He fixated on the orb of blood at the end of his knife. A dot of yellow, reflecting from a glimmer of light, gave the red a beautiful, glossy look.
The droplet released its grip from the blade and fell.
As it neared the ground, it wobbled, as though trying to defy gravity.
The blood smacked the stone floor, its faint tap echoing in his ears.
The undulating sphere formed a flat, irregular circle on the hard surface. The liquid spread, rebounded against its periphery, then rippled back to the center.
The world around him forgotten, he savored the moment and took a deep breath, fulfillment and pleasure building within him. Scents of pleasure teased his nose. His tongue enjoyed the taste.
The blood looked magnificent. A vital fluid of the human body, it ran through miles of veins and arteries providing nutrients and oxygen to the body. However, it must flow inside to be beneficial to the host. He gave a wry grin at the irony.
He lifted his head, following the array of blood. Viscous red liquid arranged in intricate patterns, smeared all around with different strokes and pressures, smooth to rough lines where his utensil created a wind-brushed look. Lumps, where the liquid had pooled, would dry in ridges like mountainous arêtes. His art—beautiful, authentic. Without concern for time, he scrutinized every detail and pondered any further changes. He didn’t glance at the body. The vessel that had carried his sacred paint was empty, irrelevant. He had pumped out the blood, generating the most volume of art media with the least waste. He compared his painting to prior works. The containers carried individual characteristics, like a signature fingerprint or an organism’s DNA. There was only one exactly like it on earth, made it priceless.
He lifted the body’s ID and spoke the name aloud. “Jen.” He felt the wetness between his legs. His erection subsided. Wonderful new memories imprinted in his hippocampus.
Black shadows consumed the stone floor like blankets of ice. The darkness covered the sticky, pooled blood and hid death.
He stepped back, letting the shadows engulf him. “What a wonderful beginning, don’t you think?” He smiled. His words flowed like honey. Knowing the recorder on his device had captured every detail, he relaxed and slipped away into the blackness.
Another headache, Tommy managed to think through the pain. Damn! How many days now? He shook his head and instantly regretted it, What a wonderful way to start the day again. Last week...did I have a headache? His brow furrowed.
His first thought robbed by the headache, the second quickly followed. Her name was Dahria.
Love, companionship, loyalty, and a few other emotions flooded his mind, but were hazy. Feelings were there, but past images, not so much. The further back he tried to think, the fuzzier the images were.
Other images were clear. She had survived, they had survived. The contamination of earth’s surface was a permanent fixture in his mind. It was so new, different than…before. Dahria was his main reason to push on, to battle the resistance that life might push back. He had to help her, protect her. They needed to survive, move forward, anyway they could. He couldn’t wait to see her today.
The springs squeaked and strained from his moving mass as he rolled out of bed. His mood darkened as he remembered his dream.
Water flowed. Tall green trees echoed the horizon, dense in its luster. The sun orangish-yellow with a blue-pink sky. Fluffy white clouds etched here and there gave a sense of breath to the crisp, clean atmosphere. A light rain fell from darker clouds that had rolled in, wetting him. He smiled until he looked at his hands. They were wet but looked odd, like his eyes couldn’t focus quite right. Tommy lifted his hands and looked closer. He squinted and his vision cleared. His hands were soaked with red. His brow furrowed in confusion. Glancing up, the rain fell from the dark clouds and ran across his lips. He tasted copper.
Looking back at his hands, blood poured from invisible cuts. It flowed and fell like a waterfall. His heart beat faster, expelling the blood quicker, rushing out like a river. That was the last thing he remembered.
He blinked and focused back on the present and his hands. As he stared at them, they returned to normal. Confusing reality with his dream, he flipped them over to confirm they weren’t bleeding.
Eyebrows raised, “Geez,” he said. “Freaky.” Laughing off the fantasy of dreams, he sent out a puff of air. Tommy focused on more important things—like getting some breakfast.
He glanced around his room noticing the light behind the window shade. Another bright sunny morning, Tommy half-smiled, but it was hollow.
Wind spoke as it flowed outside. Other natural sounds resonated into the room, communicating that it was a wonderful life. His eyes came to rest on the table. It was smooth. New. Shiny and strongly grained. The vision made him think about how people take things for granted. They only appreciated something when it wasn’t there anymore. Like that table. Like back then.
Please let it be like that again. Let it be ... easy. He moved closer and touched the table. It was cold, rough, splintered. Old and worn. His touch proving his eyes were wrong.
Tommy sighed and moved in front of the image deluder cutting off the beam of light protruding from the 3d holo projector. His shadow revealed part of the table, turning it into a corroded, worn, discolored version of itself. As he kept moving out of the path of light, the table reverted to its beautiful color and shine.
He sighed again, the disparity of the real and unreal gone, he ate.
Afterwards, he drifted to the window shade. The image of a bright sunny day and gorgeous forested area outside instantly disappeared as he pulled it up. Behind the shade was a solid wall. He knew what lay behind that too. Dark, humid areas only lit by synthetic methods. Wires littering the ground gave power to lights that were tacked to corridor walls. The screen shade was there giving the illusion of a window overlooking a pleasant natural area. All of these deceptions were intended to keep the population sane, to make this complex feel like home, like it was…back to normal.
His face relaxed, and gloom filled him like an ocean wave receding and taking all life with it.
From his clouded memories, Tommy knew the world had collapsed on itself, though the exact time in history wasn’t known. He could only remember bits and pieces of his life before a few weeks ago. The outside air was not only dirty but polluted. The climate freezing from a nuclear winter. Whether the changes were due to a natural or man-made disaster was unclear. Recalling how humans had treated the planet, he figured it was only a matter of time. Man-made was the death of the earth. He concluded the harsh reality, his life was changed for an indeterminate amount of time. It was a busy new life, hard, strained, and stressful. Living day-to-day with no clearly-lighted exit at the end.
The housing units were small. Only one small room for washing, eating, and sleeping. Other rooms had a separate bathroom, yet these were reserved for women. Drab colors and bare walls engulfed the room with only a few pieces of furniture, a counter, and a shelf with nothing special on it: an old book or two, broken memorabilia, a mug, and dust. A musty smell suffocated his lungs. It was like a small weight pushing on his chest. Labored.
Calmly, Tommy walked to the water source. He grabbed a worn coffee mug and filled it with the not-so-clear liquid.
At least he had the comfort of deluding himself by placing a beautiful life into his mind as he slept. In a way, it was therapy. It kept the mind diverted from the bleak reality. He put his hands down on the counter and leaned on it. Looking down, Tommy sighed. Another day loomed ahead, but she, Dahria, would be his comfort, his support, his love. And he would be there for her too. Together, they could survive. Maybe even start something new, better.
After he finished preparing himself, he opened the door to observe the writing on the wall. After a few weeks of training and becoming accustomed to this place, he’d settled into a routine.
‘E-Block West.’ The directional arrow pointed the way. He followed without a second thought.