Once upon a time, when I was mortal, I tattooed the names of my loved ones on my body. Their names were lettered in tiny script, connected by faint dotted lines—constellations to navigate the passing of time and the orientation of my heart. It had begun with my sister, Frances, on a drunken road trip down a coastal highway in California and was followed by my husband, Ted, as consolation when I returned and he asked why he hadn’t merited a spot on my arm.
When I was 39, I added the name of my daughter, Anna, and later, her sister, Nina. Before my mother passed, the practice was just a part of the trend of its larger cultural phenomenon. Thousands of humans used to inscribe the names of their loved ones on their bodies for sentimentality’s sake. That’s how it was for me until I lost my mother.
Mom—her name was Lydia—was the first name I memorialized on my own. It was a way to keep her close, etched into the body I’d inherited from her, but the tattoo also kept her present with me as my mind evolved. She died only a few decades after I’d had the Immortality Editing. I didn’t realize back then how it would change my mind, how memories of who I had loved and who I had been would slip from my mind like water through a loosely woven net. I had already begun to lose track of memories in favor of the longer span of decades that lay before me. The practice of inking became a way of keeping track of the dead before I grew too old to remember their names.
I buried Anna eight days after her 124th birthday, bringing with me a bouquet of lilies and my tattoo kit. Anna had not inherited the gene necessary for The Edit from me, as hard as we hunted for the right DNA sequence so she could join me. Those were the early days of immortality. The science had only been around for a few decades when she reached adulthood, and we were still hopeful that there were genomes we didn’t understand well enough—backdoors to obtaining the longevity and anti-senescence that I and others had been able to obtain. My peers and I fit the genetic profile, both for the process and for the even more rigorous qualifications of being allowed to join the society of those with indefinite lives—those who would help guide society into a more humane and peaceful age.
But no sequence worked for Anna. I fought to preserve her as long as I could, editing enough to keep her from cancer, but not from old age. When she finally passed, I cried until I collapsed. She was all I’d had left; I’d already forgotten Ted, save for the long sloping arrow linking his name to hers on my arm. I didn’t remember his smile unless I saw hers, despite how much her face had changed. There was a flicker of recognition when she grinned, wide gaps between the corners of her mouth and her teeth, and I saw the face of a man I had once loved interlaced over hers.
Before Anna passed, I had sat by her side one afternoon in the sterile, pearlescent hospital pod where they housed seniors for study. We still didn’t know why some people weren’t candidates for The Edit, why age asserted its dominance over some and not others.
I bit my lip. It wasn’t fair. I tried not to watch Anna. I found myself searching for memories of her as a baby and coming up empty whenever I looked at her too closely. So I watched all the devices she was connected to. The minutes were being measured by the beeping of her various biomonitors and medicine dispensers. She grabbed my hand, hers thin-skinned and age mottled, mine scarcely more aged than the day I’d first held her.
I brushed her forehead. “Do you want something, sweetheart?”
“I’m fine, Mom,” she said. Her voice was hoarse. “I want you to promise me something.”
I squeezed her hand. The air in the room smelled like the forest. Anna had asked for a diffuser of cedar and geranium to combat the acrid smell of hospital disinfectant.
“I know the Council wants you to join them after I go. Please don’t. Don’t let go of your remaining memories. Write them down, now. We can talk about them. About us. About Dad,” she narrowed her eyes and squeezed my hand. “We can talk about Nina.”
I let go and walked over to the window, holding my breath. I didn’t want Anna to see me scowling. Not this close to the end.
“I know you Immortals don’t like to remember. It makes the long stretch of days too hard to bear.” She laughed, more of a cough. “But you need to remember. Please.”
“Immortals” was only a nickname used amongst the Society. We could be killed, but we did not age, and “indefinite lifespan” sounded less powerful for those who were allowed to undergo the adaptation. Anna knew this. Just like she knew it annoyed me.
“Yes, they have been making their intentions very clear.”
I turned back and smiled.
“More like they’re reminding me of my duty. It would be an honor.” I took a deep breath and started recounting the speech I’d been giving to myself the last several months as I’d been weighing the pros and cons of joining. “The Council steers the Society, and in the Society, we all prosper. With our longevity, we’ve transcended normal ties that bound one to bias or clouded their judgment. They pushed us forward as a species, past those who didn’t evolve fast enough or whose evolutions were contrary to what we deemed a just and cohesive society. Our scientists and philosophers can spend ten times a normal lifespan working on breakthroughs in technology and human interaction.”
I took a deep breath at the end of the speech. Anna rolled her eyes.
“I’ve read the pamphlets, Mom. Am I a tie you’re waiting to transcend?”
“I didn’t mean it like that, Anna. But be reasonable, am I supposed to do nothing after you pass?”
“I know. But they’ve been seeking me out for decades for my political and civic experience, the books I wrote, how I helped pioneer the technology after I cured your grandmother’s cancer. It’s,” I shivered and hugged myself, “nice to be needed. To be reminded the good I’ve done and can do. Why shouldn’t I continue to work for the good of all humans?”
I hated saying it, but I took Anna’s death and incompatibility with The Edit as a personal failure. Anna took it as part of life. It was one of the few areas of disagreement we fought over.
“All?” Anna threw up her hands. Her heart rate monitor began beeping double-time. “You mean people who choose to conform? What about those who don’t?”
I knew she meant Nina. I turned back to the window, shooting daggers past my own reflection to the other medical towers on the other side of the hospital campus.
“The Council issued the proclamation that all disabled and disordered people who aren’t willing to “correct” themselves to join The Society are sent off-world. How could you consider working for them? Do you even remember her, Mom? The songs she sang? The plays she’d write?”
My fists were wedged underneath my arms. I didn’t remember those things. I barely remembered Anna’s, or my own, youth. But I remembered enough. I spun around.
“Do you remember the tantrums she’d throw, Anna? The way she melted down when things changed unexpectedly?”
“She was a child,” Anna said, coughing as she sat up, smoothing her silver hair down as it fell into her eyes.
“You weren’t her mother. I don’t remember everything, but I remember the grief she gave me. She was easily overwhelmed and as prone to meltdowns as an eggshell was to shattering. When Nina didn’t place into the right track at school, the way you did, she was given a choice: labor camps off-world or The Edit. She was brilliant, but difficult.”
“She had inherited her idiosyncratic nature from him—curious, analytical, out-of-the-box thinkers, both of them. You’re like me. Reasonable. Logical. Rational. Of course, she refused to let me edit out her autism or her dyslexia. It had been your Father who insisted we wait for her to reach an age where it would be her decision. And she chose exile.”
Anna huffed, exasperated. I continued.
“She had the gene for anti-senescence. You and your Dad weren’t a match. But you know, we don’t give the procedure to those with Nina’s other mutations. Our society can’t sustain the lives of people who don’t want to fix their disorders and disabilities. Nina was defiant when I suggested removing the conditions she labeled, with the rest of her kind, as “Neurodivergence”.
“It made her who she was, it made her amazing, even though the world hated her for it,” Anna said, sniffling.
“The world hated me too, you know. For raising her, for refusing to force her to change when she made her decision, for the commotion she made with her existence.”
“Oh yes, poor you,” Anna said. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, shaking as she supported herself. “As if you’re the one they sent to an off-world labor camp for refusing to edit part of yourself out to suit others.”
I spun around. Anna never sassed me, and I was more than a little shaken when she mentioned the labor camp.
“It was Nina’s choice to go.”
“No, it wasn’t. She was still a kid. She just wanted to stay the same. You could’ve fought for that.”
“No, I couldn’t. Others tried. Our Society depends on harmony. Of mind. Of body. Of purpose. Nina could have joined me. Joined us. But in the end, she chose keeping her condition over the family who loved her. And the labor camps The Council has set up, engaging physical and mental labor out on a self-sustaining planet far away, work meaningful enough to defeat any of the court cases that came up charging the Council with inhumane treatment, but mediocre enough that once a person was sent there for unwillingness to conform, neither them nor their contributions matter.”
I was shaking. “They choose to live outside the Society by not editing out their various differences. They had to live with the consequences of their choices.”
Anna’s eyes widened when she saw my shock. She had never had a temper, and whenever she did lash out, she was always the steady sort of good person who regretted it. I envied her that, as much as I resented the looks of pity and disgust that found their way into her eyes as she held out her hand.
“I love you, Mom, but this is why I want you to remember. You’re forgetting all the good parts, even the good mixed in with the difficult, and you’re just accepting The Society’s bias. I worry about who you’ll become when you forget entirely.”
I patted her hand.
“My conscience. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”
“Remember. That’s what I’m telling you. You have to remember.”
Anna and Ted had been proud of Nina for her stand—just fifteen years old when she left home and so sure of herself. I would have admired her too, but I knew the cruelty of the world. I’d been raised in it, seen my generation stand on the brink of destruction and survive the chaos and greed of the 21st century, and it was clear: Unity of spirit depended on unity of mind—in every respect.
The day Anna and I said goodbye to her, I tattooed an arrow next to her name linking it to a phrase inked in scarlet: lost to the stars. Anna, who threatened at the time not to speak to me ever again after Nina left, guilt tripped me into adding: Lost to the stars… because they were friendlier than home.
At Anna’ grave, I wept as I turned on the needle, the device humming in my hand, sending shivers into my bones.
Light faded down behind the cypress trees surrounding the crowded cemetery, gray tombstones leaning ramshackle out of the neglected earth like the teeth of some half-buried behemoth.
I began to add a new thread to the web that wrapped around my body.
I drew an arrow from where her name lay on my left forearm up to my chest and starting at my shoulder, wrote, My conscience—when I birthed Anna, it left my heart and entered hers.
I cried for an hour, until I could no longer read the script on my arm or breathe through my tear-choked throat.
I wanted to add a directive, a way to remember her, a reason to go on without her.
I added, I am without an anchor.
There was nothing to do after Anna’s death but join The Council, but I knew what Anna had asked of me. While it seemed like a productive place to put my energy, since Anna viewed The Council as the evil that had motivated me to send Nina away when she was a teenager, to honor Anna, I spent decades on my own with my science projects. But over time it was too much. She was gone. They were all gone, and I was alone in our old house, my heart gathering cobwebs along with their things.
My longtime colleague, Nowa, was the one who finally recruited me.
Walking in the garden, the scent of the bioengineered honeysuckle variant I’d created, mixing with the smell of freshly cut grass, Nowa handed me a badge. The Council was apparently done asking. It looked like a medallion, shining with stars representing all the systems we’d colonized.
“Please, Jessa,” she said. “We need you. I know your family had interesting views, but that’s why you’d be an asset.”
I raised an eyebrow, about to ask her if the Council, if anyone in the The Society, would value the views of a mother who had lost her two daughters because the science wasn’t inclusive enough. Nowa guessed my mind and shook her head.
“Jessa, The Council has created rules for the Society. Think of what it would mean to people, who have concerns about the way they rule, to see someone like you join.” Nowa took my arm as we curved around a cedar I’d grown from a sapling, whose age I’d accelerated until it was wider around than we were tall.
“You want the image of my cooperation?”
“And your actual cooperation, naturally,” Nowa said. “You and I are as responsible for upholding the stability of The Society as the next person, so why not step in to shape those rules? Each person on The Council works tirelessly to uphold the benefits and provisions of The Society and strives in all things to preserve and protect it.”
“I remember what the world was like, before The Edit, before creating the science that granted us a way to bring the nations together and end our world’s suffering.”
“Everyone wanted to live forever. And we had the foresight to see that the gift of The Edit should be given with prudence, with consideration for what was ruining the world and what could set it back on track.”
I sighed. I remembered the days of heatwaves and famines. The world would never again be what it was, but we had done so much to mitigate the damage and even improve on nature as we could. Longevity leads to breakthroughs in scientific developments like interstellar travel, a total shift in energy usage and production, cloning and the reproduction of honeybees, and of course, population control.
I led Nowa to a bench next to a koi pond, another hybrid I’d developed.
Nowa turned to face me. “We are more than equal to the task. While the names of our loved ones pass and the stories and memories we shared with our families fade, our knowledge of science, our off-world colonies, and the way to rule stay as vibrant as ever within our minds. You know that most immortals forget the details of their lives before the Editing, a flaw in human memory only accentuated by our permanence. If you join us, that’s not a thing to mourn. It’s a strength. As we acquire more knowledge each day, it pushes out useless knowledge, decades of unnecessary baggage, unless it is regularly accessed.”
Nowa looked down at my tattoos. Anna’s name stood out, freshly black against the other faded annotations.
“There’s a peace in letting the memories go, Jessa.”
No one else tattooed the names and phrases of what they’d lost. Only I chose to be slowed down in that way.
On my inner thigh, I had a map of the systems we’d explored, with an arrow up my right hip, around my lower back, connecting to my left arm where my immediate family’s names were clustered. My favorite galaxy of letters, all lost to me now, their meanings disappearing until I turned myself in the mirror, following the auxiliary spirals to make sense of my story. To retell myself their stories—every story except one.
But I couldn’t deny how much I wanted to move past the pain and loneliness. I took Nowa’s hand and nodded.
ACCESS: MEMORY BANK 5681. SEARCH KEYSTONE EXPERIENCES.
“Are you sure this is wise, Nina?” Cas asks me.
I key up the area of my mind that I want to visit. Sixteen hundred results float in front of me on the projected screen, illuminating my face in the dark setting of the MRM. The Memory Retrieval Matrix is a small hexagonal-shaped room just outside of the engineering deck. It is warm and still smells of newly soldered metals. I frown and run my hand through my thick dark curls. I keep my hair short so I can play with it—soothing myself on occasions like this.
I touch the temporal recall locator on the side of my head. I know it’s secure, but my legs are tapping, my fingers are strumming, and it’s an effort to make myself take a deep breath.
I don’t want to do this.
Cas has a quizzical look on his face, arching one brow and furrowing the other over his dark brown eyes. He looks at machinery that way when it presents a problem he can’t solve. I’ve learned over the years that he looks at me like that when he’s worried.
“I have to revisit this stuff before we arrive. I don’t want to, but…”
Cas shakes his head. His hair is plaited in four thick braids. He sighs.
“Just don’t lose yourself in there. I’ll come back around to check on you in an hour. That should give you enough time to review a few months’ worth.”
“Yeah, gimme two.”
Cas rolls his eyes and opens his mouth but closes it again just as quickly, compressing his lips into a smile. He knows better than to argue with me when I’ve set my mind on something.
“Be careful, Nina. Remember, you’re in control.”
I nod and shimmy my whole body, shaking out the nervous energy. The tension is bound up around my spine like an electrical current and I flap my arm up and down, fanning out my fingers at double the speed. I feel the energy follow the motion from my shoulders down through my elbows and as I throw my arms harder, feel the flow of it unlock the muscles in my forearms, then down into my wrists, until finally the nervousness is flung out through my fingertips.
I inhale and roll my head back and forth before taking another deep breath, this one exhaled through clenched teeth.
ENGAGE MEMORY BANK 52241/1/18/e – KEYSTONE EXPERIENCE: “DEPARTURE”
I am fifteen again.
“Nina, let go of your sister!”
I roar like a wounded beast as men rip me from Anna’s arms and Mom takes hold of Anna, drawing her back. I feel the hot pins and needles, the shards of glass in the pit of my stomach that I’ve learned to recognize as “anger.” Or is it fear?
Was I afraid that day? I feel cold. Numb and yet chaotic. It’s both. It’s everything. Love. Longing. Confusion.
Mom stands there on the platform, calm on the outside, refusing to look me in the eye. She is frowning—or am I imagining that? I want her to feel a tiny piece of what I feel, just so I can know that I matter. Even now. I force my body, outside the memory, to breathe, realizing how tight my chest feels being back in this recall.
I am in control. I am not my memory. I am from this—I am not this.
I undulate my fingers and kick my feet in the waking world as I breathe deeper.
I am not this memory anymore.
“Mom!” I scream for her in that moment of separation. I hate myself, then and now, for calling out to her—a knee-jerk childish reaction. I was an actual child, I know, despite the fact that she had been telling me for months that I wasn’t, as I’ve begged her to fight for me, her first born.
“It has to be this way. You’ll go quietly if you care about us, Nina. Do you even understand how hard you’re making this? Do you care what you’re doing to your sister?” she asks, looking at Anna—not at me.
“I’m. Not. Doing. Anything,” I growl through gritted teeth, still choking on the tears that find their way past my set jaw and down my throat. “Fight them. We can fight them together.”
Mom shakes her head and wraps her arms around herself.
Does she look sad? I could never tell with her. I could only ever tell with Anna.
Anna is crying as hard as I am, her arms outstretched for me. Mom is holding her back now.
She raises her eyes one last time as I am packed in with the others, most of them weeping softly, many of them rocking themselves or hitting their laps with flat hands. Her eyes are red and glistening.
Did she care? Was it difficult for her to let me go? Or was she just upset at the scene I was causing?
I meet her gaze as hard as I can. I may not understand what her emotions are in this moment, but I want her to know mine.
I will never forgive her.
END MEMORY BANK 2241/1/18/e.
Immortality dilutes the meaning of time. A century had passed on Council as easily as months had in the years before the Edit. I refused to forget Anna, keeping her memory with me with ritual and routine, but even so, much of the power of my connection to her was diminishing with each day.
Being a member of Council was all-encompassing. We led The Society outward from our planet and within the first century of my tenure there, we’d doubled our planetary bases in over four systems. The Colonies gave hope to mankind—we found resources that increased our medical capacity beyond what we’d ever dreamed, provided food for everyone, and safeguarded our species from extinction through location diversification.
There was such a feeling of peace amongst the Immortals. Technology had ceased to be an impediment with the achievement of immortality—we had the patience to develop the solutions we wanted to manifest.
We discussed our plans to steer Society and never debated. There was no need to—we were all of one mind. We planned and never picked sides. Labor management, colonization strategies, news of elections on Kapteyn, the advancing gate production on Proxima Centauri, and a new symphony returning from the capital city on Luyten.
As the years passed, it was a struggle, save for my devotion to Anna, to remember a time before the Council.
ACCESS: MEMORY BANK 2241/3/14/f. SEARCH KEYSTONE EXPERIENCES.
I go further back. Christmas mornings. Laying on cool green grass at home on Earth with Anna. Holding her hand. Being scooped up as an infant by Mom, smelling the warm cocoa butter smell of her body lotion as she holds me against her shoulder. I recall Dad teaching me to code and build small rockets that fly up from our backyard in white jet trail plumes and robots that wage war on the ficus plant we kept in the living room. I access the memories of fights Mom and I had after Dad died of cancer, when it was just the two of us looking for something to blame. I force myself to sit through the arguments about my autism.
She twists my anger over being cast out and says it’s just my autism making me unreasonable. I shake as I watch, forgetting to breathe through it, to remind myself I am not this memory. She uses my grief and anguish against me at every turn.
“Nina,” Cas shouts.
The image flickers and darkness snaps in around my synapses. I’m pulled from the memory, gasping, a headache blooming at my temples. My lungs are on fire.
“You weren’t breathing. I told you this wasn’t a good idea.”
I shake my head and slowly try to open my eyes.
“I just wasn’t prepared for the gaslighting.”
Cas kneels in front of me, checking the recall locator at my temple. It beeps softly at his touch.
“May I hug you?”
I shrug. I love that he asks and I need to be squeezed. He wraps me in his arms and pulls them tight around me while I bury my face in his chest. I shut out all sensory input from anything else. There is only his shoulder.
“I need to keep looking, Cas. I need to find the right memories before we arrive. I’ll be more mindful, I promise.”
Cas releases me.
“I know it’s important. But let’s balance it. Let’s look at what we’ve built, not just what they stole.”
I smile as I turn and key in a search for this particular memory.
“Your arrival. Our discovery.”
Cas reaches over and retrieves a temporal recall locator from the console and pairs it to mine. We take each other’s hands and breathe deep in unison. Memory retrieval feels like a plunge into a cold ocean, but this wasn’t going to be a difficult memory to revisit.
ENGAGE MB 2363/6/31/c, “STRIKE”
The start of our rebellion.
“Jessa,” Nowa nudged my arm.
Robertson, the leader of The Council, had stopped speaking.
All eyes were on me; I had been tracing lines on my arm again. Robertson cleared his throat and hovered over the table we sat around, pointing once more to the Wolf 1061 system. The star system was rotating slowly in the black glass of the table’s surface, illustrating its star, three planets, and its massive labor colony.
“As I was saying, the unrest there has persisted, but supplies are easily cut off.”
“The forces stationed at Cepta Pactances will starve with the laborers,” Ove said in his characteristic monotone. His eyebrow had been raised at me for some time now. He wanted me to catch his meaning. “But as long as they keep Wolf 1061c from falling, they will die knowing they served the interest of the Society.”
“So be it,” Robertson said. “I put forward a motion to withdraw all ships from the area, halt all incoming supplies, and remotely shut down the power at Wolf’s capitol, Cepta Pactances.”
The others nodded and struck their yes votes onto the table. My fingers found their way back to my arm without me noticing until Nowa kicked my foot under the table. Wolf 1061c was tattooed on my wrist, at the end of an arrow that connected it to the name Nina. So many memories had faded, as they should. But the name, the location… I felt the pain of something more than loss as I stared at them. Regret. Shame. Longing.
I struck my vote to abstain.
PRESENT 2438/2/12 – MRM
The compression of memories from this particular year looks like an explosion of data lines in the extraction visualizer. So much happened. Cas and I choose the month after his arrival, a refugee from another Council experiment on long-term isolation in space and mental stability and resource management in children raised to know nothing but that environment.
Cas hardly spoke when he arrived at our colony, just wept for joy and half-insanity. He flinched whenever anyone came near and yet was hungry for embraces if you could get close enough.
When he did speak, it was clear he was brilliant. As brilliant as many of the other misfits the colony had collected either through deportation from Earth, the other colonies, or from those who’d heard that this was the bright spot in the universe, despite the labor conditions, for those of us who sought a community of our own. We were helpless, but we were not alone.
I had been working on a way around the helplessness—I had found a way to re-engineer the way our bodies translate aging into the quantum “micro/macro” focus of the neurodivergent mind. For those of us who were neurodivergent, we could keep our neural pathways intact while redirecting aging subroutines in the brain out through a transmission of excess energy. But it was only theoretical. Like the Edit machines on Earth, this was nothing without the technology to make it possible. We had an underground scientific network, trading theories in the mess hall between shifts and burning evidence after breakthroughs, taking advantage of the guards’ general disregard for us to plan. But the ability to build the tech escaped us.
And then Cas showed up in his ship, carrying an FTL drive beyond anything the Society used. And he had built it himself.
So in this moment, we select the memory of the day Cas first reads my notes.
MB 2365/12/2/e, “HANDS”
I have never been able to tell when someone is interested in me until I’m halfway done fighting them off and being tased by a guard for doing so. But Cas had been alone since childhood and a romantic from years of being friends with no one other than the stars he observed and his extensive library of books. His parting gift to those who had raised him in isolation to see what he was capable of was to send a data virus to them the year after he’d escaped.
Floating in the dark abandon of space, talking to stars, and reading his books, Cas had been able to build a stealth program that traveled multiple jump points back to Earth when he arrived here.
After regaining his strength, he got up from his cot.
“Where are you going?”
“I have to erase it. The information from my life, the data they collected on me. In isolation. They can’t have it. The lives of the others in the experiments.”
He practically fell into his ship when he reached the abandoned cargo bay where we had hidden it.
“Has to be erased.”
After that, he was able to focus on those of us who were taking care of him. He opened up, talked to us of his stories, and eagerly listened to ours. He wanted to help us.
This is the memory I find.
A few years later, Cas and I are sitting in the mess hall on Cepta, our dinner trays obscuring paperwork he’s scribbled on. He and Fyo are discussing engineering with me, better ships, better genetic engineering that doesn’t prioritize one neurotype or one ability set. Fyo signs at us, their hands a giddy blur of energy, excited to have another liked mind to converse with. The amino gruel they serve smells like burned eggs, but I barely notice as I listen to Cas. His voice is deep but keeps climbing higher than I ever heard it as he talks about his discovery, signing to Fyo as he does.
“I thought I’d figured out the propulsion when I escaped the station,” he says. “But I’ve had time, so much time, to figure out how I should’ve done it. I can bend space through the machine, it’s so elegant, so elegant. When we combine the quantum manipulations with your work, you can see the same effect. We can build better ships, we can create new neural pathways without leaving anyone behind.”
He takes hold of my hand while we all go over my theorems and it’s the motion of being enthralled by my work, enthralled with his own, and making his intentions known to me that stop me from my usual leg sweep and gut punch. I let him hold my hand for a little while longer as more join us at the table, and we all begin to discuss how the Upgrade should work.
I am still letting him hold my hand as we revisit this memory.
“This is nice, but you know what we have to look at next, don’t you?”
I know he’s nodding without needing to switch from the memory to the waking world. He squeezes my hand and I hear him key in the next entry.
It takes more than a decade, but we figure out the Upgrade and begin tailoring it to every neurotype, every person whose physicality was against what The Council and The Society had deemed normal. We had people of every neurological and physical dispensation at Cepta and, not counting the guards, we all had one thing in common: no one wanted us, as we were, except for each other. We upgrade as many people who want the upgrade as we can and fashion assistive technology for everyone, especially for those who can’t or don’t want to remove aging.
We wait for the guards—who continue to ignore us and allow us to expand our technological reserves as long as we meet our export quotas—to get older, and take advantage of the fact that they undervalue us so much that they don’t notice we are staying the same age.
We also get quicker. Faster. Smarter. Soon, we are canceling their shift reliefs and rerouting supplies to the far side of the planet where our forces take control of the food and medical equipment.
And the weapons.
It’s when the weapons go missing that they finally notice us. They ignored us for so long on Earth, and barely paid attention at the other end of the galaxy. It’s when we finally are able to defend ourselves that their heads swivel collectively in our direction.
This is the memory Cas and I pull up.
The day the Council sends ships to wipe us out.
The Council had become concerned with my frequent visits to Anna’s grave. I knew that the opinions of many on Council was that my grief made me weak and that votes to abstain were evidence of this.
As the only person on the Council I was friendly with, I was sure Nowa had been chosen, as had this location, for a gentle approach. Lavender, canary, and red ochre-winged butterflies dipped and darted around our heads. Nowa led us to a bench underneath a canopy of large emerald leaves.
“It is a sweet gesture, but there is a reason why we let ourselves forget,” Nowa said, taking my arm as she led me around the conservatory.
She had summoned me before the Council’s meeting that day to discuss the grave visits. Before Anna had passed, my grief had felt like a strength as opposed to the other immortals—a tie to the things that made me human.
Anna had felt this way about grieving Nina.
It’s important to keep the departed close, to remember the lessons they have for us, she would say.
I had taught her that, but hated the thought that now she was the one I had to remember.
“We forget our homes, our biases, our attachments, and it allows us to lead without the nationalism that plagued leaders in the past. You know this, Jessa. You are not as old as I am, but you are old enough to remember the state of the world before we sorted our Society into sustainable numbers and began prioritizing laborers for our colonies off-world.”
Since when were colonies ever a good thing? This is why we shouldn’t forget our history.
I shuddered as Anna’s voice forced its way into my mind.
The memory of her was becoming more like a virus than the remembrance I meant for it to be. Nowa appraised with a raised eyebrow. I looked down. I was gripping Anna’s name on my forearm.
“I know you’re right, Nowa.” You promised me you’d resist forgetting. I shook my head, trying to banish Anna’s voice. “I’ll stop.”
“It is the right thing. The Cepta rebellion has claimed another off-world colony. We need all our minds sharp and at full attention and…”
Her eyes flickered down to my tattoos. She closed her mouth, thinking better of what she was about to suggest.
“I’m not removing them, Nowa. I’ll stop visiting Anna’s grave, but that’s too much to ask. These are my choice.”
“You sound like the rebels,” Nowa chided. “And I did not say anything. I am glad you will not visit the grave any longer. It’s rather vulgar that some communities even still have them. We haven’t allowed zoning for them in the cities for centuries.”
She patted my arm and took a deep breath.
“Let us have tea before council begins.”
I walked on in silence with her, willing myself to break my promise to my eldest. Anna would fade like the others. I would be no worse for it. I told myself that, when I’d forgotten her, she would not be able to rebuke me for the betrayal.
The dead have no more voice than that which we give them.