I sat quietly in my chair, the clinking of dishes and cutlery and soft chatter of café patrons enveloping the small place with a calming white noise. I came here often these days – always on my own. It was comforting. Safe. But not today. Today was different.
Today I wasn’t alone.
A waitress came over and left our drinks – two spiced ciders fitting for the chilly days on this side of Luminaire. Neither I nor my… guest… acknowledged her, or our drinks. It was a long, long moment before she spoke first.
“Mithathrotes.” she said quietly, her voice a shadow of the enthusiastic excitement it once was. I reflexively raised my chin, and slowly turned my gaze to the sky outside. The window was frosty and dirty from recent snowfall. She gently reached for and lifted her drink to her lips, taking a small sip before setting it back on the table, her eyes locked on me as she looked for a reaction. I stared out the window.
After another long, long moment she sighed and lowered her head. A dusting of snow was starting to come down once more outside. She spoke again, her face still gazing downward and her voice barely rising above the quiet cacophony.
“It’s been ten years, Adainy.” I finally turned back toward her. “Ten years.” She lifted her head to meet my gaze. The distinct metallic glint of her eye unsettled me. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was real, but when hit by the light in just such a way, you could tell it wasn’t her own.
“Did you even try to -“
“No.” I said curtly. I folded my arms as my drink sat untouched. She went quiet and tilted her head ever so slightly. “I don’t even know if you’re actually here right now. Maybe I’ve finally gone crazy and I’m talking to a ghost. Or a memory.” I said with a slight shrug.
She looked at me for a moment then reached down to a small bag by her chair. She rummaged inside for something – a slip of paper – and placed it on the table between the two of us. It was folded over and worn. I picked it up as if it would disintegrate in my hands and opened it.
“I went back. A long time after, but I did. I found that in your last reported location before the Federal Navy picked you up.”
“I thought I’d lost it.” I replied.
She was quiet for a moment before speaking up, this time with angry undertones. “I looked for you, Adainy. But you couldn’t be bothered to do the same for me.” She was staring daggers now. “I lost everything, but I…”
Her voice was starting to shake now. Anger and sadness came boiling over in a low tirade as she leaned forward.
“I looked. I never believed you would be dead, and when I finally woke up, you were the first thing on my mind. I knew what had happened to the others but I didn’t know about you. And now, I find you here. Living the quiet, sad life of a retired capsuleer. Docking and transit logs show your ships idling in hangars for years on end. Did you know I even got a hold of the waste and disposal records of your pod’s amniotic fluid?” She raised an eyebrow at me. The question was rhetorical. I didn’t know. I didn’t have any idea she’d come back from the dead and tracked me down.
“When amniotic fluid starts crystallizing, Adainy, you know you’re in a bad spot.” She leaned back and rested a hand on the table, tapping the side of her glass.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
It was the distinct sound of metal hitting ceramic. She stared and I looked at her. Not just her eyes with the one glinting in the light. I looked at all of her. The perfectly shorn head had been replaced by a frame of dark hair. A once-confident face now laced subtly with a subdermal reconstructive matrix that you could barely see glowing under the skin. Her hand had not a bit of flesh left on it. Her outfit was the clothing of a civilian, and no longer did she wear her reds and whites. No insignia to mark her rank, no weapon hanging from her side. She continued tapping the glass.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
I reached forward with apprehension and placed my hand on hers. The tapping stopped. Her metal fingers were cold. I looked at them as well, studying them, trying to place them in my mind as a part of her now. I felt heat rising in my chest and for the first time in a long, long time, I…
“Can they feel?” I asked her, still resting my hand on hers. She was quiet for a moment as she seemed to let her guard down for a moment.
“Not like they used to.” There was acceptance in the reply.
I turned her hand and ran my thumb across the plating that protected the internal components. S-O-E was stamped in the metal. Suddenly, anger welled up inside of me, quickly and with force.
“Why didn’t they tell me?” I asked her.
She smiled, looking at me, and shook her head. “You were going to be a capsuleer. You were going to become a god. You were going to become immortal. You were beyond me.”
“No, no, I want a name. I want to know who made that call because it wasn’t right to leave me in the dark. I should have been told. I should have -“
“You should have looked for me.” She pulled her hand from mine. I retracted, shame now washing over me.
“I saw you… I saw what they did. I saw what you did. I couldn’t have known.”
She was silent for a moment. “No, you couldn’t have. So I suppose the issue is you’re just quite literally hopeless.” She took a sip of her cider. “Couldn’t even be bothered to see if there was a grave you could cry at.” I dropped my head. The shame was now unbearable.
“I would give up immortality to get everything back that I’ve lost. I truly would, to undo everything.” I unfolded the paper and looked at it once more. My eyes grew hot and I felt tears coming on silently. I did my best to quell them. Suddenly there was the sound of her chair scratching the floor as she pushed away from the table. She reached down with smooth mechanical movement and grabbed her bag, slinging it over her should. She picked up her drink and downed the rest of it.
“That’s a nice sentiment, Adainy,” she spoke as she set the glass on the table, “and probably why you’ve been walking around without ever once stepping back into your pod. You want to die.”
She looked intensely at me, staring straight through to my soul to make sure I heard her next words.
“But Mithathrotes can’t die. He can’t go to heaven or hell. He can haunt the land casting a dark shadow on everything, hoping, praying that someone, somewhere can just end it all for him. But that can’t happen. It’s a curse, you know. One he brought on himself through his own arrogant and naive actions thinking he could set right all the wrongs in the world, without learning to accept both the dark and the light.”
She went silent for a moment.
“The second you show a shred of happiness, I’m sure you’ll find the death you want. That’ll never happen for you, though. Maybe it could have before but now…” She looked me up and down with a critical gaze. “Not anymore. Goodbye, Adainy.”
She turned and walked out of the café into the cold snow, disappearing under a haze of flurries and neon lights.