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MAY/JUN The Yellow Envelope


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“...there is not the remotest possibility of dying of this sickness in the straightforward sense, or of this sickness ending in physical death. On the contrary, the torment of despair is precisely the inability to die.”

--Soren Kierkegaard, “The Sickness Unto Death”

Fengjian: These are people. We can't just reduce them to a bunch of cells in a pitri dish!

Breeman: Look, if we want to remain sane while we do this we have to. We can't think of these people as people. They're machines that need to be fixed.

--Lt. Kevin Breeman to Dr. Emma Fengjian during the aftermath of Operation Bright Star

“There are things in the wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will.”

--Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”


The pain in his teeth diminished with each passing day, the streaking embers outside whizzing by like parts of the man disappearing forever. His son. His hopes. Gone.

The lines in the face that stares back from his reflection in the overhead canopy of the runabout hang there at the center of the rays of fleeting light. Alvin is dying. Alvin is coming alive. He's happy for Kevin, happy in that inexpressible way he has of being happy. Kevin's living the life he wanted, the life Alvin never understood.

There was something knowing in Jan's face when they talked about taking part in the Federation rehabilitation program. She looked relieved.

He stands a moment, stretches his legs. The kneecaps click a little and the tendons groan.


It chirps. It's the voice of Kevin's world, a voice he made his son believe he hated.

“Make the gravity like Earth again, please?”

Chirping. His legs feel lighter now. A little pain is good for the soul.


Patri blinked. Solitary, day 42. She'd wanted it. They'd been were more than willing to give it to her. All she'd wanted had been a place to go and to let it all consume her once and for all. She never told them that of course, but she knew eventually she'd die from the inside. Her life was gone now. Darkness. Light. Compensation. Drive. Restraint. Structure.  All gone.

Words were all that remained after that [...] took everything from her.  And all she'd been able to do in return was to kill her.

So they'd put her in here, giving her only a bed and an insubstantial sheet. They hadn’t even given her clothes.  After all, she could have strangled herself with the bra strap, she figured.

The first two weeks had been the worst. Sometimes when she'd wake after another long, dreamless sleep she'd see Jesus at the end of her bed, a hole in his head, eyes drooping with sleeplessness. 'Why do you turn your back on me?' And the ghost would disappear again.

Buddha sometimes sat at the end of the bed too, his hair falling in unkempt locks around his face. 'I can't fracking take any more of this!'

In the end, she'd forced herself to stay awake for a week. Prophets came and visited her – men mostly. Their faces were scarred, chunks of rotting flesh hanging from their naked bodies. 'It had to go this way. The system hated us. All we've got left is this flesh and all it wants. Can you.... please?' They'd step toward her from out there, in the walls -- shapes behind an outside pattern growing clearer every day. And she'd cling to them, pull them inside her, hold onto their messages so tightly they died of strangulation.

At the end of the last week she'd stared at her hands and seen the hazy flecks of dust, seen the crushed dried bones around her bed disappearing beneath the blurred kipple of life as it had been, propped up on vengeance against the enemy she'd forgotten, doctrines she'd squeezed from the soft, dying gasps of thousands of men.

“I...” The vibration at the back of her throat had been a sensation she'd almost forgotten. “..hate...” She’d exhaled it into the bitter emptiness.

And when her head had finally landed on the pillow she'd breathed one last yawning sound, her tongue falling back into the chasm of her mouth. “you.”

The voices had stopped after that. Now she looked around her and the walls were bare. They'd been this way for more than two weeks now. There was no pattern, no design. Only Patri remained, the lone occupant of that singular mind that resided inside a solitary body somewhere in the void.


The air in the prison is dry. Voices echo through the cavernous interior. Life here is stable. Nobody likes that. Alvin's scared, not because he wouldn't grow to like it here but because it's unfamiliar. Life here is unforgiving blackness – bleak and formless.

The port on Pamos was like all the others. News outlets served the usual. Romulus was gone. Hobus. The anchor was a calm man and Alvin tended to like him. Alvin sat in one of the waiting rooms with the man standing his 7-inch height on his lap.

“Good morning, Mr. Breeman,” he said. “I see you're curious about the day's events.”

Presently his footsteps echo through the occasional silence, clacks absorbed into the din of whispering that comes and goes in waves. The guards look back at him, fixtures adorning each cell.

The walk to the prison on Pamos was like a walk into his past. The fields all around him were busy with work – the old kind of work. People used their hands, felt the ground like it was malleable clay beneath their feet. When they treated it well it bore them vegetables, beats, lettuce, trees. Better still, it tilled the workers just as much as they tilled it. The sun rose above them and occasionally a prisoner stood a moment to eye him. Was that face sincere? Reformed?

“Good morning, Mr. Breeman.”

The uniformed woman studies him briefly.

“Hello,” Alvin says.

“How was the flight? I know the parking here can be a bit of a challenge.”

He nods and grunts. “Quiet. I don't fly too often.”

She nods briefly, a smile on her lips, eyes staring out at him from behind an institution. “Did you get a chance to read the files I sent you?”

He read them during the flight, while the stars streaked outside. Inside he read about the girl who'd turned to her life of crime. She was a rehabilitated woman now. He read about her immaturity, her uncultivated life, and her brain.

“I did. Do you need me to sign anything?”


She purses her lips a little and says, “Your being here demonstrates that you understand you are to take her into custody as a citizen of the United Federation of Planets and as a person whose short-term goals are to be directed toward the betterment of society.”

Heavy words. Alvin nods and they walk a little ways into a much quieter area. There's a hiss and he turns to see a thick door closing behind them. Printed in red across the large white blast door are the words “SOLITARY CONFINEMENT.”


Patri blinked. Something had woken her. The rhythm was all wrong. Her body was telling her it wasn't time yet. Something glowed a soft white, flickering in the periphery of her consciousness. She sat up, the covers falling away from her body.

Beeping. It emanated through the room, jogging her memory of what it was that had interrupted her sleep in the first place.

“We had to deprive her of anything she might use to harm herself.”

It was an explanation, but more than that, a professional opinion – one Patri agreed with. It was hard to look back and see what it had been like. The kipple was gone and all that was left were waning memories, pillars of dust that faded into the winds of a changing mind.

The light was brighter now, a definite form like the frame of a picture. Within its bounds stood a man and a woman, silhouettes sculpted out of the the receding darkness. Now she understood.


Alvin eyes the young woman. There's something weary in her naked form, not quite sure of itself. Jan never looked like this. She always had a confidence that simultaneously frightened and excited him.

Maybe it's that insecurity that prevents him from being attracted to Patri. Maybe it's the unkempt hair or the squinting eyes. Or maybe it's just Jan.

“We've been monitoring your neurological activity, Patricia.”

The voice cracks through the whispering memories.

“You've come a long way.”

The woman in the bed sits up even more and swings her legs over the side.


When Patri entered the runabout and looked at the wall panels she felt something peculiar. Nothing. All about her were the patterns and the chaos of systems exchanging countless terraquads of data. And yet she couldn't feel one bit of it. She sat down and soon they cleared the atmosphere and went to warp.

She could feel the old behavioral patterns in her mind, expectations of rich streams of data, dread at the need to enter into another of her meditative states to keep the noise at bay. The thoughts fluttered a little, scurrying this way and that, and slowly died as the stars outside flew by. They were at warp and she didn't feel a thing.

Seated next to her was the man whose name was Alvin. He looked to be in his mid fifties. Patri tried to start a conversation.

“Are you a veteran, sir?”

“No.” He smiled a bit. It looked forced. But why?

“Well... whatever happened to you you don't look too bad.”

This time Alvin laughed. “What do you think happened to me?”

“Um... It's just your face... and your hands. They look so... beat up and stuff.”

She felt something new. Her face tingled a bit and she began to see a reflection of herself in her mind, a picture from Alvin's eyes. Alvin was hurt. He was offended, maybe. The picture seemed to come out of nowhere, within herself.

“I spend a lot of time outside working around the house,” Alvin said. “Maybe that's why.”


It's been three weeks since they returned to Earth.  His toothache is back again. It's the [...]ed Ontario heat and humidity. The evenings are cooler, easier on the body. Alvin stares across the fire into the faces of the two women.

Jan looks back at him, taking her eyes off the flames and locking them to his. She has that half-professional, half maternal look she's had since Patri first arrived and Alvin wonders if he himself doesn't look a little paternal.

Patri is looking down into the fire. Her face is calm, her eyes betraying something of a quiet confidence as the shadows dance across her face.

Jan looks back into the flames a moment. Each of them lasts only a fraction of a second, a theme and a pattern, pure, self-contained. And then it's gone, like a yellowing image ending of its own accord and freeing the thought trapped inside.

Her lips briefly twist into a smile. Alvin has something in his life again, someone to sire and to teach.  To father.

Alvin reaches into his pocket, grabs the tiny envelope.

Jan tilts her head a little.  

“What's that?”

He remembers the last thing the woman in the prison said to him, after Patri stepped inside the borrowed runabout.

“Oh, Alvin. If Patricia should ever... you know..”

She handed him the small yellow envelope and when he looked inside it he saw three tiny insects. They seemed dead.

“What am I supposed to do with these?”

“Well if she gets out of hand just open that envelope and put it out somewhere where the...contents can escape. They'll do the rest.”

Alvin runs his thumbs over the envelope, feels the three hard objects inside the yellow paper. He tosses it into the fire and watches it burn. It twists into countless glowing flecks, freeing the three tiny embers to join all the others in the blaze.

“Just an old s[...] of paper that was lying around,” he says.

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