“I have my afterlife,” I said to Simon, gesturing at the beach tableau below us. “She has hers.” I stopped and stared at the ocean, feeling the strength of that memory. Of the salt water in my hair and my eyes. The pounding of my heart. The fear I felt when I decided to transition. “Want to know something funny?”
Simon nodded and leaned closer.
“That day, when I got the news, I hoped that she was right. That she had gone to heaven and that I was about to commit a mortal sin. With all my heart, I hoped she was right.”
“And now?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I still hope she was right, for her sake I do.” Simon had this look of compassion on his face, a softness that was compelling, so I said more than I would have. “That hope is for my own sake, too.” One eyebrow raised on his face. “I feel better hoping that the spark of consciousness that was her wasn’t snuffed out when she died.”
“I hope… but I don’t believe, and I doubt it. I did that day. I do today. So I made the appointment, I took six months to tie up loose ends, say goodbye. I made the ‘transition.’“
“This is your last chance to abort,” the woman said. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t remember her name, but I remember her face. Blue eyes, high cheekbones, thick lips. As I stared up at her face from the operating room table, I remember thinking that she was much too attractive to be a doctor. But she had probably bought that face with the money she made helping people transition.
Her hair was blond, stuffed under one of those surgical hairnets. She had lipstick on in a lighter shade of red. Her face would be the last thing I would ever see as a human being. The last thing.
I drank it in, blinking slowly. My mouth was dry and the operating table felt cold underneath me. I could hear the whispers of others in the operating room, but I only saw her.
“Mr. Cruz,” she said, a small smile on her beautiful lips. “Paul. I need you to confirm you want to do this or we will abort.”
I nodded, just barely, moving my restrained head as far as it would go. Not in assent, just to acknowledge that I had heard her. The money I had spent for my spot was non-refundable. It was probably more profitable for me to abort, which could explain the dramatic operating room last-chance-to-abort question.
“I need you to say yes or no,” she said.
God, she was beautiful. I wanted to touch her face. Not in a sexual way, but just to make sure she was real. I felt a tear make an escape from my left eye and trickle down to the table below me.
“Can… can you just… touch me?” I asked. My head was locked in a metal contraption, my arms and legs strapped down. I couldn’t move.
She licked her lips, her blue eyes widening and then she smiled. Just a tiny smile. Just a brief smile. But it made me feel warm inside.
She leaned closer, her finger catching another renegade tear as it trickled out. I wondered how many of us are like this on her table. I had met her briefly while I was still being prepped. Her blue scrubs could not hide her sensuous curves. She wasn’t anything like my Viola, whose beauty had been much more subtle.
“It’s okay, Paul,” she whispered in my ear. I could feel the tickle of her warm breath and smell the scent of oranges. “I promise you that we are very good at this now. You will wake up and feel just like you.”
She lied to me, of course. With that beautiful face and that sensuous body, she lied. Viola would have looked on her as a temptress, leading me away from the path of righteousness.
I told her to do it. She told me to start counting backwards from one hundred.
I got to ninety-two before I was out.
“When did you transition?” I asked Simon. I was buying time away from my story. I needed to surface and smell the clean air, hear the roar of the surf, do something besides be in my past.
“Fourth wave,” he said.
That explained some things. I had been much less social since the end of the second wave. “Mars?” I asked.
He nodded. “After the revolution. It was a much easier decision then.”
“How old were you?” I asked.
“Thirty-six,” he said. “Perfectly healthy.”
I felt my belly tighten at the thought. I had transitioned when I was an old man in grief. He had done it as a very young man in good health. Things had changed so much from the beginning.
“Why did you do it?” I asked.
“Just reducing risk,” he said with a smile, playfully echoing my reason. “No. Actually, I did it for the adventure of it. Infinite worlds in here to explore. New worlds out there to discover.” He gestured up towards the sun which had made noticeable progress towards the ocean.
He was referring to the vessels that carried our consciousness outwards towards Alpha Centauri.
We sat quietly for a time as I breathed deeply of the salt air, felt the warm rays of the sun on my face, and heard the cries of children playing floating up from below.
The “worlds” were not real. Not biologically at least. They were constructs made of the same stuff our consciousnesses were made of. Electrons. Transistors. Software.
But it felt real, at least it did now. Back when that beautiful woman with the blue eyes and wonderful lips—my devil-doctor—had lied to me, it was not like this. Not like this at all.
"In this quiet but far-reaching thriller, author McCarter explores the essence of what it means to be human… Sci-fi as it should be: engaging, moving, and grand in scope". – Kirkus Review