Brief Encounters

Submitted into Contest #108 in response to: Start or end your story with a house going up in flames.... view prompt


Science Fiction Speculative LGBTQ+

Tryst 1 - Vivification


“Don’t worry, Shinji,” you said when we stepped out of Dr. Lau’s office at the Bradbury Lunar Medical Center. “They're going to find a cure, eventually. We’ll just keep skipping ahead until we get to that time.”

Keep skipping ahead.

You always made it sound as though it were the simplest thing in the world, Harry. Like horseback riders stopping at stations and switching out their out-of-breath steeds for fresh ones and charging onward, never looking back at the dusty trail traversed.

It struck me how out of place—or rather time—I felt. While you were galloping towards the future, I was desperately holding on to the tattered remnants of my original world, the past. And the first hints of regret were surfacing in me.

Ultimately our opposing sensibilities wedged us apart for good. And the simple wish to delay my death by cheating time drove us mad in the end.

Do you remember when I nearly spewed out that frothy matcha beverage over the sheeny cockpit controls of your space clipper? We were on our way home from the Moon after our appointment with Dr. Lau. Thankfully I held the tea back, at least mostly, but some of it went down the wrong pipe, making me heave and convulse. You panicked, as I recall, and pounded my back with your palm.

“Sorry,” I said, in between wheezes as my bronchial tubes were freed of the last droplets of mischanneled fluid. “This synthetic stuff is just awful. It tastes as though it's trying too hard to taste like tea.”

You laughed and wiped off the ring of foam circling my lips with an ersatz paper wipe, staining it green in the process. Uncomfortable though it was, the mishap had at least cleared out the gloom and disappointment hanging over us since Dr. Lau confirmed there was still no cure for lunar syndrome. She reckoned I had one year left, a year in which this rare and fatal space-age malady would slowly dismantle my musculature and nervous system, one vital piece after another. In its final stages even artificial respirators would do little good. “The body simply shuts down,” she said.

That matcha drink had always been a favorite of mine when we still lived on the Moon. I had hoped drinking it would trigger a proustian tethering of my alienated soul to a fifteen year-old past, allowing me to stretch over the time I slept through in suspension.

But the lack of any real tea in this age—apparently all tea plantations had succumbed to a blight in the interim years—and the ghastly flavor of the artificial stuff made me feel even more like a relic of the past, an old mind in a young debilitating body who should have died over a decade ago.

Still, I look back fondly on that first reunion we allowed ourselves after we decided to fool death using time. Relativity and time dilation was your method; cryostasis mine.

You had woken me up earlier that day after fifteen gelid years of animated suspension in the cryo-vault affixed to the aftmost bulkhead of our cozy orbital home—it was still good as new back then.

“How long were you travelling out there, Harry?” I asked.

“Only about nine months,” you said and gave me a kiss on the forehead. “But it felt like an eternity. Couldn't wait to see you again.”

In order not to age while I lay frozen for fifteen years, you had taken off in your space clipper and scuttled across uncharted star systems at close to the speed of light, slowing time down tremendously within your frame of reference. I had learned relativity in school, but I’d never encountered an example of such extreme time dilation and, to be honest, it still boggles my mind how my fifteen years equated to your nine months.

You sold the data and star charts gathered during your trek to various space agencies and private firms dealing in stellar cartography. It helped finance our whole endeavor and I admired how you managed all of it. I would have been rubbish at it, especially the pelting-through-space-at-0.9c part. A few of my ancestors were yamatonauts back in the day when humanity first ventured forth to the outer planets of the solar system, but they were the exceptions. My family usually never sojourned beyond Mars.

Our home was located in the orbital habitation area at Lagrange point 4 along with several other independent modules, constantly sixty degrees ahead of Earth as it rotated on the same path around the Sun. It was a game of tag the blue-and-white marble could never win because our relative positions were fixed.

We had chosen to always reunite on the seventh of July to coincide with the East Asian festival of stars. The home of my ancestors, Sendai, was famous for their elaborate and colorful celebrations of Tanabata, as the festival is called in Japanese.

Always the romantic, you likened our situation to the main characters of the legend informing the festival, Orihime and Hikoboshi—personifications of the stars Vega and Altair. These star-crossed lovers of the celestial realm are fated to meet but once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month, the day of Tanabata.

Though disappointed that the first fifteen years had not witnessed the development of a cure, you were still brimming with hope and looking forward to the next time we would meet—in another fifteen years for me and nine months for you.

“Let’s stop this,” I said after marshaling all my courage to interrupt you. “I’m not sure I want to go under again.”

We were lying side by side hovering over the artificial tatami mat floor and staring out at the stygian expanse beyond the view screen. I sensed your body tense up in confusion at what you had just heard me say. It must have sounded like betrayal after all the sacrifices you’d made for me. But I needed be honest—both to myself and to you.

“I can’t explain it well, but it doesn’t feel right. People I knew are all older than me now, some even dead, and I don’t feel like I belong here.” I pressed my arms down against the tatami floor and my body floated toward the view screen. The Earth chasing us in the distance seemed like the past I could never return to again.

“But we can’t give up!” you said. “If there’s even a chance, I’m not going to let you die without trying.”

You followed me up to the view screen, hovering behind me with your arms wrapped around my waist. The reflection of your face on the transparent screen looked at me so imploringly I finally nodded and acquiesced, although all I wanted was to spend the final year of my life with you in our home. Things might not have gone out of hand had I insisted on stopping our wild goose chase.

“They'll have discovered a treatment in fifteen years,” you said. "And it'll be like waking up the next day for you."

I trusted you, Harry. The thought of you deceiving me never even crossed my mind.

How wrong I was.


Tryst 2 - Revelation


I always hated those initial moments of resuscitation. A psychedelic tempest of disorienting thoughts and raw emotions would thrash my mind as the body warmed up and I regained consciousness. It wasn’t until my eyes found purchase on the blur that was your face and sculpted it into sharpness that I recalled who you were, and why I was there.

Apart from a few more grey hairs, you appeared the same as when we last met.

“Good morning, handsome,” you said. But your expression spoke volumes more. Like a nervous child acting overly well behaved to compensate for a forthcoming confession.

“I brought you back something,” you said and handed me a fist-sized piece of palladium ore in a transparent encasing. It shimmered in the light. It reminded me of how I used to collect sparkly minerals as a child. I was genuinely touched.

“It’s beautiful,” I said.

“I got it on the way back at Eris Colony in the Kuiper belt.”

“There’s a colony on Eris?”

“Yeah, it’s the new hub for asteroid mining operations out there. It’s really cool.”

And there I was again, overwhelmed by the thought of having to comprehend the wonders of a future world I would normally not be privy to.

But then the time and date on the main control panel on the wall opposite the view screen caught my eye.

Noticing my gaze, you hurried with an explanation. “I came back fifteen years ago, like I said I would.” You turned your face away from me, which only made it hurt more. It was as though you didn’t want to acknowledge me or how I felt.

“But when the doctors told me there was still no cure, I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing you again. So I canceled the resuscitation sequence and set the vault for another fifteen years.”

The words hung in zero gravity much as the antiseptic scent my body still exuded after thirty years of cold suspension permeated the room.

You had kept me in the freezer, and not bothered to consider if that’s what I wanted. I had become like the mineral samples I used to collect—mere objects with which I could do what my heart desired. My hands gripping the palladium trembled. It was fear I first felt. Anger came next.

“You had no right to decide that on your own,” I said, staring down at the palladium. Saying it made it even worse. I felt so violated.

“What did you expect me to do? I didn't want to disappoint you. I couldn’t. . . I just couldn’t. . .” Tears bobbed their way down to the tatami floor, resembling tiny baubles of glass. They weren’t mine.

After a long argument you secluded yourself in the clipper.

To calm myself, I inquired with the Bradbury Lunar Medical Center. Dr. Lau had of course died a long time ago. An AI doctor now assisted with my research.

The answer was as I suspected. There were no effective treatments currently available for my condition.

Of course there weren’t any. Otherwise you would have told me the moment you thawed me. But the news didn’t upset me. It instead gave me the resolve to confront you with my decision to no longer go into cryostatis, and to live out my remaining days, however difficult that might be.

When I told you this later that night, you nodded with a hollow expression.

“I know it’s hard for you, Harry. But we’ve tried enough, and I really appreciate it. Now I want to spend the rest of my time together with you.”

“Sure, sweetie, we could go to Eris Colony together.” You cracked a grin, though your eyes weren’t smiling.

“I’d like that a lot,” I said.

And I trusted you again.

Was it the coffee, Harry? Or did you put the sedative in my serving of the flan we had for dessert?

In any case when I woke up, it was too late. You had already strapped me into the cryostasis vault.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” you said. Your eyes were swollen from tears you had shed, but I’ll never forget the fanatic gleam deep inside them. “We have to give it one more chance, Shinji. Just once more. Please.”

I was mentally protesting, but the machinery had already pumped the preparation fluids in me and my mind was turning to mush. I vaguely remember you shutting and sealing the vault.

You left me alone with helplessness, anger. . . and the void.


Tryst 3 - Conflagration


I’m holding you tight in my arms now, Harry. It’ll all be fine.

You look so much more peaceful now, as though a weight’s been lifted.

The maneuvering thrusters have nudged us away from Lagrange point 4. We’re saying goodbye to the stable allotment of space where I slept through all those years, interrupted only by our occasional assignations. We can’t be like Orihime and Hikoboshi, Harry. They can go on meeting once a year for eternity because they’re celestial beings of legend. But we’re mortals. Death catches up with us, sooner or later.

Earlier today, when I came to, I was faced with a grey-haired man with deep wrinkles. I didn’t recognize you at first. In your desperation, you had put me under for two hundred years when you forced me into the vault the last time. For you, that equated to approximately thirty years of 0.9c travel.

You never even apologized for deceiving and assaulting me when we last met. For me it felt like yesterday, but you had thirty years to tuck it away deep in your memory and convince yourself it was a necessary evil.

I was livid at how you deceived and assaulted me, but frankly the state you were in gave me more cause for serious concern.

You had become delusional, Harry. You incessantly blathered on about the inadequacies of human medicine and how all the doctors were useless fools. It wasn’t clear, but judging from your words, there still was no cure for my condition. I couldn’t care less about that, but then you began prattling on incoherently about how uploading human consciousness into computers may be the only answer. Whenever you cast your eyes at me, you resembled a scientist regarding a lab rat.

I tried talking sense into you, but you weren’t listening at all. I knew then I had to put an end to this madness. Our madness.

Choking you was surprisingly easy. You were so frail. After your body twitched for the last time and went limp, I knew there was only one place we could go. I programmed our home to drift into Earth’s gravity well.

As I hold your still body, Earth grows larger on the view screen. It’s going to catch up with us, Harry.

For you it’s been a fifty-year long journey since the day you first put me to sleep in the cryo-stasis vault. But for me that day feels like four days ago. The two and a half centuries I spent under suspended animation aren’t real for me. Crazy, isn’t it? From my perspective, we initiated this endeavor less than a week ago. How cocky we were! By our second reunion, you had deceived and assaulted me. And on the third I killed you. What was the point of all this, Harry?

We’ll soon be entering into a decaying orbit around Earth.

When we enter the atmosphere, people will see our home as a burning ball of light arcing across the night sky, leaving behind a blazing trail of fire.

August 27, 2021 13:38

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Kevin Marlow
06:27 Aug 30, 2021

I need to know how you plan to mine asteroids. I believe it is necessary to break into the solar system, but you need a mechanism to do it. Transportation, logistics, fuel management.


Jon R. Miller
08:50 Aug 30, 2021

Thank you for reading and providing an insightful comment! :> I have to admit my goal was to focus on the two characters and the tension in their relationship, so that's why it didn't really explore the topic of mining asteroids at all, save a mention in the dialogue. But I agree with you, It is a fascinating topic and delving deep into the particulars would probably yield tons of interesting stories where it could play a larger role in the narrative.


Kevin Marlow
17:21 Aug 30, 2021

I need to do more of what you are talking about in my writing; creating tension and relationships. I have reread some of my earlier stuff and it is full of giant info dumps and lacks good dialogue.


Jon R. Miller
09:37 Aug 31, 2021

Developing interesting characters and portraying the dynamics and tension between them is something I struggle with. My gosh it can be hard. I always catch my mind wandering off and spending too much time on unique settings, themes , and topics for stories. I should also spend as much time developing interesting characters readers will care about. :>


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Alice Richardson
04:28 Aug 30, 2021

A really good story Jon. Well planned out and kept interest to the very end.


Jon R. Miller
08:39 Aug 30, 2021

Thank you Alice! I really appreciate your comments. They encourage me no end! :>


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Jon R. Miller
00:06 Aug 28, 2021

Thank you very much!!! Time dilation stories are awesome (I love Interstellar and rewatch it occasionally :> ). Thanks for your comments as always. It's such a rewarding feeling to share one's work with others.


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Alex Sultan
20:28 Aug 27, 2021

Dude, what a story! A rollercoaster of emotions. I got 'Interstellar' vibes from it, and I wondered halfway how you would tie in the prompt - it's dark, and I like how you did it. Very well done - great vocabulary all the way through, too, you keep to the sci-fi genre and it's immersive.


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John Hanna
01:26 Aug 31, 2021

Another touching story, super!. I absolutely love your word choices.


Jon R. Miller
01:48 Aug 31, 2021

Thank you for reading! :>


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12:59 Aug 30, 2021

Love the plot!!! The characters are on point, it’s a devastating story, but really beautifully delivered! Absolutely adore your writing!


Jon R. Miller
14:29 Aug 30, 2021

Thank you for reading and your comments. :> I'm still a novice, so sharing and receiving feedback helps me build courage to write some more. I look forward to other stories from you too! Happy writing!


15:04 Aug 30, 2021

You should definitely be confident in your writing!! Your story is unique and your writing is REALLY good!!:D Thank you, I look forward to yours as well!


Jon R. Miller
09:27 Aug 31, 2021

Thank you very much! I will keep on writing and hopefully this will slowly develop my confidence :> Writing is a very solitary process, so this is a great forum, isn't it? We get to connect and give feedback on each other's works.


11:24 Aug 31, 2021

Yeah i’m really enjoying reedsy!! Glad I found somewhere I can share my work and get feedback^^


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Kathleen `Woods
12:59 Aug 30, 2021

Well that was a lot, but what a way to fill a prompt! It was really intriguing to listen to these two go from sweet to incredibly bitter over such a short time, in helped that the word flow was nice. Your word order is well accounted, even with the rarer more clinical terms. Thanks for writing!


Jon R. Miller
14:27 Aug 30, 2021

Thank you for reading! You're comments are very helpful and encouraging. :>


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