What I miss most are the smells.
It's different for everyone. For Brock, it's weather - though God knows why, given the way it used to rain on Prospera. Cynthia says that she misses animals most, which doesn't make any sense to me either. Then again, I never had a pet, and she had dozens. DeLilo says he misses his wife - he's a good man. Anderson says same thing, but I know Anderson, and what he really misses is the sex. I don't blame him. When he pulled up an image of Alicia, all of us - even Cynthia - couldn't help but sympathize for a moment.
But I miss the smells.
There are all sorts of simulators here, of course, and one of them handles "Olfactory Stimuli: Real and Imagined." But whoever designed it must have had hay fever his whole life, because not one of the smells gets it right. Maybe they leave the imagining up to the user.
The last real smell I remember is burning flesh. I suppose it's fortunate that the aural simulators run a bit better, because the last real sound I heard was Brock's whimpering. Second to last was the gurgle of metal tearing apart flesh. Much less pleasant than, say, "The Forest Awakens," or any of the other audio tracks we've got here.
Brock wasn't burning, even though he was cut nearly in half, and Cynthia had managed to avoid injury altogether. She would die as the oxygen slowly leaked out of a fissure in the broken ship. The flesh I smelled burning was my own, but I couldn't feel myself dying. The nerves across the left side of my body had been completely destroyed. All I could do was smell.
Before that, I remember the smell of coffee. One of the few things worthwhile about Prospera was that the jungles provided a rich variety of organic foods. When we were away on planet leave, all of us would make sure to eat as much of it as we could. The coffee was the best part.
I'd always brew mine slowly, because I loved the anticipation, the sound of the dripping, the rich scent that filled the entire kitchen. Most of the time, I wound up drinking it iced - Prospera was too hot for much else - but the day before the attack, the coffee I drank was so hot it scalded the inside of my mouth.
When the call to the ships came, I was still eating breakfast. It caught everyone unprepared: Brock still in bed, with a hangover; DeLilo and Anderson with their wives; Cynthia, no doubt, with her pets. And me with my breakfast.
Arthur assures me that my lack of personal attachments in life will make things easier here in the Wheel.
He pointed out that DeLilo still can't forget his wife, that he spends days just staring out into the white, unformed space that could be his home. That Cynthia still looks down at the ground with a smile that takes a moment too long to fade, searching for the phantoms of pets she no longer takes care of.
Arthur guarantees this to me, but he himself had a wife and three sons who stood around him as he uploaded his mind into the Wheel. He doesn't realize that loneliness in life doesn't make loneliness in death any easier.