Roman Smith was an orphan; he was a lot of things, by turns. A survivor and scavenger, a street-rat that nobody else wanted, not for legitimate purposes. Then a soldier, a construction worker, a teacher, and at various times along the way, a friend, an enemy and a lover. He was no stranger to time-travel; he passed through over a hundred years of it at sixty seconds per minute to get to Aurora.
Without being aware of it, he'd been present, in the same habitat where the star-drive was first conceived and proved out, and later he'd helped to build 'Centauri Dream'. He was there for the beginning of the First Interstellar Age, and he hung around, almost, until the beginning of the end of it, at Aurora.
An anti-terraforming terrorist monkey-wrench killed him 'mostly-dead' three days before the Bigbee attack, and he was 'mostly-dead' for seven and a half centuries.
"You adopted each other?" The med tech sounded so dubious of this that Roth turned away from the sight of his brother, Roman, to the man behind him. This was a twenty-something, perhaps; it was getting hard to be sure of visual cues with respect to age. Case in point, he and Roman were nearly a century older and didn't especially look it.
"We did that sort of thing, back in the Thirties. Just a gang of street-rats that nobody wanted... we were father and mother, sister and brother, to each other; Sarah Jane, Albie, Mechee-" Roth tried to remember each of their bakers' dozen names and could not. Sigh. So long ago... "He and I, and Sarah, are all that are left, now."
From the carefully neutral expression on the Med Tech's face, it was obvious that he didn't understand or really care. Roth felt anger at that; We lived, damn it! We really lived! When it would have been so much easier to just give up, to lay down and die. This kid... they had been his age, once, and thinking back on those days, he remembered that, no, they hadn't really cared what old people had thought or done, either.
"Thank you, son, I'll just sit here with my brother for a bit." Roth looked back to the very still form, willed it to keep on breathing. "It will be the first time in decades that I will be able to say what I want to him..."
"What do you want to say?"
Roth looked up and felt suddenly as if he could fly. The Med Tech frankly stared at the idiotic smile on that old fossil, and the old woman, her red hair peppered with white. He took in the dark jade eyes, the laugh lines, and he blinked. She was old, but she was beautiful. She-
She imperiously swept him out of the room with a gesture, and he obey automatically.
"Sarah Jane." Sarah, from the Hebrew word for princess, and she had been that, their princess. Sarah Jane for a character from a series that Albie, Albert, the oldest of them, had known and loved.
"Somehow, I doubt that's what you want to say," she said, smiling. She came around the bed and kissed him.
"I'd tell him that he's still my brother, and we love him, even if he never could get along with my wife and her people..."
"Roman was stubborn and prone to judging people harshly." Sarah saw that Roth was staring at her. "No, I've talked with his doctors, spoken with the the Terraforming Authority. He signed off on the n-stasis procedure-"
"He's not dead, yet!"
"We can't fix what needs to be fixed," Sarah Jane said as gently as she could. "His brain... nerve tissue is the biggest wild-card, and we still can't regrow it, not in a matrix that is still... 'him'. Do you understand?"
"Give them another decade, brother. Give them a little time..."
The process made the organic bits of him inert, which is good. No machine, no thing of Man, survived the attack, nor the long centuries when nothing that was exactly human walked on Aurora. Roman Smith's body lay waiting under rock and tonnes of soil.
When Roman woke up, he was in a small room with two other people who were busy with each other. He cleared his throat and the man, scarred, wearing an eye-patch like a pirate, looked over to him and winked. "Well, Doc, I think you've got another customer."
"Later, Val." The two parted reluctantly, hands with fingers entwined. The woman sighed, and visibly put on her game face as she turned to Roman.
"Lady, who the hell are you, and where the hell am I?" Roman demanded. He sounded peevish and weak, in his own ears.
"I'm a doctor. Your doctor. Dr. Diana Peterson."
"Doctors make out with their boyfriends in the ICU? What century is this?"
"The late 29th, Mr. Smith. My medical bay, my rules."
"Twenty-ninth?" Roman lay back, deflated, defeated. "Well, I suppose- you speak with some kind of accent, one I've never heard before."
"No I don't," Dr. Peterson retorted, annoyed. "I speak old Teklish just fine; the Wednesdays use it all the time, learned it off of the 2-D media they like to watch."
Roman blinked. Maybe that was it; all the different accents run together. He heard Aussie and Brit, Middle American, Jive and Surfer Slang, all in passing. And he had to admit, he now defaulted to Auroran English, which was idiosyncratic, to say the least. But what was Teklish?
"Alrightee then, Doctor. Where am I?"
"In Columbia, on Aurora-"
"Columbia is a ship? Why aren't I in a hospital?!" He sat up again. He was having trouble focusing. What had she said, about the century?
"There aren't any, Mr. Smith. There haven't been any for about seven hundred years..." She was watching him and helped him to lay back. "There. It's a lot to take in, and I've been called on my bed-side manner many times, but I prefer to be blunt and honest with my patients. Even use a clue-by-four, on the occasion."
"What- what happened?"
"The Bigbees happened, Mr.-"
"Call me Roman, please. My friends all do..." Roman realized that they must all be dead, every one. Everyone. He felt her hand on his cheek, and looked up.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Roman. Welcome to the 29th Century."
A plump and pleasant woman joined them in the medical bay a little while after that. She ran in, a little flushed and out of breath. She visibly made herself slow down and worked on her breathing. She smiled at Roman and called, "Hello, Diana!" to where the Doc was peering at the screens and cylinders of some medical device with which Roman was sharing medbay space.
"I thought you'd be here sooner..."
"Well, you know, I was making headway on that other thing..." she said somewhat mysteriously. It set the hook on Roman's curiosity.
"And eventually you actually read my note?"
"Yeah," the woman said, pinking a little in embarrassment. She was of medium complexion, and of a height with Dr. Peterson, just 30 kilos heavier. Her hair was short, wavy, even a little curly, and she wore what the Doc had described as ship's knits, a sort of green denim coverall with plenty of pockets, tool loops and straps. The same sort of thing as he had changed into when he'd asked for street-clothes. The Doc herself wore open-toed sandals and a blouse with capris cargo pants in a pink camo pattern under her white doctors' coat, like something out of a Hollywood movie, Roman thought.
Dr. Peterson left off with her other charge and made introductions. "Mr. Smith, meet Ms. Barbara Wednesday. Barb, meet Mr. Roman Smith, late of Aurora, born in St. Louis, MO, American Empire, June 29-"
Roman cleared his throat. "Actually, the United States of America, ma'am. I'm an American citizen, first and last; it's a state of mind." He looked at both women, who seemed a little baffled by his words. "Look, I know Uncle Sugar wasn't well-liked, as the worlds' 'last super power', and we came to a bad end, but... could you humor me, please?"
He found that there was a slightly hungry look in Barbara's eyes, as she took his hand and shook it. "Pleased to meet 'cha," she told him, and Roman felt like maybe he'd stepped into that old movie. He took all of this in with an unnatural calmness, as if he really were in a celluloid dream; call it 'The Sleeper Awakes', perhaps. Roman watched Barb and her light brown eyes. She had a wrinkle in her forehead when she concentrated, which she was doing right now, and a warm and ready smile.
Now that he thought about it, it was the same smile as on the man with the eye-patch. They shared a certain look; the complexion, the dark, wavy, curly hair. Diana of the cold, light blue eyes and dirty-blond hair was not part of a matched set.
"Was that your brother I met earlier?" He asked.
Barb looked to Diana, who smiled, a strange mix of embarrassed contentment. "I suppose so; eye-patch, right?"
"He's getting a new eye. He'll be back to two, soon, and have to give up his favorite prop."
"Playing pirate, is he?"
"Who's playing?" Diana retorted, and left them alone.