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Five More Years

"Do you know what happens next?"

Jakob existed in a white space, his perspective divorced from any idea of musculature or field of view. The Warden spoke to him in a voice defaulted to one that was identical, in tone and timbre, to his own. Not as others heard it, but as Jakob did. Long enough and he would not be able tell if he was talking to himself. Part of the deal.

"Yes."

"Still, I am encumbered by law to explain. You have been sentenced to five years of catatonic rehabilitation. You—"

"I waive my rights to explanation. Proceed with the treatment."

"We have already started building the profile," said the Warden. Jakob covered an ear. The voice continued at the same volume. "You simply have to visualise where to start."

He asked her to marry him again, beside the fountain where they first kissed, staring pigeons their only witnesses. They made love again, under a sky full of stars for the first time. Together they ran through the rain after a late movie. Swapping salt and sugar in a batch of cookies. Laughing again, again. Hers was a deep laugh, straight from the belly, rich and full. He asked her to marry him again, beside the foun—

"You will need to move on to other memories, Jakob," said the other voice in his mind.

"I prefer the pleasant ones."

"So do most other murderers. Your treatment demands that you face the rest."

"How much time has passed?" he asked the stranger in his head.

"Not quite enough."

They had their problems, who didn't. The bedroom was their battlefield; salvoes of silence, the unfinished sentences ringing out like cannon fire. Money was a problem. There were fat years and lean years, but more of latter. He gave up game nights with his friends, trading weekend league games for a second job. She did too, of course, but those sacrifices on the altar of their marriage never added to her side of the ledger he kept in his mind. He balanced the ledger with tiny aggressions, little vicious nudges to provoke something. The parity never came for him.

"You were unhappy."

Had he said that out loud or was it his jailer? Did it matter?

"Not unhappier than most."

"I've seen worse."

Who had? Him? The Warden?

"We're almost done here."

No.

"One thing more."

"No. I don't want it. I'm not done—"

It was a traffic accident. A statistical anomaly, the autonomous vehicle she was in oversteering to compensate for an out of control freight truck. Three compound fractures. Bones he'd never heard of. One compressed vertebra. Her brain swelled up like an overripe melon. They induced a coma and opened her skull to relieve the pressure. Thirty-six hours later, whirring mechanisms still forced air through her lungs, blood through her veins. One eyelid was half open, the orb beneath rolled up and showing whites, as dry as a taxidermist's marble.

Her body running on autopilot. She wasn't going to wake up. Not now, not ever. They had to take her off the machines. Marking out what was left for spare parts. He was there till late. Wedging the door shut. Not sure which wires to unplug. The nurses banging, desperate drumbeats on cheap fibreboard. She was still warm when they broke down the door.

"You loved her."

"Yes."

"And hated her."

"A little."

"They would have taken her off the machines the next day. You achieve nothing."

"Maybe. Maybe not. I got what I wanted."

"And that was?"

"Five more years."

About the Author
L. Chan hails from Singapore, where he alternates between being walked by his dog and writing speculative fiction after work. His work has appeared in places like Perihelion Science Fiction, Metaphorosis Magazine and Liminal Stories. You can follow his tweets at @lchanwrites or connect with him on Facebook.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link