Saturday, October 20, 2007



If I had known what Mayflower held for me, I might have stayed in New Hampshire. Even if I had been dragged screaming from our clapboard house, I could have hidden myself before we ever got on the space shuttle. Carol Jeanne would have searched, of course, and for a long time. But she would never have found me, and, as much as she would have mourned my loss, eventually she would have left without me. There was a new world waiting for her—to observe it, understand it, and transform it. The playground of her dreams. What was love compared to that?
I had already lost her; I should have known. Who can compete with a new planet for a gaiologist’s heart? But at the time I was too naive to understand anything that mattered. In those days my devotion to Carol Jeanne was so strong that even if I had known what would happen on the Ark, the terrible things I would do, the frightening course my life would take, I still would have gone with her, gladly. It didn’t occur to me that I could live for a single day without her. What would a little murder have mattered to me then? I was besotted.
From the moment Carol Jeanne received her invitation, there was no doubt that she would accept it. I also welcomed the move to the village of Mayflower on the interstellar Ark. A great adventure; she was so happy I couldn’t help but be delighted myself. And there was a personal benefit: the artificial atmosphere of the Ark would be warmer and brighter than New England’s.
Because I was Carol Jeanne’s witness, she and I were so close that the two of us were almost one individual. On themorning we left she awoke me first, before she got her own husband out of bed.
“Lovelock,” she whispered, leaning over my pillow. “Are you awake? It’s time.”
I was instantly alert, but I lay in bed with my eyes closed, knowing she would put her hand on my forehead to awaken me. Her touch was so gentle.
“Lovelock! I know you’re awake. I can feel you trembling.”
I couldn’t help that; my body always gives me away.
I raised my hand and squeezed her finger, the way I always greeted her in the mornings. When I opened my eyes, she was smiling.
“That’s better, you wretched little slug. We’ll be leaving soon. Make yourself some breakfast; I’ll get everyone else out of bed.”
I lay in bed for a moment or two, as Carol Jeanne went to awaken Red. It was a thankless task, because Red was a heavy sleeper, lethargic and snappish in the mornings, thinking only of himself. Usually Carol Jeanne let him awaken himself after we had gone to work. In his own sweet time, he’d rouse himself and then make breakfast for Lydia and Emmy. At the end of each day, when we saw him after work, he had transformed himself into the perfect husband and father. I always suspected that Red’s real personality was the early morning one, when his guard was down and he was nasty and irritable. But even if the nice evening self was a fake, I still gave him points for trying.
I heard Carol Jeanne awaken him in the next room, but not as tenderly as she had awakened me moments before. She knew the difference between us. Red grunted a reply and stumbled toward the bathroom. Sounded like a morning I should stay away from him for at least an hour. I went to the kitchen and tore open three bananas for breakfast.
When I returned to the sleeping area, both the girls were awake. Emmy, like all human babies, was completely useless and incompetent, even now that she was old enough to walk. She was wet, but instead of taking her soggy diaper off, she just stood there crying, doing nothing to help, nothing even to cooperate as Carol Jeanne struggled to get her into fresh clothes. Humans are born so stupid; but that’s the script their DNA has prepared for them, so I didn’t blame Emmy. In fact, as a cool, dispassionate observer, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the difficulty was caused by Carol Jeanne’s incompetence at dressing her own child. As much as I loved Carol Jeanne, I had to admit that Red was a better mother than she was. Red could have soothed Emmy in a moment, and in the meantime he could flip clothes onto a child as fast as he dealt cards; Carol Jeanne, on the other hand, made everything twice as hard as it needed to be, and every sound that Emmy made only exasperated her more.
I may be a witness, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to help. I distracted Emmy from the task at hand, entertaining her with meaningless chatter and funny faces. Almost at once the little girl forgot her discomfort. “You are my hero, Lovelock,” said Carol Jeanne. If only she had really believed her own words.
The older daughter, Lydia, wasn’t as easy to pacify. “Lovelock’s watching me get dressed,” she complained when I turned my attention to her. “He keeps staring at me. Tell him not to look at me.”
“Tell him yourself, Lydia. He isn’t staring. He’s only being friendly.”
I didn’t understand this human obsession with privacy and modesty. What—did Lydia, in her little prepubescent brain, suppose that I had some interspecies hankering for her neotenous, immature body? I knew where I wasn’t wanted. Turning my back on Lydia, I reached for Emmy. She held out her arms for me. I clambered into her clumsy embrace and held my breath as she hugged me with dangerous enthusiasm. The real benefit of this was that it always made Lydia crazy with jealousy when I let Emmy hug me.
“I want a hug, too,” she wailed.
“Please don’t get them competing with each other, Lovelock,” Carol Jeanne said. “Not today.”
I scrambled out of Emmy’s hug and climbed over Carol Jeanne to get to Lydia, who was reaching for me with a look of coy triumph on her face. Poor child—she thought she was the one manipulating me. Once enfolded in her false little embrace, I permitted myself an audible sigh. Carol Jeanne was usually oblivious to how much I endured for her sake, but I still tried to help her notice. Already I had heard Red grumble, Emmy cry, and Lydia whine—and Red’s parents weren’t even awake yet. Not for the first time, I wished that Carol Jeanne and I were going to the Ark without the rest of her family. If I could have thought of a way to do it, I would have.
As Carol Jeanne clumsily took care of the girls—setting them at the table, where they splashingly ate their cold cereal—I settled myself in a corner to do my job: recording how Carol Jeanne spent her last morning on Earth. I thought it was appropriate to see that she dressed herself only after her children were dressed and ready to go, ate only after her children had eaten. The leading scientist of her time, and still she placed her children before the weighty concerns of her work. Thus did the greatest of all gaiologists humbly act out her natural role within the species. She had said it herself, once: Gaiologists must always recognize that they are part of the living organism, never an outside observer, and never, not for a moment, impartial or unbiased about anything. To help her make her point, I never recorded Red doing these family chores, even though he was the one who usually did them. Why should I have? He had his own witness, didn’t he?
Even though the children hardly understood what the Ark would mean, they had caught on that something exciting was happening, which made them jumpy and quick to whine—not my favorite trait in human children—but the adults were no less jumpy in their own way. They were grieving in silent, unconscious ways—grieving for the place, for the house in New Hampshire, for all the possessions they were leaving behind. Fortunately I lack the genes for that sense of bonding with inanimate objects. I’m as territorial as the next primate, but when I change territories I don’t get sentimental about the one I abandoned. I can pick up tools and use them, I can make almost any place into a nest, but I never think of it as being part of myself. Therefore I am freer than they are.
Certainly I didn’t have to stand around looking at things the way Red did, as if he were trying to preserve their images in his pathetically limited memory. What did he think his witness was for? And when Red’s father, old Stef, came out of his bedroom, still zipping his fly (was this an old man’s way of reminding us of his manliness?), he was already babbling on about memories of the house. Fortunately, he didn’t expect me to answer him and therefore I didn’t have to listen.
The most obnoxious mourner was, of course, Mamie, the she-human who gave birth to Red. At least Stef’s chatter showed that he had mastered the rudiments of speech. Mamie went around touching everything, caressing it, as if she thought that by stroking the pewter tea set on the dining room buffet she could wake it up and entice it to tag along with us. Touching, grooming—that’s a primate behavior that I indulge in. But I’d never groom a metal pitcher.
What annoyed me most about Mamie’s touching things—besides the fact that everything she did annoyed me—was that the things she was touching so possessively weren’t hers. Somehow she had managed to extend her sense of territoriality to include things that belonged to Carol Jeanne, or to Red and Carol Jeanne together. It betrayed the way she really felt about this house: In her own mind, she was no guest, but rather the secret owner of it all.
Including the people. She thought she owned them, too. I had once tried to explain this to Carol Jeanne, but she refused to listen. I think she knew that I was right, but she simply didn’t want to be disloyal to Red by listening to somebody saying bad things about Red’s dear mother. Thus, out of love, do humans force themselves to love even the barnacles and parasites that attach themselves to their beloved. We lower primates have a more sensible approach: We pick the parasites off and eat them. Our loved ones are relieved of the annoying little bloodsuckers, and we get a little boost in our dietary animal protein.
“I wish I could have taken this,” sighed Mamie. She was caressing the sofa in the living room. Only six months ago she had complained about how uncomfortable it was—the opening move in the game of getting Red to buy another one just to please her. Another test of her little boy’s love. Now, of course, the sofa was precious. “The thousand-pound limit seems so meager,” she said. “Poundage should be allotted by a person’s age. Young people just haven’t put down so many roots.”
Tentacles, I think she meant.
I waited for someone to point out that Mamie was already taking much more than her thousand pounds. She had appropriated most of Stef’s and Lydia’s and Emmy’s poundage—and a little bit of my pathetic fifty-pound allotment, too. She was taking all the weight allotted to Red’s witness, Pink the pig. I imagined that most people who went off-Earth didn’t leave with as many possessions as Mamie was taking. Actually, most people on Earth didn’t have as many possessions as she was taking.
But no one corrected Mamie; no one put her in her place. Red apparently thought his mother was perfect, Stef had been hammered into submissiveness many decades ago—probably within the first month of their marriage—and Carol Jeanne just didn’t like confrontation. So everyone treated Mamie respectfully as she drifted from room to room, leaving oily fingerprints and sickly-sweet perfume on everything. Carol Jeanne wouldn’t have appreciated it if I compared Mamie to a dog marking its territory, so I kept that observation to myself. Besides, the comparison wasn’t really fair. Among dogs it’s not the bitches that do the marking.
With all her mourning over things she hadn’t owned anyway, Mamie wasn’t leaving behind anything that couldn’t be replaced. Carol Jeanne, on the other hand, was leaving her sister Irene, who was an irreplaceable resource. Even I could understand her feelings of desolation; in those days, I would have preferred a death sentence to separation from Carol Jeanne.
Of course no one but me even guessed at her feelings. What did Red know about siblings? He had never had one. As for Stef, well, I had a secret suspicion that he regarded all relatives as something to be endured when they were present, not missed when they were gone. Mamie was taking with her all the people that she owned, or at least controlled. Only Carol Jeanne had a real reason for deep grief and regret—and only Carol Jeanne had enough self-control not to display her feelings the way the others did.
At last breakfast was over. The small carry-on bags were packed, mostly with spare clothes and toys for Emmy and Lydia, or the banana chips Carol Jeanne always carried to feed me when fresh fruit or monkey chow wasn’t available. The real luggage had already been shipped ahead to be weighed and examined. So when the time came, the departure was surprisingly quick. A last look at the house, and then everyone clambered into the boxy-but-comfortable Nintendo Hoverboy, the driver revved the engine, and we bounced into the air and were gone. I thought of the months of winter remaining in New England and was glad to get away, but of course Carol Jeanne and Red held hands and both of them got misty-eyed. Seeing that, Mamie began to sniffle and quickly pulled Red’s attention away from his wife. I imagined poking my finger into Mamie’s eye; then she’d have something to cry about. I glanced at Stef and saw a faint smile on his lips. I wondered if he had the same fantasy. His was probably more elaborate. He had lived with her longer.
The trip to Boston was nothing special, scooting over the same roads that Carol Jeanne and I used to get to the university. The road surface was clear of snow—the constant hover traffic blew the snow off as fast as it ever fell. Instead, the snow was piled so high on either side that only the tops of the trees were visible. It was like driving through a tunnel.
Inside the craft, the scenery was much more interesting. Lydia kept asking if we were almost there. Emmy, ever the one to find a physical metaphor for her feelings, soon got carsick and vomited on the floor, raising an interesting smell and soiling Mamie’s shoes. I wondered if Emmy’s aim had been deliberate. If so, she might grow up to be worth keeping. Mamie pouted for the rest of the trip.
* * *
When we got to the airport, I considered it my duty to find Irene. So I stood on Carol Jeanne’s shoulder and scanned for Irene’s powder-blue habit; she was never hard to find. When I spotted her, sitting in a patch of warm sunlight near the windows, I hooted softly a couple of times and pointed.
“There she is,” said Carol Jeanne. “Lovelock found her.” As if any one of the others understood how much it meant to her to see Irene this last time.
With me sitting on her shoulder, of course, Carol Jeanne was as easy to spot from a distance as Irene was in her habit. We hadn’t gone two steps toward her when Irene stood and raised her arm in salute. At that, Carol Jeanne lost all restraint and ran toward her. I knew enough to climb down from her shoulder and cling to her back, out of the way. Out of sight. Carol Jeanne and Irene would be more free with each other if I was invisible. But I could see and hear them, for this was one of those moments I was there to preserve.
A big, showy embrace—and then the two of them were suddenly shy. Neither knew how to say farewell. Neither was willing to be the first to cry.
“Come with me,” Carol Jeanne said. “We can find you a place.” I knew that she did not expect Irene to change her mind. It was her oblique way of begging Irene to forgive her for leaving.
Irene only shook her head.
“I know your covenant is for a lifetime,” said Carol Jeanne, “but don’t you think you can serve God out there, too? Don’t you think people will need you there?” And then, her voice breaking a little, she added the words that were hardest to say. “Don’t you think I’ll need you?”
Irene smiled wanly. “I’m going to live the years that God gives me, in the place where he put me.”
I could see that Carol Jeanne took that hard, as if it were a criticism of the colonization voyage itself. I knew Irene well enough to understand that she didn’t mean it that way, but that was how Carol Jeanne heard it because of her own sense of guilt about leaving her sister. “If God created a universe where relativity works,” said Carol Jeanne, “you can hardly blame us for traveling to the places God put within our reach.”
Irene shook her head. “I know you’re doing what you were born to do, Jeannie. Just because I can’t bring myself to leave doesn’t mean that when I’m old, I won’t be glad to think of you out there somewhere, still young and happy and looking forward to your life’s work. Maybe God meant you to stretch time and travel to the stars and live for centuries after I’m dead. Maybe I just don’t want to put off my climb up Jacob’s ladder.” She made a try at laughing, but it was a feeble chuckle that fooled no one. And because Irene had actually mentioned death, Carol Jeanne finally lost her composure—not completely, but enough that tears started to flow.
Irene raised her arm and put her left hand on Carol Jeanne’s shoulder. The flowing sleeve of her habit looked like an angel’s wing. This was the last time the two sisters would touch each other, or see each other, or hear one another speak.
“After all, Jesus himself chose not to cheat death,” Irene added.
Irene had meant this innocently—hadn’t she tied her life to Jesus?—but again, Carol Jeanne interpreted her words as criticism. “We aren’t cheating death, Irene.” Her voice sounded hesitant and unconvincing. “My life will be no longer than yours. It will only seem longer to me because you could have gone with me and you didn’t.”
Irene looked away for a long moment. When she faced Carol Jeanne, there were tears on her face, too.
“Don’t you think I want to stay with you?” she asked. “You’re the only people I love—you and Lydia and Emmy. Even Lovelock—in a way, he’s family, too.”
That was nice.
“But my work is here. And as crazy as it sounds, I feel as if God is here. Even though I know that he’ll be with you too, I wouldn’t know how to find him out there. I can’t leave God, not even for you.”
Carol Jeanne answered quietly. “It was unfair of me to ask.”
“But I’m glad you did,” said Irene. “It will comfort me when I’m lonely for you, knowing how much you wanted me with you.”
They embraced, so suddenly that I couldn’t get my tail out of the way. In a way, then, Irene’s arm included me in the hug. I looked at her face—only inches away from mine, now—to see if she noticed me. She did: She opened her eyes, and despite her tears managed to wink at me and smile a little.
I put my hands on her cheeks and gave her a wide-mouthed kiss on the lips. She kissed me back, squeezing her own lips together as though she were kissing a small child. Then she lifted her arm enough that I could pull my tail out of the embrace.
Carol Jeanne must have taken that release of pressure as a sign that the embrace was over; she started to pull away. But I could not let that happen, not so soon. I scrambled to their shoulders and held them together, my hands firm on their shoulders. They laughed at me as they renewed the embrace, but I knew how soon their trembling turned from laughter to silent weeping.
I held them together there until I could see Mamie bustling over, no doubt to “cheer them up.” I knew Carol Jeanne would not want to be caught so emotionally exposed, so I chattered softly. She took the cue—probably without even realizing I had given it—and pulled back, drying her eyes on her sleeve. Irene, of course, had a hand-kerchief. She was prepared for emotion; Carol Jeanne was always taken by surprise.
Then I turned around on Carol Jeanne’s shoulder and glared at Mamie. She looked at my bared teeth and for a moment seemed to catch on to the idea that her intrusion might not be welcome. At least she paused in her headlong rush.
Oblivious to Mamie, Carol Jeanne spoke again to Irene. “I guess I can’t expect you to write.”
“I can, the whole time you’re in solar orbit. And I’ll pray for you, too, all my life. Of course, a few weeks into your real journey, I’ll be dead of old age. Then you’ll be on your own.”
“On the contrary. Then you’ll watch over me. Then I’ll know you’re taking care of me, protecting me.”
“It’s the saints who get to do that,” Irene said. “But wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could? I’d watch over you, and Lydia, and Emmy, and even Lovelock, until you joined me in heaven.”
I chattered at that—the particular sound that I knew they interpreted as laughter.
“God knows you,” Irene said to me. “Don’t you doubt it.”
I had my own ideas about what God, if he existed, must think of me. If he had wanted creatures like me to exist, he would have arranged for it himself. There was no one like me when Adam was naming the beasts. If there was anyone like me in the mythical Garden, it was a certain talkative snake.
“Light a candle for me,” Carol Jeanne said.
“I’ll light enough candles for you to keep the church warm in winter.”
Mamie, of course, was suffering greatly, being in the presence of a connection between human beings that she didn’t control. “Oh, you two mustn’t be so sad,” she said. “You can talk to each other for months by phone, until the voyage actually starts.”
They gave no sign that they heard her.
“Good-bye,” said Irene. “God bless you.”
“I love you.” Carol Jeanne barely whispered the words, but I knew that Irene felt them, even if she didn’t hear them.
By now, Stef and Red had brought the girls along, and Mamie seized the opportunity. “Your pretty little nieces want to say bye-bye to Auntie Irene,” she said. “You mustn’t make them sad, now, with all these silly tears.”
Only then did Carol Jeanne and Irene pay attention to the rest of the family. Irene hugged Lydia and Emmy as Mamie thrust each of them toward her; despite Mamie’s orchestration of the scene, Irene’s love for the girls was real, and they had always adored this strange creature who had no children to love but them. Irene’s embrace of Red was more clumsy, but only because he felt so awkward hugging a nun; she genuinely liked Red, and he liked her, too. Then she shook hands with Mamie and Stef.
“You’re such a dear thing,” said Mamie. “We’ll all miss your little visits so much.”
Stef said nothing, but nodded to Irene as he shook her hand, as if to say that he understood her grief and approved of the strength of her commitment, even if he didn’t share her faith.
Irene turned again to Carol Jeanne. But, having said their goodbyes, neither said another word to the other. They only embraced once more and silently broke apart. Irene raised her fingers in farewell as the rest of us moved away from her and headed for the tram that would take us out to the spacehopper on its extra-long runway.
Carol Jeanne stoically refused to look back, but that’s what I was for. I sat on her shoulder, my hand in her hair, and watched Irene every moment until she was out of sight. I knew that in a few weeks or months, Carol Jeanne would ask for the memory. I would have long since stored the scene on the Ark’s master computer, exactly as I saw it; she would play it out on the holographic display of her terminal, zooming in for a close-up of her sister’s face. Then she would see what I had seen: Irene smiling, waving, then bringing her hand to cover her eyes as she wept.

Copyright © 1994 by Orson Scott Card and Kathryn H. Kidd

Excerpted from


by Orson Scott Card, Kathryn H. Kidd
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