Anchor

Or

How to Avoid An Unexpected Death in the Depths of Space

***

Neon lights flashing. The sense of accomplishment as a red block turns green. The adrenaline of a run almost complete, cresting into that familiar feeling as those last few bits all click into place at once. Confusion. A black shadow obscuring the netscape. A blur of incomprehension. Fear. Pain. An arm falling. Blood gushing. Immense pain. A scream. Fading.

Mordecai opened his eyes to find himself in the dark covered in sweat. His snout dabbed sweat from his face as he sat up. She’s gone. Or she would be. He took a few deep breaths before he could stand. He knew what was coming. He knew he would need to work fast to get everything prepared for the flood. Mordecai waved a hand in front of the monitor in the corner and it came to life. The menu popped up some options and he tapped the one he needed. It sent his prepared message to an assortment of family and friends. “Flood incoming. Headed to the temple.” It wasn’t much, but they would know what he meant. He got dressed and slung his prepared pack over his shoulder. He stepped outside of the room and shut the door without looking back inside. He pressed his snout into the hole next to the door. It depowered the unit and locked it up for his hopefully eventual return. The system behind the walls lifted his room away. Units actually being  lived in were prioritized for ground access.

Mordecai blinked back some tears. He couldn’t let his emotions take over before he got to the temple. It wasn’t fair  he had surrendered his life for someone he couldn’t remember. All he knew right now was that she was dead and threatening his life. It wasn’t fair. He kicked the wall where his door once was. Focus. Mordecai’s original plan had been to sign up for a service that would take care of everything for him, but his Mom had talked him out of it eventually. With a service, they would be able to sense when the flood was starting. No ambiguity. They wouldn’t intercept the flood. That was illegal. Even worse than the illegality were the societal implications if you let someone intercept for you.. People didn’t even like it when an interception  was required to save an anchor’s life. So a service wouldn’t intercept the flood, but they were able to detect it before the first memories hit.

Mordecai left the facility and started walking down the trail. All trails, well most trails, eventually lead to a temple, but he had planned his route out well in advance and let my feet take over. His mom had argued he shouldn’t be planning this much, but he knew it was different in her time. If he weren’t using a service, he would at least be prepared. He was now kicking himself mentally for living so far away from a temple. Rooms closer to a temple cost more, but It would have been worth it for this eventuality. He didn’t want to get lost in the wilderness like so many do when they forgo the help of a service. Even in the most populated places, you were never too far from the wilderness. He shuddered at the thought of the wilderness.

A wave hit him. Rigby. That was her name. He had already seen her last thoughts. Her last bits of vision. Now he would know more about her. Everything he read disagreed about when he would know who she was to him. Some said you didn’t know until the end. At which point it was too late. Pointless to know who they are to you when you no longer exist. Well, some say you no longer existed. Some say you transcend into a new lifeform. But that wasn’t true. The ones that said that were just deluded. Guilty that their life had erased the one before them. He was getting angry. He stomped as he walked kicking up dust from the trail. He was about to enter a canyon and it would be safer there. With the buildings so high on either side it was harder to wander into the wilderness if he were hit with a big wave. Harder, but not impossible.

Another flash. Rigby was a hacker. Of course she was a hacker. Weren’t they all? All those ones that selfishly go to space? That’s what all the crews need out of us Tonks. That’s what they’re all recruiting for. With our network-infused world, what other roles would we fit into? Let me guess. She saw some vid as a kid and she couldn’t stop seeing the stars after that. Such a cliche story played out time and time again. The memories come backward so it would be awhile before he got to find out about her childhood. Hopefully it wouldn’t even get that far. Once he got to the temple he could have her essence extracted into the pyre where it belonged. She was dead and that’s where the essence of the dead goes. Some people feel guilty sending people into the flames when you don’t even really remember the person, but when you have a flood coming, there’s only one survivor. It’s one or the other, and Mordecai didn’t intend to be the other.

Another few waves hit as he walked, but nothing that caused him to stop. Not yet. As he left the building canyon the sun was rising. It wasn’t something you could always tell in a canyon. The buildings blocked out most of the sky and the light they provided never betrayed the time of day. He never understood how anyone could live so high. Without immediate access to the ground, you run the risk of running out of nourishment. Sure, the buildings that hight all had systems to rotate the rooms, or express lifts, or in the case of extreme wealth, you could have a staff continually refresh the floor with still infused ground. It would never be fresh ground, but it was the closest you could come to leaving the planet without an anchor. Even then, Mordcai thought the risk wasn’t worth it.

Mordecai didn’t stop walking, but he grabbed his pack and started shuffling through it. His snout sniffed through for what he was looking for and grabbed out an energy bar. This should keep him awake through the walk. He should be there shortly he thought. Normally he could check the net to know the time and his location and based on his speed when he would arrive, but you couldn’t get anything on the net with a flood coming. And if you tried anyway, well that was a good way to get yourself into the wilderness. Mordecai always thought of the wilderness as a disconnected place, but in his research before the flood, some described it as being fully connected. So connected you weren’t connected. A place of trails leading only to themselves and never to a temple. Separated from the holy and the most holy experience one could have. The sages had to go to the wilderness to become sanctioned. It was a place of pure contradiction. Mordecai often thought about what it was actually like, but never wanted to actually know. Mordecai watched his feet. One after the other they paced forward. Another wave. More space adventures. Adventures he would never have. It was such a selfish act going to space and condemning a walker. He wouldn’t be able to say he didn’t enjoy what he was remembering though. The excitement of a shoot-out. The thrill of hacking into a ship and controlling it out from underneath another crew. He found himself laughing. Laughing to himself on the side of a trail. He shook his head and tried to clear the new memories out of it. He tried to stop smiling. But they were too happy. Even the bad ones. The extreme hunger after a botched job. The pain of being shot and going down. The panic of the air running low in a space suit.

Mordecai stopped walking. He blinked. He was a foot away from the trail. The wilderness staring at him. Beckoning.  He took his pack off and rifled through it again. He fed himself another energy bar with his snout while he continued searching. He found a headband and put it on. He snapped some dangling pieces onto his neck and put his pack back on before heading back to the trail to continue on. If he closed his eyes for too long it would deliver a vibration through the headband. If he continued to keep his eyes closed it would deliver a small electric shock. If he kept his eyes closed after that, well, it was best not to think about that.

He kept walking not knowing how long he had left. Either reaching the temple or succumbing to the flood. Two outcomes with unknown countdowns. He started to cry. He had been pretty good about keeping the emotion out before that last wave had made him happy. You could put up walls against the negative emotions, but the happiness just snuck past his defenses. And with the emotional wall cracked, the rest came pouring in. That empty part of him he was not allowed to remember was tingling. The section he had to partition off to contain her essence was back. He felt whole again and knew why some felt this was a transcendent experience. It was good to feel whole again. Tears streamed down his face as he felt all of his mind slot into place. He missed this. He would miss it again. In order to remain the person he was, he would have to give that up again. All so Rigby could be a space-faring Tonk. He hadn’t yet seen why she would condemn him to this. Why he would agree to be condemned. She wanted to have grand space adventures, so Mordecai offered up part of his mind as an anchor. Tonks were never supposed to leave the ground. The core nourishes the ground and the ground nourishes the feet and the feet nourish the body. That’s the way of the life line.

At least that was the way before anchoring. If your mind is nourished, your body follows. When it was first discovered no one saw the point.. If you put your mind in the network to be nourished. You wouldn’t have your mind. So it could be used to transport your body away from the ground, but what good is a Tonk body without a Tonk mind to drive it? Then came schisming. Separating your mind into pieces. This was a brute force tactic that has fallen out of favor. You never knew how much of your mind would end up in the right place. But if you had a willing partner and a strong emotional connection. They could accept part of your mind and transmit the nourishment to your body. Not even something they had to do consciously. Then you could have full functioning mind and body away from the ground. It just came at the price of your anchor giving up part of their mind as well. A part walled-off for the transmitting. A partition consisting of the memories of the one being anchored. So the traveller would leave and the anchor would forget them. Forget them until they died and returned with a flood.

Mordecai’s headband buzzed and he opened his eyes. He feet had left the trail again. He had to focus. He couldn’t get off in his own head or he would end up wandering the wilderness. He blinked and he watched himself shrinking away still on the land. Another view of another time he had forgotten. He watched the same scene from his point of view as she left.  He blinked his eyes open and the buzzing stopped. He pushed further on the trail. He could see the temple now. It wasn’t long now. Soon.

“Mordecai,” her voice said through his mouth. No, her mouth. He looked at himself.

“Yeah?” Mordecai was looking away. Rigby could tell he was tearing up and didn’t want to be seen. She took a deep breath.

“I’m scared.” she said. Mordecai held both memories in his head. He felt her fear as if it were his own. He remembered the overwhelming sadness he had forgotten until now. The sadness so deep he couldn’t look at her. Not for this moment. He should soak all of her in that he could, but he couldn’t. Their legs dangled off the side of their seat—occasionally glancing off of one another.

“You can’t be the scared one.” Mordecai wiped at the end of his snout. He turned to meet her face and he could finally remember what it looked like. Her rough brown skin. Her lean snout wrinkling in just the right places. Her large eyes the color of the suns. His heart ached for her. Every trail in his body an extension of the heart and all of them missed her already. The headband buzzed and he ripped it from his head. The clips on his neck pulled threatening to take him out of his memory, but he continued to pull and they came free. So did he. The way her snout curled up as she was about to talk and the way the end glistened in starlight. He watch his own face turn towards her and knew her feelings about himself. How she thought about his eyebrows and loved the irregular bumps on the right side of his snout and how her heart and the trails leading away from them mirrored his own. The depth of both of their feelings caused Mordecai to drown in the memory. He watched as they both exposed their vulnerabilities for her last night on the ground. They watched the stars as they wallowed in the uncertainty of their futures and sprinted away from the terrifying certainties that she would be gone and she would be forgotten.  

Mordecai blinked.

“You should go,” Mordecai said.

“Go where?” Rigby looked confused. Her snout curled to the side.

“To space.”

Rigby laughed. Her laughter turned uncomfortable as she realized he was serious. “I could never.”

“I could anchor you.”

Her face wrinkles deepened as she denied that she ever could. She really believed she never could. Genuine belief that she would stay. But Mordecai had planted the seed. And every time he said he would anchor her, he watered it. Before finally a wilderness had sprouted in her mind and she could no longer ignore it. Mordecai remembered his willingness to go through with it. The contradiction of wanting to be selfless for someone he loved and then cursing that person when he couldn’t remember her. The contradiction of the wilderness. Of the love and the hate coexisting with one another, neither aware of the other. Of being on the ground and in the air. Of being inside his body but no longer in control of it.

Mordecai blinked.

Rigby looked through Mordecai’s eyes at Mordecai’s face reflected in the water before them. The eyebrows and snout just as she remembered them. Perhaps a bit more wrinkled, but still so familiar to her. She took a deep breath with his lungs. He was in here. She couldn’t get to him though. That would have to wait though. She stood and wiped at the end of his snout.

“Alright Mordecai,” she said aloud to herself and him. “I’m going to get you out of there. Or me out of here. Look I don’t know how this works. But I’m going to fix it. But first I have to do something else. I hope you don’t mind if I use your body for a bit longer. But I’ve got an alien to kill.”

 

The End . . . For Now

 

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