When Trevor Goodwin and his partner Bria got home from the four-hour movie, he still had five hours to fill before returning to the lab for another day of experiments. Since Bria rejected his efforts to discuss the show, he secluded himself in the corner and tried to fill his time by scanning the background information on Mills Devore, the most receptive of the patients they had gathered for study at the university.
But his gaze kept drifting from his screen across the room to Bria, the woman he loved more than anything in the world. The woman he knew would soon separate from him.
“They call it ‘brain death,’” Trevor said, hoping to stir a conversation. He set his screen down on the table and leaned back. He wanted to hear her voice. “But that’s not quite correct.”
“Huh?” She finally looked up from the screen on her lap. She did one of those silly word puzzles that occupied most of her time. The room was dark with only pockets of light splashing over each of their chairs, making them islands in a black sea.
“The disease Devore and the others have. Thyocin. It was called ‘brain death’ when we first started studying it years ago because it appeared that the victim’s brain died, even if just for a few hours. The body remained functioning, though it remained motionless, but the brain seemed to die. And that name stuck, even though we quickly determined that the brain didn’t actually die during a thyocinian trance. It kept functioning.”
“Fascinating,” she said with a heavy sigh. “And after all these years, you know little more about it than you did then.”
Her sarcasm burned through the darkness between them.
“We’ve learned a lot.”
“That’s nice to hear.” She returned to her screen.
Bria had never been interested in his work, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stir any enthusiasm. But it was important to him that he could discuss his work with her. He wanted his life partner to care about what was important to him. Just as he tried to care about those ridiculous puzzles she always worked on. She even created some of her own puzzles and posted them for other to use.
“It hasn’t been easy to study the disease. But it’s important work. The disease has been around for ages but has only been subjected to scientific study the last twenty years. Prior to that, it was simply accepted as a normal part of our existence. Now, we know that the brain remains active because outside stimuli can sometimes pull a person out of the trance. A loud noise. Or shaking him.” He paused and caught his breath. He always got excited talking about his research, but Bria remained uninterested as he outlined the discoveries they’d recently made. “Using the latest techniques with the lectrolyzer, we can record brain impulses. We can chart its activity. It’s absolute proof that the brain remains functioning during a thyocinian trance. Not always at the same level. Sometimes, it is barely functioning. And sometimes, it is as active as a living person’s brain.”
Bria rapped the screen a few times with her finger.
“We’re at the forefront of thyocinian research. We’re studying the brain. We’re learning so many new things.”
Mumbling angrily, Bria wiped her palm across her screen and looked up. “It all sounds kind of crazy to me. Lectrolyzers. Brain waves.”
“Crazy? Don’t you see the significance of our work?”
“Don’t you feel the excitement? We’re learning new things every day. We’re making incredible progress. The discovery of the eye movements and the visions were major steps forward.”
“I think you’re just banging your heads against the wall. Wasting your time. For no good reason.”
He slowly shook his head. “Please, Bria, let’s not argue.”
“Who’s arguing?” A thin smile slimed across her moist lips. “You’re the one insisting you’re making great discoveries.”
“Oh sure. Discoveries that are going to be buried in some scientific journal. It’s all a waste of time. Who cares about a stupid disease that doesn’t even seem to harm anybody? It’s like some people have blue eyes, some people have brown eyes. And some people have different colored eyes. Who cares?”
No. He wasn’t going to argue with her. Over the last few weeks, he struggled to control his temper, hoping he could rekindle the feelings they once had for each other. He wanted to save their relationship. But Bria made it so difficult. She delighted in provoking him.
Sighing, he draped his head over the back of the chair. The end was near. This common pattern of decay struck most couples on Sanduar. No matter how much they loved each other when they joined, they argued more and more until that was all they did. Life together became unbearable. Then, they went to the legal bureau for an official separation. In some cases, they never even spoke to each other again as each would go out in search of a new mate. The cycle began again. Sometimes, if there were children, the joining might last four, maybe five years, but usually the cycle was two years. Any children became property of the state. That was how it always was.
It angered Trevor. Because he still loved Bria. He wanted to stay with her. And she had once loved him. He couldn’t stand being away from her. Bria had felt the same. So what had happened? Why was their joining falling apart? Like all the others. Why?
Robert Petyo‘s stories have appeared in small press magazines and on the web most recently at “Yellow Mama,” “Spinetingler,” and “Flash Bang Mysteries,” and in “Pulp Modern” and in the anthology “Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths.”
Though he mainly writes crime fiction, he has also published some science fiction in small press magazines, and in the deep dark past he wrote three science fiction novels under three different names.
In his other life, he is married, recently retired from the US Postal Service and enjoys playing with his adorable grandson.