Cheena’s so quiet, she never talks anymore after her shifts. She just comes home and puts her clothes away. Drapes herself in a white sheet, tied like a toga, doesn’t worry about anything hanging out or staying in. It’s the shape the toga makes against her thighs that matters to her. The strong edges and the void covered by cloth. I wonder if it’s true what they say, that someone threatened to take her breath and she stopped using it for anything but motion, like it was something you could horde. Either that, or Cheena doesn’t think words have meaning anymore. So we sit next to each other on the sofa and watch a few shows on the net, until it’s time for my shift and Cheena sleeps.
I have the opposite of Cheena’s job, so our professions are related. I clean up after the party’s over. Put the glass back in the windows, toss the hors d’oeuvres and return lost garments. If there’s a fight on the net, I weigh in. But mostly, no one fights anymore. It’s like they’re all too afraid to say what they think because it might lead to the things we’d all rather not think about. The company’s been running for a decade and it used to be all high-end space station parties, trips to Mars and endless flights to China, Iceland, Algeria. Now people come to us. They want something that doesn’t change. And I always put the room back the same way.
Cheena was gonna be an astronaut before the deal. But it wasn’t the deal that made her silent. As for me, I talk enough for both of us and more than I should. I hang out on the threads that still try to list the disappearing animals. I’m responsible for spotting five kinds of insects, seven mammals and three reptiles. When they’re gone, I’ll watch new ones, until they’re gone too. One man’s job is to watch the mountains. Two are still there, but the range is all hollowed out. Desert now. We don’t talk on the thread about why they’re gone. No one can stomach that, and we don’t want to hope too hard. Life is livable a little bit at a time.
I was a scientist before the deal, but I can’t remember any of it anymore. Not one equation. They tell me I’m better to talk to now. That I was always a little haunted or analytical or something. Now I can’t stop talking. I talk to the bots that help me reshape the rooms of the floating castle. I talk to the other staff, the bartenders and the talent. I talk to Cheena, even though she doesn’t say a word. It’s an unspoken agreement that she doesn’t have to respond. At work, the music’s too loud for anyone to hear her anyway.
I do wish sometimes that I could find someone to yell with, to fight, to do anything, but we all saw what happened to those who panicked that day. And so those of us left just keep on counting the things we loved and took for granted. The things that couldn’t change and did. I make the rooms the same every night. Every night Cheena does the same dance. It is what we can do.