilliant pentagons of red and orange, while the bed around him grew and twisted, snaking around his arms and neck. He was freezing cold and he was on fire as the white room was replaced with inky black.
The world came back to David slowly. He opened his eyes, filling them with red-tinted sky.
“Hey, you.” Finn said, lying inches away from him. “This is already such a good dream.”
Finn and David were sprawled out on the front lawn of a large, cube-shaped house, surrounded by a transparent dome. Olympus Mons stood tall and firm in the distance, surrounded by the copper plains of Mars.
David reached out and touched his lover’s face, sure that it would crumble away like sand on the shore. Instead he felt skin and stubble.
A shiver went down his spine. This was the first time in many hours that the warmth and texture of human flesh softened his heart, rather than made his stomach turn.
“Don’t be corny,” David said with a small smile. “I’ve had a long day.”
David took a minute to take in everything around him. The hazy sun was beginning to dip below the horizon, its light creating an ocean of shadows as it hit the rocky desert. A few birds that lived in the enclosure with them chirped softly, and he could hear the hum of solar panels lining the dome.He marveled at it. Every sound, every sight, every sensation composed of ones and zeros, yet he could feel everything.
“What happened today?” Finn said quietly. “The Pacifican Border Guard was put on high alert but they didn’t tell us why.”
“There was a bomb, at the Two Palms Mall back in LA. Lots of injuries, so I’ve been on my feet all day.”
Finn’s mouth opened slightly, but couldn’t seem to find the words. Instead, he did what he always did when he couldn’t think of anything to say, and brushed his thumb over David’s knuckles.
David, however, wanted to hear Finn’s voice. He was desperate for its vibration, its deepness.
“Tell me about your day,” David said.
Finn closed his eyes. “A mess, as always. The Northwest Imperative is sending drones to terrorize the border communities again, so even more people are trying to get out of Texas and get into California or Mexico. The office got over 200 requests for asylum today. Everyday, David… everyday they look more desperate.”
Finn’s grip on David’s hand tightened.
“Come on,” David said, trying to keep the moment. “Let’s go make dinner.”
They got up and entered the massive house. It was white and bright and airy, every room open and full of plants and artwork displayed as holograms on the wall. Large windows gave them a sweeping view of the Red Planet.
They had toured the house last year during a vacation to Olympian City. Like every couple their age, moving to Mars was the dream. They went to the kitchen, speaking quietly of simple things. Neither of them talked about work.
They talked about how the ocean had looked the night before when David walked along the Santa Monica pier. They talked about the family of eagles that had nested outside of Finn’s tent in the refugee camp. For long periods of time, they sat and worked silently, chopping virtual vegetables, dicing electronic pork, and frying them over a fire made of code.
he sun had long set when they finished their meal and made their way upstairs. In front of their sweeping view of Amazonis Planitia, they got to know each other all over again
“How can this feel so real?” Finn said. “I mean, do you ever forget that it isn’t?”
David’s chest rose and fell as he breathed another heavy sigh.
“This feels more like reality to me than anything else,” David said. “This is where you are.”
They lay there, never letting go of each other.
The pale sun set over the Martian valley and neon light from Olympian City and the other colonies filled the horizon.
When darkness filled the room and they had only each other’s presence, Finn kissed David again. The blue warning light of the Cortex timer turned the space around them into the first chapter of Genesis; a single pale light in an all-encompassing void of love and awareness.
“We have to wake up before we forget how to,” Finn whispered.
The world came back to him slowly.