Chapter 3. The farewell.
L’Hospitalet, July 16th, 2169.
I was having a coffee at Catholic Centre in L’Hospitalet; I had received a curious message at the cell card that summoned me in the bar of this historical place at four in the afternoon. By the way it was written must have been Keo, but I thought it was not possible that she would have returned to Barcelona without saying anything to my father. The person that had summoned me was lagging, I ordered a glass of iced sweet anise to further lengthen the wait… a quarter to five, someone had teased me, when I was about to ask for the bill a peculiar person came through the door the Catholic Centre, a blonde girl with a bizarre haircut she wore fantasy sunglasses and platforms of a foot high, perhaps she was pretty but the eccentric ensemble she wore and the thick makeup impeded to know how she was exactly. The woman sat on the stool next to me and started talking quietly:
“David Lavall?” She asked in androgynous voice, perhaps she was a transvestite.
“Myself, with whom I have the honor?”
“That’s irrelevant, be warned that two men of the Soldiers of the Faith are following you.”
“And what would I have to do?”
“Get rid of me like I was a prostitute who will try to take your wallet, then pay what you’ve drank and go to the address you’ll find in the right pocket of your pants. The comedy starts.” She touched my crotch.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry; as you looked at me I thought you wanted sex.”
“Get out of here, bitch!” The waiter warned. “If you upset my customers I will have to call the police.”
“Okay, but I have to make a living somewhere.” The girl said, pretending to grumble.
“Get out!” After the waiter’s yell, the girl got out acting her role to perfection.
“I’m sorry sir, this is not common in the neighborhood, I do not know from where has come that slut.”
“Do not suffer; this way I have an anecdote to explain.” I left a banknote on the table beckoning that he could keep the change.
“Thank you Sir.” The waiter said.
I left that place; I had never been in that neighborhood that was part of a city annexed by Barcelona at the middle of the XXI century. Walking the boulevard, I had the feeling of having stepped back in time, perhaps a hundred or one hundred and fifty years at least, I would swear that the buildings were mostly of the twentieth century. I glanced over and I saw that the girl disguised oddly was not lying; two men were following me stealthily trying not to attract attention. I went into a clothing store and picked up a pair of pants without paying much attention to the size, the shop assistant approached me.
“Looking for the fitting room, Sir?”
This woman invited me to accompany her and opened a curtain. I thanked her and went into the fitting room. As I closed the curtain, I took from my pocket the paper which the girl had given me. I unfolded it and read: ‘I have to talk to you, make sure no one is following you, and take a blue Volkswagen that you will find parked in front of the number 72 of Riera de la Creu, if you use the cell card, consult the map and turn it off quickly so that they do not locate you. The car will recognize the palm of your hand, when you be inside, you should connect the autopilot and let it brings you to me.’ Make sure they don’t follow me, that’s very easy to say, now what do I have to do? At that moment I thought what I had to do…
I left the pants where I had picked them up and politely said goodbye to that amiable saleswoman. Once at the street I saw the two men who were following me, I went up by the boulevard towards the subway station from which I got out to reach that place, I remembered that there was a photo cabin on a corner of the hall… I hope that is empty, perfect. I went in and ran the curtain, leaving only a slit to see if those two entered, it was better than enter the subway because there cameras in all the platforms that probably also control the Soldiers of the Faith. Luck smiled me, the two pursuers passed through the automatic doors to enter the subway, was my moment, I turned on the cell card and looked where that street was, I calculated the route in about ten seconds and I turned off the device completely to avoid being located. I had to run, in a few minutes I got to the car, which was opened to the touch as if by magic. I went in, I buckled my seatbelt and pressed the contact button, it initiated automatically and started its way to the destination predetermined. That smart car left L’Hospitalet immediately and took the highway; the ride was not too long because it got out by the access of Gelida and reached a residential community, the car stopped in front of a house.
The girl of before was waiting in the front door, she dressed a little more discreetly than when she had appeared at the Centre Catòlic. I was surprised how quickly she had come and had changed her clothes.
“Hurry up, they can see you” said the girl.
Upon entering this villa, Keo was waiting in the front door, as spectacular as ever. She hugged me tight and kissed me on the cheek.
“I’ve missed you so much … to you and to your father.”
“Have you lost your mind? Now I’m a public figure, you have exposed you an unnecessary danger. You have all the information you needed, it was not necessary to you have come.”
“Sorry David, but I detected sadness overcame you the last time we spoke by the protected line.”
“Half the world trying to take you to a lab, if they see an Asian woman next to me, how long do you think they will need to know it’s you?”
“Do they know anything about my relationship with your father?”
“No, I have always made them believe that you have nothing to do with my family, I have tried to confuse them and to believe that you and I were who shared bed. When I disappear, you’ll be able to be with my father all the time you want, but for now you cannot interact with me or Moses would take you to a laboratory so that unscrupulous scientists could use you as a guinea pig.”
“Do you think that my own father would do me that?”
“Why do you want to take this risk?”
“Because I love you both, since I met Joaquim do not want to live with anyone but with him.”
“What about this girl?”
“Do not worry; it’s a gynoid which is serving the owners of this house. Right now I’m deleting all the information she has over you, in two minutes she won’t know that she has helped to us meet and I’ve loaded a program by which will believe that I have brought you to this house to have sex.”
“Why did you call me and didn’t call Dad?”
“You’re the one with the problem and in some way you are like my son, it’s the duty of a mother of taking care of her family.”
“I have no problem; I have a beautiful girlfriend of whom I’m madly in love and a job that is the dream of any officer of the Navy.”
“You cannot fool me, something happens to you. Now you will take a coffee.”
“Do you want to dope me again with your coffee? Forget astral voyages and please go to a safe place, then I will be more relaxed.”
“Why do you treat me like this?” She dropped tears. “Maybe I have not been a good friend for you?”
“Come here silly” I hugged her “I’m concerned about what might happen to you, that’s all. I want you to be happy with my father but I do not want you getting caught.”
“Do you know that this is probably the last time we see each other?”
“I am thinking to go back; I do not want to stay on this planet forever.”
“If you marry Camille you will never return to Earth, her biological cycle will be at its best when you arrive. She will want to get pregnant as a good Catholic and I can assure you that she will not be satisfied with only one child; she won’t take the risk returning to Earth and this way letting the opportunity pass.”
“I had not thought about it.”
“Do you see how do you need this coffee?”
“Well, let’s start, but I want you to know I’m okay.”
“At last, you are more stubborn than your father.”
Keo went to the kitchen; I sat in one of the armchairs in the living room. Within minutes I felt the sweet smell of coffee made in the old fashioned way, as she liked. She brought two cups that she placed them on the wooden coffee table that was between the three seats.
“What about homeowners?”
“They’re good friends, they are on vacation and let me live in this home while I’m in Barcelona. The car belongs also to them, as well as the bike that has used the gynoid. I will return to Vientiane tomorrow if you feel more comfortable so. Now, drink your coffee, if I see any problems I will stop your transition.”
As in the past, the coffee helped me see my subconscious and I could analyze what happened in the last few weeks; I could review what had happened with Soizick and the circumstances after his death. Perhaps my tears for her were misunderstood by Camille and Lagarde, her grieving husband, but in that coffin was a very important part of my life. In that damn funeral I did nothing but keep a promise that we made many years ago, when we were youngsters of nineteen years old who went to war in Morocco: cover that coffin with the flag of Brittany that she had given me and that I had been keeping all this time, in the same way that she had been keeping my Catalan flag, was a blood pact between two brothers in arms.
The hostility that Michael Lagarde felt towards me already came from the days of the academy, when Soizick had not yet clear which of the two she would choose, sometimes she was with me and sometimes with him, I think in a matter of love always won Lagarde, nevertheless she had more confidence with me since she always wanted to be my copilot. In the apartment that a group of cadets had rented close to the academy we lost our virginity, a wonderful night where I thought we would be together forever, but it was a mirage, I could not to make stop her heart be divided between both of us.
Four months had already passed since that fateful day, a theoretically routine day in which we had to try one of the sliders enhanced by the engineering team of the ASA. We had to test an Entry Burn with that model to evaluate their suitability for the mission. Soizick volunteered to be my co-pilot, as was usual for her. We had disconnected us from the destroyer ARSS Texas uneventful and began the reentry into Earth’s atmosphere in order to land at the base of Vandenberg. As soon as we lost communication due to the entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, a terrorist group blew up module of transmissions of the destroyer, so that we wouldn’t be aware of what was about to happen to us.
“Attention Texas, Entry burn completed, Texas?” No one answered Soizick.
“Something wrong happens.” I said. “Can you see the escort?”
“I see two fighters approaching at high speed.” She made a grimace of surprise. “They are pointing us with their weapons.”
“Caliphatian aircraft, they want to shoot us down, evasive maneuver at maximum speed! Connect countermeasures!”
Thanks to napalm jets that we were launching we got dodge two, perhaps three missiles, but a plasma impact disabled one of the motors. We began to lose altitude while our assailants approached at full speed.
“Soizick, hold on tight, we have to jump.” I pulled in the ejection ring and the roof of the ship jumped over our heads, and a split second later I felt a brutal acceleration upwards.
While I was falling with my parachute, I saw how a missile shattered the slider into pieces. There were many meters of descent until I landed in a forest, later I knew I was in the Rocky Mountains. The helicopter which picked me up after thirty-six hours brought a surprise both eerie and macabre: the body of Soizick, she had the misfortune to fall on the top of a tree with such bad luck that she stuck a branch which severed her femoral artery, she died bleeding alone.
I woke up, Keo looked at me tenderly, my transition had lasted more than two hours and we were exhausted. She signaled to the gynoid and I understood it was time to say goodbye.
“Was not your fault, David, in any case, you should clarify things with Camille and Michael.”
“Maybe it was not my fault, but I do not know if I’ll get to convince them that there was nothing between Soizick and I while we were in the Moon Defender.”
“Camille will forgive you because she is not blameless, it is her penance.”
“Maybe you misunderstood something you have seen in my subconscious; Camille has done nothing wrong in all this time.”
“It is not me, it is how you feel inside, you should clean the stain that you have of her image and resave the pure part that attracted you about her.”
“Camille does not have any stain.”
“Do not tell to me. Anyway…” She cut off the discussion. “I think it’s time for you to go, the gynoid awaits you in the car.”
“I don’t yet want to let you, I am afraid of saying goodbye forever.”
“The decision is yours, David, it always has been yours.” She hugged me very strong and began to mourn. “Your happiness is at four light years away, is my selfishness that transmits you this anguish. To find yourself you have to make this trip.”
“You will always be here.” I took her hand and put it on my heart “I will never forget you.”
“I won’t either.” She kissed me on the lips. “Now you should get out the door or I will not let you go.”
It was one of the painful goodbyes by which I would have to pass those days, goodbyes forever would be repeated with my friends and especially with my family: my father, Gisela and Little Marc. Keo was right, if I wanted to have children with Camille I would not come back in ten years nor in twenty nor the rest of my life; then, was it really the ideal job or was an adventure in which there had available seats because almost no one in their right mind would want to participate? Perhaps the fact to allow Camille to a one way trip was not the best to reach my happiness. A hint of horn woke me from my worries, the gynoid was impatient. I found strange that a machine had a peculiarity so human. I got into the car and apologized.
“Forgive my bluntness.” The gynoid said. “But there is a long way to Barcelona and then I have to go home to finish a few tasks.”
“Of course. I do not want to waste your time.”
She put the car running, I noticed that the gynoid had changed her appearance again, now she wore her hair long and black, and had taken Latin factions, at the same time she was wearing more discreet clothing, surely she had adjusted her parameters to an image more enjoyable for me.
“Are your owners rich?” I asked when we were leaving already the urbanization.
“The word ‘owner’ is very ugly when we talk about my relationship with Joan and Manolo; your better say they are colleagues or family.”
“Sorry, I did not want to upset you. But you are an extremely sophisticated gynoid available to few pockets.”
“I am valued at five hundred and eighty thousand eurollars by the insurance company, but Joan only paid the materials, the development of nanorobots and the software is created by him. What I did not found it funny is that your friend has deleted my memory; she can bring home all the guys she wants. But why has she deleted five hours of my life?”
“It was a matter of privacy.”
“I would have not explained any of your adventures in bed, unless… Did you use me as a sex toy?”
“Oh! No, we haven’t thought to abuse the trust of the hosts of Keo.”
“Well, what a pity, I have never had sex.”
“Never did you have sex? Then why do you have been configured as a woman?”
“It was my decision; Joan installed me an operation system based on the language sol / fa.”
“Sorry, but my knowledge of computing does not pass the level of a simple user.”
“Sol/fa is a programming language based on musical notes instead of yes / no of ancient languages, this allows a single byte in sol/fa to load ten times more information than a digital one. With this increased capacity, artificial people like me can think and have feelings.”
“So you’re not a machine?”
“If you look at the most restrictive, yes I am. Since I’m an artificial mass made of plastic products and an accumulation of nanorobots that shape me and constitute my nervous system. But I decided freely I wanted to be a woman, to have a name and I also like being treated tenderly, is there anything more human than that?”
“Certainly, so I’d like to know your name and say that you’re a very beautiful woman.”
“My name is Sara.” She was thrilled. “This is the first time someone asks for my name. Everyone assumes that the machines do not have a name.”
“Nice name, did you chose it?”
“No, Joan baptized me like a person.”
“Do you love Joan?”
“Yes, but he is in love with Manolo, there is nothing to do.”
“Never mind, we are closer to Barcelona, where will you want I leave you?”
“Leave me at the entrance of Diagonal Avenue; from there I’ll take the bus.”
“Are you married?”
“Keo is really beautiful; maybe it is worth being unfaithful with a woman like her.”
I let the gynoid believed that I had an affair with Keo, it was better than revealing that she was hiding herself from pharmaceutical companies, which would not hesitate to eviscerate her like a chicken to extract the secret of her slow aging process. I kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye to her, she took my hand.
“Your skin is as smooth as of any young woman. You’re a very attractive woman.” I was surprised to feel the natural touch of her hand’s skin; I would be unable to assert that was a machine if she hadn’t told me and if I had not seen her change in appearance.
“I like hear how you say these lovely things; I wish all people were like you.”
“Goodbye Sara, do not forget of being you.”
As soon as Sara left, I went to the bus stop, which arrived immediately. I came home after eleven; my father and my sister were waiting for me with a scowl.
“Where were you, David?” Gisela asked.
“I was with Keo.”
“Did you say Keo?” My father asked. “How is she? Why did not come to see me?”
“She is gorgeous, like always. I told her to go away until I have disappeared, if she is related to me, they’ll catch her quickly.”
“Camille has called you lots of times.” Gisela interrupted us. “You’ve been untraceable many hours.”
“I had to switch off the cell card; two spies of the Soldiers of the Faith were following me.”
“Now you’ll manage with Camille, she is really annoyed.” Gisela growled.
“I will connect the global network from my bedroom.”
Once I entered the room I turned on the projector 4D of the network, at reconnecting the cell card innumerable missed calls from Camille appeared, I pressed one of the icons with Camille’s face floating in the air. Immediately appeared, dressed in a pajama too childish for his age.
“Hello my love.” I said softly. “Sorry for not having called before.”
“I know nothing of you since we returned from Saint-Malo; it’s been about a week ago.”
“There have been a few crazy days.” I answered. “I had to do a lot of paperwork; leaving Earth is not as easy as it sounds.”
“My father would have arranged gladly your papers; you have been behaving strangely for many days.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t put me between a rock and a hard place we would not be in this situation.”
“What situation? It was not me who has escaped today from the escort that was protecting you. My father is in high dudgeon, it could have happened you anything, the Caliphate could send a terrorist to kill you; you’re an unconscious.”
“I think I made it clear that I do not need protection; I remind you that I have lived several wars.”
“Of course, you are the coolest sheriff at the west of Barcelona. You almost sent me to hell when I asked you for more involvement on your part in our relationship.”
“Camille, I love you, but I think you’re asking too much and offering far too little.
“I thought you were according to follow the rules of the game and that you were aware that I would comply with the terms of the contract to the letter.”
“Involvement means proximity and for two years can be counted on the fingers of one hand the times we’ve been at less than a foot on each other.”
“I believe that our relationship will not work; maybe you have become too friendly with the womanizing panty-ripper of Gerhard.”
“This is too much; I think we have to give us a few days.”
“Perhaps so.” And at saying that hung up without saying goodbye.
For now, Keo’s predictions were not being fulfilled, in just a few days would begin the long journey towards Miracle and I might have to do it alone. I was madly in love with Camille, but really was necessary to sacrifice everything I am by a promise of how gorgeous that could be our love within five years?
Saint-Malo, July 17th, 2169.
I hesitated for half a minute before ringing the bell, even though I knew I would be welcomed by my in-laws it was very hard to reconnect with the parents of my deceased wife. Immediately, Claude Gonnet’s face appeared on the screen with a look of exhaustion that reflected that strange summer of climatic ups and downs caused by global warming.
“Michael, my son, you do not need to call the door, facial recognition software has already unlocked the gate.” It was true; I pushed the door and opened effortlessly.
“Sorry, I never remember it.” I crossed the entrance of that house of two floors. Upon entering the hall I saw Claude approaching to greet me. Madame Gonnet always was a little surly with me, that woman did not hide never that she preferred David and I do not blame her.
“What brings you here?” Fortunately, Claude was something else.
“I’m on leave, in a couple of days I have to be in Bucharest.”
“You’ll be sleeping here, I hope.”
“What about Andrea?”
“Are you still afraid of your mother in law?” Claude laughed because he used to be a witness of the taunts that dropped Mme. Gonnet to me. “She is not as bad as you believe.”
“I have my stuff in a hotel, I just came to say goodbye to you and Soizick.”
“Stay here, please.” It was a woman’s voice, which I recognized immediately.
“Mme. Gonnet, sorry, I had not seen you.”
“Please, let’s finish that comedy once and for all, I behaved like a fool all these years. You are the most similar to a son that I have.” Her voice sounded nasal, as if she were about to mourn. “I just think we did not start off right, come here please.” I hugged her with all my might, was like a smaller and older version of Soizick.
“I will go with you to pick up your stuff at the hotel.” Claude told me. “It’s better to go by car, today’s heat is unbearable.”
“I don’t want to disturb you.”
“You and David have the doors open in this home.” Andrea said.
“Let’s forget the issue of David; I am not yet ready to forgive him.”
“Sooner or later you’ll have to do.” She answered “I am convinced that he did not betray you.”
“How do you know it? Why do you always speak in his favor?”
“He came with his girlfriend last week, he really loves her, and he had the same glare as when he was with Soizick.”
“Sorry Andrea, but I cannot forgive him; the fact that you love him like a son does not become him my brother.”
I went with Claude to pick up my things from the hotel; he let me drive his car, a modern car thermoelectric induction of European manufacture, silent and cozy. We needed about thirty minutes to reach the hotel, to park and manage the check out at the reception. After picking up my suitcase, I wanted to go to the cemetery where there were deposited the ashes of my beloved. We went out of town; we quickly pulled into the parking that was in front of a modern building where the urns were inside a sort of niche. We entered that immense collective mausoleum; Claude pointed me the niche where she was, suddenly, a 4D image was lit as soon as I was detected, for a moment I could see and touch her. I knew it was unreal, a rough imitation of my wife, but what the hell, for a moment I had the illusion that I was caressing the cheek of my beloved Soizick. I was happy for a moment as feeling the touch of her skin and the soft scent of her perfume, tears trickled down my cheeks as I exasperatedly wished that this moment would never have ended.
“Michael, I beg you to stop, you’re hurting yourself. You know that this is all a mummery.”
“I want her back, I love her; Soizick come back to me.” My mind was totally out of reality, so much that in my madness I tried to pull the hand of that solid image, without success. Claude pressed a red button and Soizick disappeared.
“Michael, she will not return. Look at it well, it is only a marble slab which hides an urn with ashes. Soizick no longer exists.”
“She has to exist, I need her.”
“I can only offer you to sleep in her room, surrounded by her stuff. It will be better that you assume this as soon as possible. You’re young and you must rebuild your life. Think about the tragedy of a father surviving his only daughter.”
“I’m sorry, Claude, I’ve been so selfish that I did not understand your suffering by being focused on mine.”
“You’re the one who worries me now. In a short time you have to embark on a long trip, you will need friends to cope it.”
“I will consider the advice, but now I have no one in the mission to whom I can call friend…”
When returning to the house of the Gonnets, Andrea had finished to setting the table. The meal of that night was a dinner in silence; partly because I felt very stupid after the show I had starred in the cemetery. The sadness and melancholy had taken possession of the house, it was a mausoleum filled with photographs of Soizick at all stages of her short life: baby in diapers, little girl, chubby teen and attractive naval officer, was a ubiquitous character who had not died at all in that house. After dinner, we had a slightly more pleasant soiree with a screening of a collection of unforgettable holiday images of the marriage with their daughter, fragments of our wedding and the subsequent banquet, a delivery of decorations where the defense minister put the Silver Star to her… A series of happy memories was what was left of their daughter.
After a while I showed a clear sign of exhaustion, Andrea quickly led me to Soizick’s room. As soon as Andrea closed the bedroom door, and before unpacking, I opened the closet, I touched her well placed clothes on their hangers and drawers, I smelled one of her dresses I could still feel a slight scent that reminded me of her. I could feel the heat of her breasts, the softness of her cheeks; I touched the mole of her back… I could feel her like she was with me in that room. If there was still something of the essence of Soizick, was in that room, because it was her refuge and sanctuary, the walls had been painted by herself with her delicate hands. Looking all her stuff I saw a long black hair caught in a drawer, I picked it up and put it in my wallet, it was everything what I would have of her body. I put on my pajamas and lay down in bed but could not sleep thinking about all the damage I did to her when we first met.
I remembered all the pain I had caused to my beloved: I had a girlfriend named Bev who, like me, was a daughter of Navy pilots. Bev and I spend part of our idle time to go in search of young people interested in becoming pilots through the global network. One day we discovered into one of the network portals a girl very overweight and, wickedness of adolescents, we decided to make her believe that I was interested to her. But I did not expect to fall in love with her; Bev suspected it at seeing my reaction the day that Soizick got naked in front of me in 4D format, although she was laughing when she switched off the connection.
One day, without the knowledge of Bev, I made peace with Soizick and encouraged her into going to the Academy, who managed to lose weight with a titanic willpower. My girl was very angry when she saw that Soizick was also in the Academy and forbade me to approach her. And then there was David, what can I say? Maybe I hate him for being a better person than me, that boy did the impossible to make Soizick pass the final test of admission, subjecting her to a training session so intense that managed her to make that damn instructional track in less than the twenty minutes required by the Navy.
As Soizick was thinning and becoming one of the prettiest girls in the Academy, at least for me, that couple had been consolidating more and more as the same way as I was failing with Bev. Nevertheless, I regained her friendship, which was enough for now even if it meant swallow how wonderful it was to her that fucking David… Without any need, I had found out that they had had their first time in that damn flat they had rented with that friend who was on a course higher than ours. The fact of how we finished together is still a mystery, was following the first squadron Albatross’ incursion in Morocco, we were about nineteen or twenty years old. Without finishing the Academy, our superiors upgraded us to about twenty cadets in Frigate Ensigns and sent us to fight in a special squad of young people by the lack of pilots in the Allied Forces. That war was a dreadful carnage, the Caliphatian skilled pilots aboard of their Mikoyan killed most of us, among them was Bev, who nonetheless I finally realized that she was not as bad as it seemed. That campaign marked the beginning of the myth of David Lavall and his psychological problems, having shot down six enemy aircraft and for covering Soizick from the Caliphatian fighter’s shooting, he was hit by a plasma projectile and was forced to jump. From this part of the story is when they exaggerate the prowess of David; even so the report of the captain of the helicopter that picked him up indicates that while he was lost in the desert, he annihilated a force about six to eight enemies with the help of his service pistol and a machete, this report insinuates in a veiled form an unnecessary cruelty to one of the militants. Needless to say that Soizick looked after her boyfriend when he returned to the base crazier than a goat; even she went to Barcelona during a week to take care of him. Something must have happened at David’s home, two weeks later they returned to base by separate ways, evil tongues say that jealousy of her sister caused the rupture unexpectedly. A few days later Soizick and I started dating, but somehow I was always the second in the race and she returned a couple of times with David…
Bucharest, July 21st, 2169.
I was finishing to get dressed in my luxurious Ambassador Hotel’s room; I was restless and it was not for that absurd ceremony organized by the ASA, but by the battle that my sister was fighting to my tie and for how she was complaining about how clumsy I was. Gisela and I were twins; despite we didn’t looked like at all physically or in character. We always took care of each other, even if from afar and in our peculiar way. I found strange that now she was more worried about that the buttons on my gala uniform would shine instead of thinking that maybe after tomorrow afternoon we would not see each other anymore. Gisela took from her handbag a box that I immediately recognized.
“Come on, are you kidding me?” I Protested.
“You have to wear all your medals and this is the most important that you have been awarded. Very few people alive have got one.”
“I don’t really deserve the Iron Cross, it should have been for Marc.” that piece of metal brought back memories I did not want to evoke.
“There are seven-hundred people that believe that you deserve it.” Gisela replied in her attempt to persuade me to hang that medal on my jacket.
“I’ll put it on just this once because you are telling me to do it.” It was a way to concede that I admit defeat, but by making clear that I put it on by obligation.
“Marc would have wanted you to wear it; your courage is what makes the difference between life and death.”
I obeyed and I put the damn medal on my jacket without much conviction. Finally she asked me the million eurollar question…
“How long will you be out?” Her eyes looked at me as if she knew the answer, surely it was because she wanted to hear it from my lips, it was no secret that the trip would last many years and that the main objective of the ASA was that the whole crew would stay at Miracle.
“It depends.” I saw it was not the reply she expected, the new question that she would formulate would be more aggressive by not complying her expectations with the first.
“Depends on what? Do not know it or do not you want to tell me?” It was a logical reaction. Gisela was no friend of ambiguous answers, especially when that language is perceived evasive and misleading. But the truth was that I didn’t have it all clear, that state of confusion was somehow transmitted to the subconscious of my sister.
“The contract obliges me ten years, but at least I will need a few months to be able to establish a permanent colony and also we must consider that the trip takes about five years for both outward and return, and also…”
“Also it’s Camille?” That was the question I feared, the most important. She was trying to confirm of who depended, not of which depended, not when I will return but if I will return.
“Yes, it’s also she.”
“And is that bad? I want you to be happy, Camille is a lovely girl who loves you dearly, and perhaps the best … I myself have gone to buy the ring you have in your pocket. I already love her like a sister; I will get very angry if you let her to escape.”
“You do not understand, Gisela, if we engender a child on the planet we won’t be able to get out of there until it complies the age of majority, it is a lifetime, and I could never come back. If I start counting I lose myself along the way, the truth is I do not know what to say because I’m not sure what I will do in the end.”
“It’s your life, and I’m aware that you must form your own family; you cannot feel obligated by us. We’ll be fine, you can be sure it is not your duty to take the role of your dead friend, Marc will always be in my heart, but your overprotection won’t help me to rebuild my life.”
Suddenly, the tactile 4D space of the room was put into operation, I pressed the OK icon floating in front of me and a hotel clerk, a young man, began to speak as if he were to my side. “Lieutenant Lavall, transportation will be in front of the entrance of the hotel in five minutes.”
“Thanks, I’m going right now.” The transcendent conversation could be given by concluded temporarily, thankfully.
“Put on your cap and do not forget the gloves.”
“No Mom.” I said jokingly while I headed out the door.
I was outside the door of the hotel with several people who were familiar to me, probably civilian staffers assigned to the mission. I looked around impatiently waiting that Camille appeared, these days she had behaved very strangely and I needed to express what I felt, the days of anguish after the attack had changed my perception of what I had to do. I knew that she also was staying at the Ambassador, but did not know the room number. I ignore the reason why we have become strangers the one to another; all began upon the funeral of Soizick and personnel of the destroyer that was bombed. What a pity, comes the minibus, I’ll go alone to event…
Inside the minibus, the murmur of the people who were there and vibration of the vehicle took me to a state of drowsiness as we moved with exasperating crawl in the midst of a lazy transit, was a gray and wet day, it didn’t seem Summer. That soporific condition became a journey into the past: I was fifteen, I was with my parents and my sister and we had just finished to load our belongings in the rental van, my mother cried, she had been a lifetime in the house of Sitges that was to be devoured by the waves of the Mediterranean.
A sudden braking woke me up, I remembered the circumstances of the dream scene just as if it were yesterday, and the rise of the Mediterranean Sea that was swallowing many streets of coastal towns stunned the citizens of Sitges. One day, an official of the Government notified us that our building, well situated in a privileged area of seafront, would be one of the victims of the containment action of the sea on its overwhelming path towards the mainland, inflicted by climate change. This tragedy led us to the next, as my mother lost the will to fight her illness and cancer finally took her two months later.
Our shuttle dropped us at one of the entrances of the Palace of the People, which was the current headquarters of the macro-parliament of the Federal Atlantic Republic. At the entrance of that enclosure, a security guard gave me a card as soon as validated my identity.
“Please go to seat number 118. Lieutenant, please go through the hallway to the right.”
“Thanks.” I followed the instructions of the man. I stretched my neck, but I could not see Camille among people who began to sit in the seats normally occupied by federal deputies. I had tried to contact her through the cell card, but did not respond to calls.
In front of the lectern of Parliament the Federal Chancellor, Vernet Koehler, was finishing up of clear his throat. That man would start another long speech; self-indulgent and boring of what both politicians like to do. Koehler was considered the strongman of the Republic, with many more executive powers than it enjoys the same President of our confederation of nations. Despite this, the fact of having lost twice a state just as important as Israel against the World Caliphate, and the disastrous economic policies undertaken have sunk his popularity to a minimum and according to surveys his party would lose the next elections in a resounding and humiliating way. All the staff that was going to embark on board the ship Santa Maria was sitting in the seats in that vast chamber, everyone except my elusive Camille, I thought. At the presidential table were sitting from right to left the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces, the President of the Republic, the Admiral General of the Two Navies (the military personnel assigned to the mission were mostly members of the Navy), the eminent scientific and multidisciplinary artist Black Moses (Inspirer of the New Earth Program and dark character who turns out to be father secret of Keo) and His Holiness Pope John Paul VI (the Catholic Church finances a large part of the project and provides de facto twenty five percent of the civilian and military personnel). In one corner, at the end of my row of seats I saw how Camille sat, she also saw me but she could not or did not want to approach, I beckoned to her so she waited for me at the exit when the event ended because she was still ignoring the messages sent with the cell card.
The Chancellor Koehler began to speak in solemn tones: “Dear pioneers of Santa Maria, I wanted to gather you here today to present you the last tribute before the start of your long journey and I wanted to do it precisely this date as indicated, on the two hundredth anniversary of the first step taken by Neil Armstrong on the surface of the Moon. Now, the New Earth project makes us take another big step, which will expand our civilization beyond the borders of the Solar System. So, a group of brave people in search of the distant planet Miracle to build a new home, have children and thrive in this inhospitable world to turn it into a new home for mankind…” Comedy of a bluffer politician, these folks made us go to a useless act which was paid with public money to take credit for the mission, which was a smokescreen to divert attention of the Public Opinion away from the serious crisis that was destroying the welfare state.
The speech continued in the same line along endless hours among the Chancellor, the President, the Pope and other personalities, which melted in praise by the thousand (exactly nine hundred eighty-six) strangers sat and bored in the seats of the deputies of the Republic. After the ceremony, they made us get out neatly like lambs, I had fixed visually Camille’s position and hoped to get where she was in order to tell her what was burning in my heart … but there were too many people between us. We were separated by a long line of people and she did not seem overly interested into wait for me. Finally, I managed to stop her before she would have got into a minibus.
“Camille, I have to talk to you.”
“I thought everything was said.” Those feline eyes hypnotized me and left me completely speechless. Camille was dressed in the uniform blue of ensign of frigate with her insignia of the Soldiers of the Faith on the flap; she is a deeply Catholic girl unlike the secular sentiment that has moved always my life. It was the paradox of life; I fell in love with a fanatic Christian.
“I did not have things as clear as you, for me things are not black or white; I just want you to share your life with me. I am willing to accept your terms, and you know I do not get along with your beliefs.”
“I think that you do not understand yet that I haven’t got complete freedom of maneuver. My contract with the order states that I have to be the first to marry in the new world in a Catholic ceremony to set an example for other believers in the colony; I have a debt of faith with the Lord.”
“I don’t want you break out your commitment or duty of faith or whatever you want to call, I hope as proof of my love you would accept this present.” I took a box. “No big deal, but it’s all that my sister has found in so short time. You know I was so busy since I started to train the pilots group, especially after the attempt.”
She opened the small box and took out the ring, looked at me. She only half-smiled, almost reluctantly, as if it were by obligation. If I have to be honest, I did not expect that so cold reaction, it was like she would want to keep the distance between both of us, as if this would have been something that had to be done because it was written somewhere, a bureaucratic procedure. Perhaps I was wrong into get my hopes, maybe religion was more important than our love; I also knew it was difficult to compete with God and with the Holy Trinity.
“I love it, but you must understand what our engagement means.” I understood it perfectly, chastity until marriage and children, many children, as corresponded to a Christian family. She inched her lips to mine, I felt her warmth only one tenth of second; it was like being closer to heaven without touching it.
“If it is what you want I will respect it.” All my body shook while I watched how she put on the ring and smiled me, she gave me another light kiss, which seemed more a gesture done in the air and that I found it totally insufficient; I sensed that this would be the biggest physical contact in a long time.
“See you at dinner?” As soon as she dropped the question disappeared among the people who were queuing for a minibus without waiting for my answer.
I was left with a word on the lips, a word that not had the opportunity to see the light; the word that I keep. It began to rain over that monstrous piece of engineering built in the late twentieth century by order of a terrible dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, a building that was for many years the second largest in the world until population pressure caused the generalization of the city-buildings. In the middle of my ruminations I was approached by an elderly man, I recognized him instantly: he was Moses Black.
“Lieutenant Lavall, we haven’t been introduced but I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I know you by the global network, Mr. Black, it is a pleasure.”
“What I know is you were with a girl named Keosaychay Parmukasarn.” The statement was made in a police tone, intrusive, as if I was the suspect of a crime.
“Do not try to fool me. Will has already told me that you know the whole story.”
“Then Will surely have told you that I haven’t known anything about her for several years.”
“I know a liar when he speaks and now I have one in front of me.”
“Look, Mr. Black, I will not put at risk the safety of Keo by revealing her whereabouts.”
“Do you know that I can make that someone force you to give us that information?”
“Perhaps, but what would think Will if you hurt me or to my family? I remind you that your secret is protected by the Soldiers of the Faith.”
“You will hear from me.” He continued with his threatening attitude, typical of a gangster.
“I hope you will never find her, you do not deserve a daughter as extraordinary as Keo, and she is everything that you aren’t.”
Black went grumbling and cursing me. To return I took a taxi, I was not lively enough as to share a mass transit with more people; I did not want any witnesses of my sadness and my anger against this dark character who Black had just shown me that he was, or Juan Escalona, which is his real name. I forgot the matter and focused again on Camille because the matter had not gone as well as I expected, I had not seen the shine on his face that I had idealized in my subconscious, it seemed more the timid obedience of a Christian wife who sought security and was avoiding passion. Does she really loved me or it was a duty that she had required to herself? Was it all a pantomime orchestrated by her family? Did I fall into a trap? In certain way I was afraid that Camille would have been a lure to make me participate in the mission, if that was so I had taken the bait like a stupid. I removed that thought from my head, what father would use his daughter in a way so abject? Will did not seem someone able to play in this way with Camille’s feelings.
“Ou going sir?” That driver was trying to talk Spanglish, but he spoke a mixture of Romanian, French and Spanish.
“To the Ambassador Hotel, please.”
“Da sir!” That old vehicle propelled by compressed air was in motion with its characteristic sound, which it seemed the hiss off a pressure cooker. That steady noise and the sound of worn tires spinning on the pavement took me to a new state of torpor, and more memories of the past…, almost a year had passed since the death of my mother and I had just entered the Military Academy. It was the first time I separated from my family; I was away from home, surrounded by strangers who spoke a language unnatural… a Spanglish with different accents and full of unknown foreign words: “Good morning, cadet, today you have not done well the bed, do it again… Welcome to Hell, little asshole”. I wanted to be a pilot but I became military. I have always dressed uniform ever since, combat equipment anti-g, dress uniform, regulatory sportswear, without forgetting the pressurized suit needed for space… I needed the rare and pleasant feeling to wear jeans and a wool sweater. My world was changing rapidly, as always with sudden movements.
The vehicle stopped in front of the hotel. It had stopped raining. The driver flipped the handbrake and held me out a hand.
“Eight eurollars, Sir.”
“You can keep the rest.” I gave him a bill of twenty, the driver flashed me a huge smile in thanks and as soon as I got off the cab another customer got into the car. Upon entering the lobby I saw my father and my nephew.
“Hi Dad, what are you doing?”
“We went out for a walk to let your sister get some rest, these days is very nervous about your departure.” At that moment Gisela was leaving from one of the elevators.
“Shall we going to the dining room?”
“Please go, you are young. The kid and I have chopped a bit along the way, good night.” My father and the child went towards the bedroom.
“Gisela… You look beautiful.” She wore an evening dress fitted with a neckline so spectacular that left little way to the imagination, she had been combed and makeup so that she looked more like a fashion model than a young mother of Eixample.
“Thanks, I had to match with your dress uniform, after dinner we have dance. Oh, your tie, I have a shambles of brother.” She returned to the fight with my tie as we walked towards the dining room.
Upon entering the dining room, the maitre asked my name. When he checked the list he said:
“Please, Lieutenant, let me to accompany you and your lovely wife to the table.” We laughed slyly and followed the little man through the dining room to the table where was the captain, at his right was a young Air Force officer, Xavier Bosch, and there was an empty chair where Camille should be sitting.
“I thought you would not come, Lieutenant, but I see that the wait was worth it. I finally meet the famous sister of my first officer; the images I had seen of you do not do you any righteousness.” For a moment I saw my sister blushing by that compliment.
“I know to whom you are waiting for.” The Captain continued. “Ensign Schwartz has told me that she will come a little later.” As a leading member of the Soldiers of the Faith, he knew all the movements of the components of that pressure group assigned to the mission. “Oh, the lovelies Camille and Gisela, you just have beautiful women in your life.”
“And also there is the Navy, Sir.” I tried to placate a little the talkativeness of the Captain, putting a martial tone.
“You should relax a little, Lieutenant, tension is good for combat and to guide the crew to a target, but love is something else, I’m still single because I’d rather fly with a fighter over Baghdad before to face a wife. But now, seeing your sister I repent for spending so much time alone…” He fell mute and put a hand on my shoulder.
Camille arrived, but transformed into a different woman, instead of her uniform she wore a gorgeous dress that accentuated her divine beauty. Her dress wasn’t as extreme as my sister’s but it was suggestive enough to leave me breathless. I got up from my chair and I pulled hers so he could sit better. She was to my left, I could quickly see that wore the ring on her finger and I looked at her eyes slowly, I was enthralled with that handsome face that spoke to me in silence. My world suddenly dropped…
“You are… amazing.”
“Shhh, we will have our moment later, now they bring the dishes.”
During dinner, the conversation was very relaxed, my sister was all the while talking animatedly with Captain and Lieutenant, addressing to Camille as her sister, since we were kids she was the sugar and I the salt. Camille, meanwhile, explained that her parents had remained in the room because Will was not feeling well.
“Do you really are twins?” The young lieutenant of aviation was a boy of a considerable height whom I had been training for the past two years as well as Camille and many other pilots. Xavier had a glossy look towards my sister; poor guy, he does not have enough experience with women to attract the interest of Gisela, but the Captain did because he was a cultured man, polite and had the special charm of those are already back from everywhere.
“Lieutenant Bosch, the girl who is behind you on the left does not take her eyes off you.” She pointed with her eyes a young officer of a table beyond. The young man’s cheeks reddened and I smiled to see that Gisela was able to leave offside everyone at any time.
After completing desserts and coffees, waiters slid back one of the curtains of the room and a band of musicians dressed in white tuxedo appeared and began to perform dance music. The captain was the first to rise.
“Gisela, may I have the honor?” The captain took my sister.
“Of course.” Gisela got up; my sister was slightly taller than the captain with her heels but without any exaggerated difference.
Lieutenant Bosch, shy, looked at the other table.
“What are you waiting Xavier? Run or she will escape!” And he rushed to the officer who had told my sister.
Once we were alone, Camille gently grabbed my hand and pulled me to make me to get up.
“David, let’s get out of here, I need privacy.”
“Yeah, so do I.” We left the dining room holding hands, from a few feet away I saw my sister dancing with the captain looking at me with a glare of complicity. We crossed the lobby and headed to one of the halls of the hotel, reception man winked us and just as we entered this room the door was closed automatically. We sat on a blue sofa uncomfortable, we continued holding hands and we looked at each other like two fools.
“I know it’s my fault for putting the land between us, thou hast been faithful after all.” She started talking, dropping a few tears. “I’m jealous of a dead woman. But I can’t avoid it; it hurts to remember how she looked at you and the attention you paid her.”
“I think I made it clear that what we could have had Soizick and I happened long ago, she was a woman married to an officer who also has been my partner for years. I will not lie to you, it is as if a part of me has died too, but it’s you the one whom I want.”
“Forgive me, I know. I’m unfriendly and when you give me your heart looks like you’ve done something wrong. But it is for the education I’ve received, I can hardly externalize what I feel for you, your presence intimidates me like I was little to deserve you. I felt like the second in the race.”
“You are the first since the moment I met you, are you not aware that I suffer anxiety when you do not want to be with me?”
“I only want to be with you although it seems otherwise; you are the beacon of my light, which enlightens me in a world of darkness, giving clarity to the path where I have to walk.”
“My love, it’s me who does not deserve the luck to have the chance to love you. I would not change anything about how you are so I want to share my life with you even in this damn planet.”
“Do you mean that you do it for me?” Just as she said it, it seemed like she thought I was doing to her a kind of emotional blackmail, which was not even remotely true.
“I mean that I’m not alive if I cannot be with you, you’re the one who put the colors in the white of my canvas” In fact I got into this adventure to be with her, Camille was my only priority from the moment I enjoyed the hospitality of her family more than two years ago.
“I did not want to force you…” Her muscles relaxed and dropped her head on my chest. “I do not want to leave you.”
“The universe is not big enough to keep us apart; you are my star and my guide. If I do not follow you, then who do I will follow?”
Very slowly, our lips met and for the first time in our relationship I felt his tongue on mine … I felt her breasts with no bra under her dress, which were laid bare to lower the strips that held that soft fabric; they were bigger than I imagined, quite white compared with the rest of her body and their nipples were pink like her lips. I wanted to continue, but her hands stopped me, she gave me another kiss and gently pushed me away.
“That’s all I can give you for now. Forgive me for behaving like a prick-teaser but I also needed to feel the touch of your skin” I understood instantly, she had asked someone of the order what was the limit she could allow herself without being considered a breach of contract, a little sin to be listened by her confessor and to be paid with a pray. “Camille would have reached to the end, but Ensign Schwartz would even not have kissed your cheek.”
“I know it and I do not blame you.” It was noticed that my voice was hiding a desire difficult to repress; it was like having the goal to my range and trip over a stone before the finish line.
“If you can wait, I promise you this sacrifice will lead us to live together forever.” She put my hand on her left breast. “This heart beats for you.”
“And this one beats for you.” I repeated her gesture by putting her hand on my chest and we went back to the room holding hands, today she is my fiancée but tomorrow she will be a subordinate officer to my authority.
On entering the room, the lights were off except for a mirror ball that gave a romantic atmosphere to that space, the orchestra began to play an adaptation of an old song of the twentieth century.
“I know this song, it’s ‘who wants to live forever’.” I whispered to Camille.
“Shut up and grab my waist.”
She rested her head on my shoulder and started to move very slowly. I would have stayed a lifetime in that room hanging around grabbed to her, the fact to have her in my arms gave me peace and security…
The next day was time for the most painful goodbyes, first thing in the morning I said goodbye to Doris and Will Schwartz. And hours later, at the Otopeni International Airport I had to leave a very important part of my life…
My father, backbone of the family since the death of my mother, a widower who was left alone with two teenagers, and a parent who never understood my decision to follow a military career but that supported me at all times. His tears were perhaps the most painful because the certainty that if I ever returned to Earth I will not see him again. And then my sister, my best friend and confidante, the one that wiped my tears when Mom left us, connoisseur of most of my secrets and more twin by inside than outside, after hugging me she straightened my tie as she always did.
“Preserve us here and we will always be with you.” She said touching where is supposed is the heart. The Little Marc, a small copy of my best friend disappeared, popped into my neck. I hope that when he becomes to an adult takes the best of Gisela and his father.
I saw how came through the gate, and how the boy was saying good-bye, they disappeared… probably forever.
Two hours later it was my turn; it was a military plane that would take me directly to Cape Canaveral, Camille and Captain had already left hours ago on a plane chartered by the Soldiers of the Faith. Once arrived at my destination, I would have collect my credentials of first officer and supervise the hibernation of nonessential crew for the trip in special sarcophaguses. From Cape Canaveral, a shuttle would take me to the Mars Orbiter.
Chapter 3. The farewell.