TWO LIVES

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young woman and an extremely old man forge a bond on a doomed SpaceCab.

Submitted: July 02, 2016

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Submitted: July 02, 2016

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TWO LIVES

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

 

Alanna Ferguson slumped in the rear of the SpaceCab, while she languidly turned yet another stultifying page of her very boring book.

She knew she was drifting off when her long black hair covered one eye. She snapped back up into a semi-slump and sighed.

Here I am; twenty-eight, single and stuck in a dead-end career. I really am out in space.

A lexicon of smells rocked from side to side with the sway of the craft.

Bar snacks were available for a long line of customers, most of whom truly wanted only booze.

There was the usual bar chatter with the similar shouts of glee, groans of the heavily-troubled, and the laughs of those who haven’t got much past being able to dress themselves.

Alcohol still loosened tongues as well as inhibitions.  

Alanna was five nine, a bit chubby with a perfect nose and two perfectly set brown eyes. 

Her soft lips opened at precise intervals to engage fingers-full of caramel corn.

She had reached a point in her reading where the plot meant nothing to her, the cardboard characters were ridiculous, the writing was both sophomoric and pedestrian; and there was still over an hour before docking.

She straightened up in her seat, trying to avoid jostling the older woman to her left and the extremely old man to her right.

Mmmm, must be Senior Discount day.

Alanna took this trip to Challenge Colony (# 434) every Tuesday as part of her obligation to mentor a member of the colony concerning his lack of historical perspective.

Sounds of clinking glasses drifted toward her.

She found this evidence of younger life comforting but the ‘why’ eluded her.

I suppose they could be older people; getting the day off to a boosted start. Too early for me, but if Frankenstein, here, gets some serious flapping going, perhaps I’ll make a run for the bar myself; hmmm. a gin and tonic  .. . . no.

Colony # 434 was only fifty years old—new by most standards, although the founding principles of the ‘prole pranksters’, as they were referred to by the snob colonies (numbers One through Four Hundred—who considered themselves the equivalent of the ancient Blue Marble society labeled the General Society of Mayflower Descendants) were both earnest and democratic.

However, Alanna couldn’t help thinking of her mentee as a whole lot more than a dimwit.

She sighed while she thought of Caleb and all the dumb questions he was going to ask her.

Don’t they learn anything in school over there? He is really ignorant; I mean, he thinks that the Blue Marble is , well . . . just that; a marble; how dumb can you be?

She glanced out the window expecting to find only the limitless inky murk of space, and her expectations were met; her ride was falling into a bottomless black inkblot. Any—and all—hope of ever seeing light again nestled silently in the SpaceCab’s blue-box auto-pilot.

Her reflection in the window picked up the creeping signs of aging around the corners of her eyes as well as in the furrows beside her nose and between her eyebrows.

That had turned out to be one serious downside of living in a space colony; or anywhere in space.

Everyone had been genuinely surprised at this unfortunate discovery and people were constantly switching colonies, trying to find anything that would prolong their life.

Of course, bionics, as well as the defeat of autoimmune diseases and their pathogenic connection to cancer, had guaranteed a long life of over a hundred and forty years.

Nevertheless, as on Earth, everyone wanted a shot at living forever; or at least until they had ‘tired of it all’.

Meanwhile thousands of health care specialists were working 24/7 to capture the elixir of super longevity—there were hopes of seven to eight hundred years.

She allowed herself a slight smile, a glowing one that the banged-up old buzzard on her right thought was meant for him.

“Been this way before, have you?”

When he spoke, Alanna immediately noticed that the left side of his face was paralyzed, and his ghastly half-smile reminded her of the Joker.

A look of revulsion shot toward her features but she barely managed to divert it into a wry look of semi-sympathy as she replied.

“Yes . . . every Tuesday. I go to four colonies on Tuesdays and five on the other days; except Sunday.”

“Oh? You are a very busy young lady, aren’t you?” and he widened his leer.

His dentures made a clicking sound; apparently space has an effect on the denture material that causes shrinkage.

However, what struck Alanna immediately was her knowledge that dental implants were now done in an hour and the price was no more than a bottle of Jack Daniels.

So why is Pops here clicking a set of teeth that have to be at least a hundred years old?

Jesus! can he really be a hundr . . .over a hundred!?

Alanna thought they might jump out at her like electric-powered choppers from the novelty Joke Store, a favorite stop of hers when she visited colony # 49.

“Yes,” sighing for effect, “I’m usually so tired on Sundays that I just sleep; but I do get to go out Saturday nights . . . or host a party . . . why am I burbling on to this old coot; if he stretches his mouth any farther, I’ll puke . . . “or I go to one.” There; cripes; just fold it back in Pops; it’s really yucky. Oh Christ, not more . . . maybe I should chug a G&T.

“Well, what do you do that takes you all over the Points on so many days?” The colonies had been constructed around the LaGrange points beginning in 2046. “it must very tiring.”

Oh God, why me?

“I’m a teacher—and a part-time mentor,”

 I might as well get this out of the way in one go,

“I teach history to high school students and I mentor home-schooled kids.”

There, Gramps; now leave me alone. I don’t need you to tell me how lonely I am; and I’m not married; and I would like to be; and . .

“Really? Do they still allow home schooling in the colonies? I thought they outlawed that; you know, ‘cause the kids weren’t learnin’ much . . . no?”

Well you ain’t been learnin’ so much yourself, have you Methuselah; bloody hell!

“No—I mean yes; yes, it was banned, but after the colonies voted for self-government, it all went to hell; now, if you can believe it, there are more home schooled-kids than regular students; and it really shows.

“I have to work twice as hard just to get some kids to accept the fact that we really are all alone out here. And the Blue Marble.”

Why am I doing this; you idiot; he won’t stop until we dock. Oh crap!

“Yeah; know what you mean. Kids nowadays like to think we’re surrounded by all sorts of alien life; the Brains say it ain’t true. It’s just us. Period.

“Told us that in 2050. Terrible suicide rate that year.”

Yeah, I bet; the thought of you being the only game in town would certainly add that strong push in the small of my back; over a cliff; out a window; off the Golden Gate; Jesus, now I’m really getting pissed; this guy is too real; all around. Please! I need help here.“I can imagine; hasn’t caught on in the home-schooled colonies though.”

Now why the hell did I say that; Jesus, you really are thick today; midweek blues; on Tuesday.  Hunh . .

“Well,” laughing a hideous gurgle, “they don’t build anything higher than ten feet and bridges’re no higher than Westminster.

“But they could still do pills or poison—even supuku if you fancy that sort of finale."

Alanna sat back with the body language of surrender.

She adopted this thought and emotion because she believed in The Might.

The Might had seemed to turn her in a good direction over the ten years since her mother died.

Alanna had been mentally and socially paralyzed by the sudden death of her best friend.

Mom was only forty-six; I’m still trying to understand that one; maybe The Might erred; Mom was definitely ‘disfavored’.

“My name’s Hector; Hector Burpe; born In Edson, Alberta. Folks call me Hecto; don’t know why. Last man born on The Marble.”

He said this without pride; flatly; almost with a touch of regret.

Alanna couldn’t decipher the tone of his voice because his facial paralysis was altering the sounds of his speech.

“Really?” Alana was genuinely interested in this signal fact; this unique fact. “You were the last person?”

Suddenly, she sensed a tide of extreme interest in the old man.

As an historian, Alanna suddenly caught the implications of what the old man represented.

He probably knows all the accelerants for flight; the final gestures and remains of a departing species; homo sapiens abandoning their home for a residence in space; the departure from Earth. Wah!

Yup; we were the last family to leave before they began the terra forming; the clean-up is what we called it.

“Came here about a year and a half after the last volunteers came to the space colonies.

“But I get to visit every now and then; the government of # 98 got me a free Super-Senior Pass; you know, over two hundred. And they like me to lead tours on The Marble as well.”

Alanna was amazed.

“You mean . . . you’re over two hundred years old?”

“Yup; well, part of me is, the rest is bionic. But my brain’s the original; with the inventions and such for health—and especially good brain care, my grey matter is old but still crafty.”

His laughter was filtered though a system of new parts that increased the tone and the depth of his voice.

Alanna was becoming accustomed to this unique man.

The oldest man; the last; the Jack Crabbe of Stargate . . .

 “I bet you’ve seen a lot; does it make you sad?” She leaned toward him, her revulsion having evaporated.

“Some days. I’ve had a lot of friends and colleagues over the decades; most are gone. And most of them just gave up; didn’t want to live any more; seen enough.

“Especially when they found out that we’re all alone out here.

“But I don’t think they’re right; I think there’s someone out there. I said earlier that we’re all alone.  No aliens. But that’s the party line. I’m convinced that there are other things out here; they just don’t give a damn about us and I sure as hell don’t blame them; would you?”

Alanna nodded while she tried to digest his words—and especially his background.

“You know, they found some flaws in the papers written by those scientists. Seems that the Earth’s soil is not required for life; it can be surrounded by some other materials,” pause, “well I don’t want to bore you. You must have papers to review before you meet your students.”

Alanna couldn’t believe it; she was beginning to like this guy.

And, let’s face it, he is a repository of unique facts and experiences.

“So you were down there when the hearings were being held about alien life.”

“Sure thing, Miss . . .”

"Alanna, Alanna Ferguson . . . that’s amazing; did you hear all the debates?"

“Sure did; even went to one; got a special ticket. I even added my thoughts, which were not scientific of course, but I was over a hundred by then and had seen many things, including a bunch of unidentified aerial objects.

"A couple gave them pause, but the brainy types said no way and so everyone started offing themselves.

“My name’s George Crabbe.” He offered a hand that Alanna took in hers. It was warm and throbbed with the experience of two centuries.

“Crabbe; I was just thinking of the very old man named Jack Crabbe in that movie . .”

Breaking in, “I’m his grandson; Jack was a real person. They made him fictional for the movie; and you know why?”

Alanna was absolutely stunned and simply shook her head.

“Because my Grandfather’s story was not only true but he also had so many other adventures that the producers realized that Granddad’s life was a hell of a lot more interesting than the damn movie script. Hah.” And he rolled back his head and laughed another gurgle laugh; a much heartier one.

This time, Alanna was not revolted in the least; in fact she joyfully pitched in and they had a wonderful bout of soul-cleansing laughter together.

She suddenly knew that this was probably the first time that she had enjoyed a genuine laugh since the day Jack Mason had  suggested that she might want  a roll in the hay—when she was seventeen.

Abruptly she stopped laughing and felt like crying. 

Her relatively short life seemed so pathetic; hollow and pointless.

 She confessed to herself that she wished she had taken up Jack’s offer.

 And then her mother died. 

She couldn’t stem a short sob.

George understood immediately. 

His two centuries of life experience had sharpened his abilities to sense the emotions of others; sometimes he could virtually read their minds. 

He realized that he was capable of reading Alanna’s mind and he became sad in sympathy with her.

 

Without warning the auto-pilot of the SpaceCab malfunctioned and the cab’s trajectory was instantly altered.

As a result of the top speed of this new model, as well as the nanoseconds required for the fail-safe system to be operational, Alanna Ferguson and George Crabbe were able to discuss his life and times on The Marble as well as his many years living on various colonies until the liquor and bar snacks ran out, and eventually—the air supply.

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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