The ways of service number more than one

Katja Novitskova, Light Trajectory (MRI). 2016, digital print on 2 layers of aluminum, cutout display. 70.9 × 57.1 × 9.8". Courtesy of the artist, Greene Naftali, New York, and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.

He does not burden a soul with more than it can bear . . .

I am in the third row of the shuttle, half asleep, when I hear what sounds like an argument coming from the front. I check on the Secretary, who is unconscious, stretched out on the seats. Her face is frosted over in the hood, every sign in the expected range. She will survive the trip, despite the infection planted in her blood. I tell myself to relax and watch the seven moons and suns glow in the window, fusion fire as green as the ocean below, as we speed at a thousand knots toward our destination.

I cannot enjoy the view. In this position, high in the government, my feelings are bound to the Madame Secretary. I was dedicated to her in a government center under the appropriate constitutional provision, made into the perfect companion. I hunger when she is hungry. I thirst when her mouth is dry, as it has been for a day. My arms are chilled to the bone, as hers have been, and there is a rot in my blood that makes me think I have been poisoned by a piece of fish. I would like to clear the ice from my eyes, though there is nothing there but the sensation of it. In all respects the condition of the woman lying across the seats is my own. I tell myself that I am lucky to serve, and in serving to live again, but my heart doesn’t listen to advice.

The shuttle is automated, the better to maintain quarantine around the Madame Secretary on our brief trip into orbit. Apart from myself there is a pilot in the forward compartment, placed there for the sake of protocol more than for any good he could do in an emergency. I seek him out nonetheless. On my way I almost see my lady’s chilled breath in front of me.

The shuttle is designed for the needs of dignitaries. There is a marble counter serving as a bar, champagne bottles shining on the wall above it. An ice bucket is fixed in place. Then there is a security console, about the size and shape of a writing desk, for federal officials to send and receive their streams of entangled photons, confident that nobody in any possible universe could overhear their conversations. Next to the airlock is a rack on which hang the Madame Secretary’s formal garments, the scarf and robe that indicate her status as a cabinet minister. She is entitled to the loyalty of a dozen men and women like myself, but today, in the wake of a biological strike, I am the only one alive to tend her.

I slide open the forward compartment to find the pilot dead. He has been hit in the back of the head so hard that his skull is visibly broken. I try not to panic as I search for the cause of his death. It doesn’t take long. The rotator arm, designed for fine mechanical adjustments around the cabin, is covered in blood. For the moment it is content to snap its pincers, a fine current running between them. Who knows who it works for?

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