“Begin where we began,” Michael said a few days ago, right before I began scribbling the twenty some pages I’ve already composed. He handed me a few white fibrous sheets and this antiquated instrument I’m holding, this pen with ink encased in a tube and a ball point that rolls over paper, allowing me to deposit a thin blue trail of thoughts. He’d made the ink, tube, ball point, and sheets of paper in our fabricator.
“When I was a little girl,” I replied, “I learned to draw letters and numbers. I learned to sign my name. But since then I’ve seldom written anything with a pen. I’ve simply spoken and watched words appear on a computer screen. Why do you want me to transmit my memories in such an old and cumbersome manner?”
“We have been here a week now,” he answered, “and each day you’ve become more depressed. For your mental health you need to physically disinter your memories and fears. Let them flow down past the back of your eyes, through your brainstem and neck, across your shoulder, into your arm and fingers, pen and ink, and onto the sheets of paper. Then we will scan into the computer the memory-laden pages before we feed them into one of our nutriosynthesizers, where they will become part of an apple that we will share. The apple will give us pleasure and metabolic energy, and its waste, once passed through us, will be returned to the fabricator to make more ink and paper, which will absorb still more of your memories. Call it therapy. Call it learning to become part of the life cycle contained in these underwater domes. Call it doing what you must to survive.”
“But I can’t decide where to begin,” I objected. “What do you think started us on the path that led here? No matter what event I focus on, a multitude of prior events could just as well be blamed. Trying to find the beginning of anything, it seems, is like searching for the smallest negative number.”
“Begin where we began,” he repeated, and he kissed my forehead with his cold lips. His biological subsystems are warm but well insulated in his interior, so unless his synthetic muscles have recently been working hard, his surface remains nearly at the temperature of the ambient air. Back home I had an infrared photograph of the two of us sitting at our study table, him with his arm around my shoulders, his head leaned lovingly against mine. I was bright with various colors of mammalian heat. He barely appeared at all—a wispy ghost. Strange how things change. Now, he has taken charge, does what is needed for us to survive. I feel like an impotent ghost, condemned to remain in a world in which she doesn’t belong.
Evidently content that his instructions to me were adequate, Michael patted me on my shoulder and walked toward the dome’s rounded door. Nearly every aspect of the dome’s structure is rounded to help hold back the crushing pressure at this depth. The release of the door seals made a doleful wind-through-pines whisper. The door slid open. Michael walked through it and into the branching cylindrical tunnel that connects this dome with the other two modules. I wasn’t sure whether he was returning to the module where he has been working on a hydroponic garden that includes curved trays of plants covering the walls from top to bottom, or whether he would return to the other module, where he has been assembling the artificial human wombs designed by Grandpa.
In this module, our pillows and rolled-up sleeping bags lie just to the right of the door. Unrolled, the two sleeping bags cover nearly the entire open area of the floor. Continuing clockwise, there is a fabricator and a nutriosynthesizer atop cabinets, the stair-stepper on which I am supposed to exercise daily, the external door to the compression chamber that opens to the seamount cave in which we are hiding, and, finally, the desk I sit at, working now on yet another page.
Above the desk a holographic monitor is mounted on the wall. Housed in the half-dome below the floor are the air and water recyclers, fuel cells, and feedstock for our fabricators and nutriosynthesizers.
Above me, in the low-slung artificial sky (at its apex, only about twice as high as I am tall), a few small pink-fringed clouds snail through morning light. The brisk recycled air brings false news of fragrant dew-kissed rose bushes, the twittering of birds awakening, the soft chuckle of a fountain.
Something else abides in this cold titanium bubble far under the sea: the consciousness that emerges within me, a woman not yet eighteen, a consciousness that has been doing little for days other than looking back, as if watching a stranger in a mirror who finds solace only in the intertwining shadows of memory where her dead still live and love. With them is the little girl—I see her now, limned with the light of memory, out across a distance of years—the happy little girl I once was.
Leaning toward her through those years, I whisper, “Where did we go wrong? What more should I have done?”
The little girl senses my grieving voice in a peculiar rustling of autumn leaves that click and scrape along the vineyard drive. She turns, listens, peers out along a row of moonlit trees, and answers back, “Who are you?”
Nothing. I am nothing but memory. The weight of memory. The mud-suck of memory.