Before they start, they let me see her, with saline solution still stinging on my arm and a stern warning not to eat anything, cotton patches etching out a design on my shoulders and neck.
She’s never liked the corridors here, finding them too bright and too clean, so she invites me out onto the grass. Not to do anything, but just to lay there, to enjoy the space we fill in each other’s lives without even realizing.
We both know it’s the last time, even if neither of us will say it.
“What’s it like?” she asks me, staring up at a rabbit-shaped cloud and her hands behind her head. Her voice is light, casual, only a slight tremor betraying the unsaid words behind it. Her voice is the disk around a black hole, glowing with a brightness that can’t obscure the vast, empty space behind it. “To know you’ll…stay? That when everybody else is gone, you’ll still be there?”
“I hate it,” I say. “I hate what they’ve done to this, to us, turned it into a publicity stunt. I hate that I’m the only one to do it, that they couldn’t get the funding for two.”
Even without looking, I can see the way her expression struggles, the way she bites her tongue and her eyes sparkle. “Then…why? Why can’t you stay, Sadie? There’s - there’s still time to tell them no, isn’t there?”
We’ve had this conversation too many times, and the answers never change. “Because…I want to do it. There’s so much to see, even now, and…can you imagine what there’ll be ten, twenty, a hundred years later? The advancements we’ll make, the places we’ll go - how can I give that up?”
“You could, if you wanted,” she whispers. “For me.”
I could, if I wanted. They tell me every day - some making it clear it’s only to check off the ‘ethics’ box - that I can back out, that with one word I can make everything stop. “I’m sorry.”
When I make it back to the lab, the attending doctor wipes the tears from my cheeks, giving a stern lecture about the delicate equipment and how water would ruin it. I nod, and I smile for the cameras there. He barely seems to care, flicking through the screens and the numbers that will change me forever seemingly on autopilot.
I don’t matter to them. They all have families, friends, people that intersect with their lives in a thousand different ways to go back to, where I am just a curiosity, a story to tell and forget. Wires burn their way into my eyes and my heart, lacing and weaving together underneath the skin.
Before, they’d told me it would be an upgrade, an improvement. Now, it seems to separate me from everything that makes me human.