The Death and Life of the Human Electrode
by Cooper Young
“I really, really hope you can understand me.”
Her dark hair covered her face. He couldn’t even be sure her eyes were open, but the EEG claimed she was awake. She could hear him.
“I assume you can’t. We sometimes load clones with information and memories, but the higher-ups decided that might not be best for you. You have the capability to understand language. You just haven’t been exposed to it.” She still didn’t look up, but her naked frame shivered against the harness. He pushed the button again, fighting a cotton tongue. “You have the capability to understand a lot of things.”
“I won’t be able to make you understand any of them. You won’t have time.” She lifted her head. The eyes that met his were gray–lazily hooded, deep, and ringed about the pupil with gold. They held no expression. “What’s about to happen…you were made just for this. Nothing before, nothing after. It’s a horrible thing, but…it was decided this was best. It’s not something they could make someone do. Nobody volunteered. You’d think….” She stared at him hollowly. “Maybe I shouldn’t try to explain altruism at this point. I’m not sure I understand it anymore anyway. It sure as hell doesn’t work the way I was always told it should.”
“I want you to look to your left. Left. Your….” He scanned the controls for the knobs that handled the speakers. He found them, and cut the sound to her right. “Over here.” She turned away from the screen to look for the source of the sound, and he watched her eyes find the glow building in the distance instead. “That’ll be here soon enough. When it gets close you’re going to be able to see a lot of things. Some of them will amaze you. The animals. The changes. The things we built. And some things…some of them I hope you don’t understand. If you do, I’m sorry for them. I didn’t do them, nor did my parents or my grand parents. Maybe nobody I’m related to for a hundred generations back. In the end that doesn’t matter. That’s still my species–our species–mostly, at least. And I’m sorry for what we did.”
“Look….” He switched speakers. “Over here.” She didn’t look, still staring at the oncoming light. “Whenever you’re ready. Over here there’s another one. I can’t explain this one, though. I don’t know what’s there. No one does.”
“No one ever will but you.”
“See, what you’re looking at now is everything that ever was. Everything that used to be. The past. And the thing’s you’ll see to your right…I guess they’re just yours.”
“There’s a moment coming; you’ll know when it gets here. Those two waves will meet. They’ll hit a midpoint. If you can at all judge distance, I’m sure you can guess where that’ll be. As it is there’s a bit of a problem: due to a whole lot of things I don’t have time to explain, the point where they meet is highly unstable. We’re not sure what’s supposed to happen, whether they’ll slip past each other or press on each other with force enough to crack them or what. We do know it’s going to be terrible. So terrible that…I’m not sure that when you look to your right you’ll see any people at all.”
“That’s why we need you. That’s why they had me make you. It has to be a person that does this. I’m going to need you…I’m going to need you to raise your hands.”
She didn’t obey. She hadn’t even looked right yet. That was okay, he told himself. There was no way she could be expected to understand. She might have the mental capacity of a woman of twenty, but it was filled by nothing more than what an infant’s brain held. She was a child. She would always be a child, and she would never understand more than she did now.
He hated himself then, watching her stare in awe at that same approaching light and waiting for the moment when they would have to save the world.
He swallowed hard. “Maia,” he called. She looked up at him, and for a moment he thought his heart would stop. “I hope you don’t mind that. I know I shouldn’t have done it. You’re in the system as 986741, and that’s all they’re ever going to call you. That’s all I should’ve called you. I realized one day that I’d been calling you Maia in my head for months and by then it was too late for me. I…I hope you don’t mind. It was my grandmother’s name.” She blinked twice and then, curious, stretched a hand toward the screen. He manipulated the controls and the tiny rockets on the back of the device sent it zipping behind her head. She squirmed.
“Shh. I’m still here. I’ll be here ’til the end.”
It came sooner than he had anticipated; he supposed that no man could properly judge how fast time flew. The waves seemed to slow just before they touched. By then she had given up on him, and he didn’t blame her. The meeting was a band of radiant light, and on either side a trillion lives of countless creatures played out just for her. He launched the rocket carrying the negative feed and pushed her forward as it disappeared into the glowing wall. As planned, she reached out, but it was a curious gesture, not a defensive one. Her fingers slipped into time.
He hesitated, watching her wonder with his hand hovering over the final switch. A cold voice echoed in his head–the tinny voice of the implant, not of conscience: She will die regardless of what you do.
He sighed. “Goodbye, Maia.”
Her body arced in agony as the current jumped the gap. The line between the halves of time began to blur, and for the first time he could remember he began to feel present in the world around him. It hurt.
He wanted to turn away, to hide from the tortured writhing and the screams he couldn’t hear, but he didn’t. He watched, weeping.
“Shh. I’m still here.”
A Note: Written in response to a flash fiction challenge Mr. Wendig called The Titles Have Been Chosen.