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by Kit Yona
In the end, there was no pain. That was due to the drugs, and through the fuzzy mist that blanketed her thoughts Marta was pleased they worked as well as they were supposed to. At the moment it was somewhat hazy, but the past few months hadn't been much fun. The doctor had explained what was happening, but Marta didn't feel as if her body was betraying her. Difficult to find fault after ninety-two relatively problem-free years. It had been a good run.
She was vaguely aware of what seemed to be every living descendant offering tearful goodbyes, right down to the youngest great-grandchild. Marta couldn't recall his name but managed to form a ghost of a smile beneath her breathing tube. The mass of humanity slowly emptied from the room until just her children and the doctor remained. The latter seemed far too young to be a physician, but before things had reached this stage she'd enjoyed his gentle and flirtatious manner. He hadn't protested or tried to talk her out of her decision, and now he recognized the time to step back. Her son and daughter each picked a side of her to hug gingerly, murmuring things she couldn't quite make out. They'd been good children for the most part, the ones both here and gone, and hers had been a decent life. Hard at times, indeed, but that was to be expected. There were regrets, of course, paths not taken but long wondered about. That, too, was part of the ride.
With a start Marta noticed how quiet it had gotten and realized the machines that labored in the background for so long had gone silent. Soon, too, would she. Her next breath was labored and the one after that twice as much so, but rather than fret about that she thought of a handsome young man with blue eyes, who had big dreams in his heart, not a dime in his pockets, and a sad smile on his face as he walked away from her. It was not the first time he'd meandered through her thoughts, but it was likely the last. A heavy weight settled on her chest and she let her eyes flutter shut, not shunning the darkness but rather embracing it.
Silence, blanketing. Peace. For how long, impossible to tell. Then, warmth, surrounding her, caressing her. Light as well, coaxing her eyes open with a gentle greeting. With that, much more strident alerts to thirst and hunger. Before she can truly react there is something cool in her hand and someone mopping her brow.
“Easy, Marta. Welcome back.” The voice is familiar and friendly. “Drink, drink. You were gone for a long time.” There is a pleasant quiet as Marta brings the vessel to her lips and takes a long sip, groaning with delight as the nectar glides down her throat and infuses her from head to toe. Without conscious thought she drains the rest, tongue eagerly searching out every last drop. She turns her head to sees her friend Linnea taking the empty cup from her with a smile. With her other hand she holds a tray, handing it over without a word. Just as silently Marta takes it and lays waste to the cake-like contents. When the platter is clean she offers it along with a sheepish grin. Linnea shakes her head and laughs. She is beautiful, almost painful to look at, infused with an exuberant glow. Not a metaphoric one, but an actual radiant light. Her human form is a combination of habit and to provide a comfortable, expected image. She could have wings if she wanted to, or be on fire, or just be a floating nimbus. Marta suspects a tinge of narcissism as well, but doesn't think ill of her for it.
Marta sits up in her bed, stretching her human (by choice as well) form and patting her tummy with a contented sigh. Nectar and ambrosia. Nice way to be greeted after a completion. That it's standard protocol doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
Linnea has done something with the tray and now looks at Marta with an eager expression. “So? How was it?”
Marta pauses before answering. “It was... pleasant,” she says at last. “Full of small joys, happiness, good things. A bit lonely, though.”
“You went in after after your husband's death, right? There was a fork there?”
“Yeah. I took the settlement without a fight this time, which made for a much more comfortable life. I think there were several possible points after that.”
Linnea raises an eyebrow. “Shall we look?” At Marta's nod she flicks a few fingers in the air. A complicated image that greatly resembles a map of the New York City subway system appears in the air in front of them. With an ease borne of experience the pair finds the line they seek and begin to trace it.
“Oh, lots of forks here,” says Linnea. “You turned down two marriage proposals! No, three!” She laughs. “Heartbreaker.”
Marta feigns outrage. “How dare you!” After giggling she adds, “Two were the right choice, I'm sure. I have no inclination to see how those turned out.” She taps a finger against her chin. “Robert, though, that's a different story. He just caught me when I wanted to be alone, I think.”
“You were still pretty young. Do you want to jump back in there and say yes this time?”
“I—I'm not sure just yet. Am I even up for another run? Or should I be replacing you?”
Linnea's eyes show that she very much wishes to say yes, but after the briefest of delays she shakes her head. “No, not yet. I'm still on recovery for a while.” Her lips curve in a wicked smile as she adds, “But I know exactly where I'm going in when I do.”
“Oh. Oh yeah. I was sixteen and at my first concert, a band just about to break it big. Their lead singer was gorgeous and I thought I was just imagining that he kept looking at me. Then a roadie gave me a backstage pass and told me to come with him.”
Marta waits for a second before poking her friend. “Then what? Don't leave me hanging!”
Linnea shrugs. “I didn't go. I was young, overwhelmed, and still hearing my mother's dire warnings about musicians. I gave the pass to someone else.” The smirk returns. “This time, though . . .”
“Second chances are nice, eh?”
“Sometimes.” Linnea cocks her head and asks, “Not every one works out so well, right?”
“Fair point,” Marta concedes. “Following my Olympic aspirations never seemed to work out well.” She looks around at the other glowing beings stretched out on beds, couches, and sleeping mats that comfortably fill the large, airy space, just one like countless others. “Not what I expected, you know?” At Linnea's questioning glance she waves a hand. “All this. Not what I expected, but not the worst way to spend eternity.”
Linnea's expression is full of warmth. “No, not at all.” She claps her hands. “Well, then, let's get you back in. To Robert and ringing wedding bells a second time?”
There is a drawn out pause. “No,” says Marta, thinking of bottomless blue eyes and big hopes with no promise of success. “I have something else in mind.”
Kit Yona is a rare jock/geek hybrid who will ruck over and/or pelt with d12s if threatened. Despite being leased by two small children he writes whenever possible and has branched into copyediting as well. His story “Fudge” was part of the Amazon #1 bestselling anthology Machine of Death and he also appeared in the One Sentence Story anthology. His blog is located at http://thekitastrophe.blogspot.com/ and he can be found on Twitter @thekitastrophe . Feel free to pester him if you wish. He rarely bites.