It started normally enough: A doctor brought you back from the brink of death after an accident. Then it happened again after illness. Then again after a heart attack. Hundreds of years have passed and you can’t die or age. He always drags you back.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why what?” He asked. He wore the same polished glasses he’d always had. Thick brimmed steely. I could practically smell the polish rising off of them, the same fastidious care he’d always put upon myself as well.
“Why do you bring me back?”
The doctor hummed. “It’s complicated. I don’t think you’d really understand.”
“Try me,” I said, slowly starting to lean forward. He tutted, clicking his tongue, and gently set me back in the bed.
“You shouldn’t strain yourself, you just recovered from a full stroke.”
“How?” I asked.
He turned and face towards the window, hands sliding down to his hips. “The world is… Hm. The world is incomplete. It will always be incomplete, and yet, I am, forever, driven to complete it.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Look out the window,” The doctor said. He’d gone by many names, but I’d always known him for his glasses. Normally, he’d already made his escape by now, so this was an exception to the rule.
I turned my head. The sun trailed, trembling, through the thick bands of clouds spawned off from the generator off of the local tower. Pale, watery, the normal expression of the martian expanse. Distantly overhead, the magnetosatellites whirred, dragging the atmosphere behind them eternally. “It’s…”
“Isn’t it beautiful?” The doctor asked.
The red of the foreign planet had always charmed me, in an alarming and alacritous way. Like a distant memory. “It is.”
“And yet, in saving it, in making it so we can live here, we changed it, didn’t we?” The doctor said. “And yet, every time it topples closer to death, we rally around some imaginary cause and force it back into place.”
“I don’t see how I’m Mars,” I said.
“Because we let Earth go too far,” the doctor continued. “Much like we let the old continent of Europe go too far, back then, and much like we let the kings go too far. We threw them out onto the streets and replaced them.”
His eyes closed behind his glasses. I couldn’t remember what color his eyes were.
“Why won’t you let me die?”
“I’m…” He gestured at himself. “Quite old, as you might imagine. And many centuries ago, I made a mistake. And I let your predecessor die, if you can believe it.”
My fingers balled up into fists.
“Call me…” He trailed off, shaking his head. Then he laughed. “Call me Doctor Life. I… I deny your reach.”
I breathed. Felt my lungs working, again, again, endless. At one point in the cycle, I’d had broken lungs, and that one had stuck out more than anything else. “My reach?”
“If I am Life, and you Mars, surely you can do the rest yourself.”
I clicked my tongue. He laughed and shook his head.
“You’re Death,” he said, still looking out the window. “And we can’t let you die. I have seen what happens without your touch on the world, on what happens if we let you slide free. So every time you approach your ending, I will be there. I regret having to inform you this way.”
“Why does it matter?”
“Humanity has not yet achieved a state where it can deal without death,” Life said, simply. “And it is on us to remain living until such a state can be achieved. That one day, the world will be complete, and we will not have to live within it.”
He believed it. He believed every word of it.
And he’d dragged me from through five wars and to Mars for treatment, so I couldn’t disagree.
“I am driven. Like an itch. Like a ticking clock stands overhead, and I must do everything in my power to repair it until it can strike twelve,” Life said. “Do you not feel it? Do you not feel it thrumming in your bones? How close we are? How close we are to the final sleep? And yet-“
“All I can feel now is how close I am to dying,” I admitted, but… perhaps…
I remembered, distantly, how warm and inviting death had been, when my mother had passed. A simple exhalation, a death to her pain. Sickness had already taken her from me, her soul leaving her body had been-
Had I sensed it, that many years ago? But now all I could sense was…
“It drowns everything else out,” Life agreed. “Being near you is… it is a suffering. It is easy to forget myself when you’re near, you know. To stand, and marvel, that of all the people in the world, it is just the two of us here. Do you remember when the bombs dropped off the side of Europe, the way the sun glinted in the aftermath? Do you remember being an aid worker in the rubble of Italy?”
I closed my eyes and I remembered.
“Do you remember the trees you found growing in the ruins of the orphanage you found there?”
“Do you remember how beautiful the world is?” Life asked. “Then you understand that as you are my Mars, my ending of endings, I cannot let you pass.”
My eyes opened. “You’re just extending the inevitable.”
“Your predecessor said the same to me, once,” Life laughed. “When we were enemies.”
He took a seat and stared at me. “But, I’d say that we’ve been very lucky. Blessed, even to see how far this game will stretch. Don’t you agree?”
He gestured out the window.
“Don’t run this time.”
“I’m tired of running,” Life admitted. “It’s easier to take care of you when I can see you more.”
I looked out the window.
The sun crested across the clouds and aching sank behind the mountains, miles high. The world was a mixture of red and pink, and trailing buildings started to flicker on their lights for the evening shifts.
It would not end.
Neither would I.