The Cold Part
Posted on April 13th, 2022 by Jack Leirone and Hannah Ziredac
March 30, 2401
Grief turns your heart into the coldest part of you. The chill radiates. Breathing slows. Thoughts frost over. Hunger freezes.
Jack knew this cold well. He fought to warm himself now, trying not to see his friends’ faces just yet. Time would come for that. Instead he forced himself to eat (and finish) what the nurses brought him—despite not feeling a whit of hunger.
Hannah was not so diligent. He watched the nurses bring her a meal, implore her to eat, counsel her as to the food’s importance, but Hannah kept still, didn’t respond. She lay on her side, turned away, her ribcage expanding and contracting in shallow increments. Her cold part was absolute zero, her landscape a blasted tundra.
After the nurses had gone Jack pushed himself up on his elbows, wondering if sickbay had some kind of cushion to let longterm patients sit more or less upright. He’d grab a nurse next time one walked by. Anyway. He turned to Hannah, watched her minimal breathing for a sorrowful moment, then spoke as softly as he could.
‘I’m with the nurses on this one, Hannah. You should eat.’
‘Your grief is masking what your body needs. Both physical and mental. I’m going through the same thing right now.’
‘I’m not trying to tell you that it’ll make you feel better. It won’t. Not in the way that matters. It’s the long game.’
‘Okay, how about this, Hannah? You won’t be much use to anybody if you’re malnourished.’
There we go. Hannah turned over, flat on her back. She didn’t make eye-contact with him, but she let her head loll on the pillow so she faced him more than she didn’t.
‘You won’t get Sarreon with a failing body,’ Jack said. ‘Eat. Start with the protein bar. Easy stuff.’
Hannah’s eyes fell toward him.
‘There you are, kid.’
And she rolled away from him again. He thought he lost purchase on her, but he saw her hand reach toward the bedside table and snatch up the protein bar. Her jaw muscle pulsed slow as she chewed. Good. Might not have been the most therapeutic approach, but it got her going.
Jack’s arms trembled in their position, so he lay back down, watched the ceiling. ‘You’ll want to be sure, Hannah,’ he said. ‘You don’t need me to start quoting things people have said on the nature of revenge. In fact, in this instance, the circles of revenge and justice might just overlap. He needs to go. He needs to not exist. I hate it; I hate the idea of death as punishment, but he… He’d get out of any prison we could put him in. He’s served the Fall for hundreds of years; he might not be able to age and die. The world will suffer him unless he is removed. So you’re not wrong in wanting him dead. And, in my opinion, you’re not wrong for wanting to be the one to do it. You just need to be sure.’
Hannah only chewed the last bite of the protein bar, then lay still. Jack didn’t expect much else; he knew she heard him, and that’s all he wanted. His thoughts had begun to stray toward the dark, gnarled pathways into the impossible black forest of his own grief. With studied concentration he stayed in the lamplight at the edge of night, holding onto the minutiae of his surroundings. The starship hum, the murmuring chatter of nurses in adjacent rooms, his own breath. Emari’s face flashed into his mind, her emotional shields up at their last off-duty time together. What once was soft had turned coarse; what once was sweet now had no flavor. Now that was the final moment: Emari Stilton, forever entombed in his memory as having no more love for him. There was no repairing that now.
He flagged down a nurse, who set him up with a biobed sit-up attachment. His thanks to the nurse were profuse and heartfelt—for the attachment, and for the PADD he brought, so Jack could divert his attention to a book. Or something. Anything.
Forty minutes passed, thereabouts. Hannah hadn’t moved the entire time; Jack thought she might have finally drifted off. Then she said, ‘It’s all I have.’
Instead of asking, What?, Jack let the words rest while he recalled what she was talking about.
‘It’s dangerous to think that way,’ he said. ‘Like I said, I back your decision, but you always have more than revenge.’
‘Everyone’s gone,’ she said, turning to him, eye-contact and all. ‘The people I love, and the people I hate—they’re all gone. It’s just him, now.’
‘I know how you’re feeling.’
‘No you don’t.’
‘Well, sure, I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I’m no stranger to grief.’
‘You ever watch the person you love get—’ Her lips came together for the letter m but no more sound came out.
‘I didn’t see it happen,’ Jack said. ‘Didn’t see her body in person. But essentially, yes. Hours ago. Saw friends die. Not just on the Meridian, but years ago. I’ve lost plenty of people.’
Hannah drew in a long, thin breath. ‘Jesus,’ she said at last.
‘I know how isolating pain can be. Fills you up. Becomes your world. You feel like you invented it. But you’re never alone, Hannah. You’re never alone in pain, and you’re never alone in general. Keep that in mind when you find yourself thinking that revenge is all you have.’
Another long breath, this one trembling and staggered. Hannah said, ‘Yeah.’ Then with a suddenness she sat up, said, ‘Yeah,’ again, and hung her legs over the edge of the biobed. She grabbed her jacket that the nurses had taken off her, threw it on, and jetted from sickbay before anyone could notice and stop her.
Jack sighed. ‘Hope you know what you’re doing, kid.’