Aphelion Issue 223, Volume 21
November 2017
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
   

Upload

by T. Richard Williams



2158

I'm Jakob, even after the Upload, though some might question that.

Now I live with Mark--or more accurately, I live in Mark.

And this is my grand-daughter, Sarah.

Her host's name is Catharine.

For the time being, the four of us--in two bodies--live here in the Oort Cloud, far from the Confederation. Of course, they're always there, trying to listen in with their Eyes and Ears, following us around, sending out spies, trying to stop us.

For them, we're dangerous.

We represent intolerable possibilities that threaten millennia-old beliefs.

So let's begin:

2108

A father: Jensen, just turned 46.

A son: Samuel, 25.

We're in Samuel's metal-dominated office, intimidatingly gray, burnished, and icy.

His father, the barely tolerated guest, sits uncomfortably on the lone leather-covered bench Sam reserves for his infrequent visitors.

Sam comes out from behind his granite-slab desk. For him, it's always about power and the perception of power, about the grand gesture.

"You've always hated my guts," he says, his voice betraying some apprehension about his next move, though he'll do it. He's committed to action: "So now it's time for a little payback."

"But why?" Jensen asks.

"You don't even address the hatred. You go right for the part about your loss of power. That's all that really matters to you."

"Jesus, I care about you, Sam -- about why you think I hate you. I don't. That's a myth."

"Not from my angle, Dad."

"You're just not the best person for the job." Jensen is tired of repeating this. "I need to keep the company competitive. If Zane or Theo develop a working Apparatus first, we're screwed. The Confederation'll simply go to them. We'll be ruined."

"I agree." He stares at his father. "And I'll even grant that you're a better scientist than I am."

To their right, the full-wall Viewer shows the stark truth of their planet: Three hundred meters below, the scintillating Harbor water laps against the 9th and 10th Avenue docks along 14th Street. Jensen is old enough to remember when lower Manhattan was a thriving business district. Now only a few towers stick up through the relentless sea. The rest were torn down or collapsed as the water rose quickly and inexorably to current levels nearly four decades ago.

Jensen's two mantras: No wonder people want to get off the planet in a hurry. Followed by: To do what? Find another planet to screw up? Of course that didn't stop him from working on the Folding Project as well as colonization plans. A practical cynic.

The brilliant day outside offered a contrast to Sam's dimly lit office suite.

"Sam, we need to do this. I need to be able to work on the Apparatus without... "

"... Without me, right? That's your game."

"Sam, please."

"Too late, Dad. The Board's with me on this. I'm now in charge of the Project."

"What?"

"You'll still be chief developer, but you'll be out of the way. Where you can't do any more harm to the morale."

"Morale?" Jensen bursts out laughing and bolts up. "This is bullshit."

"Yes, it is. And it's bullshit you could have prevented if only you'd treat me like a human being and not some pest who spoils your day -- the fly at the picnic that just won't go away."

"Jesus, you're acting delusional."

"With every sentence, you prove my point. You hate me. You want me out of the picture."

"So now what?" He's nearly toe-to-toe. "You're going to kick me out of corporate headquarters and force me to work out at some colonial station?"

"Actually that's exactly what we're going to do."

"And just how are you going to accomplish that?"

"Easily." Sam walks over and presses an icon on his desktop Screen.

The door slides open.

Two Confederation police officers stand just outside in the foyer.

Jensen doesn't know whether to laugh or fly into a rage: "You're kidding me, right? Fucking government cops?"

"The Board's gotten approval on this from Toronto."

"You're sticking a pair of goons on me to throw me out of the building?"

"Not just the building, Dad. Off the planet. For good." He reaches for the Flexi on his desk. "It's all here."

He tosses it towards Jensen, who catches it with both hands and activates it.

"Don't worry; it's in order, Dad. The corporate and government lawyers have seen to that. Every detail. You'll be escorted to the Texas launch facility where you'll be sent to Mars Base 15 -- at the government's expense. A lab's been set up for you. There you can work as far away from me as you've ever hoped and finish the Apparatus. Do a good job and we might even let you back Earthside, but don't hold your breath."

It isn't often Jensen is caught wordless. "But... "

"Yes, you thought today'd be just another little tussle in a V. P.'s office, didn't you? Another tiff with the kid you thought you'd control with your usual intimidation. Well, I learned from the master, didn't I? This time, I win. This time, you get to be the victim of a little hate -- to see what it feels like to sit day after day knowing the person you want to love loathes you."

Sam, shocked by his own candor, stares at his father, shaking.

Jensen feels suddenly weak in the knees.

The officers come in.

A father: Jensen.

A son: Samuel.

The oldest conflict in the world.

2113

Jensen took his Flexi -- a thin, transparent sheet 20 by 20 centimeters square -- and began to fold it so that one edge touched the other edge, forming a tube of sorts.

"That's what we call Folding." He looked at his grandson Nikola -- named after Tesla -- "Do you understand?"

The 7 year-old was delightfully precocious: "Yes." He loved his rare time with Grandpa because he was never treated like a stupid little child. Jensen always spoke to him like an equal, as though Nik understood the game.

To prove the point, he took the Screen out of Grandpa's hands and demonstrated. "You and I are here, with the Folding Apparatus, on this edge of the Screen." He runs a finger along it. Jensen smiled at how well Nik navigated the pronunciation of certain words. "We transcend time and distance and are brought to our destination on this edge of the Screen almost instantly." He rolls the Screen and brought the two edges together: "Like this." He beamed. "Is that right, Grandpa?"

"That's perfect."

####

JENSEN'S LOG: October 7, 2113

Happy Birthday to me.

51 years old.

A new set of nanobots and genobots. Good as new. 51 on the calendar, looking 25 again.

But I'm glad Helga's not here anymore--to see what became of me --or her screwed-up son.

I miss her at these moments more than I can express. But, like I said, I'm glad she can't see what's happened.

She'd die all over again.

####

JENSEN'S LOG: October 8, 2113

Another unfulfilling day. Then again, what's fulfilling? There's nothing left to do. The Apparatus is long finished, but I'm still kept here on Mars. They (Sam and the government) make it sound like it's my choice to stay, but it's not. Everyone knows that.

Of course, what would I do back on Earth? Especially since I'm now too acclimated to the lower gee's on Mars. I'd probably collapse back home. Let alone be un-employed. Or relegated somewhere out of sight. Erased.

Sam still hates my guts and never lets me see Nik more than a couple of times a year anyway. It's the one--the only--decent thing he's allowed. (I find it hard to use the words decent and Sam in the same sentence.)

I wish I could tell Nik everything, but I can't. I won't poison his mind with the truth about his father. Besides, his mother would deny everything. Gina's in Sam's camp completely.

Should I be surprised? Sam can be very persuasive: Like Milton's Satan standing before the goddess Eve. Oozing persuasion.

####

"You knew the price would be high when Samuel put you out here."

"I know," Jensen said, but the resignation in his voice, the slight sigh that followed revealed more.

"That was part of the deal. You develop the Apparatus, you get to live."

"In exile."

"But you agreed to that part of the deal, yes?"

"Oh com'on. You know that's crap. It wasn't a deal; it was forced on me."

Through the Viewer, Jensen watched his grandson out in the Quad. Nik was playing with a ball--an old green tennis ball Jensen had brought with him--and truly enjoying the height it reached in the low Martian gravity.

The Confederation Commandant saw the love in Jensen's eyes.

"I sometimes wish it could be different, Jensen." He nearly whispered -- even though he knew it might be picked up by the Ears placed in the high corners of his office -- "He loves you a lot." He nodded towards the boy. "But he'll do all right."

"I hope so."

"I'm sure Samuel will take care of... "

"His father's a bastard."

The Commandant said nothing.

He wouldn't get caught up in that argument.

He couldn't--and not because the Ears were listening: On some -- many -- levels he thought Jensen was right.

####

The door to Jensen's quarters shut behind him and through the Viewer, he saw the Commandant's transport slide away.

The one that took away Nik to the Folding Station at Base 9.

He stood for a long while watching the dust settle back onto the Martian plain -- and then thought sardonically about Lear and his thankless children.

On the horizon the mountains caught the last light.

Another Sol over.

He'd lost count.

Get used to it.

The shuttle carrying Nik became just another star in an endless sky.

####

JENSEN'S LOG: October 9, 2113

Five years today.

I can move freely around the Base, but the others--we're now up to 27 Confederation-approved colonists--know why I was put here, and who put me here. To some I'm a curiosity. To others I'm a victim (they look at me with immeasurable pity in their eyes--which I hate). And to some--for those who've heard and believed Sam's (or the government's) side of things--I deserve far worse than off-world exile.

Of course, I imagine this, don't I? The edict is that no one is allowed to speak to me. Only two or three scientists were allowed to help me with the Apparatus--and those conversations were limited to shop talk. Now that the work's done, it's complete silence.

So I only imagine what I see in other people's eyes.

I'm smiling right now: As much as I say I hate the looks of pity, on some level I hope they are looks of sympathy or pathos. It's the closest I get to love these days.

Oh please.

I re-read that last line: It's the closest I get to love these days.

If it weren't so true, I'd laugh at the self-pity.

2148

A father: Samuel, now 65, graying.

A son: Nikola, 47.

We're in Nik's faux-mahogany paneled office, full of African masks and batik hangings--a sea of gold, red, and warm bronze.

Sam stands in front of the pinewood desk Nik made on his last visit to the Adirondacks.

Nik's turned pale, trying to think of his next move. "I can't believe you'd do this."

"You leave me no choice."

Nik rises from his chair.

"Stay where you are." Samuel has the laser pistol pointed squarely at Nik's chest.

Nik sits again.

"I'm your son." He's trying to reason, to appeal to whatever shred of goodness might be left.

"Not to me." His anger blooming, he begins to shake slightly.

"I just... "

"Shut the hell up. I don't want lies or excuses. You're trying to steal the Apparatus, take away the company from me -- the same way your grandfather tried to."

"Dad, this is nuts."

"Nuts? Really? Is it nuts when I hear that you're holding a Board Meeting today? Is it nuts when I find encoded messages on your Network to your grandfather? Is it... "

"Why the hell are you spying on my personal logs? You've become paranoid, Dad." So much for reason and diplomacy.

Samuel steps closer to the desk, the laser still aimed, despite his shaking. He's clearly overwhelmed.

"Because my own son wants to destroy me just like my own father."

Nik knows he's got nothing to lose, so he gets up slowly.

"Sit down, I said."

Nik begins to move around the desk.

"Stop. I'll do this. I will. It's what I came to do."

Nik stops.

"You didn't kill Grandpa. You exiled him. Why would you kill me?"

"Because you deserve it."

If I can get the pistol from him, I could... Could what? Wrestle him to the floor? Shoot him?

Sam stares: "Don't even think of escaping. Not this time. You and your disgusting little partner aren't going to get away with this. Or your lab brat, Sarah, either."

That's the ignition. "You leave Sarah out of this." And he lunges forward.

Sam fires.

A direct hit to the chest.

Nik drops to the floor, a smoking burn mark on his tunic.

####

The Confederation reports made it simple: Sam had to wrestle the pistol from his son's hand when Nik attacked him. It went off accidentally. Sam remains in grief and shock.

The fact the forensic report wouldn't corroborate Sam's version -- that the angle of the entry wound was all wrong -- wouldn't be a problem. That report simply disappeared. So did the expert who wrote it.

Very simple: Do-gooders, whistle-blowers, or advocates for truth need not apply.

2155

"Is that really how it happened?" Sarah was always inquisitive.

Jakob loved that about her.

"Supposedly, but no one can ever know for sure."

"It's a nice story, though, isn't it?" And she danced in a little circle: "Cinderella wins, Cinderella wins! Yay!"

He ruffled her shaggy blond hair -- "Yes, she does" -- then nuzzled in, and kissed her on the top of her head, holding her close.

He would miss her.

Painfully.

But he forced practicality: "You have to get ready now. You leave in an hour."

"I wish I didn't have to go."

"Me, too." He took a breath, "But those are the rules. It's what your Grandpa Samuel wants."

Her bright face undid itself: "I don't like him."

Jakob kept his thought to himself: Smart kid.

####

He's tried to make his quarters on Enceladus comfortable, thanks to Brother Stephen and the others in his community -- earth tones; simple, functional furniture; calm lighting. Not Spartan but soothing -- conducive to meditation and thought.

And he's happy his presence remains a positive force for the science teams striving to adjust to the often hectic environment: a handful researching seismic activity and other phenomenon, and another dozen or so operating the Folding Station that now zaps teams of explorers and researchers to Confederate outposts in the Oort Belt and beyond.

But...

Sarah closes her rucksack. "Done."

"Good job, pumpkin."

They both smile.

Another hug.

Sarah goes to sit and out of nowhere -- as if she's been thinking of it for a while -- says: "Then it was Nik who really took off with the Folding idea when he grew older, just the way Great Pop Jensen hoped?"

"Exactly." There's so much more to the story, of course. She still doesn't know the truth about Nik's death.

Or even about Nik and him.

Samuel--and his Confederation cohorts--make sure of that. Just another part of the lie.

Jakob sees Sarah's mind at work.

"Maybe I can do something like that one day."

"Yes, maybe you can. You can do anything you want. Reach for the stars."

She throws out one of her own: "Sky's the limit."

"The longest journey starts with the first step."

By this point they're both giggling, which Jakob loves -- to feel like a giggling kid again. A kid enjoying his own kid.

But then, the inevitable.

There's the knock and the door slides open.

Brother Stephen stands there.

"It's time now." He speaks as gently as he can.

Jakob gets up and nods.

"Honey, you leave tomorrow morning. Brother Stephen and I want you to have a good night's sleep. He's going to take you to a nice room that overlooks the ice geysers and Saturn's rings. OK?"

She tries to smile. "I can't stay with you here?"

"I'm afraid not. But Brother Stephen will take good care of you and I'll see you at the Platform tomorrow morning."

"Promise?"

He nearly chokes, saying "Of course"--and looks deeply into her eyes before he sweeps her into a melting hug. "Goodbye, Sparky."

"Bye, Uncle Jakob."

"I'll miss you."

"Me, too."

He can hear her trying to hold back tears: "It's all right to cry, you know. In fact, if you do, then I can, too."

He smiles at her.

So, she cries.

He does, too.

####

JAKOB'S LOG: February 19, 2155

I began the day with prayer, as always, but tried to sustain silent meditation for an hour. It's still something I long to master. My mind's too busy--always thinking of so many things.

Brother Stephen says I'll attain my goal--eventually.

I think about the stories I'm writing, about the pieces of music I'm composing (not that the stories or the music will ever get off Enceladus), and most of all I think about Nik and Sarah.

Sarah's all I've got, now that Nik's dead.

Just saying those words--Nik's dead--still stuns me. It's worse than any pain I've ever felt. It just stabs straight down to the bone and twists for minutes on end. Just when the first wave is over, it comes back just as hard. Eventually it stops, but the after-effect is one of complete and total emptiness.

At least there's Sarah.

Although she'll probably never find out the truth.

A "womb lab" and a pair of gay Dads are more than Sam can "endure"--his word.

More than the Confederation can "tolerate"--their word.

So she stays with Sam, is told Nik and his "wife" were killed in an accident, and that I'm Nik's half-brother, living the life of a scientist hermit in a non-sectarian spiritual community here in the outer colonies.

I could tell her the truth, of course.

About my relationship with Nik.

About Nik's death.

About Grandpa Jensen still going strong at 90-something on Mars--but long forgotten. Erased.

About Sam.

About ... so much.

But then what would happen?

To me?

To her?

People have a way of disappearing in this reality.

####

Sarah stands on the Fold Platform and waves at him.

He waves back, once again finding it hard not to break down.

Brother Stephen's standing next to her. Jakob puts his hand over his chest and mouths the words "Thank you."

Stephen nods with a sad smile.

Then the Apparatus starts up, a quiet, deep whirring sound that grows in intensity until the entire Station -- the size of a large cargo hold -- is filled with a nearly deafening roar. Then Sarah and Stephen's bodies begin to glow -- imperceptibly at first, but then more and more white, then turquoise, and finally vivid cobalt. The next moments are frighteningly dramatic: the bodies on the Platform seem to explode suddenly, in slow-motion, looking like fireworks made of the finest, scintillating powder. Finally, with a collapsing rush of wind -- an enormous inhale of mechanical fury -- everything stops.

The five meter wide Platform is empty -- a polished silvery disc in the middle of the darkened Station.

Jakob's ears buzz for a minute or two.

He walks to the Viewer filling the length of the north wall.

Alone again.

Here.

Enceladus and its endless plains of undulating, rift-scarred ice.

Saturn's rings silently arcing from the horizon's edge clear across the anthracitic sky.

What will she look like when she visits next?

But he can't dwell on that.

"When" is too long to imagine.

####

JAKOB'S LOG: March 15, 2155

For the Ides, I had to watch Julius Caesar.

What a wonderful play, and the new production from Cassini Colony is remarkable. They've set it on the Moon, making it a kind of allegory for what happened when the 27 lunar bases tried to break away from the Confederation. I'm not normally fond of updating classic plays, but this really works.

I remember hearing or seeing it as a child--and a few times since--and being moved. But this production is stunning.

Of course, the fact that the Brutus looked like Sam and the Caesar a great like Nik only made the third act all the more chilling ... .

... . I had to pause. It's been three years, but I can only talk about Nik for a few moments before the great pain sweeps in.

Perhaps that'll get better.

Of course, then I think of Lord Tennyson: O grief, that grief can end.

He got that right, didn't he? As much as I hate to grieve, I'm afraid of letting it go. If my grief goes, maybe Nik goes, too.

And that's the most consuming fear I have: That I'll forget Nik.

My hell.

####

JAKOB'S LOG: APRIL 5, 2155

So, Sarah, what I really want to say is that after your last visit, I nearly died with sadness.

I'm also writing this because you need to know that Sam or some of his goons will try to prevent you from finding out the truth.

Let's start here: Nik and I were partners. Confederation regulations on Earth wouldn't let us declare our relationship publicly. Sure we could have gone to the Moon or Mars where it wouldn't have been a question, but we were rooted on Earth -- Earth was our home.

In any event, we decided we wanted to have a child. Nik donated sperm, found an Earthside lab (so-called "womb labs") that would create and incubate the embryo, and you were born. The Confederation has since destroyed all facilities with artificial wombs. You wouldn't be possible today.

We told the government that we'd adopted you from some young girl -- Nik had forged the documents -- and all was well for the first six or so months.

Then Sam found out through some clever spying what Nik had done. His anger against his son knew no bounds. It's hard to believe that Sam was once a very good person and it sounds so clichéd to say that power corrupted him, but it did. He exiled his own father, Jensen -- your great grandfather -- to Mars to finish the final details on the Folding Apparatus. He never let Jensen out of his sight.

There was some vestige of kindness left in Sam during that time, and he let Nik visit Jensen from time to time. But even those visits stopped.

Once the Apparatus was perfected, Sam still left his father on Mars. The last I heard Jensen was still alive, but I can't be sure. Who can be sure of anything these days? He'd be close to 90 or 95, assuming he had all the available nano-tech.

I'm sorry, Sarah, I feel like I'm wandering all over the place. It's just that so many thoughts and memories are flooding me right now.

It didn't have to be this way.

Maybe that's the difference, Sarah. Sam wanted to be great. I only wanted to do some good. Greatness wasn't important to me. Despite what Sam might say, Nik and I never intended to take over the Company. That's all in his sick mind.

So anyway, after your father was killed, Sam and Gina took you away.

And I was sent here, which has actually turned into a blessing of sorts.

Except that I can rarely see you.

That's always a daily gnaw at my heart.

A chime sounded softly, meaning his supper would arrive in the FoodServe any moment.

A tray materialized.

He looked. Chicken pot pie.

A rose lay next to the bowl of steaming food. He smiled. Mark must have done the prep.

But it's only two more years, Sparky.

Then you're 18; you're free -- and personally, I'd get as far away from Gina and Sam as possible.

But the whole reason I'm telling you this -- and hoping somehow to preserve it so Sam can't destroy it -- is that I don't want you to think I abandoned you. I didn't. There's no way I could have kept you -- Sam and the Confederation have always been in bed together. Nik and I were an embarrassment to Sam--and you were "un-natural."

Just hang in there, Sparky. You can make it through the next two years -- then get the hell off that planet.

I want us to stay in touch. You could even come here if you wanted, though I hardly think my cloistered life on Enceladus would be for you. You deserve vibrant life.

Isn't it funny? That Sam even let us have contact? But you know why, right? It's the same reason why he let Nik see Jensen on Mars from time to time. It makes him look generous. Makes him look innocent. Makes him look great. And like I said, for Sam, that's the bottom line. He wants adoration.

All I've ever wanted in life is to try helping people. The Apparatus could be good for humanity, if it isn't mishandled. Some of the other advances from Folding technology could do good, too.

But all Sam wants is the influence -- the authority -- the control. Greatness, no matter what the cost.

2156

Jakob looked at it.

"In the last Fold?" he asked.

"Yes," Brother Stephen handed him the small box. "It had your name attached. It was among the supplies, almost like it was hidden."

Jakob looked up to the corner of his room; the Eye light was off.

So was the Ear.

How? That would mean no one was seeing or hearing this.

"I shut them down for two minutes," Stephen said. "I'll say it was a glitch--meteoroid shower interference or something. You only have another 80 seconds to hide it out of sight. Trust me. Trust the sender." He gave a knowing wink. "Open it in your Lav."

And as quickly as he'd come, he left.

####

Which was the only place that didn't have Eye or Ear tech. The only place for privacy in the entire Confederation. You can only imagine what went on in some Lavs, but that's another tale.

The blue box, barely 8 centimeters square, contained what looked like a small rectangular tile resting in a nest of foam insulation. Though only about a fingernail thick, its translucent surface revealed remarkable circuitry that seemed alive--sparking synapses, multicolored lights blinking, a small golden coil opening and shutting like a micro-sized lung.

When he lifted it out and held it up to the light, the effect was remarkable--a kaleidoscopic display of colors--a whole world seemed squeezed inside. Layer upon layer of movement--yet between his thumb and index finger, it was barely an eight of a centimeter.

The box also contained a slip of actual paper with the printed message. "I'm sending a message to Mark. He'll explain."

####

And he did.

2157

JENSEN'S LOG: OCTOBER 7, 2157

95.

How have I made it this far?

He pauses.

He looks around his room, now cluttered with the memorabilia of his many years on Mars.

There's nothing left, is there? I'm waiting to die, which won't happen for years with all the nanotech pumped into me. Why? What made me do that? Was there really a time I thought I might get free of this place? That somehow I'd outlive Samuel's hatred? Or outlive Samuel?

Well, what's done is done. I'm here for many more years--and I'll be damned if I'll give that bastard the satisfaction of killing myself.

I'm sure that's what he wanted all along. That I'd go crazy locked away on Mars treated like a pariah. That Nik's death would be the clincher. That I'd be so overcome I'd just end it.

Guess again.

I won't give you that satisfaction.

He walks to his Viewer. The Quad is filled with Sunday afternoon: Work staff lounging under the stringy hybrid trees, a few families sharing picnics, sunlight shafting through the dome radiantly. Orchestrated perfection. The triumph of the Confederation and its values.

I'll be heading out soon on my usual Sunday hike to the highlands. The trek to the edge of the canyon, the majesty of the mountains beyond, the deep sky above. There I find my respite from the Confederation. From Samuel. There I can feel the fantasy of freedom. The few hours of freedom my environmental suit allows before the air depletes--before the cold pierces through--the cold that would turn me into a new Lot's Wife--a pillar of ice standing on the edge of a cliff--to anyone looking, a mysterious, miniscule silhouette against the horizon--the Martian night wind wearing me down to a wisp.

At one time, that almost sounded good to me.

But I didn't.

No. Nothing to make that man feel like he'd won.

Nothing.

Then I had my idea for the Upload.

Then I knew I'd win.

He laughs aloud as he goes to his closet and dons his Suit. He checks the air pack, activates the GPS -- everything's in order.

His head gear -- a lightweight balaclava with tinted view plate -- is the last thing on.

He presses the Com patch.

"Going for my walk." He had to report his movements. Of course, they knew anyway; he was always in their sights.

"Roger that. Where to?" The woman already knows, of course.

"The highland canyon."

"As always. You know, there are other places."

"Of which I'm aware."

After a silence, there's a shut off click in his ear.

He's alone.

Again.

He walks over to his Screen and re-reads the words.

Then I knew I'd win.

He stares at them for the longest time.

Finally he reaches out, tapping the control panel.

No longer trapped. He smiles. Even if the Confederation reads my notes, they won't figure it out--or it'll be too late.

####

JAKOB'S LOG: October 7, 2157

I'd like to think it's a new beginning, especially now that Sarah's decided to visit whenever she can. Now that she's free of Sam.

Of course he's tried to poison the well whenever he can--but Sarah hasn't bought into it. She's able to see through him. That's all that matters.

As for Sam, I actually feel sad for him. What a completely miserable man he is. He's got all the power he could want, all the wealth, but he lacks anything that might bring him true happiness.

It's the oldest story, isn't it? The man who grabs at everything, gets it, and thinks he's got it all. Thinks he's content. Only to find he's miserable to the marrow.

Time for the clichés, right? Money can't buy you happiness. Happiness lies within. Etcetera.

When I first got here a few years back, with the grief of Nik so heavy on my heart, I didn't know whether I'd make it or not.

Then came Jensen's gift, the Upload chip.

... and Mark.

Just yesterday, Mark came to play chess with me. After he clobbered me -- we took a long walk on the ice plains under all those stars, the rings of Saturn rising to fill so much of the sky.

Of course, I liked him from the first moment we met.

I wonder if Nik would, too?

I was guilty at first. I felt disloyal.

Of course, there's an interesting dilemma, isn't there? I really like my meditative life. I've gotten used to being alone, of spending my hours in prayer, reading, writing.

But then Mark visits and we find secret places to talk about the Upload.

He goes to the Viewer. One of the Base rovers heads out towards the nearby ridge, the small mechanical against the vast machinery of space.

He smiles: We're microscopic, aren't we?

I'm looking out at one of the rovers disappearing behind an outcrop of sheet ice. Everything here's so vast -- the sky, Saturn's rings, the expansiveness of the ice plateaus. When I look up, I can almost imagine seeing the arcing orbits of the planets and moons racing around the Sun at thousands of miles per second. And beyond that, imagine how small our solar system is compared to the rest of the galaxy, and then imagine the mere size of our galaxy compared to the vast emptiness between the billions of other galaxies, many much larger than ours. And we only see a portion -- the latest reach is about 14 billion miles in any one direction. My guess is that the visible Universe is but a speck itself, a little, pulsing omicron in something endless and eternal.

He laughs at himself.

Sorry, I go off on these tangents, don't I?

The truth is the Upload will make all my wishes possible.

Thanks to Jensen, my first piggyback is Mark.

The stars blaze. He sees the airlock on the Dome open. A suited figure emerges and begins walking towards his hut.

It's Mark. Today it happens.

He looks at the pulsing, blinking Upload Chip in his hand.

He thinks, Bless Jensen. Then, Bless Mark.

In less than an hour, to all appearances, he will have died.

In less than an hour, his consciousness will reside in the Chip.

In less than an hour, he'll be inside Mark, riding to the stars.

Folding to his freedom.

Waiting for Sarah.

2158

I'm Jakob.

I now live in Mark.

My Upload "domino" lies buried neatly inside the muscles of his forearm, my synapses and his nervous system in integrated confluence.

If necessary, with a tap of a subdermal pad, he can shut me down, making me undetectable to the Eyes, Ears, and Scans of the Confederation. But that need hasn't happened yet. Most of the time, we're both quite aware of the other, both able to enjoy wonderful conversations. For me, it's as though I'm hearing and feeling his presence inside me; he says it feels the same for him. An interior dance of ideas and emotions.

Despite our symbiosis, we're respectful. We allow each other privacy, and I'm more than willing to turn off my connection if necessary. That's rare; we love each other and don't mind our companionship.

Sarah's here, too, inside her host Catharine. I don't know her, but she seems nice, a perfect nest for my Sarah, the mother-sister she's never had. I'm happy for her.

Our current home is Sedna, living in the Folding Station--Mark, an engineer; Catherine, an exogeologist.

Two bodies, four minds, living our stories far, far from home.

Perhaps always on the run, but--for now at least--free.

THE END


© 2011 T. Richard Williams

Bio: T. Richard Williams is the pen name for Bill Thierfelder, a full-time writer and artist, formerly a Professor of English at Dowling College, a liberal arts college on Long Island, New York. Mr. Williams has been writing stories and verse for over two decades. His recent work includes two volumes of poetry: How the Dinosaurs Devoured the Humans and The Letter S; a collection of science fiction and narrative fiction called Ten; his fiction has been published in a variety of online magazines and he served as Fiction Editor from 2008 to 2010 for Shadeworks, a British-based magazine devoted to supernatural/horror literature and art. As an artist, Thierfelder’s work has appeared in both Manhattan and Long Island galleries. He is driving force behind MAKING WINGS: CREATIVE PROJECT THAT ENHANCE LIVES. Making Wings. Mr. T's most recent appearance in Aphelion was Virtual in the May 2009 issue.

E-mail: T. Richard Williams

Webpage: william thierfelder / t. richard williams

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.