Drake studied the horizon while the sun sank below the clouds, into the old world. So much had changed since he awakened and yet, somehow all the things that had eaten away at his soul remained the same.
“Drake? Drake Raleigh?” someone inquired from behind him in that strange accent he just couldn’t get used to hearing.
“Aye,” he replied without taking his eyes off the horizon. “That’d be me. What can I do ye for?”
“I uh,” the person began but hesitated. “Could I ask you a few questions?”
Drake sighed, a subtle affair. Not that he really cared if his manners were lacking. He turned around to face whoever it was that had decided to pester him today. His left eyebrow shot upwards. Before him stood a woman in her early twenties. She looked familiar somehow, although he couldn’t exactly say why. He knew he’d never met her before.
“Fire away,” he said after a moment.
“Is it true? Are you really from the old world?”
Drake laughed softly. “Aye, it is true.”
The young woman’s eyes widened a little. “How did you end up here? How old are you? Do you remember what it’s like below?”
“Trick of fate, pure luck, a blessing or a curse, I’ve often asked myself the same questions. Truth is, I’m not entirely sure. The year was 2135, or was it 36?” Drake mused. “Doesnae matter. All I know is that I’m here because someone found the pod I was in and brought me out of cryo.”
“2136,” the young woman breathed. “That’s over four-hundred years ago. Why were you in a stasis pod?”
“I don’t remember. Colonising the moon or something, at least that would be my first guess. Look, kid,” he began but changed his mind. “What’s your name?”
“Leah,” the woman answered.
“Leah,” he repeated. “I don’t really remember much. When they put you into cryo sleep most of your brain shuts down. Sometimes it causes memory loss. Hell, sometimes yer lucky to escape with just a few memory blanks.”
“What do you remember?”
“I remember growing up in a place where there was a big forest. There was a lake too, I’d take me son with me and go fishing on the weekends.” Drake closed his eyes for a moment. “I’ve lost his name,” he managed. “I had a wife too. She hated going into the city. Air wasn’t clean, she’d say. She had the same name as you do. Her name was Leah. Leah Graham.”
The young woman gasped but didn’t interrupt him. Drake drove a hand through his thinning, silvery hair and smiled at the memory of his wife. “She was a hell of a woman,” he continued but his voice wavered as the reality of the present caught up with him. “Now I have to wake up every day without her. It’s like we went to bed together and when I woke up she was just gone. She’d have been in the cryo pod next to mine.”
“I was never given a straight answer. Structural damage, pod failure or some other. Mine was the only pod to make it.”
“What were people like back then, when you lived below?” Leah asked changing the subject.
Drake smiled faintly at her and then turned to look out at the horizon again. Leah joined him at the window. “For everything that has changed,” Drake answered. “We remain the same. Not even the destruction of the earth’s surface or even cloning ourselves seems to have managed to change the foundation of what it means to be human.”
“What it means to be human?” Leah echoed.
“It is human nature to question things. We question why we’re here, our very existence and if there’s even a meaning to it all. We go through our lives wondering but never finding the answers we seek. Technological advances, prolonged lives, for all our achievements we’re no closer than our ancestors were during the Upper Palaeolithic. Hell, they might even have been closer than we are.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Leah said and rested her chin on her petite fist, eyebrows arched.
“To live is to suffer. To live is to experience love, joy, the ecstasy of sex and everything that comes with the territory. To live is to experience loss, to grieve and mourn those you leave behind. But there’s also hope. Even though I’ve outlived everyone I ever knew hope still finds its way into my heart. Hope is what gets my old bones out of the bed every morning.”
“What are you hoping for?”
“To find the answer. I’ve lived a long life and I want to have something to show for it when I face my family in whatever might come after this life.”
Drake fell into silence for a while. Leah studied him and the sky in intervals. He didn’t mind. It was refreshing to have some company for a change. Silence had never been awkward for him. He let the silence mould his thoughts into something cohesive before he spoke again.
“Can I ask you something, Leah?”
“Certainly,” the young woman replied.
“Are you happy?”
“I’m sorry?” she said with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Are you happy?”
“Yeah, I guess. Most of the time.”
“Good,” Drake said, satisfied. “Hold on to that feeling. Screw what people say you should do and go with the things that make you happy. Any moment spent doing something you’re not enjoying is a moment wasted. Life is only so many moments, you know.”
She smiled at him, which was good. Drake could see that she understood. He guessed humanity wasn’t a lost cause after all. “What did you do for a living? Back then I mean,” she asked him.
“I was an engineer. Specialised in agriculture and terraforming.”
“Did you enjoy the work?”
Drake laughed, “Hell no, it was the most boring job you could ever imagine.”
They shared another smile. Drake liked this woman more and more. She had a sharp mind, she was perceptive. She could see the things he showed her. Those kinds of people had been rare even in his time.
“What is it that you see when you look out at the horizon?” she asked him. “There’s something in your eyes. Something I can’t really put my finger on but they seem so much more real than most others.”
“Your people are spared pain. It changes you. You are different though. I can tell.” He looked at her. Met her eyes. “When I look out at the sky I see fragments of my old life. Faces without names. Memories I can’t place.”
They fell into another silence. Drake sensed that this young woman had sought him out for a reason, a reason beyond mere curiosity. He also sensed that she was afraid to ask what was really on her mind. “What was his name? Or was it a woman?”
Sudden alarm was written all over her face. It was a visage that was soon replaced by something that Drake knew all too well. Grief. “My brother,” Leah answered. “He was doing maintenance work on the outer dome. A wire snapped.” She cast her eyes down. “How do you get over it? How do you make it go away?”
“I’m sorry lass, but I’m afraid it won’t go away. Eventually, in time, you will find yourself waking up without the pain being the first thing popping into yer head.”
“I want to tell you something but I’m not sure how,” Leah said hesitantly.
“Well, it’s often better to just say it an’ get it over with.” He offered her an encouraging smile.
Leah took a deep breath. “I did some research when I first heard about you. We, you and I we are,” she faltered.
He chuckled and put a hand on her shoulder. “Aye, I know. I knew the moment I saw you. I can see a lot of me wife in you.”
“Can I call you grandfather?” she blurted out, face flushed with burning scarlet cheeks.
Drake put a hand over his heart. “I’d be honoured.”
Tears began to stream down Leah’s cheeks. “I’ve always wanted to know where I came from. My friend gave me the medical report the doctors compiled when they brought you out of cryo. I know I shouldn’t have but,” she trailed off.
“It’s alright, lass.”
“Why did you decline the prolonging?” Her voice was unsteady. He offered an embrace. She accepted.
Drake closed his eyes. He still had family. His old heart was overjoyed. “We were never meant to live forever.” He gently stroked her hair the way he had comforted his son a lifetime ago. A few tears escaped the confinement of his eyes. “Death is a natural part of life. Some things are more precious because they don’t last forever. My heart aches, Leah. I miss my wife and son. Hush now,” he whispered as she sobbed quietly. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a few more years before I’m done.”
“Can I come see you again?” Leah asked while he rocked her slowly to and fro where they stood.
“Of course, as often as you want.”