Monday, February 28, 2011

'Cold Stone'

Milla looked around the dim passenger cabin trying to identify what had startled her. Bluish light danced on the ceiling, cast from the compute-pads most of the other commuters were plugged into. Her own pad sat on the tray in front of her displaying a bit of work she hadn’t finished during the day. She rubbed her strained eyes, removed her suit jacket, and tossed it in the empty seat next to her. Dion always teased that only the too efficient and overly-stressed took the express jump; maybe he was right. She was tired and imagining things.
Yawning, she brushed a braid back behind her ear…and froze. Dion’s life-stone, normally warm against her earlobe, was cold. Chills crawled across her skin. Her fingers grasped the stone and squeezed it as if that would make it come back to life. It pulsed weakly.
She sat paralyzed, unsure what to do. The stone was connected to an implant that monitored the heartbeat of the man she loved. He wore a matching one in his ear that monitored hers. It was a fad really. Something couples who work off-world had taken to. ‘Worlds apart, yet only a heartbeat away.’ was the slogan.
“Are you ok?” Milla jumped and stared at the attendant.
“Yes…no. I, ah, my husband’s life stone. It’s weak and pulsing.” She clutched it tighter. “He’s a technophobe. Doesn’t even have an ID implant, but I forced him to indulge me with the stones. It’s not supposed to go cold. I have to call him.” Her laugh was high pitched.
The man’s eyes went wide before he schooled his features. He squatted down and spoke to her in a soothing voice. “The field will be up for another twenty minutes.”
“Right, no communication from inside the jump field.”
He put a hand over her trembling one. “Perhaps it’s broken.” He turned and jaunted away, but not before she saw pity in his eyes.
As soon as the ship landed in the city space port, Milla used her compute-pad to connect with Dion’s office. “Mr. Dion has not returned from his meal break, Ms. Milla,” his automated assistant informed her.
“I have to find him.” She tried to match the AI’s calm tones as she explained the situation.
“The probability that he will survive is less than one percent,” it reported.
“What?” Her heart pounded painfully in her chest. She wished she could reach through the pad and slap some feeling into the voice on the other end.
“Life-stones, though little more than toys, are quite accurate. Pulsing indicates his heart is failing. He will die soon.” Milla screamed wordlessly, helplessly at the pad. “Miss?”
She forced deep breaths into her body.  He couldn’t have just developed a sudden illness. “There must be some other explanation.”
The AI replied, “There is a point one percent chance that the stone’s signal is being blocked at the source by strenium, a rare metal, however the likelihood that he has been involved in an accident is eight-five percent.”
Milla disconnected the call and threw the pad across the aisle. The cabin was empty and silent. She could hear her own heart thunder as it worked its way into full panic. An accident. But I just saw him this morning.
As he’d stood in their kitchen making breakfast, she gazed at the fire red highlights revealed in his dark brown hair by the sunlight. He grinned at her in sudden inspiration. “Milla, why don’t we skip work,” he slipped the omelet onto a plate and pulled her into the warmth of his arms, “and stay in bed all day?”
Hesitating, she toyed with medallion that lay nestled in the curls on his chest. She was so busy at work lately; they hadn’t spent much time together. “Dion, I wish I could, but I’ve too much work to do.”
Now, tears of regret stung her eyes. If she had said yes, would this be happening? She shook herself. Somewhere, Dion lay dying. She sobbed and lunged for the pad.
She connected with security and spoke with yet another AI. “Our logs indicate Mr. Dion has elected not to have an ID implant?”
“Yes?” She could almost hear the thing sigh.
“There is an unidentified male currently in urgent care at the hospital. He was involved in an accident near your husband’s workplace, so it is likely him. He is not expected to recover. I suggest you go there directly.”
“Thank you,” Milla replied weakly. She disconnected and stumbled out the ship, ignoring the attendant’s condolences. She barely had time to shield her eyes from the sun’s glare reflected off a hundred silver city spires, before a personal transport stopped in front of her. When it asked her for her destination she just stared at the console.
If the security AI was wrong and Dion was at home, getting to him right away was paramount. But if he was at the hospital he would not survive long enough for her to stop at home first. She gripped the console with hands gone bloodless. After a deep steadying breath, she gave her home address. Five minutes away, the pulsing stopped. The stone was utterly cold.
Tears streamed down Milla’s face as she reached for the key pad on her front door. The normally soothing sounds of the breeze through leaf-filled trees and the rushing water of the small nearby brook only reminded her of their isolation from the city. She ran into the bedroom, and there he was. Supine on the bed, arms and legs limp and very still. A wail broke from her lips as she stumbled closer to the bed. "Dion. God no."
He snored. "What?" Her face contorted with hopeful confusion. Then she saw his medallion at the end of the chain around his neck. His father's war medallion made of a rare metal. "Strenium." And the thing was plastered on his sweaty temple, right over the damn implant.


  1. OMG, I loved this one. I was ready to cry with her until he snored and woke up. Great one Angela! Is this from a book or just a short?


  2. Thanks Soli! No, it's not part of a longer story, but it is from a story world I'm building for a series of novels. Writing short stories helps me explore aspects of the world. Thanks again for reading and commenting.