I walked back to the cul-de-sac. When I found my bike, I wheeled it over to the end of the cul-de-sac and sat down to wait for Alice. I had called her on the way up there. She didn't know I had met with Joan that night. As I sat there, bathed in the light of the streetlight, I felt hollow. The confrontation with Joan played over and over again in my head. Had I a single atom for every thought that dwelled on Joan, I could have reconstructed the universe a thousand times over.
I did what I had thought necessary. Perhaps I had only gotten caught in the moment, but I didn't want to think about that. I had lived dozens of lives, attained more experience in my own lifetime than any human ever had, but none had done has much to me as my experience as a human.
I heard Alice speak my name as she strolled up behind me. She sat down quietly beside me. Sensing her curiosity, I knew she had not read my mind, and I loved her for that. Wrapping her arm around me, she wiggled closer to me.
I still couldn't smile. "It's done."
Alice smiled. "You did what you had to do."
I nodded slowly. My gaze remained on the street.
She rubbed my back. "Hey, at least now you'll be together! She loves you now. It's what you wanted."
I shook my head. "No, we won't be together." I finally looked at her.
"I don't understand. Didn't you make her love you?"
I took in a deep breath. "No, I didn't."
Alice unwrapped her arm from me and sighed. "What do you mean you 'didn't', Jake?"
I sighed, having expected her disappointment. "Alice, I just wanna go home."
"Jake! What the hell are you thinking?" she exclaimed. "You go home and your career as an Observer is over! And for what? Some self-righteous human ethics? Even if you don't make her love you, the Council will just send someone else out here to do it instead!"
I slowly shook my head at her. "No, they won't...not if they don't have any reason to."
Alice furrowed her brows at me. "Jake...what do you mean? What did you do?"
I couldn't know if Alice would understand. I did what I did because I knew I could never be happy with Joan if I knew that she only loved me because of some empty feeling that she'd been forced to have, but I also knew that if I simply left without doing anything, the Council would, in fact, replace me. Whatever life Joan might have lived with one of my people would have been no life at all. Joan was all about life. She had a special kind of energy, one she could implement to have fun no matter where she went. I couldn't let someone take that gift from her. Without it, she wasn't Joan.
I forced a smile and looked deep into Alice's eyes. "Read me, Alice."
It only took her a few seconds. When she finished, she dropped her face into her hands. "Jake, please tell me you didn't."
Frowning, I looked back down the street. "I did, Alice. I fixed her. I deactivated her evolved genes so that the Council wouldn't send someone else." Alice looked back at me, as I did her. "She's going to wake up and be a perfectly normal human." I could see the objection in her eyes. "She just wants her life back to what it was before me, Alice! I won't take that away from her."
Alice shook her head. "Jake..."
I stood up. "I know you don't understand, Alice, but there's something you do need to understand." Lumbering around her, I stuffed my hands into my pockets. When I stopped, I looked down at her. "Alice, do you know why you first appeared to me the other day as a homeless girl on the street?"
Alice looked up at me, somewhat confused. She didn't answer me.
I kneeled down beside her. "Alice...that's how you feel. I mean, when we're home, in our own forms, tucking our emotions so far deep inside of us that they practically become nonexistent, you don't know it's there, but it is. Being human these past few days has brought it out of you. For Mattie it's brought out her depression. For you it's brought out your loneliness. You were abandoned by your parents, your first mate, and your colleagues. ...Alice, you have a right to feel lonely."
"Oh what the hell is that, Jake!" she exclaimed. "I have a 'right' to feel lonely! Why the hell would I want to feel alone? Why would Mattie want to feel depressed?"
"Because it helps you overcome it!" I laid my hand on her shoulder. "You stay here a few months, Alice - you and Mattie stay human for a few months, and you will move past those feelings. If our people would acknowledge our feelings, you'd have overcome them a long time ago, and you wouldn't be feeling alone anymore. Mattie wouldn't be depressed anymore."
"Okay, fine, Jake! Let's go home and tell everyone to start feeling, so we can start killing each other again!" she said sarcastically.
"Suppressing our emotions isn't the way to deal with our issues. Acknowledgment, Alice, that's the key to controlling our hostility. Acknowledging it and ultimately overcoming it is the only way to control it. By forgetting our emotions, we are living in denial and letting it control us."
I finally struck a chord with her, because she didn't argue that.
Smiling, I moved my hand from her shoulder and caressed her face. "Besides, Alice, not all emotions are bad. There's excitement and happiness...and love. You and I could love each other." I took her hand with mine. "I'm here, Alice. I'll never abandon you."
Her face grew soft, her eyes watering. "Jacob," she said quietly, "I'm about to ask you to do something very human, but I don't want you to think I'm accepting humanity."
I snickered. "Alice! Right here? Now? Someone might see us."
Alice giggled and rolled her eyes. "Just shut up and kiss me."
I don't know how long we kissed. Every thing around us seemed to fade away. We had slipped out of the clutches of time into the eternal moment where all things exist forever. When we stopped, we found ourselves back in those dimensions of reality where all things are lost, the moment of our first kiss gone, but like all terrible things, time had its silver lining. For though we had lost that moment, we had the memory of it, and the time to make more.
"You know, when we go home, we won't feel this way anymore," she said.
"Yeah, we will." I nodded. "All we'll have to do is acknowledge it, and when others read us, they'll see it, too. ...And maybe, just maybe, our love will change the world."
I gave her one more kiss, and then I stood up and picked up my bike. We walked back to the ship together. Turning my back to the cul-de-sac was the hardest thing I'd ever done, because I had also turned my back to Joan. I wondered what might have happened if I had followed my orders and made Joan love me. When I looked back at Alice, though, I realized that it didn't matter what life I chose. All that mattered was how I lived that life.