February 2013 – “last resort” – The Test by Paul Evans

The Test

By Paul Evans

Numb consciousness returned.

Still alive. I must have gone through with it.

Please acknowledge that you can hear me. Good. Lie still. Remain calm. You will feel slightly disorientated; this is perfectly normal.”

As if through a veil of cotton wool she was aware of the calm delivery of requirements and statements.

Please confirm that, to your knowledge, you are Citizen First Class Zhang Mei. Good. I am required to inform you that, contrary to your status, body lathing has been suspended due to parental veto.”

??

Mei’s now flawless vision rendered the image of her lover, stood nervously in the corner of the medical suite.

At least something was going to plan.

Father is going to kill me,” rasped her synthesised voice from the courtesy Simulacrum. Jimmy Lee’s pained expression relaxed slightly.

When did you last back up?” enquired the doctor, now panoramically identifiable as her Awakener.

Three days ago,” she lied, invisibly focussing on Lee’s face.

You have been involved in an accident.”

The ball’s in your court stud.

Mei and Jimmy had disembarked the plane with hands entwined. Enveloped in their gel chairs, the couple had whiled away the flight playing ‘Contribution’ using the billions of available social network ghost profiles. The knack was to draw a hand of deceased who recorded enough of their lives, but not at the expense of their value to society.

Propelled softly down the zero gee concourse to the gravity of the leisure facility’s spinning mid-section, their youthful bravado thinly masked nervous anticipation.

Welcome aboard the Last Resort. Standard time is 0328; you have lost 27 minutes due to point five SoL time dilation. The Jovian Tour will commence at 1015. Please proceed to the courtesy bar while your luggage is delivered to your cabins.”

American staff fulfilled their front of house roles. Citizenship badges emitted reassuring green, reinforced by system monitored ‘thank you’s.

A gentleman, Jimmy had booked a luxurious mid-circumference cabin, with gravity calibrated for those of Martian acclimatisation. Mei would have required exoskeletal assistance in Earth’s gravity.

Once alone she gave herself to him completely. He eagerly and patiently fulfilled her needs before satisfying himself. In Mars-equivalent gravity his Terran muscles empowered him a virtual superman. The mid-caste boy wielded her forbidden body effortlessly in their exquisite and secret union.

Later, they sat – illumination dowsed – in the observation portal of their room. The warmth of their spirit energising the spinning void beyond: high definition stars, the smudge of the crab nebula, and the approaching beige disc of Jupiter.

The excursion had been planned after Mei’s father – Minister for Energy Reduction – had engineered her transfer to Martian Hydroponics when the couple’s mutual attraction was brought to his attention an orbit ago.

Their itinerary delivered all that was promised. A Cutter launched them around the twenty thousand kilometre anti-cyclone of Jupiter’s infamous Red Spot; its pimple-like dome rose seven kilometres above the upper levels of the portentous gas giant.

Thereafter, enshrouded in the dense mist, the now-redundant hydrogen mining and storage facilities provided venues for a cycle’s wargaming. Mei and Lee fought cooperatively, fuelling feral emotion for their next private opportunity.

But … were his kisses less passionate? He had dressed immediately after their last encounter, rather than their usual post coital murmurings. Was the enchantment of their intimacy dissolving? Was their lovemaking actually no more romantic than the rutting of pigs?

Their love had inevitable cost: Father’s trust and reputation were at stake; but the risk was entirely her’s. If this seed was to germinate into the redwood of lifelong commitment, such cost was an investment. If not … was she the subject of tomorrow’s locker room boast?

Her despondency was evident while watching ‘Alpha Centauri: The New Frontier’. Footage from the fledgling colonies had a disconcerting four year time lag and had redefined ‘news’. She retired early, feigning sleep on his arrival.

I must know on my terms. She transmitted her essence.

Their transport undocked from the Last Resort and conducted an orbit of Saturn’s awe inspiring rings before the cycle’s event: atmospheric free-fall into Titan’s liquid ethane sea: ‘Kraken Mare’.

As Lee and the collected revellers backed-up (according to status or insurance policies) and were fitted for drop suits, Mei heatedly insisted on wearing her personal equipment. After protracted persuasion with a dutiful Australian, she was invited to surrender company risk, with a further waiver that she had missed the opportunity to back-up.

She raised a gloved hand to her space helmet, blew a kiss and placed it on Lee’s visor. He smiled, then frowned as caught her troubled features before the reflected moon rendered her visor opaque.

Ejected from the drop tubes, their packs accelerated the thrill seekers moonward.

Mid fall, Mei vented oxygen from her suit with tearful eyes. Exhaust and concentrated methane reacted. The girl ignited in an instant.

Her planned Awakening in a body-lathed copy had backfired. The Simulacrum was clearly Father’s temporary punishment, but her last recollection was of a troubled early night.

Thinking that she hadn’t backed up since her arrival at the Last Resort, Lee could assume she had no memory of their holiday: his way out should he wish to take it.

Moments passed.

Tentatively he sat beside her, held a plastic hand, sought the soul in her artificial eyes and smiled warmly.

She would have cried with joy had she have been able.

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