Right on time, folks, right on time.
All of this is incomprehensible. An obscure pagan ritual which my usually rational friend performed after coming up with a ‘short line of reasoning’. Trading her mind for a stone which could supposedly teleport me to the ‘real world’. Rennie, my smart friend, lying somewhere mumbling bullshit. My eyes and throat are now dry from weeping. My eyes see nothing but the mess in front of me, seeing but not seeing. My mind is blank, my thoughts not even a describable infinite blankness. I’m a dead person.
My reverie is broken by Al putting a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Spruce.” The words sound hollow, cliched. Something said to and for strangers. Something not meant for a practically dead friend.
“It’s okay, Spruce. It’s not like we could do anything. She’s… “ Al chokes, unable to say ‘gone’.
His words, instead of comforting me, fill me with guilt. If only I’d believed them. If only I hadn’t stormed out of a restaurant. If only I hadn’t been a jerk. Impossibly, I cry again.
I cry for several minutes. An hour, maybe. Maybe a day. Time seems to have stopped making sense.
After what seems like an eternity, I stop sobbing. My breath comes out in breaks and sniffles.
“Look, Spruce, she did this for a reason. We have to be strong. You’ve got to do what she wanted you to do.”
My words come out in stutters. “I- I can’t. I’m n-not st-strong lie-like you, A- Al.”
“Says the guy who kills mutants with yo-yos,” Al says with a weak laugh, trying to cheer me up.
I do not reply. I just sit there, hugging my knees and hanging my head down.
“Spruce, listen to me,” says Al, kneeling down next to me. “I know you’re sad. I know you’re angry at Rennie for doing this to herself. I know you blame yourself. I know you feel like a dick. But you’ve got to buckle up, man. Nothing good can come of you sitting here and sulking away. If you wanna make amends to what you- in your opinion- did wrong, you’ll have to pick up the stone. You’ll have to go and kill the creator.”
“But what if I don’t want to, Al? What good will come of it?”
“It’s no longer a question of ‘want to’, dummy. Rennie sacrificed everything for this, and we’ll have to do it. The good that will come of it is that we’ll finally be free and terrible things won’t happen to us- things She uses as ‘plot devices.’ You understand? Now stop being a baby and get up.”
“I just- I need some time.” With that, I walk out of the house and into my zorb. But I can’t. I just can’t put on that helmet. Al has quietly followed me outside. “No chance you’re driving with a brain that unstable, man. Let me drop you home.”
“Aren’t you ‘unstable’?” I say, putting as much spite into the word as I can.
“I’ve had more time to cry than you, so no.”
I hardly resist. Al walks over, a hand outstretched. I give him my key card.
In a few minutes, we reach home. Al doesn’t even say goodbye as he walks away.
I lay on my bed, and in a while, sorrow pulls me into the blissful depths of sleep.
I wake up in the late evening, at around 8 o’clock. There’s no way I’ll be going to sleep at 11 now.
I turn on the hologram-vision to drown out the din of my thoughts about Rennie, the writer and the real world, but there’s no escaping them. Al’s right. I’ve already done a lot of things wrong, and I cannot make one more mistake. I cannot let Rennie’s sacrifices be in vain. I have to make amends. And I’ll do that now.
I call Al up.
“Now pick up the damn stone and get it over with.”
I walk over to the study-table. A smooth blue stone, adorned with a couple of pastel yellow patches and lots of black lines that make it look like a picture of a dense forest, sits atop the table, beckoning. I’m about to touch it when something occurs to me. “What about supplies?”
“Supplies?” Al repeats dumbly.
“You know, money and food and clothes. And what are we supposed to kill the writer with?”
“Am I supposed to take care of everything? Didn’t you bring your stuff?”
“No,” I reply simply.
Al facepalms. “Oh, dear god. Get in the zorb and go bring your things. And don’t forget your yo-yo. And don’t bring too much.”
After about half an hour, everything’s ready. I have a black backpack slung on my back, carrying two pairs of clothes, my toothbrush, gold coins (since Aurocoin would probably not be useful there), meds, some snacks and water. My DLRY is attached safely to the belt-loops in my pants. Al has a dark green knapsack on his back, the top of a water bottle sticking out of it.
I pick up the stone.