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Sand and Light

Prologue: Mother and Child




Mars Base 2, Old Sol System



"Mommie, I'm scared."

"You don't have to be afraid, Alex, love. It'll be just like going to sleep."

"Is it really like sleeping, Mommie?"

"Yes, and you'll dream wonderful dreams."

"Will Daddy be in my dreams?"

A shadow passed over the eyes of the woman in coveralls, and her voice was a bit hoarse when she replied, "I hope so, darling. I know he's in mine."

"Will it hurt, Mommie?"

"No, not at all. There might be a few little tickles while I put on the electrodes... see?"

"Mommie, it feels like bugs are crawling on my skin!"

"I'm not scaring you, am I? I can stop until you get used to the feeling."

"No. It feels funny, but I'm a big boy."

"Yes, you are. You are so brave, darling!"

"Would Daddy be proud of me, do you think?"

She leaned over and kissed the little boy beneath his dark bangs. "Daddy is proud of you every day, Alex. He is watching from Heaven, and I know his heart swells with pride every time he looks at you and sees what a fine young man you have grown to be."

"I'm... sleepy, Mommie."

"See? It's just like going to sleep. What you're feeling is a special kind of medicine that helps you sleep even if you're not sleepy to begin with."

"Like... like the doctors gave you after Daddy's accident, Mommie?" The little boy yawned. His voice was very quiet now.

"Yes, Alex," the woman whispered. "Just like that."

"Good night, Mommie..."

"Good night, Alex. When you wake up, you and I will be standing on the new world. Dream of that, my son..."

She stroked his hair until his eyes closed. "Alex?" she said softly, and then more loudly, "Alex?" There was no response, so she worked quickly, attaching the rest of the wires, and tapping in the arterial shunts. Her son's skin went from vibrant pink to pale gray as the blood drained out of his body and chemicals replaced it.

"Sleep tight," she whispered. "Don't let the bedbugs bite."

She straightened up and closed the door of the coldsleep chamber, checking to make sure that all the readouts were green, even though she knew that the sensitive computer monitors would detect and report any problems long before the human technicians. She placed her hand against the cool plastiglass, one last time, gazing at the child's pale face with its dark-lashed eyes -- a face she would not see again for years of her subjective time ... and decades or centuries of real time. Then she stood, and thumbed the toggle implanted beneath her ear. "The last of the passengers are in coldsleep."

"Good work, Rem. Thanks. What about you?"

"I won't be traveling on this ship, Tony. I'll be on the flagship. I'm one of the caretakers."

"Oh!" She heard the surprise in the pilot's voice. "I didn't know you'd made the cut. Congratulations, Rem!"

Congratulations... Rem blinked her eyes hard. Yes, she'd won a great honor... the honor of watching her home -- the home of all humanity, the place where her husband's mortal remains were buried -- vanishing forever into the sea of stars. An honor.

"Want me to wait 'til you get to the bridge before I turn off the gravity now?"

"No, go ahead. I'll be fine. Thanks, though."

Rem Saverem reached for one of the handholds with the unthinking ease of one used to frequent transitions between gravity and zero-g. Some people panicked when they felt their feet start to drift off the floor, but Rem experienced no discomfort or disorientation, merely tucked her feet up and let her arms do the work of keeping her anchored. She was lucky that way. One reason she'd been chosen to be part of the waking crew.

An honor.

She started back up the great central column, pulling herself adeptly along towards the lift that would take her to the bridge. The sleeping passengers surrounded her... row upon row of the plastiglass capsules, mounted upon a modified version of the freight spindles that dragged cargo through hard vacuum. Rem tried not to dwell upon that analogy, just as she tried not to dwell upon the resemblance of the capsules to the coffin in which her husband had lain when she last saw his face.

I'm sorry for this indignity, my people, she thought as she drifted past their sleeping forms. Hopefully this will be the last time you'll be dehumanized like this. When you wake, you'll walk on a world where each of you will be free, and the mistakes of our ancestors will be left behind along with the dying world.

She looked over her shoulder as she climbed, gazing down the great length of the spindle and through the plasticine bubble at its other end. She could see an arm of Mars Base, and beyond it, the ruddy curve of Mars itself. Beyond that, the stars.

It all looked so peaceful from up here. It didn't look like a solar system poisoned beyond all capacity to support human life.

Tiny against the bulk of the spindle, Rem Saverem stared out at the dying solar system, and finally allowed herself the mercy of the tears that she would not shed in front of her son. She tucked her bare feet up under her and allowed herself to float free, while her tears drifted in a glittering cloud around her face.



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