“Entropy,” Lamont’s wife was saying, “Is the only universal law. Science can find a way to bend or break any other law, but the inevitable process of decay and dissolution can never be stopped. At best, it can be delayed, held at bay.”
They were in their flat in London, in their favorite spot, Elizabeth nestled in Lamont’s side on the second-hand couch, facing the balcony. The light from the metropolis outside was bright enough that interior lights were rarely needed in the small space. This was especially true on a night like this, when big, fluffy snowflakes drifted slowly to the ground seventy stories below. At least, Lamont thought it was night. It was really uncomfortably bright. “Let’s talk about something else, love,” He said, pressing his nose to her dark brown hair.
The voice came from another part of the room. Lamont caught a glimpse in the corner of his eye: A stocky figure dressed in a militaristic uniform. He couldn’t seem to lift his head for a clear look, or he didn’t want to. He was at home, with his wife.
“Entropy can’t be overcome,” Elizabeth continued mechanically, “But it can be managed. In the cycle of destruction, energy is created out of the resulting chaos. This energy can be harnessed, used to maintain a remnant of guided order from what would otherwise be a spontaneous creative process.”
“I struggle to appreciate the abstract,” Lamont choked. He was having trouble breathing now. The snow had drifted in from outside and had covered Liza’s head. He tried to brush it off, but he couldn’t find her form beneath the snow. As he shoveled great handfuls of the fluffy substance away, he found he had nothing to show for it but black, sooty palms.
“Where did she go?” He demanded. Now he was able to lift his head and look directly at the uniformed figure, but that too had become difficult. He was silhouetted against a red, mushroom-shaped cloud that was rising slowly over the skeletal ruins of the city. Lamont staggered toward him, hindered by great heaps of snow that he now realized was not snow at all. It stuck to him, sucked him in, threatened to envelope him. By the time he reached the figure, he was level with its knees, his hands groping desperately to claw out of the ashes. Just as it seemed he was going to be swallowed up, a hand reached down and gripped his.
“You look like you could use a change of pace, old bean,” Said Harry, smiling winsomely.
Lamont was having none of it. As soon as he was on his feet again, he clamped his hands around his editor’s neck. “What have you done with my wife?” He demanded, tightening his grip.
“Lamont, please!” Liza choked desperately, her eyes bulging in the darkness. “It’s me!”
To his horror, Lamont realized that his hands were wrapped around the slender throat of his wife, so tightly that his fingers overlapped beneath her tousled hair. She looked up at him imploringly from their bed, her hands pushing vainly against his wrists.
“No!” Lamont gasped, unlocking his grip. “No! God! I’m sorry!”
It was too late. Elizabeth fell limply onto the pillow, her eyes rolled up listlessly in their sockets, her cheeks gaunt and hollow.
Lamont looked around helplessly for a glass of water, a telephone, anything that might be of help. His eyes landed on a slender feminine figure beside the bed. Her features were dark, exotic, handsomely severe. There was a pronounced black mark over her red upper lip. In one hand, she held a large syringe.
“I want her back,” Lamont implored her.
The woman looked down at him with pity. “It is not going to be easy,” she said.
“You look like hell,” Rosemary said matter-of-factly as she pulled up a chair beside Lamont. The bracing smell of his strong black coffee suddenly mingled with scents of perfume, iodine and chamomile tea.
“If I said that to you, you’d wallop me,” Lamont complained.
“Aye,” Rosemary agreed. “But in my case it’s an informed medical opinion.”
The medic’s Nottingham accent, like the hot cup of coffee gripped tightly between Lamont’s palms, carried with it a comfortable sense of familiarity. Representatives of the grand old empire were few and far between on Westward, outnumbered by natives of the Americas.
“If it’s lively conversation you want, I’d look elsewhere,” The newspaperman admitted flatly.
“If you wanted to be alone, you’d have stayed in your cushy private suite,” Rosemary pointed out.
They were seated in the cafeteria. Located at the fore of the ship, the space was arranged between the hydroponic bays, with a kitchen and vending machines in the rear. The large space in front, punctuated by a wide set of viewing windows, could be populated with collapsable tables or left open for assemblies as needed. It was very early morning of the last day of January, and a small complement of crewmen were busy hanging paper cutouts of snowflakes and stars by string from the ceiling.
“Spratt said there wasn’t going to be a party,” Lamont observed, nodding in their direction.
“Wishful thinking,” Rosemary said. “Ed hates crowds.”