It’s not very often that an author gets invited to contribute to a once-in-a-lifetime project. When Kevin asked me to put a story in for 2113, I instantly knew the direction I wanted to go. I’ve been a RUSH listener since my older cousin (Mark Harman) introduced me to them in 1987. At that point, the band had been active for two decades, and I was coming to them “in the middle” with albums like Hold Your Fire and Power Windows. Not only was I attracted to the music, the lyrics especially spoke to me. I went on to listen to them (backward, to past albums; and forward, to future albums) for many years — enjoying the thoughtfulness and thought-provoking content of any number of songs. With RUSH, there is almost always a lot more “there” there. And while not every RUSH track hit it out of the park for me, there were some tracks that became personal anthems. I wrote my contribution to 2113 accordingly. Think of it like a tribute album. I am quite sure I’ll never get to participate in anything like it ever again. I hope people enjoy the story!! Indeed, I hope people enjoy all of the stories.
Of course, don’t just take my word for it. 🙂
Here’s a snippet from within:
The framed photo Shar used to keep—of her wedding day, with Jason—was now absent from the desk’s corner.
She’d let him off easy. It hadn’t been an acrimonious separation. One day he’d come home to discover that Shar was moving closer to work. A tiny studio apartment, with easy public transit options, for getting to and from the NASA office.
“We can figure this out,” Jason had said, his face flushed.
“It’s not about figuring it out,” Shar had told him gently. “It’s about us going in different directions. We’ve been going in different directions for a long time. We can’t keep beating around the bush, or pretend that everything is just going to be alright. It’s not that I don’t love you, Jason. It’s that I don’t think loving you is enough anymore.”
He hadn’t argued with her much. Which essentially cemented her hunch that she’d been right about how tenuous their affection had become. He’d increasingly had his world—focused on his dream of the country house, far from the NASA office. And Shar had had her world—pushing forward on the building of new machines, new ships, and new technology; all designed to grow and foster the tiny, fledgling colony that was budding on the surface of Mars.
Shar’s little office was covered in high-resolution color printouts of digital photos from the colony. Unless Shar had known better, she might have suspected that they came from Utah or New Mexico. The rocks and soil stretched dryly in every direction, with an orange sky that faded to red and purple when the sun went down. Shar watched every digital movie that the colonists could send back. She spent hours talking to the people from crews which had returned. Some of them were friends from the original Wanderer mission. Others were just getting back from their first assignment. The colony wasn’t ready yet for year-round habitation. But with Shar’s help, it would be soon.
Shar leaned back in her thin-profile wheelchair, and watched the three-dimensional machining animation on her screen. In the span of thirty seconds, a five-hour printing and milling process played out, quick-time. She examined the finished product, swiveling it around on the screen, using her fingertips.
If ever the colony was going to survive unaided—in case something interrupted the supply line from Earth—they were going to need to be able to build replacement parts by themselves. The automated manufacturing units being planned for the newer missions were supposed to be able to fashion almost any part of any shape, from any refined material. Even solid steel. Every colony component that could break or wear out, was going to have to be programmed into the databases on those units. Then the units were going to have to be tested relentlessly, to be sure they worked as they were meant to.
To include being able to manufacture the parts to replace the units themselves if it came down to it.
Satisfied with her work, Shar closed the animation and put her computer on standby. It was only a little bit after ten at night. The cafeteria was closed, but she could go get some sandwiches from the twenty-four-hour desk, which had a refrigerator constantly stocked with cold foods—for the staff who often needed to eat at odd times.
She brought her hands down onto the familiar hoop grips on the sides of her chair’s two wheels . . .
. . . and the chair rolled into the office.
Alberto stood silently, his pastel-blue hospital scrubs fresh and clean. Life as a young resident was proving to be even more challenging than school itself. This wasn’t just book learning and cadavers anymore. These were real people. With real problems. The paralysis specialty therapy program at Collingsworth General was among the most advanced research programs in the country. Alberto had slaved for years to qualify for this job, and now that he was here, he could see why they weren’t just taking anybody.
“Good morning Mister Gerald,” Alberto said with a smile.
The man in the wheelchair—Philip Gerald, forty seven, wounded in combat, VA disability case, elective referral for experimental therapy—grunted.
“Doc,” Philip said, stopping his chair at the foot of the exam table. The man’s head was shaved bald, and a walrus-like mustache sprouted from his upper lip. His sea-blue eyes were sharp, but held no humor. As always, his manner was direct. No nonsense. A relic from his years in the Army, or so some of the nurses had said when he’d initially been referred. Alberto liked working with Philip, because Philip would often tell stories from his time spent overseas. And he wasn’t afraid of trying anything new.
“If it’ll get me my legs back,” Philip once drawled, “hell, I’ll kiss a rattlesnake on the lips and call her my girlfriend!”
Without needing to be told, Philip allowed myself to be maneuvered up and out of his chair—by Alberto, and one of the medical assistants. They had Philip lying on his stomach on the exam table, and Alberto peeled up the man’s t-shirt to reveal the plastic-covered network of wires that ran up and down Philip’s spine. The wires branched off and penetrated the skin at different points—though there was no blood, nor any scabbing.
“Any changes since last week?” Alberto asked.
“Naw,” Philip said, his voice slightly muffled. “Just dull little prickly sensations where I remember my legs used to be. It’s been like that since the third day after the implant.”
Alberto allowed himself a frown. The direct nerve induction system wasn’t working nearly as well as everyone had hoped.
Alberto wasn’t experienced enough yet to perform any of the surgeries himself, but one day soon he would be. Though, he couldn’t help feeling like the entire induction technology initiative was a dead end—an attempt to solve the problem without considering more elegant solutions.
“Okay,” Alberto said. “I’m going to change the battery, and we’ll take the signal up just a tick.”
“Dial to eleven if you want,” Philip said, chortling. “There aint nothin’ you can break that hasn’t already been broke by a bullet.”
“Right,” Alberto said. “I just want to be careful.”
“Roger that,” Philip grunted.
Alberto snapped the cover off of a small, slim-line plastic box, then he took out the rechargeable battery inside, and placed a fresh one in. When the battery quietly snapped into place, Philip’s legs jerked.
“Did you feel that?” Alberto said, hopefully.
“Feel what?” Philip replied.
Alberto suppressed a sigh. Yes, he was definitely going to have to find a way to get his alternative theory into the lab. This hardware-based implant program wasn’t going to do the job—not the way Alberto envisioned it should. Too clumsy. Prone to breakage and the problem of the batteries always running low. If it was going to work, it needed to be able to last a lifetime.
Alberto pulled his patient’s shirt back down, and together with the medical assistant, began to lever Philip back into the chair . . .