He's dead. That much he knows for certain.
He doesn't know his name, anymore. He doesn't know what he did, or how, or where. A whole, rich life, full of people and places and things, and all he's got are a few pieces, sliding past each other in what's left of his mind.
A trio of fragile icebergs, crackling in the water as they float away from the larger, cold and quiet land.
One piece is sweet and calming. It's him and another man, locked in an embrace on a warm, tropical night. The sweat they share may have been from the heat, or may have been from what they were just doing -- maybe both. But as they stand on a balcony and watch the sun go down, arm in arm, wrapped only in a crisp sheet and each other, there is nothing but trust and happiness.
And love, full and complete.
Another piece is spicy and challenging. It's him and yet another man, only they're arguing over something. The silly fellow's come and knocked down his office wall, such as it is, and is laying into him for something he did, or else something he didn't do. The conversation could go a couple different ways, but somehow they wind up agreeing with one another, and laying out a path to something better than this.
A trail that leads to another balcony, in another place, and another, even stronger feeling.
And then there is a horrible one, where he's forced to watch as everything he's worked for decades comes falling apart -- exploding, really -- because of a long string of mistakes and misfortunes. He's no longer sure if the destruction is necessary or not, or if it's by his hand or someone else's. All he knows is that when the blast engulfs him, he feels himself fall into a deep pit, sick with despair.
A pit made all the worse for the simple fact that, once there, he will never enjoy that truly challenging emotion again.
The pieces crack and collide with each other, there in the dark. He can feel the pieces of them melding, and slowly becoming one. Maybe they're trying to give him a more complete picture of who and what he was, or maybe they're sliding into each other, like old files on a disk in bad need of a defragging.
Maybe they're all he has now, here in what may be the last moments of a life he can barely claim to know.
* * *
"I need to know if you're serious, son," the man is saying. His chest seems ready to explode with rank bars and medals, and his desk is littered with scale models of spaceships -- some that everyone knows, and some that very few have seen.
"A chance like this?" he replies, looking at the schematics he's been handing: "An assignment like this? Sir... there's no way I could turn this down."
"I know. Your psychological assessment said as much, and so have your superiors and everyone you've ever worked with in the Space Service. Your time with Icarus and on Alpha Base Seven has proven your worth, especially under highly trying circumstances. You're the right man for the job in every way, as far as we're concerned. But..."
"But?" he says, putting the schematics down and looking at the man.
The man opens his mouth, and then leans back in his chair, sighing: "This thing with the people who made it. It's a complicated thing that I don't pretend to understand. The incoming President's telling us to just shut the !@#$ up and deal with it, but the longer we wait, the greater the chance that the Soviets might get hold of it. Or maybe one of the others. You know...SQUASH, HONEYCOMB, or whoever else..."
"I thought SQUASH were the Soviets, sir?"
The man smiles and nods: "And that's another reason we want you there, son. You know the situation."
"I do, and I know that we need to send a group up to take control as soon as possible, sir," he says, pulling his chair closer to the desk: "And like you said, I'm your man. I agree. Sir."
"I know," the man says, patting his desk: "But it's like this. We need assurances. Insurance that you're not going to get up there and go crazy, or sell us out. Insurance that someone won't get up there, somehow, and force you to use it against us."
He thinks for a moment, and then nods: "Well, sir, my time with the Service should prove that I'm not likely to go space crazy, but given the circumstances of the assignment, I can understand the concern. And as for being forced, well... that is a real concern."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, son," the man says, getting up from the desk and going to get a folder from a nearby table. It's black, marked ULTRA BLACK, and has a different set of schematics poking out of it.
"Another part of the duty?" he asks, looking at it as the man hands it over.
"No son," the man sighs, sitting on the corner of his desk: "This is the part of the duty that we have no precedent for. The part where they make certain you can't be used, and can be stopped if we have to. The part where you give yourself to the Space Service, body and soul, now and forever."
"Do you... do you know what a cyborg is, son?"
He looks at the pictures, his mind wanting to shut down, and yet not quite getting there. Memories of 70's television and a hundred dimestore paperbacks. A word that's always fascinated him, but not quite been real, somehow.
"So, to be in charge of Wonderwall-"
"Deep-Ten, son," the man smiles: "Small change in nomenclature, as per the current situation."
"In order to be in charge of this installation, I have agree to be... altered."
"They need to turn you into a cybernetic organism, yes."
"And I basically sign on for life?"
The man doesn't speak. He just nods, and stares at the wall. It's not every day he has to ask this of someone, apparently.
"Sir, I'm in," he says, standing up and extending his hand to shake. The man looks at it like it's some crazy thing that's been shoved in his direction for a moment, but then takes it, tentatively.
"Are you sure, son?" he asks, raising an eyebrow: "You don't want to think it over? Maybe take some time-"
"I'm positive," he says: "I assume I'll need to report right away?"
"You could... you know, take a vacation? See the world a bit before...?"
"Sir, with all due respect to the Space Service, we know how this works. We're not the only one with an interest in this installation. If I go out on a last trip around the world, the chances that someone might get hold of me and try to turn me into some kind of Manchurian Candidate are pretty !@#$ high. And then you'd have a compromised agent in charge of the kind of weapons no enemy government should even know exist. Sir."
The man blinks, frowns, and then nods. He shakes his hand, reverently.
"Report to the medical wing, Commander," the man says, saluting: "And on behalf of your country, thank you."
"Thank you for this amazing opportunity, sir," he says: "I won't let you down."
The man doesn't even dismiss him -- just nods and lets him go.
And as he walks down the hall, his heart pounding in his chest, and he feels as though every single moment of every day in his life has led him to this exciting chance, he wonders who the red and silver girl is, down the hall, and why she's looking at him so strangely...
* * *
"Do you know where you are?" a voice asks him, dreamy and far-away, in the black. A girl's voice, he thinks. But so echoey and ethereal...
He tries to answer. He can't. He can hear the words, and knows what they mean, but they might as well be another language for all he can communicate back.
"Do you know who you are?" the voice asks again.
And he has to think about that for a moment. Who is he, really?
Who's holding who on that balcony in Thailand? Who's yelling at who in his office? Who's destroying whose machine, on the Moon?
Where does he fall in these few memories he has left?"
"Come back to me," the voice gently persuades him: "I'm right here. Let me help you..."
* * *
"I don't know how you feel about this, but..." the Lt. hands him a small jar, full of something, glinting in the light from the tall windows of the small hospital room.
He picks it up and tests its weight, still getting used to how things feel with his new hands, and how they move.
"Are these my ashes?" he asks, giving it a shake. From the way the Lt. looks at him, that would be a 'yes.'
"Well," he says, smiling and putting the jar down on the table: "That's a conversation piece."
He's in yet another medical facility -- the third one in two weeks. This time they're calling it "Post-Op Re-Evaluation," which is just another phrase for "Making Sure We Didn't !@#$ Up," so far as he can tell. He's been poked, prodded, opened, closed, refitted, and partially rebuilt about a dozen times since the operation.
But then, each time he goes under, he comes back out a little more functional, a little less freakish.
"Anything else, Lt.?" he asks, casting his eyes around for the latest Omni: "If they want to know if I'm hungry, the answer is yes. I can actually feel the sensation, again."
"Well, that's good," the man says, still a little uneasy at this whole thing: "I'll let them know, sir. Any requests?"
"Well, the chicken last night didn't do so well, I don't think. Maybe some simple proteins and starches?"
The man nods, not wanting to know what 'didn't do so well' means. He salutes and leaves, and then it's just the room and the magazine.
And the silver and red girl, again.
"How can I help you?" he asks, putting the magazine down: "Are you part of the staff, here?"
"No," she says, echoing and uncertain as she walks to his bedside: "Are you?"
"No," he replies, not certain what kind of crazy question that is: "I'm definitely a patient."
"Do you know why?"
"Full body replacement," he answers without thinking: "Everything but my head, and I think they fortified my skull... come to think of it, I think the only thing they left alone was my brain."
"Not alone, no," she says, looking at the side of his head: "I see structures. Many structures. New and alive."
"Yeah, well, go figure," he says, tapping his temple: "I guess they had to wire things up a bit. I don't know what all they did, anymore."
"No," she says, leaning back as if she was about to do a backstroke in the air: "I think they avoid telling you. It's not a good thing to know how you come together. How you come apart."
"Are you sure?" he asks, really wondering who this person is.
"A long time ago, in a garden, a woman was made for a man," she explains, waving a hand through the air, leaving red and silver motion lines behind it: "He saw her as she was made. Bone and muscle. Fat and gut. Blood and secretions. All that stuff we have locked inside the skin, made piece by piece and then wrapped around like a Christmas present."
He blinks, imagining that: "That's... that must have been horrible to watch."
"It was. And he couldn't ever see her, after that. He only saw her pieces. And he was afraid."
"Who was she?"
She giggles and shrugs: "No one knows. He never named her. And the One who made her took her away."
"Did he ever get another woman?"
"Yes," she says, waving her hands again: "But this time, the One made him sleep. There was a rib taken out, and she was woven from it, like from a loom. One flesh, they were. Two parts of the same body. Man and woman."
"Adam and Eve," he says, realizing where she's coming from: "Are you Eve, then?"
"No," a smile, and her fingers in his hair: "But I was also remade, as you have been."
"Really? Like this?"
"Not like this, no," she replies, running a hand down his chest: "The One touched me, inside. I became a new thing, inside and out. A runner on the waves of the world. A herder of comets and a watcher of the stars. A witness to time, ongoing."
"The One?" he asks, sitting up a bit: "Do you mean God?"
She giggles a little, pointing out the window. He realizes she must mean the Sun, but that makes no !@#$ sense.
"What's your name?" he asks.
"Brightstarsurfergirl," she says, the words rolling off her tongue: "What's yours?"
"I'm..." he says, but then realizes he doesn't know.
"See, that's a problem," she says, leaning in closer: "How can I save you if you don't know who you are?"
"I need saving?"
She smiles again, and points back outside the window. He looks and sees that the Sun seems so far away, and the sky is black and full of stars.
The Moon is nearby, and beyond it is a ring of twisted, broken wreckage, floating in a loose orbit around the Earth.
And the Earth is shining and beautiful, down below.
"Come back to life," she whispers in his ear: "Come back to the world."
And he might ask why, or who she is to demand these things of him, but something makes him think. The way she whispers in his ear. The way another person once whispered in his ear.
The way he held him down on the bed, strong and hungry. The way he entered him, swift and loving.
"I love you," he said, over and over, there in the heat and night. Over and over and over again.
"I love you," SPYGOD is saying, holding him close after.
"I love you," he is responding, loving to be loved.
"Come back to us," she is saying, whispering so deep inside his ear that she might as well be in his mind.
The jar of ashes falls to the ground and shatters, and-
* * *
he is opening his eyes, again -- crusty and frozen in the shattered life pod.
He looks around, all too aware that his body is ruined. Only his head has survived, as he thought it might. Only his thoughts and memories are intact, now.
"Hello," someone says to him, through the void. How he can hear her in a vacuum is one of those mysteries that will just have to keep. But she's red and silver and floating alongside him, smiling through the broken window.
And as she moves him out of his dying lunar orbit, and flies him back to Earth like a glorious red and silver comet, he remembers her name from a strange dream -- a memory she invaded, somehow, and made her own.
And he remembers his own name, at long last. An old friend, waiting at the door.
Director Straffer smiles, closing his eyes. If he cries, the water will freeze his eyes shut, again, so he does not. There will be time for tears in the days to come.
He only hopes they will be tears of joy, this time.