Lahn opened her eyes to a soft, milky whiteness. As she waited for her eyes to adjust, she focused her senses elsewhere. The fog left a smooth distinct flavor in her mouth that disappeared even as she attempted to identify it. She lay prone on familiar stone -- warm against her cheek with a pumice-like grittiness. The fog dissipated as she pushed herself to a crouch. The cavern floor interspersed by pools. Each pool held a figure, statues grey as the water immersed chest high in a chalky liquid. Their shapes were familiar – Sabina, Atrios, Rose, and her namesake Evlyn -- their distinctive spots inverted to cast a mute glow. The floor was expansive, with room for many, many more pools. Lahn wondered what it would be like, to see the cavern with dozens, hundreds of pools – hundreds of lives. She couldn’t imagine.
You are my hosts only for a short while – but I am your host for the rest of my lives. I will carry you until you are legion, and crush me under your weight. I do not know what happens then, but whatever we face, we face together.
Lahn slowly approached Sabina’s pool. As she knelt at the edge the figure’s eyes became bright pinpoints and fixed her with an expressionless gaze. Lahn continued to keep an eye on the figure as she gingerly slid her hand into the liquid and felt a warm, electric sensation arcing from her hand to her gut, pulling her in, the liquid enveloping her as she flowed.
Lahn squinted against the sudden brightness as a warm wind brushed her hair. As the red glow of her eyelids faded, she felt herself in a reclining position, her hands braced against the ground, her fingers clenched into warm, moist earth. She heard high pitched laughter and as she opened her eyes, watched children play among grass and trees.
The woman seated next to her offered her some bread and cheese. “Try some of the Hasard. Its my favorite.”
Lahn paused for a second, then sat up, wiping her hands on her legs before taking the offered food. “Mine too.” Lahn’s reply was without irony, and Sabina merely grinned. After a moment Lahn pointed to a boy on the cusp of his teens. “Tylor.” And to much smaller girl. “Babbette.”
“Are they well?” the woman asked hopefully.
“Their grandchildren are.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve ever…spoken with them, have you?”
“No.” She replied with the finality of topics forbidden, and chewed thoughtfully on her bread. Her tone softened. “After you, while I lived as Atrios – he came after you -- Your grandson Syrin contacted me asking if you were well, and if I remembered him.”
Sabina gasped, mortified. “I am *so* sorry.”
“Don’t be. He was a boy, and I was his grandmother. When Sabina ended and Atrios began, his grandmother was gone. I referred him to the commission so they could help him understand--” Lahn paused with a sly smile – “and told him you were well.“ Sabina’s eyes widened. Lahn merely shrugged. “Indiscrete, perhaps, but it was only a little indiscretion, and I was his grandmother.”
Sabina sighed and shook her head, but her relieved expression belied her disapproval. “I told you it would be easier if you had heeded the Commissions’ advice and joined an architect.”
Lahn shrugged, dusting away crumbs from her lap. “I didn’t want easy. I never wanted easy. I wanted to understand. I wanted to raise children and watch them grown and join or not join. Watch them have children and leave my life knowing that it went on. I wanted to be part of this wonderful machinery that was much bigger than the mere lives of Lahn.”
“Did you take the advice I gave you before we joined?”
“Have a child of my own? One. Taemon. A good boy – mathematician, but between the symbiont and him being over 4 kilos--”
“I’m sure one was enough.” Sabina said with a wince. “You did say you didn’t want easy.”
Lahn winced. “Some things are best left to professionals.”
Sabina laughed. “What brought you here, Lahn?”
Lahn reclined back in the cool grass, feeling the hot sun on her face and arms. “I haven’t done this before. You seemed the safest to contact.”
Sabina looked at her quizzically. “It seems strange that any of your past lives wouldn’t be safe. You are Lahn. You gave us this.” She nodded to the park, the children. “I couldn’t ask for more.”
Lahn smiled. “I am pleased to have done well for you.”
Sabina resumed serenely watching her children. She wondered about Taemon, who thankfully had been uninterested in joining and avoided the Commission wrestling with the idea of dynasties. She smiled. It had been a good life – not always easy – but satisfying in retrospect. Lahn leaned her head back, slowly exhaling. The air became cooler, heavy and moist. When she opened her eyes, she was kneeling in front of the pool, again facing the almost statue of Sabina. She rose into a prolonged stretch, looking at the other pools in turn. She wonderd what amber of memory each were suspended and how it was chosen. She hoped they were all joyous. Lahn smiled. Perhaps this was going to turn out alright after all.
As she reached for the surface of Evlyn Yassal’s pool, she paused and shifted to another, plunging her hand into the cool liquid that felt like quicksilver against her skin. This time, the pull was expected, and she eased into it instead of pulling back.
The sight that greeted her was familiar. Not one, but two sets of memories converged in the witnessing chamber, giving the memory solidity and vibrancy. Rose had come from a universe where there were no joined Trill, and had convinced herself the strange new universe she had been plunged into was an elaborate interrogation technique. It had been Yassal’s idea to let Rose witness. A willing possession, the temporary host had full memory of the experience irreproducible by any holodeck.
Rose had not only been convinced of the genuineness of her situation, she was overjoyed. It only made sense this would be her moment. Rose glanced toward her and recognized her immediately. The others – extras of Rose’s memory, sat immobile. Opposite Rose sat Evlyn – bookends of a dimensional rift. Despite the hard years Rose spent in squalor on a Trill ravaged by Terran Mass Drivers, and the long scar that meandered a crooked trail across her jaw, Rose’s resemblance to Evlyn was eerily more than the familial. Lahn paused, trying to read the expression on Evlyn Yassal’s face. Happiness? Relief? Apprehension?
“Perhaps you came to the wrong place.” Rose quietly said as Lahn studied Evlyn.
Lahn shook her head. Lahn knew the least about Rose. The Half-starved, radiation sick and almost feral girl had generated sympathy, but it was the knowledge the Terran empire had exterminated all joined that ignited the upper echelons of Trill.
“This was a profound moment for both of you.” She looked to Evlyn and back to Rose. “Atrios hadn’t even met you yet – but when he heard about you, his decision was already made. This moment – is like my –“
“I was thinking more genesis.”
“You were the miracle.” Rose said after a moment of silence. “In my lifetime, the Joined had been dead for decades. Trill was a planet of ruins. We might have called ourselves freedom fighters, we’d never be free – we could only take revenge. And then suddenly, I was here -- really really here and everything I was – everything I knew was another damned Terran screwup. I was so relieved – and so lost at the same time.”
“This wasn’t my world. I had no place in it. If I hadn’t experienced being a witness, do you know what moment I’d want to experience forever?”
Lahn shook her head to Rose’s bitter laughter.
“I had set a quantum charges on a raised shuttle pad,and timed them to get ‘em beaming up and down. They sent a surge through the transporters scattered the buffers of those leaving, and the entire structure collapsed just as the arrivals materialized” She held her hand up above her lap to illustrate, flailing her fingers as she brought her hand slowly back down with a hard smack on her thigh. She studied her fingers a moment, then looked back at Lahn. “They were all…broken, like someone had picked them up by the handful and hurled them down. I just couldn’t help but think how they’d feel in my hand – squirming – right before I threw them down as hard as I could. Until this-” She waved her across the witnessing chamber. “That was the single most beautiful moment of my life. And this moment made me realize how horrible that moment had been.”
Lahn shook her head. “You hid so much during the join.”
“I didn’t want you to see the monster-“
Lahn placed her fingertips against Rose’s mouth, silencing her. “I didn’t come here to judge. I just wanted you to know that we succeeded. The explosion that caused your sliver of time never happened.”
For a moment, Rose was as still as the rest of the room. Then she slowly took Lahn’s hand, squeezing it hard, her eyes wet as she smiled. Her voice was a whisper. “Thank you.” She shook her head. “But how—“
Lahn shrugged. “Technically, you’re the memories of Rose, not the Rose that never happened.”
“But then how would those memories—“
Lahn repeated her shrug. “I guess a little bit of paradox is tolerable. My chronal signature is different, to say the least. But I wanted you to know. You gave up so much – everything. Without your knowledge, we wouldn’t have succeeded.”
Rose shook her head. “I gave up nothing. I was joined. It was like this impossible dream fulfilled. Better than any bomb, more than any lover. Its what we were meant for, and it was wonderful. If my only moment is this one for all of eternity, I content.”
Lahn smiled, pressing Rose’s hand reassuringly with her fingers. “It will be. I promise.” As she closed her eyes, and let herself drift back to the cave, Lahn wondered if she could change Rose’s frozen moment and hoped her desire was enough.