The year 200 (Fragment)
Agustín de Rojas
Published in the magazine Revolution and Culture 12/85
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)
“...because we follow a road covered in corpses. But don’t cry for them. To shed a tear for them, one tear for each of the dead, you would need ten lifetimes. Remember that you have only one. Use it to reach your final goal. That would be your best tribute to those who have died,” Aisha finished reciting, and her voice trembled.
Groping in the semidarkness of the room, a hand sought her face.
“Why are you crying?” Vern asked. He turned his body towards her and hugged her tightly. “Don’t cry; you’re hurting me.”
The girl controlled herself with effort. Her voice still damp, she replied, “Don’t say that, darling. I would never, ever hurt you...”
And their bodies sought each other, instinctively. The vague light of the room flickered, until it finally disappeared.
Then, gradually, it returned.
Vern mumbled, “I don’t know why I feel so good next to you...”
Aisha didn’t hear him. She stroked the man’s chest repeatedly, rhythmically. Suddenly, she asked:
“Do you know why I cried?”
His eyes shut, Vern raised his shoulders.
“I suppose because of those dead...And that’s silly; that old writer says so himself. Not even ten lifetimes would be enough.”
“I wasn’t crying for them.”
“For who, then?”
The man opened his eyes.
“I don’t understand you,” he smiled. “You’re not dead.”
“I’m afraid,” Aisha whispered, and a sob fought to come out, but she continued to hold it in. “I’m afraid of dying without getting there.”
Vern let a brief laugh escape.
“I can’t imagine that you could fail, Aisha.”
The girl looked at him and smiled for an instant.
“I wish I had your confidence, darling.”
Sighing, Vern sat face to face with her on the bed.
“Aisha, I don’t know why you chose that profession...,” he shook his head, with a worried air. “I never imagined that emotional engineering could be so destructive.”
“But it isn’t, Vern.”
“Yes it is; just look at you. Look at you at night, of course. By day, you are completely different; you are happiness, beauty, life itself...This work is killing you. Why don’t you change jobs?”
Aisha’s face turned serious.
“I can’t change it, Vern. I can’t leave it. I am what I am because of it. It doesn’t kill, it gives life, my life, understand?”
The man answered brusquely:
“No. No, I don’t understand,” he smoothed his expression. “Maybe it would be better not to understand you. Just accept you like this, with that aura of strangeness, of mystery. Just keep being my little goddess... I love you so much, Aisha,” he said and buried his face in her bosom.
Aisha caressed his hair tenderly, her gaze lost in the distance... Wrinkling her brow, she asked: “What time is it?”
A little girl’s voice answered:
“Eight thirty-seven, Aisha.”
A second later, the girl’s body stiffened; then she became a tornado of activity. With both hands she lifted the stunned Vern’s head, slipped away from the bed and, with a voice full of urgency ordered:
“Clothes, Elf, and something easy to wear!”
A semitransparent tunic sprang from the wall.
Vern sat at the edge of the bed.
“I forgot that I have an appointment with Harry at nine,” Aisha stuttered, dressing with rapid, confident motions.
Aisha stopped; she looked at him. She smiled.
“Sometimes I forget how you are.... Harry Mergenthaler is my psychosociologist, Silly.”
Vern directed his eyes at the ceiling. He knew that he couldn’t think and watch Aisha’s young, smooth body at the same time. And he needed to remember something... There it was.
“But didn’t you already see him last week?”
Aisha’s dexterous fingers braided the straps of her sandals around her calves. She answered:
“Yes, but he called me in the middle of the night while you were sleeping. It seems that something strange came up in my analysis...,” raising her head she gave Vern a funny smile. “Maybe my love for you,” impulsively she approached the man and kissed his cheek, “turns out to be a unique phenomenon,” she concluded, smiling.
Vern extended his arms, planning to embrace her. She stepped back, shaking her head no, with a naughty look:
“No, sweetheart; I’m going to be late...”
Giles examined the headband for the nth time.
Could he have made some mistake?
No. Its shine was intact. He had followed Sybill’s instructions to the letter. Now, in the psychotransducer the mind of “Pretty Eyes” and his conditioning program had fused. A special program.
Yes, not even Gayla’s could compete with it... And in that body, God!
His breathing had accelerated. He swallowed the saliva that had filled his mouth.
Calm yourself, he said, glancing at the clock on the wall. She should arrive at any minute. You have to appear as you always do. She can’t suspect...
He glanced at the walls. The bluegreen waves moved rhythmically, growing, shrinking... He ought to turn the blue shade down; too cold for Aisha Dewar.
The green should predominate.
He manipulated the controls and quickly considered the results: the right tone. He closed his eyes. He shouldn’t risk the hypnotic effect of the walls. He needed to keep his mind alert, despite having been awake all night. He needed to wait quietly. He waited. He opened his eyes to take a quick look at the time and closed them again. 9:11. She was taking an awfully long time. Had something happened to her?
No, at 6 in the morning she had been perfectly normal, to judge from her voice. It wasn’t possible that in only three hours she, she of all people...
And if something had happened?
His hands gripped the arms of his chair.
One couldn’t discard the possibility, however small it might be. In that case, he would have to find another...But like Aisha? There was no one. There was no other body just like hers... But if something had happened...
His mind began to idly scan old Harry’s memories.
No, not that one. That one, perhaps... He bit his lips. He shouldn’t give up hope. Not yet.
Aisha was a typical emotional engineer.
Temperamental, impulsive. It wouldn’t be unusual for her to show up late, absorbed in some matter... But what if she didn’t show up?
He rose from his chair. He paced from one end of the cubicle to the other, gaze fixed on the ground, avoiding the dangerous walls. Aisha...
His hands picked up and then discarded one stereogram after another. Faces, bodies. Faces and more bodies. This one, maybe... No, no.
He stood up, grinding his teeth. Calm. Peace. He mustn’t allow his nerves to take control. She might still...
“Someone wishes to enter,” the door said.
Instinctively, Giles raced toward it and stopped. Not like this.
First, he needed to relax. He needed to be the happy, tranquil Harry of old. He breathed in deeply. Once more. There.
He walked toward the door, commanding it: “Open.”
And for an anxious second he was wounded by doubt, his smile frozen: What if it wasn’t her?
The door opened.
In the threshold, her face lit, still breathing heavily, was Aisha. She burst out, “Sorry, Harry: but I couldn’t avoid being late...”
“It’s not important; I recognize how absorbed you are in your work...”
She blushed as they walked towards their seats.
This detail did not escape the trained eyes of Giles; he let out a sigh.
If it had nothing to do with work, then there had to be something else with Aisha Dewar. And that meant another complication... Well; he would take care of that when the moment arose.
Sitting down, Aisha considered the walls. She said:
“How beautiful the room is today, Harry...”
Giles didn’t answer. Aisha got comfortable in her chair, her eyes fixed on the greenish swirls.
“You know what, Harry?”
“At last...at last I’ve found it.”
Silently, Giles nodded. He had not been mistaken.
Aisha turned toward him, tearing herself away from the oscillating sea with effort.
“I know what you’re thinking; you’ve heard that before. Once more Aisha Dewar is fooling herself... But no, Harry. Not this time.”
“I believe you.”
The girl shook her head, and her hair spread over her shoulders.
“No, you don’t believe me,” she sighed and her eyes returned to the walls. “You can’t believe me. How many times have I told you the same thing...But this time, it is true,” she folded her hands, making an effort to find the right words. “It is something so different...”
Yes. It was always the same, Giles -- and what remained of Harry Mergenthaler -- thought to himself. Harry stirred inside him, swelling with compassion... Why had Aisha Dewar set herself this impossible goal? Everlasting love... Could one think of two more incompatible words?
Distractedly, Giles once more suppressed Harry Mergenthaler from his mind. His sentimentality would get in the way. Although, in the end, what he was going to do was an act of mercy, he told himself. For Aisha to die now, when she believed she had found true love and before disillusion returned again, that was an act of mercy. How many times can one human being resume a quest for the impossible? And Aisha Dewar was human. She could not imagine what it would be like to lose the illusion, once and for all... The ancients knew it in no uncertain terms: “Those whom the gods love die young.”
“What is the problem? The problem in my analysis?”
Giles focused his attention on the girl. She had unclasped her hands and now they lay motionless on her thighs. She watched the walls, and her eyes blinked, each time more frequently. Everything was going well... but it still wasn’t quite right, he thought. He used his most soothing voice:
“I don’t want to alarm you unreasonably, Aisha. There may be, there seems to be, an error in the instruments. Today we are going to try another test. Not like the others.”
Aisha’s eyes had stopped blinking. They stared at the waves advancing, retreating, advancing,...
“In fact, I’ve already started.”
Giles leaned forward. He continued:
“You need to relax. Relax yourself totally.”
“I am sleepy...very...”
“Good. Relax. Sleep,” Giles whispered, and he waited. One minute. Two.
There was no response. Bringing his hand forward, he touched her shoulder. No reaction. With a sigh, he raised the chair...
The hand. The small hand, firmly gripping the stem of the flower.
People walking quickly, always quickly; tall, very tall. People, distant.
Fatigue in her legs, in her short legs, hurrying, hurrying.
The other hand within her hand. Her mother’s hand.
Fatigue in her tense arm... Why so fast?
“Are we done yet?”
A clear glance from high up. A tired smile.
“Just about, lovey. We are already arriving.”
The fear reborn in her chest.
The silhouette running, hiding among other silhouettes, getting closer.
Fear, cold and sticky, immobilizing her.
The silhouette grew.
It became a man. The man. Messy beard, long hair, uncombed. Crazed eyes. Not human eyes.
The bottle, swinging.
The other silhouettes retreating, moving away. Terror flowing toward her, from the restless heart of the multitude.
The bottle, nearing her face.
The drops, shiny and yellow in the sun.
The drops following slow trajectories toward her skin.
The acid, touching her face. Touching her eyes...
Beryl Sand woke, trembling with ancient horror. Instinctively her hands rushed to her eyes, the eyes which would no longer be there...
But they were.
Incredulous, she stroked her smooth eyebrows. Her lids -- lids, my God! -- closed. With the tips of her fingers she felt the drops of moisture, flowing. Was she crying? Did she cry again?
No it couldn’t be. It was another dream. Another nightmare, much crueler than the first.
She sobbed, and the tears fell over a strange face.
Why didn’t she wake up? She couldn’t take it any longer...
“You up already, Beryl?”
And that voice?
She searched her memories. She didn’t seem to know it; and yet, it seemed familiar. It brought forth old memories; boys running, the sky, the green field... She took her hands from her eyes and opened them, curious to attach a face to that voice.
She was seeing, really. There were colors, the colors lost so long ago, ever since she was condemned to live in that horrible gray universe...
It took an effort to focus. Everything seemed too close; the colors, the marvelous colors ran together, jumbled...
“Take it easy, Beryl. You have to get used to it gradually. Shut your eyes.”
Reluctantly, Beryl obeyed... But what was she seeing now? She smiled. She had forgotten: so much time had passed that she had forgotten the sparks of colors, the display of colors in the darkness which she could see even with her eyes closed...
A hand passed over her naked shoulder, and she felt a smooth warmth entering her. She did not know why, but it was very pleasant. The lovely voice spoke again:
“Keep crying, don’t hold it in. Crying will make you feel better.”
His hand over her shaking warm skin, Giles waited until Beryl’s crying ran out. Her last dry sobs came. Slowly, her body relaxed.
Giles waited a little longer.
Finally, he spoke:
“Good, now you may open your eyes again.”
Her eyelids fluttered, frightened. They opened, discovering two astonishing green lakes.
Objects were still very hazy...
She blinked to clear her vision and the rest of the tears, and the world achieved a dazzling clarity.
“No,” Beryl answered, and she was startled; that voice was not her own. What had happened? Worried, she asked:
“Who are you? What are you doing here? What have you done to...?” and she stopped, because she saw the other person for the first time, and a strange sensation began to bloom inside her and expanded in sweet waves throughout her body...
Before answering, Giles removed his hand from the woman’s shoulder. It was no longer necessary. The conditioning was entering its final phase.
“I will try to answer your questions in order,” he said and smiled. “I am Giles...”
Giles. What a lovely name.
“...the reason that you...we... are here is more difficult to explain. It has to do with a special project; the project...”
Beryl heard no more. Or, to be more exact, she stopped listening; she kept hearing the voice, swaying inside her, and the unknown sensation became more and more intense, intolerably sharp, inexplicably pleasing. Her eyes drank in every feature of Giles’ face as he talked, and she eagerly took in his arms, his white tunic, his legs...
Frightened, she awoke from her daydream.
Giles shook his head, smiling.
“Nothing... I noticed that you weren’t listening.”
“No, no; keep talking, I like to listen to you talk,” Beryl said, hurriedly, and blushed; what were you saying?”
“No... we shall continue the explanation later. Now, it would be best if you got up and got dressed.”
“Dressed? Beryl lowered her gaze at her body and noticed that she was naked. Nor was it her body; it was... beautiful. Instinctively, she tried to cover herself with her hands; but something inside stopped her motions, just after they began, and her heartbeat accelerated. With a tiny thread of her voice, she whispered:
“What is it?” Giles asked, inclining over her; and immediately the girl’s breathing became erratic, as if something were pressing down on her chest. “Oh, I understand. You were frightened to see yourself floating on air, right? There is no reason to be afraid. It just involves a gravitational generator...”
But, what was this thing she was feeling? Where had these previously unknown desires come from, Beryl asked herself; and she made a final, desperate effort to control herself, to master her stubborn body, and failed.
Impulsively her hands reached up toward the man leaning over her.
“You don’t understand, you don’t understand anything...” she moaned and wrapped both arms around the male body and brought it, forcefully, on top of her own.
From the author’s explanation (continued):
Passing by the preceding, I noticed that I changed the names of the principal protagonists in the last scene; the female who is named Beryl Sand here, is named Alice Welland in the published text.
And the male character, Giles Houdry, is named Stephen Houdry in the book already published. Furthermore, I have inserted changes in the punctuation -- a few -- related to the version published in Revolution and Culture. The problem is that I can’t pass a text of mine by without changing things; it always appears unfinished to me, still without the necessary polish and change, and I change it again... I believe the reader need not notice the changes (except, of course, in the names of the characters) but the critics may make a feast out of it; there are now three distinct versions of this scene.
Hoping to have amused you, your good friend takes his leave,
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