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About the Author
Paul A. Martens is the author of numerous SF short stories including "Miles Away" (Deep Outside SFFH, Fall 2001).
Just One Memory
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"Just one memory. That's all I'm asking." Janna spoke to the figure swathed in white. The technician, or doctor or whoever it was, continued to check the monitors as if Janna hadn't spoken.
"I understand you have a job to do. I know I could never fit in down here if I remembered everything about going out and back. So chop it out. Erase it. Take the last six years away from me. Just leave me something. A picture. A feeling. Maybe just the ghost of the girl I was, to drift through my thoughts sometimes and make me smile without knowing why."
She didn't want to remember everything. Not if she had to live on Earth and follow all of the rules again. It was hard enough before she went out.
She didn't want to remember waking up that first day out, after they were married.
The five of them lay in a comfortable jumble, everyone touching everyone, warm inside and out. Not thinking, just being. Still connected from the drug. Janna felt an itch and Syl scratched Park's leg and Danal sighed and Shanna smiled. They were emptied out and filled up again and satisfied in ways that would get them thrown in jail on Earth, assuming they had been able to even contemplate such acts.
Syl said the stuff, Unity, was like a fungus, and every piece of it carried all the information in every other piece of it within a reasonable distance. When it gets in your brain, it reads what's there and the little bit in somebody else's brain knows what it knows, and vice versa. Then you take another drug that lets you access the information in the fungus, and there you are. Telepathy.
So, no, Janna didn't want that memory. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life knowing she would never feel that good again.
Later, when she was back inside her own head, she felt kind of weird. Maybe that kind of thing had gone on years ago, before The New Morality, but, when she thought about what she'd done, what had been done to her, it felt wrong. No, how could it be wrong to feel like that?
She felt as though she had sinned.
She'd never sinned before, no matter how much she might have wanted to. How could she? You can't do anything in a small town without everybody knowing it. And she was the mayor's kid, the school teacher's kid. She was the one with the sister who was so sick. One step out of line, and maybe her mother wouldn't be mayor next election. One mistake, and maybe her father would lose his job. Who wants a school teacher who can't even raise his own daughter?
And who would feel sorry for a dying girl whose younger sister had the devil in her?
She knew she hadn't sinned. That was the point of making the five of them get married before they went out. It wasn't like any marriage she'd ever heard of, but it was still a ceremony, a sanctioning of what they knew would happen. But she'd done things you just don't do. And liked it.
She didn't want to be there.
It was for her sister. Elle needed another of the other drugs made from the fungus in the ice on Europa. Something about parts of her body not communicating with other parts. Their parents couldn't afford it. Their mother was just a small town lawyer, even if she was the mayor. And school teachers don't make the kind of money required to buy an exotic drug from another world. But Elle was lucky. She had a sister who passed the tests to be able to go out and back. So Janna got to trade a chunk of her life for the chance to extend Elle's.
If only she could have just given her a lung or a kidney.
They hadn't even been all that close. Elle was two years older, the one that always got to do the things Janna was too young to do. And when Janna was finally old enough, Elle was doing something else. Then Elle got sick and she was the one everybody fussed over, taking away any identity Jenna might have had on her own. People didn't see the girl who went to the county finals in the spelling bee, or led the basketball team in assists. They would think, there's the one with the sister with that horrible disease.
Their parents made Elle ask her. She didn't make a big deal about it, she didn't beg or anything. She asked as if she didn't care. As if it wasn't a matter of life or death.
Janna might have refused. What had Elle ever done for her? Then she looked into Elle's eyes, all the way in, past the nonchalance floating on the surface, all the way to the fear and the need. Janna had never really been aware of anyone's need like that. She couldn't say no.
With the town's help with bake sales, and car washes and the like, they could afford, barely, to slow Elle down enough so she would probably still be alive when Janna got back. An amount of the drug sufficient to cure Elle would be Janna's share for making the trip
"So, I'll still have my sister," she said to the tech who seemed to be drawing on her scalp. "I'll have a sister I've never been close to, but I'll lose six years of my life and the only four people I will ever truly know when you suck them out of my head." She tried not to cry. "Do you think that's fair? Don't I deserve just one memory?"
Not the memory of the time she hurt Shanna, though.
She and Shanna should have been close right from the start. They were little more than cargo until the harvest. Syl and Park ran the ship. Danal worked for the drug company. Shanna and Janna just had busy work, making sure the machines the instruments said were working really were. At least they could pretend to think about something other than the fact that they were married to people they'd never met, in ways that would shock the people they'd left behind.
Except the people they married had, for a while, known them better than anyone ever had or ever would.
They knew, for instance, that Janna had always wanted to break the rules. That she'd wanted to shoplift and break windows and get drunk and pick on some kid smaller than her. Of course she knew that she could only think about doing those things. And she couldn't let anybody know she was thinking about them, so she didn't let anyone know what she thought about anything. And now someone did.
They knew she hated her sister for dying. That she hated her parents for not being rich enough to make her well. That she hated herself for hating them. Shanna and Syl and Park and Danal had been inside her head and inside her body and that was supposed to be okay. And for a while it had been okay. But then they were strangers again, locked inside their own heads.
So, even though she knew that Shanna was just as scared and lonely as she was, she made believe Shanna wasn't there as she looked at gauges and read numbers and wished she was home and that none of it had ever happened.
Then the screens around the ship were lowered and they were looking out at the universe. An infinity of stars and emptiness. Janna felt very, very small. Shanna must have felt the same way because her hand found Janna's, or Janna's found hers, and they squeezed, trying to join together, to be a little bit bigger in the face of forever. And then holding hands wasn't enough.
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