She had finally found him.
He might not recognize her now. Her temples were cracked with lines left by the years that had separated them. Her skin seemed brittle now, something about the duration of her time in the artificial environment of the spacecraft. Her body wanted real air, real sun, real food. But she had wanted him more, so she had borne it all. She had persisted.
In space, she knew everything would drift, following its trajectory once ejected by disaster until the end of time. With a little luck, she had told herself, she might find him out there. Or at least enough of him.
And now she had. Sealed inside an aluminum tube meant to save him, a tube that had instead become a cold sarcophagus. She wondered how long the little lifeboat had lasted. How many hours had he breathed its air? How many hours until its power had been expended? Until its last failsafe had triggered and froze him? She should have started looking for him right then, the second he left the surface.
Space was cruel in its dimensions. She had begged him not to go. He had never believed his promises that he would be fine. That he would return.
She drew a deep breath, readying herself to open the canister and see whatever was left of him . Then she cracked the shell of the life pod and peeled back the hatch. Inside, he was strangely himself. She could see his tissues were distended, discolored. But she could also see that this body had been him once. She knew the contours of that cheek, the downward sweep of those lashes beneath the icy eyes.
It made her tremble, but she steeled herself. There was more to do.
She had to stop several more times as she moved the body toward the machine. It was a short walk from the airlock where she had brought his pod into the medical bay where the equipment was waiting. He weighed nothing now that the ship was not accelerating,but she often had to pause to choke back the tears. It wasn’t clear to her if it was grief or exhilaration that overwhelmed her.
She fitted him into the surgical bed beneath a fiendish skull cap of wires and needles. Without hesitation, she pressed the button beside the bed, and the machine went to work. The probes dove through him, piercing skin and bone, hungrily inventorying and mapping his dead neurons. It would destroy his brain, of course, tear it up from the inside, but with luck, there would be enough of him left. After a moment, it was done, and the computer beside the equipment began to swarm with data while she moved his body away and cleared the bed.
She covered what remained of his body with a blanket and sighed. Then she turned her attention to the screen and saw what was happening inside the framework she’d created for them. She could see from the display that he had made himself young again and he had learned that he was not bound by any physical limitations. Inside that simulated world, he had already taken flight.
The system reported that the solar array was working perfectly, but she checked and rechecked. It needed to last a good, long while. How long was possible, no one could say for sure. But she wanted longer than they’d been given in their life before.
And she would take it, however long it was. It would be theirs.
She nestled into the compartment, adjusting her scalp’s orientation to the skull cap. The machine emitted a high-pitched chime letting her know she was in position.
“Coming, my love,” she said and reached for the button.