Across the Universe
Thirst is what finally motivated me to lift myself from the ground and make my way in the house. I held on to Tog, who’s almost as tall as me and walks on two legs. His manner with me was softer now, and I sensed that he knew something was up.
I wanted desperately to wake up from this dream and see my darling Erin. I wanted to back up time and ignore Tog and the dracos and protect my little girl instead. I wanted this horrible, heinous nightmare to be untrue. And in a vague sense, it didn’t seem true. Such things as this happen to people in Egli or Waturi or even in Wershonia, but not here. The Continental government completely eradicated malmagnis at least a hundred years ago.
I surveyed my inner state — my typically serene, crystalline, mostly unperturbed internal environment — and winced at the tangled mess I found there. A cacophony of psychologic activity swirled complexly with dissonance and cross purpose. On the one side were the inner defenses, seeking to assuage my guilt and pain by spinning hopeful stories of varying degrees of delusion: Search and rescue will find her. Find her and resuscitate her…. Then a short hospital stay…. Maybe she’ll be home tonight…. Maybe she’ll be home before Van…. So go the machinations of a mind trying to cope with an unbearable truth.
Then there are the cross-currents of guilt and blame and shame and merciless judgment turned upon myself. How could you be so careless? What kind of mother are you? Not only were you not paying attention to Erin, you were giving your attention to a trivial matter. You lost your daughter to a nest of dracos. The adoption agency will never give you another baby. And Van will never forgive you. He will wish he had never married a Wershonian. And so went the internal attacks, cruelly supplied by my inner judge and jury.
I drank a full jar of lomi seed tea and put on my holophone. “Power on…. Contact Van.” I waited and prayed for strength and the right words. Please, the right words.
“Party not responding.” The screen played his video message, after which an image appeared, one of a hundred pre-programmed to display randomly. It was a picture of the twin stars of Albereo, taken from one of the Continent’s satellite telescopes.
Beautiful Albereo. I cried at the sight. “Disengage.” I didn’t trust myself to leave a message.
Albereo had a special significance for Van and I. It was Albereo that Van first pointed the telescope at when he took me up to the Forton satellite just four years ago. It was one of our first dates and he had a close friend, an astronomer, who was stationed on Forton at the time. Van arranged in advance a private viewing time for he and I at one of Forton’s smaller telescopes that wouldn’t be in use at that hour. Van’s friend generously acquiesced and lent us his codes for the space elevator. I remember joking, “It’s good to have friends in high places.”
The elevator to Forton is about a 20 minute ascent, and for one who has never traveled on a space elevator, it’s an outrageously exhilarating, slightly terrifying, perspective-expanding and perhaps too, life changing experience. People take one of two passenger climber cars, which are enclosed on one side in a clear encasement to allow for viewing. The squeamish can choose to turn away from the clear side, but the curious and adventurous can stand facing it and witness the entire ascent from the base station to the landing dock 62 miles / 100 km up.
Having dreamed of this for a lifetime, I faced the clear side. Van stood close behind me, his hands buckled around my waist, as if to provide me a sense of safety. It was also a good excuse to inch his way toward more intimate contact. I liked both of his intentions, and every time I experienced a sudden torrent of fear or delight, I would press myself against him.