Everything came in constants: the sound of gargling liquid in his ear, the indefinite periods of rest and quasi-awareness. Time seemed to transcend itself behind his closed eyes, leaving him lost, aging, unlearning, and simply thinking upon the thoughts in the deepest parts of his mind. He wondered sometimes if he was still sane, kept to himself as he was, but then there were times he was reassured of his own sanity by the voice of another.
Do you believe love is real?
It was a computer noise in his mind, the voice; synthesized and feminine as the AI of the emergency pod system was created to be. It wasn't a sound to be heard by ears, but more the sound of a thought, touching his mind with a relief of chaos among the nothingness around him. It made goosebumps prick at the skin surrounding the long, metal rope that attached to the back of his neck. A feeling twitched at his lips, and if it was a smile, he couldn't remember what a proper one felt like.
That seems like a weird question, coming from you, Arthur. How long it had taken him to master the ability of projecting his thoughts through the computer, he didn't know. Those had been the frustrating days, when he seemed to have a task – a purpose to conquer and keep him focused. And now it was all the philosophical thoughts and Arthur's voice synthesized through a computer. Why, are you having second thoughts?
Arthur was the love of his heart and mind, the one who shared his silent torment, enduring it with a steadfast disposition and an infallible hope. He had thought he was the optimistic one, but when things were bad, when the constant nothingness was too much, Arthur had been there to coax him with placating thoughts and well wishes, unable to do more – but for him, it was more than enough.
No second thoughts. I'm genuinely curious, Alfred. And at this point he wished he knew what Arthur looked like. He couldn't remember much when he was shoved into the stasis-pod, alarms buzzing in his head as fumes filled the room and electricity fizzled. Would his love's brows furrow at his own question, would he pull a frown of thought? Perhaps his tongue would push just past his lips as he sought for an answer. I'm to the point where I'm unsure if it's real. It's such an abstract sentiment, I think. I feel it, yet, I'm unsure. How do you know it's true?
Alfred wished he could touch Arthur, hold the other man in his arms and listen to his voice, whatever it may sound like. He tried to put the carnal desires past him and focused on attempted sating Arthur's question. Here's a question for a question. If we never leave these pods, will you love me?
I will be contented in loving you for the entirety of our stasis-lives. And in return, if we happen to wake? Will you still love me?
I will be contented in loving every inch of you for the rest of our lives, he responded, unabashed.
Alfred reveled in Arthur's silence. He knew his love was thinking, and that was never a bad thing – placating conversation was more worrisome than the depth that Arthur enjoyed. Sometimes he fretted that he wasn't scholarly enough to suit Arthur, but the other man had never complained of it. I see what you did. Love is only as real as we make it, isn't it?
I think love is very real; especially between us.
He wished he could hear Arthur's laugh because he knew that's what Arthur would be doing right now. Perhaps it would be just a simple chuckle, enough to make his eyes twinkle and breath shorten.
What did Arthur feel like? What did he smell like? What color were his eyes? Were his hands soft? His fingers slender or thick between his own? He had so many carnal desires, unable to fulfill even the most simplistic of them all. He wondered if Arthur felt the same way he did. Alfred hoped that someday he would be able to chase his wildest dreams – those revolving around Arthur.
"Chief Peeters, we found them like this. They appear to be conscious. We're still looking for other survivors."
A woman in an intricately made spacesuit, the designs promoting her higher rank, nodded, her blonde hair bobbing behind the protection of her helmet as she gave the affirmative, and took a step forward. An old machine blinked colors from the back wall of the decrepit room, the walls, floors, and ceilings coated in rust, poisonous gases floated in thick noxious clouds about the room. She was surprised the computer managed to stay in functional shape, let alone keep two grown men in stasis for so long.
"I wonder how they got here," she said to herself as she began inspecting the controls and flickering statistics on the motherboard computer.
One of the men stirred, his hands balling slowly into fists. "Arthur, did you hear that?" a voice rung out, filtered through the feminine voice of the computer's AI settings.
The naval chief paused in her exploration. "Can you hear me?" she asked, her soft green eyes flickering around the darkened room.
"It would seem she can hear us, Alfred."
She blinked at the computer in front of her before spotting a small microphone mounted next to a monitor displaying vitals. Grasping the microphone she moved her head closer to it, saying, "I'm Naval Chief Emma Peeters, sent here by the government of Delta-Atari to investigate this wreckage."
"Wreckage?" one of the two voices questioned. It was hard to differentiate between the two of them, through the same vocal program. She glanced between the two tanks, trying to discern the origin of the voice speaking. "What happened while we slept?"
Emma sighed. "That's what I'm here to find out." She spotted a bent chair in the corner of the room and fetched it, dragging it up to the computer and taking a seat. "My crew is looking for other survivors right now, so in the meantime, would it be alright if I asked you guys a few questions, even though this kind of situation is pretty rare…"
"Indeed." There was a long pause. The man on her right twitched. "I myself don't remember much. I was in the labs for an examination when the alarms went off. My doctor answered a call and then escorted me here, and here I've been since."
"Examination? For what?"
"Implanted gravitational augments," was the drawled reply. "I've had them since I was a child. It was a checkup is all."
Emma's mouth twisted to the side in thought. "I see. And the other? What do you remember?"
No one said anything for a moment, and Emma stared at their vital screens patiently. "Alfred, are you alright?"
"Yeah. Sorry, I was thinking. I was working below decks at the time. Is all I really remember is that there was an explosion – I think it might've been on my level, I'm not sure, but my ears were ringing – I think? There were the alarms and an announcement to preserve all the assets. I was brought here and shoved into the stasis pod by a couple of doctors. I think I'm here because of the injections I'd been getting. I don't know what they were for. I'm sorry."
The Naval Chief pursed her lips in thought. "I understand. Thank you for the quick briefing. I'm going to see if my crew has turned up anything else." She stood and pushed the chair away from the computer in search of her crew.
There was a long uninterrupted silence in the room, the humming of oxygenated bubbles a constant white noise. "Do you think she's still there?"
"Hey Arthur? Do you think… do you think they'll save us?"
A hope filled pause. "I suppose… in time we will find out."
"No ma'am. We can't bring them out of the stasis until the environment of the room is stable. The program is preventing it. I also wouldn't suggest trying to override it – could kill them in the process."
"I see. Thank you for the report." Emma turned to face the machine, the man in the left pod twitched. "I take it you two heard that?" She didn't wait for an answer and carried on. "We found no other survivors aboard. There were many within stasis pods like yourselves, but some fuses blew out and other mishaps with the wiring and toxic fumes rendered them unable to conduct. So I suppose you can consider yourselves lucky."
"Lucky? I suppose we shall consider ourselves so. Although I do ask you give my counterpart some patience – or good news. His brother was in one of the lower level pods."
Emma faltered for a brief moment. "Right. The best news I have is that we're attempting to close off this room and rid it of contaminates. It will take a while, but it's not impossible." She breathed heavily into her helmet, watching the two men float listlessly in the tinted liquid of life. "Hopefully soon you'll be able to see each other after fifteen years."
For weeks neither man spoke to her through the computer's voice. She and her crew worked tirelessly to stabilize the environment, welding shut holes and rerouting the ventilation. After a while she had wondered if they had slipped into unconsciousness, but after reading their vitals, it showed that their brain activity was along the lines of active thoughtfulness.
Freeing the two men was an arduous process, but progress was faster than she had hoped. Both she and her crew were itching to get off the ruined, desolate space station. It had blinked off the charts fifteen years ago for reasons that couldn't be explained. Once the gravitational core had shut down, the small space station drifted through the vacuum of space, lost and eventually forgotten by those who even knew of its existence. Her crew had collected every bit of evidence as to what happened as possible. Corrupted data discs, chemical analysis, journals of the dead, and lastly, their most precarious and best find, the two men who lived through the entire thing.
"Ma'am. The room is oxygenated."
Emma took a long breath and exhaled. With assurance she reached up and unclasped her airtight helmet, pulling it over her head and breathed experimentally. "Good job, crew," she said with a nod. "Is the environmental system responding properly? Can we get them out of there?"
"Yes ma'am. We have everything ready to begin reanimating them now," a young tech said, her brunette hair done up in pigtails, braided and twisted to better fit inside her now discarded helmet.
Reanimation from a suspended state such as theirs was no instant process. It took several hours simply for the machine to draw enough power to begin. Emma sat on her bent and disfigured chair, hunched towards the microphone as she read over a few of her briefings she had been sent during her stay.
"What's happening?" A synthesized voice asked softly, curious and pervasive. "Something is happening. I can feel it."
Emma sat up, startled out of her induced boredom and grinning. "We're getting you out of those pods," she crooned into the microphone. "Both of you. Just like I said I would."
There was a soft silence, her crew around her watching in awe at the voice that filled the room. "My God…"
"No need to thank me," she replied sarcastically, "but there's something I have to ask you. We can't find your records anywhere on this wreck, all we have are your vitals. Who am I speaking to? Alfred or Arthur?"
"Alright, Alfred. When you walk in the door, would you say you're in the right pod or in the left?"
The computer before her clicked and Emma bit her lip in worry at the noise. "I don't know. I've never thought about it. You can see us, right? Would it be easier if I tried to describe myself from what I remember?" He waited for Emma to give an affirmative before continuing. "I have blonde hair. Arthur said once that these pods stunt growth, so I'm assuming it's still the same like the day I was put in here. I don't know. I'm five foot nine – that's all I can think of really."
"My, my love, you're tall," the voice continued, unyielding, and yet obviously not the same speaker. "This is Arthur, and I am five and seven. So I suppose I would be the shorter of us both."
"Excellent. Arthur is on the left, Alfred on the right. Now, we're going to release you one at a time, to try and avoid complications, understand? It's going to hurt, or at the very least, be highly unpleasant. I hope both of you are ready."
She pointed at Arthur's capsule, giving a meaningful look to the young tech by her side. "Right away, ma'am."
It was a painful thing to watch over the hours. After a while Arthur began to stir in his pod, his muscles twitching involuntarily, jerking in the tinted fluid around him. He experienced convulsions, nothing too serious according to the tech, as his nerves and organs began to function on their own once again after being preserved for so long. They would both have to be admitted to the nearest hospital for injections – too keep their minds stable and young to their age after a fifteen year gap.
Arthur hit the bottom of his tank, on his hands and knees, gasping, coughing, and sobbing as he trembled all over, the metal rope-wire disconnecting with a smooth snapping noise. As soon as the tank opened, the crew was there, throwing towels on the man, covering his sensitive eyes and pulling him carefully to the ground where they attempted to help him stabilize.
"Next," Emma said stiffly, pointing at Alfred's tank next. The process was nearly the same, if not a bit longer to compensate for the other man's height and weight.
A field medic sat with Arthur, massaging his flexing muscles and coaxing the man into humming to ease his tightened vocal chords. Curiously though, Arthur refused to open his eyes, the heels of his hands pushing them shut as the doctor worked, as if making sure not even a single slanted ray of light touched his eyelids. "He could still be light sensitive, ma'am," the medic said when Emma questioned him on it, Alfred's tank just beginning to drain. "Could be like that for a week or so. You never know with reanimation. It's why it's not recommended for such a long period of time."
"No…" Arthur's voice was a mere rasp, his elbows sitting on his knees as he fought for balance as he sat. "I want Alfred to be the first thing I see." The medic sent Emma a sidelong glance, waiting for the stern nod from his chief before leaving Arthur's side. The man gave a strained noise of thanks before huddling into himself once again.
It was strange, being able to hear and speak. He felt strangely smaller, as if he was the vastness of his mind within his capsule, and now he was limited to his body. He supposed it was a very humanizing experience.
A muffle noise of choked sobs and chatter of the crew around alerted Arthur that Alfred had been freed. Arthur pulled his hands from his eyes, and leaned forward, keeping his eyes determinedly shut, hoping to crawl towards the noise of his long awaited lover. A gentle hand pushed him back, however, and he was unable to fight it. "Give him a little bit. Wait until he can receive you properly, alright? Just a few minutes."
He must have looked desperate because the woman he recognized as the Naval Chief by voice chuckled at him. Soon enough he could hear the other man working on his humming exercises and he pushed past the woman, crawling across the sticky floor in nothing but a towel for modesty, a single-minded focus on the hums across the room.
His narrow fingers eventually touched warm skin, slightly sticky like the floors, and the humming came to an abrupt stop as Arthur's hands crawled across the plains and swells of the body before him, searching upwards, cupping his palms around a rough face, outlined with strong bones and detailed with soft skin. "A-Alfred…?" he rasped out quietly.
"Ar… thur?" Arthur breathed out a sigh of relief at the shaky, heavenly, sound of Alfred's voice. He pressed their foreheads together, aligning their noses to allow the ends of them brush against one another sweetly.
Alfred's hands, large and warm, held his face in turn, simply touching with quirked movements, but ever so gently. Arthur's throat constricted as he tried to speak. "Love… my love… I'm going – going to open my eyes. I want to see you. First thing I see – you."
"Me too. Count of three?" Arthur nodded carefully, contented to simply sit there and breathe the same air as Alfred. Softly Alfred whispered to the count of three, and Arthur opened his eyes in time to see Alfred's own flutter open and wince as the bright lights stunned him momentarily. "My God… you're beautiful," he said in a raspy awe.
For the first time in what felt like an eternity, something that felt like a smile spread across Arthur's face. "So are you."
They were so enraptured by each other, staring and nuzzling their faces together that they seemed to forget about the crew in the room with them. Naval Chief Emma Peeters smiled at her crew, signaling to give the two star struck lovers a few more minutes together before dressing them and getting them onto their ship's medical bay for transportation. She might not have found all the answers she had been sent to find on her expedition here, but even so, it definitely felt like a mission accomplished.
Unimportant Notes: Hi guys! This was my entry to the USUK 2012 Anthology over at the usxuk community at livejournal and you should definitely give it a look see! That's 260+ pages of great art and fics! :D