A Bicycle Built for Two

I love the science fiction work of Peter F. Hamilton, Robert Charles Wilson, Neal Stephenson and Orson Scott Card... many others. But I think what I love about them is how they put the human condition in the extraordinary world.

I was reading this one I wrote a few years back and I think it succeeds in settling love down easy in another place and time. Tell me what you think.

Dawn broke suddenly across the dry, barren expanse, the mild, rolling hills like giant goose flesh on the arm of the Earth. A structure sat atop one of the unexceptional hills, seen easily from nearly a mile as a speck, not because of its size, for it was small, but because it was the only variance for a thousand miles. At five hundred yards, the home’s slanted roof defined its blackness against the brilliant whiteness of the mid-morning sky. At two hundred yards, a ring of greenery appeared like a wreath around the home and the building’s gray walls revealed darkened windows and a great silver door. A round, perfect tree grew in front of the home, producing a dark pink fruit shaped like a perfect tear. And at fifty yards, the light breeze carried the sweet chitter of the tiny purple birds living in the tree.

The man opened his eyes and stretched, yawning and growling at the morning. As a night of dreams quickly faded, he looked about the sparse room.

“Hello?” he called. “Love, are you about?”

“Love is not about, sir. Love is exactly where she would be at this time of day, especially today.” The manufactured voice spoke with calm emotion and patronized slightly. The voice was the man’s creation and specialty.

“I don’t like it when you call her Love,” he said. “Please reprogram yourself.”

“Make me,” the voice said.

“Be good.” The man rose from the pile of pillows and blankets crumpled on the soft, white floor.

“All right, then. I’ll reprogram if you clean your teeth. I can smell you from here.”

“A bargain. How about some music to start this momentous day with bliss.”

The music was bright and airy and full of strings and flutes and the man hummed along as he pulled his white robe over his dark, naked body. After a toilet and a thorough teeth cleaning, the man thanked the voice and exited out the back of the home through a tinted, glass tube and into the lab.

Like mirrors, the lab’s four alabaster walls reflected a ceiling of fierce lights, contrasted against the dull, black floor. An array of monitors flashed and stuttered against the far walls, underscored by panels of keys and switches. A glass cylinder, about ten feet across, rose from floor to ceiling in the center of the room. Within the case sat a gray chair and on the chair, perched with bare feet on the padded seat, bare back to the man, was the woman dressed only in white satin shorts. She was hunched over the back of the chair working with two narrow, pointed tools over a triangular panel of lights inside the chair’s back. Her crimson hair trailed straight down her back, far enough to brush the chair as she bobbed back and forth, studying and programming and switching and testing.

“If you’re going to dress that way, Love, we’ll have to go right here.”

She didn’t turn, but he heard her smile.

“I believe last night qualifies as an appropriate goodbye, John. I can hardly walk. You animal.”

John tried a purr, but had never mastered the rolling tongue.

“Will you miss me?” he asked.

“Of course, Hon, of course.” She looked over her bare shoulder at him, offering a buck-toothed smile, her bright blue eyes sparkling under the ceiling lights, which were more than lights, constantly scrubbing the environment, burning air-born particles and cooking unnecessary bacteria.

“Hockey. I can hear it in your voice. You’re so excited you can hardly breathe you little tramp. I’m just glad you get the long and I get the short or I would be suicidal.”

“Just a week for you, Hon.”

“And a year for you, Love.”

“Three hundred and fifty seven is all. Just shy.”

She jumped off the chair, squeezed through the glass door on the glass cylinder and wrapped her arms tight around John’s neck.

“I’ll miss you, Hon,” she said, her voice shaking and weak. He hugged her back, her body feeling too frail to survive the task at hand. He’d go for her, of course, if she’d let him, which she wouldn’t. He’d go with her, of course, if the machine could manage, which it couldn’t. So he held her until she pushed him away.

She looked up at him, her eyes so bright they seemed beams of bright blue sunshine.

They made love again, after all, before lunch.

After lunch the woman dressed in simple gray slacks and a simple gray shirt, soft, white shoes with ties over the top in the ancient fashion and a warm, black jacket. Hidden within her jacket were several gadgets that would protect and sustain and a holographic picture of John that would respond kindly to her no matter what she said. By the time they reached the lab again, she had a mild case of hyperventilation. Her hands tremored like the wings of the birds fluttering outside. But when he checked her eyes, they were brave and coherent and he knew she would never postpone the trip.

“I’ll be just down the way a bit, Hon,” she said easing into the chair as if she had never seen it, as if she hadn’t spent the last four years building it, coaxing it into reality.

“Three thousand years.”

“A hop and a skip really.” John leaned down and kissed her hard, wanting to bruise her already swollen lips so she would remember him more. She kissed him back with the same ferocity, her tongue tasting him as a final goodbye.

Then he closed the glass door in the glass cylinder and walked to the wall with the switches and dials and screen. With one hand on a large green button he looked to her for the go.

She nodded, almost imperceptibly, and he pushed the button, watching his mate vanish in a cloud of wet vapor and flash of purple light.

The week prior to her departure took all of thirty seconds, John following her around, touching her, smelling her, loving her whenever he could pull her away from her project. He knew he annoyed her but didn’t much care. He took countless photos of her while working, bathing and cleaning. His favorite shots were when she slept, absolute peace on her face, no brow furrowed with thought, no nervous nibble on her lower lip. He strained to soak up all of her so that her absence would seem trifle, though he knew it wouldn’t be.

The week after she left took a lifetime. He could not sleep at all, so every hour was eternal, every minute felt and accounted and marked off the great calendar in his head. The voice spoke to him often, trying to help as he had been programmed. It played the happiest music in its endless library and showed images of the shots he took of her in whatever room he occupied. At night when John couldn’t sleep, it sang softly to him the lullabies of another time. After a day or two John told the voice to stop, saying he wanted to feel the loss of her, that he wanted to know this in case anything happened to stop her return.

“If she were to fail on her return I would never forgive myself for any moment of happiness before I knew that to be a fact,” John said simply. So the voice stopped, for the most part. It still hummed to him when he did sleep, hoping to extend his time of rest.

He moved his blankets and pillows onto the cold floor of the lab the final night, not wanting to miss a second of her return.

Just before sunrise John jerked awake, his head up, his eyes staring into the predawn darkness at the cylinder reflecting dimly the low-lights emanating from the control panels across the room. Something had woken him, he thought, but the room was absolutely still. As he put his head back to the pillow, the room filled with purple light and a howling scream as if the metal beams of the lab’s construction were being torn apart.

He covered his ears and blinked against the fiery radiance of the strange light.

In a blink the room returned to near darkness, a damp haze billowing from the glass cylinder.

“Lights,” he whispered.

The room lit to its full intensity, instantly drying the vapor that surrounded the chair.

“John?” her voice sought him.

He jumped up and ran to her and lifted her and hugged her tightly.

“Oh, John, it’s so good to feel you again.”

He set her down and held her hands and looked at his love. She had cut her hair - which he warned her might happen if the style of the time required - to a short bob. Her slacks were a blue, thick fabric adorned with tiny copper-colored buttons, sitting low on her hips and exposing her beautiful stomach. Her top was now a thin fabric adorned with blues and greens and pinks of several different hues, held up by two thin straps over her shoulders. On her feet were sandals of a sort, just a bottom actually with a strap attached at the gap between her first two toes. She was different, older; some of the light in her eyes burned away over the year perhaps, but just as beautiful and just as much his love.

Later that night, as they sat together, cross-legged in their main room on the floor, and he listened to her adventure, and the people and places and machines and entertainments and sounds and horrors and wonders, he was struck dumb by the expanse of it all.

“So they decided to overpopulate?” he asked for the second time.

“I’m telling you John, they made the decision to put as many people on the planet as possible.”

“They did it to themselves,” he marveled.

“Absolutely. Families were huge. Not three or four, but sometimes six or seven or eight in one home. It was so loud, John. You wouldn’t believe the noise. They actually had a name for it. I heard it over and over again. ‘The more the merrier.’”

“The chaos of it all must have been maddening for you,” John said hopefully.

She became thoughtful, studying the floor.

“At first it was John. At first. But now, here.”

“What is it?” But he knew what it was.

She looked at him then, her light blue eyes full of love and hope and purpose.

“Tomorrow I start building,” she said.

“What, Love.”

She laughed and kissed him hard on the lips.

“A bicycle built for two.”


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