Image Connected. Audio Connected.
She was wearing that God-awful jacket again, the one they’d sent in the beta test package.
Voxeltech: Making Vision a Reality it said across the back.
“Can you see me?”
There wasn’t any reason to wear the jacket over her full-body jumpsuit. Serenna did it anyway.
“I hope it connects this time.”
In the center of the communication room, an image began forming. It started as torsion of light and twisted shapes until the fragments collected into a three dimensional polygon, and then finally solidified into the completed hologram. It was a woman. The piston array on the floor whirred to life.
“There we go.”
This would be their second holochat session since the couple had signed up as beta testers. Touch your loved ones from planets away. Daniel had been fascinated at first. Voxeltech’s’ newest projection array implemented a cutting edge volumetric air system and pressure jumpsuit, making the holograms not only visible but entirely touchable, too.
“I miss you. You’re so far. I’m still not used to the distance.”
Serenna’s hologram walked a slow circle around Daniel, stopping when it reached the array’s allowable distance, and then turning back around to face the big man.
“You’re beard is getting long. I like it.”
She reached out for his hand. He felt a pressure on the inside of his palm as the suit’s dermal sensors responded. It was an awkward feeling. The ice drill operator was more accustomed to the heavy vibrations of the ZZD Lunar Rig.
“At least now we can feel close again.”
She twirled her hair with the other hand. Shimmering black, holographic hair.
“Do you miss me, too?”
He wasn’t sure what he felt.
He’d already run through this conversation a hundred times in his head. He’d accuse her, she’d fumble and wane, maybe try to apologize. Now, looking into her emerald eyes and hearing her voice, silky smooth, he began to second-guess himself.
Maybe he’d been too quick to jump to conclusions.
“Wait.” The image flickered. “Hold on. Danny, are you still there?”
A bold red banner popped up above her.
Then a loud beep squealed from the array, and the hologram disappeared.
The room was empty again. Daniel grumbled and kicked the rectangular projection box. It buzzed angrily back at him.
Another connectivity error, just like last time. This must be why Voxeltech had so many free beta models in circulation. Semi-broken pieces of garbage.
Serenna sparkled back into view. He said nothing.
“Daniel? Hello?” She reached for his hand again. His jumpsuit contracted. This time, the pressure on his palm was intense.
This time it hurt.
“Yes, Serenna. I see you.”
“Do you miss me?”
“Of course I miss you,” he said. His voice was monotone.
Daniel really wished he could turn back the clock, back to the time before his off-world transfer. He missed their morning walks through the vegetable gardens and watching as Earth’s terraform tractors rolled past the biodome’s massive hexplates. He missed Serenna’s seraphim words of encouragement, and he missed the feel of her warmth when she’d fall asleep on his chest.
He never predicted a betrayal. Not Serenna, of all people. Not his sweet Serenna.
Love can be blinding.
“‘’Of course I miss you,’” she mocked playfully, deepening her voice to sound more like him. “You’re such a man!” She put her hand on her hip. “How’s the Depot, hun?”
“Cold. It’s really, really cold.”
To anyone else, the silicate tundra of Europa’s surface would’ve been a welcome relief from desertified Earth.
To Daniel, it was an even lonelier, more desolate waste. If he stared out the Galilei Station viewports for too long, he’d begin to feel like he was falling off into the vast expanses of space.
He may have been a big and short-spoken man, but he had a sensitive side, too. It’s exactly why Serenna loved him so much.
“I finally got my drill through the ice crust,” he continued. “Grady and Hammer are boring into subsurface tonight, then we’ll dip the subsea.”
“Hold that thought, Daniel.” Serenna had opened her Wristpad and was scrolling her inbox.
“I’m so sorry. It’s work.”
He stopped and looked out the viewport. Jupiter floated by. Its giant spot swired in an ominous red. The color of an Earth sunset. Or the color of blood.
When he heard the sent message chime, he turned back to the hologram in front of him.
“Sorry, Daniel! I spent this entire week installing the Embassy’s new AI systems. ”
“It’s been a crazy week.”
She looked at her wrist again, then up, and smiled. “I’m done. ‘Now, back to you, Daniel’,” she said like one of the slipspace reporters.
He returned the smile. It was a rose petal smile. Soft on the surface, but thorny beneath. He was seething. There on Europa, Daniel was juggling a leaky drill cockpit, a faulty modular core stem, and the crippling loneliness of life on a vacant moon.
Now he had a cheating wife to deal with, too.
“Nothing else you need to tell me, Serenna? Nothing at all?”
She giggled. She thought he was being coy.
She didn’t realize that, even from two planets away, her Wristpad’s message logs were being uploaded to their shared cloud
Daniel had access to everything.
“Oh Danny, I’m sorry, hun. It must be awful out there among the stars.” She stepped closer. The air pistons pumped. “And only two stinky boremen to keep you company.”
She leaned in.
“Let’s put this ‘hologram’ thing to the test. Hug me, Danny Bear.”
The light beams refracted as they came in contact with Daniel’s jumpsuit. The air pistons blasted and the suit’s dermal sensors pumped and contracted on his body.
Like hugging a phantom, he thought to himself.
“Nothing else to tell me, Serenna? Not a thing?”
He’d seen those messages to Ambassador Tarrin pop up on his Wristpad last night. They were seared into his memory.
Marcus is incredible, Dana!
He pulled Serenna’s hologram closer. The pistons hissed louder.
“Nothing else to tell, Danny, nothing interesting.” She fidgeted uncomfortably. “I wish I had you here with me. This just isn’t the same.”
He’s a stud. Don’t tell anyone, but… I had him over last night! It’s probably against regulations.
Daniel started to feel hot. He squeezed tighter. Serenna flinched.
“Danny, the suit’s being weird.”
He completely revamped my bunkroom’s tech systems. I’d lend him to you, but I think you should get your own toy. Marcus is all mine!
“I wish you could be here to hold me for real, Danny Bear.”
Daniel’s blood boiled over.
“Me?!” He couldn’t control himself. “Maybe you should ask Marcus to come by again!”
He felt the words explode from his throat like shrapnel.
“What? I… How…” she fumbled the response, as expected, and backed from his arms.
That confirmed it. She was exactly like Erinnan and Kadie before her. A liar and a cheater.
“It’s not like that at all, Daniel.” Now she’d try to wriggle her way out of it. They always did.
“Marcus is the-”
Audio Disconnected. Image Disconnected.
Silence. Daniel clenched and unclenched his fists, mentally preparing to tell Serenna off. He wasn’t about to be made into a fool again.
Attempting to Connect.
A minute passed. He was getting impatient, and Voxeltech’s Data Collections Center had only allotted them so much time for this trial.
He opened his Wristpad to call Serenna. Instead of the wristphone, his logs popped up again. Her newest message appeared.
Yes, Marcus, I understand there’s an error in your code. Run your AI self-diagnostic protocol and I’ll restore your software once I get back to the mainframe. I’m busy, contact Ambassador Tarrin if it’s an emergency.
Daniel felt his stomach turn. Marcus must be the Embassy’s new AI. Suddenly, the other messages made a lot more sense.
He shook his head. He felt like a fool.
It was a reasonable conclusion to draw, though, right? he asked himself. A man’s name and a steamy message? His wife would understand.
After all, she was his sweet Serenna. They’d laugh about it together.
Yes, she’d understand.
Serenna’s hologram image flickered online again, but something was horribly wrong.
She was bent awkwardly to the left. In erratic movements, she tore at the jacket and at her jumpsuit’s form-fit sleeves.
“Danny! My suit! It won’t stop squeezing me!” She was hysterical. Her voice dripped with terror. Danny patted his own suit, but it had shut off during the disconnection.
Serenna’s only continued to contract.
“Danny, make it stop!” She coughed before being violently twisted as the side of her suit locked down.
Daniel knelt to the projection box and began mashing the reset buttons. Nothing happened.
“It’s not working, what do I do? Tell me what to do, Serenna!”
Serenna gurgled a bit but her breath had been stolen.
Daniel’s mind became a scramble of images, flashing memories, the biodome gardens and Europa’s freezing surface and the warmth of Serenna asleep on his chest.
He jumped to his feet and repeatedly slammed the box with the heel of his boot.
“I can’t make it stop!”
Serenna opened her mouth in a silent scream. Her frame went rigid. Her eyes rolled back in her head.
“Serenna, I can’t-”
A sickening snap cut him short. Serenna jerked violently sideways. The sound echoed off the room’s titanium walls, and a spurt of crimson flashes erupted from her hologram mouth.
She teetered. Daniel reached out to catch her, but the light only slipped through his fingers
She hit the floor hard and remained motionless there, face down, tweaked into a vicious scoliotic bend. The text on her jacket shimmered.
Voxeltech: Making Vision a Reality
“Harvey! Did you see that one?!”
“You bet I did.”
Harvey leaned back in his swivel chair. The light of the monitors bathed him in a Machiavellian glow. A steady tone blared from the far screen.
“Okay, that’s enough. Time to shut the audio off.”
Harvey kicked his chubby legs into the floor and lifted them quickly, rolling and spinning his chair down the long line of monitors. When he slowed, he kicked his legs out again.
He came to a halt at the far end of Voxeltech’s beta control console and pointed at the screen.
“Look at him freak out,” he chuckled. “He doesn’t know what to do with himself.”
“Turn it off, man.”
Harvey tapped the mute button and the tone went quiet.
On the left of the monitor, the drill rig operator was waving his hands through the hologram on the floor. On the right, he woman’s broken body witched every time her suit picked up on the motions.
“I can’t believe Voxeltech lets this go down. We must have great legal, man.”
The pockfaced man walked over to Harvey and chuckled.
“Nah, that’s what the terms of agreement are for.”
Daniel the drill operator was now frantically pacing Galilei Depot’s holoroom.
“That’s what these idiots sign up for when they agree to the beta. ‘All of the above, up to and including personal injury and possible death.’”
He clicked his tongue and shook his head.
“I doubt they read the terms.”
“Nobody reads the terms.”
Harvey grabbed his bag of puffed chocoballs from off the control panel and tossed a few into his mouth.
Above him, a lengthy battery of diagnostic screens lined the walls of Enevox’s Data Collections Center. On each display, a different group of figures and beta test protocols were in progress. At least half a dozen of the screens blinked out an Immediate Attention Required warning banner, Daniel and Serenna’s included.
“Look. He’s still buggin’ out, man.”
The drill operator rushed to the Galilei blast door and was pounding on the station’s internal comm system. It was a futile attempt. Grady and Hammer were out drilling on Europa’s ice surface.
The drill operator was completely alone in the Galilei residential complex.
“Whoa, hold up. Check out Test Screen 4.”
“This is fantastic, Harvey. I can’t believe we scored this gig.”
“Way better than a holofilm.”
“I love our job.”