Every morning, at 0500 hours, the alarm went off. To Kevin O’Connor, even though it was a sweet little chime, it sounded like a gunshot or a bomb.
He had slept on a hair trigger for eight long years, ever since Josie had been diagnosed with Piaris Syndrome. Eight years of barely resting, as her tiny Aenar body literally ate itself alive.
First it had been a lack of coordination, but she could still work as a kindergarten teacher. But that had given way to brittle bones and then no bones, replaced by synthetic replicas made of a form of rigid plastic not unlike that found in old-fashioned snow shovels. Then her voice went and it, too, was replaced. The fake voice was not her delicate, breathy Marilyn Monroe-like inflections. Instead, it was harsh and mechanical, purely functional.
Her working days had ended right about then, as tiny children could not be expected to be patient with a teacher who could not call out over their raucous play. Walking was done, and so was eating anything more challenging than an overripe strawberry.
And Kevin had recently demanded of the doctor, and had finally been given, a deadline. Dead, yes, for Piaris was uniformly fatal. When would she be gone? The doctor had called it – in, perhaps, six months.
And so he had settled into the ritual, and now it was a little bit different, as there was a purpose to all of this activity. He gently called out, “Wake up, sleepy head.”
The antennae twitched a little as the pale eyes opened. “Ah,” she said with her imitation voice, “is it morning already?”
“Big day,” Kevin said. “Know where you are?”
More slight twitching. “Hotel room?”
“Can’t fool you, darlin’.” He began to perform the ritualistic tasks he performed every single morning. Gently, he slipped off her nightie. He did not look. He had stopped looking years ago, as her body had wasted away to nearly nothing and she had lost a good half of her original mass. He did his best to remember what she had been like. She’d been a knockout, all angles and pale milky curves. But the angles had won, and her body was a shell of its former beauty. Her stomach was flatter than a supermodel’s, but it was not through dieting. Instead, Piaris had destroyed most of her intestines. She quite literally had nothing in there to bow out her belly.
Carefully, he cleaned her off and gave her a fresh covering. Then he got her biomechanical suit. It fit her closely, but he had noticed that even it was becoming big on her. He arranged the wires and tubing and carefully fitted her into it. First, what was left of her toes and feet were nestled into what looked like, to the outside world, thigh-high black leather boots. Then her middle would be encased in what resembled almost a catsuit. Her arms would be covered by just about the same thing as her legs, with built-in gloves to define what remained of her ravaged fingers. It went all the way up to her neck.
He finished and she smiled at him. “All dressed up and nowhere to go,” she said with her false voice.
“Actually, there is somewhere to go,” Kevin said. “Remember? It’s May fourth.”
“Our anniversary is in three weeks,” she whispered, “Sixteenth.”
“Right you are,” Kevin said, “but we’re celebrating early this year.” They were doing everything early that year, as he feared the worst – that Josie would never see the end of that year, 3108.
He got a big garment bag out of the hotel room’s closet and unzipped it. “Look familiar?”
It was a hot pink and white striped gown, the confection she had worn on their wedding day, on May the twenty-fifth of 3092. She had resembled a stick of peppermint candy. It was long before she’d gotten sick, and there was a lot of joking around, and a lot of ribaldry around the idea of candy.
They had turned heads, he remembered. Hybrid marriages were becoming more and more common, but theirs still stood out. There had been a news story, one of those human interest matters, although he was the only one of the two of them who was even partly human – Local beauty weds engineer. People would gawk at the near teragram-sized part-reptile squiring around the gorgeous, slight Aenar. He knew that at least half of their whisperings were along the line of, “How do you think they do it?”
Half the time he’d answer, unprompted – “Very, very well.” That would mortify most.
But sex was long gone, too, another victim of Piaris Syndrome.
“My wedding gown,” Josie said in her fake voice.
“We’re gonna renew our vows,” he said, helping her into the dress. It had been taken in quite a bit, but she was still swimming in it.
He helped her to the window so that she could look out. “On Tandar Prime?”
“Yes,” Kevin said. It was not a romantic gesture – although he was more than capable of those. Instead, it was for practicality’s sake. He had found an officiant who doubled as a medic. The hotel was on one side of a state of the art Tandaran medical facility. On the other side, was the officiant’s home. Kevin had researched the matter for months. It was as perfect as it could possibly be.
Josie took one more look out the window. “How far is it?”
“I’ll carry you,” Kevin said and, just like he had done for years, for a thousand times or more, he picked up her two canes, and her, and brought her to their destination.