A short story by Moshe Sipper
Please excuse my handwriting — it’s been quite a while since I actually used pen and paper to write anything more than my signature, but that’s the only writing medium I found here.
I have to admit the view outside the window is breathtaking, even with the full knowledge of its mortal danger. Perhaps this is because the ticking countdown on the small digital display next to me foretells my demise in fifty-seven minutes, whether I remain indoors or venture outdoors. Maybe someday someone will come and find my note. If so, let me tell you about myself — and about Diana McFarlan.
As for me, well, what can I say? It’s a fairly dull story. I had a normal childhood, from which I emerged at the age of eighteen knowing full well what my future would look like: I’d go to college, get an undergraduate degree in computer science, followed by a Ph.D., and end up a professor, happily ensconced in some lovely green campus. Along the way I’d also meet a sweetheart whom I’d marry, and life would be blissfully calm and happy.
Which is exactly what happened. I am indeed a computer science professor, I married a wonderful girl, and we have three beautiful children.
The only hitch in my planned life was a fiery redhead named Diana McFarlan. We met in grad school — that was before I met my wife — and our affair was … explosive. Never in my life until then had I met anyone so full of life, so passionate, so loving. And with a mind as sharp as a steel trap to boot. While I was working on my one thesis, she was blasting her way toward two Ph.D.s: one in electrical engineering, the other in physics.
Our affair was as short as it was volatile, and it quickly turned sour. Diana was just … too much for me. I guess a mind like hers has its downsides as well. She lived in constant fear I was cheating on her, and insisted I tell her where I was every minute of every day. She threw tantrums the likes of which I hope I never see again (and as I’ve now only thirty-one minutes to live, I guess this particular wish shall be granted).
Diana also had this weird sense of humor. Once, after making love, she’d gone out of the bedroom and I heard the click of the door being locked. I jumped out of bed anxiously and ran to try the doorknob, only to receive a very unpleasant electrical shock.
Diana found this hilarious.
I knew I had to end our relationship before I got hurt, both emotionally and physically. Though I tried to do this in the gentlest way possible, Diana took it very hard. I still remember her shouts in the restaurant (naively, I assumed a nice, quiet dinner would promote a friendly breakup). Indeed, I think every person in that place probably remembers those shrieks: “You’re dumping me? You’re dumping me??” Then she took hold of the wine bottle — not her glass, mind you — and spilled its entire contents on me, after which she stomped out of the restaurant. That was the last I saw of Diana McFarlan.
Until this morning, when, twenty years later, I ran into her on campus. Despite a few additional wrinkles she was still very beautiful. She looked calmer than I’d remembered her, more at peace with herself, and I readily accepted her invitation to chat about old times in the cafeteria.
A move I now deeply regret as the countdown continues.
It was too late for the breakfast crowd and too early for the lunch crowd, so we found ourselves the only patrons, seated in a secluded spot off to one corner, almost as if we were lovers again. She sat quietly, staring at me intently — too intently — as I told her about my career and my family. She in turn told me that she’d gone into business after obtaining her degrees and had amassed quite a fortune. Enough to retire and pursue her own pet project.
“Which is?” I asked.
She cast a conspiratorial look around us and said quietly, “I’ve invented a teleportation device.”
I was sure she was joking but her stern look suggested otherwise. “It uses some interesting quantum effects,” she added mildly, pulling out of her purse a small device that looked nothing so much as a run-of-the-mill smartphone.
Then she smiled that smile of hers that caused my heart to melt all those years ago — and still had a profound effect. “All you have to do is set the coordinates to any place you want to go and presto, you’re there.”
“This isn’t a joke, is it?” I finally managed to mumble.
Wordlessly, she placed the device in my hand — and that was the last I saw of her. There was a momentary sensation of blackness, and then I found myself in this cabin in the wilderness.
My oxygen is about to run out. Whoever finds this, please show it to my family.
Jane, Danny, Scott, Shelly: I love you all so very much. I’d give anything in the world — in two worlds — not to be the first (or is it second?) man on Mars.
Addendum: I don’t really have to complete this account, now that I’m back home, but I felt a strange desire to do so. There’s not much more to recount, anyway.
When the countdown reached zero I felt again that fleeting darkness and found myself back in the cafeteria staring at a cackling Diana.
Did I mention she had a weird sense of humor?
Copyright © 2013 by Moshe Sipper