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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).

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Outside In: Review by A.L. Sirois

Just One Memory

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They were married. It was supposed to be all right. And at first it was more than all right, until Janna realized what they were doing. She yelled, "No!" and stood up and looked down at her. Shanna was surprised and hurt and embarrassed. Part of Janna wanted to tell her it was all right, hold her and make her stop crying. Part of Janna ... wanted her. And it was wrong. It was wrong. It was wrong.

She ran to one of the empty storage areas. She sat in a corner, arms around her legs, head between her knees, telling herself it hadn't happened.

Danal came for her. He said he'd done the same thing his first time out and back. The thought that he'd made love with a man actually made him sick. "But this isn't Earth," he told her. They were more than a family, he said, they were the only people in their universe for six years. He told her that they had to know each other's minds and bodies completely or the fungus on Europa would destroy them.

Eventually, she didn't exactly feel better, but she didn't feel like she was going crazy. Danal smiled at her and helped her up. He took her hand and led her to the others.

Janna couldn't look at them. She wanted to run away again, but Danal's smile held her.

Syl said they had to use the Unity again. They had to get used to sharing their thoughts, because on Europa there's so much of the fungus it shouts in your head, drowning out who you are. All the information about everything from all over the moon fills you up and you are such a small part of it that you can get lost. Each of them would be an anchor for the others, holding onto each other with their minds. That's why the drug company let them have the Unity for free. Well, not for free. They paid for it with the six years it took to go out and back.

Danal passed out the doses and they waited. Janna felt the nibbling of an idea that wasn't hers and realized someone else was looking at it, too. Gradually she knew things she didn't know before as if she'd always known them.

For instance, she knew that Shanna forgave her. Really and completely. Shanna understood why Janna had done what she'd done. She knew how sorry Janna was. And Janna knew it. Just as she knew what Syl and Park and Danal knew. They could look at themselves through each other's eyes and see they weren't so bad after all.

It wasn't about sex this time. It was being five and being one, and being one and being five.

"It's not something I can make you feel by talking about it," she told the technician. "But, like I said, I don't want to be all alone down here on Earth and have to remember what that feeling was like. Darn it. I told myself I wouldn't cry." She tried to twist around to see the technician across the room. "Have you ever been in love?"

Janna loved a boy when she was in high school. She sent him notes and wrote his name all over her books. When he smiled at her, her legs wouldn't work, and when he touched her, she thought her heart would stop.

The first time he hit her, she knew it had to be her fault. She did everything she could think of so he wouldn't have to hit her again. When he did, she was sure she was going to lose him because she'd made him so mad. When he found somebody else she was so sick she couldn't go to school for three days.

She thought that was what love was.

"But, you know what? Love feels good. And when somebody who loves you knows what you need to be happy, they give it to you. And when you know you're making someone you love happy, you feel good, too."

Even with the Unity it didn't always happen. It didn't happen to Danal the other two times he'd been out and back. But he'd gotten the idea it could happen.

And they knew what he knew. That maybe you can understand people when you can see inside their heads, but that doesn't mean you have to like them.

These five fit. Like links in a chain. Danal was adventurous. On Earth he jumped off cliffs and swam with sharks. Syl was strong and aggressive and Park was strong and patient. Syl came from a poor family. She was determined to make her fortune. Park was the only child of elderly parents. He held onto his dream of going into space while he cared for them until their deaths. Shanna gave them a reason to be adventurous or strong. She was the one they would do things for, just to see her smile.

"And me? I don't know what I gave them." Janna stopped trying to look at the tech. "All right. Yes I do. See that, I would never lie to them, even if I could, but a couple of days back on Earth and I'm lying again. I was the one whose approval they looked for, the one who told them if what they were doing was okay."

It surprised her at first. But she had spent her life trying to do what she was supposed to do. She wasn't always right. She knew she wasn't supposed to let that jerk in high school beat her up, but mostly she knew right from wrong.

That was why she was the one that Danal had to convince not to return to Earth.

Danal couldn't hide an idea like that from them. When he saw how well they fit together, they could see the idea growing in his head like one of those stop motion movies of flowers growing. Like a dandelion popping out of the ground, bursting into a yellow ball that explodes into white seeds that scatter in the wind.

Not many people back on Earth knew it, but not everyone who went out came back. Danal knew about a place in the Asteroid Belt where some fungus harvesters and some miners had started what they called The Free Association of Traders and Explorers. He had ideas about buccaneers and a place called Tortuga and, in his mind, it was all very romantic and exciting. Syl immediately latched onto the idea and Park was willing to give it a try. Shanna thought it sounded wonderful.

Janna couldn't do it.

She wanted to. Jesus, she wanted to. To be loved and wanted and needed. To be understood. To be part of something that was bigger than herself.

But if she didn't go home she would be killing her sister. How much of the drug Elle needed would the drug company give her if Janna ran off with one of their space ships?

The others knew. There was no need for anyone to try and persuade her. They knew all of the things she would say, just as she knew all that they could say to her. They knew she was right. It was part of why they loved her.

"And they did love me." Janna could hardly breathe. "They do love me. Maybe you could let me remember that. Not their names, not their faces. Not how it felt to touch them or be touched by them. Just that I was loved."

The next couple of years were bittersweet with the knowledge that it would eventually end. They became as familiar with the thoughts and memories of the others as they were with their own. The drug became almost irrelevant and they used it less and less.

As they neared Europa, Danal talked to them. They already knew what he knew about harvesting the fungus, but he needed them to concentrate on what they would experience on the moon. Because it was dangerous. People lost their lives or their minds. The ice was meters deep and practically frictionless in places. In other places it barely existed at all, a mirage of solidity over an impossibly cold ocean that seemed to have no end.

And there was the fungus.


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