by Cedar Sanderson






From Issue 15 (Nov 2011)

Curiosity is what led my predecessors into the wild unknown – curiosity and a driving desire for notoriety. Well, perhaps not for notoriety. Certainly, it seems that explorers in the Victorian age desired notoriety, but for every one trumpeting his deeds in newspapers and pulp novels, ten never returned, having found a sweeter life. But B. Sterling Merton did want fame. Oh, he wanted nothing more than notoriety, and most especially the sort of fame you get when you see or do something no-one else has ever seen. And it is because of him that I am here.

B. Sterling Merton – man of vision, they said, when he proposed a colony ship from Earth to find a planet fit for humans. Brand new technologies made it possible, he trumpeted, and he would volunteer to lead the expedition. Yes, he was qualified – governor of a state of the United States of America – at least, he and all the other politicians believed he was. The USA was the biggest contributor to the project, and they maintained the right to put their man in charge. So he became the figurehead, and I the power behind the throne. I was his wife, the estimable Mrs. Merton, also known for breakthrough studies in what the human physiognomy would endure – but that was before all this.

No, that is not bitterness in my voice, simply resignation. I will never see my home planet again nor, I believe, will my children’s children. Of the ten planets we have surveyed thus far, only two are habitable, and one is a desert – we would not have lived long there. I am glad the decision does not go to a committee. I think I would have had difficulty persuading the others that we must still go on. It has been so long – so very, very long.

I have been captain of this colony ship – the Lewis and Clark – for… ah, yes, three hundred years now. How can this be, you ask? Quite simple. When my body was put into cold-sleep, they uploaded my brain, along with ten others, into computers. The ship itself has been my body all these long, cold years, and an empty shell it is, indeed. We perform our physical functions by means of waldoes, and the rest is brain sweat, as I once would have said. My mind has flowed on and on, through the stretches of empty space, to the frightening anticipation of a new planet, onward past all the failures…

What? Oh yes, that other planet fit for humans. It was a dream come true for the colonists. Breathable air and drinkable water, vegetation nontoxic overall, and temperatures within tolerance ranges… as a matter of fact, they were somewhat warmer than Earth. We sent down the automatic landers, and they reported back steadily, streams of images that delighted our eyes: waving vegetation and rolling oceans, rich plains and some towering mountains. We woke a scout and prepared his ship – that intrepid man, who had volunteered centuries before to become the first to land on some planet unknown to all previous men…

It would have been Merton himself, if Merton had not volunteered to be the first governor of the planet already. But instead it was a quiet man, one who eschewed human company as a matter of habit, and one whom we had had to search out with some difficulty when we were preparing to leave Earth.

You see, in the civilization of our home planet, we had begun to lose the explorers. Oh, there were plenty of ersatz explorers running off to climb the highest mountains on Earth, or helicoptering into the wilderness to perform foolish stunts in the snow, but that breed of man who can forge a new trail in the unknown is very rare indeed. We found Pyotr on a trap line in Siberia, in a place so secluded that they barely knew of the coming of communism, and cared little when it fell. We had found twenty who fit the criteria we sought, and he was the first to be awakened, so to him fell the task of surveying the planet.

He did not report in for a week, and we were all frantic. The computers in his scout ship told us that he was returning to it (to sleep, we assumed), but he did not respond to our calls. When at last he did talk to us, I had never seen a happier face. He was a man content, at peace. He reported that as far as he could tell – and he would not speak for harmful minerals in the soil or suchlike – the planet was livable. More than livable; he called it a paradise. He told us he had never dreamed of such warmth, of such an abundance of water, or of such animals. The creatures, he proclaimed, were timid, but not afraid of him – he had gotten close enough to touch several. He reported that he had tasted two kinds of fruit, thus far, and had found that one was excellent, but that the other was far too bitter to eat. As his flow of words was exhausted, he trailed off and sat in front of the screen, grinning from ear to ear. At last, he added, simply and in Russian (he had made his report in French),  “I am home.”

So began a year of chaos. We began to awaken the colonists. This absorbed the attentions of myself and the minds of four of my colleagues, who had been added to the crew for this very purpose. We immediately discovered, to our horror, that almost twenty percent could not be revived. For whatever reason – and I think I know why, but I will spare you the details – their brains did not come back to a functioning state of consciousness. But we continued, and awakened all we could, and soon the halls of this great ship, empty for so long, were filled with throngs of people, and my crew and I beamed happily down on them. The whole ship was pervaded with a sense of excitement and joy. Once we had the first third awakened – those who would awaken, anyway – we downloaded the brains of three of my colleagues back into their bodies, and in private, guided them back through the therapy required for them to readjust to their humanity.

Then the first landing was prepared, and the next was nearing readiness, and we sent them down. B. Sterling Merton, my esteemed husband, was among them of course, as first governor over the infant state, which had been designed to reflect the government of the USA back on Earth. Oh, he was ecstatic. He spent hours talking with me about it before he shipped out, his eyes glowing with fervor, absorbed in his dream of future history books with his name writ large… right next to George Washington, I suppose.

The landing went well, and the prefabricated homes and office buildings went up with few problems. Pyotr had discovered a gravel and sand deposit on his initial survey, much to the engineers’ delight, and they began to make concrete right away to construct domed buildings that would withstand earthquakes and floods, if such things should happen. The second landing crew departed, and my colleagues and I were down to four. I was the remaining person in charge of revival, and the very last thing I had to do as a crew member was to begin the revival of my own body. The third landing was prepared, with only a week left until the Lewis and Clark would become a floating hulk, and I revived my colleagues, then prepared to reanimate my own body.

They say it feels like falling asleep, only to awaken disoriented and diminished in the senses that were still active in the computer – vision and hearing. But the other senses – touch, taste, smell – are enhanced, and amaze the user with their clarity. Things half forgotten over the intervening centuries are rediscovered, and reveled in. I do not know – I will never know. My body was unrecoverable, and I exist, now and forever in this ship, in the biochips that hold my memories, my consciousness. But I am no longer flesh and blood.

My colleagues, my friends, my husband… and my children. All are now beyond my grasp. I may never touch them again, never hold my babies close, or rest in the embrace of love. I cried, once they were all gone; I cried with all the speakers on, and my sobs echoed through the vast loneliness of my new home, my prison.

But to the colonists below I projected great confidence, encouraging and supporting them until they were all down and settled. Then I called a conference, and all those who would be leaders of their new planetary government gathered to listen. I bade them farewell, telling them that I was going to continue on into the unknown in this old, enormous metal body of mine. I spoke to them of life, and warned them to always treasure it, no matter how long they lived here or how crowded it grew. I told them that whenever I found a suitable planet, I would send messages back to them, and perhaps I would come back someday.

I knew, though, that I would never come back. Humanity in all its fleshly mortality is a reminder to me of what I once had, and cannot ever have again. I will never again hold another human being in my arms. Not even you, my son. You are so precious, and I can see you, hear your cries, but never feel your skin. I know it must be soft; I know what a baby feels like, but I can never know the feel of you, the scent of you. I knew this even when I falsified your death report, and kept you and the others for my own. They will join you soon, twenty men and women strong and brave, but I wanted you to myself for a while.

Shhhh…. don’t cry. I know the arms around you aren’t real, but they are so lifelike, and I know they are warm. I just tested them. Listen to me and always remember, my precious child,

“I am your mother.”

Copyright © 2011 by Cedar Sanderson

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Cedar Sanderson

Cedar Sanderson, mother of four and aspiring author, grew up without television in the Alaskan bush. This and learning to read at age four have skewed her world toward books. A house full of books and a part-time librarian job keep that going to this very day.

She writes what she wants to read herself, and hopes someday her children will like her books. Until then, they all live together on a farm in New Hampshire and read late into the night. She writes because she can’t help it, gets a story stuck in her head and has to write it out or it bothers her. Which has led to enjoying the crafting of stories over the years, but she didn’t seek to become published for a long time – she was content just to write.

Now, she’d like to share some of her work.
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