Read it if you wanna, but fair warning: I wrote it as I felt it and it's pretty raw.--Maer
Excerpt from Peripatetica, by M. K. Sebastien, Engr. ret
From various scraps and sheets of paper glued into a journal, with the balance written in the journal itself.
(Yellow lined paper, torn from spiral pad, tightly written on both sides, subsequently dated Thursday, 10 Feb 2524 in different colored ink)
Joshua's Death + 1 day
I let Shyla hustle me off to Decatur's medbay to get poked, prodded, and scanned to assure her that I was fine. I could have saved her the trouble. I wasn't fine. Nothing would ever be fine again. I gave Joshua the implicit promise I would live and so I would, but didn't promise him I would enjoy it. Enjoyment was asking too much of me. However much I loved him, I could not do it. A broken heart cannot hold joy, nor could a shattered spirit sing. Such was my state when the results came back and the tech beamed at me when she delivered the news.
"Please allow me to offer my congratulations, Ma'am. I'm sure you must be very happy."
For what? I wrote, having lost my voice from grief. Beside me I sensed Shyla stir and from her stiffness I could only guess the intensity of the glare she drilled into the woman. The tech was young, barely twenty, and her eyes widened as she realized the score. I hadn't, however, and it was a measure of how far gone I was that she had to explain it to me.
"You're pregnant," she said gently.
My response was writ large on my face. I could feel it go rigid in shock: What?! Shyla gripped my shoulder and only then did I realize she was forcibly holding me down. I was struggling to stand and gasping like a fish, my spiral pad and pen sliding off my lap.
What … ?
To her credit, the tech didn't retreat. Perhaps she was used to that sort of reaction. Instead she pulled the curtain around us for privacy and rolled a chair over to sit and face me.
"Your baby," she said. She handed me the tablet with the image of the life inside me. Medical jargon and numbers scrolled along one side, but thankfully nothing glowed red. I stared and the tablet started to slip from my fingers. She nimbly caught it and continued.
"He's fine. We've double- and triple checked. There is no trace of the mutagenic plague present in your baby. You're very lucky. There were lesions in your uterus that would have caused a miscarriage had the cure not been administered in time. They are now shrinking and they have not passed the placental barrier. We will monitor your child, of course, but given the remission of the disease and the antibodies present in your baby, we have every reason to believe that the plague cannot infect him at a later date. You should have a perfectly normal gestation and delivery."
I had once joked to Joshua that I never envisioned having a happy ending, only a Russian one. I thought when we married I'd been proven wrong. Losing him on the Ark proved me right. And now? Shyla would later tell me I hit the floor pretty hard. I never felt it. I curled into a ball and wrapped my arms around the last gift Joshua had given me and the rest of the world fell away.
(On white lined paper, top bound spiral, tightly written)
Joshua's Death + 1 day (2)
I woke several hours later in a bed in the recovery ward. Shyla was there waiting for me. Our eyes met, my face crumpled, and the grief that my initial shock denied me hit me hard. As aboard the Ark, I could only choke and gasp my sobs, my voice completely gone. Shyla just held my hand in an iron grip and got me through it. The jag was shorter, however, and by that I knew I was hardening to the pain. It was still overwhelming but I was adapting. And even as I was gripped in the misery of the moment, a corner of my mind started thinking.
Blue Sun had so completely modified Joshua at a genetic level that the cure, designed to unravel genetic mutations, had no option but to unravel him as well, killing him as his engineered organs and synapses shut down. Given that the changes wrought upon him were genetic, what were the chances that the changes were inheritable as well? That our baby still lived argued that our child had failed to gain whatever properties Blue Sun had given Joshua, else the cure would have unmade him in my womb as it had unmade my husband.
But … what if the changes inherited were not engineered but normal? A modification naturally arrived at with Joshua's genes combined in the natural way to achieve a similar result? And that was above and beyond what the introduction of my half of the genetic contribution would produce. What if the two sets of DNA combined to create something entirely new? Something that Blue Sun would want? Or at least want to study.
How safe would our baby be if Blue Sun found out I was carrying Joshua's child? Joshua was one of their top assets, one they could scarce afford to lose. Even if our child had inherited none of the modifications, I knew that there would be room for speculation and experimentation. Even failures were valuable for what they could teach us and as a failure to carry Joshua's modifications, our baby could be very instructive indeed. The plague had broken the Alliance and the Independent war machines, burned the fight right out of them, but I doubted that Blue Sun would be deterred at all. Not if they felt they had a chance to recoup the losses they'd sustained with Joshua's death.
Furthermore, Joshua's mother was still here. She had devoutly believed in the brave new Verse of augmented humanity and sought to advance Joshua in it by having him modified. What guarantee did I have that she would not have the same designs on our baby, or that Blue Sun would not find out through her that Joshua had left an heir?
It was a chilling thought and it gave me the means to pull myself together. I grabbed my pen and paper from the bedside cart and wrote:
Tell no one about the baby.
Shyla blinked at the message. I could see she hadn't understood why. I wrote a second message:
Blue Sun can never know.
"You're sure." It wasn't a question. I could see in her eyes she already knew my answer. "I'll sanitize the records. Inform the staff. You have my word on it. But Irina, you can't hide it forever. You're going to show. Everyone will know."
I'd once said to Joshua: If the only escape from immediate death was to leap off a cliff, take that leap. You'd still have until you hit bottom to find a way to save yourself. So I made that leap, for Joshua's legacy and our baby's future. I wrote back:
I'll find a way.
(Memo pad sheet, 2 inches square, hastily scrawled)
Joshua's Death + 1 day (3)
Guest accommodations nice. Built for one. The door locks. That's all I want or need.
(Bound softcover journal, third page from front, unlined, tightly written)
Joshua's Death + 2 days
Friday, 11 Feb 2524
I woke to pitch blackness and it was a measure of my grief that it took me several long minutes to realize I was awake and heartbroken, instead of asleep and gripped by nightmare. The two states looked and felt exactly the same. Knowing it wasn't healthy or sane to sit in the dark to molder like a mushroom, I snapped on the lights and forced myself to move. I dressed, showered … in short, acted normally. It was nothing but a lie. What usually took ten minutes took well over an hour as I constantly had to stop and gasp and choke through another stab of grief. Everything I did, from sliding out of bed to getting dressed, I'd automatically done as if Joshua were still alive and I needed to avoid waking him. By the time I'd dressed in some fatigues borrowed from the ship's stores, I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed. Had it not been for our baby, I would have. Knowing the exercise would be good for the both of us, I forced myself to walk the corridors instead.
We would stay a week putting things to rights and after that, we'd have the six week flight to Georgia to get through. I would have to fill in the time somehow. Decatur was a beautiful ship and the past few times I'd been aboard, I'd had precious little time to explore her. Before, I would have jumped at the chance to spend six weeks learning all her secrets and would have dragged Joshua along with me to show them to him. His absence took the shine right off Decatur and all I could see was a ship without him in it. Exploration for its own sake held little point and even less allure. I spent barely an hour on my aborted tour. Eyes and whispers followed me. None of them were Joshua's. I ignored them with stony silence and distant gaze. If Decatur's crew wanted to speculate, I couldn't stop them but I could remove myself as a spectacle to be pitied. I mapped my routes to the necessary points—mess hall, commissary, medical—and returned to my quarters.
I shut myself in, crawled back under the covers, and unwrapped the single purchase I'd made during my walk: a journal and pens. The various scraps of paper I'd scribbled on since I'd left the Ark found a home in it and I stared at the blank pages that were left, wondering what to do with them. After several false starts and ripped out pages, I put it aside, too torn by my grief to decide on a topic. I woke when Shyla chimed at my door sometime later. I found I'd fallen asleep clutching one of the rip outs. It was a letter to Joshua, jagged and raw with emotion. I smoothed it out and tucked it away in the middle to flatten, then let Shyla take me to the mess hall to eat. Maybe I'd find a purpose for the journal afterward, when my mind was better from having eaten.
Joshua's death + 4 days
Sunday, 13 Feb 2524
I'd taken to sleeping with a light burning, if only to let me know when I was awake and not dreaming. My first morning in my quarters had convinced me that I needed the visual cue. I'd asked Nika the evening before not to tell anyone about the baby. I wanted to secure myself and my child from Joan Guan first. I wanted to secure Joshua from her as well. She'd sent her son off to Blue Sun for modification when he was alive. I didn't see that changing now that he was dead. As Joshua's surviving spouse, I would have legal authority over my husband's remains, but asserting it sooner would be better than later. I'd delayed too long already. I just prayed I was not too late.
I'd washed Joshua and prepped him for burial before we left the Ark, but Shyla whisked me away before I could escort him off it. It took a little asking around before I found where he'd been transferred. A ship the size of Decatur would have a dedicated space for a morgue. They'd assigned him a refrigerated drawer and I was surprised at what I'd found there. In addition to the slotted card with the name Joshua Gabriel Drake, there were about two dozen little notes from Decatur's crew taped to the drawer or affixed by magnets. Some had drawings of flowers in place of the real thing, others were simple heartfelt notes of gratitude. Arden rested in the drawer to the left and it was similarly decorated. The immediate drawers around Arden and Joshua held no nametags and I reckoned if Shyla allowed this to continue, they would serve to take on the overflow. Already their drawer fronts had run out of real estate and there were notes staking claim on the surrounding ones. On the deck beneath them was an impromptu shrine. Someone had rigged up a fake candle in a glass filched from the mess hall, complete with flickering light bulb. More notes and cards surrounded it. I spied an origami Ark tucked in among them, along with origami cranes and flowers. Floored, I sat on the deck, touched each one, and read them.
We saved the Verse, Joshua whispered in my head. That's, like … the ultimate awesome.
What would he have made of the offerings here? Tears made everything waver as I heard him say, Wow.
"Ma'am?" someone said softly at my side. I looked up and saw a young man who, like the med tech of the other day, could not have been a day older than twenty. So young. I felt ancient by comparison, frail and brittle. He had a rolling chair under his hands. "May I offer you a seat? That deck is mighty cold." I rose, aching and unsteady, and took the courtesy offered.
"Thank you", I whispered, my throat still not consistently up to task of speech and right that moment, it was pretty tight.
"No, thank you," he whispered back. He nodded at the shrine. "There aren't any words, Ma'am, but we're tryin'. I'm on duty right over there. Please let me know if you need anything."
I stayed him with a hand on his arm. "Release forms?" I husked. "For my husband's body. Please."
I saw Joshua die. And yet, it mattered not that I felt his last breath go into me as he kissed me goodbye. There is a perverse and inescapable finality that paperwork imparted that holding his lifeless body in my arms could not. Signing them made it official. Joshua was dead. I was alive. Our baby was alive. Somehow, I had to convince myself that it was enough.
There was one last thing I had to do. I put my hand to the latch and opened Joshua's drawer. He lay there as if he were sleeping, pale and waxen, and chill to the touch. The morgue staff had done their job well, preserving his remains for burial in Georgia. He was covered from the chest down, though his arms were free, and his hands were lax on the sheet.
Nika had had the presence of mind to search Anna's corpse and quarters before disposing of her completely. Nika got her diamond back and I, I got our wedding rings and Joshua's cross. I slid his ring on his finger.
No matter where you may find yourself in the Verse, Joshua whispered from memory. No matter what you may end up doing, no matter who you stand with, no matter who stands against you, I will be there with you. And that is my promise to you and my vow, Irina.
I slid my rings on mine.
I don't know what I did to deserve the gift that was you, but I will spend the rest of my life making you glad I said yes.
I put the cross in his right hand and curled his fingers around it, and wrapped his wrist with its chain. I recalled the first time I'd seen him with it, rubbing it with his thumb and gazing into the distance. It was when we'd taken Jake home to his family for burial and it was the first time Joshua and I had really talked as friends. It was fitting he would have it in hand again, this last meeting a bookend to our first. I smoothed a lock of hair off his forehead.
"You're going to be a father. Goodbye, Joshua. I love you." I kissed his brow and tasted salt and resolutely shut the drawer.