What is a decade? – Gothenburg

Working Chapter 10 of my Is it for us alone? novel in progress

Originally written under the same Chapter as ‘What is a decade?’ but I decided to split it up for now.  At least for the purposes of the blog.

The route to the harbour where the helicopter was uneventful, except for the two corpses that he encountered on the way.  When the machine had been turned on, most inhabitants here had been in bed, but some later revellers had been walking home when they were stopped in their tracks.  Of course, the rotten faces were familiar, which was part of what made this trek so tragic, but one part of his mind would not allow him to mourn.  Instead the reaction on seeing both was to run as fast as he could to the harbour.

Unfortunately, his body was still not up to the memories that remembered running being an ease and so it took a toll.  His weak frame still not capable of living up to his own expectations.  This would change in time, but for now it was a disappointment that all those active parts of his mind would have to deal with.  Coming to the harbour and seeing the helicopter gave him great joy.  It was almost as seeing your baby again.  Interesting, the inquisitive part of him thought, that someone in there could be attached to this helicopter as though it was their own baby.  So it was though and so he accepted the joy instead of allowing the dark parts of his mind to reign free.

Preparing the helicopter for the relatively short journey was a breeze and before he knew it he was up in the air.  Except for the dearth of traffic below – all still and silent now – it was not as if much had changed from his memories of the scene from above.  Gothenburg was only a short distance away, so the flight would be very short and uneventful – given that there were no other aircraft in the air.  He enjoyed looking down at the ocean and flying with an ease that meant he felt very much relaxed and at peace.  This would be disturbed all too soon as he entered the airspace above the city.

It was visible that something had occurred.  That this place was now devoid of life, was obvious and that something catastrophic had occurred was certain.  There were no longer any fires, but you could see that cars had piled up and crashed into each other and the buildings all around.  His gaze was fixed on the destruction that was below and he pondered on how it had been him that had caused all of this.  He felt a welling up of sadness in his body that made him shudder before he was whipped back into his objective.  To find what wasn’t there, to understand what had happened.  He went to land near the hospital as he knew that was where he had to go.

Landing was a breeze as luckily there had not been a helicopter parked on the hospital helipad.  He disembarked and made his way to the OB/GYN section of the hospital – he knew exactly where he was going and so much of him knew exactly what he was going to find, but he had to go and see it for himself.  He had to go and see what was there and face it.

The corridors wound in this hospital so it took him much longer than he ever would have wanted.  His body was sweating with fear and his mind was racing as not only did that one part of his mind race towards the delivery room, but almost all others willed that part not to push on.  The struggle was real and was taxing, but the one overcome.  There was something in him that said, “We have to know.”

There was no choice.

As he rounded the last corridor he faced the door beyond which was the answer that he craved.  The answer that he knew, but could not know.  So, he opened the door and slowly entered the room.  It was still lit, he wasn’t sure why exactly, but he thought perhaps it was some back up generator in the hospital that had kicked in.  “Stop,” he yelled to that part of him that even questioned it and he moved slowly into the room.  It was odd looking at this women.  He knew her, both from this angle and from within, but the loss was not as real as it could have been.  She was dead, but still survived in some sense.  A loss and a gain was how it felt, but the two conflicted and drove him mad.  This was not why he had come here.  To stare at what was essentially himself now.  He came for what was lying in the cot next to the bed with the women.

He hesitated just at the point where he couldn’t quite see into the cot and considered the possibilities of what he would see.  Most of his mind knew, but did not vocalise what was bound to be the truth, but parts held out that the baby girl would still be lying alive in the cot.  The kind part of Anders encouraged him that it was somehow possible that a child that had just been born would be able to have missed out on his sweep.  Perhaps, he thought, the baby would be here and he could name her together with the world in his head – name her something of hope that there could be a future for people beyond his body.

There was to be no life beyond his body though, as he reached the cot and looked at the lifeless flesh that was a short time ago a living, breathing child – just not in time to be absorbed by him.  He fell to his knees in tears, his insides bunching together and his eyes flooding with tears as if they were being squeezed out of him.  Never in his life or any life that he could remember had the loss felt this real and this ultimate.  All feeling from his legs had gone and he now bent forward on the ground and spoke out loud to himself.

“How could I have let this happen?  This is only the start of the cost of what I have done.  I can feel the other losses, those that I hadn’t dared think about, now flooding my consciousness.  I must do something, but what I don’t know.”

He felt silly talking out loud to himself, but he simply did not know how to react in this situation.  There was someone that he wanted to console him, but then he knew that there was no one to lean on – they were all inside and none of them was up to the burden when they dug deep.  So he lay there with his face in his hands rocking to soothe some of the pain.  Thinking was not worth it and it produced no good answers.

Some time passed.  Anders couldn’t say exactly, but he imagined it had been hours.  He finally stood up and looked at the small bundle in the cot.  Trembling, he reached in to grab a hold of her.  Despite the urges within him that were demanding that he look at the girl, he did not.  Too much of him knew that it would be a moment filled only of disgust and regret.  Better to keep a memory, painful as it was to think of it, than to put himself through that.

With the bundle now safely wrapped up and in his arms, he gently made his way out of the hospital.  It was clear to him that he would have to go to the cemetery out in the eastern part of the city, where Linn’s parents were buried and where her daughter would also rest.  It was strange to think that this child had somehow escaped the grasp of his machine, but it had.  He remembered back to the moment when it hit blackness for Linn.  Difficult as it was to pinpoint such an exact memory rather than a general skill stored as a memory, he felt the need to understand what had happened.

Pain was what he could picture, but a different kind now.  Childbirth it was, of course.  The memory didn’t last long as all he could see was the child being born, but there being no sound or screams and then just blackness.  Blackness then turned into what he was living now.  This mingled mess in his head where Linn’s memories, soul perhaps even resided and wrestled with the others.  Could the child have actually been alive, but then been neglected and so died?

Anders had to dig deeper in his memories as he walked through the city towards the cemetery.  It was odd walking the familiar streets, without any of the familiar activity or sounds.  Haunting was not even the start of it.  Devoid of all the pleasures, and of course the darker elements, that once filled them and brought them to life.  This too made him even further depressed at what he had done.  Then he snapped out of it again.  So foolish to walk and hate himself for this.  Yes, the blame was his and now he was the only person left, but done was done and there was no sense in beating himself up over what he knew he could not fix.  So he refocused on the child.

The delivering doctor must be in his head somewhere.  Doctor Filipson was his name, that Anders remembered from Linn.  Unfortunately, the good doctor did not have as strong memories as Linn and was wallowing far in the background somewhere.  If he was able to access those memories he might be able to know whether the child was stillborn or if it had some chance that it was simply alive at the wrong moment.  The baby had ended up in the cot, so he wasn’t sure if Linn had just blacked out before the absorption.  It was a dilemma that he may never be able to answer, even with all of the memories in the world.

Without Anders intending it, the child in his arms had just become a parcel that he was carrying, without much meaning.  It was just his duty to carry the parcel to the destination and so he did.  Before he knew it he was walking along some tramlines and nearing the large churchyard.  It was mainly crowded roads and then before you knew it the churchyard opened up.

Too many memories flooded back into his head.  Sorrow and grieving, loss and absence, hatred and love were all there in his head.  These episodes were becoming acute in certain circumstances that left Anders in a debilitated state.  First the hospital and now the graveyard.  Clearly they were both places of high human emotion and he simply could not contain the entire population of Earth that was rising up with him as he entered it.  On his knees again, he held his head in his hands and rocked back and forth.  Images of death flashed before his eyes.  Not of people dying, but of the funerals and the pains that death caused.

Time was all that he could use to cure his paralysis, so he laid on the ground curled up in the foetal position, pondering his dilemma while his mind also swam amongst the pain.  Clearly he would have to stay away from places of high emotion from now on.  A difficult task for sure, as he wasn’t entirely sure what places would count.  Was it only places associated with pain, or would the high emotions of a large football stadium or a parliament also have the same effect?  He didn’t know, so he would have to endeavour to simply be better at thinking things through rather than acting on the impulses of the population.  A couple of shocks like this would surely make them more willing to leave the rule of the body to a reasoned set of decisions that most agreed with rather than the emotional force of one or two.  Then again, that was what people had thought of the world in general before its collapse (even before Anders), but that in the end was driven by the emotions of the few to the detriment of the many.

Thinking about the problem seemed to relax him some and he slowly came out of his paralysis.  The bundle that he had been holding and then dropped when he was overcome with the pain of death was now unravelled on the ground.  Sara, no, the baby, lay on its back now staring up at Anders with the dead eyes of an unformed lifetime.  His resolve managed to suppress Linn for this moment though.  She could not grab a hold of Ander’s body from her strong perch in his mind as he was resolved to bury this baby and allow the true grieving to commence.  He realised that he needed bury this baby and then bury the past.

Linn’s family grave was only a short walk into the graveyard, but first Ander’s needed tools.  Naturally, he knew where the gardener’s shed was and he moved across to it.  All he needed was a shovel.  For a moment while he was in the shed he felt an urge coming through him to clean up the graveyard.  In normal times the graveyard had been a pillar of beauty and serenity, but now it was returned to nature.  The weeds that had long been the bane of the gardener’s life had sprung up freely without the genocidal hand of the gardener being around to end their kind as best he could.  Of course, as many another gardener knew, it was impossible to weed them out for good.  There was always a seed left, waiting to return and take up its inheritance from the earth.  This fact irritated parts of him greatly, but he was resolved to stay strong.  Bury the past, that was his only objective at the moment.

Shovel slung over his shoulder and bundle in his left hand, he strode through the graveyard, using the pathways so as not to offend the mourners that he had suppressed in his head.  He approached one of the outlying family burial plots that was by the cemetery wall and rested under an old birch tree and an oak that had either been youths in this part of the world long before the cemetery or had been placed there many generations ago by a church gardener.  Even with all the knowledge trapped up in his mind, this he could not know for sure.  He could make a guess, but those simple, plain memories had died long ago.  This was the spot where he started to bury the past.  This was where he would begin to atone for his mistake and to put his mind at ease.

Anders flung the shovel over his shoulder and planted it in the ground.  Then he gently laid the bundle to the side and began his labour.  His physical state had improved dramatically since he had absorbed.  It was a combination of the drive that several of the memories gave him and the urges for exercise that ran deep in his veins now.  Luckily for him, in some ways, this was no grown person.  The grave he dug was not too shallow, but did not reach the depth of six feet that was so customary.  He quickly checked with his memories of Linn to make sure that this would be ok, and it was agreed that it would be.  Sara, the baby girl, the baby with no life to speak of and never an experience except for the first silent moments of life, was placed in to the ground and then Anders shifted the dirt back over to cover the hole.  It was the hardest thing that he had done in his life.

This was only the beginning though.  He stood and bowed his head, not in prayer, but in thought.  There was nothing to it, but to resolve that he should bury and more humans that he came across in his travels around to world that he now only shared with nature and the other animals that had so long been the servants of humans.  Of course, following this rule would mean that it would take him some time to move anywhere, but he was prepared to do so to atone for his irreversible misdeed.  At this point, with immortality still in his mind and feeling in reach (though he did not know why), Anders thought that a decade did not sound so long, so there was no need to worry about time.

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