Georgie in the Sun

2448

He’s thinking of changing his name again.

His name was first Vlad, but he’s been going by George since the early 22nd century. He would have changed it to something else a long time ago—that’s what he’d been doing every twenty years or so, for centuries—but Eliza liked it, so he kept it.

In two years, she will come out of stasis again. Maybe he’ll bring it up then. Maybe they can come up with a name she likes together.

He fixes himself a drink (one part synthetic blood powder, two parts water) and puts on some music. Turns the volume right up. The Țepeș echoes with the sounds of the Beatles for days.

Outside, Alpha Pegasi rotates rapidly, its light nothing like the Sun.

2449

One year to go until Eliza wakes up. He performs maintenance on the ship, the way she taught him. He misses her, thinks of her eyes, her voice, her blood. His teeth hurt.

He sits at his gaming console and boots up his favorite retro parser. 8-bit graphics, green-on-black text, bad writing. In the game, he is a knight in shining armor. A prince.

George knew how to be a prince, once.

The cursor blinks at him.

You traverse the dark forest. In the distance, you see the fabled castle where the Princess sleeps, its turrets gleaming in the light of the full moon.

The moon is always full, George knows.

Riding your mighty white stallion, you come to a fork in the path. You can only see a few meters in either direction. The path to your left seems well-trodden. The one to your right is overgrown with thorny branches.

George has played this game a thousand times already. Maybe more times.

>Go left.

You go left. You are attacked by a pack of wolves.

You die a horrible death.

He imagines the wolves’ canines until he can remember the taste of fresh blood. Hunger desiccates his veins.

He thinks of names to distract himself.

Philotheos. Too old-fashioned. Mark. Too apostle. Larry. No. Just no.

Andreas?

He plays the name around in his mouth, rolling his R’s.

Maybe Andreas. Andreas is a good name.

Very slowly, he traverses the span of the Țepeș, wondering how to bring it up.

2450

He sets the controls to REVIVE and lets Eliza’s stasis machine do the rest. He never understood exactly how the machine works, no matter how many times she explained, so he makes sure to follow her instructions to the letter.

He puts on her favorite shirt, the black button-down with the mandarin collar. He spent a month ironing out every crease, then ironing it again. He always thought it made his bloodless skin look bloodless-er, but she said it brought out his eyes. Besides, she liked him pale.

When she emerges from the chamber, George feels the way he felt the first time they met, when she tripped on her way out of that club in Soho and he smelled her from two blocks away and reached out and caught her so fast that car alarms went off in a two-mile radius.

“Georgie,” she says. She walks over to him and grabs him by the back of his neck. She kisses his forehead, his eyes, the bridge of his nose, his cheekbones, his lips, his teeth. She cuts her tongue on his incisors. Her blood, metallic and flowery, fills his mouth, and, for a moment, the monster—Vlad, not Georgie—rears his head, but then she takes his hand and pulls him to bed and spoons him, repeating his name, again and again, like a prayer: GeorgieGeorgieGeorgieGeorgieGeorgie.

He doesn’t bring up the name change after all.

When they’re done, she takes his hand again and leads him to the bathroom so they can shower together. She glances at the sheet draped over the mirror.

“Did you cover all the mirrors again?” she asks, scolding, smiling.

He lowers his eyes. She always makes him feel like a child. “I’m sorry,” he says.

“Was it the bats or the crows this time?”

Both.

He shrugs. “It doesn’t matter.”

She bares her neck for him. “They’ll stay away now. For a little while.” She uncovers the mirror to ruffle her black curls.

“Yes,” he says. He comes up behind her, sinks his fangs into her very carefully, and drinks, her warmth spreading through him like life. He catches a glimpse of his face in the mirror, the eyes that history books have described as “large, deep-set, dark green, and penetrating.” He’s always hated his eyes.

When they’re both satisfied, she checks the logs of the Țepeș. It’s too early for suitable planets, but she says she wishes she could live through this journey with him. The logs are a way for her to experience it, even if vicariously. “The things you must have seen,” she says. “My Georgie. I envy you.”

“And I envy you your sleep,” he replies, tucking a wayward curl behind her ear.

Then, she goes back into stasis.

He can hear her heart slow to a halt as the process completes. The echo of her last heartbeat reverberates through the hull of the ship for days. He puts on music to drown out the sound.

“Here comes the Sun,” the Beatles sing.

2455

He remembers what it was like to sleep, that compelling exhaustion that washed over him every time the Sun peeked over the horizon, back on Earth. He spent the first hundred years of the journey in a coffin, until they were far enough from Earth’s star that it was unrecognizable as the Sun.

He was mildly worried about what would happen when they came across another yellow star. Nothing, it turned out. That’s how Georgie realized that his urge to burst into flames when faced with the Sun was mostly in his head. He was burned by his own psychology.

The only downside is that, without the Sun, he can’t sleep. George hasn’t slept in over a hundred years. His eyelids sting, every blink like sandpaper scraping against his eyes.

So he boots up his game.

It’s a full moon again.

You traverse the dark forest. In the distance, you see the fabled castle where the Princess sleeps, its turrets gleaming in the light of Earth’s satellite.

Riding your mighty black stallion, you come to a fork in the path.

>Go right.

You go right, cutting through the brambles with your sword.

The forest gets thicker and thicker, until you can no longer proceed. Your arms are bleeding from a million cuts.

What do you do?

>Burn it.

You burn the entire forest to the ground. All around you, the cries of small forest animals echo through the night.

A colony of bats takes flight overhead.

George exits the game.

He covers the mirrors again, but his reflection haunts him from every shiny surface of the ship.

He closes his eyes, listening to the silence of the universe, pretending to sleep.

2500

Georgie’s veins grow thinner, Eliza’s blood all gone from his body by now. He fixes himself a drink that sustains but does not nourish. He wonders if they’ll ever find a place where they can watch the sunset together, the way they dreamt back on Earth, before Eliza came up with the idea and asked him to fund it, before she built the stasis machine, before they set out on this journey, her short life spaced out into slivers.

His teeth hurt. His head pounds. There are shadows playing in the corners of his eyes.

He chalks it up to lack of sleep and anemia.

2510

Georgie plays his game. He goes right. He burns the forest again but, disturbed by the charred corpses of small animals, he hits restart.

The forest gets thicker and thicker, until you can no longer proceed. What do you do?

>Fly over it.

He transforms into a bat.

2530

The Țepeș flies by a planet with a methane atmosphere. Not one where they could live together, but it brings back memories of the sewers where George—then William—spent most of the early 20th century, banished there by the sudden popularity of vampire fiction.

2550

Eliza wakes up again. There is none of the hungry kissing this time. Dark circles nestle under her eyes. They make her look a little like the haunted women Georgie—Vlad—used to know, way back.

“I think I dreamt this time,” she says.

“That’s impossible,” he replies. He looks at her for confirmation. “Isn’t it? Impossible?” He wishes he could turn her, the way vampires do in books. Forget about the sunset; live forever on this ship.

She pours a glass of water and downs it, parched. “I think there’s something wrong with the stasis machine.” She pauses. “I think I made a mistake.”

She gives him a drink from her wrist and he takes it, silent and grateful. He wipes the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand and then licks it clean. The shadows in the corners of his eyes retreat.

He can smell her everywhere on the ship for an entire year after she goes back to sleep.

2552

You turn yourself into a bat and fly over the dark forest until you arrive at the dark castle and its glistening turrets.

The castle is guarded by a terrible dragon. It lies sleeping outside the Princess’s bedroom.

>Approach the dragon.

The dragon detects your presence and opens its eyes. It takes one look at you and huffs, preparing to breathe fire on you.

Georgie knows he should slay the dragon, but he finds himself reluctant to. It reminds him of the nights he spent barricaded in a castle of his own, a mob of peasants waving torches and pikes at his door, back when he was a monster.

>What is your name?

The dragon does not understand the question. It breathes fire on you.

You are dead.

2610

He walks into the observatory and finds her standing there by the cupola, staring out at space.

“You’re up,” he says, and he imagines his dead heart fluttering in his chest, his non-breath quickening.

She turns around, and her face is made of bats.

2612

The Țepeș meets a sulfur planet. George takes one of the pods down to the surface and bathes in an ocean of acid while the ship orbits above. His flesh melts.

2613-2615

George lets his body reconstruct itself.

The Țepeș is haunted by bats.

You turn yourself into a crow and fly over the dark forest until you arrive at the dark castle and its glistening turrets.

The castle is guarded by a terrible dragon named Vlad. Your enemies present you with your brother Mircea’s dead body, returned to you in a sheet stained with blood.

In the distance, the screams of the impaled fill the night.

2650

He wakes her up again. There is a mad sheen to her eyes. This time, her blood tastes different—cold and acidic and nothing like flowers.

“Maybe I shouldn’t wake up as often,” she says. “Maybe the problem is my body, not the machine.” She takes to the computer, pores over calculations and charts that Georgie doesn’t understand. He was never very good with numbers.

In the end, exhausted, she gives up.

“Is this killing you?” he asks, but she’s already asleep.

The cursor blinks.

With the dragon slain at your feet, you bring your sword down on the door that leads to the room of the sleeping Princess.

Behind you, there is the sound of wings rustling.

2720

The Princess is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen.

Dust has settled on her cheeks.

A long time passes.

More time passes.

You’ve heard the rumors that you can wake her up with a kiss.

You must decide what to do.

What do you do?

You have spent too long in the Princess’s room. You have grown into an old man.

You die.

2750

Georgie does not bring Eliza out of stasis.

He performs maintenance, and then he sits next to the stasis machine, watching her. A crow perches on his shoulder. They listen to the Beatles together.

2810

Georgie is still sitting next to the machine, watching the Princess sleep, trying to decide what to do.

If he plays the game as a love story, he always loses, because how can it be love if she doesn’t have a choice?

The cursor blinks.

Stardust settles on her cheekbones.

What else can he play the game as?

He thinks of a Sun that doesn’t set. He wishes he could sleep forever.

2850

His veins shrivel to nothing. His skin starts to peel. The ghosts of bats hang from the ceiling of the Țepeș, their mouths smelling of small, rotting animals.

2851-3849

He lets Eliza rest for a thousand years, thinking of rivers of blood.

3850

The Princess will never grow old, but you will.

How long are you going to stand there by her bed?

You’re being kinda creepy, Georgie boy.

>Who’s George?

Vlad. I meant Vlad.

What are you going to do, Vlad?

He thinks he hears the wings of crows rustling, whispering about the Prince of Darkness.

One of his teeth falls out.

3852

He cannot make a decision.

He shuts down the gaming console, then boots it up again, on repeat.

The cursor blinks.

3853

Your indecision creates a quantum event that splits the universe into infinite variations of itself.

>He finally brings Eliza out of stasis, only to find that she no longer remembers him.

She says she never met anyone named Vlad. She says she feels like she’s a thousand years old and asks him for death.

The monster sinks his single tooth in her carotid artery and—his dead heart broken—drains her of blood.

>He lets Eliza sleep forever and he keeps going, the Țepeș slowly crowding with bats.

In the end, the Prince of Darkness is consumed by his own shadow.

>The Țepeș finally finds the perfect planet where Eliza and Georgie can live together, happy. They sit on the beach, the foam lapping at their feet, and watch the sunset side by side. George finds that this Sun reminds him so much of home that he bursts into flames.

>The Țepeș finally finds the perfect planet where Eliza and Georgie can live together. When he tries to bring Eliza out of stasis, he discovers that the machine has malfunctioned and has caused Eliza’s death.

Vlad lives alone, forever, under an alien sun.

>Convinced that he will never find a suitable planet for both of them, he turns around and goes back to Earth. They arrive a millennium and a half later, only to realize that humanity has disappeared. The Earth is now populated by bats.

>He wakes Eliza up, but she says she’s had a good long think and decided that she doesn’t love him anymore.

“This was a mistake,” she says.

Vlad dies from a metaphorical stake through the heart.

>Vlad schedules the stasis machine to revive Eliza in another thousand years. He steps out of the ship and lets his body float in space while the Țepeș continues on its journey.

A millennium later, he forgets his name. His frozen eyes glimpse the light of a distant star and a half-remembered Beatles song gets stuck in his head.

It goes something like this:

Here comes the Sun

(na na na na)

>

>

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Natalia Theodoridou

Natalia Theodoridou is a queer writer and editor, the winner of the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction, and a Clarion West graduate (class of 2018). Natalia’s stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nightmare, Fireside, and elsewhere. Rent-a-Vice, Natalia’s first interactive novel, was a finalist for the inaugural Nebula Award for Game Writing. His latest game, An Odyssey: Echoes of War, is out by Choice of Games. For details, visit www.natalia-theodoridou.com or follow @natalia_theodor on Twitter.

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