Sam's dreams are full of cold, dry mist. Like the air is made of white dust, floating like fog. People appear from time to time before sinking back into obscurity: Tess, the day he met her; his boss from his first job out of college; a dark-haired woman he thinks might have lived across the hall from him, a few apartments back; the kid at the coffeeshop where he stopped every morning on the way in to the office, years ago. They show up at random, like they're all equally important; people he cares about and people he could have sworn he'd forgotten, if he ever really knew them at all.
Sometimes the fog thins and it isn't just faces, but whole scenes from his life. Most of them involve Tess, though. The day they met, and all of the dates they went on, every last one. The day she said yes. The trip they took to visit her family, when his luggage was lost and he was stuck wearing her dad's clothes the whole time. The first fight where he lost it enough to punch the wall next to her head. The first time she flinched, thinking he'd do it again. The second. The third. The silences after, as the ugly feeling of satisfaction slipped away, and he tried to make it up to her. Those are the times he knows he's waking up; but he feels heavy and tired, and the mist pulls him back under again.
When he finally does wake up enough to open his eyes, he regrets it. His head aches and the lights are brighter than they should be. He shuts them right away, and he's fading out again when the distant thunk of an airlock door registers. He's awake enough that the sound surprises him into something far closer to alert.
It's still a struggle to keep his eyes open -- they're heavy, and the glare is almost painful. He's lying on a bed that feels more like a counter-top in the middle of a tiny white room. His head is too heavy to lift, but there's a slightly dimmer emptiness that he can make out if he squints off into the distance past his toes. No wall there. Sarang. This is the medical bay. he tries to piece together how he got there, but there's nothing. Great.
He tries to remember the clause in his contract for injury and incapacity, but no dice. Well. He's pretty sure he never read that part. It'll suck if this pushes his end date out, though.
Sam wants to scrub at his eyes. Wants a goddamned aspirin. Wants to stop feeling so heavy and lost.
"Sam?" GERTY's there. Smiling at him. His hands are still heavy, like they're tied to concrete blocks, but he manages to raise one enough to brush a fingertip across GERTY's screen.
"Hey, pal." It comes out a raspy whisper, and he coughs. His throat's dry and scratchy, and his mouth is gummy. Feels like he's coming out from under anesthesia or something, but he doesn't feel bad enough to justify that, not really. "What happened?"
"You were in an accident, Sam."
GERTY tells him about it, sort of. But GERTY is tied to the base; whatever happened wasn't inside Sarang. Maybe he was out at one of the harvesters, or maybe it was before that. Maybe it was when he arrived; he doesn't remember arriving. Just leaving home, saying goodbye to Tess after sitting up all night talking about the future.
It's a bargain, this job. It will set them up for life; the bounty's high, since it's three years of solitary work, no vacations, no days off, no frills. He's over-qualified for it, but -- maybe it's a good fit. Tess thinks they need time apart, and this way, at least it's under his control. She knows he's doing it for her. If he's honest with himself, he knows she's right. He's been no good for her lately, no good for himself. This is penance for the past and payment for the future.
But he doesn't remember arriving, or getting familiar with the base. He knows it from diagrams and schematics, but it feels familiar, too.
So he's lost some time. Just means he's closer to his goal.
GERTY runs him through a whole battery of psych tests, response tests, memory tasks. Lunar's worried about brain damage, apparently. He does okay; he's still tired, and he still dreams a lot, vivid, with less mist and more memories all the time. Nothing really recent shows up, though. Nothing from the week or so he had to settle in before the accident. Makes sense: it's boring here. Quiet.
GERTY smiles and hovers, hovers and smiles. Sam's eyes get less sensitive, and his headache recedes slowly. Sam can't find any cuts or bruises, no swelling, no lumps on his head. Just a concussion, then; got rattled around somehow.
He asks about the noise that woke him. He could swear it was the airlock, clanking shut. GERTY asks him if he's hungry.
He thinks he should report to Lunar, but GERTY says no. He says Lunar sent a recorded message, manages to make it sound kind: "They want you to recover." Sam can't argue that, but he doubts they care about him as much as about the cost of replacing personnel at the beginning of a cycle. He almost asks GERTY about the contract, but bites it back -- no sense borrowing trouble, especially with the headache still lingering. It makes no sense to extend him, after all -- that would push his contract out a month, not a week, with the way the transports run; that would push the next guy back; all the dependencies make it unlikely. Never mind, he thinks: he's got nothing but time to read the relevant passages over himself, later.
GERTY's manner stays calm, unrushed, reassuring. He puts him off, guides him past the terminal on the way to his bunk; the message from Lunar is up on the screen already, frozen, pre-recorded. GERTY pauses the file when it's about to end, then helps him back to his quarters. Sam doesn't think to ask if they told Tess until he's sitting on the edge of his bunk, the muscles in his legs jumping like he'd been sprinting, not shuffling through halls half supported the whole way. He's exhausted just from that, hazy.
The words tumble out, and he thinks he asks if she's worried, if she knows he's okay, if she knows what happened. GERTY says no: no, they didn't tell Tess; he wasn't badly hurt enough to need a consent beyond what he's already signed; she doesn't know, she isn't worried; Sam can record a message to her tomorrow, when he feels better.
That wakes him up. "Record? Why not just call her?" Sam scrubs the heel of one hand across his eyes and tries to focus on the answer.
GERTY is smiling and talking about the quota. It's redirection, but GERTY's funny that way sometimes. It's like a personality, so Sam doesn't worry about it much. He gives up and falls asleep to the sound of GERTY's voice.
He dreams of the dark-haired woman again that night, the one who was just one of however many half-forgotten faces a few nights before. In his dream, she just watches him sleep. He can see it all, in that dream way, from outside his body, which he can see on a narrow bed, in a medical gown like the one he woke up in here. She's standing across the room staring, looking down sometimes, then staring again. She isn't creepy, exactly. Just out of place and weirdly prominent in his subconscious, considering he can't figure out who the hell she is. Not an ex-neighbor, he's pretty sure, now. Maybe someone he worked with. Maybe someone at Lunar.
He wakes up unnerved, but when he falls asleep again he only dreams of Tess.
He's nearly back to a hundred percent the next day. Steady on his feet, and his eyes aren't sensitive anymore, and the headache is pretty much gone. The shower feels good, and he smiles at the snapshot of Tess stuck to the wall next to the sink. Too early to start counting days, but he misses her.
At first he just thinks GERTY's trying to distract him when he makes for the terminal, but the harvesters are -- wow. Really seriously off course. It takes him a couple of hours to recalculate their routes and bring them back in closer to base, but it will save him time later. He's hungry by the time he's done, and he burns his fingertips on the steam from the sealpaks in the rush to get them open. Through it all, though, the voice in his head has been saying tesstesstesstesstesstess, and he fills a mug for tea and makes for the terminal with a spring in his step. Local time for her should be just after work; he stands a good chance of catching her.
GERTY is in front of the terminal. He isn't quite blocking it, but he's definitely in the way.
GERTY tells him not to call Tess.
GERTY tells him there's a live feed, but he won't like it.
GERTY suggests he does other things, with a smile.
He flips the terminal to upload recent feeds. It takes a while before the broadcasts start making any sense, though. The world narrows down for a while. He goes away, maybe, looking at the datestamp on the feeds. He knew -- he knew he lost a few days. Hadn't checked how many yet, hadn't checked what day this is, but this.
It's the wrong year. By several. By many.
He thinks for a moment, ridiculously, of Rip van Winkle. Of fairy tales. But GERTY is there, at his elbow, when he comes back to now, back to his own head, saying, "Sam. Sam. Sam." Over and over.
"Yeah." He whispers. "Shut up, GERTY. Just shut up a minute."
He watches the feeds a while. Lunar's assets have been frozen. When he tries to call head office, he finds out their comm lines have been frozen, too.
He watches the interviews. The hearings start almost immediately after he tunes in. Sam's there, on Earth, talking to reporters. Another him.
Sam walks back and forth the next couple of days, between the rec room, where he pummels the hell out of the speed bag, tries to run long enough to clear his head, does pull-ups til his arms give out, and the terminal, where he stands and stares. He drags the armchair over, and dozes with the feed still on. GERTY tries to talk to him. He pretends he can't hear. He lets the harvesters go unmonitored.
Sleeping in the armchair, his dreams are less vivid. It's a mercy. The Tess in his dreams is the same as ever, until she isn't. Her skin goes cold even as he kisses her; the inside of his head replays scenes from their dates in which she smiles over the rim of her wine glass, coy as her skin pulls back away from her skull, as her eyes go milky and unseeing, slipping from girl to corpse and back again.
The dark-haired woman still shows up sometimes. He doesn't care who she is anymore. When he and Tess are out at a restaurant, she's at the next table. When they make love, she stands at the foot of the bed, silent and dispassionate. When they fight, she stares at the floor, her hair hanging forward, obscuring her face. She's just always there. She doesn't matter. Tess doesn't matter either. They're equally unreal, just like the rest of the contents of his head.
He does some wondering about how long he'll be left here, if they've forgotten he's up here at all. It's obvious there's only supposed to be one of him walking around at a time. Or one copy walking around at a time. He catches sight of the original Sam Bell once in the feeds, a decade and a half too old, at least. He's nothing special. He knew what was happening or he didn't, but Sam decides it doesn't matter, really. He made a bargain for Tess, for their future together; he can guess that much. He can't say he wouldn't have done the same. It's a fair bet he would have.
He doesn't really want to know where the others are, but eventually the feeds spit out the details of the storage units.
Then he can't stop himself from investigating.
Once he knows where to look, the gouges in the floor are kind of obvious. He pops up the section of panel easily enough, and there's a ladder underneath, just as advertised.
And then there's the worry that he's going to be left there until his three years are up. He imagines crawling back into an empty storage box. 0007, that's him. Imagines waking them all, having an army of his own. Except it wouldn't work that way, of course. He knows he wouldn't take orders from one of them, and can't expect the reverse, either. Thinks maybe he should wake one of them, for company.
He inventories the food. There's enough for a year, maybe a little less. There are supposed to be supplies coming in regular, automated drops, but they've missed two already. Lunar's shut down while the investigation keeps dragging out. He still watches the hearings from time to time. It's funny, watching Sam try to keep his temper. 0006, he must be. Watching 0006 try to keep his temper, asked the same questions over and over, shoving the same answers right back at the bastards.
They have almost the same clock, him and 0006, it seems. Their time set to run out three years from now, give or take.
If he wakes up 0008, that's maybe five and a half months of food between them. Maybe he will. Maybe not.
GERTY still tries to talk to him. He cries a lot. Sam ignores him.
Sam drags the bedclothes back from the armchair to his bunk. He leaves the chair in front of the terminal; it's in the way, but GERTY could move it if he really had to. Sam's feeling contrary, unwilling to make any accommodations. The world is slipping into new configurations in his head: he took this job out of guilt and hope, figuring it would pay off in the end, but he was never that guy. Nothing to be guilty over, nothing to hope for.
He sleeps deeper that night, stretched out in the silence instead of dozing with half an ear on the feeds. He wakes up unable to move, paralyzed, the bright, cold confined space of a box like a coffin around him. He jackknifes hard and desperate and wakes up as he throws himself over the edge of the bunk, tangled in body-warm sheets.
"Sam?" GERTY slides to a halt at the edge of his quarters, one arm sliding along a groove in the ceiling, reaching down to tug at the twist of coverlet he's half-trapped in. Sam shuts his eyes and starts laughing, hopelessly, his forehead against the floor.
"Sam? Are you all right?" It's not worth blaming GERTY. He's his own kind of thing, after all. Hardly culpable, and probably not even, strictly speaking, complicit.
He rolls over and sits up. "Yeah, I'm fine." He waves a hand: nothing to worry about here; no big deal.
"I just rolled over too much or something, GERTY." He gets his feet under him, yawns. Shoves the half-askew padding back onto the bed.
"I heard you yelling, Sam. I was worried."
That makes him turn around. "I was--?" He shakes his head. "Yeah, bad dream."
"Did you want to tell me about it, Sam?"
"No. Gonna go back to sleep. Big day tomorrow."
GERTY smiles at that. He hasn't used a smile in a while. "Will you be checking the harvesters, Sam? The maintenance schedule is--"
"Yeah, probably not." He pulls the covers back onto the bed, lays back down under them. Turns his back on GERTY. This time, when he drifts off, it's just the woman, again. Sitting cross-legged at the end of the bed, next to his feet, frowning down at a clipboard. He pretends he can't see her; she lets him be.
He cuts the next few days into shifts. A few hours watching the feeds, a long run, then back down into cold storage to count the boxes. Hundreds. More than make any sense, until he thinks about the cognitive testing, and starts thinking about shelf-life. Maybe they lose viability. Maybe revival rate drops off. He stands over the farthest box for a while, looking at the poor chump inside, lucky winner with the highest number. He taps aimlessly on the lid, trying to imagine what years of cold dreams would be like. Pointless, mostly.
That night he dreams about Tess again, like he used to. He knows it's false the whole time, but he still wakes up missing her so much he feels like he's choking on it.
GERTY has gone solicitous, smiling all the time. He doesn't ask Sam about work anymore, and some contrarian impulse makes Sam duck into the airlock and pull on a suit. He drives around Sarang for hours, wide, aimless spirals; he lets his mind go blank, meditative.
The next morning he cracks open 0008's box. It slides out of the wall at just above floor-level, and Sam pulls it the remainder of the way out, far enough to expose the couplings serving power the unit. It's all designed to not need any fine adjustment: fully automated. GERTY doesn't have any arms down here; the whole storage unit is a machine for moving a body up to the surface every three years. Like a toaster, Sam thinks. Well. Not so much, but he can't think of anything more apt.
"Bigger than a breadbox," he whispers, as he slides the edge of a screwdriver into a slot midway along the side of the coffin, and twists. It creaks, then there's a quiet snap and hiss of cold air.
It occurs to Sam then that he isn't really sure what he's doing. He might, actually, be losing his mind. Tough to tell, though. The box has stopped hissing, and there's a slot on the opposite side as well. Once he breaks that seal, the lid is easy to slide away, broken.
Sam rigs a harness out of sheets and some of the cable meant for equipment retrieval. He cinches it tight around 0008's torso, sits him up at the foot of the ladder, and loops the cable around the base of what the feeds tell him is the crematoria. There's enough length to it that he can lean over the hatch as he pulls him up, slowly, hand over hand. He's careful enough that there isn't much sway to the weight of the body in the harness, and when he gets him to the top, he loops the end of the cable into the top of the ladder, and drags the body the rest of the way into the base.
Carrying a guy who's exactly your size is a little awkward.
"Sam, what are you doing?" GERTY is blocking his path to the medical bay. Whatever. He turns toward his quarters instead.
"Hey, GERTY." He heaves a little to resettle the weight of the body. "Working on your HAL impression?"
"No, Sam." GERTY's following him; Sam isn't sure if GERTY could actually stop him from doing anything, beyond locking doors that Sam can disable without a whole lot of trouble and talking at him. Not without hurting him. "What are you doing with Sam, Sam?"
Sam lowers the body onto the bunk, only then realizing that this is going to make sleep awkward. Back to the armchair, then.
He shoves 0008's limbs straight, pulls the covers over him. Maybe his dreams won't be as cold, this way. He looks like a corpse, but less than he did before. If Sam looks closely enough, he can see him breathing. Very, very slowly.
Sam turns away, tries a smile. "Time for a run. Want to make me some dinner?"
GERTY's expression changes from worried to smiling. Two can play the redirection game. "Of course, Sam."
He doesn't run for very long; it isn't clearing his head. Sam drags the armchair into his quarters, and sits to watch 0008 breathe, deeper all of the time. He dozes for a while. When he wakes up, stiff and uncomfortable in the chair, he crawls onto the foot of the bed, trying not to think about how weird this is. He passed weird a long time ago; he's always been weird. The thought surprises a laugh out of him: he's trapped on the moon, he doesn't know if he's even a person, strictly speaking; and he's worrying about things getting strange. Too late. He pushes 0008's feet over toward the edge of the bunk to make room and sticks his own feet under the covers, sliding down into the bed, poking 0008 in the ribs with his toes. His body is still cool, but it's warmer than it was.
He doesn't dream at all that night.
In the morning, 0008 almost feels like he's a normal body temperature. Sam slides an experimental palm around 0008's ankle. There's a slow, steady pulse under his fingertips. Soon, then.
Sam pushes back the covers to get up, but he's distracted by the bottoms of 0008's feet. His feet; Sam's feet. It's strange to see them from this angle. They're clean. Unused, Sam thinks. New. He runs a fingertip from toe to heel, feeling calluses, wondering over verisimilitude and attention to detail. He digs a thumb into the arch, hard: 0008 twitches almost imperceptibly. Not quite thawed yet, then.
He gets up long enough to piss and bring a supply of food and water in to keep within arm's reach of the bunk. He remembers how thirsty he was when he woke up. When he gets back into the bed this time, he doesn't bother coming in from the foot. It seems too awkward, considering they'll need to talk, eventually.
GERTY stops outside his quarters every hour or so. He doesn't have anything to say, though. Sam slides his hands over 0008, comparing and examining. It doesn't feel quite real, like being in two places at once, having two bodies: one empty of self, one full. He tugs 0008 toward him, onto his side so that they face each other. Shuts his eyes, and matches his breathing, and waits.