Interlude One: Before Time
There was a gentle hiss of out-rushing air as the door opened. The room was pressurized to keep all potential infectants away from the room’s tenant. A large bed occupied one wall, flanked by night-stands with lamps upon them. There were a few chairs scattered about the bed, one being occupied by a woman. This might be a hospital, but one look at this room and you could tell that there was no healing going on here, only waiting.
The large man entered into the room followed closely by another man of more average stature. The door slid close behind them as they moved over to the bed with its dying occupant.
The man on the bed looked as if death had come just hours before, yet he still held a commanding presence that could make men quiver. His once unruly brown hair was now as white as snow. One could still see that this man had not long ago been capable of anything he set his mind to, that is before this illness had struck him down.
It had happened on a far-flung jungle world. He had been on vacation with his wife, exploring the unknown as they sometimes did. He had one lapse of concentration as he bent to examine something or other. In that lapse, some unknown beast laid into his side. The beast was not venomous, but it carried enough pathogens that it truly did not matter. He had acted as someone with military training would: he moved beyond the pain and pulled his side-arm and had the thing dead before he could think. Then he staggered back to the camp just as his wife was about to start out on her own expedition. According to the man, the next few days had been a blur of bandages, intravenous drips, and cold, white lights. Here he was, the infection being beyond all medical knowledge, dying before his time.
The two men stood beside the bed as the man lying upon it looked them over, appraising them as a teacher appraises pupils before graduation. These two pupils would throw any teacher, however. These two were not like any other form of life, but they were most like humans. They showed no emotion, although they were capable of having emotion in their own fashion. One had been born without emotion, the other with only hatred and malice. The one had learned his emotions through studying humans, the other had had them written in by his brother.
After a moment of appraisal, the man on the bed struggled to put on a smile through his pain.
“Good day, Mr. President,” they said in unison.
“No, no, no. You know better than that,” he exclaimed as his smile widened. “I haven’t been president for over a decade. I want you to call me Crispis, I’ve been telling you both that for just as long. For machines, you both have bad memory.”
“Alright, Crispis,” the taller one said. If his face were capable of a smile, he would have had one. Both men, even being the machines they were, felt the tug of sadness at this, humor in the face of his own death.
The smile did not last long, however, as another bolt of blinding pain ripped through the man’s body causing him to buck and strain, muscles rippling out of control. Whatever was causing this death, it was working from the inside and it was not merciful and swift. The woman reached out and grasped his right arm, trying to soothe the pain and stop the convulsing. The two men watched this, unable to comprehend how this simple man held through so much pain.
After a moment, the convulsions slowed and tapered off, twitching odd muscles here and there. They began to see that this man would not hold much longer, and in all likelihood, the next seizure might be the last. Sweat stood thick everywhere on his body, and now that the red flush of strain receded, it gave him the sickly pallor of death. A small trickle of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth where stress had snapped the thin skin there.
“I have something to give you, Fal,” he said after he had regained enough energy to speak.
Fal kneeled down to be by the man’s bedside, to look him straight in the face. The man reached out to the night stand and plucked a small black box that lay there. He brought it back and dropped it into Fal’s large hand. Fal opened it to see a gleaming coin with the insignia of the Aipen family on it.
“It is a token of friendship from my family to you and your brother, until the end of time as we know it.”
The machine sat there with the coin in his hand for a very long time. He could sense his brother’s sympathy as he accepted what was probably the man’s last gesture. Crispis rolled back from the edge of the bed as Fal closed the box and held it fast in the hand that had once nearly choked the life out of this man’s grand-sire.
His wife held him tight as he rolled to her. No sooner than he had rolled to her the convulsions started again. These were worse than the last, almost to the point of the man doubling over backwards. Fal and Ial laid their hands on the man and held on until the convulsions stopped and he went slack. Suddenly, the room filled with a loud tone that heralded this man’s death. His last words he had choked out at the end of his spasms to his wife. He told her he loved her and went on to where the two brothers would never come.