He can't stay awake in the world without her
“Beah, it’s top-secret government work. If anyone found out about what I was doing, I could be done for.”
“Beah…” Andrew sighed. He wanted more than anything to be transparent with her. The last thing he wanted was to worry her. Yet, he could not trust her to keep it a secret; she would not understand.
“We’ve been together months now. All you do when we’re not together is fuck around in that lab of yours.” Beah spoke softly to not draw attention to themselves from anyone else at the restaurant. Upbeat indie music played in the background. Tourists were enjoying the view out of the large windows surrounding them that faced the open ocean. The moonlight illuminated the crashing waves against the shoreline
“You can’t even give me a clear explanation of why you can’t tell me what’s going on in there. Would you be put in prison?” Beah sighed to calm herself and stared out into the sea. She always stared off when she got frustrated or overwhelmed.
Andrew found himself blank for words; she was right. However, he would be in trouble for letting out any information about his work.
“I’m sorry, Beah,” was all he managed to say as she stared blankly. Andrew tried to look into her eyes, but no one was home. Andrew waved down the server to pay the bill.
Their server, Brady, whom Andrew had never seen working at the restaurant before, quickly returned. He appeared confident despite being new to the job. He had a handsome face and looked like he could easily be an actor. He held himself proudly with a strong jawline, hungry blue eyes and thick brown curly hair, smelling faintly of cologne and freshly washed linen. As he punched the numbers into the debit machine, Andrew noticed a stick and poked, tattoo through the gap of his shirt sleeve. The tattoo was a picture of what looked like a world on fire, and the words messily etched in ‘no planet b.’ Andrew thought he must be younger than he looked.
“Is this your after-school job?” Andrew asked, attempting to lighten the apparent cloud surrounding him and Beah.
“No, it’s just my job,” he replied confidently and said, “thank you, I hope you two have a wonderful evening.” As he took the machine back, a smile grew on his face seeing Andrew’s generous tip. Andrew quickly returned his attention to Beah.
“Will you come to stay with me tonight?” he asked, holding Beah’s hand between his.
“No, I think I’d just like to just go home.” She said, retracting her hand back towards herself. Andrew felt his heart sink to his stomach where a knot was forming right inside his ribcage. “You can walk me home?” She asked as if only to ease his discomfort.
They walked home along the beach. As they had so many times before. They followed the reflection of the moonlight on the wet sand in front of them. Listening to the sound of the waves crashing along the shore; making the air dense with the taste of salt. Beah did not say a word. Neither did Andrew. When they arrived at Beah’s front door. Andrew took both of her hands in his. He smiled at her kindly and she looked down, pulling her hand away. She gave him a hug,
“Thanks for walking me home.” She said. Andrew nodded. He watched her as she turned her back on him and went inside.
“Beah, can we talk?” Andrew texted Beah. A week had passed since they last spoke. He knew she had gone to visit her family on the mainland. Andrew was getting nervous that she was there for more than just family.
“Would you mind helping me move some furniture this afternoon? I’m finally getting a real bed and mattress for my suite.” She replied instantly. Giving Andrew a sense of relief.
“Yeah, I can do that,” Andrew wrote.
“Oh, ok, thanks,” Beah replied, “I would love your help. Can you be here at 4:30? That’s when It’s getting delivered.”
“Sounds perfect; I’ll come straight from work.”
Of course, he would take the time for her; he was ready to fight to get her back, whatever it would take. He was sick to his stomach, and hearing from her was medicine. Just knowing he would see her later put a spring in his step for the rest of the day.
Andrew showed up at 4:15 pm. It was a calm, cloudy day with not a breath of wind. Meanwhile, a storm was brewing between them. Their voices echoed in Beah’s empty suite.
“I just got a text from the people delivering; they’re stuck in the roadblock; they’re going to be late,” Beah said from her position, sitting cross-legged. She hunched over on her one small carpet in the center of the floor. Her bleached pixie-cut hair was all a mess. Her clear blue eyes were as beautiful as ever despite being puffy from crying. Andrew sat down beside her.
“I don’t want to upset you,” Andrew said. Beah cut him off,
“If you want to talk, let’s talk” she surprised him with her irritated tone.
“Ok…. I just do not get it. Two weeks ago, you were in love with me. What changed?” Beah started to stare off—Andrew lit up “you told me, you loved me, that we’re meant to be together from past lives. Beah, what has changed? I do not believe it is just my work in the lab. There has to be something else going on?”
“We’re just very different people, Andrew.” It was hard for her to speak.
Andrew leaned away from Beah, bracing himself to the floor with both hands.
“You’re breaking up with me?”
Beah made herself as small as possible, struggling to look him in the eye.
“You’re breaking up with me… really?” He used that judgmental tone that Beah was so afraid of, she cringed. “Do you think you’re making the right decision?”
Andrew could see her nostrils flare and body tense; she got up from where she was sitting and walked outside.
“I’ll be right back,” she said quietly, trying to compose herself.
Andrew could not accept Beah’s answer; he followed her outside. She was crouched down and breathing heavily. As if she had taken her position as Andrew’s punching bag.
“You can’t seriously think you’re making the right choice right now. I get that we are different people, but why the sudden change? What else is going on?” Andrew jabbed with his words.
Beah had nothing to say; she remained in her position, head between her knees.
“Stop being a child Beah.” One more punch and she would burst.
“You know what, Andrew? You think I am a child? Well, you know what? Maybe, I am like a child. You cannot take care of me or be honest with me. That’s exactly why I don’t want to be with you!” Andrew had never seen her this upset. He genuinely believed she was only being self-destructive. He needed to convince her to stay. To stop hurting herself.
“Beah, calm down, and tell me the real reason you’re breaking up with me.”
Her hesitation caused the entire world to freeze in time. Then, finally, Beah decided she had no choice but to say the one thing that would shut him up for good.
“I fell in love with someone else… on the mainland.”
Beah’s phone started to buzz, they both looked up to see the delivery truck outside.
“I’ll help you with this furniture; then, I’ll get out of your hair.”
Andrew got the sense that something was following him. Not enough to make him turn around to look. Not in the dense rain and with his only intention being to get to the liquor store before it closed. Only a five-minute walk from his lab, he often left his nightly run to the last minute—toying with the idea that his night would be different, and he would not go at all. Tonight though, he had no option; he was pissed off and heartbroken.
A massive gust of wind knocked a tree branch down behind him where he had just been walking; he turned to look and saw a dog with his tail between his legs looking at him from 20 ft away. He was being watched and followed.
As he entered the stale booze-smelling store, relief washed over Andrew. He instinctively picked up his Blue Ribbons, walked up to the cashier. He was happy to see it was Lisa, he knew she wouldn’t ask stupid questions about his day like the other guy who worked there.
“Cards declined,” she said, letting out a yawn. Andy used another card. The successful ting of the debit machine sent visible waves of relief once again through his body.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette I could borrow?”
Although he had cut back substantially, tonight, he needed a smoke but did not want to risk having a whole pack lying around to tempt him.
“Sure, Andy, but do Ya know, dogs aren’t allowed in here.”
“What?” he asked confused. As he turned to look behind him, he found the multi-coloured mutt had followed him in.
“Not my dog,” he said in a cheerful tone, surprising himself with his own smile. He had a sense of being chosen, wanted, and needed.
“He might be now,” Lisa joked. Andy looked back at her; eyebrows raised. She handed him a smoke; he shook his head to say he had changed his mind. He left the store with just his brews and a friend to keep him company through the pain of losing Beah.
Andrew spent all his days thinking about Beah; even in the lab, she was always on his mind. Waves of regret and remorse coursed through his veins every time he remembered what it was like to hold her petite frame in his arms. The worst withdrawal he had ever experienced. Andrew had been lying to Beah; the government sold his project to a private company a few months earlier. As a result, he was no longer government-funded and was receiving more stable monetary incentives. Both the government and the company believed he was putting the final changes on life pods. More of a psychologist than a scientist, Andrew solved the puzzle of maintaining balanced brain chemistry while in the pods. He designed the life pods to sustain human life for as long as necessary to survive an apocalyptic scenario. Andrew had figured out how to deliver the neurotransmitters and measure the balance within the brain. He knew how he would semi-sedate the subject within the pod. But he was a neuroscientist, not a programmer.
“Spark, we’re so close. Two years I have spent on this. Day in and day out, and we’re almost there.”
Spark looked at Andrew, his tail wagging, jumping at his legs.
“Not now, pup… There is just one problem left to solve: monitoring and administering the appropriate neurotransmitters and chemicals at the right doses at the right times. I need a programmer, a genius programmer.” As Andrew finished his sentence, Spark lit up barking and running around the lab, dodging the various boxes and debris scattered around.
“Who’s there?!” Andrew yelled. There was no response. Andrew got up from his desk to look around, but he could not find anyone; he looked out the door, no one. He picked up Spark to try to calm him down.
“Must just be a ghost,” Andrew said to him. Even more grateful to his little guard dog that scared them away. He checked the time—9:30 pm.
“That’s enough for today….” He shut off the lights and noticed a figure crawling in front of the only window of the half underground lab. Andrew’s heart sunk to his stomach. What did this person see? How long was he there? Most importantly, what did they now know?
“Beah?” No. She would not do that. He grabbed his bag, looked at Spark and said, “all right, let’s get out of here. “
He looked all around the outside of the building, but whoever it was, was long gone. He still had time to make it to the liquor store. Spark led the way, all too familiar with the routine.
A loud knock on the door woke Andrew up in the morning. Spark was curled up, undisturbed at the foot of Andrew’s bed. Andrew almost fell back to sleep until it happened again, louder this time. Remembering the night before, and the person he had seen crawling outside his window, sent chills down his spine. Spark followed at his heels as he made his way to the front door. He peeked outside but no one was there. He stepped out to take a better look and recognized a familiar face walking past on the street.
“Hey! Did you see anyone just now?” He was desperate to catch whoever this person was. The young man turned towards him, pulling one of his earbuds out so he could hear what Andrew was saying. Andrew recognized it was Brady, the server from the restaurant.
“Hey, sorry, what?”
“Someone just knocked on my door, but when I came out, they were gone; I was just wondering if you’d seen anyone?”
“No problem,” Andrew said, “You’re Brady, right? From the restaurant?” He felt strange asking, but for some reason, Andrew was curious about this guy.
“Uh, yeah, that’s me; why?” Brady was obviously confused by Andrew’s interest in him. Andrew scrambled to smooth over the interaction.
“Awesome, yeah, well, you know, it’s nice to know your neighbours; it’s a small town we live in.”
“Sure is.” Brady agreed. “Well, I’m off to work.”
“I didn’t know the restaurant was open this early?”
“No, not the restaurant. I’m a computer programmer as well. I’m just headed to the coffee shop; I don’t know why but I prefer to focus when there are people around me.” Now, this really caught Andrew’s interest.
“Oh, good for you. Well, have a good day.”
“For sure, hope you find out who’s been bugging Ya.”
“You bet,” Andrew said, calling Spark back inside, who had been sniffing about the front yard. Andrew wanted to know Brady better. He felt he may be just the person Andrew needed to help him program the life pods.
Instead of going straight to the lab that day, Andrew made a quick stop at one of the coffee shops. There were only three in town. Lucky for him, only one of them had a good Wi-Fi connection. He was not surprised to see Brady sitting there with a cloud of steam almost visible above his head. He was so focused on his work. Andrew ordered a coffee while planning what he would say to Brady, who was clearly suspicious of him. Andrew waited until Brady stopped frantically typing and took a breath to sit down.
“Hey?” Brady replied, and Andrew realized he had not even told Brady his name.
“Let me properly introduce myself so you don't think I’m a creep. My name is Andrew, I’m a scientist and you told me this morning you’re a programmer. I think I could really use your help?”
“Uhm. Ok, with what?”
“Well, I can’t really tell you here.” Brady raised his eyebrows and leaned away from Andrew subtly showing his increasing distrust. “But I’m working on this project for the government right now. It’s a prototype for something that, well, might help us through... well, an apocalypse.” Andrew waited in silence as he watched Brady relax his posture a bit. He closed his laptop and turned towards Andrew. He then glanced down at his forearm where his stick and poke tattoos were.
“That’s interesting. I mean, I have a couple of projects on the go already.” Brady said.
“Yeah, that’s fine. I just thought you’d be interested” Andrew nodded and stood up to leave.
“Wait!” Brady said. His curiosity got the best of him, and he did not want to lose an opportunity. As well as the fact that Brady was stuck. He just typed one section of his code wrong and his last three months of work were down the toilet. He did not trust Andrew, but he was ready for any reason to start something new. Of course, he was also interested in saving the planet. “I might be interested.”
Andrew was almost giddy with excitement at having convinced Brady. He was nervous about having a partner, and he knew he was impulsive to trust him so quickly. But he had a good feeling. Something he had not had in a long time. “Well, I’m headed to my lab now. If you just want to come to check it out?”
“Andrew?” Brady’s face blushed when he spoke.
“What?” Andrew asked, tripping over a box-- sending dust into the air as he came
around a corner, making him cough.
“Uhm, what would you say about maybe... Giving these pods a run for their money?”
“You mean, use us as test subjects?
Andrew gestured to the mess they had created during their months of working together. Not only were there piles of debris and equipment everywhere, but Brady had been leaving behind dirty dishes and food wrappers. The smell reminded him of growing up with his depressed mother.
“I was thinking… we’d clean up a little.” Brady’s eyes opened in embarrassment. He had been too busy focusing to even notice the mess he had left in Andrew’s space.
“Oh, come on, Andrew, we deserve this,” Brady whined. Then, he stood up and started picking up some of his trash.
Andrew looked puzzled. He knew it was coming up time to try the pods, but Brady seemed overly eager.
“What’s your plan? Put one of us to sleep?”
“No, I was thinking, a nice mix of dopamine… serotonin, oxytocin...” Brady smiled nervously, awaiting Andrew’s response.
“You want to get us high?”
“Come on, Andrew. Getting people to sleep is easy; we need to see how they will be feeling and see that my program can measure their experience properly. We may as well do it together and have some fun at the same time.”
Andrew looked around the room and checked his watch. He saw Spark dead to the world in the corner of the lab on his makeshift doggy bed of old rags and clothing.
“I have it all set, ready to go. The catecholamine pathways and monitors are all set; I can program in some oxytocin.”
“We’ll basically be on Ecstasy?” Andrew said, raising an eyebrow.
Brady nodded in excitement like a kid about to go to Disneyland.
“So, when were you planning to do this?” Andrew asked, and Brady shrugged.
“This is what you’ve been working on all day, isn’t it?”
“I’m ready when you are.”
“Alrighty then, let us test your baby out.
Brady jumped out of his chair and started his preparations to hook themselves up. “Do you really think these pods could have the potential to save humanity?” Brady asked as Andrew prepared the machine.
“I’m not sure. If something happens that wipes out all of humanity... We’d need a lot longer than just a lifetime for the earth to become habitable again.”
“So, when will the pods wake up their person? How will they know it’s safe again?”
“The pods won’t. Whoever uses the pods will have to take a guess before they enter.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Brady said.
Andrew attached himself to the hat, covered in electrodes. He made the small insertion in his left arm that would pump the chemicals into his bloodstream and brain. For this trial, he sat just outside the pod. Which, when in real use, would have the subject lay horizontally in a pool of highly mineralized water, like gel. Designed not to pass through the skin, as to not decay it over time.
Andrew nodded to Brady that he was ready. They agreed to take turns. Andrew was not willing to use Brady as his first test subject in case anything went wrong. He was not going to sacrifice Brady’s brain despite his idea to try to get high.
“Brady, I’m so glad you agreed to work with me on this. You’ve worked hard and smart.”
Brady chuckled, he could see Andrew relaxing and grinning,
“Come on Doc, you got to let me join you,” Brady whined, jealous of the apparent bliss Andrew was beginning to slip into.
“No, we need to wait until we both know this is safe. Brady, I love you, and I love working with you so much. But I don’t want to damage your brain.”
Brady chuckled at the use of the word. “Oh, come on, we both know I’m past that point with all the partying I’ve done. I’m hooking myself up, don’t worry, I won’t blame you for a thing, I love you too.”
“You know Brady, I feel like there’s something I’ve got to tell you.”
Brady paused with the electrode hat in his hands that he was about to attach to himself. “Yeah, what’s up?”
“How could I not? She is all you ever talked about in my first couple of months working with you. I wondered why you stopped talking about her.” He finished injecting the tube into his arm, replicating what he had just seen Andrew do.
Andrew had his eyes closed at this point. He was laying back in his dusty old easy chair, which looked old enough to have been passed down to him from his grandmother. Brady sat upright at his desk, where he hit the enter key to begin injecting his chosen mix of neurotransmitters into himself.
“Do you think I could make Beah fall in love with me again? If I showed her the lab? If I let her see my work? Would she be able to accept me? The way you have?”
At the southern end of the longest beach in town. Brady knew where Beah lived, down from where he worked at the restaurant. Andrew had told him everything about her the night before. Brady was surprised when Beah warmly greeted him at the door. As if she was expecting him.
“Oh, Hey,” she said as a waft of incense mixed with fried onion and garlic escaped out the door.
“Uh, hi, I’m Brady.” He tried to bring about some confidence as if he were serving her at a table. But his shaky voice gave away his insecurity. “I know we haven’t met, but I’ve been working closely with Andrew. I’m sure you know about his project as well. I was just wondering if you would have a chance to talk. I’m a little worried about him.”
The warmth on Beah’s face disappeared. She clearly did not want to have anything to do with him anymore.
“I actually know extraordinarily little about his project. Maybe ask his family for help if you are concerned about him. We broke up months ago.” She said, with one hand ready to close the door and the other across her belly.
“Whatever you’re cooking smells delicious.” He said, as his stomach rumbled with perfect timing.
“You must be hungry….” Beah said compassionately, “here, come in. Have some soup if you like. I am curious to know more about Andrew’s project. He never told me a thing about what he works on in there.”
“That would be amazing, thank you,” Brady said in relief, realizing he could not remember when his last proper meal was aside from beer and chips.
Brady looked around her suite as Beah finished preparing their meal. Despite being underground, it was bright and spacious. She had all kinds of crystals, exotic plants and strange collections of items found on the beach adorning all her countertops and any available surface area.
“So, can you tell me what you two have been working on in the lab?” Beah asked him before he had a chance to comment on her decor.
“Well, I don’t want to tell you too much. Except, that I think his plans might be a little more sinister than he claims them to be… I don’t think it is a plan to save humanity during the apocalypse. Instead, I think It’s a game of mind control.”
“That doesn’t seem like the Andrew I know,” Beah said as she placed a steamy bowl of vegetable soup in front of Brady. “Then again, he kept a lot of secrets from me.” She sighed as she sat down to eat with him.
“Beah, Andrew is going insane. He wants to control you, to make you fall in love with him again.”
“And how exactly would he do that?”
“Well, that’s why I’m here. For him to do that, he would have to get you in a pod, or at least hooked up to it.”
“A pod?” Beah asked, confused, although she suspected she knew what he was talking about. She remembered seeing large coffin-sized chambers that night she went to spy on him.
“Yeah, the life pods. He had me set up the programming in the pods. To administer neurochemicals and fire synapses so that someone can live pleasurably while being half asleep. The pods are protected from all elements in case of a disaster.” Brady realized just how little Beah knew by the look of shock and confusion on her face.
“Wow,” Beah said. “You’re right. He is going crazy. Why would you work with him?”
“I don’t know. That bastard convinced me somehow, and I can’t really say I regret it.”
“He is good at that, isn’t he?” Beah reflected.
Beah’s phone buzzed. “Oh, Hey,” Beah said, “Speak of the devil.”
“Is it Andrew? What is he saying?” Brady asked, leaning towards her instinctively. He could smell her sweetness like a flower in full bloom. Entrancing, no wonder Andrew was obsessed.
“Uhm. He’s just asking how I’m doing,” Beah lied. Leaning away from Brady who was getting too close. Andrew was inviting her to come to see the lab. He said he wanted to show her the truth.
“I’m just not going to reply.” She said to Brady. She put her phone away and got up to start cleaning. “Take your time." She said, "I’ve got nothing going on today.”
“No, I’m finished. Thank you so much,” Brady said.
Beah left to go to Andrew’s lab as soon as Brady was gone. She immediately knew something was wrong when Spark seemed to be locked outside, pawing, and whining to get back in. Spark ran to her as soon as he saw her coming. Then continued to bark at the door.
“What’s going on Spark? Why were you locked out?” Beah said, gingerly opening the door and peeking inside. It was quiet. Dead quiet. The lights were all off. Except for one. Beside one of the life pod chambers. There was a note sitting underneath it.
I want you to know that I have not given up. These pods I designed are to save humanity, to maintain people in a state of harmony until external conditions improve. I am simply using my design for its ultimate purpose. Although I must admit, I never planned it would turn out this way. That is how it goes when you create something. The result is always a surprise and a mystery. No matter how clearly you develop a plan. I programmed the pod to keep me here, in a state of rest and freedom for 10 years. By the time I wake up, you will be long gone. I want you to be happy. And Brady, if you end up reading this, please do not try to stop me. This is not a suicide note. I promise to try again once the hard part has passed.
A teardrop fell from Beah’s eye to the page. She immediately ripped the part of the page that had her name on it. She felt the urge to run away as far as she could. She placed the note down in the same spot. So, Brady could find it himself if he looked. She took Spark with her back to her place. And without a thought began packing her things and planning her move to the mainland.