Chapter 7 - The Light at the End of the Tunnel
It had become Dee's mantra. Emma cringed as she heard it intoned for the thousandth time since her friend appeared at her door that afternoon. She sighed with impatience. There would be no real communication until Dee had squeezed out her last ounce of fury and angst.
"Emma, oh Emma, what am I going to do?" Dee wailed. Her anger finally exhausted, she collapsed on the sofa and sobbed.
"Do you know why Linda wants to do this?" Emma asked.
"What does it matter? She promised."
Emma stifled a groan. "It matters because if you understand why she wants to do it maybe you can find a way to talk her out of it."
Dee gave a loud sniffle. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"Why didn't you?" Emma echoed without sarcasm.
"You know, I've never had much luck talking her out of anything. She's like one of those things you put into drywall that spread and you can never get them back out. The only recourse is to punch it through the wall and fill the hole. The first time we went into stasis, I knew she was determined, but I also knew that she would wait as long as it took to get me to go along with it. This time I'm not so sure. I don't think she really cares if I go along. How do I argue with that?"
"It only means that you have no threats to fall back on - that telling her you aren't going along with her scheme isn't going to work. It doesn't mean that you can't reason with her, but you are going to have to get to the source, which brings us back to the original question -- why does she feel so compelled to do this?"
"She'd need an army of therapists and years of psychoanalysis to uncover that mystery."
"You know Linda better than any shrink. What drives Linda?"
"Boredom," Dee offered. "That's basically what motivated her to try stasis in the first place."
Emma gave her a quizzical look and Dee explain Linda's "first time" theory. "So you see," Dee concluded, "that can't be it this time."
"Maybe you're approaching it from the wrong angle. Maybe boredom wasn't the reason the last time - or at least not everything. What else do her grand schemes all have in common?"
"Danger? Excitement? Going where few have gone before?"
"And always coming back to the same place."
"She is quite a homebody for someone so adventurous."
"I think you're on to something with the danger. I remember when I was learning to ski. I got a little cocky and the next thing I knew, I was barreling down a hill a hundred miles an hour into a solid wall of trees. I must have been channeling Picabo Street. I started zipping in and out of those trees like a monkey on poppers. Then I reached the clearing again, I felt the greatest sensation. The closest thing I can think of is the moment of orgasm. Even that is a modest comparison. It was the ultimate."
"But you didn't go out looking for bigger and better thrills."
"I had better things to do," Emma quipped. "Maybe part of Linda's problem is that she hasn't got anything better to do."
"OK, the woman I love is a danger junkie. What do I do? Find her a Twelve Step program?"
"It's more than just being addicted to risk. It doesn't explain why she's so hell bent on stasis. I had time to talk to the folks at Timeless, Inc. between visits to see you and to hear them, it isn't any more dangerous than taking a nap on the front porch."
"They've compensated for all the problems Linda and I experienced."
"Yes," Emma agreed. "How did you know?"
"It's something Linda said."
"She knows how safe it is? That makes it even stranger. If she really wanted to do something extreme, there are lot things out there she hasn't tried yet. At least we know that danger isn't a motivating factor."
"And we know she isn't doing this because she's never done it before. Two possibilities down, ten million to go. How am I supposed to figure this out?"
"Well, there is one way."
"Oh, sure. She's the last person who would know why she does anything."
"Right," Emma agreed without a trace of cynicism. Self-reflection had never been one of Linda's strengths. "I think you should call her anyway. Keep the lines open."
"Not yet. She knows were I am and I think it would work out better if she called first."
À À À À À
Dee waited four days for Linda to call. She spent those four days anticipating the conversation. She imagined the many reactions she might expect and rehearsed the responses she would give to each. On the fourth sleepless night, she vow to call in the morning, despite her better judgment.
The distant twittering of the phone and the low mutter of Emma answering it barely touched the surface of Dee's daydreams so it gave her a start when she found the phone dangling in front of her face.
"It's Linda," said Emma and waited for Dee to relieve her of her burden.
"Hello?" Dee's voice cracked.
"Did I wake you up?"
For just a moment she was tempted to lie. She spent several more moments pondering the urge. The silent gap grew longer and there seemed an urgent need to fill it. "I was going to call you tomorrow," poured out in a burst of anxiety.
"Oh, about what?"
Only ten seconds into the call and already Linda had seized control. Dee hadn't rehearsed this scenario. Another long silence ensued.
"I wanted to find out if you had changed your mind."
"I still intend to go back into stasis, if that's what you mean. That's why I was calling. To find out if you had reconsidered."
"Gods, Linda! I thought you loved me."
Now Linda's end of the line went silent. Dee thought she heard a stifled sob, but it might have been background noise. Either way, Linda's voice was steady when she responded, "I do love you and I'd do anything to get you to change your mind."
"Why do I love you?" Linda asked, confused by the apparent non sequitur.
"No, why do you think you have to do this?"
"I'm not sure I could put it in words and I'm not sure you would understand if I did."
"How do you explain something you feel compelled to do?"
"Are you telling me you have no control over this?"
"It's more than that. It's as if something else moves me. Like I'm reaching for something and I know that if I just reach a little farther I'll have it. I know it isn't here in the present, but I feel like I will find it in the future."
Dee's head felt like it was being compressed in a vice. Linda was looking for some nebulous ideal the might or might not exist somewhere in her future, but to Dee it meant leaving a life she enjoyed and becoming increasingly dependent on Linda. It also meant the possibility of facing stasis sickness again, despite the assurances of Timeless, Inc. On the other hand, she knew that she would not see Linda for years, if ever, and by then their lives would be irretrievably changed.
"Will you do this for me?" Linda's voice seemed so distant.
"I can't, Linda. I just can't. I just want to come home. Can we talk about this then?"
"I'll get my things together and be there as soon as I can."
"No hurry. I love you, Dee. Goodbye."
Dee didn't have time to answer before the phone clicked in her ear cutting off the connection. She sat on the edge of the bed contemplating the conversation until Emma returned.
"It's a small apartment. I couldn't help overhearing. I take it Linda has not come to her senses."
"If anything, she's making even less sense than usual. I asked her why she wants to do this. She gave me some strange answer about being compelled."
"Compelled? Sounds like an excuse to me."
"You don't understand everything she has been through."
Emma rolled her eyes. The gesture at first irritated Dee, but then she realized that Emma didn't know the whole story. She told Emma what Mrs. Cahalo had told her at their last meeting about the death of Linda's father. As Dee unfolded the tale before her, Emma experienced an epiphany.
"Don't you see?" Emma said. "That's what compels her. She doesn't remember what happened on a conscious level, but somewhere inside her mind lives the whole ugly truth and she keeps trying to get away from it. The high of dangerous thrills wasn't enough, but she thinks if she puts enough time between herself and this anonymous demon she will be free."
"Great! How do I do combat with some demon that lives in her mind?"
"I think the best placed to start is by telling her what you know. That's why Mrs. Cahalo told you. Maybe if she understands what is driving her, she can face it - confront it."
"And maybe if she confronts it, it will only make the situation worse. There's a reason she forgot everything that happened. She was traumatized. I don't know if she could handle it?"
"Do you call this handling it?"
"Oh, my God," Dee squeaked. She grabbed for the phone and dialed as quickly as she could. She waved off Emma's inquiring look.
"This is Dee Banford," she said after an eternity of waiting for someone to pickup. "I'd like to speak with Ms. Cahalo." She paused to listen. "She isn't! Where is she?" The phone slid down the side of Dee's stricken face and dropped to the floor.
Emma retrieved it. "Where is she?"
A slightly irritated voice responded, "I told you. She said she was going and wouldn't be back for a long time and that you would be back here soon to take care of things."
"How long ago did she leave?"
"Yes," Dee whispered with a trace of hope.
Emma listened a moment and hung up. "She left just after you talked to her. She's still on her way. If you call Timeless Inc., you may be able to stop her."
Dee grabbed for her coat and pack. "And what if they won't put me through to her. Even if they did I don't know that it would do any good. Linda might think I was lying. This isn't the kind of thing I can tell her over the phone. I have to go there before it's too late."
"At least let me take you. You're in no condition to drive. We can take the cell phone, so you can at least try to get someone."
There was no answer at the number information had available for Timeless, Inc. only a voice mail message stating business hours and soliciting an extension number if the caller knew the contact party. The traffic was a snarl of San Francisco residents headed south to escape the fog and enjoy sunnier climes for the weekend. Emma tried to assure Dee that if they were caught in traffic, so was Linda. By the time they pulled up in front of the boxy facility it was well past normal business hours and there were only a few cars in the parking lot.
"I don't see Linda's car," Emma observed. "Maybe she isn't even here. Maybe this isn't even where she was going."
Dee charged the front doors. They were locked. She keyed the button on a nearby intercom. A disembodied voice told her that someone would be there shortly. Before long a familiar figure entered the small lobby and tripped the emergency bar. It was Laura Junso.
"Where is she?" Dee squeezed through the opening before Laura could get out of the way.
"This was Linda's choice," said Laura.
"No it wasn't. I have to talk to her. There's something she needs to know."
"I'm sorry, Dee. It's too late. She's already in stasis."
"No! You've got to revive her. You've got to let me talk to her."
"Our contract prohibits us from reviving her, except in an emergency and she specifically stated that you had no power to overturn her decision and that I should refer you to Maria Manfred." Laura's professional posture softened as misery washed across Dee's face. "I'm sorry, Dee. The last thing Linda did was to give me this to give to you."
Dee took the sealed envelope from between Laura's fingers and clutched it in her own. "Can I see her?"
"You realize if you try to disturb the equipment you will probably kill her."
Dee gave Laura a resigned glance, "I wont' try anything."
"OK then. This way."
Dee recognized the vast room where she awoke months before. She walked down the line of glass enclosures with the contents in peaceful repose. When they came to Linda, she looked as if she might awaken with the slightest prompting.
"How long?" Dee asked without raising her eyes.
By that time, Dee would be twice as old as the well-preserved Linda. "Can we have a moment alone?"
"Sure." Laura beckoned Emma to follow her.
Dee broken open the envelope and read:
My dearest D,
I thought there would be more time. I was told it would be more than a month before two jars would be available. When Laura called with an unexpected opening, I called.
When I heard your voice I knew I couldn't wait any longer. I was only prolonging the pain for you. I never doubted that I would do this. I only hoped that we could do it together.
I know you can't wait for me, but I do hope that you will at least come and see me in thirty years. We can talk over old times and you can catch me up on everything I've missed. See you in a few decades.
"Oh, Linda. What have you done?"