Lena is one of my very favourite characters in A Lion in Heaven. Here is more of her.
As she worked later in the day of that conversation with Cindy—bussing, serving drinks and food, cleaning up here and there, dropping a glass in a moment of absent-mindedness to find that, as always, it bounced—she found herself thinking about Dyke.
By the time she'd met him he'd been going by the name Dylan Kelly—his father and mother's first names pried back out of the ridiculous portmanteau they'd given him. Earlier in his life, he'd told her, he'd respected them too much to change it, even after their natural enough deaths, from lung cancer in his mother's case and heart disease in his father's. They'd both been smokers, and while they'd lived long lives, both into their eighties, they'd succumbed finally to the predictable signatures of their now long obsolete vice.
It was Cindy's ludditism that had triggered this. She hardly thought about him anymore, she told herself. Ludditism? Seriously? Was that still a thing? She'd come to assume, as long as she'd been up here (and maybe this was something he had instilled in her, for better or worse), that people living on space stations understood, as they absolutely had to, the importance of technological progress and the perfection of tailored ecologies. He'd been the pioneer of that. He'd been an actual, literal pioneer, in the sense that his next step might always have been genuinely fatal, as it had been for the many, many early Olympus settlers Cindy had correctly pointed out had died in the early days.
That those people had died in droves then and that their descendants no longer did was evidence against Cindy's position, as far as Lena was concerned. When smallpox had killed millions, advancement had come, and now that dreadful sickness didn't exist anymore. It was like Cindy was harbouring a love for disease and poverty and death, like she was afraid of losing her humanity, (whatever that word really meant), to a clean, happy, prosperous life.
Dyke had been very old—well over a hundred—but she hadn't known who he was when she'd first met him. He'd been nothing more remarkable than an intelligent, charming, evidently well-off, well-dressed young man, apparently in his early thirties. 'Dylan' had been her BFF, inseparable, travelling whirlwind all over the stations for two years before he'd finally told her who he really was, right before he'd revealed himself to the community with that peculiar public statement and disappeared.
She hadn't been the first, and the high strangeness of the statement notwithstanding, she had to assume she would not be the last.
He'd been charming, sure, but he'd also been full of himself. He'd never listened. He probably wouldn't have been able, after two years, to remember her birthday or her mother's name without having to ask Cronos. "When you're my age, Lena," he'd have said, "two years will go by like two weeks. If you're around long enough, I'll remember." Back then she'd still thought he was her age. She'd since wondered why he didn't talk slower—why had he never slowed down and sat on a porch?
There had been Cronos, who hadn't spoken to her since he'd left.
She'd only ever got text messages from him, but they'd both talked to him, and Dylan had told her that they were the only people he talked to. Half the time, he'd called him 'it.'
Cronos was like a virtual valet. He'd made hotel arrangements for them, managed finances, handled transportation and any number of other things. A virtual assistant was of course, standard fare, and the personalities could be pretty convincing, but this one had been really odd. He'd only texted, he'd never spoken or appeared in telepresence, and he had been utterly believable. Lena could picture someone, somewhere, on an old keyboard or something, maybe on Earth, just spending all his time arranging things for Dylan, always one step ahead of his employer's whims.
She'd had her own virtual assistant, like an imaginary friend, when she was younger—Cara, with her tailored personality quirks, hairstyles and cute little outfits—but the things wore thin with their in-your-face-artificiality, so she'd pared down the top-heavy services and now she just got alerts. Neurosimulations could be convincing, but it was always clear there was nothing behind the facade, and she'd always found that sad and disconcerting in a weird, almost scary way. You found yourself almost thinking of something as a friend, and then it would hit you, 'that's not even an animal. It's vacant.' Cronos had been refreshing.
That had been last year. Things had gotten weirder. Dyke's sudden public appearance and his statement had attracted some weird, unsavoury elements to the stations. Anons and earthbound espionage people, it was said. Even Risen were arriving, it was whispered—or alternately shouted to the hills on the internet. Old grudges. Old convictions. Old enemies turning over every rock, looking for someone she'd known only as a self-absorbed man-boy.
He'd never understood her. He'd never seemed to want to. He'd infantilized her, in fact. It had been infuriating, but it had also been fun when it was fun. Who doesn't like getting swept off their feet by a charming stranger?
'I have to go to a party tonight or I'll wilt,' she thought as she finished closing. 'Hopefully with a pool.' She told Cindy to meet her at the Liquid Kitty.