art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Dany G. Zuwen
Sam knew Elena wanted him to leave his dead wife. He peered up at Elena's eyes. Her squint of disapproval egging him on, he opened the door to the Room.
The bright light scorched his eyes like when he was little and stared at the sun and Mom said it'd blind him. But eventually, after the door closed behind Sam with a metallic click, his sight adjusted.
Naomi faded in the middle of the room. Her back faced Sam; he wanted to creep up behind her and scare her. But as soon as he took a step, the sensors relayed the information to Naomi. Sam blinked and there she was, facing him, smiling the smile that'd melted his heart from the moment he'd last seen her alive, eight years before.
"Hello, Samuel. It's been a long time." The last time he'd come to see Naomi was the night he'd met Elena. He'd felt so miserable and so guilty and so ashamed. And he hadn't come back once in six years.
"How are you?"
She pinched her wrist with her thumb, fore, and middle fingers. "Why, still no pulse." She flashed another smile at Sam. The rendering was perfect. Sam's eyes filled with tears when the picture of Naomi lying on her deathbed, her face white as a drape, jumped to the front of his mind.
"I miss you," Sam said. Elena had promised not to watch the video feed from outside the Room, but for an instant Sam didn't care if she did.
"I know. I miss you too."
Sam lurched forward. He wanted to hold Naomi again. One more time. One last time before he had to forever let her go. His arms blurred through Naomi's shoulders and his momentum made him tumble forward. He caught himself on the immaculate, glowing walls of the Room. When he swung back with a sigh, Naomi flickered back in the center of the Room.
"Samuel. Oh, Samuel." Her brow was furrowed and a small smile danced on her lips. She'd had the same expression when he'd proposed to her, but it'd been drawn with lines of happiness then. Now it was thick, dark smudges of pity and sorrow.
"This. You dead. Me alive. This machine--the Room shouldn't exist." Sam waved his arms between Naomi and his torso and around them at the walls of light.
"You'd rather I was just… gone?"
"This hurts too much."
"I know. I hurt too."
Sam stopped his slow march towards Naomi. "I must tell you something."
"I know." She winced.
"I love you."
She frowned and narrowed her eyes further. "I love you too, Sammy. Is that what you must tell me?"
Sam shook his head. "Remember how we swore that the first to die would wait for the other in the Room?"
Naomi's smile that encouraged him to speak twitched, froze, and retracted. "I do."
Sam paused and held his breath. "I met someone." He looked away. "I'm sorry. I couldn't wait."
Naomi smiled as if relieved and heartbroken. "I know."
Sam stared at her, unable to close his hanging mouth. "How?"
"The Room is connected. With the right mentor, you can visit any place with an Internet connection. I climbed Mt. Everest, I visited the moon, Mars, Saturn..." she let her sentence trail off into silence while Sam digested the news. "And I checked on you."
"You've spied on me?"
She crossed her arms on her chest. "Yes, Sammy. I missed you. I was alone. I only accepted to be uploaded to stay with you, to wait with and for you, but you left me alone for six years. I needed to know."
Sam sighed. "I'm sorry."