Nona the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Series, 3)
IN THE DREAM, he told her the words about where he took his degrees, his postdoc, his research fellowship. They were his noise and not really for consumption. More like meditation; like even his mouth knew the pointlessness of it, and just wanted to recite. Dilworth. Otago. Auckland. Overseas to Corpus. (She likes the word corpus; it sounds nice and fat.) Then another year abroad, where he got the grant and met the men who would make things happen. Special pleading with the New Zealand government and Asia-Pacific Environmental, at his suggestion, then back to the facility outside Greytown. They mocked it up to look like a freezing works. We all thought that was funny, he said.
He said: We just wanted to save you. You were so sick.
He said, It was me and A— and M— at the start. It wasn’t that they didn’t have the money for a bigger team; we were simply the only ones capable of what they were asking. M— for medical, A— because he was the glycerol-6 genius. He could’ve gone anywhere but he stuck with me … and thank God for that, because he handled all the shareholders. I was there for everything, but those meetings were like dying. I’ll never love meetings. C— was brought on by the oversight execs for contracts, you know, checks and balances, but look where that ended up, she was on our side before the first year was over …
He said: You have to understand that right up until that last year we believed they were going to see it through. We knew the plan could work. The Mark-R cryo cans had room for eleven billion people, easy. We’d got the procedure down to five hours per person with a trained team of four. Assuming an existing medical degree, that training could take as little as weeks, manpower wasn’t an issue if we started now. Sure, the maternity stuff wasn’t totally ironed out, but we were nearly there, and the packing was perfect. Of course they bitched about the timeline, and they bitched about the money, but they were always going to bitch about the money. Our rule was, nobody knowingly left behind.
He said: Even when they were constructing the other ships we got told straight-up that it was nothing, they were being sent off to the Kuiper installation to be on point for the full-population evac. IAF were involved, Pan-Euro Astronautics gave it their blessing, it was all so benign. We even lent them G— at the time because they wanted to talk about coating. M— said that she didn’t like it, she smelled a rat, and you know what I said? You know what I told her? I said, Don’t let it get to you and I said, Don’t get paranoid! I fucking looked her in the eye and said, This is the way we’re getting out, and you know that the moment half a dozen trillionaires realise it, they’re going where the oxygen is. That’s what I always told her. They’re going where the oxygen is. Wealthy men head for the exit.
He said: When they called me up and said the cryo project was over she looked at me and she just said, There they go, John.
In the dream they were sitting on the beach. He had made a fire from damp driftwood. The smoke made a black mark where it touched the tarpaulin, at the top, where it was stretched over their heads. The ash was still falling. It made them sick, but only ever for a little while. Anything that hurt them only ever hurt them for a little while.
In the dream, she was sat next to a bundle of meat he’d cut, thighs mostly, for when they felt hungry, which happened rarely and always simultaneously. When it did happen they would be side by side, eating until their stomachs were sore. They would drink from the sea like dogs.
He said after a pause: You know the worst part? She cried. She and A— both cried. In each other’s arms, like babies. They were so fucking scared. And I was right there, and I couldn’t do piss. Everything I was and everything I had done, and I couldn’t do a damned thing.
He was quiet for a long time. The sea ate at the sand. The waves glowed a little even though there was no sunshine, only thick yellow cloud.
She prompted: So what did you do?
He said: A damned thing, didn’t I.
She said: When is the part where you hurt me?
He said: Soon. It’s coming up.
She said: I still love you.
And in the dream he rubbed his temple with his thumb and said: “You always say that, Harrowhark.”
|September 13, 2022
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