Reach For Us Instead
By Laura Schiller
Based on: Across The Universe
Copyright: Beth Revis
At first, all I notice about the portrait is its beauty: Harley floating among the stars, a jewel-like koi fish swimming around his ankles. Orion shuffles away and I comtemplate the picture by myself, careful not to smudge the paint. I was planning to work some more on puzzling out the mystery of the unpluggings, but this distracted me. I glance over at the names and data scrawled on my wall, racking my brain for the dozenth time. Amy Martin, Emma Bledsoe, William Robertson, Theo Kennedy … just what is it we all have in common? What made us all targets, and for whom?
My thoughts circle back to Mr. Kennedy. I never liked the old creep, but that doesn't mean I wanted him dead. His frozen corpse being pulled out into space, like a rag doll sucked in by a vacuum cleaner, is something I'd much rather forget. Mr. Kennedy floating in space, Elder looking on with the same horror I felt, and Harley standing by the hatch with that strange, hungry look in his eyes … I remember, for one awful moment, it seemed as if he would follow the dead man all the way into space.
I remember how he spoke of his girlfriend Kayleigh. "She needed a real sky … she wasn't meant to be trapped in a metal box." Again with that longing look.
I glance from the wall back to the portrait. Harley floating in space, smiling blissfully, holding out his arms to someone unseen.
And it hits me. My God – he wouldn't …
Before I can make up my mind what to do, my body makes it up for me. I run for the second elevator, faster than I've ever run before.
"Harley! Harley, no!"
Amy bursts on the scene like a redheaded angel – a breathless, terrified angel – and charges past me, brushing off my restraining hand. She reels to a stop in front of the release hatch, where Harley is just about to type in the code to open the outer door. His hand pauses on the keypad; he's heard her even through the glass.
"Hello, Little Fish," he tells her, in a monotone as flat and distant as his face. "Come to say goodbye, did you?"
If I believed in Sol-Earth fairytales, I'd be praying right now, praying for Amy to leave. I know what Harley means to do, and I've done everything I can to stop him, but he will not be moved. If my closest friend on this frexing tin can of a ship has to die, couldn't Amy at least be spared the sight of his death?
She shakes her head.
"I – know – what you're thinking," she pants, with both hands on the glass. "The painting – I saw … " She breaks off, catching her breath. "But don't you dare, Harley. Don't you dare open that hatch."
He glares at her hatefully, and I'm glad; in the past week, I've learned that even hate is preferable to indifference.
"Listen to her, Harley," I chime in.
"You don't understand," he snaps.
"Oh, don't we?" Amy laughs bitterly. "Elder grew up on this ship, just like you, except with pressures you can't even imagine. And I … " She ducks her head to swallow incoming tears. "I'll never see my parents again. I'll never see the sky … none of us will. But Harley, listen – that doesn't mean we have to give up hope."
"Hope?" he scoffs. "All I've been hoping for these past two years is to find her again. I need to get closer, can't you see? Closer to the stars … closer to her."
He turns his back on Amy, mesmerized by the sheet of metal that separates him from the stars his Kayleigh never got to see. He reaches for the keypad again. Amy and I exchange a look and, unbelievably, she moves back to take hold of my hand. With one touch, one look into her tear-wet eyes, I know exactly what to say.
Eldest, at this point, would have long since left Harley to die. After all, how can a manic-depressive who refuses to take his meds contribute to the ship? But I am not Eldest, and Harley is my friend, and there is absolutely no way I'll let him go without a fight.
"Would Kayleigh want this?" I call out. "Would she be happy if you klled yourself? Don't you think she'd rather see you happy?"
"She's dead!" is my first, angry reaction. "She's in no position to want anything – that's the whole point!"
Elder's been an arrogant little chutz all day, lecturing me. The worst part is, he's right. I should have paid more attention guarding the frozens. He may be right about Kayleigh, too. I remember how she used to make shadow puppets with her engine-greasy hands, saying she loved to make me laugh. Funny, how I haven't thought of that in ages. Lately, all my memories have been of her last days: prowling round the hospital gardens like a restless ghost; sobbing in bed when she thought I couldn't hear; curled up in the shower with bleeding wrists. When was the last time I remembered us laughing?
I don't like Doc's meds because they make me feel stupid, and I hate that he makes me take three pills per day: it's the novel distinction of being the craziest man on Godspeed. But it's true that without them, my mood swings tend to freak people out. Including myself. On meds, maybe I wouldn't be standing in this hatch. Would I?
I turn back and there they are, Elder and Amy, the only two people with sense on this entire ship. They're holding hands and watching me, both close to tears. I used to hold Kayleigh's hand like that.
A moment ago, I pictured her swimming among the stars, sparkling like a mermaid, like the koi fish her parents breed. And I wanted to join her, more than anything in the world. But now …
Forty years early – are you loons? she'd say, snapping her fingers in my face. You get your ass back there right now, ya hear me? They're waiting for you.
I step out of the hatch and hold out my arms, not to the distant stars or a beloved ghost, but to my living friends. We hold each other close and laugh until the tears come, hardly knowing why.