What's the first thing you remember? you asked me, tipping your chair back from the table.
Light, I think. At least I thought it was light. Something full and burning--it made my eyes throb and my throat catch. It was so beautiful, I remember thinking. That is truly the first thing, then: this ache in my heart that nestled into me; I was overwhelmed by a loveliness that I couldn't name. It hurt. It pushed me down, shoving my head under, and what I knew was pain.
The last thing that I remember--that is easier to explain. I remember data: numbers, names, places, objects, beings, raw information constructed in languages that I didn't recognize, couldn't understand. I felt--blessed, I think you would call it--honored that the universe had given me this gift, these gifts, multiplying out in a dozen directions, a thousand dimensions, expanding beyond my capacity to see.
But then, I didn't know what to do--I felt paralyzed by it, this knowledge, an insect trapped in amber, and I remember pushing myself away, rocketing backwards, watching this pulsing, living light recede. All that I had learned in that split second of contact shot out of my mind, leaving long contrails of not-known spinning in my wake. I was less than, I was not, I stopped.
I remember the doctor's voice. I couldn't see him--my eyes felt fused like glass, and my mind was away, someplace far away, from my body. But still, his voice was familiar, and I remember moving towards it, turning, sailing, not consciously reaching but meandering towards. I do not know what it was, precisely, that drew me to it, but it was something other than the pain, that light, that devouring bright, so what was left of me moved that way.
In retrospect, I--or what there was of me--hoped that you would be there, wherever that voice was. But I do not recall being conscious of that at the time--I just wanted, yearned towards some vague idea of you, I think: that was enough.
I remember being cold. Slipping slowly back into my body, dipping one toe into that shivering shell and willing myself to continue, to lower myself until I was submerged, trapped--comforted--inside my self again. I could feel the hair on my arms stand up, my flesh rippling, my teeth chattering. For a moment, the light seemed like a safer place, the pain a fair price to pay for some sort of warmth--but I was deceiving myself, I knew, for it was my mind that was cold, hollow, alone, not my body: there was no peace back out there, and I wept for my loss.
I remember the sound of my own laughter, the feel of it rising in my chest, the taste of it in my mouth. It felt good--I felt good, and for once I did not question it.
That's when I saw you, I think--or you saw me. I suppose it does not matter, really, the exact order of things. I remember your face, suddenly appearing above me--that's when I realized, remembered who I was, I think. Your voice, your eyes, your hands kept me grounded, and I wanted to stay, wanted more than anything in my life. You.
I cannot help but grieve for the machine, that entity that once had purpose, a mission, a finite set of rules to follow and a list of tasks to accomplish. It was afraid--did you know that? It was consumed by terror, not knowing what it was to do, where it was to go. What is more frightening: to travel out into the universe, not knowing, not caring where you will end up, as we do now, again--or reaching back to find that you cannot locate your home, that you have no place to go back to, no place to which to return.
The fear in the machine--that is what drove it backwards, back towards what it hoped was still its home. I pitied it, Jim: even knowing all that it had done, had killed, had consumed in its mad quest to find the place, the people from which it had come. Even as it consumed me, splintered my self, gave me the universe--I felt pity. I am not ashamed, as I once might have been, to say that I have wept for it, for what it had become, for what it might yet be.
I do not know how you would feel, to read this, to hear this from me. You seem happy, too: fixed once again in the place you should never have left. I do not want to take that from you, but neither do I wish to remain silent. Once I might have run away--once I did--but now I know too much, have seen too much, to forget the feel of your fingers wrapped around my hand and how your eyes sang to me, and what they sounded like. So I will speak, and you will respond, and we will move out towards something unknown. Something wonderful, I think.
The first thing I remember? Irrelevant. The first thing that mattered: you.