Grief, Processed
 
 
 
My instructions say to come to you, Solace v2.2, should I ever "experience an emotional loss and find [myself] in distress so severe that it interferes with [my] mission." I am supposed to step into your shimmering portal, clear my mind, let you do your thing (whatever that is), and emerge healed, focused and raring to go.
 
And there you are. Right in front of me, just steps away.
 
No offense, but you don't look up to the task.
 
I know, I know: you're a marvel of 24th century design. A technological by-product of the scientific leap that made interstellar travel possible. The work of the same brilliant minds responsible for the Fortitude in whose sickbay I now stand, orbiting the planet Mythos in the Atlantis Galaxy's Gamma Sector.
 
But your sparkling interior is too velvet soft and vanilla-scented, your AI too Lady of the Lake-voiced, your chassis too golden-riveted to fix what ails me.
 
We were in that lander, all of us: Kefira, my wife, loving partner of twenty years and talented physician, the gentlest hands I've ever felt; Pelia, our seven-year-old-daughter, so excited to be a pioneer -- imagining Mythos's rainforests the frontier lands of her books, with stagecoaches, flouncy bonnets and tumbleweed-strewn towns; Eran, our son, fifteen and already a Cadet in the Sol System Engineering Corps as well as a gifted violinist and a large-hearted kid; and me, Harlan Imbless, Environmental Scientist, Corps Colonel, and last minute substitute to lead the first wave of Earth immigration to uninhabited, hospitable Mythos.
 
They all died. The children, on impact; Kefira lying next to me among ropy vines glowing vivid green and smoldering lander fragments, the atmosphere humid and heavy with the pungent odor of scorched wiring. Her hand went cold in mine so slowly I almost mistook my own palm's heat for hers. I waited for my death, the salt-mineral taste of blood in my mouth.
 
Solace, you coy machine, I have to admit you do look inviting. The documentation says you're programmed for empathy. Perhaps you can call up a believable, comforting reaction to human suffering from your silicon heart.
 
And that's enough for some of the broken, desperate people who step into your robotic embrace. It's enough for First Engineering Officer, Lila Hanaka, my Kefira's older sister.
 
While I wait in my pale blue drape opened at the back, she has been taking you, Solace, up on your tempting offer to process her grief in mere minutes so she can move on. Twenty minutes ago, she entered your violet-hued interior with its iridescent sheen a shattered woman. Now your portal swooshes open and out she comes, blinking. Shoulders de-sloped, face relaxed, as though she's had a week at the mineral baths on Juva's third moon. She smiles at me, a smile devoid of pain. "Only pleasant memories," she says. "No more hurt. You'll see."  
 
"I’m happy for you," I tell her as she leaves, to all appearances eager to get back to work.
 
I am happy for Lila. Who am I -- who are any of us to judge another’s way of coping? 
 
But I wish, Solace, you weren’t all Command and the white-suited healers at my elbow have offered me.
 
"It's time, now, Colonel Imbless," the doctor says. Her hands are gentle, and for a moment I think, Kefira.
 
"No," I tell her. "I won't do it this way."
 
I can't help but think that human grief evolved for a reason. That we grieve because we love. It's the price we pay for being human.
 
We each must choose whether suffering with our grief, working through it in our own time amid the comfort of friends, has value in itself. Or whether to seek, Solace, your more tidy solution.
 
Me? I want to feel every second of my loss's lifespan, even if those seconds pass like hours.
 
I want the weeks, the months, of living that slow, exquisite, transformation from raw pain to sweet memory.
 
I want to bear my grief among human minds that remember with me. With human hands that clasp my shoulders and point me toward courage.
 
I want to wake one morning, not knowing that day will contain the moment I turn the corner back to wholeness. I want to feel that exact moment, that shift into the next phase of being. And to greet that long expected moment with unbridled joy, irrepressible and alive.