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Don't Drift Too Far From Me

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This is the way the world will end – not with a bang, but a whimper.

They ask for peace and privacy and after all they’ve done for the world, it is given.

Respected? Well, that’ll depend on the reporters, on how desperately they want a scoop – the last moments of one of humanity’s saviours – the woman who changed it all. But she has high hopes, she has high hopes – high, apple pie hopes...

Did her mother sing that to her, in the days she’s long since forgotten?

Does it matter anymore?

At least for the moment, it’s just the two of them in the room – in their own home, quiet and familiar. They could grant her that much at least – an easier death than in a hospital surrounded by grief and pain and suffering. She doesn’t want that for herself.

She doesn’t want that for him.

He closes the door with hands that only shake a little, and the fingers that were once long and strong are now long and near-skeletal.

What a pair they make – the dying woman and the man so close to death! Sheets shift a little as he he climbs into the bed beside her, breathless at the effort.

The subdued grief on his face makes her want to cry, but she has no tears for herself – only for him and the loneliness that will be his companion from here on. Not long, perhaps, but as long as he can last – as long as he can hold on. They owe the world that much.

How much have they been through together? Uncertainty and desperation and fondness and hope – so much hope.

You gave us the ability to fight back, said the girl yesterday. You gave us hope.

Hope’s a fragile thing on which to rest the fate of the world.

The girl shook her head, the pointed tips of her neatly-styled hair swinging about her jaw. Hope is the only thing on which to balance the fate of the world.

So young and so wise – a new generation who have hope. Thanks to her? Hardly. Many other people have had a hand in her work. I have seen further, only by standing on the shoulders of giants, as Einstein once said.

She’s travelled a long road from there to here. She doesn’t remember all of it anymore.

“Do you remember the first time you saw me?”

He smiles – and for a moment the hollowed face is full and handsome, no longer gaunt from the cancer treatments and lined with the stress of watching what is called the dying days of the war. “This gorgeous, geeky woman who ordered me to take off my clothes and lie down.”

Laughter shakes her, shivers her, exhausts her. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Yeah, it was. For me, anyway.” The first time he smiled at her – the first smile she remembers – her heart really did skip a beat before she told herself it was just physiology. Attention by an attractive man, built into her psyche. “Bet you don’t remember meeting me.”

She doesn’t. Her mind was on other things – not only the calculations and calibrations required to make the interface between the human mind and the technology that might save them all. She didn’t see the man – only the possibilities of what he could do for her.

“I remember falling in love with you,” she says.

“Isn’t that all the parts that came after we met?”

She laughs and brushes her thumb over one dark eyebrow. Out of the two of them, he was always the romantic – the one who remembered birthdays and anniversaries, who took her out to dinner because, he said when she protested, what was the point in saving the world if they didn’t remember what they were saving it for?

Love.

The girl she saw yesterday was young – but she’d known love. It was there in the way she held herself – grace in every line, in the compassion of the far-seeing eyes, and the way her expression brightened when her father came into the room.

“Your EEG readings showed all the hallmarks of attraction,” she murmurs.

“So clinical. Are you sure you don’t have some Vulcan ears hidden away somewhere?” His fingertip brushes the curve of her ear, tugs at her earlobe in a gesture that once would have stoked desire.

She doesn’t have the strength for sex anymore, and he’s not asking that. But intimacy – this closeness of breath and body – yes. She will never not have the strength for this.

“I kept them hidden all these years,” she admits. “My secret is finally out in the open.”

He grins at her and—memory stirs—a rainswept, windswept day out on the island, wondering why she had to be out here waiting for the test pilots, her mind still working on the programming required to get the interface working better, more smoothly.

“You’d forgotten your cover.” She looks up into his eyes, and sees sudden laughter there. “Your plane was late because of the weather and we needed the preliminary tests done that day. So you were wet.”

“Sodden,” he agreed, smiling. “A drowned rat facing the most gorgeous woman in the world who looked at him like he wasn’t the make and model she’d ordered but he’d just have to do.”

She can’t deny it. She doesn’t bother. “And you did.”

“I didn’t. You did.”

That golden moment when the connection was made – when the lightning understanding came that the only way they would win this war was together – in a communion of soul and spirit, of organic and technological that somehow encompassed everything that the human race should ever have been.

Belief in another’s strength, faith in another’s spirit, trust in another’s heart.

Love.

Her grandmother sang to her when she was young – pretty little songs that she’d thought old-fashioned as a child, too rooted in the modern music and its brutal, thoughtless lyrics to appreciate the sentiment.

High in some silent sky
Love sings a silver song
Making the earth whirl softly
Love makes the world go 'round

The dreamy tune sings through her head, and her eyelids droop.

“Hey,” he whispers. “Don’t go too far without me?”

“No.” She curls into his side, fitting herself against him with the practise of long years and the knowledge that if she has to step out into the unknown without him, she’ll carry the memory of him with her. “I think I love you.”

Her hair shifts as he presses a kiss to the top of her head. “I think I love you, too.”

She drifts away into the night.