By Zach Chapman
Lance sits in his dark room, unwashed and bleary-eyed, his back sore, looking through his telescope. His beard itches; his hair is long and greasy and streaked with grey; his palms sweat; his teeth rot. The bed hasn’t been made in weeks, and derelict tablets, quantum tops, cords and gadgets of every colour pollute the apartment floor.
He sits. He watches. Then he cries.
He turns the telescope away from the window, wishing he could just watch vids. Time to leave this spot of the galaxy where his matter relatively exists. Time to occupy a spot farther away.
Two weeks later, relative to Lance, he steps off a tachyonised speed ship at a transport station on a moon in The Vydra System. He wears a backpack stuffed to the point that the seams are splitting and carries a duffle bag that has travelled across many galaxies. The industrial recycled air of this moon does not bother him; he’s been in far worse conditions. He finds the cheapest apartment with the view he needs ⎯ it’s the one near the nano-factories ⎯ and rents a room on the top floor.
It takes no time to move in. Immediately he starts preparing his setup. Out of the duffle bag come the telescope and the quantum processors and the cords and the tablets. He wastes hours of time piecing the equipment together with fumbling hands that should know the process better. All linked together, the soft clicks of old quantum computers calculating a million logarithms split the cool silence. Finally all of the coordinates are recalibrated.
And he looks through the telescope.
And his beard hides a sad smile.
The crew that works the day-shift at the nano-factory hangs out in the apartment’s lobby. They start talking about the man with the telescope. They can see it in his open window when they leave the apartments and, on the rare occasions they see him, he is going to the food station for a nutrient shake. He hears their whispers.
“The guy’s a freak, never actually eats any real food. Just that fake crap.”
“… spies on women undressing with his telescope.”
“Have you smelled him?”
“You can see his ribs through his shirt.”
“How can someone live like that?”
He develops a cough late one night, maybe because sleep deficiency has taken its toll on his immune system. The next day he goes to the pharmacy; it’s across from the nano-factory. The fresh recycled air perks him up slightly; it’s a change from the smell of aged nutrient shakes and sweat. He looks at the two blaring suns of The Vydra System. One of you could blink out of existence, and the factory workers on this moon wouldn’t know. They’d live happily with their two suns for twelve more minutes. And then everything would be dimmer.
Lance enters his room and sips at the cough medicine. He peers through the telescope. A red home with a red slip-car on the roof. They are still inside. The telescope displays standard time on the right corner when Lance flicks a button. Another two hours. And he waits. He hardly takes a second to drink his shake and medicine. And after each gulp he rushes back to his telescope.
Through the magnified lens he sees a young man and woman appear on the roof of the house. The man is handsome, with jet black hair and ocean blue eyes. The woman is beautiful; brown hair streaked with blond falls to her shoulders and she has two different coloured eyes. They are smiling as they walk to the slip-car. He leans near and mouths something to her. She slaps his shoulder and they both start laughing. Lance’s heart flutters. A smile flickers on his chapped lips. They hop into their slip-car and zip off around a corner. It isn’t long until Lance loses them. His heart sinks. He looks down at his watch.
He isn’t sure when they’ll be back. He’s become too emotional. He has to look into his data logs to be accurate. He won’t miss seeing them again.
Another two standard months pass by. Each day Lance becomes more of a ghost. His skin sags on his knobby elbows, knees and ribs. His cheekbones grow sharper, his hair greyer. The nano-factory workers continue their blather.
Lance logs each day as an entry on his tablet. He knows the inevitable grows closer with each tick of the clock. Half a universe away, he watches the two at the park, and imagines the fresh air they breathe. He watches their trip to the coast, sees them make love on the soft sandy beach in the lonely lovely night. Lance’s dry mouth waters with every kiss they give to each other. He wheezes at every joke the woman mouths, smiles at every punch and hug she gives the man, losing himself in the couple.
And then the day comes. Lance has it all calculated. He watches and begs for it to happen any other way, but light and time only travel one way. Fighting with what energy his body has left, he fails to tear himself from the telescope.
Lance watches as the couple climbs into the slip-car, tipsy after a party. He screams silently into his dead apartment but continues to follow the red slip-car impeccably with the scope. A drink is spilt. The car veers into traffic, dodges, then it’s in the thick of the trees, above them, below them, then in a clearing, crunched like foil.
Lance gasps, choking back a cry.
The man pulls her body from the crumpled slip-car. Her formal dress is now red. The man’s eyes widen. While he holds her, Lance whispers, You’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. I love you, honey. Tears stream out of his blue eyes as he reaches for her, but she’s galaxies away.
She dies again. He packs up again.
It is time to leave this part of the universe. Time to move on to a place further away, a place where she is still alive, a place where there is still some light.
Zach Chapman’s fiction has appeared in Source Point Press’s Feast of the Dead and more recently in Writers of the Future Volume 31. He is currently finishing a science fantasy novel in the vein of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Follow him on twitter @ChappyZach to receive alerts about his future publications.
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