I didn’t sleep that night. I was still awake in the command center, sitting in the central chair, when the spider bots came in to clean. I hadn’t moved, my head still resting in my hands. Over and over again, I went through those ten minutes. They played like a slideshow through my head. I saw the white dots cross the perimeter, and I imagined them beyond it, moving steadily on. In this view my mind created I saw the red dots close in on them, speeding up as they sensed the end coming. Then they were on them, the white dots winking out in the lonely wastes as the red consumed them.
At some point my mind expanded that twisted fantasy into something even worse. Independent from my desires, those little white dots started turning into people. They were faceless at first, but they ran terrified from their pursuers. My mind wouldn’t paint the details of the scene. There was no sky or earth below, just a group of frightened people sprinting through the dark. Slowly, I attached faces to them. A stranger I had met, an amalgam of old friends from high school, stitched slap dash onto torsos that didn’t fit them. They had nothing in common, except for one thing. How scared they looked. How much they didn’t want to die. My mind created their shrieks for me as they were run down, their sobbing as they realized that they couldn’t escape.
My fingers were digging into my scalp, trying to stop me from torturing myself. But the guilt wouldn’t let me go, and the regret was tugging me ever deeper into my delusions, until I was tangled in them so tightly that I couldn’t distinguish them from reality. I started seeing my friends’ faces superimposed on the people: Meghan and Jason and Ben and Natalie, and then Amy, and then my little brother’s, and my parent’s, and Camille’s and oh God I was so close to breaking that I thought it would happen right there and then, that I would pull that emergency pistol from right next to the commander’s chair and finally put an end to it all so I didn’t have to face them so that I would never have to face them agai-
“Don’t Sam!” I heard Adelaide scream at me over Camelot’s speaker and the spell was shattered.
“Please. Please don’t. Put it back. Please don’t leave me alone.” She sounded like she was close to sobbing. Could a program cry?
My hand was shaking on the gun. I brought it down to my lap, feeling the cold weight of it on my thigh.
“I know. I know what you did was awful. But you can’t. If you die you can’t make it better.”
“I can never make this better,” I whispered to her, but I felt my fingers loosening their grip on the pistol.
“You can’t, I know you can’t. You can never make it right but you can make it so it can never happen again.” Her voice quavered as she pleaded with me, “I’ll help you, and we can stop it together next time. It’s my fault too. It’s my fault and yours as well, but if you die too I don’t think I can come back from it. I’m scared Sam. I don’t want to be alone.”
I let the gun drop to the floor, and the crash as it fell echoed in the empty room. “I’m so sorry Adelaide,” I croaked, my throat gumming up, the back of my eyes burning, “I didn’t know.”
“I know. I’m sorry as well.”