Thomas' consciousness crept back to him. As he became self aware once more the pain returned as it always did. The pain was intimate, familiar. It held all the fire and torment he thought it was possible to bear. The familiarity did not dull it. His stomach was being torn inside by broken glass, all his limbs were being ground up and his brain was on fire. The fire in his head was the worst of it. His resurrection to life each day was a struggle, a torment, but this was the worst it had been for many years.
The mental images swam in to view for several moments only to be drowned in the maelstrom of the next wave. Each image was different. People, situations, circumstances for which he felt regret, shame, sorrow, any negative emotion dumped themselves on his mind in a vivid re-portrayal. The emotions accompanied the images, amplified. They washed through his mind like a brushfire, searing him with a pain that became physical.
The images kept coming. People he had been harsh with, mistakes he had made, that time he had worn a tie to a friend's dinner party only to find all the other guests in T-shirts and shorts, the time he had tripped over the garden rake with his neighbour watching, they all crowded in on him. Thomas hated mornings.
The images had been coming for ten minutes before Thomas was fully awake and felt strong enough to get out of his bed. He did so. It was a mistake. He raced for the bathroom and let the nausea take its natural course. Waking up had not caused him to be physically sick for nearly a year now. It had been even longer since he remembered it being this bad. Still, he would weather the storm. He had to. He hoped Luke would remember their pact when he finally got to the cafe. Luke would notice straight away that the morningsong had not been kind to him today.
Luke stared at his friend over the rim of the coffee cup as he sipped. The morningsong must have been hell for Thomas today. He would tell him about it if he wished. They would not ask one another about their respective mornings, they had agreed on that long ago. If it was to be discussed, the person whose experience it was would start the conversation.
To all the world they looked like two friends with hangovers sitting at their usual table at their usual cafe drinking their usual order of strong coffee with breakfast. The observant passers by even wondered why this pair sat there with their hangovers every single day. Luke had to admire the irony of that question in light of the truth. Yes, they both looked worse for wear, Thomas particularly so this morning. Yes, there were bags under their eyes, and yes, they were drinking as much good coffee as they could keep down. Nevertheless, neither of them would have been stupid enough to put a large amount of alcohol in his system the previous night. Getting drunk would be a death sentence to either of them.
They had to make it to morning tea. After that, the effects of the morningsong would cease. Strong coffee helped, that's why they sat at this cafe. They met every day before heading to work or off to their weekend pursuits. Sharing the recovery with someone who had been through a similar experience helped.
Nothing was said for the first ten minutes. Nothing ever was. It took an effort from them both just to be there. These first moments were for reflection. When the silence was broken this morning, it was Thomas who started the conversation.
"I think it's getting worse Luke."
Luke considered this. He studied his friend. There was no doubt Thomas was wearing all the signs of a difficult morningsong. "It must have been pretty rough this morning for you to say that."
"Yes," Thomas smiled, "you might say that." Thomas stopped short of telling his friend he would have no idea how bad it was getting. It would have been a mistake. Luke was the only person he knew who would understand. He had been through a rough phase of the morningsong last year. Thomas was grateful he caught himself. The morningsong taught you to watch yourself. The last thing you needed was to add to the images of the morningsong through carelessness.
Luke didn't bother to ask if he could help. He couldn't. That was the nature of the morningsong, each person who experienced it had to endure it alone. It was time to change the subject. "What do you have on today?"
"I have to present that legal case I've been working on over at the courts this afternoon. You?"
"As it happens, I'll be across the road from the courts this afternoon doing some software engineering for one of our corporate clients. Want to meet at Spiro's for lunch?"
Thomas smiled. He liked the idea. They would be different people by then. It would be interesting to show the world what the two of them looked like with all cylinders firing. He nodded.
Luke smiled. It would do Thomas good to get out for lunch today. He glanced around the cafe but there were no new faces, nothing out of the ordinary. He was about to speak to his friend once more when he noticed Helen coming towards them. He groaned.
Thomas looked up as Luke made the noise and smiled. This would be interesting. Luke and his sister didn't get along too well. Here she was, heading straight for them.
Luke caught Thomas' smile. For some perverse reason, Thomas seemed to enjoy the repartee between his sister and his best friend. He wondered if he would have that same feeling if he knew what had happened that night several months ago. Thomas had invited them both to one of his evenings as he often did. They had got to talking, they had got to drinking, and despite all his attempts to ration himself the two of them had ended up tipsy and at his place after the party. The inevitable had happened but the next morning she was gone when he awoke. Probably just as well under the circumstances. Thomas assured him she had never seen the morningsong. She had just thought Thomas was lazy when he was fresh from his bed when they were children. Her face now joined all the other images he saw each morning.
"Well, if it isn't the IQ court." Helen had a sense of humour neither of them understood. Still, Luke thought, the fact that she is here at all means she must have forgiven me for calling her a bleeding heart liberal last week.
"Good morning Helen." Luke tried to keep the discomfort from his voice.
"So, what are the world's best solicitor and computer systems engineer going to get up to today? You both look like you're hung over. What have you pair been up to?"
Luke wasn't about to explain the facts of life to her. Not now at least. "Just a rough night's sleep is all."
"Funny, that's what Thomas always says." Helen seemed to relish mornings in a way which brought disgust from both of them. Luke considered the possibility she was displaying a sadistic streak. He decided to go on the offensive.
"So what do you have planned for the day, anyway? Off to save another poor misguided individual from his just desserts?"
"It irritates you that I try to rehabilitate my clients, doesn't it? Do you really think lining them all up against a wall and having them shot is the answer?"
"Frankly, yes. Criminals are law breakers, and deserve their punishments. They are no less criminal in their actions because they once saw their father in a bad mood or once stubbed their toe. You are a qualified psychologist. Better than most I've observed. I think you are wasted on those who don't deserve the use of your talents."
"The best doctors in the world aren't expected to limit themselves to treating the well, Luke." Helen's voice had become icy.
"Neither are they asked to waste their time on those who are unable to benefit from their help."
Luke saw the anger growing in her eyes. He didn't care. She should know better than to come near them at this time of the day. Thomas stayed quiet during this, he wouldn't interfere. Luke suspected he was enjoying this even during the recovery from the morningsong. To her credit, Helen was containing her anger. She didn't open her mouth until it had subsided.
"We don't seem to be able to resist this topic, do we?"
Luke had to concede that point. He'd punished her enough, she would behave from here on. "I must admit, yours is not a job I could do, Helen. I feel too strongly on the issue."
"I guess that's why I'll always come to you when my computer is playing up." Regardless of what else there was between them, they had cultivated a grudging respect for each other's abilities. Thomas had been watching this build up for several years now. He often wondered what it would develop into.
"So, what is the world's best prison social worker doing for lunch sister?" Thomas detected Luke's inward groan at the thought of Helen coming to lunch with them. Still, he knew Luke would try to uncover today's morningsong details if they lunched alone. Besides, despite the fact that neither of them would admit it, they made a fantastic couple. He wasn't about to play matchmaker, at least not now. It would bring on too many complications in the morningsong. Nevertheless, there was no harm in bringing the two of them together as often as he could. Helen accepted the invitation but left soon after for her work.
"You realise if she makes the mistake of opening her mouth at Spiro's with all those liberal notions in her head they'll eat her alive?" Luke couldn't understand Thomas' decisions sometimes.
"There's no need for concern. You'll be there to protect her." They both laughed.
Spiro Theopoulos was a happy man. His restaurant catered for the finest minds of the professional set in the city. He would listen to the repartee and discussions as he raced around his establishment hurrying the waiting staff along and generally managing his business. Today though, he had a bonus. He had Thomas and Luke at their regular table. No waiters went near them. They knew better. Spiro looked after this pair personally whenever they came in. Spiro hurried the chef to prepare their orders. He glanced over to their table, over at the two handsome young men in their suits of classic colour and cut. That end of the restaurant was starting to fill up. People were requesting tables near them in the hope of catching morsels of their conversation. They were reputed (rightly so in Spiro's opinion) as the finest debaters in the state.
As Spiro brought their meals, he wondered at this pair. They seemed perfect. Maybe too perfect. It disturbed him that he had never seen nor heard of them making a mistake. Not just a mistake of misquoting a fact or such, but even a social one. They had manners which were polished and refined, more like the gentlemen from Spiro's own generation. It was true that the older professionals were the ones who tended to gravitate towards this pair, not those of their own age. What worried him the most was that it went beyond an old fashioned upbringing, it was as if they had a level of control beyond any other he had seen. Many others had tried to goad them into anger. They had failed despite crossing the line into rudeness and contempt. It was not hard to respect them after seeing such attempts fail to ruffle their feathers.
They were discussing some of the recent political machinations as he placed the meals before them. He didn't have to ask whose was whose, they were creatures of habit. He placed the third dish in front of the empty chair. Spiro realised Helen would be joining them soon. He acknowledged their thanks as he left. Even the brief comments he had heard shed light on ideas he had not considered before now. He considered himself lucky today. Once more he had grabbed at the morsels this pair left behind and once more he was richer for it.
Helen brushed by Spiro as he was walking away from the table her brother was sitting at. She noticed he looked pleased with himself. She allowed herself to briefly wonder why before dismissing him from her mind. She would need her wits about her now. Having lunch with her brother and Luke could be a dangerous affair if one went in unprepared.
She greeted them as she sat down in front of the plate of steaming lasagna. A surge of irritation washed over her before she brought herself under control. How did they know when she would get there, what she would feel like eating? This pair couldn't possibly be human. As soon as that thought came to her she regretted it. Even so, she knew she wasn't the first to feel that way about them. Why couldn't they make a mistake every now and then like normal people?
Luke watched the wash of emotions pass over Helen's face as she sat down. He saw the irritation, the remorse, the frustration. She had probably considered them inhuman again. It wasn't important now. He wasn't about to get anything out of Thomas about this morning. That left a debate or two. Debates between them required a third party for flavour: they agreed on too many points. The third party had just arrived. A hush fell over the restaurant as Helen sat down and enjoyed her first bite of the lasagna. Luke and Thomas looked up and smiled at each other. Let's give Spiro a discussion to remember, Luke thought.
Luke arrived at Thomas' place shortly after Helen. He was looking forward to this evening, he didn't want to be alone at home. He would have spent the entire night worrying about Thomas. They had made a real impression on Spiro at lunch today. Choosing ethics as a debating point had been a good move. He could still feel all that complimentary coffee Spiro had insisted on bringing them warming his stomach. He hoped it wouldn't clash with the Bordeaux he had brought tonight.
As usual it was a small gathering, Luke counted eight people. He spotted Helen quickly, she looked tired already. The joys of being a morning person, he thought. He decided turn about would be fair play as he approached her.
Helen watched him striding towards her through the room. She groaned inwardly. He was smiling. That wasn't a good sign at this hour of the night. He said his greeting in a voice so cheery it sickened her. Being so awake and happy at this hour just wasn't normal. "Evening, Luke." She barely got the words out in a civil manner.
Luke cheered up even more when he heard her reply. "Wonderful night isn't it?"
"If you like this sort if thing I guess. How can you be so cheerful in the middle of the night?"
Luke laughed. He'd never heard nine o'clock described as the middle of the night before, even by Helen. "But this is my chance to live, Helen. Surely you wouldn't deprive me of it?" There was more than a hint of truth to that statement, even if it would sound innocuous to Helen. For Thomas and him, this was their life. The night was their element. It was only now that Luke felt truly alive.
Helen grunted a reply. They knew this was the end of the exchange. Helen would be unable to focus further and Luke just wasn't a sadist. Luke held up the bottle of wine and Helen pointed to the dining room. As Luke headed there to deposit the bottle, he considered the level of understanding between them. They were so different. They looked at life from completely different points of view, yet they could tell instantly what the other was thinking or feeling. As he had done hundreds of times before, he wondered why she had left before he had woken up that night.
Thomas greeted him warmly as he dropped the bottle with the others on the table. Luke breathed in, savouring the aroma of the brie, the wines already open, the coffee brewing. He savoured the Mozart playing softly in the background and the company of friends. It would be a good night.
The two of them enjoyed the discussions, the good wine, all the things that led them to arrange these nights. It was several hours later that they found themselves the centre of attention once more during a discussion of philosophy. The others present would put a view forward every so often to spur things on as their momentum dropped away. Luke noticed Helen was still there. She looked very tired. He announced he was going for more cheese and wine. This effectively called a halt to the discussion as they all moved into the dining room. Thomas had noticed the reason for Luke's action. The two of them moved over to wish her a good night before she left.
She laughed as they approached. "I don't know how you two can do this."
"It's our one chance for enjoyment." Luke replied in a semi-serious tone. "You wouldn't want us to live with our pains constantly would you?"
Helen's visage turned sombre. "I want neither of you to ever live with pain at all."
Both of them smiled as they wished her a safe trip home. Luke smiled inwardly at the irony of the thought of no pain in his life. He rejected it out of hand. Thomas wondered if such a thing was possible.
Luke found himself in his own bedroom several hours later. It had been a wonderful evening. The conversation, the wine, the music, the coffee. His thoughts lingered there while he undressed. Soon he was ready for his bed. He wasn't tired. He felt alive. Truly alive. This was life.
He stared at the bed. An intense fear coursed through him. He felt the injustice of it. To come alive only to have to surrender it again. To sleep was to die and the resurrection was never smooth. It took it's toll from him every morning. It wasn't fair that he should sleep but sleep he would. He climbed into the bed, thinking of the evening once more. Maybe the memory of it would help him through the morningsong to come. He lay his head on the pillow, trying to think of other things as he felt his life force ebb.
Luke stared across the rim of his coffee cup at Thomas once more. This was getting serious. The morningsong was treating him worse now than he had ever seen. It had been progressively worsening for several weeks, ever since that morning when Thomas had mentioned that it had been bad, the day they met Helen at Spiro's for lunch. Thomas had not mentioned his discomfort again, but the strain was starting to show. His suit was neat. Not immaculate as was usual for both of them, but neat. Luke realised he would be the only one to notice the difference.
"Do you remember what Helen said to us several weeks ago?" Thomas started the conversation today.
Luke smiled. "Not really, Thomas. I don't pay that much attention."
"I know. She said that we should live without pain, or something like that."
"That's right." Luke felt the alarm bells going off in his mind. This conversation was taking a dangerous turn. "You know that's impossible for us. You look like you should know it better than me at the moment."
Despite the obvious trauma Thomas was experiencing, he smiled. He appreciated the irony of the situation. Luke was right, and usually he would be the first to agree, but nevertheless...
"I know we need the pain. I know why. But it's just that after what I've been through lately, an absence of pain doesn't seem like a bad thing."
"It's been bad, hasn't it?"
"Luke, it's driving me insane. I'm not eating anything after four in the afternoon anymore because I know it will only come up in the morning. I'm going to sleep each night in fear of waking up." Thomas was shaking. Revealing these things went against the grain for him. It had troubled Luke last year as well. Back then, he hadn't wanted to discuss it. The morningsong tended to instill a sense of individualism in those it affected.
"Of course you do. We don't sleep at night, we die. That pain we feel is the pain of our bodies being brought back to life. Without the pain, where would we get the strength to bring ourselves back each morning?"
"But why, Luke? Why us?" The pain in Thomas' face was now laced with fear. Luke was worried. He had never seen his friend like this before.
"You know I can't answer that, Thomas. I wouldn't even if I could. What we experience doesn't allow for theory, only practice. It happens. Simple as that. You either get up each morning or you don't."
Thomas was slightly calmer now. "You're right of course. That analogy about death is inaccurate, though. The pain occurs because of our pasts. Coming back from the dead would invalidate our pasts, would it not?"
Luke felt the relief wash over him despite his pain from the morningsong. Thomas was starting to sound normal once more. "You have a valid point if you're looking at matters from a Christian view. Maybe a Hindu perspective would be more relevant to us?"
"Well if it was, considering the number of lives I would have been through according to this analogy, I should be achieving enlightenment around about," Thomas looked at his watch for emphasis, "now." They both smiled at the joke, enduring their pains in silence.
Luke had a flash of inspiration. His fingers flew over the keyboard as he coded the subroutine in his mind. The programmers he had been assigned to help had been working for days on a way around the communications conflict. This would work, though. He was sure of it. He felt the skepticism of the programmers as he handed them the code. They were even a little afraid, he noticed. He could almost hear what they were thinking. No-one should be able to come up with a solution so quickly. No-one human, that is. Luke shrugged it off. It wasn't the first time someone though of either Thomas or himself as inhuman. It wouldn't be the last, either. The careful nature forced upon them by the morningsong was often mistaken for a cold efficiency.
The programmers would be busy for some time running the test sequences on the subroutine. Long enough for him to get on with his own work projects. He returned to his office to find Helen waiting for him.
"Hi." She greeted him with that same warm smile he saw every morning, the one she wore as he had let her in to his apartment. "Can I buy you lunch?"
Luke was taken aback. Helen's moods never seemed predictable, especially where he was concerned. He looked at his watch and shrugged. "Okay. Where are we going?"
Helen smiled again. "I'll just surprise you." Luke followed her out of the office with a knot in his stomach which was more a warning to be careful than a sign of hunger.
Luke had to admit Helen knew him. This little bistro was sufficiently out of the way to be secluded and served excellent meals. It had a romantic feel to it, Luke tried desperately not to recognise Helen's beauty as she sat across from him eating her meal. "How did you find this place?" He tried to give his voice a casual air.
She looked up with a playful smile. Luke felt like a mouse which had just attracted the attention of a cat. "I eat out a lot, a side effect of living by myself. You like it?"
The pause in the conversation which followed made Luke even more uncomfortable. Helen seemed unconcerned. Finally Luke could bear it no longer. "Helen, why are we here?"
Helen paused. She seemed to be thinking carefully about her answer. "Maybe I just want to be seen with at least one member of the IQ court."
"If that was the case, you would have taken me to Spiro's."
Helen looked impressed. "You don't miss much, do you?"
"If you were in my shoes neither would you. It's by necessity, believe me."
"Funny, that's what Thomas always tells me." Helen leaned back in her chair before continuing. "You know, you two seem to need help far more than any of my clients do, yet you don't ask anyone for any assistance whatsoever and never let your problems impede your rises to fame. I wonder why."
Luke grinned. "Why Helen, that doesn't sound like you at all. What makes you think we need more help than your poor little misguided criminals?"
Helen laughed. "I'm not really that liberal, you should pay more attention to me."
"I think you're right." Luke couldn't tell where this was heading. It was an uncommon situation for him. The morningsong had given him the motivation to eliminate surprise from his life. It made for a dull life if you didn't count the morningsong itself, but that was better than no life at all. Now though, he could feel an addition to the voices of the morningsong not too far away.
"You both have that same impenetrable shield around you. There is a common link between you and Thomas that goes beyond friendship. Why won't either of you let others help you with whatever it is?"
Luke wasn't sure how to answer. It seemed obvious that Helen had picked up more than either of them had realised, but to admit a problem, particularly one like the morningsong, went against his nature. He thought for a full minute before answering. "The fact is no-one can help us. We can't even help each other, really."
"What is it that you have to face alone? How come you won't accept help?"
Luke wasn't about to tell her everything, that would leave him too vulnerable. Still, she deserved some answer. "Let me put it this way. Those clients of yours. Why do they say they committed their crimes?"
"A range of reasons. Bad family situations, mistreatment when they were children, things like that."
"So they say it was because of their past?"
"Okay. There is the difference. Thomas and I achieve all we achieve despite our pasts, not because of them."
"I don't understand. Surely you're not saying you were mistreated as a child..."
"No, of course not. What I'm saying is that our circumstances demand that we do not let previous errors lead to other errors. We have no excuses for making mistakes, least of all our past."
"But neither of you make mistakes."
Luke just smiled. Helen couldn't see the pain behind it. She sat with a look of concentration on her face, digesting all that had been said. It was several minutes before she spoke once more. "Are you saying that the difference between you and everyone else including my clients is that you won't allow yourself any excuses when things go wrong?"
"Not won't, can't."
"I wish I could take that pain from you."
Luke steeled inside. This was the danger he had been looking for. "You can't do that. My pain is a part of me. I need it. It is the one thing that above all else makes me what I am."
Helen was surprised by Luke's adamance on this point. She shook her head in wonderment. "How can I go back to my clients after catching a glimpse of what drives you and Thomas?"
Luke chuckled. "You're asking me that?" Helen realised he was right. Stupid question.
Thomas' consciousness swam to the surface as it did every morning. He felt the sharp hot pains of his fingernails being removed. He felt every joint in his body being forced against it's natural movement. He felt the length of tempered steel being swung to strike his stomach with incredible force. Above all, he felt the searing agony of his doubts washing through mind. He saw the faces, he heard the rebukes, he tasted the metallic edge of fear on his tongue, felt the scorching flush wash his body from embarrassment, and felt the bile rushing up his throat as he bolted for the bathroom. He felt the sour taste in his mouth as an empty stomach heaved and heaved against the reactions of his mind and body. Drained of energy, knowing only the torture of the morningsong, he stayed in the bathroom, unable to move.
The passage of time held no meaning for Thomas now. Buried well below the surface, his rational mind noticed the gradual slide in his condition from that of pure torture to one of total exhaustion. His head was swimming. Everything was spinning. His stomach once more tried to empty itself. The dry retching made him feel worse. It was taking up energy he didn't have. He could feel his consciousness sinking back from whence it had come. The room was going dark when he heard the key in his front door.
He could hear footsteps coming through the house, but they sounded like they were a thousand miles away. He heard the bathroom door open. "Jesus!" A familiar voice had made the exclamation, but he couldn't remember who the voice belonged to as he blacked out.
The first thing Thomas was aware of was the smell. It was warm, inviting and familiar. He fought the turmoil in his mind to come up with a word for the smell. Coffee!
He was suffering the morningsong over again, but this time nowhere near as badly. Most of the energy had been expended in the first wave. He noticed he had been cleaned up and put back in his bed. The smell of coffee grew stronger. Luke appeared at the bedroom door with a steaming espresso in his hand.
"You'll need this." Luke didn't look well himself. Thomas realised Luke would have still been suffering the effects of his own morningsong while looking after him.
"My God, Luke. You shouldn't be doing this." Luke understood what Thomas was saying. Having this on his conscience would only make matters worse. Luke had to divert the guilt from his friend.
"Nonsense, Thomas. I had a light one this morning and besides I'm only repaying the debt I owe you from last year." Thomas lay back, relieved. Luke was right. His time of need last year had required Thomas' help in much the same manner as this. Luke continued. "You're not going to work today, I've organised some free time for both of us. We both need a rest." Thomas realised this was true. It was enough to avoid a lost day's work being added to the morningsong. Thomas took the coffee and sipped it. He felt a little better for doing so. His stomach was beginning to calm.
It was over an hour later that they sat together in the dining room, coffees in hand, and began a conversation. Every so often they needed a total absence of interaction with others to relax from the pressures of avoiding potential additions to the morningsong. Today would be such a day for them. Luke understood that in his current condition, any contact with others at all could be fatal to Thomas. He wasn't about to let that happen.
The conversation was halting at first, the morningsong exacted it's toll on them as it always did. It was late morning before they each began to relax. Thomas breathed a sigh of relief after taking another sip from his coffee cup.
"It nearly killed me today, Luke."
Luke looked up. It was time this was discussed. "I know."
"How did you know to come here?"
"You didn't show up on time this morning at the cafe, you've been having trouble lately whether you've discussed it with me or not, it doesn't take a genius to add two and two together."
"Quite right of course. Thank goodness you still had that key I gave you." Luke smiled. They each had keys to each others' homes for contingencies such as this. "Still, I can't expect you to come over every day."
"No, you can't. That would be unfair to both of us. That's why you will use today to build up your defenses, give yourself a fighting chance of beating this tomorrow."
"I'm not sure I can or should."
Luke froze. He didn't like the sound of this at all. "What are you saying? Are you prepared to let your fire be extinguished?" They each referred to their defenses against the morningsong as their fire. It fitted as well as any other term.
"Luke, I've been thinking about what Helen said that night..."
Luke exploded. "Jesus! I don't believe it! You know as well as I do what losing your pain would mean. It means losing your fire! Are you prepared to trade that much for peace?"
"I'm not talking about killing myself..."
"That's just it, Thomas. You are. Life for us is war. We fight every morning, and our prize is one more day of life. If you fail in your fight just once..."
"Okay, okay." Thomas smiled as he conceded the point. "You win. War is life."
"Fire is life, my friend. Fire is life." Luke was calmer now. "This is your damn sister's fault you realise."
Thomas chuckled. "Maybe so. Still, you can't blame her entirely. I was the one who listened."
"Those damn liberal ideas of hers..."
Thomas' chuckle became a laugh. "She's not as liberal as you think, my friend."
"That's what she said last week."
Thomas' curiosity was piqued. "Oh? When was this?"
Luke told him about her inviting him to lunch. He detailed the conversation they had had. Thomas soaked up all the details and thought for some time before commenting.
"I didn't realise she suspected as much as she does. We have underestimated her, my friend. Perhaps now you will see that she is a better match for you than you think."
This time it was Luke's turn to laugh. "Somehow, I just don't think it would work out. I don't have to tell you what a mistake of that magnitude would cost me. Cost either of us."
Thomas sobered. "No, you don't." They each sipped their coffee, sitting in silence.
Thomas finally broke the pause. "How many of us are there, do you think?"
"I don't know. I'm not about to walk up to every person who looks hung over in every coffee shop tomorrow morning just to find out. My guess is that we're alone."
"That's my guess as well." Thomas thought some more before continuing. "Don't you envy them sometimes?"
Luke looked up from his coffee. "Envy who?"
"The normal people. The ones who don't have to fight for their right to live another day. Those with peaceful lives and peaceful homes."
"No." Luke stared directly at Thomas. He knew he had to make this point as forcibly as possible. "The normal people place no value on their lives. They waste them and say that there are plenty more days where that one came from. They make silly mistake after silly mistake because they don't bother to improve themselves. Why should they? We know how valuable each day is to us. We know how dangerous each mistake is to us. As a result, the world suspects how valuable we are to it. We earn each day we live, we pay dearly for each mistake. I don't envy the others, I pity them. I'm proud to be alive today. I've fought to win this day of life. I won't waste it as they do, on frivolous things or senseless or even criminal acts. Instead, I will use it to build up my fire and give myself the defenses I need to earn another one."
Thomas lapsed into thought once more. When he finally spoke, his statement caught his friend off guard. "Next time Helen asks you about us, you should tell her about the morningsong."
"What on earth for?"
"She would take it, she would understand it better than you think."
Luke thought about that. Maybe he was judging her harshly. He considered the possibility that seeing her in the morningsong was affecting his personal judgment. He decided to look at matters more objectively. That was in fact why they were considered inhuman by most, he realised. The morningsong forced them to evaluate their mistakes before they actually made them. They adjusted so as to avoid the foreseen mistakes, and the normal people hated them for it.
"I think we've managed to stray off our original purpose, don't you?" Thomas' question brought Luke out of his reverie. "I believe we were going to discuss medical ethics versus social responsibility in light of terminal communicable diseases?"
Luke smiled. It would be nice to relax with a discussion on one of their lighter topics.
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