She felt a cold draft, and opened her eyes. She was snugged safely in her bed-net, in her cabin on the Intrepid. "Release."
The net loosened, and she swung herself into a sitting position, still impossibly chilly. "Computer, status--environmentals."
A screen appeared on the wall, soft grey-green statistics scrolling. Everything looked normal. "Run diag--"
"Don't bother. Nothing's wrong with our ship."
Anne turned, staring at the wall where she was painting Joyce’s memorial. A grey, see-through image of her dead partner floated there, legs tucked securely into lotus position. "Not funny. But who..."
"Computer, list processes, all levels, password--" Anne reached to key in the code.
A see-through hand--a very cold see-through hand--was there first, fingers appearing to press keys in order, though Anne was the only person left alive who knew the code. The computer waited. Anne thrust her hand forward, ignoring the creepy sensation, and pushed the same buttons.
The computer listed programs at her preferred reading speed, while she pondered that whoever had programmed this joke knew their password.
"I'm not a computer program, Annie."
Anne focused on the numbers. All programs were running within normal parameters. Usage numbers were normal. This--this joke--would take processing space, a lot of it. Or a separate computer, separate projectors. She shook her head--she'd torn apart her room to make room for the mural. Joyce couldn't have hidden anything there, before. And there was no one else. She'd been in the deep since the accident. "Yes, you are."
Anne launched herself gracefully across the cabin, palming the door open and heading toward the kitchenette. The see-through form flowed through the air with her, still in lotus. Abruptly, she slammed a hand into the wall, spun awkwardly, and headed to the VR instead. The image flowed along with her, with no zero-g moves, not touching a single thing. Joyce had been good, but even she couldn’t change directions without twisting, touching things. But her image kept up serenely.
Anne slammed into the VR suit, closed the helmet, and reached for an old game, one she'd stopped playing years ago, and started it. The real world vanished, and cute fairies started singing opening credits. Joyce's image drifted in front of the fairies.
Anne switched games again and again. Joyce, looking exasperated, made biting comments on each choice, until Anne was laughing and crying, hugging herself. Space aliens “killed” her, the boss-alien laughed, and the opening animation started to loop.
"Stop, stop, just stop." The game froze, temporarily.
Joyce unfolded, wrapped arms like a cold breeze around her. "I'm so sorry."
“I made a stupid mistake, and now I’m dead. I’m sorry.”
"I've gone crazy, out here alone."
"Shh, shh." It was so weird to hear that, and not feel Joyce's warm arms hugging her, not to smell the coconut oil in her hair. For a moment, Anne entertained the possibility that she wasn't crazy, that this--this experience might somehow be real. "You're not crazy." Joyce, as usual, echoed her thoughts, the crazy ones, the ones she wished were real and knew couldn't be.
"But what? How?"
“It takes energy. Energy from the living, and out here, that means you. Only you. I can't do this long without hurting you."
That made sense, from a systems perspective. If a ghost could be real.
"I screwed up, maybe killed both of us.” She shook her head. “I’m here because you looked so hard, you believed in me so hard, you made me strong enough–” She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. "Call up the computer. I--I have to tell you some things.” She reached for the console, said, "Here, key this for me." Her fingers moved, and Anne shadowed them, and the screen brightened to the intense, garish orange and black Joyce had preferred. "Reset it to you."
Anne did, forcing the necessary words past the lump in her throat, changing the password, and the next, and the next. When she was done, she stared in disbelief at the large number on the screen. It was a joint bank account, one Joyce had never told her about.
"Hey, Annie, don't get distracted. You have to get home to use that."
"Um." Anne started to believe she was talking to Joyce’s ghost, and relaxed into the insubstantial hug. She thought about the long months still to go before getting home. Months alone. If there was life after death, there was an alternative. She imagined months--all eternity--spent floating through space with Joyce. If she--if she abandoned the Intrepid, and joined her partner--
"Annie, listen." Joyce reached to shake Anne's shoulders, though all Anne felt was piercing cold. "There’s a reason you never found my body.”
“I--I could join you.” Anne’s voice shook.
“Annie, no! Don’t throw your life away."
"But why--you don't want me with you? You said you wanted me with you always."
'I'm always just a thought away, so long as you live. After that--after that, I don't know. You sustain me, now.” The image shook her head, hard, whipping the hair back and forth. “And I–I don’t have any energy to give you, to make you strong, to keep you with me.” Anne felt a strong wave of cold, then for just a moment, felt icy fingers squeeze her shoulder. Then the image faded.
Anne woke hours later, achy, nauseous, and cold, the silly alien animation looping. The orange and black computer screen still obscured the name of the game, displaying the impossible bank account.
And obscuring the ludicrous balance, there was another window flashing a short note in big, bold, orange letters: My suit is blocking the landing gear. When you’re feeling better, I’ll see you in your dreams.
If you liked this story, please consider
And let Crossed Genres know you did! http://crossedgenres.com/haiti/
And please leave a message. You can post anonymously, but I'd appreciate you letting me know who you are, or at least what you'd like me to call you.
ETA: Crowdfunding button removed to thank people who can donate funds for earthquake relief in Haiti.