The part of her that was the heal programmer considered the situation calmly. This was a young man wearing a Pendika programmer tunic. He was whole. He did not appear to be sick. His hair was straight and tousled around his head, colored like a fresh rose, one of the sure signs of a special kind of fire programmer, the kind with the gifts needed to be the Crimson Master. She bent down and placed a hand over the young man’s chest. As the hand glowed without warmth, she confirmed that the Cold Sleep program was activated.
The part of her that was Beika panicked. This was Melancho. She found him. But she never wanted to see him like this. What made him do this? Would he have done this if she found him earlier, if she caught up to him?
The Cold Sleep program. All programmers knew it, as it was one of the special programs for the lifecodes. But heal programmers knew it best. It was the program activated as an act of mercy to those who were headed to death anyway, the incurably sick, the non-salvageable unconscious. It was also the program resorted to by the desperate and despondent, those who wanted to turn away from life. Her friend had activated that, on himself.
She was not sure she was skilled enough to deactivate it. She was not sure if she would be calm enough to do it. Maybe it was too late. Maybe even if she tried, she would not be able to reverse it.
“T-t-timeline! M-manifest the timeline for this person, M-Marceau!” she managed to say.
Marceau gasped as well, as she came closer to the light. “The loner firespark. So it’s really him. I mean, I read the timelines, but…”
“Timeline, Marceau! Timeline!” Beika cried.
Marceau placed a hand over the person on the ground. Her eyes were closed for a long moment.
The futuretell opened her eyes and shook her head. “The timelines disappear.”
Marceau looked at Beika, keeping her gaze away from the ground. “If you plan to do something, do it. Now.”
With trembling hands, Beika fumbled at her satchel and felt for her programming book. She fished out one book and thumbed through the pages. “End-of-life program…end-of-life program,” she spoke as she turned pages, as if her calling to them would make the search easier. She stopped at the page near the end of the book. “Cold Sleep. Here.”
She re-memorized the needed program encodes. She would make no mistakes with this. She had one chance at this. She took a deep breath. She took one final look at the face. He did not look peaceful in sleep. He still looked so weary. She placed one hand over the chest and one hand over the forehead. Both hands warmed and glowed. Now or never.
“Encode. Cold Sleep deactivate.”
She watched as lifecode lines illuminated through her friend’s arms and legs, his head and his torso. The major lines illuminated through the rest of the body. The deactivate program spread. The lines faded as they completed the program.
She placed both hands over his heart. Her hands brightened the chest area and the major lifecode lines once more. “Encode. Reanimate. Activate. Authorization by Beika of northwest.”
The heartbeat grew even as the encoding proceeded. He began to breathe in and out, at first slow and shallow, then more deeply, and more regular. Color returned to his pallid face. The fingers in his hands stretched out.
Beika felt the tears streaming down her cheeks, but she could not wipe them away. She had to concentrate. She had to keep her hands over him, until the process was complete. But he was coming back.
His mouth opened, and he sighed. His eyes opened, and he looked at her. “Beika.”
She came down and wrapped her arms around him as she cried, her head over his heart.
“Beika. You again.” His voice did not reach her face.
“I made it. I made it.” She kept crying over him.
His voice came up to her in a whisper. “No. No.”
She was not sure she heard him say it. She was glad to have him back, that she had reached him in time. She let go and looked down at him, convincing herself it was true.
But he raised his left hand, and dropped it over his chest. The hand flickered over his chest. His voice was above a whisper, but he spoke with a desperate calm and firmness.
”Encode. Cold Sleep activa–”
“Override!” she exclaimed. She leveled her hand over him and spoke rapidly. “Encode permanent Cold Sleep Override. Effective immediately. Only this voice will deactivate the Override. Authorization: Beika of northwest, heal programmer. Encode Override. Activate!”
She cringed as two lines pierced his left cheek, to mark the Override. She watched as he winced from the pain as the new lifecodes dispersed through him and locked in place. She paled as his arms and legs began to shake in small tremors.
“I’m sorry, Melancho, I’m really sorry. I had no choice! I had no choice!” Beika watched in terror as her friend jerked and shook under her hands. She had seen the Override done before by her superiors. She knew spasms were an effect of the special program, but she had never seen them before. It was the first time she personally encoded for the Override. She turned white as the jerking stopped, as his limbs dropped and the entire body grew limp.
“Lan! Lan!” She took off her hands. She trembled to her core. What had she done? What had she done? Did she kill him? Melancho was alive, please, he had to be!
“I have a timeline.”
She turned and looked at Marceau. Her eyes were closed and her right hand was raised over him. “Are…are you sure?” Beika felt the need to say something.
Marceau opened her eyes. “Do you think I’ll ruin my reputation by reporting a false timeline? I have to have a perfect record with the committee!” She tossed her head at Beika.
“W…what does the timeline say?”
“Not much. He stays alive. You let him rest. But we manage to get out of here…” She cringed and looked at the stranger, “…with that person. Can we get somewhere else to stay besides this cave?”
“I don’t have the budget of a girl from the capital,” but Beika said this with a smile. Marceau was not in favor of hugging, no matter how much Beika wanted to hug the futuretell right now.
“Will you stop talking and just do that thing you do?” Marceau snapped and stomped. “It’s dark and it’s scary here! When are we getting out?”
Beika looked down at her friend, and she could not help but feel scared again. She bent down over him, and did get a beating heart and a regular breath. Her mind said he was fine, but her heart was still worried. “Are you, really, really sure?”
“Yes, yes, the loner firespark will be fine. Can we go now?”
Beika ignored her. There was one more program she had to place. She positioned her hands over her friend one more time. “Encode. Advanced Heal. Activate.” Her hands glowed and warmed as the program worked within her friend’s body.
Oh, Melancho, please be alright, please be alright.
She had always pulled him along to join her. He went with her, wherever it was. He complained and he sighed and he scowled at her, but he went. It was an odd arrangement between them, but she would have it no other way, and he did not object. For once, it was time that she did something for him. He would hate her for it, but he already hated most of the things she did.
She would apologize for all those times she annoyed him. She would apologize for distracting him that day. She would apologize for forcing him to come with her, yet again. But she would do it after the program was complete.
The wounds on Melancho’s left cheek closed into scars. A little more color returned to his face. He seemed to be alright now. He would be alright. She heaved a sigh of relief. She felt dizzy and weak. How many major programs had she already encoded? How many programs had she just encoded, that she had never encoded in her life? She lost count.
“Marceau? I did a good thing, right?”
The futuretell just rolled her eyes. “Oh, I don’t know. You bring up the dead to become the living again, even if he doesn’t want to be alive. You encode a program that will brand the loner firespark as a loser loner firespark for the rest of his borrowed life. I don’t know if you did a good thing.”
“Can I worry about that tomorrow?” Beika asked. Marceau blurred to her. The Selati rushed toward her but he too was blurry now.
“Hey, Beika!” she heard the futuretell over her. “If anything happens to you I can’t do anything!”
“Melancho will be fine, right?” she asked no one in particular. She was out of strength. Her eyes saw nothing now. She no longer felt anything. She had just done the work of several heal programmers by herself, and it was now taking effect on her.
“The timeline stays,” Marceau said.
“Thanks.” Her head hit the ground.
Her friend would be alright.
It was all that mattered now. She could rest now, she could rest as long as she needed.