Aftermath – Chapter 13

A short story set in a near future – Internet and our societies have fallen and the law of the jungle prevails…

This article is also available on Medium.

2063. After the Event, communities have reformed — while the majority of the population has regrouped in a handful of megacities under lockdown, the rest are scattered across the globe and fighting for their survival. This is the story of seven survivors stuck in a bunker, in the Middle East…

Chapter 13—Ichiro

I gaze upon the room, sorting through the feelings that rise in me. Adam bleeding out on the floor, barely moving… Rick holding his head, unable to move or speak. Anna a few feet further, breathing heavily with a smile on her perfect face. I’m happy she’s dying. A little longer and she might have actually gotten me, too. On the other hand, I’m quite sad the chemist had to suffer. I would have played it differently, had I had the main role in the final scene. But Aiko needed that, I understand it now. As I hold her in my arms, I wonder why I don’t feel anything about her death. We lived our whole lives together, now we will share our ends… surely there should some beauty I could recognize in this fact? No, my brain is having a hard time making it work. Is it because our project will be done soon? Is it a sense of accomplishment that pumps the blood through my entire body? Or is it the screwdriver that my sister plunged in my ribs when I took her against me a while ago?

  • Forever together, brother. You promised.

I smile.

  • Yes, Aiko. Forever. Don’t worry, I’ll be there soon.

Her lips freeze in the middle of a grin. The flickering neon above us makes her look like a terrifying skeleton, lying in my arms, waiting for the next Halloween to stand up. Quiet, sister, you can rest now. I close her eyes and gently lay her on the cement floor. I slowly get back on my feet. Pain is racing in my chest, my stomach, my spine… this is probably for the best. At least, it will be quicker.

  • We’re almost finished. Everything’s in place.

A quick look at the wall. The small security camera is staring at me with its red blinking eye. Humanity’s last bet. Hopefully, they — we? — are a bunch of irredeemable gamers.

I hold my breath. No Mozart, this time. I’ve never heard this before… is it an original? Yes, for sure. There is much of her in it: notes dance in a blue dress, they look down at us in the distance, they protect us without us knowing. The music floats around, it coats me in a warm cover of tenderness. Her voice has finally soared in the bunker, this music is hers truly. I like her Mozart but this is something else. It sings of gravity, and love, and war, and light pearls on an invisible string, and rain on large leafs, and sand dunes swooping down the hills… I am surrounded by the entire world. I am surrounded by her. As I lay my head back on the couch, I believe the drug starts to affect me. Or are these blurry colors real? Has she transformed life itself with her piano? I do think she is capable of such a thing.

  • Will you talk to me, now?

She doesn’t answer. Only white and black keys echoing in my mind, bouncing in my brain. I’ve been presumptuous. I thought I could… no, I deserved some words out of her. I spent too much time faking emotions, they are becoming instinctive. A grave note turns in the bunker before stopping abruptly. Life is ending, so is music. I hear light footsteps and she kneels in front of me. She is smiling, she puts her hand on my side and takes it back, looking at the blood with surprise.

  • Words are lies, you know that. When people talk, they don’t tell what they think, they tell what they have to tell.

I look down, I am ashamed I asked. Yes, I know. She is right, having her speak is not revealing her true-self at all. With all these sentences floating out of her mouth, she’s a porcelain doll with no free will. I will end my life letting down the most precious person in the world. No, I refuse. It’s not fair. Not me, not her. I’ve worked too hard on the emotions thing to fail it at the last moment. Salty water on my cheeks tastes funny.

  • I didn’t know you could cry.

I will be the only one to ever hear this sweet voice, to see these laughing eyes or feel her soft hands around my face.

  • And I didn’t know you could smile.

Could it be I actually am feeling? This heart that is gradually breaking into dust, this head that is burning up, this mouth that is gasping for air, this sex that is filling with fluids… will I end my life more human than I have ever been? She was my salvation, she showed me trust, love and desire. Dear Anna was but a stunt for this star, how could I have any doubt she would take her place?

Her fingers disappear from my cheek like a cloud gliding in the sky. Am I imagining these Mozart’s notes in her phrases, her giggles? It’s been around for so long I have trouble associating her to this new tune… and yet, it is her. Entirely. Completely. It reminds me of a rhyme my mother had invented for Aiko and I when we were children and had trouble sleeping. My voice is weak and tired.

Tangled pebbles laughing in a river,
Stardust bouncing on a comet:
Your smiles are but suns of silver
And I will lay with you until they have set.
Fear not, my children, sail on tonight!
Heart to heart and dream to dream,
Nothing can hurt us, there is no ill will in sight,
Noon will shine down midnight’s dark stream.

She holds my head as it rolls on the side. In this instant, she is everything and everyone. Yes, you who I shall never name, you who haunted my dreams and drove my thoughts for months — but it could have been my entire life –, I’m relieved you are here when I die!

For I will die, and soon, too. I already grasp distorted sounds and strange shapes. I suddenly feel her breath on my neck. Her whisper is sweet in my ear.

  • They told me you liked poems. I’m happy I could hear one.
  • Poems are mathematics in words. They are the soul of the music, the heart, the stories and the love. They are the bridge between everything that matters.

This wave of words makes me cough. My throat itches like crazy, I only wish for it to stop. The sooner the better. Plus I’ve got some blood in my hand, now. But when I look back at her face, I think: how can I wish for it to end at all? I would like to stay here for the rest of eternity, with her by my side, the two of us listening to music and poems, dancing and singing like children.

  • I’m happy I could hear one of your songs.

Her head is light on my chest. I fear she is not even here, I am too weak to look down. I take a deep breath. Perfumes of hazelnut, trees, grass, water and wind tell me she is still there.

  • I don’t want this to end. But we need to finish it, otherwise it will be all for nothing.
  • Yes, Sato Ichiro.

She helps me drag the computer to me and goes to stand in my back as I review my notes. Now is not the time to forget something. I only have one chance at transmitting a message to mankind.

When I press the button to end the recording, a huge weight falls on my shoulders. There, it’s done: we sealed the fate of humanity. As I put my hand on her arm, I sense she hesitates to pull away. I let go.

  • You ready? He’ll be here soon, I reckon. Aiko called him this morning when she thought I was still asleep.

She nods in silence. I can’t pinpoint what’s different… what is missing? A sudden glance at the piano. She is looking at it longingly. I don’t find anything clever or comforting to say. The best I come up with is sad, still she turns to me with a little smile — one that shows she used to be happy, a long time ago.

  • All the grains of sand in the desert eventually get buried by others. What’s important is we brought the dune down in our fall. Right?

The coughing spells that started during the recording are getting worse. I have trouble stopping it now. I have blood all over my shirt.

  • You know, Aiko called herself the Girl of the Sun. She thought it was hers. I think she was wrong.

The words are almost inaudible now.

  • You were my ray of sunshine.

I see tears at the corners of her eyes as she bends over me and lays a kiss on my forehead. Her voice is as thin as mine.

  • Goodbye, Sato Ichiro.
  • I loved you. I loved you so much.
  • I know.

Cold hand on my eyelids. Warm blood on my skin. Too much contrast for my brain to rewire. Aiko got it right: we are machines, unreliable and easily broken mechanical systems with a skin over the bolts and screws.

We are machines. Unreliable and easily broken. A bunch of bolts of screws. Mine are tearing apart, I see only black now.

I am a machine.

Unreliable and forever broken.

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