by Jens Alfke ⟿ February 3, 2009

I really don’t know how long I’ve been lying on the couch, watching the men on the TV. I don’t remember things so well anymore, since the accident. I don’t remember the accident either, but my friends tell me it was pretty bad. I have healed about as well as I’m going to, and though I don’t get around well, I can still think. In small doses.

The men on the TV gesticulate about some crisis or other; I can’t tell what, because the sound is off. They look angry — at me, at all of us, at themselves. Small text crawls across the screen above and below them. The TV men look very tired, too, as tired as I feel, and perhaps lost and afraid. I feel such sympathy; I would like to turn up the volume and learn more of their situation. Maybe I could ask one of my friends to.

Madeline is staring out the window. The window is next to the TV, it is filled with blackness, and speckly stars, and dim reflections of us. It’s night-time. Madeline’s gaze intersects mine somewhere near the empty center of the room. She is looking very intently into that blank space, at nothing I can see, and it makes me worry what might be out there. She is counting something; I know what that is, at least. I watch her lips move — she is up into the millions now. Some of us have nervous habits, some of us aren’t taking this ordeal so well.

Charles is still crying. I say “still” because my sense is that he’s been doing it for a long time. He cries with the slow understated pace of one who can keep it up indefinitely. He is on the floor, arms around his knees, rocking slowly. I am embarrassed to say that I can’t remember why he is so sad. Whatever he may have lost, he still has this room, a warm shelter from the night outside. He has us. We are his friends, if I recall correctly.

Junko remains calm, amidst the angry TV men and the crying and staring and all.

(It is rather crowded in here, I admit. We used to have a lot more room, but that accident damaged the rest of the house and we had to board up the door. It’s OK, we all fit here in the living room, it could even be considered cozy! I don’t think it used to be a living room; though; maybe a spare room or cellar? But something is wrong … though I can’t remember what.)

Junko is going through the first-aid kit, a swirl of sterile wrappers and bandages and surgical steel implements. Her gaze terminates there, right in front of her.

Alan continues to speak loudly in his deep voice. He looks us all in the eye, in turn. He’s our leader (did we appoint him? Or did he seize the role?) and we should pay more attention to him. I will try, though his arguments unfurl like a scroll that runs behind me into the past where I can’t see it. He has a voice that is accustomed to speaking in arguments, in bullet points. He is saying that:

  • We were Chosen.
  • We have to stick together, even in our dire straits.
  • We cannot disappoint our true leader.
  • We cannot become confused by the lies of the TV men.
  • We have a glorious destiny, and it’s coming up soon, if only we can hold on.
  • We are all very disappointed in Alison.

If you ask me, Alan sounds like he’s nuts. His wild beard and red eyes don’t help. But I have to admit that I’m short on context here, in my post-accident diminished capacity, and I could be misinterpreting. All I can do is watch and learn. (And forget, and watch again, and learn again…)

Alison is struggling. Did I list her already? But she is small, and nearly exhausted, and Dave is large. Did I mention Dave? Alison’s gaze goes everywhere, darting like a laser-pointer. Her eyes are mad. Her hair flies around her head. Dave focuses close by, on his grip, keeping Alison from getting loose.

Alison is yelling. “—Fucking tyrant, I want out of this cult, I am opening that door and _leaving![](_ Yes, I know what’s outside) Fuck you all, it’s better than this *shithole*, better than lying here day after day afraid to do anything, no room to stretch out, just waiting for it to come closer! Get your goddamn stinks away from me! I want to go outside! *Outletmeoutout* —” Alison is on a short conversational loop, and it really only takes a few seconds to absorb the gist of it.

Alan also says that:

  • He has the highest respect for our mission.
  • None of us can be permitted to jeopardize it.
  • The Titan king Saturn has seized the throne and castrated his father.
  • Saturn = Kronos = Time, and time has abandoned us. There is only this moment, this endless moment in our cramped room. We must escape, we will escape, but not now. We must stay tight together, packed in our shell, for leaving now will expose us to the hell that is outside. Let one of us so much as open the door, and it’s all over — the cold of the outside will devour us, we will fly apart and never be together again, the TV men will laugh and say they knew we would fail.
  • We must remember our true destination.

Junko hovers before him, a gift of a scalpel gleaming in her thin fingers. Alan curls his fist around it. (Did this happen before? Did I watch this already?) Alison screams … Madeline counts, her lips moving … Charles sobs. Alan reiterates that:

  • Alison in particular must remember our true destination, not the false one
  • … and the importance of staying true to it
  • … and this will help her remember—

Dave holds Alison very still, all but her screaming mouth, as Alan carves the letters into the flesh of her forearm: M — A — R — S.

Drops of blood swell into red spheres and break free for Junko to vacuum up tidily with her little suction device. Alan finishes the third stroke of the lightning-bolt S and Junko sprays the whole with cautery fluid, stopping the bleeding.

Alison has stopped screaming now, her noises are softer, her gaze has rolled up within her skull. Dave maintains his grip. Charles tries to crawl through the floor, or is it the wall? Madeline continues her soft breathy counting, one second per second into the future without end.

Outside the window the stars are rolling now. Inside, a few small objects not fastened down bump their way along the wall, following them. The swirled orange sphere rises majestically from the windowsill, its famous rings glittering. It doesn’t fill the frame, not yet; I can still reach my hand out and cover it. But it grows larger, I remember that now. Every day, in every way, every 86,400 of Madeline’s metronomic counts. Don’t let her stop, or we’ll hang suspended here forever more. Don’t let her continue, or the titan will devour us, his children.

  • Where are we going?

Alan’s fiery eyes burn into mine. My mouth is dry. My mind is empty, a broken vessel, a stuck record. I look desperately at my arm for clues, reading the large unfriendly letters written there in white puckered scar tissue.

“Mars, sir.”