City of Icons

Since there was only starlight, I went many days without sleep. Tranquil, I walked through the Arc like cerements. My one pleasure was visiting the icon alley. I watched their beauty, especially Isabella. I pressed my lips to the sleep-enshrouded glass, pressed my cheek to hers, wishing for my Aphrodite to descend from the starry night. Oh Isabella, sweet Galatea to my Pygmalion. My father watched sternly, without approval.

“The icons must remain until their time. Remember the days of justice. We are the last survivors.”

“But how might she be otherwise? How sweet if her lungs filled and her eyes opened and she whispered my name?” (For surely she knew my name by now as often as I had whispered it to her, face pressed to glass, lips barely parted as if in dream)

And what color her eyes? Imagine not knowing the color of your lover’s eyes, oh father. You must understand.

From you, I learned the sequence, father.

From you, I learned the sequence, in case of emergency.

The lower belt, the upper. Then thaw, watching respiration levels rise at .02 percent per day over a week’s span. You will know it’s time when the dew of their air condenses on the glass cage. Star light glistened on her cage, the down-turned eyes.

Shall I know her as forever demure?

You cannot hate me for this, father. This is what it means to be human. But even as I spoke I realized that I was absurd, loving a woman asleep for one hundred and seventy-six years, whose skin was frozen, whose skin I had never touched, whose voice I had never heard.

I continued with the sequence, for I could think of nothing else. No other way out of my misery.

Less than a full week was when I first heard the shouting.

“Where are you going? What are you doing?”

I heard her feet pattering toward the Command Bridge. I turned so that we could see each other eye to eye.

“Who are you?”

I was so dazed with her beauty that I could hardly reply. She wore no clothes, and her skin was faintly blued from lack of oxygen. Her auburn hair was rich and full and her lips, though nearly purple, seemed succulent in the old Earth movie way. Her bodily shape was better than the finest cupsexidor, with beautifully formed breast, full and heaving with slightly green veins pumping thin to the surface that was different from any cupsexidor’s I had ever seen. This oddity, coupled with her rich hair and blue skin added to her beauty. But her dazzling hazel eyes crippled me. For a full minute I was speechless as she stood before me, her angry eyes flaring as if chiseled fresh from a diamond Earth.

“You can call me Noah.” I said at last.

“Noah? Then you are the 45th waker. We have no notes on you that indicate this wakage. What are you doing? What have you done?”

“I wanted someone to talk to.”

For a full minute she could not speak, stunned by my reply.

“How did you happen?”

“How did I happen? I am not sure. My father was a―”

“I know exactly who your father was ― the second commanding waker, Phibeous Ryan. I know every waker and their genealogies. You weren’t supposed to do this Noah, or be this way. You’ve woken an icon. Do you have any idea how serious this is? Now I cannot return to sleep. I’m doomed, Noah. I have to stay up ― just like you. This is a catastrophe.”

This was all correct. Everything Isabella spoke was beautiful and accurate. I loved her truth. I loved her passion. I even loved her hatred, for I had expected it, had always known that if I woke her, she could never return to an icon’s sleep. Technically, there is no way back. I had trapped her in life. Forgive me, father, and all who rule.

I hummed one of my favorite songs while I reached to kiss her hand. It was a French diddie I had learned from the Earth videos, something odd and strangely affecting:

Frere Jacque,
Frere Jacque,
Dormais vous?
Dormais vous?

This finally broke her composure. Infuriated, Isabella beat my face and chest, but I would not budge.

“You imbecile, you murderer! I will die before we reach our home. Before the destination. I’ve seen the star clock! I’m forty years ahead. Don’t you understand? How did you happen? Where are the others? The other wakers? This is not according to plan!”

“They abandoned you to live on another world.”

“Wakers don’t abandon icons. We are the most perfect creatures on Earth!”

She spit, her eyes blazed tearfully, wetting their gorgeous hazel. Then they went cold, dead, as filled with negation as a burnt-out star.

Oh, dear. Was it possible that I had underestimated her fury? Was it possible that the Earth movies were wrong and the disease of love would not find its way into her perfect heart? But, she too, had seen the Earth videos. She too had seen the sickly lie that made life even possible, that whisper of connection, love, of a universe onto itself, like a space ship, shuttling between the stars.

For four days I stayed awake, popping benzene tablets to keep the ship rolling full tilt into the future. My paranoid ears listened for the sound of her feet on the rear rampart’s galleyway. I locked down every pod and hatch. I feared being clubbed to death and soundlessly dragged back to court; the naked light of distant suns, that she might never learn to like, might never learn to love the soul that woke her so early: me.

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