Brainstones

 

Brainstones by Bill Capron

Marion closes her eyes, but the monotonous white walls dominate her retinal memory. Two hours! For two hours she was free; the world was new, like the videos; and not. Five days she’d been in the suite of a cell with its cot and bathroom; no one talks to her for three days; her food appears in the dumbwaiter in the wall. Footsteps approach; the door opens to a coffee-colored man of indeterminate heritage.

Marion Shez is a woman out of time, in every way a woman can be.

 

Chapter 1

Wally Morris’s headlight eyes scan the non-existent room with the insubstantial furniture and the electronic people; he bangs an imaginary gavel to call the meeting to order. Though there is no there there in a physical sense, Wally and his committee cut a wide swath in the real world; but it isn’t enough, not nearly enough.

“Why is this girl alive?” he asks, his yellow eyes angrily flash the other twenty directors; he sees dull complacency or confusion. Wally’s brain, honed by a thousand years of political wrangling, scratches for purchase on the slippery slope of disinterest; but what can excite politicians who have been intractably at the wheel of government for a millennium? They are not yet afraid, but Wally is; because it is Wally’s job to get them over the hump to a real life everlasting. He pounds the table and the conference stone shakes and a murmur arises as if the directors are awakened from a sleep.

The diminutive Wally, when he was alive, was at heart a dull and boring man who did not rock the boat, but by the time of his death he’d lost all but a patina of self-control as his brain died a few steps short of dementia. But he was first! Why him? Was he the low-risk human test case; if it didn’t work, no harm, no foul? No one foresaw the consequences, and now no one was left to question the hierarchy that ruled a planet. It was a bad throw of the dice that could not be recalled.

The other directors died before their brains were lost, killed by diseases that wasted their bodies but not their minds, but they were old minds set in their ways; except for one adventurous soul.

“She’s one girl, Wally. How can she hurt us?” asks Robert Morris, Wally’s ninety-year-old brother dead one week less than eight-six-year-old Wally. He is a shriveled up version of the already shriveled up Wally, but he died compos mentis.

Wally falls into his chair; frustration marks his face. A tendency to harp on a thought marks his words; “She should be dead,” he laments. His eyes – the product of a program error from before his death but fixed incorrectly a day later – flash a jaundiced yellow in time with his words; “Someone tell me, why is she free?”

A yawning silence sucks him in again. He opens his hands appealing to the others; “We can’t take chances.” He holds his thumb and forefinger a quarter inch apart; “We’re this close.” Wally’s eyebrows form a comical straight line above the beaming eyes; but after fifteen lifetimes in their simulated cartoon land, it doesn’t elicit a smile.

Empty gray-lit eyes turn to Wally as he raises an arthritis-gnarled hand. He continues, “She has lived a lifetime without our influence.” As he stares up in supplication to a god that doesn’t exist, his eyes light the ceiling. “We don’t know what she knows. We don’t know what she thinks.” He jabs a forefinger around the room and lowers his voice to a rasping whisper; “And we don’t know what she can do.”

A querulous unconnected “And?” comes from the far end of the table.

Wally leans into the hard simulated edge and winces in simulated pain; he raises his voice; “And we can’t afford to find out!” When he pounds the table his body lifts off the floor, what with simulated gravity being much less than the real thing.

Wally Morris is the President of the Central Directorate, the governing body for the community of stones, and by default the ruler of a world. A thousand years before he was a small town mayor in a backward state of an ignorant country, isolated and bigoted; he couldn’t manage his secretary, now by the serendipity of his timely death, he runs a planet. Wally’s diseased brain waves, captured at the close-minded age of eighty-six for eternal continuance, course through a crystal limiting Aragon’s future to the unbending narrowness of his stone mind.

Wally sits atop Aragon’s political food chain, the first dead man to have his life continued forever, ensouled in a stone. The power of the stones is ordered by the seniority of life after death, no one was dying before Wally. This power was not envisioned by the framers of a constitution designed for the living, but was now the framework by which the dead ruled the living. Now the stones are the disembodied infrastructure that holds Aragon together; or so they think.

Rogers Einman echoes Wally’s worry; “In a year we reach the four hundred billion mind threshold to control the human population.” He makes like a puppeteer with his fingers. “I am tired of influencing. I am tired of being afraid of this worthless human fodder.” With an impatience unexpected in the old who can never die, he stresses, “It’s our time to rule, and nothing can stand in our way.”

Rogers shines in the gray spotlight of the focused eyes. He was the most famous scientist of his time, a man whose ego and intelligence left no room in the brain cavity for empathy and understanding; his rock mind is as hard as the living brain he left behind. Rogers believes in the natural inferiority of most humans, a bigotry of the masses captured for eternity in his crystal head.

He adds, “This girl,” he puts his hard gaze on Robert, “as you call her, can crash it down around our ears.”

Twenty heads nod in agreement.

The directors are gathered in the Central Directorate Conference Stone, a more complex version of the meeting stones used by ranking stones for one-on-one discussions. The Conference Stone is the stage on which these politicians live a near physical existence; they walk or sit, talk or touch, laugh or frown, bristle or blush, but they remain old and frail, looking as they did at their deaths; and despite a never-ending feeling of nausea, they share a reality unavailable to the larger community of stones.

The meeting stones were invented by Rogers Einman a hundred years after the death of Wally Morris; and with that stroke of genius, he extorted a seat on the Central Directorate. Rogers is the sole member not enstoned in the first year, but even with his overweening self-esteem, he didn’t ask for nearly enough; the Directorate would have made him king forever, but after he was dead, it was too late.

Rogers leans forward with both hands on the table. “Remember, our spies said total control was achieved on Elon. I am sure it exceeded our calculations.”

Wally clears his throat; “But we haven’t heard from them since. Call me a cynic, but I’ll believe it when we do it.”

Rogers is more sanguine about the lack of news; “It’s proof of their strength. Our spies no longer control their tongues.” He raises his hand to eye level and lifts a single finger. “We need one more year.” He shakes that finger. “We can’t chance a millennium of progress on a girl who claims her grandfather left this planet a thousand years ago.”

Pollak Carson asks, “Is it possible that people really left Aragon so long ago and aged only two generations?”

“It’s impossible,” Rogers booms; an age-old antagonism for anything he doesn’t understand rises to the fore; he continues his diatribe with an increasing stridency firmly based in the paranoia central to his last years; “She was sent to destroy us. Maybe Elon wants the entire solar system.” He nods to himself. “That could explain how she avoids our probes. That must be it!” he adds with a certainty available only to the tightest of closed minds, “We know all there is to know, and time travel is not possible.”

“But I heard knew her grandfather,” says Kara James. “John Shez built a spacecraft that went faster than the speed of light. It was big news when he left for the stars. It was before you were born, Rogers.” Two other stones back her recollection.

“That proves nothing.” Rogers’ piercing eyes hold Kara’s. “She knows our history. This is also known on Elon.” Heads nod. “It’s not possible to age fifty years in a thousand.” He moves his gaze around the table. “We must destroy her now.”

Wally bangs the gavel. “What I want to know is why we didn’t hear about her when she landed. It was weeks before the Directorate was informed, and by then she was released from custody.” Wally turns his headlight eyes to direct a pointed question; “Why?”

All heads turn to Joseph English, the chief of stone security, a man who died young and was still good-looking with dark hair and an unlined face. He places strong hands flat on the table and speaks at Wally; “There isn’t an explanation, Wally. It was a snafu in parsing the data. Some stone in the chain didn’t pass it on.” An upturned chin dares challenge.

Wally is not cowed; from his imperious chair he squeaks, “I don’t believe it! The most singular event in five hundred years and it’s swept under the rug by accident. I wasn’t born yesterday.”

Joseph spreads his arms and shrugs his shoulders. “I reiterate, it was a mistake, an honest mistake.” Joseph redirects the Directorate from a dangerous analysis of the past; “In hindsight, mistakes were made, but that’s history. We’ve instituted new procedures, but let’s move on. Tell us what to do now?”

The Central Directorate proposes and considers and by a unanimous vote decides to remove the threat. At one time such an action would have been submitted for approval to the all stones, but in the last five hundred years the Directorate did not risk exposing their decisions to the possible dissent of their enemies; and once the Directorate gained total control of the human population, the renegade stones would be rooted out and killed. The closed minds of four hundred billion souls do not need a conscience.

~                       ~                      ~

Marion Shez breathes deeply as she arches her back against the soft bed; the thick blanket and comforter slip silently to the floor and a chill shakes her thin body. She rights herself and steps to the window. Birds, everywhere birds; they jabber, peck, establish and protect territory; it is a scene created by merely leaving seed on the lawn. She opens the window to a great whirring of wings before the birds resettle to eating and arguing and ignoring her imitative whistles. They have habituated to her, but it would take a lifetime for her to tire of them. She stretches as the morning light from a real sun warms her body. The videos didn’t capture the wondrousness of nature; and though she knew what it would be like, the actuality takes her breath away.

The birds are one of many wonders on the alien world she calls home; birds and grass and trees and horses and weather and cities and cars and the sun; and real days. Marion is not yet accustomed to time defined by light instead of the clock; the days a quarter longer than those her grandfather established for optimal efficiency aboard the spacecraft; and after twenty-five years her biological clock holds to a routine reinforced by three years piloting solo a vehicle designed for a crew of twenty. But she is more sanguine about adapting to the new schedule than fitting into her ancestral homeland.

Marion was shocked to learn her grandfather left Aragon a thousand years ago. She returned to find no records of their flight, no memories of their existence; is fifty years long enough to forget? But it wasn’t fifty years, it was a thousand, and forty generations have died since John Shez and his crew left Aragon. A thousand years had relegated the Shezs to never having existed at all, which is the way it should be; but Aragon is not as it should be.

Marion, even with her limited head for science, knows the spacecraft did not exceed the speed of light, but instead altered the nature of time. If her brilliant grandfather hadn’t known, what chance did her logic-challenged brain have? The confusion of it makes her head hurt; she’ll research the why of it when she again has access to the ship’s library; and Marion has learned a truism her grandfather would not appreciate, it’ll be easier tomorrow.

The girl needs no great leap of faith to believe it took a thousand years to create the docile creatures of Aragon; time had bred out the fiery spirit of her strong-willed parents and grandparents, and humans evolved to a lower common denominator of intelligence and aggressiveness? The people are dull and slow-witted; and many move with tentativeness that makes her want to shake them.

Marion’s reintroduction to humanity was hugely deflating; most everyone is alike, same coffee beige color, same accent and pacing, same restrained smile that wasn’t a smile at all. Her pale white freckled skin and the deep red hair stand out like a cartoon version of these people. Conformity! Her grandfather wouldn’t believe it. The one daily newspaper, Aragon Today, is twelve pages long, yet it contained sections about each of the sixty nations that made up Aragon. There is no crime, no war, no ethnic squabbling, no greed, no rich people and no poor people; was this Utopia, a land without want or wanting?

Utopia? Not for Marion. The daily task of living among so many sheep mocks the decision to return home; as if she had an alternative.

Marion returned for the same reason her grandfather explored space, it was the unknown, her unknown. She had expected to meet relatives who would recall her parents and talk fondly of them, and she’d experience the joy of re-discovery as she was welcomed into the hearts and hearths of people who would love her for the genes and memories she carried. Utopia? No, but she wonders if this is an ultimate and predestined end for any civilization.

On her last day in space, Marion was overwhelmed with fear and anticipation. Will they like me? Will they love me? Will they look the same? How will I remember all the names? She bustled about cleaning as if preparing for a family dinner. She took especial care with her makeup, and laughed at herself for attempting the magic transformation of a silk purse from a sow’s ear. She would meet her aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and she’d overcome her sudden unnatural shyness. Her life had been circumscribed by forty rooms and fifty humans, and she longed to be surrounded by the bustle of friends.

Her grandfather prepared her; “Our travels showed us that man is a pinnacle, maybe a one-time creation in the entire universe.” He wiggled a finger at her. “Imagine a planet of ten billion people, no two the same.”

Marion laughs at her timidity, at how she wanted to meet every one of them, her excitement whetted by the loneliness of three years without human contact, made bearable by the interminable routine that filled her waking hours, and the fantasies of her new home that filled her dreams.

So much for dreams.

On touchdown, Marion is arrested, placed into solitary confinement, drugged and questioned twice a day. Who are you? Where are you from? We have no record of your flight. An interrogator asks, “Are you sure this is the right planet?” She wants to say, “No, please, I can’t be from here.”

She is three days into her ordeal when she sees the date on the newspaper. The answer is simple, and impossible. She offers proof from the ship’s library that she came from Aragon. Her captors are unconvinced, but also believe she is delusional and harmless. Two weeks after her arrest, Marion Shez is free while her fate is decided.

Marion’s spends day one exploring the streets. It is her first ever extended period of true gravity, slightly stronger than the simulated gravity of her constantly accelerating-decelerating spaceship; and as she climbed the hills, she felt the added weight in the pain at the top of her thighs and above the breasts.

The city is heavily populated, but where is the bustle? The videos paint a picture of noise and industry; this Aragon is not the same place and these are not the same people. She notes an emptiness in the eyes, a droop of the shoulders, a shuffle of the feet; and they appear cut from a single mold; one color, one expression, an omnipresent absence of drive. The year is 4045 and her grandfather departed a thousand years ago; could a thousand years erase a zest for life? Did she share DNA with these creatures? She searches for a why. Then she feels a niggling in her head; she pushes it away.

Every day she explores further hoping to find friendship, but conversation is hard to come by, and when she does engage someone, she has to drag out the words. She listens in on conversations, spies on groups; there is no friendly chatter or whispered confidences, no discussion of the trials of parenthood.

The videos, documentaries, plays and movies had established a baseline from which Aragon should have grown; it hasn’t happened. Why?

~                       ~                      ~

Marion has become expert at finding her way around Mentia. The day before she’d seen a long building with a sign Mentia Stones House; it had no windows and one door. Today she’ll learn what it is.

She stops at a breakfast restaurant she’s made ‘her’ place, hoping to connect with people by developing a familiarity; unsuccessfully. She asks her waiter, “I saw this building called the Mentia Stones House; what is it?”

The waiter pours her coffee; surprise at her ignorance marks his voice; “It’s the house of the ancestors. My family for the last thousand years lives there.”

Marion is confused; “Do you mean a mortuary?”

The waiter returns a blank stare. “What’s a mortuary?”

An older man at the next table leans her way; he waits for her eyes to meet his; his have an unexpected twinkle. A fleeting thought pops into her head; ‘There’s intelligence behind those eyes.’

His smile is real; “You’re new here.” He opens his hands to the sky; “That makes you Marion Shez.” He laughs at her surprise; “Everyone else has lived here forever.”

Marion can’t stifle a grin.

The man continues, “My name’s Ernest Connors.” He shakes her hand – a spark crackles – it is warm, and it is the first hand she’s touched in three years. “I can tell you about the stones.”

She relocates to Ernest’s table; she cannot remove her grin; “Please. Yes.”

~                       ~                      ~

Ernest is attentive to her questions and concerned for the feelings he reads on her face. He talks for two hours as if she is the most interesting person in the world. Where has he been? He can’t be unique; she sees hope for her future. While she prepares supper, she recalls his story.

Though Ernest is uncertain of when – Marion believes it was soon after her grandparents left – a scientist discovered a way to capture the essence of a functioning human brain at the moment of death. He grew a special crystal, much like a computer program, but corresponding to a cell-by-cell scan of the dying person’s brain; memories, passions, friendships, loves, hates and biases. If a man’s life is what he thinks, then this is life everlasting. Once transferred, electricity keeps the stone alive; and backup batteries protect against catastrophic failures. The local stone houses are connected to a central computer where brainstones communicate with each other; and, though it is doable, the living do not talk to the dead. A Central Directorate of Stones interfaces with the human government.

Marion knows that Aragon was made up of many countries autonomously ruled by governments varying from free democracies to tyrannies; and wars were not rare, and man’s inhumanity to man could be found everywhere. Her grandfather’s country, Fordia, was the leading democracy with a Constitution that provided for the will of the majority, yet protected the rights of the minorities.

Since that time Fordia’s democracy was co-opted by a world government; and instead of one man, one vote, it was one man or one stone, one vote. Marion has a fleeting thought that peace was instigated by stones that could no longer wage war, but suffer its consequences with none of its benefits. The mechanics of this world body are the same as Fordia’s, but the results are unforeseen. The brainstones, treated equal to people, became the dominant voting block within a single generation and now outnumber human voters forty to one. Could the laws of her grandfather’s time protect this human minority?

Marion folds into the recliner and pictures a land run by the past, minds without bodies that can never take joy in the beauty around them. It is a world where control was wrested without a fight from those who did, by those who could not. For a brief second, she feels un-alone in her head; she says, “No,” and the feeling is gone.

 

Chapter 2

Marion steps gingerly out of the shower as the doorbell rings; she pulls on a robe and pads on wet feet to the door. A letter lies on the floor below the mail slot; she twists it in her hands before pulling free the slip of paper.

“Happy Birthday, Marion Shez, on this, the twenty-fifth year of your life, and the five hundredth year of your existence. There is much we must talk about. In case you are not sure, the probing in your mind is real. Resist this invasion, and protect the contents of this letter. We believe you hold the secret to our freedom. Without your help, we will soon live as serfs to the rocks.

“I will make myself known to you, SS.”

Marion is shocked by the letter writer’s un-Aragon directness, but meeting Ernest has opened her mind to brighter possibilities. The letter is unmistakably seditious; but what is there to be against on this milquetoast world? She doesn’t know the politics of the planet; but she’s seen the people; who among them will revolt?

She speaks at the letter, “What can I do? I can’t make anyone free, and free from what?” She reads vitriol in the word ‘rocks’; “Does he mean the brainstones?”

Aragon seems so quiet, and its passive populace not so much afraid as disinterested. Do husbands and wives argue? She doesn’t think so; and the quiet demeanor of the children belies an ingrained lethargy; brothers and sisters don’t argue, and infants don’t cry. Marion squats on the bench by the door; she leans her head back and lets her past unfold.

The recollection of Janine’s birth brings a sad smile. From the first day her baby sister screamed and fought as if every moment was important and had to be lived her way. Though five years younger than Marion, she challenged to be first, working tirelessly at a skill or game until she won; and she always did; she didn’t know how to lose, and she didn’t quit. She was as much the image of her father as Marion was of her mother.

Janine was the tomboy, a phase Marion successfully avoided. With a short, compact athlete’s body and bobbed bouncy brown hair, Janine was the favorite of her father and grandfather; she was the future scientist and explorer, and they gladly sated her voracious appetite for knowledge.

At twelve, Janine understood the workings of the ship and helped navigate the stars; and she was always in the first party to visit a new planet. Janine would captain the ship after grandfather’s death and lead them through the last fifty years of a century in space.

There was no jealousy between the two sisters who willingly accepted their roles; one to lead and the other to be a mom and build a family. The differing aspirations eased an unselfish sharing of the family’s support and love; and the steady Janine anchored the more emotional Marion with humor and strength.

Janine would brush Marion’s her long red hair for hours, regaling her with adventures that would have happened if there had been intelligent life on the planets they visited; one time a serious story, the next a comedy of errors with Janine rescuing Marion from a folly of impetuous love for an amorphous silicon being.

During the good years Janine terrorized crew and children alike with her practical jokes; and no one was immune, especially family. And it didn’t matter how angry father got, he eventually relented to her innocent smile and guiltless laughter.

“I was the beauty,” the thought leaves a bitter aftertaste; “too sophisticated to be party to Janine’s tricks.”

Marion’s was an awkward girl’s body; at eighteen she was a five-nine string-bean, but she was by far the prettiest woman on the ship. She blinked large green eyes at the men and boys and had her way. Of course, that made the self-conscious teen prey to Janine’s funniest pranks, and she was not as forgiving as her father. Despite that, Marion loved her; Janine’s spirit rose above the boredom of day-to-day life and turned the most mundane events into adventures.

Marion, Janine, their father and grandfather were the sole survivors of the thirty-three men and women who left Aragon and the seventeen children born during the journey. The others died seven years ago, buried by an avalanche on their first day on the seventeenth planet visited.

The memory sends a chill up Marion’s spine; it started the downward spiral that brought her home. She forms a picture of Jason Ely clearly in her mind’s eye; he was young and beautiful, if not all that smart, and she’d loved him since she was ten; she couldn’t wait to turn twenty and marry. They were together when the avalanche hit; one moment he was holding her hand and rubbing her palm with his thumb, the next gone, replaced by a moving wall of snow; and her heart iced over.

It took a month to recover and bury the bodies as the foreign sun slowly melted the snow. On the day they found Jason, Marion wanted to die to be with him, wherever he was. Janine comforted Marion and told her they had to live for each other, and to help their father and grandfather through their grief; she said the past was over and they had to be strong.

Janine was strong. Marion and her father passed on to the accepting thirteen-year-old the onus of their loneliness, the bitter side of their grief. Marion wallowed in sorrow for her unrequited love, her father for the lost companionship that brightened his life for twenty years. For three years they were Janine’s burden, accepting the task of their survival, but never the responsibility.

Marion looks back on those years with remorse. She was oblivious to any pain but her own; she cried and pouted while Janine and her grandfather remained sympathetic.

The emotional load Marion and her father placed on Janine changed her. Unable to make them smile with her wit, she slipped into periods of sadness and depression. Marion did not rise from her grief to see, more or less understand the depth of Janine’s problems.

It wasn’t until Janine died that Marion recognized her own insensitivity; the death was an open wound.

~                       ~                      ~

“Come on, slowpoke,” Janine called, “Dad’s almost out of sight. You have to go faster.” Janine turned and ran after their father, her hair bobbing a beat behind her step.

Marion was in no rush; the footprints stood in stark relief against the clayey sands of the strange planet. She broached a single low crest before the long flat grade to the ocean. Marion had no problem following the only footprints since the beginning of eternity.

Their initial flyover showed a planet barren of life on the land, but with extensive sea life. It was the first evolved animal life they had encountered, though plant life was ubiquitous wherever there was an atmosphere. Her grandfather was surprised by the lack of land plants and animals and thought it had to do with the low lying land mass; the highest point was less than a thousand feet above sea level, possibly flattened and scoured by billions of years of sandblasting erosion. The inland seas were shallow, and marshlands bordered the land masses on the west; and though the rivers ran in both directions; and there were no deltas in the east.

Marion looked out to the ocean; a breeze stiffened in her face; Janine and her father neared the seashore. Far out she saw the sunlight reflecting off the top edge of a swell. It took a moment to realize it was continuing to rise; it was hundreds of feet high.

“Janine! Dad!” she screamed into the wind. When they looked back, Marion pointed to the wall of water and screamed, “Tidal wave!”

Within seconds a disorienting deafening roar was around her. Her father motioned her to run, and they raced to the ship, driven by a quickening wind pushed ahead of the wave. She looked up to a moon visibly moving across the sky from the east, getting larger as she ran. She burst through the front bay door and yelled for her grandfather. She heard a lathe in the machine shop.

He looked up when the door banged hard against the bulkhead. “Granddad,” she took a deep breath to control her fear; “There’s a tidal wave coming. Janine and dad are on the way. We have to take off; now!”

John Shez rushed forward as he called over his shoulder, “Wait at the bay doors.”

Marion heard the engines shudder to ready, and then all sound was erased by the crescendoing thunderous roar.

She held her breath until she felt the ship move; they were leaving without Janine and her father! Her grandfather barked over the intercom, “Marion, close the doors!” Tears flowed down her face as she pulled them shut.

She saw Janine hobbling next to her father, her left leg immobilized. They were a thousand yards away, but as the ship rose, they were below her; they waved.

Marion’s father’s lips formed, “Goodbye. We love you.”

Then the wave hit them, and the water rose to within feet of the still ascending spaceship.

“No,” she screamed into the intercom; “We can’t leave them here.” Sobs filled her throat; she whispered, “Please, don’t let them die because of me.”

Marion and her grandfather searched for the bodies, but they were gone, washed from one shore of the barren continent to the other a thousand miles to the west. There was nothing to do but leave; the final flickering spirit of adventure was extinguished.

Marion cried for Janine and her father and herself. It was her job to chart the solar system, and she’d assumed the moon was in an elliptical orbit; but it was eccentric, thrown off kilter eons ago by some cosmic cataclysm. The moon closed to within a hundred miles of the planet’s surface every twelve days, causing the tidal waves which scraped the planet’s land clean of both contour and life. If she did her job they’d be alive.

There is an unreality to the sudden death of strong people; even four years later; Marion thought of them as living. Sometimes she sat in front of her mirror and brushed her hair, and she saw Janine’s reflection, smiling, but never talking. Marion longed to hear that voice; she’d brush slowly until the image faded.

Her grandfather didn’t blame her; he made the decision to save Marion and himself as he saw Janine and his son near the ship. John Shez led his family on a trip of exploration that killed all but his granddaughter; he was himself a bottomless well of guilt.

The shared grief and guilt brought them closer for the long journey home. John Shez did his best to prepare her for the trip he wouldn’t finish. When his illness became apparent to Marion, she sustained them both. She cut her long hair, stored away the makeup and took on the role of captain and crew. Her femininity took a back seat to the struggle for life, and, at the age of twenty-one the flighty beauty developed the discipline and strength to pilot the spaceship, to care for her grandfather, to inter him, and to continue her solitary journey through space.

~                       ~                      ~

If she couldn’t help those she loved what could strangers expect from her? And who could want her help anyway?

In her four weeks Marion has met only followers, but she’s seen so few of Aragon’s ten billion inhabitants. There must be leaders. Without directly committing to a decision, she took her first tentative step towards those who wanted freedom, whatever that might be.

~                       ~                      ~

Marion wonders at the extent of change. Was it a natural evolution? The world of her grandfather was fresh and wild and exciting; the people risk-takers, doers, men and women who conquered space and science. How did they come to this? She knows the Aragon of the spaceship’s library; the scenery was the same, the technology did not change, but the actors were different.

Could the planet’s fate be the inevitable end of all civilizations, where the greater the knowledge and the longer the history, the more they are bound by it, dragging it behind like a tiresome deadweight. Did the invention of the stones hasten that natural process by melding the past with the present? Did the breadth and permanence of yesterday limit tomorrow? It is a task of time to discard history’s baggage by condensing yesterday’s big events into today’s brief memories and tomorrow’s forgotten facts; but here life holds a frozen grip on the past by lives more remembered than lived.

It was a monstrous trick played by mythological gods. She curses her desire to come home where thousand-year-dead cousins might yet be alive. But she couldn’t do anything about it; the technology of her grandfather and father were not passed down to her, and the ship she called home was beyond her ability to repair it for deep space.

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