To Donovan, the hours passed like minutes. He had left his car parked in some multi-level garage and stumbled home in a daze.
Only two thoughts cycled through his mind, an understanding that echoed from one to the next until his mind became numb.
She was gone.
It was his fault.
This disease was unnatural. Rotten. A malformed, evolving poison of human creation on a dying world. But why not him? It was as if it only sought to seed misery. Its real targets weren’t those it left in body bags but the survivors, those who continued to live with healthy bodies yet broken minds.
They should have left. Marian had wanted to go. When their friends and family took to the shuttles, seeking the new frontier among the stars, he should have taken his family and followed.
But they didn’t live by the oceans in sunk cities. The weather changes didn’t affect them. Even with the farms being forced to rebuild into greenhouses with fewer yields, the smaller population made it manageable. They were Remainders because why leave and restart when houses were suddenly affordable again?
How could he have known what was to come? How could he have known that his wife would die and then his daughter?
Donovan looked up in shock at the once familiar door to their home. He fumbled with his keycard until the panel beeped, and the door’s lock clicked. He dropped the card on the stand, slid his jacket free, and stored it away in the entry’s closet, then removed his shoes, one by one.
It wasn’t until he stood in front of the fridge—its bright lights illuminating the mostly empty shelves—and with a bottle of beer in his hand, that his daze broke. His autopilot skipped a track, fumbled and paused just long enough to remind him: not all was well.
The house had an empty smell to it, a neglected smell. The cold of the beer bottle seeped into his fingers. A hum emitted from the fridge; its fans had switched on from losing too much cold air.
What the fuck was he doing, stepping through the motions as if he had just returned from work. L-like he just needed to sit back and watch some TV to unwind.
His daughter had just died!
She wasn’t coming back.
This life of normalcy, of pretend, it didn’t exist. It was forever ruined. Forever dimmed.
Donovan threw the bottle. It smashed against the wall, spitting suds and liquid and glass down to the floor. He tore the magnets off the fridge and swiped his arm across a row of ceramic kittens, flinging them through the room. Some clattered along the empty table, slipping from the smooth surface to find refuge under chairs and behind withered potted plants. They peeked out from the shadows, painted in pinks and purples, now with broken tails and ears.
Nini had loved the fragile things.
He collapsed to the cold tile, the nice flooring they could have never afforded before everything changed. He’d give it all away. He would. Not a second of hesitation to live in one of those eighty-square-foot metal apartments in space if it’d only bring them back.
It was horribly familiar, this gut-wrenching pain of loss. It was the physical pain of yet another piece of him being torn away, another hole that wouldn’t heal, leaving him forever incomplete, a shell, incapable of feeling the warmth and happiness he had so taken for granted in years past.
With his head cradled in his arms, he succumbed to it all. Everything he had pushed away from feeling, invaded tenfold. He wailed—fists balled, knuckles white—for minutes, for hours, for days.
Life was nothing.
What was the point anymore?
The phone rang every hour. They probably wanted his consent for organ donation. They’d keep her plugged in and warm. They’d circulate her blood and force air into her lungs, then demand that he give the okay to end it.
Cruel, uncaring doctors. How could they make a parent do that? He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t give them what they wanted. They failed his daughter, and now she was dead. There was no consolation prize for that.
On the third day, sunlight slipped through the curtains and hung on motes of dust. Birds sang. The world turned and continued on unaffected, unbroken from the loss of just one little girl.
The doorbell rang, followed by a chipper knock. It came and went every ten or twenty minutes. Perhaps on the sixth try, and perhaps more eager to get a response, a man’s voice yelled, “Mr. Idris, I need to speak with you. It’s an important matter.”
And even then, Donovan didn’t move. The cold tile provided little comfort, though it was better than talking to some hospital administrator.
The front door beeped.
The lock clicked.
Donovan sat up so quickly the room spun. His foot knocked over a beer bottle that miraculously still held some of its contents. The bottle rolled in a semi-circle, dumping its golden liquid that spread into the grout lines between tiles.
“Hey! You can’t—” Donovan pushed himself up to stand, then slid against the counter’s cabinet, back to the floor. He didn’t have the strength.
A short, white man peered over the countertop. He had square-shaped eyeglasses and a receding hairline. “Mr. Idris, I’m Kyle Udramen.”
“How did you get in here?”
“Neighborhood security. They’re waiting outside.”
“This is time-sensitive—”
“This is about your daughter.”
“You’re here to get me to pull the plug.”
“No . . . Mr. Idris, that happened days ago.”
“The hospital has been trying to get ahold of you.”
“S-so I don’t answer the God damn phone, and you just pull the plug!”
“Mr. Idris, I’m not with the hospital.”
Donovan licked his chapped lips. He tried to stand again, wanted to move, to walk, to run away from this never-ending nightmare. But he was empty. So very, very empty.
He sucked in a breath and closed his eyes. They had pulled the plug. It was inevitable, and yet he wasn’t ready. She was really gone. Tears warmed his eyes and ran down his cheeks.
“Please,” Kyle said, “let me explain. I promise everything will be okay.”
Okay? Donovan thought. How could anything be okay?
Glass clinked, and the faucet turned on. The man moved about the kitchen, his shoes tapping as he walked. “Drink this.”
Donovan opened his eyes. Kyle held out an old white Christmas mug with a reindeer on the side. The handle was missing—Nini broke it six years ago trying to be a big girl and pour milk to leave out for Santa.
The beer bottles were gone. Donovan took the mug, and Kyle sat across from him, his back against the dishwasher with a briefcase between them. “What do you want?”
“Stop with that. Mr. Idris over and over. Just tell me what you want.”
“Allow me a question, then. What is the body?”
“What type of question is that? The body? It’s who we are. Our identity.”
“At MISG, we don’t believe that. In fact, we know better.”
“The body is nothing more than a vessel, Mr.— eh . . . Donovan. The body houses our consciousness. And when that vessel dies—”
“I don’t care about your science projects!”
Kyle nodded. He pressed his fingers into the sides of the briefcase, and little locks clicked open. The top side lifted on its own and revealed a cylinder of metal and glass held in place by black styrofoam. Spiderwebs of blue glowed within a clear liquid, shifting and connecting strands to different sections. Each movement seemed to have purpose, logic.
“Donovan, this is no science project, I assure you. It’s quite important. This . . . vessel, this is Nini Idris. The very construct that makes each of us unique: our mind, memories, goals, it’s all here for your daughter. Not a copy, a transference.”
“Nini?” Donovan slid a finger along the metal and glass. It was warm, vibrating ever so slightly.
“There are two matters to discuss, and I assure you, despite how they sound, everything will be okay.”
Donovan nodded, not taking his eyes off his . . . daughter. Her new vessel.
“The first matter is cost. What we do is not inexpensive.”
“More than you could afford. Except, that brings me to the second matter. Nini is young, and accepting a new reality isn’t easy. Especially,” he said, pausing as if to choose his words carefully, “if she’s alone.”
“You want me—”
“Yes. We want you to join your daughter. Allow the transference.”
“You’re asking me to die.”
“No, Donovan, we’re asking you to live in a different world. We’re asking you to take this as a second chance.”
“But you said I couldn’t afford it.”
“You’d be stepping from one world to the next. You wouldn’t need your house, your car, 401k, insurance, savings. All of your things would be sold or donated. The cost isn’t a monthly payment. The cost is your life in this world: everything.”
A silence fell between them. The birds continued to tweet their songs outside. The world would continue on whether or not he was there, just as it did when Nini’s body died, just as it did when thousands of others had died. But what was the point of this world if all that he ever loved was gone?
Kyle gripped the sides of the briefcase. “I guess the real question is,” he said, angling his head just enough to make his eyeglasses glint, “would you like to see your daughter again?”