by S.B. Divya (BS ’96)
First Published in Lightspeed MagazineIllustration by Jonathan Bartlett
Year 1: I come into the world wet and squalling and ordinary, born of heterosexual bio-parents.
Year 2: A flat photo shows me on my first birthday with a shock of red hair, wide green eyes, and an expression of distaste at the sticky white frosting on my fingers. My mother stands on one side looking not at all Jewish; my Goan, lapsed-Catholic father stands on the other.
Year 4: Shaya is born. I am a match to my mother’s complexion, but my baby sister takes after our father. No one thinks we’re siblings unless they see the fierce, protective scowl on my face when I’m allowed to hold her.
Year 8: I learn to ride a bicycle and write my first program. My intrepid little sister does as well, which makes me jealous, and yet I keep helping her. We fight over everything and drive our parents crazy. At night she sleeps curled up against my back.
Year 16: I graduate from high school and date my first girlfriend, who turns out to be a summer fling. On a hot August day, I leave the Midwest for the Northeast. Shaya sobs for 10 minutes at my departure, sniffles, and then asks, “Can I have your room?” I tell her yes. We message each other constantly while I’m away.
Year 32: I become a lawyer and get married to the perfect woman: a no-nonsense architect who dives off cliffs for fun. Shaya joins the U.S. Air Force and then NASA. She bumps Sally Ride to become the youngest female astronaut in space. After years of praising my choices, our mother is finally proud of my sister. Dad always liked her better than me. So do I.
Year 64: My third wife divorces me. She complains that I hold too much of myself back, and she’s right, about all of my relationships. I decide it’s better for everyone if I remain single. Shaya disappears. I should have written that first—I don’t know why I didn’t—but let it be. She commands the first mission to Neptune, but a few wrong bits send them awry. The craft keeps up its ghostly pings long after the words stop coming.
Year 128: I replace my hands and eyes and give up law to be an artist. I create immersives from NASA’s archives, starting with the images from Neptune, and I wonder what pieces of herself Shaya would have kept. Dad died two years after she went missing. Mom lived long enough to be in the front lines for rejuv, and now she’s a successful investment banker. She kept her silver hair and wrinkles. I didn’t. We stop receiving pings from the ship. The void has cut off our last tie to Shaya, and I feel like I, too, am unmoored.
Year 256: I have almost no money left, and my pride won’t let me accept any from Mom. She’s one of the wealthiest people still on Earth. I sign a long-term contract with a mining corporation. They rebuild me piece by piece until I look like a trash container with too many arms. My new body is hideously ugly. It’s also impervious to radiation and efficient at extracting ore from space rocks. In the back of my mind is a stray thought: Perhaps I will find some clue to the whereabouts of my sister and her ship. The trail of crumbs is stale, though. If only my memories would fade like they used to.
Year 512: My contract ends. For years, I didn’t eat, sleep, or relieve myself. I mated to a docking berth, plugged in, lubricated my seals, and swapped memories of being human with my fellow miners. My mother has nebulized in the meantime. “I’ll pay you to join me,” she offers, but I decline. I spend a few months reacquainting myself with the sensations of smell, taste, and skin. When the novelty wears off, then I accept her offer. I discover the intoxicating world of aphysical existence, dancing through nebulas and dining on virtual champagne and caviar. It’s better than the real thing. I commission a simulacrum of Shaya; she’s nothing like the real thing.
Year 1024: I leave the solar system. A snapshot of myself is archived on Earth, and Mom beamed out a couple of centuries ago like others who tired of consciousness. They ride electromagnetic waves and gravitational beams, hoping another life-form will find them and recreate them. She left me her fortune. I used the money to build a near light-speed ship, the first of its kind, and encode myself into its every aspect. I travel far beyond the populated edges of our system, searching every possible trajectory until I find it. Then I carefully attach the ship to my hull, download a piece of myself into a droid, and go aboard. An undisturbed layer of dust coats each crewmember’s final resting place. The captain’s pin marks Shaya’s. I’m not sure what to do or where to go next. For now, though, I am content to drift onward as we are, her back curled up against mine.