“Have you thought more about it?“
Sam stops, the can in his hands almost to his lips as he squints at the film director across the table, confused. “About what?”
“Starring in my film.”
Sam’s glad he didn’t take that drink, or else he would have coughed it up. “What?” he manages to strangle out.
The Film Director leans forward, a glint of excitement in his eyes. “I’ve recently gotten in contact with that Alex guy up at the Weather Station. Said with the chiral clouds dissipating, they’re sending up drones for preliminary tests to see if Bridges can bring back air travel eventually. Had one delivered to me the other day, and well…” He laughs, as Sam is still giving him the deer-in-headlights look.
“It means I can finally take aerial shots!” He beams, clapping his hands together and rubbing them in anticipation. “I figure I can finally get a head start on the ‘The Great Deliverer’ like I planned.”
Sam furrows his brow and looks away with a soft grunt, and sensing his unease, the Director lightly taps the table with a finger to get his attention.
“You don’t need to say a word. Well, that is if you don’t want to. We can also set up a short interview if you wanna say something—”
The Director shrugs, “That’s fine, we can just let people see the magic.”
“The magic…of walking.” Sam deadpans.
The Director waves a hand above his hand, “of being out there, in the wilderness all by yourself, and braving any challenge you meet on the way.”
He smiles, leaning forward. “what you’re doing out there is very special to a lot of people. I’m pretty sure you’ve met at least one or two of them telling you that.”
Sam’s gaze flickers onto the Director for a moment, before looking away. He’s almost about to suggest another porter. Someone else, anyone else. But with the way the director looks at him so expectantly, so earnestly, he feels as though…
“…I’ll think about it.” Sam finally sighs. “But no interviews. Or close-up shots.”
The director crosses his arms, with a thoughtful smile on his face.
“I can work with that.”
“So how is this going to work.”
The Director squints as he emerges out of his bunker behind Sam, scanning the horizon. “Forecast says there won’t be any rain for the next three days. I already contacted the chiral artist and her husband, and the cosplayers, and they agreed to let me stay in their bunkers in case of timefall.” The Director turns, pointing towards his neighbors’ bunker. “We’ll make our way first to the junk dealer, take some test footage on our way over, take a break there, then we head down the valley to the waterfall and take a few shots there.” The Director beams. “Should be simple!”
“Right,” Sam grunts, still skeptical (though mostly nervous), but the director just gives him a thumbs up, five likes sent Sam’s way. “For good luck.”
Sam sends five likes back. “For good luck.”
The slight whirring from the drone up above unsettles Sam, reminding him that he’s being watched, and he rucks up his carrier higher onto his shoulders. He takes a deep breath, sorely wishing he had Lou with him to at least have her to fuss over and distract him but she’s over at the Mountaineer’s shelter for a playdate with their son.
The familiar mechanical tone sounds out, jolting Sam out of his musings. “Sam, Heartman here, just got back from the Beach, and just had the most extraordinary revelation and I wanted to— where are my manners, sorry, is this a bad time?” Heartman says in a rush, pulling the brakes on his breathless introduction for politeness’ sake. Sam shakes his head, a little bemused.
“No, it’s fine,” Sam mutters. After the whole incident with Amelie, Heartman seemed to call Sam more and more often, wanting to discuss theories and implications of all the changes to the beaches, now that Amelie had separated herself from them, oftentimes forgetting the time up to the point where he dies in mid-conversation, and Sam is left hearing the singular whine of the heart rate monitor reporting him dead.
Sam doesn’t know why Heartman calls him so much lately, maybe it’s because besides himself, Sam was the only one alive other than Fragile to have so much experience with Beaches, that he wanted the man’s opinion about them. There certainly were others though, the scientists and researchers that Heartman has as neighbors, and certainly colleagues in the knot cities that could probably benefit from Heartman’s findings and thoughts, but it always seemed that Sam was the first to hear of anything new from the scientist.
He didn’t dare to think of himself as special. He couldn’t be. Of course not.
The sound of the river drowns out Heartman’s voice, and the man must have heard it too, as he goes silent, before asking, “Where are you now, Sam?”
“By the waterfall, across from the weather station.” Sam is surprised himself. He hadn’t realized they managed to walk so far without him noticing, his mind firmly focused on Heartman and his theories.
“It sounds spectacular,” Heartman sighs, with the slightest bit of wistfulness in his voice.
“I….uh thanks.” Sam says, noticing the drone above him for the first time in over an hour.
Sam pauses. There really was no way of making it not sound weird but… "for being here.”
For me, he doesn’t say.
Sam hears Heartman’s light chuckle and tries to temper the flutter in his heart at the sound. “Think nothing of it. On the contrary, I should be thanking you, you know.”
“For always listening.”
It’s only right before the two of them are almost to the Director’s shelter, that Sam finally speaks up. “Hey, um…that film. When you’re done, could I have a copy of it.” Sam haltingly asks, thinking of Heartman.
The film director raises his eyebrows for a moment, but he smiles genuinely.
“Of course, you’ll be the first to get one.”
It’s a few months later, when the Film Director writes Sam an email, asking him to come back to get a copy of the new film.
“I’m really proud of this one,” the Director tells Sam as he enters the shelter, “it might just be my best work yet.”
The thin package is already on the table, but Sam sits in one of the chairs next to it, resting for a moment as he rotates his shoulder. Lou pokes her head out of the Lockne-designed baby carrier slung around Sam’s chest, giggling at the Director as he waves at her.
“Ah, I nearly forgot,” the Director snaps his fingers, heading towards his bookshelf to pull a DVD out. “Since you’re heading to him anyways, would you mind giving this to Heartman as well? Tell him thanks for letting me borrow it.”
Sam pins him with a worried stare, as if feeling guilty over something, but the man merely shrugs. “I was behind you the whole time we were walking, remember? It…was kind of easy to see how relaxed you were talking to him.” The Director gives Sam a thumbs up, sending a few likes to him. “He’s going to love it, don’t worry.”
Sam grips the package in his hands, not too obtuse to hear the layered meaning of the Director’s words, but he nods.
It’s quiet as usual up at Heartman’s lab, the winds frequently blowing in the region having died down for the moment as Sam jogs up the steps and through the glass doors, frowning when the terminal doesn’t rise from the ground.
“Huh,” he mumbles, as he taps at the ring on the floor with his foot. “Out of order?”
The door to Heartman’s lab slides open, and Sam jerks back, surprised at the sudden sound.
Heartman waves a hand, beckoning Sam to come closer. “Sam, Lou, to what do I owe the pleasure? Can’t quite recall having any packages due as of late.”
“I—uh. Here.” Sam grunts as he unhooks a package from his left shoulder, thrusting it at the other man.
Heartman flicks his wrist over the cargo, reading the ID on it and beams. “Oh fantastic, I had forgotten about that one, I’d been meaning to watch it again—"
“Wait uh,” Sam starts again, feeling flustered, “there’s…something new, in there.”
“Well! That’s certainly exciting, come in, won’t you?” Heartman hums in interest, leading the way into the lab. With another flick of his wrist, the room goes dark as the black screen obfuscates the giant window overlooking the lake as Heartman pries open the container, picking up ‘The Great Deliverer’ and running his fingers along the cover.
“I suppose you had a hand in this project?” Heartman asks, smiling knowingly as he makes his way towards the projector to put in the disc.
“Not much,” Sam shrugs, but Heartman comes over to him, extending a hand over to the couch inviting him to sit, before settling in next to Sam.
The feeling of intense embarrassment settles in Sam as the film starts. He knows that technically there isn’t anything he did during the filming that could be embarrassing. He didn’t trip or lose a package or try any of his terrible whistling or anything, but the feeling of watching himself on screen was still mortifying, and he’s unable to keep his attention on the screen for very long, instead looking up at the ceiling, down at Lou peacefully napping, or to the side at the bookshelves.
Finally, he turns his head left, almost too afraid to see Heartman’s face.
But Heartman is in awe, enraptured by the sweeping vistas, of the rocky cliffside rising sharply upwards onto the green plains surrounding the weather station, the snowy peaks as the backdrop, and the resounding roar of the waterfall. Heartman unconsciously settles a gentle hand onto Sam’s, and Sam can’t quite seem to look away.
It feels all just a bit too much and somehow not enough, just the feeling of Heartman’s fingerpads atop of his knuckles, of touch and warmth and the thrum of his own blood rushing in his ears, that he doesn’t notice that the film is over, and the short roll of credits was already playing when Heartman turns to him, his expression soft and open.
“Thank you, Sam, this is a wonderful gift you’ve given me.”
“I didn’t do much.” Sam grunts, looking away, feeling a little warm under the collar, “Just walked.”
Heartman shakes his head. “You were kind enough to let me into your world, even if just for a little while. That was a wonderful thing to see.”
Heartman looks around his lab, and Sam can’t quite tell what expression Heartman has on his face, a cross between wistfulness and bittersweet.
“Before Fragile, I haven’t been off these premises in over ten years. I suppose that I had nearly forgotten how the outside world looked besides white, and even more white.”
“Yeah well,” Sam starts, at war with himself for wanting to lean into Heartman, just as much as he wants to move away, scared of the closeness, of the heartbreak that he inextricably links with intimacy. “Maybe we can do something about that.”
Heartman smiles, slightly squeezing Sam’s hand in silent thanks.
“I’m going to die in a few minutes, Sam. But won’t you stay?”
Sam nods, moving his ring finger to brush along the palm of Heartman’s hand.
“Of course,” he breathes, “of course.”