Authors: Maria Hammarblad
I hadn’t brought much from the Bell, but my room held
treasures. One rested in a box in the back of the closet. It was the first thing someone gave me when I first came to the Bell, with amnesia. Adam had bought me a dress, wanting me to feel pretty when he took me down to the promenade for dinner.
The memory filled my eyes with tears. He had been so patient, waiting for me for all that time, hoping I would remember. I’d had time to fall in love with him all over again before my memories returned.
It was a long time ago. The dress might not even fit anymore.
Looks shouldn’t matter, it wasn’t like I was meeting the real him, and I could just as well wear a burlap sack. The impostor was good, but not good enough to fool me. Right?
I still pulled it on and fluffed my hair, and when I entered the bridge, John whistled through his teeth.
“You are gorgeous.”
“Do you think it’s him?”
Straightforward question, but impossible to answer.
“No. Yes. I don’t know. He’s dead, but this… whatever it is, he’s so much like him in some ways. And then not at all.”
The sentence made no sense, but John understood. He always did.
“I know. I don’t trust him.”
“That is wise. We shouldn’t.”
John escorted me off the ship, made sure I was comfortable at a table, and nodded towards the bar. He would be nearby, ready to interfere if needed, but far enough away to give an illusion of privacy.
Dear, sweet John. Did I ever tell him how wonderful he was?
I looked away from him and eyed the entrance. It had been a long time. Would Adam still find me pretty?
I downed my drink and corrected myself. Whatever the impostor might think made no difference, because it wasn’t Adam, and I needed to keep that in mind.
Why was I even there, all dolled up? So silly.
I had been early, but it must be seven by now?
The minutes were so long, but Adam, the real Adam, would never be late. He was
A robotic server rolled up on roller-skate wheels. Its voice sounded just like Mila Kunis. “Can I take your order?”
“No thank you. I need a few minutes.”
The robot made a pirouette. “Certainly, ma’am.”
The next time it came back, John strode over.
“C’mon honey, let’s get off this flying junkyard.”
His voice was gentle. “It’s been over an hour. Whoever he is, I don’t think he’s coming.”
Was it a ruse to steal our ship?
I wasn’t even aware of crying until John brushed a thumb over my cheek, drying a tear away. He slammed a strong arm around my shoulders. “I’m so sorry, Hon.”
I should have known better than getting my hopes up.
He led me away and it was a matter of minutes before I was back on the bridge, watching the station holding my almost husband disappear in the distance.
Why had he gone through the trouble of arranging a meeting if he didn’t intend to show up?
It didn’t matter.
“John, I love you.”
In a most complicated way.
He smiled. “I know. I love you too.”
I should count my blessings and he was definitely on top of the list.
As days went by and turned into weeks, I did my best to forget the Adam lookalike.
It didn’t go well. My mind was like a dog unwilling to let go of a fine bone. Maybe he didn’t show up because something happened to him. Maybe we should have searched for him.
I couldn’t say
All these questions kept going around and around in my mind and every attempt at pushing them away failed.
Why would he work so hard to set up a meeting and not show up?
Who was he, really? Was there a plan behind all this? For all I knew there could be a warehouse filled with model Adam, a new one activating when something happened to its predecessor.
I didn’t have anything specific to do, nowhere I needed to be, and I was too restless to sit still.
John seemed to share my mood. He roamed around the corridors, cursed machinery that seemed to work just fine, opened bottles with mysterious alien liquors just to throw them out, and plotted courses as random as his temper.
We both needed to get a grip but there was no great hurry. We had the rest of our lives to get back on track, and it comforted me to have someone to go crazy with. Everything was okay as long as we lost our minds together.
John finally docked at a small, rugged-looking station, no more than fourteen stories tall.
“Time to fuel up.”
“What? You’re actually stopping long enough to leave the ship this time?”
He laughed. “Yeah. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, but I need to buy some stuff for us or we’ll get scurvy.”
It seemed implausible in a day and age when machines could print out anything from pizza to oranges, but even the replicators needed some raw material.
Leaving the ship to board one more station where Adam wouldn’t be, because he was dead, held less appeal than staying where I was.
Besides, deeming from the look of the place and my general luck I’d probably end up getting kidnapped and sold, and John would have to spend days or weeks tracking me down and coming to my rescue. Not a pleasant prospect for the future for either of us.
“I think I’ll stay here, if it’s the same to you.”
He nodded. “Probably for the best. Walk me off the ship?”
Peeking into the long corridor outside justified my decision. The rusty walls with torn posters for liquor brands and strip clubs definitely didn’t point to a good environment for a woman with limited survival skills.
“Will you be alright?”
He looked amused. “Of course. I’m a pirate, remember?”
“Not really, you make an awful outlaw. You’re good at everything else, but not that.”
I’d never gotten around to asking what he did in his old life, before fleeing Adam’s mother and slipping over on the wrong side of the law. Had they made a living from cybernetic engineering?
As soon as the door closed behind him I imagined metallic feet clicking against the floor, sneaking up on me. With John around, the ship was perfect. On my own it was much too large and creepy.
Should I go to the bridge?
No, there wasn’t anything for me there.
I headed for the relative safety of my room, forcing myself not to run. When the lift stopped on my floor and the doors slid open I expected an entire horde of aliens to be waiting. Telling myself the fears didn’t make sense didn’t stop me from cowering in a corner in the elevator, just in case. Then, I ran the few steps to my door and made sure to lock it.
“Just until John comes back.”
Talking to myself didn’t make me feel any better. Once John returned I could cling to him until this bout of paranoia passed, but he could be gone for a while.
Each minute took on the length of an hour and I started to doubt he’d ever come back. Maybe something happened to him. I wasn’t the best choice for a rescue mission, but if he didn’t show up soon I’d have to go look for him.
I was pretty sure hours passed, and not just in my imagination. Just as I almost persuaded myself to leave my room, go on the station, and try to find him, a heavy hand knocked on the door.
“Alex, you in there?”
He was back, thank God. I had forgotten that I locked and ran over to open.
“Yeah, I’m here. I just got paranoid when you left.”
The scene outside made me stare. I squinted, but I still saw the same thing. Were there two of him?
“Brought you something. He insists on talking to you.”
It was the Adam imposter. How had he found us again? After John’s numerous and erratic course changes?
He said, “I apologize for missing our previous appointment. I was unavoidably detained.”
“How… Where… How did you find us?”
“May I come in?”
I sought out John’s eyes in a silent plea for advice and he shrugged. “I figured you need to hear him out and get closure and shit, but if you want me to I’ll throw him out.”
Closure and shit. He wasn’t as unfazed as he pretended to be.
I stepped to the side to let them in. Except for John’s perpetual stubble they were eerily alike, just like John and the real Adam had been. Same height, same build, same eyes… John was older, because he was human. Androids don't age.
If Adam had lived, he would have remained the same forever, but I would be wrinkly and gray one day. We had been able to do everything together except that.
Adam said, “Can I please have a moment with my wife?”
Same thing he would have said.
I looked at the floor. Strange how I never noticed all the rivets holding the metal together before. Building a spaceship must be a lot of work. Did they do that on a planet or in space?
Not relevant. I needed to focus.
Finding us again must have been almost impossible. He sure put a lot of energy into following us around, unless he planted a tracking device on the ship. No, John scanned the hull every time we took off.
If he wanted to harm me there would have been many opportunities, and I didn’t feel threatened. Sad and skeptical, yes, but not afraid.
I should hear him out.
John crossed his arms over his chest and lifted an eyebrow. I needed to make up my mind.
“It’s okay, I guess.”
He nodded. “Alright. But Alex, call me the second you need me. Do you want a gun?”
I shook my head and he scratched his chin, seemingly uncertain about his decision to bring an unknown element to my room.
“Do you want me to stay outside?”
“No, I think it will be okay. But thank you.”
Knowing him, he would probably wait in the corridor for a while anyway, just to make sure I wasn’t screaming for help.
Adam waited until the door closed behind John.
“I’m really sorry for standing you up. It was not my intention.”
“Who are you? Why do you keep following me? What do you want?”
He took a step towards me, and as much as my brain screamed moving away would be the smart thing to do, my feet were frozen in place. I tried to step back, but the treacherous legs refused to move.
“Alex, we’ve been through so much. I’ve had my best moments with you, and you've seen my worst. Don’t give up on me now.”
“You’re dead. Were dead. I mourned you. We buried you. Maybe I moved on.”
His voice was mild, just like the real Adam’s would have been. He would have accepted my decision, wanting only the best for me.
“No. But I could have. You’ve been gone for a long time, and I’m not even sure you’re you.”
He stepped closer, almost into touching distance, and applied all his charm. If he had been on the Titanic the ship would have been okay, because even an iceberg would have had a hard time not being affected by the warm eyes and smile.
“What can I do to make you believe me?”
I crossed my arms, attempting to draw comfort from holding my own elbows.
It didn’t help.
“Tell me the truth. How did you survive?”
A part of me hoped he would grab me and hold me, maybe kiss me, but my reasoning self was relieved when he turned away. He went over to a shelf and poked his old Newton’s Cradle. The toy held a prominent spot.
He lifted the outer ball, dropped it, and watched the ball on the other end fly up.
“I always liked this thing, but I didn’t expect you to bring it.”
I shrugged, pretending indifference. “It reminds me of you.”
“I wasn’t so sure that would be a good thing.”
Time to change the subject, or break down in tears. “John radioed the Bell. They know Shuttle Twelve is missing, but they have no idea who has it. Your story doesn’t add up.”
It would be so sweet if this really was him, but how could I believe? How could I even hope? My body claimed touching him might bring clarity, but it was a bad idea. Dangerous.
He didn’t offer any explanations, and I released the flood of questions held at bay for so long. “How can you expect me to believe you? We saw you die. You’ve been gone for so long I’ve lost track of time. Then, you show up out of nowhere, claim you’ve been on the Bell all along, and no one there knows a thing about it. They think you’re dead too.”
“Well, someone knows.”
His interjection fueled my rage.
“I mourned you! If you were
Adam you would get that. I can’t turn trust on and off like a tap of water.”