She woke to the light of an all too familiar sun.
It was gray in her room. The apartment had sensed that the sun was climbing higher in the sky outside, and shut the blinds accordingly; it knew she didn’t like waking up to brightness. It knew that and so much more about her.
She was laying on her side, facing away from the center of the bed. David was holding her from behind, his nose pressed against the back of her neck, stubble scratching the gentle bumps of her spine. She could feel the slow roll of his heartbeat against her back, fifty two beats per minute.
It occurred to her that she had woken because David had; his arms were wrapped loosely around her midsection, thumbs gently stroking the bit of flesh exposed beneath the hem of her top.
They laid in silence for a while, aware of each other’s awareness, yet unwilling to acknowledge what was already known. She laid in the muted gray with her long hair splayed around her, one hand resting limp on the mattress like it was waiting for a savior.
But everything passed, and nothing was forever; soon David’s heartbeat quickened against her back, and the computer in her brain picked up on her lover’s rising body temperature, interpreted the increasing eagerness of the fingers stroking her navel, felt the growing hardness against her backside.
Arching her back, she parted her lips for the first time that day, in a world where most things needed not be said. “David…”
“Christina,” he murmured back, his voice soft and husky. Then a moment later, “…Don’t worry. I’ll be quick.”
His voice was strained, like he was barely holding himself back. She knew her lover’s body, knew his needs and his habits, and knew that there had been an eighty seven percent chance of David needing to relieve himself within the next six hours. She could not feign ignorance, and neither could he; his heart was too close to hers.
Strong arms grabbed hers, and she found herself being turned over in the bed. Soon she was laying on her stomach, and a moment later she felt David insert himself, the same way he always did.
She felt herself giving into his desire once he began moving, releasing hot puffs of breath against her ear. Maybe she wasn’t in the right mood for this at the moment, but she was a passive person; and David, as much as he loved her, was selfish enough to take advantage of that.
It was a fact they both understood. Nothing had to be said; that was just the way it was.
David continued to move against her, exactly the way she knew he would. When she sensed that he was close, she moved with him to help him over, knowing without having to be told how he wanted it.
And when he came inside, she let him, closing her eyes and allowing herself to be filled; her contraceptives had a one hundred percent prevention rate.
Coffee. Black. Just hot enough to sting the tongue.
Christina stared down at her morning drink, seated at a small table in the main room of their apartment. David was standing in the kitchen, making breakfast, waving his hands at a holographic screen that had blinked to life before him.
Bringing the coffee to her lips, she watched him. He was a tall man, and handsome; his eyes were kind and his thoughts even kinder. Christina had known from the moment she met him that they were meant for each other. Quite literally; the dating algorithm they had met through rated them at ninety six compatibility points.
She had never been afraid to love him. Maybe because she always knew that she would anyway, in the end. Their society had love down to a science. One needed only to go through the movements.
And yet…she remembered a time when she had been more sure about things. She remembered a time when she hadn’t questioned the current state of affairs. When had this feeling begun? It was strange, it felt like it had come out of nowhere; in the way that consciousness came to a person, when they rose from a deep sleep. One moment it was suddenly there.
She set her coffee down and licked her lips, tasting the bitter liquid with her tongue. It had been made just to her liking. She thought back to the events of that morning, the love making they had done in the wake of dawn.
It had felt mechanical, impersonal; and of course it did. If love was down to a science, so was sex. There was a right way to do everything; she knew that. And she had enjoyed herself in the end, hadn’t she?
Lifting a hand to her face, she felt at her temple, felt the artificially regulated pulse throbbing against her touch. The tiny little computer fused with her brain kept her heart rate at an acceptable level, but she still felt like she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Sometimes she wanted to breathe heavily, even if she didn’t have to; sometimes she wanted to taste the world she lived in. But the computer always gently refused her.
It knew what was best for her. It knew her better than she knew herself. There was no hiding from the eyes inside one’s body. It understood about her what she could never fathom. And if that was the case, there was nothing left to worry about; she could leave her fate in another’s hands. It was so tiring, to rage against life alone, especially when she could give away everything, even her deepest, darkest secrets…
David raised both arms above his head and stretched, letting out a brief yawn. The sleeve of his shirt slipped back, revealing his shoulder, and Christina suddenly understood why she had felt so bothered.
A set of numbers, tattooed carefully into his skin like a lover’s touch, in ink blacker than her darkest thoughts. It was a date, a point in time; rigid and uncompromising, in the way temporality always was.
Then David lowered his arms, covering the tattoo, but it had already been burned into her mind. She sat at the table with her fingers crushed around the coffee cup, wishing she was strong enough to destroy it in her hands. She felt like she should be jumping up and screaming, not sitting quietly in the morning light. The surface of the coffee should not have been so still in her hands. It should have ruptured beneath her grip, the porcelain shattering and cutting into her fingers, drawing blood that would run across the table like water-
“Hey, are you okay?”
Christina blinked and looked up to see David standing on the other side of the table, two steaming plates of french toast in his hands. The food machine must have finished its work without her noticing. Her lover was wearing a concerned look on his face, but it was mixed with something darker; maybe fear.
“I…” She licked her lips, suddenly unsure of what to say. It was such a strange question to ask. Was she okay? Shouldn’t he know that already? Didn’t they know everything about each other?
“I’m…yeah. I’m fine,” she murmured, as David took a seat across from her. She reached over a brushed a thumb across his arm in reassurance, and that seemed to relax him a little. But it didn’t do much for her.
David pushed one of the plates over to her, and she grabbed a fork that seemed to magically appear by her side; apparently the machine had assumed she was craving french toast. After taking a bite, she realized that she was.
They ate in silence, accompanied only by the scraping of forks against plates. After a while David set his empty plate aside and sighed, wiping his mouth.
“So…what are you thinking about?” he asked.
Another strange question. Christina couldn’t remember the last time David had asked her something like that. Perhaps he never had. Talking to him had always been so easy. He could always more or less guess what she was thinking, even if it was with assistive technology. She could at least pretend that he understood her.
She raised her head and looked her lover in the eyes, just in time for the computer to finish calculating that there was a mere seven percent chance of David letting this go.
“It’s just…” Rather than saying it, she lifted her hand and pointed at her shoulder, the same spot where he had his tattoo.
Comprehension dawned on David’s face, then he smiled, but it was more confused than reassuring.
“What about it?” he asked, reaching for his own coffee.
“We only have two weeks left, don’t we?” Christina said, feeling the words grate against her throat.
David squeezed her hand. “We do.”
“It feels so soon. I don’t feel ready. Do you?”
He gave her a gently exasperated look, the kind one gave to a child who didn’t yet understand the ways of the world. “We’ve known the date from the start, haven’t we? Or at least, I have. I’ve had my whole life to prepare. It doesn’t make sense to be unprepared for something you always knew about.”
He was right. She knew he was right, but her heart refused to comply. Maybe she would have been more adamant about it, but the conviction of one was only madness to many.
She turned to look at the apartment they had shared for the last four years, taking in the foreign belongings that were mixed with hers, tangible proof of where their lives had intertwined. “Things are going to be different after you’re gone, aren’t they?”
Exhaling softly, David took her hand and kissed it, trying to comfort her with his presence. But she couldn’t get her mind around the fact that it was only temporary, and its transience was the only permanent thing about it.
“Don’t be so worried, Christina,” he murmured. “It’s only death.”
Her grandfather used to tell her that in the old world, children had to learn about death.
For her, death had held a constant presence, as factual and obvious as the blueness of the sky or the greenness of the earth. Lacking an understanding of one’s own mortality was the act of animals. To be born and expect to live forever was not only illogical; it was selfish.
She had objected to such an idea as soon as she heard it. It seemed impossible to her that people could live life unaware of their dying day. Could they even be considered part of the same species?
Her grandfather had laughed and simply shrugged, saying it was just something he had heard from his own grandfather. Maybe they just liked to pretend they didn’t know.
Christina, then a child, had stared out over the street and tried to imagine a world where death was yet an answerable question. She couldn’t remember a time when people hadn’t known their exact date of passing. Everyone was assigned one by Governance, almost as soon as they were born; one would not be permitted to live in ignorance. It was the enemy of society.
Her grandfather died a few years after that day. No one was surprised; the entire family had known his date beforehand. It was customary to reveal one’s dying day to loved ones before it approached, or as early as one preferred; her grandfather had never chosen to hide it, and she had always known that he would live to be sixty seven years old.
But as they gathered atop a small hill for the funeral in the morning, as she stood beneath the shade of a young tree and watched her grandfather’s coffin descend into the ground, she felt a spark of profound sadness. Here was the last time she would ever lay her eyes on him. There was a cold despair attached to forever. Even if she knew it was illogical to deal in absolutes, she wished she could have had everything.
The coffin was lowered, and the earth was thrown over it. Her mother lifted her hand to check the time, and murmured something about having errands to run.
The hearse and the people disappeared from the hill, but she stayed, doing the last thing her world would have wanted her to do: brooding.