Wyld FLASH February 11th 2022
I’m climbing, doing my best to focus on the orange glowing handholds my HUD thinks are the best places to grab onto and not over at Ann who looks flawless the way she’s bounding up the cliff face.
“Hurry up, we’re going to miss it,” she says.
My arms feel like they might fall off. My hands are sore through my nanofiber gloves and my skinsuit isn’t doing much in the way of keeping me cool. My back is slick with sweat and the fabric feels slimy as it slides across my skin.
“What’s the rush? I’m not a freaking free-climb pro!”
She giggles. A beautiful, sweet sound. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”
I look at the upper edge of the cliff, so close, and push myself to focus. Ann beats me there, of course, and when she pulls herself up, she looks down at me with crossed arms and a smirk that basically says I’m better than you. It makes me smile. I hoist myself up with all I have left in me and roll onto my back to stare at the greenish-blue sky. I’m panting, which is made louder through my mask and helps remind me how out of shape I am.
Ann sits beside me and lets her feet dangle over the edge. I can see the look of awe on her face as she looks out on the Varo horizon. I lever myself onto my elbows and the sight nearly takes my breath away. We’re well above the treeline and have a full view of the twin planets painting the skyline; the orange sun sets between them and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It looks like a holo vid but so much prettier.
“Woah,” is the best word I can manage.
“See? I told you it was a surprise.”
Our eyes lock and I smile. My heart strings tug to share this moment with her and I wish that things were different.
As if she can read my mind she asks me the one question I’ve been hoping she never would. “They don’t know I’m dead, do they?”
My stomach twists like someone’s gut-punched me. I feel a shrieking numbness crawl through my veins. The memory of our smoldering, wrecked survey pod scattered in the trees floods my mind. The twisted remains of the woman I loved so much.
“No. I haven’t been back. I never told them. They probably think I’m dead.”
Her hologram starts to fragment and suddenly it makes sense why she’s asking. All I have left of her after the accident is a holo reconstruction of her stored in my holofeed. I’ve used it sparingly over the last several days, but the last vestige of her has limited run time that’s nearly at an end.
“Why haven’t you been back? You have a whole life in the Corp. A career with ambitions, a bright future. Why walk away?”
“What’s the point of all of that if the person I want to share it with is no longer here? The future doesn’t mean much when the end goal is you.”
She gives me a sad smile and leans her head on my shoulder. The holo fragmentation gets worse. Pixels start to fade to nothingness, blurring her image. Her legs that dangle off the cliff are starting to fade. We don’t have much time left.
“You need to go back. Have a life, be successful, grow old with someone. It doesn’t need to end here on this planet. It doesn’t need to end with me.”
“I don’t know if I can do it without you,” I say. My chest is tight, my throat thickens with a lump of sorrow. Tears blur my vision.
“You’re never without me. Not here.” She reaches her hand to my chest, touching the suit where my heart is, then cups my face.
More pixels deplete with each passing moment. Her arms and legs are nearly gone and her torso is starting to fade. She’s scarcely more than loose pixels on the breeze. I can’t stop staring into her eyes, enjoying my last chance to take them in and sear them into my memory.
“Do it for me,” she says. “Please, do it for me. I love you.” A smile tugs at her face and she fades to nothingness.
“I love you too.”
I’m left staring at the rocks where she sat. Tears streak my cheeks and I pull my knees under my chin and sit in a fetal position. I loved her with all of me. My life was built around marrying her, I never could have anticipated the accident. Without her I don’t know what meaning I have.
I remember her final words. Please, do it for me.
I hoist myself up, look down from the edge of the cliff, and start the downward descent.
Author Bio: Eric Fomley’s stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, and The Black Library. You can read more of his stories on his website ericfomley.com or follow him on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark
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