Chapter 2

Chapter 2

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Timothy didn’t look up from his screens when I entered the home dome and slipped out of my flip-flops. On the contrary: as expected, he focused more on his work as soon as I came in. He was grim, serious, and for some reason, tense, as if he weren’t the God of the domes, as if he was going to be late for an appointment.

His fingers danced over the keyboard. Tippaty tip. Busy, always busy, moving this and that part that required moving within his splendid paradise. The noise didn’t sound nearly as desperate and loud as the madman’s knocking, but his actions were much more effective. Incomparably so. When someone’s effectiveness was zero and another’s was a hundred, the latter wasn’t a hundred times more effective than the former. The latter was infinitely more effective. That shocking detail, I remembered from the little high school math I’d taken.

He always sat in the dark. It was possible to open any plate that formed the black home dome, but he never did. The screen glow lit his bearded face and white T-shirt with a cool bluish tint. This should’ve been a relief after witnessing the blazing pale-brown heat; it wasn’t. But a little bit of solace did emanate from his eyes. They sparkled with intense purpose, the way they always had, probably for decades before Eternal Summer. Since birth, quite possibly. And they would keep on sparkling for decades more. Unlike the madpeople beyond the outer dome, Timothy was going to live out his natural lifespan, whatever that may be.

Perhaps he had a family history of cancer. He’d never told me (he never told me much, just as I never told him much). But cancer usually didn’t kill people so soon; people our age—my age and the madman’s age; people in their early thirties. Of course, there were more random, quick causes of death, like a heart attack. If that was written in Timothy’s genes, he could keel over tomorrow.

That thought terrified me, of him dying tomorrow. It wasn’t because I particularly cared for him. Just the idea that I was unprepared scared me to death. I’d be all alone. I didn’t know how any of the machinery here functioned. If I’d known how to design and build such things, I wouldn’t have been the roommate/sex partner of the paranoid engineer. I would’ve built a dome of my own, probably smaller, less conspicuous. The massive air conditioners, the screens that were connected to the cameras adorning the near-top of the outer dome, all such technology were an enigma to me. I couldn’t have him die.

As if he’d waited for me to realize that deepest desire inside me, he finally looked up.

“Interesting how those little things manage to survive in the direst of situations, isn’t it?”

“I guess.”

I knew he was talking about the flower. He knew I went to water it right around this time of the day.

“I think it’s beautiful, what you’re doing,” he said.

I froze. He was gazing directly at me. He rarely did that. The last time he’d done that had been the day the dome was raised.

“Watering the flower?” I asked.

He nodded. “Saving one random thing that comes your way, even when you’re terrified.”

“I’m not terrified!” Sudden defensive anger swelled in my chest. He had too easily noticed a secret that I had only recently admitted to myself.

He shook his head minutely, more to himself than to me. His way of saying, Never mind, let’s change the subject.

“I made coffee,” he said. “It’s in the kitchen.”

“Thanks,” I snapped.

“Can you bring me another cup while you get yours?”

“Fine.”

I approached the desk to get his empty cup. His shampoo: minty, oceany, lemony, but surprisingly ineffective as a source of relief, just like the cool blue tint of the screens. He handed me his cup, the stain of his lips at a precise ninety-degree angle from the handle. Holding it at a safe distance away from my core (what did I think, that the cup was going to explode on me? ridiculous), I headed to the kitchen.

Here, a curved plate of the black dome, which I’d opened up this morning, still remained open. A rectangular beam of sunshine flooded the space. The smell of freshly brewed coffee awakened me from the oppressive guilt that’d numbed me since the encounter with the madpeople. Timothy had thought ahead of everything, not just the domes. Coffee in every shape and form was one of those things: pre-ground as well as beans and those little pods you inserted in the specially-manufactured brewing machines. Also, food: dry goods as well as a hydroponic garden. And sort of grossly, but when you thought about it, very considerately and smartly, tampons and pads and menstrual cups.

You have your pick, he’d told me, that day when he’d raised the dome. Gazing directly at me, he sounded as earnest and openly despondent as a nervous travel agency clerk who’d been hired on the condition that he got the first customer who happened to waltz into the store to sign up for a space cruise.

Of course, Timothy was more prepared than such a hypothetical clerk could ever hope to be. He’d had time. Eternal Summer hadn’t shown up abruptly, oh no. Think of the world as a failing immune system. The process happens gradually. At some points during that process, as you continue to stuff your body with junk food, you may even deny its occurrence. But then whoop! and it’s too late to fix anything. When you got days after days of forty-something-degrees temperatures (Celsius, folks—Timothy abhorred Fahrenheit) pretty much everywhere in the world, you knew something was wrong. You didn’t need to be a mad engineer who built a dome in the middle of the desert.

Why did you build a dome here if you knew it was going to be Eternal Summer, not Eternal Winter? I’d asked.

Because of the extreme temperature variation, he’d said. These days, this desert is always hot, but it wasn’t always so. The summers were hot but the winters were freezing. The days were hot but the nights were freezing. I wanted to test and build at a location with such extreme conditions to ensure that what I had was safe. Also, there was just more space in the middle of this particular desert. Cheap space.

So even if Eternal Winter were to come, you’d survive inside the dome?

Yes. And you too, if you decide to stay. Soon, everything will melt. Everything will evaporate. Everything will die.

But why me?

What do you mean?

I mean, aren’t there other people who’d want this spot?

I don’t know. I haven’t asked.

I’m the only one you asked?

Yes.

That’s crazy.

Why?

Because… I mean…

I was truly embarrassed to ask, but I had to ask now, otherwise I’d wonder forever:

What, are you in love with me or something? Love at first sight?

Mercifully, he took three seconds to absorb that question and then answered politely:

No.

So what is it, then? I’m just the grocery deliverer from the local supermarket. You’ve met me like three times for less than a minute each time. And you’re offering me a haven for life?

Why not you?

Huh?

You talk as if being the grocery deliverer from the local supermarket should disqualify you from being one of the two people who survives Eternal Summer with any certainty.

I hadn’t said anything to that. He was right and he wasn’t being sarcastic. His beard slightly trembled with tense honesty. He expected me to refute again. I didn’t. That seemed to give him courage.

This won’t end, Nora.

You know my name.

Your name tag says your name.

I imagined a future in which this man of average height, average weight, and average handsomeness but sparkly eyes would be the only one to call my name ever again. Was he messing with me because he thought I wasn’t educated enough? I didn’t think this way simply because I was a grocery deliverer. Plenty of grocery deliverers were more educated than me. But no one, grocery deliverer or Nobel laureate, was more educated than him. And by education, I didn’t mean some college degree where you got a piece of paper that said you’ve paid for a diploma. This guy Timothy had educated himself. I mean, sure, he went to school and all that, but his genius hadn’t been taught by a few random professors. Timothy was a fanatic. Only a fanatic with a deep obsession could build a dome in the middle of the desert.

Okay, I’d said.

If he did something to me, I was going to kill him. There hadn’t been a need to do that, though. The only time he’d unexpectedly grabbed me was on that same first day in the dome. And it wasn’t even anywhere embarrassing. He’d grabbed my hand so he could get my fingerprints. For security, he’d explained, as if he expected someone to break through his fortified glass. As soon as he noticed my discomfort at being thusly grabbed, he’d whispered a genuine apology, genuine because of the embarrassed blush and all, and had never done something remotely similar ever again.

Really, I couldn’t hate Timothy. As I took out my own cup from the cupboard, I admired the kitchen’s sparkling clean counter. The cleaningbots he’d built were about the size and shape of my forearm. Tirelessly, they did most of the repetitive cleaning of the surfaces.

We—the humans, Timothy and I—did the dishes. We took turns. Same with cooking. We took turns. We had sex because there was no one else and sometimes, we were both horny. Timothy wasn’t bad. My guess was that he thought the same thing about me. Nora wasn’t bad. We didn’t love each other, but what an extreme luxury was this, to be able to say It ain’t bad?

The guy was so polite he didn’t even walk around the home dome nude. He always wore a T-shirt and pajamas. (He had a few sets he wore at night and a few different sets he wore during the day.) But he did like walking around barefoot at home. No need for extra air conditioning, was his logic. That was why I took off my flip-flops when inside. And air conditioning aside, keeping outside things outside had never made more sense in the history of humanity.

Another thing to like about Timothy: he’d prepared condoms. Lots of condoms. It was one of the things I most admired about Timothy, actually. He had the decency to be careful about creating unplanned offspring in this hellish inferno. Say if we had a child. What was that child supposed to do with themselves? Were they to live forever alone, as involuntary celibates? What if we had several children and they lived together and… didn’t live as celibates?

So, all in all, Timothy was decent.

Could I blame him for not giving water to those madpeople? No. There was no water and no space, not for the hundreds, thousands outside.

I only wished Timothy would tell me more. Not the technical details, necessarily, but why he did things. If we’d had such conversations before, I wouldn’t have snapped at him when he’d mentioned the idea that I was terrified. I might have told him that the primary driving force that I’d learned to accept was guilt. And I had the sense that he might be driven by the same feeling. If not, why did he watch the screens most of the day? Why did he start typing so madly when I returned after watering?

In our respective cups, I poured coffee. The air here was warm, but the steam hotter. It whirled freely over the cups for a few seconds, then dispersed. But that spread of heat didn’t alarm me. We had the air conditioners. Thanks to Timothy.

Cancer wouldn’t take him anytime soon. A heart attack, especially not. Why would it? When he wasn’t monitoring the screens, Timothy worked out religiously. Two hours per day, every day. Even when the outside got so unbearably hot that our air conditioners seemed to slack, he exercised. Not for prettiness either. None of the “toned” and “sculpted” muscles and some such bullshit. He trained his muscles for practical purposes: to lift the heaviest weight, to run the longest miles.

This can be justified—heat generation during exercise, he always said. It’s the most cost-effective way of ensuring one’s well-being.

And no wonder he cared about his well-being so much. Sometimes, even his sharpest of tense states appeared inexplicably depressed. For some reason I thought those two didn’t belong together: tension and depression. But there he was, lifting or running, his eyes emanating that intense purpose that comforted me…

…when I knew full well that his razor blades were dull, always the most curiously ineffective elements about him, his beard never long but never trim either—as if he didn’t dare put a sharp blade near his throat.

He wasn’t a bad person. Which was why I didn’t mind, no, liked bringing him his coffee. It was the least I could do for him, my savior, who didn’t force me to clean and cook, didn’t turn me into a sex slave, didn’t threaten to kick me out.

I held the cups by their bottoms because that felt more secure than holding them by the handle. The warmth of the coffee transferred to my palms. It was a luxury I could afford. And it felt good.

Timothy slept in front of the screens. That was a first.

“Here’s your coffee,” extra kindly, hoping he didn’t feel hurt after the way I’d snapped at him.

I put his cup next to him. He didn’t wake up. He lay over the keyboard.

“Timothy?”

He didn’t respond. Instinctively, the first thing I did was to place my own cup next to his. Dropping the cup and spilling hot coffee all over the place was something I most definitely did not want at the moment.

“Timothy.”

I poked his shoulder. He didn’t budge.

I poked harder. He didn’t resist. I kept pushing…

The black mesh swivel chair rolled back. Limply, Timothy collapsed on the floor. He didn’t wince or moan.

Heart attack. Brilliant.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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