Manko had been here before. Being just thoughts, surrounded by nothing.
He felt glad his thoughts were there, one after the other, so there had to be a form of time and therefore he had to still exist. He wondered about the fact that he was able to observe himself thinking. If he would stop thinking, would he just simply cease to exist? He attempted to stop thinking, but he couldn't. He contemplated living forever in this immense and unresponsive universe. This time he was not so sure that there would be anyone to wake him up again.
Manko started thinking about immortality again. About what he would do if he were to live forever. What would be the reason to get up in the morning? He would certainly try to learn more languages, see more places, discover the world and sure enough would just try and do everything that can be done. But Manko felt that would surely not be enough to live happily forever after. What if you could reach the highest level in any skill and knowledge known to man? You would get bored, no doubt.
So what if Manko was found and reanimated a hundred years from now? He would have to learn to live in that world all over again. People might no longer look or communicate like today's humans. Manko realized that this would provide a great way to prevent boredom. If it was possible to take a nap in a vacuum for let's say a decade, no doubt immortals would not be bored anymore when waking up and seeing the world completely changed. This very effective form of forward time travel would surely become very popular for those who could afford being stored away for a few years.
When waking up in a new decade or century, it would help to have someone welcome the time traveler and help to make sense of the world again. To help see the world with new eyes and learn the rules that would help the time traveler to reconnect to society. To be reintroduced into the human tribe, so to speak.
Manko's thoughts were going quite fast by now and he tried to slow them down a little bit. He tried to remember where he was right now. He could still be with Nada and the two children, in front of that closed door through which Gill had disappeared. Yet they could just as well have been brought to a hospital if they had been found. But who would find them? Who else knew about this facility? And if they were found and revived, what would the children think of the world above the ground? Would they be able to adapt to a society of mortals?
What would Manko do if he would wake up into the normal world again? Would he still want to be an artist? Thinking of art, Manko suddenly remembered the artwork he had thought of, when he was being 'cleaned' in the dome earlier. He had thought to photograph a still life featuring his missing leg and a red ball, simply called 'Red Ball and Missing Leg', consisting solely of a picture of a red ball.
The idea had come from the paradoxical notion that emptiness somehow becomes more empty when something is added to it. An empty room somehow becomes more empty when there's some last small piece of scrap or dust in it that makes you feel that there had once been life in that room. Manko had seen this trick being used in movies many times. In scenes where a child was abducted, blown up or was otherwise no longer there, there would always be the camera zooming in on the doll or teddy-bear that was left behind.
This way of making the audience feel the tension between the remaining object and the missing element fascinated Manko. Yet now that he remembered this idea, the description 'still life' somehow interested him even more. Because here he was, his body completely inanimate as in a still life.
In a still life, time goes on but nothing changes. Depicted fruit does not perish as summer continues. Painted flowers do not die and therefore their smell keeps lingering on. Would the opposite also be true? If the seasons and the senses can be captured and prolonged indefinitely with a still life, could that also mean that whatever lives on forever without ageing becomes in fact a still life?
Suddenly Manko itched. He felt pins and needles, then heat, cold, pressure, gravity. A sense of where his leg was, where his nose was, where his brain was. Then sound, first barely audible, but soon enough he picked up clear sound waves. With sound came a minute sense of direction, of where he was positioned in space. His muscles contracted and he felt the shape of the chair that he was now sure he was sitting in. Light came back. He squinted. Next came color, then shape.
Nada: 'There you are'.
Nada: 'By now you must have understood that you are back. You were completely immobilized and so were the children and I. Guess who else are here!'
Zero: 'Welcome back. Again.'
Bokor: 'Hello Manko.
When Manko heard Bokor's voice, his body twitched involuntarily.
Nada: 'Not to worry, Bokor had nothing to do with this. He's the one that got us back to the world of the living. It was actually Gill that released the stuff we saw and then made up the story of Bokor killing Zero.
Zero: 'Why? Are you sure you do not want to rest a little?
Manko: 'No, please, tell me what happened.'