Seventeen months from Kiranga Station, I kill my sixth Marilyn as she lies in post-orgasmic bliss, her platinum hair splayed across her pillow. I shouldn’t do it, even if she is just a gen, but it’s one quick stab to the heart and done.
I shower, dress, and drag her body to the storage room. I bag it up and stash it in the space behind the foodpod racks with all the others.
It’s time to sleep, but I’m still hyped so I go to the control room and check the ship’s operating parameters. The computer controls everything; my job is to double-check six times daily. A seventh won’t hurt.
A seventh ...
I think about the generator, about creating a seventh Marilyn to have around, to play with and inevitably to kill. Or is it inevitable? Seven is the number of perfection: Could a seventh Marilyn perfect me?
I head back to my bunk; it smells like her. I lay my head on the pillow she used for seventy-three nights. Seventy-three is prime, like seven. I run through the primes and try to fall asleep. But I’m still awake and then I’m thinking about Marilyn. We’re fucking again and this time I don’t kill her. We curl up together, sweat-soaked, and the next moment I’m asleep.
I avoid entering the generator room for five days. The generator is sleek; the long oval pod is programmed with dozens of templates — celebrities like Marilyn, people from my past, even me. A lonely pilot can use it; so can the computer if the pilot fails to perform assigned duties.
illustration by Laura Lief
I walk away but two days later I’m back in front of the generator and this time I punch in the codes to have it create a new gen. A new Marilyn, of course. I stand there and watch the generator; there’s nothing to see as it works, but I don’t want to miss the moment when it slides open, when my seventh Marilyn is ready to awaken. Three hours later, she’s ready for me. She doesn’t question where she is or who I am — none of them do. I help her out of the pod and wrap my arms around her. I want to take her to bed right away, but I’m already thirty-seven minutes overdue for checking the computers.
She follows me to the control room. I’m almost done when I hear her speak in a voice just above a whisper. “What are you doing?”
It’s the first time I’ve been asked. My initial impulse is to tell her that it’s nothing she needs to worry about, but then I’m explaining about the computers, about the thirty-one month journey, the cargo that I’m — we’re — hauling. She listens but doesn’t say anything. I finish the last few checks and head for the door. She’s still standing there. Then she says “Everything’s got to go somewhere, I suppose.”
I don’t know what to say about that. I think briefly, then say “I’m going to bed. Want to come along?”
That’s something else new — I’ve never asked. They’re gens, not people, programmed to be what their creator wants. But I asked. Maybe my seventh Marilyn really is the one I can achieve perfection with.
In bed, I kiss her throat. She touches my face as my lips brush her skin for the first time, for the more-than-a-thousandth time. I feel such peace that I can’t imagine killing this Marilyn. Did I feel that way with the others? I don’t remember it if I did.
Over the following weeks she asks questions about the ship’s functions. I’m proud to show off what I know. She seems eager to learn.
Eventually, the generator room is all that’s left to show. I wonder if she knows this is where she came from, that she didn’t exist until I willed her to be. I cycle through the profiles, skipping hers. Mine comes up and she tenses.
“Yep,” I say. “That’s me, Philip Haas.”
She reaches out and brushes her fingers across the picture taken on Earth five years ago. Though I know it’s me, it feels like someone else’s face. Looking at her and at that doppelganger picture of me, I feel an aching in my head. It’s a familiar pain, dull and deep, one that I remember feeling for the first time almost a year ago, one that I feel more often every month.
“Come on.” I pull her away. “Let’s find something more fun to do.”
The next eleven days we make love daily. Though it’s better than with the other Marilyns, I’m also feeling worse when I think about her six predecessors. I avoid the storage bay. When I have to go in to retrieve food or something else I think I smell the six corpses rotting away and then my head starts pounding again and I feel like I’m going to throw up.
On the twelfth day I don’t get out of bed. I send Marilyn to check the computers. She brings me food which I don’t eat. She brushes my hair and asks me if I’m okay.
“No.” I haven’t been for a long time.
Another seven days pass during which Marilyn runs the ship while I only get out of bed to eliminate. I can’t go on like this.
On my way back from the toilet in the middle of the night, my head briefly not a storm of pain, I retrieve the knife I used to kill the others.
My seventh Marilyn sleeps. I could kill her, create an eighth, one who might not make me feel.
But this could be my last chance.
I wake Marilyn, lead her silently to the control room, and have her show me the checks. They’re perfect, like she was born to pilot.
The knife’s in my hand. I put the point to my chest, look into Marilyn’s eyes and put her hand on the hilt. I see she understands.
“Remember,” I say, closing my eyes. “You’ve got to push it hard.”
I wonder where Marilyn will stash me. I wonder what she’ll find there.
Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had stories appear in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Daily Science Fiction.