Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On The Second Floor, Chapter VII

Day Five

It felt like another good morning for pancakes, so I gave the griddle a ceremonial washing-off and fired it up once more. I retrieved the box of batter from the cabinet and scooped out the recommended quantity, and as luck would have it there was barely enough to make a single serving of four. I put the dusty box in the overhead cabinet, there being little point in throwing it out. Dayus and his people would sooner or later discover the human litterbug tendency; the way we lazily dispose of that which can't be recycled with maximum convenience. But I didn't want him learning it from me; I was making a new effort to produce as little trash as possible. An empty box isn't trash until you throw it out. Besides, no matter how many batches of pancakes you make in your life, it's always nice to have the directions on the side of the box to refer back to.

I poured the batter; I stood over it for a while, keeping busy by organizing some of the clutter on the counter top. I wiped off a couple of old wine stains, and gravy stains, and the stains of various other kitchen liquids that had never really been dealt with (and some which were not even my fault). I brushed up the bread crumbs that were strewn about the toaster nook. A few minutes later I flipped the pancakes, and I was delighted by their rich, golden color they'd acquired. I ought to open a restaurant, I thought.

Tired of all this kitchen work, I took a quick step over to my bedroom, to check the day's internet news. There was no internet to get the news from, of course, so this was strictly a matter of habit, and I came to my senses before the familiar error screen popped up. You would think, after a week without web access, I'd give up this little ritual, but you'd be wrong. Sighing and bored, I slumped in my chair and stared at my screen, internally calculating the entertainment value the machine still held for me.

A few days before I'd gone into space myself, I had downloaded a new picture for my laptop background; a dynamic view of an alien world, with stormy blue clouds and red earth, orbited gracefully by a futuristic spaceship, one not unlike the ship I was now aboard. Simplistically shaped, but elegantly constructed, it was a ship of peace, an envoy of the future that Science Fiction promised us was not so very far off. Well, the future had arrived, and come to get me, but had it come the way we'd hoped? To boldly go where no one had gone before - or to be led there? How depressing to think that Roddenberry had gotten it wrong.

But maybe there was hope yet. Dayus' scientific ethics were questionable, but he was a man of science, after all. Perhaps Elysia had many functions, but who would plant a forest or garden in the middle of a ship of war? I didn't think it was likely, at any rate. Perhaps the boat had come, and we were about to enter an age of space-faring, peace-keeping ships, to live among the stars, in pursuit of knowledge and understanding; and at the very least, I still had my books and papers, to write it all down. But a prison is still a prison. Somewhere above my head, it was 'all power to the engines.' Down here, it was just another day.

Another perfect day; he smoke alarm was beeping furiously. Panicking, I sprung up from my chair (nearly collapsing backwards in the process) to silence the foul machine, and then rushed back to the kitchen. My breakfast (though really more like a brunch) was ruined, scorched lack on one side even as the other maintained its appealing golden hue. I doused the griddle to cool it down and swore at Dayus for burning my food. If it weren't for him, I could have gone to the grocery store and bought more.

I generally don't believe in wasting food, so I grabbed a sharp knife and engaged in a salvage operation. Carefully, methodically, I parted the hard, black crust from the soft interior, with all the determination of a crack surgeon; I met with only moderate success. At the very least, I'd made something edible, and with the subsequent liberal application of maple syrup, you might even call it palatable. And then I cut my finger with the blade.

While I fumbled through the drawers for band-aids, I heard the rumbling of the tower as the man with the worst timing in the universe came for another visit. Faced with a devastating one-two-three of negativity I did my level best to calm down, clean up the wound (it wasn't that bad anyway), and try to have a decent breakfast, for God's sake. Dayus reached my door as I sat down for my breakfast.

As usual I was annoyed with him, but even more so at myself. I pressed the fork against my bandaged finger as I ate. He noticed the blood; "It's nothing serious," I told him.

"You know that better than I do," he said.

Yes I do, and don't you forget it.

He took his usual seat as I ate on the sofa, and a strangely comfortable silence ensued. I was eating and he was watching, but after half a week of anxiety and paranoia, I'd grown used to the idea that there might be hidden cameras watching my every move. I still had some dignity, enough to make him wait while I finished my breakfast, creepy voyeur that he was.

"You do not seem happy, Jonah. Is your habitat inadequate?" I was in the kitchen now, empty plate in hand, still mostly silent. Rather than answer immediately (the better to educate him in human passive-aggressive techniques) I poured a new tub of hot, soapy water and dumped the plate in, taking my sweet time. Next the mixing bowl; the bloody knife, the measuring cups, the sticky, syrupy fork. I'd get to the mixing bowl later. I straightened out the counter, and rejoined him in the living room.

"Yeah, and no." Why beat around the bush. "There are so many things a man needs to be happy, you couldn't hope to replace them all." Pausing, I reached for the remote and flipped on the radio, and hyper-sonic space static blared out a high volume. "Case in point," I said. The reference might have been too obscure for him; though I got the distinct impression that Dayus enjoyed my little rants, for scientific or personal reasons or whatever, he made no reply.

"I'm cut off, man. I'm being dragged through space in a bubble. You're here, but half the time you're not. And meanwhile, I'm running out of food!" I pointed toward the kitchen, while my eyes pointed accusingly at him. "I've got a bottle of milk that's going to go bad in a week. and I'm running low on everything else. How am I supposed to live without a few decent meals every day?"

"From my observation of your metabolism, I believe you could survive longer without food than you are implying."

"Oh yeah, wise guy? You brought me here, and you're responsible for keeping me healthy. I know what I need to stay healthy. I can't feed myself locked up in this ball!"

"Are you complaining that you're going hungry?"

"You ass," I cursed, "it's more than food. I'm alone. A human can't just lose his friends and his family and his home and be alright all at once."

"You will be restored to your world," he said, in his deliberate fashion, "in due time. We ask only for your patience."

"Oh, you'll get it, and more besides." I didn't quite know what I meant by that threat, but oh did I mean it.

"As for food, our bodies are not so different from ours. Our nutritionists have been certifying a number of items for your consumption. You will not starve."

"Well, that makes me feel better." I rolled my eyes. "I'm going outside."

What I really wanted, then and there, was perfect solitude, to be rid of him forever if I had to be rid of everything else. But I didn't like the idea of him sitting in my living room alone, so I did not protest when he followed me out.

It was another perfect day; sunny skies, warm, gentle breeze, and an elevator platform in the place of a glittering tower to heaven in my front yard. I gazed up to the tiny black hole in the sky, or what I called the sky, and wondered how to reach it.

"Dayus," I said, knowing that he stood behind me, "bring the stars out." I turned to plead the case with my eyes.

He looked puzzled. "According to your clocks, there should be daylight now."

"So what? That doesn't make a difference. It's only 'day' here at all because you say it is. The sun, the moon, the stars, they're all false, meaningless lights on a screen or whatever that thing is, so what difference does it make? Give me fifteen minutes of starlight."

Dayus obliged, but I couldn't say exactly how he did it. I saw little more than a nod of his head, but sure enough the sun faded from view. As it waned, the twinkling stars emerged, almost naturally, from the twilight. There was no moon, and without the natural atmospheric effects of Earth, they burned in the coldness of space. I was awed, and at first I forgot what I meant to say, but I composed myself shortly.

"Do you see!?" I shouted, gesticulating for all it was worth. "This is what I need! You've made me this place, and it's too small! If I have to leave the world, leave my friends behind, then let me explore those stars!"

Dayus looked very serious. At first he only said nothing; then, to my surprise, he turned to face the platform, and walked toward it, and stepped aboard.

I tried to follow him, but an invisible barrier seemed to spring up, like a force field, to block my steps. Dayus looked me in the eyes as I wordlessly repeated my request: "You said it yourself, Jonah. Those stars are false."

The elevator ascended slowly, toward that little black hole you could barely tell was there, but for the lack of stars. I stood there, though the barrier was gone, I watched and waited for him to be gone too. Soon, the brief interlude of night was restored to day. The sun resumed its place in the sky, a few days west from where it had faded out. No detail had been forgotten: everything was once again in its proper place. It was another perfect day.

That night I could not get to sleep. When I cannot sleep, I toss and turn, sometimes twisting my body over and over again, looking for that sweet position, waiting for exhaustion to win out. But that night, after doing so for an hour, I'd had enough. I went to the kitchen, opened the cupboard, and pulled out some emergency soporific drugs. I don't usually do this, I thought, but desperate times and all. I took two tablets, washed them down with water, and did my best to dream.

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