One hundred and eighty; that is how many tiles were on the ceiling. The one right above had one thousand and twenty-six holes. The one next to it, one thousand and four. She had counted them tens of hundreds of times. That was her life, counting ceiling tiles of a room that dominated her entire twenty-five year existence.
She could not count the linoleum, though she knew every scuff, every speckle, forming them into shapes in her mind. The stark, white walls were as uninspiring, broken by the door and the window. The window should have been interesting, it held the most captivating view, that of Earth. That stellar view became obscured over time by IV poles, baggies, machines, apparatus meant to prolong her life. Looking to her left reminded her of what she could never have, a life away from Horizons’ lunar laboratory. Her existence was that of an experiment; made in a test tube, raised by a corporation, dubbed a failure from childhood and yet they kept her alive, strung up on wires and intravenous lines, delaying the inevitable.
Across from her bed was a lone chair with her visitor, her brother Two. She was One because she was made first. Horizons did not have the courtesy to give them names. Not humans, no names, just things, Aons.
Two was sitting in his chair with his Digital Interface Gadget laid across his lap. He was doing his thing, reading intently from what One could observe, bright blue eyes whipping across the screen. On the floor was his tail, swishing back and forth. If it were not for their ears, the tails, and the manes, Aons looked almost human.
Horizons did not make them just to appear unnerving, this was demonstrated as Two looked up and inquired telepathically, “You need something?” Horizons wanted psychics.
“I just want to talk.”
Two placed his DIGET aside and straightened up. He brought his hand to his mouth then pointed forward. ‘Sure.’ He followed with a series of gestures, ending with him rubbing his left arm. ‘How are your arms?’ American Sign Language that time.
One looked down at her own, pasty-white skin in contrast to his healthy tanned complexion. Up went her hands and down they went, flopping to the bed. The muscle wasting had taken hold.
“And talking?” Two verbalized, a further follow up to his assessment.
One shook her head. The oxygen mask stopped that too.
“It keeps getting worse,” Two remarked.
Being first was only good for races. Two was healthy and One was not, all because Horizons had made every mistake in designing her. Most of their mistakes they could not even explain. She was sick, bed-ridden, stabbed to a bed, more machine than flesh at that point, not that her body needing titanium to make up her bones, her ears, her mane was Horizons’ intended design decision. Idiots, each of them, and she suffered in turn. 2204, and somehow modern science still sucked at genetic engineering. And they never had the courtesy to tell her why they made her this way. One bet that Two knew.
“I... have they told you?”
“Told me what?” It seemed like Two was playing naïve.
“What you will be doing when they take you to Earth.” When she was no longer alive.
Two shifted in his chair, feet planting on the floor. She stared, watching as he grimaced, his shoulders rolling forward, his posture stooping as he contemplated.
“Yes, they told me.”
Finally, it meant a story about Aons and Earth, a thing she had been excluded from. One leaned in as best she could, intrigued.
“Tell me!” Behind her face mask, she was grinning wildly.
Two’s face fell and he turned away. “I’m sorry.”
“Corporate secret. I’m not allowed to share.”
“What?!” One exclaimed before throwing herself backwards into her supporting pillows. “Why not? Who do I have to tell? They are always like this!” Horizons denied her everything, including the capacity to fantasize about experiences she could not have. “It’s not fair that they keep doing this to me!”
“I know, but what can I say to them?” There was a limit to what he could apologize for, and in a situation that neither could control, there was nothing he could offer her. The thing Two could give One was his support, be the good brother to her, be her caretaker. That was the most he could do, go to her, clutch her cold, bruised hand in his, and be there.
“I’m here for you.”
One squeezed back.
Silence, a different kind of silence than the one defined as an absence of sound. One could feel Two’s warm fingers encircling her own and with it her thrashing mind eased.
“I still wish I could go to Earth with you. Prove myself,” whispered One.
“I wish you could too—”
One’s brother turned around, a sign that someone had entered the room.
Two people remained at Lunar Horizons Laboratory to look after the Aons, and it was not hard to guess who.
On the left was Roston. Cold but practical, mid-thirties with a whole career before him. He looked like a lead researcher, acted like a lead researcher. One hated how he dressed, especially his pants. Pressed, ironed to give them flawless seams. His brown hair was the perfect shape, face always clean-shaven. Ivory skin polished. He was the sole person she knew of who gleamed, and by no means was it normal. Roston was a compulsive documenter, no wonder his face remained fixed towards his DIGET, poking away.
Next to him was Kristopher, a bit younger but equally ambitious. He identified the vitals of his acute morbid interest within seconds.
“Heart rate was elevated for a few minutes. Looks like that went back to normal,” Kristopher observed. He made another entry into his DIGET. “Brain activity is the same.” One did not feel that she was crazy yet. “Ooh! Oxygen is a bit low,” Kristopher cooed. The man was not by any means normal, nor was his colleague.
If Roston was considered cold, Kristopher was deep space. The man had a wicked air about him. Hard to put a finger on, but it was suspected that keeping bodies in a freezer was not beyond him. He was probably of European descent, but looked like he belonged in a line-up of America’s finest serial killers instead.
“Heart rate is going up.” Obvious observation even for One, she unnerved by his enthusiasm and what it would eventually entail.
“The oxygen.” Roston resumed focus. “Tank is showing as normal.”
“You, can you check on it?” Kristopher gave the order to Two. Indignity was all over the Aon’s face.
Two walked over to One’s side, taking up position with the medical equipment. The Aon noted that the oxygen tank, “Was fine,” and the current oxygen levels were, “Normal.” Everything else, other than the oxygen, had been raised to threshold.
“All of it is set to max, again,” Two said, relaying his observations. One was allowed to control her drug administration via a remote close to her hand. Two’s commentary was not an uncommon one, and as of late, it had become a regular occurrence. Nothing new to her.
“Tell her she’s putting herself at risk if she keeps doing that,” was Kristopher’s next order. Roston was letting his colleague take the lead today, standing back and documenting in the corner.
Stuck as the able-bodied go-between, Two signed the sentence, ‘You’ll kill yourself faster if you keep upping the dosage. Besides, they might not let you.’ She was not coping with her condition, not even trying.
“It hurts.” And in telling him that, she was metaphorically stabbing her brother in the gut. The guilt was inescapable.
One glared at her human caretakers, pissed and wanting to tell them to do better for her yet not being able to. Her telepathy she developed for her brother, the people could not understand her since she did not know how to make them understand her deaf mind. All she could do was glare.
“That’s good news for you. You won’t need to be here any longer to look after her,” Roston noted aloud, directing this towards Two.
“What do you mean?” At that point One felt excluded from part of the conversation. Two had spun around.
One was stuck looking at the back of Two’s head while Roston and Kristopher remained in view. Her brother’s tail lashed against the floor, his arms a heated flurry as he vented.
“No point in getting her hopes up for nothing,” Roston explained, answering a question from Two that passed over her. It was a long wait until the man spoke again, this time saying, “Let her go. You can’t do anything for her now.”
Two was stilled, his arms crashed to his sides. One feared for what they were talking about.
“We’ll give you some time alone with her,” Kristopher said as he took his leave.
One’s brother was frozen in place.
“When they asked what I wanted to call myself, I thought it was a joke. They were serious.”
Sorrow. Two let his tears flow freely, escaping down his cheeks and onto the floor unchecked. What grief meant to him meant the same to One, he was leaving.
A nod was the most Two could muster.
“But... but...” One was lost for words.
“Tomorrow. I’m supposed to leave tomorrow. They said, they said that the dosages were all pre-fatal.” Her brother was shaking. “I’m sorry.”
‘Sorry’ wasn’t going to cut it. One did not want to hear it, believe it. It had to be untrue.
“You weren’t supposed to leave me to die alone! You said you wouldn’t leave me. You promised!”
“Don’t you think I know that!!!” Two screamed at her, sending her scurrying backwards as far into her headrest as she could go. The outburst, so sudden and unexpected, was over in a heartbeat. Rage turned to tears, and Two’s face fell towards the floor, brought down by his own grief.
His eyes remained fixed on the scuffed linoleum yet in her mind he murmured, “Do you know how unfair it is to watch you suffer? That after all my training, that no matter what chemicals I produced for you, nothing helped?”
One turned her head to the drips, the things keeping her alive. The chemicals in the baggies were of Two’s design, treating One, sustaining her. It was something she knew Horizons wanted of him.
Two continued, “If I had more time—”
“Don’t,” One interjected. “Horizons said it was impossible for me to get better. You couldn’t save me.” At least he would get to leave alive, see Earth, live up to the purpose Horizons designed him for. “So, they let you pick your name. What is it?” One swallowed her pain, turning to Two with a smile. There was no point in dwelling on the obvious. She was dead.
“Uh, Acid Trip. I thought it would be funny to make everyone cringe when they said it.” Acid Trip gave a half-hearted smile, a hollow victory, his reward for leaving and his sister’s death.
“I hope you have a good time on Earth. Meet lots of people, do lots of fun things, make Horizons proud.” The bravado could not last forever. One was betrayed by her own tears, slipping away. She wanted to leave so badly, to be free from the bed, from the moon, from Horizons, to explore and see the world. Her gaze turned to the blue orb in the distance, as did her brother’s.
“I wish you could come with me.” Trip’s hand, a familiar touch, rested on One’s shoulder.
The window held their reflections, two manufactured entities, one with promise and one with nothing left.
“Still sore?” he asked.
One observed her brother tug one of the many spines from his back. Thousands of compounds, so many possibilities. She was a powerful psychic yet utterly useless, whereas Acid Trip was made to order, perfect as he was designed to be.
One watched him administer the cocktail, pressing the sharp end into her bicep before taking the used spine and depositing it in the trash. He stopped at the threshold to her room, pausing in the door frame. Overhead the clock switched through the seconds, ten, fifteen. Her brother refused to leave.
“I love you.” One smiled behind her mask. She never thought that one day they would both have to say goodbye. Horizons, so cruel to do this to them, yet she was also happy that he would have the chance to be someone else.
‘I love you too,’ Acid Trip gestured with two hands crossed over his heart.
The door closed behind him and he was gone. One’s sibling was gone from her, and with him left her comfort, her joy, her happiness, her life.
Tears unabated, she shivered into her mask, unable to scream out her anguish. She choked and hacked, struggling to burn through the emotions. Atrophy had set in, her vital organs shriveled and incapable of keeping her alive on their own. The muscle wasting made it difficult to brush the tears away. Her grief drenched the pillow around her head, leaving a lingering wetness to remind her of everything she could not have.
When Horizons told her she was not worth the time it would take to take her to Earth, she had howled.
Not worth anything! Her thoughts raged, her lips voicelessly moving along with her internal anger.
Horizons destroyed her. Horizons imprisoned her. Yet, Horizons was all she knew. Amidst the anguish, what she wished for most was to appease them, to win their favor, to get that one-way ticket to Earth. If she had been well, she could go with Horizons to another world, escape the moon, someday leave Horizons forever, maybe.
And I couldn’t even do that! she further cursed herself silently.
“But have you considered that maybe you could?”
One’s head flopped to the side, the same side that held the view that had captivated her, at one time giving her hope, which was blocked by a hallucination constructed by her mind. Pain or crazy thoughts? Drugs had their drawbacks and it was the result of the only choice she could make.
Ugh, this thing. Outside the window was a glowing man dressed in silken robes, what her drugged brain misconstrued to be some agent of divinity. It had been showing up a lot as of late. Her thoughts would not let her be alone in her own grief. Let me be miserable in peace!
“Sleeping satellite, not aware of her full potential. What would it take to get you out of bed?”
Nothing, she wordlessly spat at it. Horizons had tried, Acid Trip had tried. Horizons told her she had no potential to do anything other than juggle balls with her thoughts and her mind was not going to convince her otherwise.
“A fading light that will be nothing soon.”
One whipped away from the window, disengaging from her maddened visions. Her own sanity was mocking her dilemma. And still, it was there in her thoughts, whispering its betrayal.
“I can wait only so long for you.”