THE BROTHER OF SLEEP

Maybe you're just tired. It's certainly as plausible as all the other diagnoses made and discarded lately. At the moment you're downgraded from "critical" to "stable", because you can breathe on your own and there's electrical activity going on in your brain. You're not, as far as anyone can tell, in a coma. There's no reason why you won't wake up. Yet here we are, you and I, you in the bed and I beside it, watching the blips and the flickers of lights that tell me you're still alive.

There are a lot of things I know about you that no one else knows. You leave a lump of toothpaste to fossilize in the wash-basin after you've brushed your teeth. You don't floss. When you think no one's watching you drink out of the milk carton or the juice pitcher. The first time you meet someone, you tend to exaggerate your formal training in music and science. Math is a sensitive subject with you. Your degree lists lots of credits in math, but what it doesn't say is that you obtained most of them through resitting the examination. It's strange that someone who has saved the world should guard her college education so fiercely.

The biggest surprise, to me, was your behaviour in bed. I had expected you to be assertive, experienced. Instead, I found you to be tense and shy while we were making love, and very grateful afterwards. That says something about your former boyfriends, whether you like it or not. You admitted you had had an eating disorder in your late teens. I don't think you've told anyone else and I'm glad you told me. But if you get a mixed salad, you can't eat it until you've sorted all the vegetables and you can fret for days about getting a regular Coke instead of a Diet one. Once in a while, after we've had a bad day, I wake up in the middle of the night and I can hear you in the bathroom, doing what you do to relieve stress.

I know your strength and the many ways you manifest it. You know how to save a conversation blighted beyond recall by normal humans and you will exert yourself to do it. You will hold your own in a fight and when the fight is over, you're the one we trust to overcome the battle-nerves and mood-swings and fly us home safely. While no one in his right mind would call you den mother, most of us have had the Talk with you where you tell them to take care of themselves better or else. The Talk usually ends with you taking over their next shift of guard duty, getting them a sandwich and sending them to bed. I know, because I've been on the receiving end more times than I can count.

You are in the pool of personnel drawing the harshest assignments and longest hours and you're there because you've earned it. Because you can take it. It may not seem fair, but it's our unwritten law, our unspoken agreement. We live by it. Fairness doesn't enter the equation, only necessity does. The load has to be carried, the job has to get done and if you can get by on three hours of sleep, then three hours is all you get.

I know you're proud of your professional talents. You do your hand-to-hand training with the big boys, no special treatment asked for or received. No one flies the Blackbird like you do, on manual override, pulling maneuvers an AI would never dream of. Your synapses jump faster than anyone else's here and it doesn't take drugs to hype you. But if I tell you you're beautiful, you shrug it off and you refer to your administrative work as dabbling at a desk. It's strange how some things count with you and how others don't.

The black box says all systems were functional at the time of the crash and I believe it's true. You just couldn't hold it together during dock. Wasn't your fault. For someone in your condition on painkillers and stimulants, you did pretty well, and the other pilot was out cold in the back. I can't guarantee there'll be no hard feelings, but you got them home and if you hadn't, they'd all be dead. Deep down, they know that.

The doctors are getting a bit antsy because you've been out for so long, but the telepaths say you're okay.Your sleep cycles are normal and your reactions are those of any sleeping person. You can be induced into a coma and brought up almost all the way to consciousness with no trouble. There it stops. I'm not a doctor or a scientist and basically I don't know what I'm talking about, but I think you aren't waking up because you don't want to. Maybe you've retreated to some place inside your head and maybe you're better off there, I don't know. If this place is gentler place to be and more restful, I can see why you'd rather be there than here.

It's your choice to make. I won't stage an emergence to wake you up. I won't ask you to come back for my sake. I care too much for you to trap you, even with words. We never said the "L" word before, so I won't say it now. If you go, Blue Team will have to appoint another pilot and assign someone else to your slot and the rest of us are going to have to take all our shifts ourselves and learn how to make sandwiches. Me, I'll hurt as hell and I'll cry like a fool, but I can go on without you if I have to. In time, I'll get over you. In time, I'll find love again.

I'll live. Even if you won't.

FIN