Sleeping Giants Page 22

—I…We spend every minute of every day alone in a space the size of my bedroom. There’s no one else he could pay attention to. I can’t put it into words. I…I wish I didn’t feel like everything was about me. Then again, I’d probably find him too distant. Maybe I’m just nuts.

—Did you sleep with him again?

—Does it really matter? I tried to make it work. Deep down, I knew it wouldn’t take but I tried. I never stopped really. I was still trying. Then the unthinkable happened.

—What do you mean?

—The end of the world. Stars falling from the sky.

Mitchell and I spend most of our time alone in the sphere, but once in a while, someone will come up for a few minutes. The techs will come up to check the equipment. Dr. Franklin likes to climb in once a day just to say hello. We’re always pretty happy to see other faces. Vincent is our most frequent visitor. He comes into the sphere a couple times a day to look at the console. We usually take a break to chat.

—What do you talk about?

—Anything and everything. Work, sports, the weather. That time he walked us through the number symbols while he was there. Did he show you how the numbers work? It’s insane. I just can’t wrap my head around it. Anyway, it was late. We were all really tired and we started joking around, showing Vincent how the controls worked. Ryan was doing the moonwalk with the robot. I was doing disco moves on my station. We were all watching it on the computer screens. We were having a really good time. The helmet was just sitting there. We were laughing so hard, we didn’t even notice when he reached for it.

—Who did? Mr. Couture?

—Yes. He put it on. Then he fell to his knees and screamed. It was all happening in slow motion. We just stood there. Ryan looked at me, and we both knew what had just happened. We knew everything had changed. After what seemed like an eternity, we got out of our braces and we helped him up and out of the sphere. Dr. Franklin kept asking: What happened? What happened? Neither of us could get the words out.

—What happened?

—Ryan was out. That’s what happened. Everything he had, all he had worked for, gone. Just like that. I’ve seen men die in combat, but I’d never seen anyone lose everything in one instant and have to live with it. I wish I could have held him in my arms at that very moment, told him everything was going to be all right, but we had to take care of Vincent.

—Why do you think the helmet turned on for Vincent and not for anyone else?

—Hell if I know. DNA. Brain configuration. Fate. The universe having a very sick sense of humor.

He spent a couple days in bed. He actually listened and kept his bandages on the whole time. When he came back, the station turned on for him, as we all expected. The console lit up as well. Dr. Franklin couldn’t hide how thrilled she was, despite her best efforts. Who could blame her? She’d been hoping for this for so long.

Once the helmet activated, I could see the leg movements on my hologram. There was another small hologram on the console, just like mine. Of course, Vincent’s legs didn’t fit the controls any more than Ryan’s did, so the hologram didn’t help much. He had to face away from it, just like Ryan. And just like Ryan, he couldn’t get the leg movements right. But Vincent wasn’t nearly in as good a shape as Ryan. I wish I could say we were back to square one.

Vincent had to learn everything from scratch. Seeing the legs move on my hologram helped a little, but we still had to call out every movement. It was…

—Discouraging.

—You got that right. It took Ryan and me close to six months to get the hang of it, and we had to do it all over again with someone who ran out of breath after five minutes.

Ryan was very…gentlemanly about the whole thing. He took Vincent under his wing and taught him every move a thousand times over. Vincent also went into this with the best of attitudes, considering…He knew he was taking Ryan’s place, and he was reminded of it every day having him as a coach. He knew he was slowing us down as well. He hit the gym real hard, lifting weights every night after we left; but you can’t make up for years of military training in a few weeks.

Ryan had them build a replica of the leg controls. For three months, he worked side by side with Vincent, having him shadow every movement he made. Slowly, but surely, Vincent began to get it right, for only a step or two at first, then for minutes at a time. After a while, Ryan was mostly encouraging him, pointing out a few mistakes here and there. I could tell he was beginning to feel useless. I became much tougher on Vincent, doing my best to make him look as bad as I could so Ryan would have something to work on.

But that was only the half of it. Vincent and I couldn’t help but get along. We always made each other laugh and this was no different. Working in the sphere, it does something to people. Ryan looks like an underwear model, but Vincent and I, we have chemistry. Soon, Ryan began to feel like a fifth wheel. It was horrible to watch. He was losing the most exciting job of his life, and losing me at the same time. He had front-row seats to watch me grow closer to Vincent. What’s worse is he was asked to play a part in it.

Vincent’s not a good man by any standard definition. He’s not evil or anything, but he’s self-absorbed. He has an ego the size of New England and he’s not particularly nice to people. He actually says he doesn’t like people. He’s a genius, but he’s a bad person. I know, because I was attracted to him, and it was obvious it ran both ways. After a while, you had to cut through the sexual tension in the room. Maybe it was because we both knew it was the worst thing we could do; maybe having Ryan in the room made it all the more forbidden. All I can tell you is that it was palpable. I did my best to ignore it. I even asked Ryan out a few more times. He wouldn’t sleep with me. He couldn’t stand the idea it might have been out of pity.

—Was it?

—Ryan began leaving the sphere early. Dr. Franklin eventually found him some work in the lab to keep his mind at ease. I don’t think he could stand being in the same room with me anymore. I feel terrible for saying it, but I was beginning to resent him for giving up. It’s awful, I know, since I didn’t think we had a future together, but part of me wanted him to fight, for his job, for me, for anything.

One night, Vincent and I were working late. Ryan had left early and we had just heard Dr. Franklin close the door on her way out. We listened to the silence for a few moments, waiting for the inevitable. Vincent got out of his station and climbed up to mine. He smiled and slowly moved in front of me. I was still braced in, my arms stretched out in the control suit. He undid my belt, took off my pants and wrapped my legs around him. He didn’t say anything, not a single word; he just stared at me the whole time. It was…Never mind.

We locked the lab behind us and walked out through the exit in the maintenance building. I followed Vincent outside; two blinding lights appeared out of nowhere. I was still covering my eyes when Vincent shoved me back inside as hard as he could. I hit the ground pretty hard and knocked my head on the stairwell ramp. There was a loud bang that shook the whole building. When I got out to see what had happened, Ryan was still in his truck, both hands on the wheel. The front end had embedded itself about a foot into the cement wall. Vincent was lying facedown on the hood of the truck, his legs crushed into the wall.

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