Synergy - June 1998
Fire and Ice - alice
The Hermit - karne
(page 9/15)

Fire and Ice: Two stories about love, death and time travel

1. Fire

Since I became a Pilot, I have had many lovers. I have coupled idly with members of many species and all genders on planets far and wide. Yet I have never before found someone with whom I could share the rest of my life - not until now.

I am lying in the arms of my lover on a beach light years away from the world where I was born. We have been here all day. We stole from our bed at the spaceport to watch the dawn rise, we ran naked into the sea at noon, we played like children on the sand as the day lengthened. Now it is night-time and the stars are up - unfamiliar and strange to my eyes. Beside me my lover stretches and sighs and I, soothed as I am by the gentle lapping of the waves and the sound of her breathing, wonder why it is that I am unable to sleep. There is something important and special about today, something beyond the pleasures we have shared with each other. I wish I could remember...

What is it? I don't know, but I know she is lying next to me. Yawning, I roll into her embrace and begin to explore and stroke a body which is, at once, so similar and so different to my own. She awakens slowly, comfortably, aroused both from slumber and sexually. My hands slide down her back as she reaches between my legs and begins to bite and lick . Gasping, I push her head back and she laughs, dips and enters me. We make love passionately, each of us seeking to please the other, with our peculiar combination of hands tongues, wings and holes. She is in me and I in her. I feel the rush as our spirits merge, lift and soar into the stars. We fly together for a few minutes until, gradually, awareness returns and with it this nagging feeling that my subconscious is trying to tell me something. Why do I feel so uneasy? I am lying on warm sand with the most beautiful creature in this galaxy. That should be enough to reassure me. I lay awake for a few more minutes before giving in to sleep.

Awakened suddenly, I shake my head to try to clear it. Alarm bells are ringing all down my spine but I have no idea what is wrong. I look up to the sky - and freeze in horror, unable to move. A ball of fire is falling, tumbling, rushing towards us. A meteor, a piece of wreckage? It matters little - the sight brings back memories I would prefer to have left suppressed. For I am a time traveller, and deja vu means everything and nothing to me. I know that my lover will be killed any second and that, inexplicably, I will survive. Still only half awake, I pull her across the sands, back to the 'port and safety - too late, again.

The Great Project can go and stuff itself. I need the equipment for my own purposes - without her, I am worthless. Seventeen times now I've lived out this night, and seventeen limes I've lain my angel's broken body on our bed. I return to the capsule, setting the coordinates to try again, determined to remember this time...

I love her.

2. Ice

"I'm sorry". said the doctor, shaking her head. "There really is nothing we can do."

Peter awoke with a start, to find himself lying in the nightmare hospital bed, heart racing as the adrenaline surged through his veins. The "fight or flight" mechanism. The irony struck him as particularly bitter - nowhere to run to, and no way left to fight. Just 26 years old, and dying.

He remembered another day a few weeks earlier as he'd lay there while the doctor explained what precisely was wrong with him and how long he'd have to live. He remembered how he, always the calm one, had struggled to sit up in the bed, eyes burning with a fire he didn't even know he had. He remembered how his wife - God, Rebecca! - how she had sat on the bed, barely able to look at him, head bowed. In all their years together - suddenly such a short time when he thought about it - he'd never known anything to break her spirit. Never known an ice which could put out her fire.

Well, it wouldn't he long now - just a few short, fear-filled hours. His mind replayed the scene as the doctor explained:

"Recently, there's been a lot of improvements in cryogenic techniques. Taking a living human being, freezing the body, then defrosting him a few months or years later. A cure for your cancer is maybe five years away - you won't live that long, but if you were to be frozen... well, it's possible. The question is, could your relationship survive that?"

They'd talked about it, Peter and Rebecca. Together since their early teens, they lived as part of a multi-partner family, sharing everything, all co-operating to ensure the happiness of the family unit. The two of them had always had a strong spiritual bond, and it was no surprise to anyone when they decided to formalise their agreement with a marriage ceremony. They'd vowed to be faithful to one another for life, to respect each other's wishes and not to take partners outside of the family. They expected to have long lives together, and to raise children. The illness had shattered that dream. Now all the hope they had was in the hands of the medical team and the researchers.

Peter closed his eyes, and prayed for the dawn to come quickly.

Rebecca drifted, detached from time and space. She just wandered aimlessly through life, from job to job, unable to concentrate on anything. Despite the sea of warmth and love that surrounded her, she felt entirely alone, unwilling and resentful of relationships that had included her for years, feeling as though she was being unfaithful to Peter even by loving her own family. How could she miss him so much?

The five years ended and stretched into six. No cure was forthcoming. Rebecca started to spend hours talking to Peter as though he was there. She wondered where his spirit was - that calm spirit which had brought her peace. Was it drifting in a no man's land between life and death? Barely a shadow of the strong woman she'd once been, she sat around, thinking about suicide. The rest of the family tried to help, but the pain just grew, intensifying as several of her lovers had children. She wanted a child so badly, but Peter was to have been the one to father it, Peter... She could take it no more. Her strength and desire for life was gone.

Time dragged on. Finally, the breakthrough was made - a cure found for the terrible cancer which had wiped out half the planet. But it was too late - the delicate balance of power between nations had been weakened and toppled, and a war broken out. No amount of research could end the disease called human warfare.

Peter lay oblivious to it all, in his cryostatic chamber.

Rebecca closed her eyes, and prayed for an ending.

It was a sunny day. Peter opened his eyes and watched the rays dancing across his bedroom walls. He felt strangely happy and contented, though his head was a little muzzy. The room was strange, but clearly a hospital. Yes, he had been ill. Was he still ill? Something seemed to be wrong with his memory. Still, it was a sunny day, and who could feel down with the sun streaming in through the window?

He lay there, resting for a while. No one came in to check on him, although there seemed to be all manner of equipment attached to his body. Why did the sun feel so good, so warm? His body seemed to be craving warmth, soaking it up like a solar panel. Well, if no one was going to check on him, what harm could there be in sitting up and having a look out of that window?

Peter struggled a bit with entangling blankets. His head didn't like the concept of verticality - had he been asleep for a hundred years or something? Strange. Anyway, it would be nice to see something outside of this room. He took one look outside - and started screaming, utterly panic-stricken. It took two doctors, three nurses and a couple of orderlies to restrain him.

Two hundred years had passed. It had taken this long for the world to recover from the traumas it had suffered. Peter had woken up to discover that whilst his cancer was cured and he was healing rapidly, he was all alone in a place he would never have chosen to be.

Unable to take it all in, he lay awake and prayed to every god he could think of. Falling finally asleep, he dreamt of Rebecca.

Rebecca was standing beside him, and they were looking out together at the ravaged land. He felt so happy and proud to have her by his side. Looking into her eyes he knew exactly why he'd married her - the fiery spirit who'd pulled him out of his apathy and made him something special. The fiery spirit... who had become crushed with the burden of waiting for him. Always the strong one, she had lost her strength. The agony... remembrance... he cried out and woke himself up.

To find... Rebecca standing beside him.

"Go away!" he shouted. "I'm done dreaming, I don't need you to torment me."

She stood calmly. "Do you think I'd follow you into death only to leave now?"

Peter screamed, and screamed, and cried until a nurse came in to sedate him.

It was still a sunny day, or another sunny day. Peter's mind wasn't working properly, unable still to deal with the enormity of what he had been told. Asleep for two hundred years, to awake in an alien world - nothing the same... alone.

He'd been shown books, films, infomediae of the intervening years. News reports of the war, home videos from his family. All dead now, of course. They had written letters, a book, a whole box of stuff he might need - even a family tree to trace relatives in the future, should any have survived the war.

And now he was hallucinating Rebecca, that beautiful, brave woman who had been his wife. She hadn't died in the war, wrote the family, no, her strength had given out. She'd lost her desire for life.

Everyone he had loved was gone. So much for the doctor asking if his relationship could survive a few years' separation. Every time he went to sleep, he dreamt of her, and every time he woke up, she was there. Healed in body, he nonetheless felt broken.

Rebecca raised her finger to his lips. "Don't say anything. Don't be surprised, don't scream... just listen. I'm here."

Peter's eyes flickered open, head always thick these days. A few days of being awakened like this were starting to take their toll on him. He just lay on the bed and stared at her, expression passing from joy to resignation, through incredulity, fear and anger. Finally, he croaked "You're not here. You're dead".

She shook her head. "I followed you into death, sure..."

He sighed. "So you're dead, and I'm dreaming?"

"Will you listen to me this time? My strength gave out. But I didn' t kill myself - I followed you into a cryostat. I hoped that, whatever happened, we'd be together somehow. And here we are, in a future we never planned for."

She grinned. He blinked.

"I don't understand..."

Her eyes danced, always the quick-thinker, the lively one of the two. "I love you. I'm here for you. Isn't that all that matters?"

He let himself sink into her embrace and, unbidden, the memory came to him of another bedside scene. He saw Rebecca, beaten down into sadness and apathy, and himself roused to anger. He remembered the conversation they'd had, the decisions they'd come to.

It would take a lot of getting used to. So much was changed. But they still had each other...

Of course it took time, but they had plenty of it. Both now healed in body and spirit, they found their bond had become even stronger The only ill-effect they'd suffered was a slight dislike of freezers, and that was nothing in comparison. It was said by the others who became part of their family that they had a psychic link - one always knew if the other needed them. It was nothing so complicated - just love which transcended death and time travel.

"There was a time I used to dream, long before I fell asleep"


"Two worlds apart, two together
Into that good night kiss away
One takes the hard, one the other...
Kiss away."

-Sisters of Mercy-

The Hermit, by karne