Fingers bleeding, ankles warm and wet, I move down the row.
One rose. Two roses. Three, four, five roses clutched in my left hand. The blood is nourishing their riven stems.
Six, seven, eight roses. Beyond them, lilies wait; past the lilies, sunflowers peer over the dividers. Ten roses. Eleven.
It's been eleven days since they came; eleven days here without you. They took the little ones away, and shot the others in the communal recdeck. Corpses piled high. I don't know how many died, how many left with them; I just know I'm alone.
Fifteen roses. Sixteen roses. Seventeen. I have a basket with me, to place the flowers carefully within. Horizontal, blooms at each end, one in this way, one in that. The roses snatch at my blood as they are laid within the basket, thorns thirsting for nutrition to replace the lost solution.
I could only lift you. Only you. You were dead, my love; dead but not buried, and when I found that they had not shot you in the head I wept for pain and relief. Blood pooled on the floor of recdeck, in rosettes and curves and blossoms. Twenty-seven roses. Twenty-eight. I had your body down to Medbay five minutes after they had gone, grapplock disengaging with a metal slam to leave me hidden beneath the enviroconverters. Five minutes. Only five. Ice on your face, placed there in the travois by my hand, forlorn hope.
On to lilies, now, I've exhausted the roses here in 'ponics. Four lilies, white for death. Five lilies. I can hear your casket calling me, my love; it cries out over allcall with tinny voice that tells me the temperature of your cranium. I wince at it, listening to the numbers fall. Twelve lilies. Thirteen lilies. Fourteen. The basket, already full of roses, is starting to overflow with blooms. I pull the fifteenth lily from the floating bath of nutrient and drape it ever so gently on the top of the pile. Sixteen lilies. The warm fug of the bath envelops me, my coveralls soaking upwards towards my thighs. Insects buzz angrily around, pollination interrupted.
Medbay was not sanguine. The clean sterile floors and sterile computer would not admit the chance was there. Freeze first, it said. Minimize noise. Prepare the sample. So I did; your travois taken to a chilldown unit, the hoses attached, the liquid gases rushing in in controlled streams. Twenty-one lilies for your death.
There is a soft rain falling in the nutrient, my traitor tears which will not understand the hope. They will not understand the plans laid out and printed fine on plasfax and flesh. Medbay understands. Fifteen point seven six degrees Kelvin, it intones, electronic fingers on your skin and artificial hands cradling you, all of you. Fifteen point two three degrees Kelvin.
Twenty-nine lilies for your death, and approaching the end of the row. Strict requirements for the Medbay; strict and voracious needs for the tanks. When the temperature reaches zero point two five degrees Kelvin-
Zero point two three degrees Kelvin. Commencing.
I wince, and turn away from the thought of blades and microtomes and microwaves; of gamma knives and scanning laser light. You, my love, all you are, stripped bare past the protection of garment, flesh and bone. I can almost imagine the photons entangling playfully with your particles, a pure light touched by you.
Process initiated. Eight thousand four hundred seconds to completion.
Lilies. We have so many lilies; the public spaces all clamored for small fountains and basins, lifesystem reserves and pockets of warmth against the black. Lilies grow well in water pools, and modified they can control evaporation, maintaining the humidity here on the wheel. No matter how dry and cold the outside, here inside we have our flowers and our water and our life.
So much time. So many flowers. Long past the lilies of your death, through the marigolds, stripping the chrysanthemums. Many trips back and forth with the basket, into the cargopod near the door. Perfume of a thousand blooms, the air is rich with the smell of life and the death of the flowers. Back and forth.
Process terminating. Awaiting inload.
On to the sunflowers, I've saved them for last. For you. Medbay is ready. There are so many warnings on the screens, so many machines that try to keep me from you and you from me; I'll have none of it. You and I, my love, we'll endure, here where no-one is left. The blood lies pudding-thick on recdeck, but here in Medbay all is clean and white. The casket awaits me.
Seventy-nine sunflowers. Eighty sunflowers.
The cargopod, full now, is difficult to wrestle updeck, but I manage. Medbay awaits me with the patience of the ersatz, computers blinking pause and machines winking Cycle Hold until I dump the cargopod's contents into the hopper.
Then the infopanes, all blaring red warning at me since I told Medbay what to do, switch to a pale green of reluctant acquiescence. Process continuing, they admit. Time to growth phase completion: two hundred megaseconds.
Two hundred megaseconds, my love. Measured in blinks of eye and beats of heart. Then we'll be together.
Organic feedstock inload complete: material levels sufficient for full growth phase. Map transfer on growth phase completion.
I cannot wait to greet you. To kiss your lips, your hands, to hold you.
Your eyes will taste of the flowers.