Goodbye to Romance - A Short Story, 3000 words

Hey All, first post on the new forum…

I wrote this a few years a go, let us know what you think :slight_smile:

Goodbye to Romance

I had been a Med student.

I had pulled my way through the moon’s college by the strength of my own naked grey matter. I saw the rich kids with the neural implants accelerate past me and leave me in their genetically enhanced wake. My parents weren’t in a position to help, my father was always away mining in the belt, running back and forth in his 50 year old patchwork Inty. When I saw him at Family Eve each year he laughed about how his was the longest surviving ship in the belt and we laughed that no one would waste good ammo on shooting the heap of junk. Sure he’d been boarded, sure he’d lost crew, once he’d just not come back home for three years (which we don’t talk about), but he had stayed working to pay for us to have a home on the moon. A home in a safe place, with good schools so his only child could have a good start in life.

After six years at college (three years after the slowest Implant kid) I finished the training that allowed me to get my foot on the medical ladder.
I started off with a small firm who manufactured the hardware necessary for limb replacement and regrowth.
Then I moved onto a medium sized firm off-moon. They received healthy funding direct from the Gallentine Army and specialized in Enhanced Replacement Technology. They were having problems meshing flesh and metal and ceramics and it was my task to iron the problems out. Which I did.
Two years later I made the first step into what was to be my specialist field: Implants.

While the technology behind implants had been around for many years, there was always a degree of degradation. The human body just doesn’t like lumps of metal and ceramic in it, never has. Drugs kept the rejection at bay for sure and regular check-ups meant that things were rarely dangerous but the whole thing was an embarrassment really. We could grow new bodies, we could fling ourselves across countless AU of space and yet we still couldn’t get flesh and metal to be friends with each other. Not good enough.

The new firm I had joined was involved in the research to minimize this rejection and indeed as a final mission statement, to actively encourage the encroachment of machine into the neural pathways of the human nervous system.
I did well. Well enough in fact that one Family Eve the company presented me with my own company funded Implant. It was the very first of the next generation of Implants that I myself had designed. I couldn’t very well say no putting the damn thing in my head after I had spent the last four years of my life telling, and indeed proving, it was safer than ever before could I?

So it was that I left the relative slow lane of the Norms and joined the heady ranks of the Implanted. I got even better at my job; I got faster, more precise, less prone to lapses of concentration. I rose in the ranks until I reached the top in my field.

What I remember most clearly about the night I met Gialle was the way her eyes sparkled. I was dimly aware that it was in vogue at the time for girls to have ‘Sparklers’ in their eyes on a night out but I had never seen it first hand before. Basically metal filaments were temporarily sunken into the iris of the eye so that every bit of light thrown into the eye had a chance of catching one of these filaments and sparkling back at you. The effect was astonishing.
It was one of the rare occasions I had said yes to an invite to a client meet and greet dinner and ended up, by pure coincidence it seemed at the time, sitting next to Gialle.
She was attentive, eager to listen as much as to talk and quick to laugh.
The evening flew by and I found myself sitting with her amongst fewer and fewer people. As we talked and talked the dining hall continued to empty until finally one of the staff behind the bar asked us if we wouldn’t mind moving to the adjoining drinks room.

Standing up from the table, she took my hand and started to lead me through to the other room, I actually shivered as she took my hand we both laughed and she made some odd joke about a grave that I didn’t really understand.
I remember thinking how moist her hand was, like she’d been sweating hard, I remember thinking that it ought to be a bad thing, an unpleasant thing I should recoil from. That wasn’t the case though, it felt right and I grasped her hand more tightly, I could feel her thumb caressing, almost massaging, the back of my hand.
As we sat on the bar stools our hands still didn’t break contact, we decided to have one more drink before calling it a night. As we sat waiting for the barman to mix us our drinks her eyes followed him and I had a chance to look Gaille up and down without being seen to do so. She was wearing a simple black dress with a high neckline, her arms were exposed up to the shoulders and the hem finished just below the knee as she stood and just above the knee as she sat.
All of her exposed flesh glistened with moisture. It hadn’t been like it at dinner, only since we had left the table. I loosened my hand from hers and ran it up her forearm, eager for the oily sensation on the palm of my hand. As I did so she turned back to me and we locked eyes, something stirred deep inside me and I knew we wouldn’t be having those last drinks after all.

We had gone back to her unit and had a night quite unlike any I had ever had before. There was a hunger to it, an urgency that seemed almost overwhelming. I didn’t just want to be with her, I wanted to be her, I want to consume her.
During a brief respite that night I remember thinking that being apart from this girl wasn’t going to be easy.

Two weeks later I found out why.

There has, of course, been whisperings about covert, off-the-record, black-op type governmental bodies ever since governmental bodies came into existence and the current flavour of the decade was the Federation For Gallentinian Continuance. A shadowy body that was responsible for all our well beings no matter what the cost etc, etc…
If, like me, you kept you nose clean then all these rumours were really of no concern, like the interstellar pirates you hear so much about, if it doesn’t really touch your lives it’s just background noise. Easy to ignore and overlook, nothing to concern you. Good fodder perhaps for the latest Holodrama.
So it was with a great deal of surprise that I found the confirmation of the FFGC’s existence brought to me by none other than my very own Gaille.

I hadn’t seen her the previous night, she had alluded to last minute family commitments and then been uncontactable all evening. It had been the first evening we had not been together and I had been disappointed, I wasn’t one to sulk but I certainly felt a little put out.
I ate some food, I read some of a paper one of my colleagues had published earlier that week and then had a shower.
It was as I made myself ready for bed that the pains started, mild to begin with, I told my Implant to drip feed me a little pain relief and some happy drugs and took myself off to bed.

It had been quite some time since I had felt true pain, one of the joys having an Implant.
In all legal Implants there a few basic abilities they all share no matter what special branch of neural enhancement they are ultimately geared towards. First and foremost is First Aid and Healthcare. A vast medical knowledge (most of it mine as it happens) is stored in the memory blades of the Implants and it is used to routinely run diagnostic checks on the whole of your central nervous system, allowing it to monitor any deviations from the status quo and deal with them internally via the application of drug or booster concoctions or alert the user if a more serious ailment is on the horizon and that a visit to your Doctor is in order.

And so it was with more than a little surprise I found myself wrenched from sleep by what felt someone trying to pull my intestines out through my navel. I could feel each individual twist, each probing finger, sharp nailed, struggling for better purchase before another wave of pain hit me as they yanked at my guts again. Sweating as though my very skin had become permeable, bent double, my hands thrashing at my abdomen trying push away the non-existent assailant, my bowels gave out and I shat myself. I then vomited up my dinner and what felt like half of one of my lungs.
The invisible hands withdrew from my stomach. Relative comfort slowly encroached upon my awareness. I sucked in one huge ragged sobbing breath.
As I lay there with my long hair sticking to the pillow and my cheeks slick with vomit, weeping with the abandon of a child, I felt a profound loneliness. The urge to be held and to be comforted made me pull myself once more into a sticky foetal ball, crying Gaille’s name into my fisted hands.
This happened three more times that night.

At some point I must have passed out. I awoke a few hours later, retching immediately from the stench that was my bed. I stumbled to the shower and cleaned myself, feeling somewhat ashamed. After dressing in something simple and loose I bagged up my soiled bedding and threw it down the recycling chute, perhaps somewhere down the line my horror of a night might be turned into something someone can use.
That evening I left the lab early and made straight for Gaille’s unit. She’d still not been responding to my messages. I’d tried not to overdo it but that still found me having left four messages over eight hours. When I announced myself to her door there was no reply. I turned, put my back against the door, slumped to the floor and waited, staring through the transparent door to the transparent lift and out into space.
It was the first time I’d actually seen life stutter into slow motion and I was glad I made the most of it because it would happen only once more before I died. And the second time would be considerably less pleasant.

As the top of Gaille’s head broke into view it was as if I was watching a sun dawning. The strong ambient light of the lift infused her blonde hair with energy and made it as if ablaze against the blackness of space behind her. The ruler straight fringe calmed the intensity of the dawn a little, bringing into view her forehead and then eyes, still glittering with the as yet undispersed filaments of last night’s Sparklers. As the whole of her face broke into view, time seemed to slowly catch up with itself again and I rushed to my feet. The smile that greeted me made the breath catch in my throat. Impatient for the near invisible door to open I stood on tiptoes holding my breath. When the doors opened I flung myself at her and before she could say anything I was kissing her. As our lips and tongues argued with each other I felt the knot of worry inside me loosen and the twitchiness that had plagued me all day subside. As the worry lessened it was replaced by something else, something more basic and urgent, I felt her begin to breath more deeply and felt the pressure of her chest rising and falling against mine increase. As we grabbed at each other we fell across the corridor and the door opened for us, letting us tumble into her home.

The next morning I awoke in Gaille’s bed with an empty space next to me. Her presence in the room had been replaced by a rather short man dressed in a business like suit, he was sitting next to the bed and watching me intently. As I sat up he blinked several times and his demeanour shifted into a more friendly, less analytical, frame.

“Dr Belluex” He said.
“Please don’t be alarmed, I am not here to harm you in any way.
My name is Mr Detrise and it has fallen to me to be the bearer of both some good and some bad news.
Let us start with the good shall we?”
I nodded my assent slowly, aware of my nakedness and vulnerability.
“So, Gaille is safe and well, and although she is very much complicit in the matters we are about to discuss she bears you no ill will, indeed she cares for you a very great deal.
The truth of the matter is that she has helped us, to help you, to be able to go on and help others, which can only be a good thing am I not right Dr Belluex? We at the FFGC thought that you talents weren’t being realised to there full potential at your current place of employment. While you make a great deal of money for yourself, your company and it’s shareholders, how much actual good do you do from day to day would you say?
Well let me answer for you: very, very little.”
He stood and walked over to where one of Gaille’s dressing gown was strewn, he lifted it and swung it to me.
“A brief bit of background would perhaps be prudent before we move on to the bad news. To help put things into perspective you understand.
In the last few years, since Wormhole Space has become more available to us, we have noticed a not insignificant increase in the number of cases of… neural issues, amongst the more adventurous WH explorers. We have been helping along the rumours of dementia and the such, it helps us steer the general public clear of the actual problem. The problem it seems however is not a natural degradation of their mental functions over time due to stress or loneliness or whatever they’re blaming it on this week but rather the effects of failed and failing implants.”
He registered the surprise in my face.
“Oh no, not manufacturing faults, nothing that is directly the fault of you and yours, no. Rather a kind of infection of the implant and brain. An infection that is attacking, thus far exclusively, pilots exposed to Wormhole Space, and that there is the real root of the issue here, the phrase ‘Thus far’.
Infections, as you are well aware, have a way of spreading. We want to stop this from happening. More accurately, we want you to stop this from happening. Your experience, knowledge of the specifics of these implant systems, expertise and position within the company make you the obvious choice for the job.”
At this point he sat back down and looked squarely, possibly a little sadly, into my eyes.
“Which I guess brings me round to the bad news Doctor. You see, you are not the first person we have approached for this job. Previous applicants have fallen short of the measure, suffering from bouts of conscience and the desire to let the world at large know all our little problems. I won’t lie to you, we have had to let these people go, not in any pleasant way I want you to understand. They are mostly dead.
You have been lucky enough to be subjected to a new approach on our part.
Gaille, you see, just happens to be an FFGC agent with a rather clever trick up her sleeve. You see she is one of a very few, incredibly special, operatives that can, on demand, sweat a drug we developed called Amoredexipol.
I’m afraid, Doctor, that it really is one evil little fucker of a drug we cooked up for you and you are well and truly hooked on it. We did a little test run on the withdrawals the night before last? Remember them? Well I’ll let you into a secret, that first night without her really was nothing compared to the full withdrawal symptoms you might experience a little further down the line. I’m not the tiniest bit sorry about any of this you understand. This is the way it has to be you now belong to the FFGC.
Gaille will be with you every night, like I say she really has become very fond of you. You are, she assures me, an interesting, caring and intelligent woman. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together, I’m not totally without a heart you understand.”

And so it was that I came to work for the FFGC.
It’s really not that bad. True, every few months at random Gaille is taken from me and I have to endure stronger and stronger withdrawals, just to serve as a reminder. Just so I’m not in any confusion as to who is in charge and where I stand in these matters.
But the work is amazing, the Sleeper infection we’re dubbing ‘Sleeping Sickness’ is like nothing I’ve seen before, it encourages the organic and inorganic to procreate, therefore causing the implant and brain matter to mate and bring forth some insane alien cancer.

Almost exactly what I’ve been searching for my whole career.


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