Part three of four of a continuing series.
The motorcycle died on the side of the road, fell to its knees. An old tree nodded wisely nearby. It had seen much.
Fredriks scuffed his old boots through the cracked surface of the highway. Swore calmly under his breath. Pulled out his phone. Fired off a message to Ray. Sat down by the fallen bike, and waited.
Above him, the sky was slowly beginning to darken. It was never really light anymore, to be honest. Not since the Russians. But its complexion, now, definitely indicated rain was coming. Fredriks would welcome it, when it finally broke.
He had ridden without a helmet. Couldn’t stand the thought of helmets anymore. He had left in a hurry, without much talk, and he knew that Ray would come now to pick him up, armed with the same questions that he’d skirted around for weeks.
Hopefully it would rain soon.
The motorcycle was new, and Fredriks didn’t know anything about it. Didn’t care to begin to learn. Ray had hoped it would bring him back up to speed, get the wheels behind his eyes slowly turning again. But all it brought was empty, sweeping movement.
The house had started to feel familiar again last week. Fredriks remembered the imperfections in the floor, remembered the slow squeak of a door handle, the stiffness of a window. But as all these things slowly returned to him, Fredriks could feel them easing out the electric blue he had brought back with him from out there.
Ray could tell that he was different. Pretended that he didn’t notice. After the shock and fear and misspent desire had slowly worn away, Ray had forced an air of normality that had by tiny increments begun to make Fredriks feel sick. They were avoiding each other, in truth; slowly slipping past each other in conversation and fluorescent light.
Why, why the fuck wouldn’t it just rain already?
One evening, over a cold dinner, Ray had laughed and smiled and talked about a night they’d spent together, years ago, laughing at cold dinners and incompetent waiters. This was some time before Fredriks had signed on with GreyLink, before he’d gone up. That night, they’d paid the bill in small change, run all the way home giggling, like children.
It was a good story, and Fredriks tried his best to laugh like he meant it.
But the truth was, he didn’t remember. Could not remember anything about that night. Couldn’t remember the cold dinner, the incompetent waiter, the run home. Ray might as well have been talking about someone else’s life entirely.
Fredriks had confessed this, slowly, to Ray. Told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. And the two of them decided that maybe that was, indeed, someone else’s life entirely. Ray had gone to bed, his meal half-eaten.
Fredriks didn’t confess anything else after that.
Now, Fredriks tore off his jacket, stifling him despite the slowly turning weather. It had been hot for days; the humidity brought about by the coming storm was nothing more than a sweltering trap.
He looked up at the slyly hinting sky. This planet was choking, its future sure to be long and increasingly dull. Humanity had saved itself, in the end; because, as it turns out, doomsday scenarios are a respite not granted to the foolish. And now, they had to live here, on this boring, quiet planet living in the spoils of their victory like pigs in squalor.
He had not thought these things before. Hadn’t carried them with him, up there, out there. But, now that he was back, he recognised that The Launceston, hulking and rusted and cold, had shown him things he had never seen before. Bright lights and infinite darkness and everything in between.
At the edge of it all, he had seen the most brilliant blue he could imagine, and it had sharpened his mind to the point of immutability. There was no place for that kind of blue in a sky such as this.
He hadn’t told Ray, but last week, he had gone back to the GreyLink medics, taken the first tests to get back in the lock. They had shaken their heads at the results, made furtive phone calls and stamped things in red. Fredriks hadn’t waited too long to find out who they were calling, or why they were looking at him like they’d seen a ghost. They had; they had seen a ghost.
There was no hope for him to leave this planet. Not legally, anyway. He would be forever tied to this scorched earth by the terrible, terrible gravity that held back all things.
Right after it had all happened, the doctors and scientists and financial advisors had asked him how he had gotten home. He had told them what he knew. Or, more precisely, what he didn’t know.
It had all seemed a bit much, too them, and they stopped asking.
What was he going to tell everyone? That he’d moved past them, gradually over taken them in the slow slipstream of time, and that he’d rather not speak with his human voice ever again? That he’d rather find a way to speak in lights?
A sharp pain in his neck.
Fredriks swatted at it. Pulled away his hand. An insect, now spoilt red. Probably for the best, Fredriks thought. All good things.
Fredriks watched Ray’s car pull up ahead, headlights warming up.
Felt resignation course through his veins with cool relief as the truth crept up on him.
Because the truth was, this wasn’t his home anymore.
And, finally, it began to rain.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.