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True History
by Jason Stoddard 20 votes, average score = 7.7

It was Meri Palatis' four hundred and seventy-sixth anniversary, and the world was changing. Even in the warm haze of first-level Mesh, she could feel it. Even in Gemin Zeo's arms, she couldn't ignore it. A wound-tight excitement, the sense of standing on tiptoe at the edge of an abyss to catch a glance of a thing birthing below, an energy like the crackle of lightning-sculptures in a close-up insulating suit. Something reaching for Accord.

As they danced, Gemin brushed lips to her ear, and whispered, "What is wrong, treasured Meri?"

"Not a thing," she said, dropping into second-level Mesh, where there were whispers.

The Sources are placed.

Almost done.

Can you imagine what it will be like?

The New Alchemy.

I want it to happen now!

Soon, soon.

"Tell me," Gemin said, raising eyes to indicate their bizarre surrounds. "You do not enjoy our folly?"

They were playing at pioneers this anniversary, she and Gemin and a hundred of their friends, all packed into a replica of one of the earliest space-stations. Gemin had trawled the Grid for its twelve-thousand year-old design, and had delved deep into the acid black to bring back screechy sounds he claimed were period music. Now they danced and swayed to the brittle noise in the spaceship dock, staring at shiny metal and sloppy paint and lumpy rivets and ancient glyphs too stubborn for the Grid to resolve into meaning.

"It's just a silly spinning wheel," Meri said.

"It was a grand gesture!"

Meri shrugged. Even in first-level Mesh, she sensed giggles and whispers and gasps from a few of the more adventurous couples who were exploring the endless curving passageways, the cramped crew's quarters; peering out the tiny windows that looked down on the greening Earth. Probably imagining themselves living at the edge of a great age, when incredible dreams could come true.

Gemin bent her low as the music ground to an end. "Then I must try harder."

"How?"

"I don't know."

"Our five hundredth is coming," she said, teasing.

He shrugged. "Light off Jupiter and turn it into another sun, spin the moons into our names encircling an eternal fire?"

"No!"

"Disassemble all the planets and build a ringworld?"

"You can't do that!"

"Twin ourselves into Travelers and visit the extrasolar worlds?"

"Brr!"

Gemin nodded and took her in his arms, as the music ground to a start once again. "I know. I don't know. I'll think of something."

In first-level Mesh, Gemin's love was like a well-banked fire, warm and comforting. It made her earlier fear of . . .

(Accord)

. . . seem silly and far-away.

Then Gemin whirled her back into the music, and Meri was content for a time to be cradled in his arms under the riveted metal ceiling of a bygone age.

But as she danced, she couldn't help dropping into second-level Mesh. And hearing.

How are they architecting it? Through the Grid?

No. They're not using the Nodes. The engines of change are separate, buried in the dark spaces of the world.

Will some of us become sorcerers?

I don't know.

Meri knew all the words. The New Alchemy. Technology making magic again. They would wake up one day and it would just be there. Sorcerers and magicians doing all manner of impossible things. A new kind of beauty and adventure, returned to this perfect age of Accord.

And we won't remember the past?

No. It will be as if it has always been.

We won't remember we made it happen?

Why think of poorer times?

Everyone reaching for Accord. For the monumental time when humanity would decide: we make ourselves what we are. We move forward, knowing we cannot look back.

A thin voice, like a tickle in the back of her mind: If you cannot look back, can you remember what you are?

And Meri suddenly knew what she feared in that breathless shivering rush of excitement that was building towards Accord. How much could she lose. Could she lose Gemin's perfect love? Could she lose herself?

"I don't want it," she said.

"What?"

"The New Alchemy."

A flash of concern. "Meri, why?"

"I don't want to lose you!" Suddenly, tears were close.

Gemin led her off the impromptu dance floor and took her to a tall, cold metal table on the edge of the room. He put his hands over hers, warm against the chill aluminum.

"You will not lose me," Gemin said. In second-level Mesh, his love keened and wailed its pain, sending feelings of hands softly stroking.

"How do you know?"

A smile. "I have confidence in the Architects of Change. And I think it would be a beautiful thing to have magic back in the world. Imagine the epic quests and adventures we can have!"

"Will it really be like that?"

"What we imagine, we are. That is our choice."

"I don't want to forget!"

"Meri . . ."

She felt a warm wind blow through her mind. Gemin had dropped into third-level Mesh, using the power of the Grid to examine the depths of her mind.

"Dear Meri," he said. "This won't change what we really are. Not in five hundred years. Not in five thousand."

Gemin swam in her tear-brimming eyes. She was so lucky to have found a love like him. He understood. She felt it. It was silly to think anything else.

"We haven't reached Accord yet," Gemin said.

But we will, she thought. The crowd in the space station had already decided. And their friends were powerful, influential. If they thought it, it would happen.

"Will we be the same?" she said softly.

Gemin pretended not to hear. He whirled her out onto the dance-floor again, as if he could spin the thoughts from her head.


After spinning down the space station and dropping it into the Pacific, Meri convinced Gemin to go to Mars. To go back to their first house, to relive some of those ancient memories, those first touches, those first purely physical discoveries.

Their little crystal house woke slowly to their presence, as if sulking over the decades they'd been away. They had sweeping views of rolling Martian valley, greening in Marsfern under a light-blue sky. Far-away, the curve of a canal was just barely visible, its silt still wet from the spring melts. On its bank was a lumpy, misshapen ruin of a city, one of those Martian things where the wind keened near-ultrasonic notes on chill fall days. Long-deserted, of course. The Martians wouldn't even admit their cities existed.

Meri enjoyed the time alone with Gemin in all those old ways. Nights, they lay spent under the crystal dome, looking up at the cold stars. She wanted the change to come, to wash over her, to be done.

And the Grid simmered with excitement. More and more people lent their minds to the New Alchemy every day. She felt the momentum building. The change would come. It was inevitable.

And one day, that little whisper again: And what will you be, when it is done?

Meri dropped into second-level Mesh, chasing the voice. It fled ahead of her into silence. For once, she wished she was a Grid-adept, able to harness the power of the Grid itself for third- and fourth-level Mesh.

Restless, she rose with dawn to wander. Under a granite outcropping, a single Martian huddled. He looked like a half-decomposed leather handbag from a simpler time. His shell was cracked and gray with age. His slit eyes were filmed and bleary. He kept only three of his four long fingers on each hand. His indigo eyes swiveled up to meet hers. He let out a few sighing squeaks and blinked slowly.

She dropped into second-level Mesh for translation.

Mercurial provide ending, the Grid supplied.

Are you in pain? she subvocalized, and let the Grid twist her voicebox into a series of hisses and squeaks.

Fatigued joke.

Understood, Meri said.

She wondered if she should tell Gemin. He loved to talk with the Martians. They would sometimes go for days, asking questions upon questions until they reached one of such profundity that it could not be answered.

Mercurial changing?

Meri nodded. She'd never understood the depth of the Martian shortspeak, but she could see how humans could seem mercurial and ever-changing to the slow-moving Martians.

Sorry, no questions, Meri said. Knowing that she could be there all day if they started.

Change good?

I'm sorry.

Possible change without changing self?

That stopped her. Was it possible that this Martian knew about the New Alchemy?

No. The Grid acted only on human minds. Martians were outside of its influence. She shook her head and backed away. It followed her out into the sun, bleating.

Change fear rational?

Backing away.

It was completely out into the sun now, and she saw it was not just old but ancient, ravaged and twisted by time. It was perhaps the oldest Martian she'd ever seen.

She was afraid it would follow her to the house, but it stopped well short, hissing something that the Grid found untranslatable.

Every time she looked, it was still there, waiting for her. She saw Gemin looking at it, too. But he never went outside to talk to it.


Back on Earth, they did the Atlantis tour with Alvis and Heu and Petr and Ryovi, sharing an excellent apartment that overlooked the 35,000-year-old ruins. The great basalt pillars still trickled salt water from deep cracks; though they'd known where Atlantis lay for thousands of years, they'd only raised the ocean floor recently. They trekked through the dark hallways where stone and metal had been joined with strange gem-like machines, some of which still glowed faintly within. Infographics crowded her second-level Mesh, trying to explain Atlantean science in terms of nanotechnology and basal resonance, humor and the Singular Soul. She understood very little of it, but the sculptures were massive, graceful, and even beautiful at times.

And when everything has changed, what new fancies will exist? That whisper. Louder. Meri crashed hard into second-level Mesh and chased it again. This time, there was something like the glint of faint sunlight on a dark planet, just the barest outline of a mind behind the thought.

One night after too much wine, lying in a comfortable tangle on the lawn outside their apartment, Heu said, "You worry unnecessarily."

His thoughts were close, and she took them. "I don't want to lose what we have."

Alvis smiled. "So few have your devotion."

Gemin reached out and took her hand, sending feelings of comfort and warmth. She snuggled closer to him, looking up at the softly-glowing orange Nodes in orbit, the physical manifestation of the Grid. At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to be lost in his arms.

"It would be terrible to miss a five hundredth," Ryovi said.

"She will not," Heu said.

"Are you all for New Alchemy?" Meri said.

Nods. A yes from Heu.

Then, from Petr, a soft, "No."

"Petr!" Ryovi said.

He shook his head. "It's how I feel."

"Why?"

"It seems like . . . it seems like too much."

"Too much?" Ryovi asked.

"How much change does it take before we cease being human?"

Silence for a time.

"You sound like the paranoids who say 'if we do it once, we'll do it again.'"

Petr shook his head. Meri dropped into second-level Mesh and probed. But his thoughts didn't match that soft, sinister voice that started it all.

She did catch a whisper-thought passing from Gemin to Heu:

Or like the ones who say we've changed ourselves before. With chill humor, directed at her.

Gemin's warm and loving thoughts quickly returned. But that one alien thought echoed in her mind, growing stronger with each reverberation. Gemin had never thought hurt like that.

She frowned and took her hand from his, and shielded when he probed. He probably caught her thoughts anyway, but she didn't care. There was a crack in the façade of their lives. Hairline and almost unnoticeable, perhaps. Not something to worry about, in almost five hundred years of history.

But it was there.

Like the voice.


Meri spent the next day deep in second-level Mesh, almost oblivious to the beauties of Atlantis. Waiting for the voice. She opened, and waited, and let the babble of humanity fill her mind.

There were people who believed that the New Alchemy was only the opening entrée in a feast of change that would forever alter what humanity was. There were a few who believed that humanity had changed themselves before, holding up obscure evidence from archeological digs that seemed to contradict some of the facts everyone knew about the world, or strange data from almost-forgotten nets that could be nothing but pure fabrication. Together, both groups formed the kernel that prevented Accord, the concentrated effort of their passions swamping the more casual will of the majority.

But she could plot the trend. It was too spiky to predict a when, but the anti-New Alchemy faction would lose.

Late in the day, she felt dry rustlings at the edge of the Grid, rustlings that spoke of a different path. Rustlings with the tenor of that voice.

What are you? she said, straining to deepen her second-level Mesh.

Then, that voice, faint and screechy, like a recording from the beginning of time: The doubts have etched your mind.

Tell me who you are!

You don't remember me.

Meri stopped. She was vaguely aware of Petr and Heu frowning at her. They were in some Atlantean temple where a great flame glowed and danced eternally above a basalt altar. She forced herself to wave a hand, smile, and walk with the group.

No. But there was something, wasn't there.

It doesn't matter.

Something familiar.

I . . . Meri began.

I can help you stop this Accord.

Meri felt a rush of relief. She wouldn't change! She wouldn't have to be afraid. But it was too easy, too convenient. Are you sending this emotion?

No. Fading.

Don't go! Meri cried.

You must come to me. Reaching into the Grid is . . . Fading.

Where are you?

No voice. Just images of cold expanses of space beyond Mars, together with an image of a couple, whirling softly on an strangely-familiar beach. Finally, the sharp-edged peaks of an asteroid and coordinates.

So far?

Confusion. Feelings of sitting and yearning beside a window, pining for some ancient loss. Then, almost inaudibly: Because you remember.

And somewhere, deep down, she did.

But it was insanity. She would be away for weeks. Gemin would . . .

He would what? Laugh at you again?

She looked at him, standing on the altar. He grinned down at her, but his grin quickly dimmed when he felt her storm of emotion.

"I have to go," Meri said.


Somewhere in the asteroid belt, in the space between humanity's outposts on Mars and Europa, the grasp of the Grid fell away. She could feel the buzz of humanity receding behind her, all the hopes and dreams and wishes and worries. It was as if her mind were slipping away, leaving only an empty shell. She looked at things and saw only surface. She tried to drop into second-level Mesh, and heard only silence.

Eventually, in the rich velvet darkness, she forgot who she was.

She awoke to a man with long, dark hair and a thin, ascetic face of almost mechanical precision. His blue eyes shaded towards violet. It was a style thousands of years past. He leaned over her, the glowing jewel of a mechanical Gridlink glowing behind one ear. Above him, a transparent dome held the black at bay, and the sun picked at the edges of three graceful space-ships, hanging motionless.

"Where am I?" she said.

The man twitched a crooked grin, bleeding heavy irony. "With the ones who came back."

Meri shook her head. She was empty, still empty. "Who are you?"

"You don't remember?"

"I'm empty." Said slow like her thoughts.

"I am Een Vorgia."

She shook her head. But. His face. Those ships. His thin, sorry smile. Was there something? Something dancing on the corner of her mind?

"You do remember," Een said

Catching it with his mechanical Gridlink, she thought.

"Why do you use that?" she said, nodding at it.

"To fish the pool of the Grid without drowning," he said. "A choice that nobody on earth has had for the last eleven thousand years."

Choosing to be inhuman, Meri thought. Because access to the Grid was part of the definition of humanity.

"The Grid is still getting to you," Een said. "Bleed from the Martian and Jovian Nodes. Go out past Saturn, and you might not be able to think. You've offloaded so much of our minds into the Grid it's almost impossible to leave it."

"Who are you?"

"We're the Gilded Ones, the Segundo Dorado."

Meri shook her head. It meant nothing.

Een didn't say anything. He gathered her in his arms. He smelled of coriander and roses and black pepper. A tailored scent, hauntingly familiar.

"You've cut us out of your past," he said.

"What are you?" she said, pushing him away.

Een was silent for a long time. He looked up at the three ships. "We're your last, great folly. Or you are ours. Most want to leave Earth and return to Guatavita, though it is as unknowable as what you have become."

"You're not making any sense."

"We are the last physical expedition to the stars, the one sent to the second planet where intelligent life was found. We've been gone almost six thousand years. Do you even remember the Long New Days?"

Meri shook her head.

Een squeezed his eyes shut. "You have lost everything."

"What do you mean?"

"Where do I start? With the fact that Atlantis was nothing but a myth, until you made it real? Or that that there were never any Martians or Europans until you created them? Or the other human species that you created, then destroyed when they'd served their purpose?"

"There have always been Martians!"

"And there will always have been sorcerers and magicians, once this Accord is reached."

Meri sat up, feeling something like a cold hand at her neck. Her hair felt electrified, standing on end.

"Your body knows I'm right."

"Why me?"

A sigh. Een held out a mechanical Gridlink.

"No," she said, recoiling from the tiny glowing jewel. "It'll burn out my mind."

"That's what the adepts want you to think."

Meri took it. It was warm. She placed it behind her ear. It scrabbled in her hair like an insect. A small voice spoke in her mind, telling her to call it Elaine.

"Ignore it," Een said. "It has no mind."

"I'm not connected."

"Think 'connect' and 'OK'."

She did. Images flooded into her mind. Screams and babbles and symphonies. A storm of raw data, impossible to grasp.

"Think 'first-level filtering'," Een said.

She did. The torrent stopped abruptly. The babble of feelings and thoughts felt much the same as they always had in second-level Mesh.

Een sent a series of images, powerful even for second-level Mesh. A woman, holding hands with a man as they walked along a Orida seashore at dusk. They paused, embraced, kissed. The woman's eyes sparkled with the fire of love. They whirled, the woman's mouth open in delight. The woman looked nothing like herself

You have changed much in six thousand years.

The same two again, exploring a brick-red Martian canyon. Both wearing something over their heads. Something attached to a little pack on their backs.

Because Mars didn't have a breathable atmosphere back then.

Strange monuments in a barren Martian valley, with the same two people cross-legged on the ground, holding hands. It was Landing Point, where the first humans met the first Martians. But there were no canals. There was no Marsfern. No lichentree. Nothing. Just dusty salmon-colored sand and rock.

"I . . . this . . . you made this!"

Een shook his head, sadly, once.

"It's not me!"

But Meri knew it was. It was her. And it was Een. And there was a great gaping hole in the middle of her mind. With a great start, she realized she didn't even know her real age.

What have I done? What have we done? Meri shook her head.

"Show me," she told Een.

He showed her the DNA analysis of the Martian flora and fauna that mapped it to Earthly archetypes. He showed her the designs of the vitrified pillars where they built Atlantis. He showed her the changes going on in the Venusian atmosphere, preparing it for its own transformation.

He showed her four different versions of humanity, made by humans, none of which existed anymore. He showed her the age before theirs, the Long New Days that had launched the Nodes of the Grid.

He took her through case after case, until the world was stripped to its bleak core. Looking at it, she couldn't believe. Nothing could be so terrible.

"There's only us? We're alone in the universe?" she said.

"Yes."

"No Martians? No Europans? No dolphins?"

"There is the Dark Life, and the Palos, and the Chichiree, and that is all." With each term, a flash of meaning: Black worlds, seething with intelligence; bundles of pale sticks singing unknown melodies in the shallows of an alien ocean; things that were at once insectile and mechanical, laboring at humanoid sculptures. "All of them extrasolar. None of them knowable."

"We're barren."

Een nodded. He put a hand on her shoulder. "Not anymore."

Petr's voice came back to her: How much change before we cease being human?

"Why?" Meri said.

"Because you can," Een said. "If I had lived here, immersed in this power, it would be nearly impossible not to use it."

Meri just looked at him. "No. Us. Why didn't we stay together?"

Een looked away. He said nothing for a long time. Finally, he sighed and looked at her, tears spilling down his face. "Because intensity stays only if the longing is there," he said.

In her mechanically-assisted Mesh, she saw Een bent at the knee, pleading, a great cityscape in the background. She saw people smiling and frowning at him. She could almost hear the words. And then she turned away.

"We have intensity, Gemin and I," she said.

A sad look.

"We do!"

"I couldn't bear to adulterate the purity of our love."

"What does that mean?"

"Ask yourself," he said. "How quickly memories pass, how quickly things become new again."

"I don't see . . ."

"He's changed you. Made you what you are."

She shook her head and tried to protest, but Een wouldn't listen to her. His eyes went glassy and unfocussed.

"Go," he said. "Before my love overrides my principles."

Eventually, she did.


The True History of the World was a sensation. For the next month, all Meri heard about was the True History. At parties with the most stylish, glowing radiant in Arthurian fashions they now knew to be fabrication. At their house in Paris, when friends came to endure Petr's smirks. When they went out at night, to fly with borrowed wings above the streets of a simpler age, or to careen though the alleys in replicas of old-fashioned internal combustion cars. The True History eclipsed the New Alchemy. The fever-pitch need for change receded into recent memory. No longer did she feel impending Accord.

The archive she'd brought back in the mechanical mind of her Gridlink ignited debates that raged around the world. Scientists and philosophers went to test the foundations of Atlantis. More analyses were done of Martians, of Europans, of dolphins. A hundred puzzled archeologists appeared and shared results they'd been hiding for years, results that didn't fit with the common theories. Most of them fit the True History.

There was an actual recession from support for New Alchemy. Now, when Meri went out, the thoughts were all of the need for stability, a new foundation, something solid to build from.

And the question: Will the Gilded Ones rejoin us? Will they share their tales, their stories, their adventures?

But even with the help of the mechanical Gridlink, Meri couldn't answer that. Een was silent, and dark emotions surged in the minds of the people of the Segundo Dorado. Een had breached some contract she couldn't understand.

Gemin cried and threw himself at her feet.

"Don't go to Een," he said. "I don't remember altering you. If I did, I am sorry. But I am like one of two stones, sharing a cold riverbed for ages. Worn smooth by each other, I fit no one else."

Meri looked at him with the cold mechanical talent of the Gridlink. She found nothing but a feeling, a cold little thing that gibbered and laughed in its own mechanical way. But his words had the feeling of a script.

She went out on her own for a time, and took a half-dozen lovers in quick succession. They were new and different, but the act was so much the lesser without the warmth of a five-hundred-year love stoking it. Afterward, she felt cool and detached, empty and alone.

Talk to me, she asked Een, pushing the Gridlink until it was warm on her neck and Elaine's emotionless voice screamed danger.

I should not, Een said, finally.

Can't you restore our memories? She asked him. Can't you make us what we once were?

No. Too much time, too long ago.

But you remember them.

Not enough.

He was lying.

Meri cut the connection. She was more than cold; frigid. She was more than alone; apart. No chance of connection. Her emotions had bled gray. She was sterile.

Out to a party in what used to be the North American desert, listening to someone talk about how this part of the world was verifiably true and real, Meri caught:

Can't believe it is so bleak. Only us. No other life.

That's why we created it.

And the Kin. How could we kill them?

Because we're human.

We're alone now.

We always were.

Echoing silence.

When thoughts of the True History began falling out of the Grid, Meri was almost happy. She'd lived with the buzz of the entire world in her head, half ecstatic about building a new foundation for a better reality, and half looking for flaws in the True History. And there were flaws. In many places, it contradicted itself. Especially the religious myths.

But perhaps that was how it had always been, she thought. Nothing completely knowable. Everything in shades of gray. People fighting over the sharp edges on the corners of the facts, unable to ever reach Accord.

And that was the danger. Accord. To change again, to move even farther from what was human

(but was that bad)

to give up even the pretense of striving for more. Perhaps Segundo Dorado hadn't gone far enough. Perhaps they should recall the acorporeal Travelers and access their memories. They'd spread much farther in six thousand years. Perhaps they'd found companionship

(or changed themselves)

Meri used the power of the Gridlink to call to the world. She brought bodies together in what used to be Rio de Janerio. Only a few grass-covered mounds, too regular to be natural, marked the fact that humans had ever lived there. She stood atop Sugarloaf mountain and looked out at the upturned faces of almost half a million people. About a quarter of a percent of the entire human race. Insignificant in number, significant in their assembly. They had come to hear her rallying cry.

Meri felt Een watching, through the amplified senses of the mechanical Gridlink. Many of the Gilded Ones, in fact, watched with emotions that surged between surly doubt and shining hope.

She looked down at the crowd. She opened her mouth. And in that moment, she heard Een's words. Intensity stays only if the longing is there.

She saw a brief love with him, then millennia of different lovers. Each time, burning that intensity until it was gone.

Was that what she'd done in the past? The True History hadn't restored her own memories. She imagined ghosts of herself, searching for that intensity, looking for new ways to make it last.

You must have found something in Gemin, she thought.

The people looked up at her, a pinprick on a great stone dais. None of them could hear her, except through the Grid. She could feel the stirrings of impatience.

She tried to speak. No words came.

The Grid was humanity. Humanity had lived with the Grid for two-thirds of their civilized timeline.

"I'm sorry, she said, and turned away.

Far, far away, she felt Een sob.


Meri went back to Gemin in the fall. He was staying at their little cabin in what used to be New Zealand. Green and verdant and perfect land. She wondered for a moment if it was real, or if it was something humanity had created.

She walked in. He looked up. And she knew.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"There's no need," Gemin said, taking her in his arms. He felt warm and strong and good. Meri felt the love baking off of him, like the heat from an oven.

Who cares how it was made? Meri thought. It was good. She was happy. And that was all that mattered.

When people began to talk about New Alchemy again, she thought about using the Gridlink again to remind everyone about the True History. She saw herself drawing crowds, reminding everyone of their heritage. But she remembered the crowd in Rio. The Gridlink sat on their table, unused.

The True History slipped out of the Grid.

The clamor for New Alchemy grew louder and more strident. It swelled quickly to a crescendo, much more quickly than before. What took years before took weeks this time.

Like an addiction, Een's thin voice came again. But it was one tiny voice in the crescendo. She could feel almost a hundred million voices raised in frantic need, clamoring for New Alchemy. They echoed and reverberated in her mind, even in first-level Mesh.

Meri sat alone, looking out over their land. No lights marred the smooth darkness of their valley. It was a quarter moon, and the hills were painted in textures of black on black. The stars above shone down steadily, silently, almost as if they were holding their breath.

Gemin found her and came to sit.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Nothing to be sorry about."

Feelings of happiness and contentment. "I'm glad."

Silence for a time.

"Let's sleep," Meri said. "And wait for the new day."


One tiny whisper, before she fell into the darkness. Een.

Gemin changed you, but before that, you changed him.

Images came to her. Her, choosing Gemin. Her, engineering him for devotion, using the crude techniques of fourth-level Mesh. Then forgetting she was an Adept, forgetting that she'd done anything at all.

You are both parasites. You deserve each other.

Meri smiled, unable to make herself sad.


Change, rapid and profound.


Meri awoke, bathed in the warmth of love. She was only one of the lowest concubines in Gemin the sorcerer's harem, but he'd chosen her to come with him to this mysterious little house, where he was undoubtedly working on a new spell.

It had been a long time since she'd known love, and she was content to just lie there and let the golden morning sun stream over her. Gemin had already bounced up and was packing his things.

She felt a strange thought resonating in Gemin's mind, like the remnant of a dream. Free, he thought. Free free free.

Meri wondered what it meant. But then his mind clamped shut. In first-level Mesh, she felt nothing. Even his love was fading.

A sorcerer's love is a momentary thing, she thought. You knew this when you joined his harem.

So why do I feel so alone?

The End

Story Copyright © 2007 by Jason Stoddard. All rights reserved.
Illustration Copyright © Marge Simon. All rights reserved.

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About the author

Jason has gone from the discipline of engineering to the halls of advertising, then on to the wild world of interactive marketing. His short fiction has appeared in Sci Fiction, Interzone, Strange Horizons, Fortean Bureau, Futurismic, and GUD, and he was a finalist for both the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

Jason lives in Newhall, CA, USA with his wife Lisa (who writes under the name Rina Slayter), and a motley assortment of tortoises and cars. He's shopping novels, but no agent has yet believed his "book deal = less advertising" line. His website is at www.xcentric.com.


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