"Goddammit Riley, you shot my tit off!"
The the pain is a searing, living thing that burrows into me like a hungry animal. I have enough clarity to realize that it was a glancing blow, the bullet had not gone into my chest. I don't think it did, but it's bad enough and clarity is fading fast. I make the mistake of looking down at my left side, seeing the torn and mangled flesh and the blood. So much blood. My cartoonishly red hand is making a futile effort to cover it, to staunch the flow, to put it all back the way it was. I feel blood running down my side, pooling under my back, staining Riley's not quite clean white sheets a bright crimson.
It's going to be OK, I think frantically, just get the medics here, they'll fix me up, grow me a new one in their vats back on the ship or something. I look at Riley. He's staring, wide eyed, terrified, the gun still in his limp hand and his finger still on the trigger. "Riley, call them.... Riley?" He just stares at me, unable to take his eyes off what he's done.
I know Riley has a temper, so I waited till after I'd finished him off, thinking he'd be more pliant. I just wanted to explain the rumors, to set his mind at ease, thinking he'd at least heard them, that it wasn't anything he didn't already know or at least suspect. I thought he was mostly sober. I didn't know he kept the gun in his nightstand.
I was wrong on all counts. He flipped out, jumping out of bed and yelling about how his wife wouldn't do that, how she was just a whore, how he knew I was wrong and that she was faithful, how he'd kill her for doing this to him.
I tried to bring him down, but he just waved the gun around, yelling at me, at her, at whoever it was she'd cheated on him with. He was scaring the hell out of me, not least because he couldn't keep his damn finger off the trigger. My fears were realized in a shocking explosion of sound and light and pain.
"Riley! You gotta call." My vision is a shrinking box with black borders. No colors inside, just an old black and white movie, Riley standing next to the bed with no clothes on, waving the gun at me and at himself, yelling things I can't quite get while I lie here bleeding out.
My vision shrinks. I can't really see him, just a shape, a blob of gray scale inside a tiny box. Smaller and smaller. A pinpoint.
He didn't let me finish what I meant to tell him.
He needs to call before it's too late.
He hasn't even said he's sorry.
I should get dressed and cleaned up before the medics come and see me like this.
It's all my fault....
I'm watching her walk into the mess pod that had been made up to resemble a diner. She takes a very long time to make her way to my table, like she's walking in slow motion. My hand unconsciously reaches up to feel my left breast. I feel oddly comforted that it is whole, normal. I don't know why. She sees me and beams a smile. She sits, she speaks, I respond. A waitress comes and takes our order, then drifts away.
She takes my hand, and I look nervously around to make sure none of the other colonists are noticing. Nobody else is here. No diners, no staff wiping tables or milling about. The diner is hollow, an echo waiting on a sound. I look back at her. She's still talking, and I'm still responding, but I have no idea what the words are, only that I know them and return them. That she and her smile and her voice are so familiar to me. Intimately familiar.
What did they expect, sending a colony out with a two to one female to male ratio? Biologically, it made perfect sense. Socially, it was asking for trouble. They thought it would grow the colony faster than a more even ratio, and they were right. But it had side effects, unintended consequences.
After our meal in the empty diner, we stand. A moment's hesitation and we're all over each other right there at the table. Lips locked, hands roaming, nobody else around. We're in love, me and Ellen Riley.
I feel uneasy, vaguely guilty about something. We part, not so much leaving as dissolving away from the scene.
What is this, a dream? A manufactured scene brought out of my own forgotten memories? Or made up from whole cloth by the AI? I have no idea.
Oh, God. I'm in susp. This isn't good.
You're not supposed to know you're in susp. There were stories going around the colony, horror stories like the kind about the surgical anesthetic doing a perfect job at the paralysis part, but really dropping the ball on the part about not being aware of everything, of every cut and slice, of the pain. Maybe those stories were just overheated imagination, gallows humor as a defense against the existential terror of entering susp for the centuries long journey across the stars.
This doesn't feel like anything to be terrified of, but then, the terror in the stories isn't about pain, it's about time. Endless, empty time, a limbo devoid of outside stimulus, only the voices in your head, your own hopes and desires, your own regrets and fears, to keep you company.
The long trip is only one of the uses of susp. It's also used when you were going to die and they don't know what the hell else to do with you. Susp keeps you whole, keeps you stable, for as long as necessary. Until they can get you somewhere capable of fixing you. Or until that capability is invented. Or until the stars turn cold and the universe coasts to a dead stop.
Either way, you aren't supposed to know it. You're not supposed to know anything. It is supposed to be a peaceful, dreamless sleep, the understanding of time coming to you only when you're revived.
So why am I here? I know I'm a colonist. I know we made planetfall, our long sleep ended.... how long ago? I can't remember. But I'm sure of it. I'm sure.
It's black and claustrophobic in the suspension pod. The 'caskets' as everybody calls them. I can sense the walls all around me, my arms pinned to my sides by them, the cover only inches from my face. I want to feel my body, to know everything is still where it is supposed to be, ten fingers, ten toes, two breasts... but I can't move. I can't even blink. Every orifice in my body has a tube in it. My skin is covered in sensors, upper arms and thighs in cuffs lined with tiny needles, my face covered with a mask.
I'm starting to panic. Why aren't they coming to get me? To let me out? I want to check the monitors, make sure I'm still alive, but they're all on the outside. The lump of flesh inside is not supposed to be able to care.
I meet Jasper Riley for the first time as we exit the ship. There had been no introductions on departure. We went into susp in a warehouse, our caskets loaded and stacked into the shuttle like cargo, then transferred to the ship proper already in orbit.
The bots have already set things up. We'll have food and a place to sleep tonight. The rest will be up to us. We're all milling about, breathing the air of a new world, getting used to its tang and it's unique textures, to the landscape both unfamiliar and just like home. It is home now, and in due time we'll explore those wild fields full of grasses and shrubs and trees that look almost right but not quite, those distant ridgelines that could be of Earth but somehow aren't, not quite.
I'm introduced to his wife, Ellen. She's pretty, in a rugged kind of way. We're all rugged, that's why we're here. Riley himself is no movie star, but he's not bad looking. I know that they're here because he's an engineer, she a botanist. I know he smuggled a gun in his personal effects. I don't know how I know, but I do. He's not the only one, and they didn't check very hard. You don't occupy an utterly foreign ecosystem without some kind of personal protection.
There's an awkwardness. Everybody feels it. Two to one ratio, and the three of us stand there knowing what could happen, what's likely to happen one way or another, with one who or another. Ellen and I share an appraising look, knowing there aren't enough men to go around, that her husband's attentions will be divided. Knowing that I am here stag, on my own with nobody lined up to keep my bed warm, and few prospects.
I know every detail of Riley's body. I know that I call him by his last name, except when Ellen is with us. I know how well endowed he is and the pattern of the hair on his chest. I know he has a temper. I know what he is like when he is angry, when he is drunk.
We part to go attend to our first duties and to mingle with others. To get away from each other. A shadow passes over us. We don't so much leave as dissolve out of the scene.
I realize that I'm in susp.
Oh god, this isn't good.....
There is light in the casket. It fades up very gradually, but it is still blinding. My eyes adjust slowly, and I have an unbearable craving for coffee. I can move, but not by much. There are no tubes in me, only a scattering of sensors still pasted to my skin by little white circles. I check, ten fingers. I can't reach my toes, but I assume all ten are present and accounted for. The rest that I can reach all checks out.
The cover cracks open, and enough fresh air seeps in to tell me how stale my tiny isolated world has been. Wider, and faces peer in at me, concern and hope written across them in equal measure.
I'm in a leather easy chair, its upholstery courtesy of a native beast that resembles a pig, but bigger, with fangs and razor sharp claws. The kind of animal whose skin is a totem of victory over nature, the kind of nasty that makes you feel like it deserves its fate as a rug or recliner.
Jeffrey, my youngest, is cradled on my chest, happily feeding. I'll have to switch him over soon, the left side always gets sore more quickly for some reason. My eldest, Beth, is outside playing with friends. I can hear their voices. I hear a young woman in her voice, confident and sure of herself. She is on the cusp, it won't be long till she is contributing to the growth of the colony.
Jasper Jr. our first boy, sits reading on the couch. He still has a few years of childhood before growing the colony becomes his concern. He'll have to work a little harder at it than his father did, I think. There is no two to one ratio in his generation.
Jasper and Ellen are in the bedroom, trying to do their part, again. I smile at the thought. I moved in with them within a couple months of planetfall. We all enjoy each other's company in turns and together. Our arrangement is hardly unusual, though many are experimenting with others, the old baggage left mercifully back on Earth as the ratio forces us to invent new cultural norms.
We've succeeded at all of it for a decade and a half. The colony is thriving. This new world has proven bounteous, and we colonists have taken full advantage of it. The new generations are numerous, and soon we will see exponential growth in our numbers. At least two very precocious children have already begun the process.
I always felt like Jasper has forgiven me. Forgiven us, all three of us. The vague sense that there is something to be forgiven for has gnawed at me all this time, but I have never been able to discover what. Jasper has a bit of a temper sometimes, but he's been kind from the start, and rarely drinks. He would have been called a good provider before, but here we all provide. We are happy, and no problem seems beyond our talents and skills. The future looks bright.
Jeffrey is sated. I loosely cover up, the cloth briefly chafing my sore left nipple, and stand to put him in his crib for a well deserved nap. Jasper Jr. looks up at me and we share a smile.
I have to go make lunch, so I turn toward the kitchen.
The scene dissolves. The kids and the voices fade away, the room becomes indistinct.
No, no. No!
I have continuous memories of the last fifteen years, don't I? Memories of Jasper and me, and Ellen, of the children being born and growing up, of the colony building itself out of dirt and rock and sweat and sinew. I'm sure I do. I have memories from the moment the cover of the casket opened to flood my world with light and air. I'm sure I do. Everything is OK, I'm sure of it.