The only water on the Moon was what they kept in the Rhizome’s storage tanks and sewage systems.
But it constantly felt like he was going to drown.
He was never sure if he was just lost in thought more often, or if Akane was deliberately sneaking up on him. He’d be working on an aspect of their grand project and when he looked up or turned around, there she was, watching him. Waiting for him.
Ten months, two weeks, and three days. Sigma glanced at the clock. Four hours and five minutes. He had pronounced, as if they’d been in a hospital. As if it mattered to anyone other than him. As if he hadn’t lain there for hours after, until she’d gone into rigor. Then out, becoming limp again. Akane had injected him with something, pried her out of his arms while he was unconscious, placed her in the infirmary. Undoubtedly, she judged him for clinging so long to a dead body.
It was important that he documented the time. The exact moment when her heart had stopped, when his heart had broken.
Akane had been patient. At first. Now she merely surveyed his lack of progress and frowned at him.
A year and one minute.
A year and two minutes.
Not the kind of anniversary he had wanted to celebrate.
He remembered the day of their first kiss, although not the exact time, as things escalated quickly after that. Only five weeks and two days since her arrival on the Moon, and it was as if his body knew her, even if his mind didn’t. Sigma imagined it had been the other way around for the Sigma from the future, who was here before, who had apparently gently rebuffed Diana’s advances.
I’m only borrowing this body, he had said, according to her. It wouldn’t be right for me to use it … even if I know he’s going to love you as much as I do.
It sounded honorable to Sigma at the time; now he wished the him from the future had gone ahead and used it. Given Diana a few more months of joy, pleasure.
A year and seven minutes.
Luna-who-wasn’t-Luna yet stared blankly at him.
Or she would be staring at him, if there was anything there. It was just a shell, a metal skeleton with some rudimentary circuitry. No spirit. No soul. No life.
Just like the shell buried in the garden. In her garden.
There was no tombstone, because there wasn’t one then, wouldn’t be one then. Just flowers marking the spot where her body was wrapped in muslin cloth, carefully placed in a pod, gently lain in the ground. Covered in dirt.
Akane had protested at using a pod. He numbly told her he would simply make another.
His heart, not quite six feet under, covered in grass and a bouquet that he replaced every day. There would be no dead lilies, no black roses on her grave. His partner in crime had sighed, but not argued, even though he knew she didn’t want him wasting time cultivating flowers, picking them, arranging them in a crystal bowl that sat over her heart.
Perhaps she thought eventually he would tire of the routine. But he would not forget. He would give her flowers, show her he cared, every day until the time when his present caught up to his past future, and only then would her grave go unmarked, as it was then, as it would be then.
Sigma inserted the first part of what would become Luna’s “brain”.
She was dead, Diana was dead, and no one cared.
No one even knew, except him and Akane. Her parents, her ex, even Rebecca, were all gone by mid-February.
At least Akane and he shared one thing – they wished Diana had never come to the Moon.
The shiny faces of the GAULEMS taunt him with their placid expressions. They never knew Diana. She was supposed to be their mother, in a way.
Five years and one minute.
An alarm went off, reminding him to eat. Diana would want him to take care of himself. So he tried. It was quick and easy to re-hydrate the rations.
Five years and five minutes.
Beef stew, not quite like his mother used to make. (Better, he admitted to himself.) Comfort food that did little to live up to its name. Can’t bring her back.
Last night, he lay on her grave, praying to a God he didn’t even believe in (anymore), crying out to her, to someone, to let him trade places. Fuck the project, fuck the future. He’d be amazed if this whole fucking thing even worked, and if it did, he would still be alone. No SHIFTing into the “good” timeline, no better days ahead for him. He would just come back here, to his tin can, his heart buried not-quite six feet down.
Five years and ten minutes, and dinner was done, so Sigma returned to the blank faces of his robot children, who could never relate to his pain.
His rage was alive, a sentient being that crawled the walls at night while he slept, snuck back into his body by morning.
He believed Akane when she said she didn’t know exactly what happened in Dcom. Hell, he didn’t know what happened in Dcom, and he had been at the center of … of something. Maybe his head injury could explain his own memory loss – well, the memory loss of the him from the future, but it didn’t explain Phi’s or Diana’s. They had to have been drugged. Even then, medicines existed that could erase your memories, or prevent you from forming new ones.
Akane knew a lot about mind-altering drugs.
And if he – future he – had known Diana would die on this rock, he never would have let her come.
The same sick fuck who engineered Radical-6 had to be behind it. Akane wouldn’t risk causing him brain damage, not with so much riding on this. She couldn’t have arranged this. Wouldn’t have.
We’re here to change the world, she would say, when he got discouraged.
Except she was here to save Tenmyouji. And he was here to save Diana.
Then were in it for themselves, more than anyone else.
He dreamed of Diana, coming to him in bed, whispering in his ear, nothing changes. It’s all the same.
Or sometimes of walking in a forest, except the color wasn’t quite right and the trees were flat. But all that mattered was that her hand was in his. Someone was playing a piano and Diana was trying to sing along. He told her to stop, because if she kept going, the dam would break and they would drown.
Or sometimes in front of a bonfire. Luau, maybe, because he thought he smelled roasting pig. She would stare into the flame as if trying to divine her future, wearing large, bizarre goggles.
We lost the screwdriver, didn’t we? she would say.
It’s in the box, he would reply, with certainty.
Phi took the box, Sigma, you know this. And she’s slipped away.
A loud boom off to his left, like fireworks.
Or sometimes she was playing one of those old-fashioned pinball machines, frantically pressing the flippers to keep red and blue balls in play. He would put an arm around her and she would snap at him, that this was important, that she had to concentrate.
She always failed, stared at the machine in horror, before pulling out a gun and putting it to his temple.
Go on! Now! Save yourself!
He didn’t understand. It was just a game.
For years, he tried to find meaning in them, but the books he retrieved on dream analysis were worthless.
Eleven years, three hours, fifteen minutes, and he felt guilty for not noticing the exact anniversary of her death.
He could have made Luna look exactly like Diana, except he could remember exactly what the GAULEM looked like, would look like – when she had been smiling, when she had been anxious, when she had her face melting off – and there were definite differences.
Deliberate differences. He used to think it was because Luna was to be his and Diana’s daughter. Now he realized it was because he knew he couldn’t recreate Diana. He shouldn’t recreate Diana.
Luna could still be their daughter, in a way.
His gaze dropped to the floor in shame, as he thought about the small room down the hall, around the corner, down the elevator, second door on the left. The room that would be dedicated to a child he would create here. A child he would go on to barely interact with. A child whose life he might have to take, one day. SHIFTing into another version of himself bothered him enough; the idea of doing it to another person was abhorrent.
It didn’t happen in any timeline you remember. Maybe it never happens.
Except everything was possible, and he was certain it happened somewhere. Maybe in this very timeline. He chose eggs instead of pancakes this morning for breakfast, and that choice created two different worlds. Maybe Kyle survives in the pancake universe, and is condemned to being murdered by his ‘father’ in the omelet world.
Fuck temporal mechanics.
Sigma ate, breathed, drank, worked, slept. Decades of not living just to stay alive.
To bring her back to life.
Luna’s face was almost finished, and he stared at it for hours, even though she couldn’t stare back. Not yet. It was twenty-five years since Diana’s heart stopped. Twenty-five years of playing by Akane’s rules, hoping there was something in her bag of tricks to assure them success.
The rooms were coming together nicely.
Luna was nearly perfect in appearance, although her programming still needed tweaking.
Kyle was here. Small and innocent and clueless as to his purpose.
Each hair on Luna’s head had been painstakingly inserted by hand, by him. It would have been simple to create a program to do it automatically, and maybe it would have looked better, more professional.
He carefully applied the paint to her lips. Almost an hour of mixing to find just the right shade. He didn’t even have to consult the pictures he had of Diana for reference.
He should have had more pictures of her, documenting every moment of their lives together. But he hadn’t realized their time was so limited, hadn’t thought to snap as many shots of her as he could.
Once her lips were dry, he moved on to eyelashes. Again, carefully inserted by hand.
She would never be a replacement for Diana, but he would make damn sure she honored her inspiration.
The night Kyle rejected Luna, Sigma got drunk off his ass for the first time in decades.
I didn’t say the Hail Mary right, he thought. That’s why she died. Full of grace. It was supposed to be full of grace.
Any moment now, he’ll be thrown back in time and his past-future self will endure this all again, for the first time.
He stares at the picture in his hand. Luna will make sure it’s gone before the other him awakes. His clothes feel strange and unfamiliar, from another life.
There’s a pressure behind his eyes. It’s starting. His chance – his only chance – to save the world. To change the world.
To save her.
Like being sucked through a straw, he feels his consciousness leave, his parting thought giving life to his fears, his concerns, his doubt.
If this works, I’ll really be amazed.