LIGHT YEARS FROM HOME: PART ONE (Novel is continuous from this point)

SPACE MISSION

Ariel Gordon
JULY 21, 3150

A CHILLING THOUGHT SURFACED as I considered the effects hyper stimulation might have on the embryo forming in my womb. I chuckled. A zombie child would serve Albert right for his betrayal. However, I remained determined to relive and record in detail the past three weeks of my life.
Purple crystals of serotonin floating on lavender froth rippled across my upper body, and pungent vapors condensed into droplets on my face and in my hair. With my lips and eyelids pinched tight, I slid deeper into the bathwater and rotated my head from side to side. Tepid water pooled in each ear and effervesced creating crackling noises. I snorted and quickly inhaled through the channel my breath had created. Too slow. I quelled the urge to gag as the acrid fluid coalesced inside my sinus cavity. Using my teeth like fish gills, I strained tiny pockets of air encased within each bubble, but an oily substance seeped across my teeth and the roof of my mouth. I suppressed an overpowering urge to vomit.
Submerging my entire body to a count of one hundred, longer than Sera had advised, I sat up gasping for breath. Through a screen of hair, its sheen dulled to the color of rusted metal, I observed yellowish slime slide down my breasts into brackish water.
Scenes from the past few weeks replayed behind closed eyelids accompanied by vivid sensual perceptions of each incident. My personal avatar had cautioned that too much serotonin absorbed into the human brain would over stimulate the synapses and might cause my entire nervous system to shut down. Sera ingested heavy doses of the substance to maintain her total recall capability necessary to perform her duties of which until recently I’d been unaware.
Somewhere within the seldom-used written medium, I will record my recent experiences as I recall each detail should I not survive the first human pregnancy in a thousand years. The Realm had assigned me the responsibility of preserving Twentieth Century literature, movies, and video programs, and I recently discovered my ability to interact within each medium. I blinked open my tutorial, and an index of Twentieth Century literature scrolled across my retina until The Diary of a Young Girl caught my attention.
Flashed across the first page, Anne Frank, born in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 12, 1929, her first entry recorded on her birthday thirteen years later. I, Ariel Gordon, have much in common with this Twentieth Century young girl. I selected a page at random to compose a day-by-day narrative of the events since my thirteenth birthday, July 21, 3150. Nestled between the covers for posterity will reside the memories of two teenagers forced to hide from totalitarian regimes in dramatically different circumstances.
I willed my body to float, raising or lowering my head to control the pace of recent experiences surfacing from deep memory. I ordered these scenes in chronological order and began composing my narrative. While glancing at my ceiling monitor to validate my telepathic transmission to Anne Frank’s diary, I allowed my conscious present to fade and the recent past to emerge.

ST. CLOUD, MINNESOTA
Marty Haggart
JULY 21, 3151 (One year later)

Ariel Gordon, my surrogate twin sister—actually a very distant female cousin, resides on a habitat that left Earth a millennium ago. I refer to her as my twin because our births had been coordinated to occur on the thousandth anniversary of the last appearance of Haley’s Comet, July 1, 2137.
Twice a year, one family member is allowed a highly censored communication that requires twelve months to transmit through the light-year distance between them and us. Historically, mothers pass this privilege to their adult daughters who continue the tradition until they in turn have daughters.
My mother, assistant Pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, Minnesota, had protested the censoring of all references to God and religion in communication between Earth Base and Space Mission. As an ordained Roman Catholic priest, she could not in good conscience continue the correspondence. I, a precocious twelve-year-old at that time, begged to continue what she called a meaningless exchange of pen pal letters. My father, head of the Space Technology Department at St. Cloud International University, agreed that I should be allowed to carry on the tradition despite his objection to human space travel rather than utilizing intelligent robots.
I addressed my first letter to Ariel and timed it to arrive on our thirteenth birthdays, July 1, 3150. She and her mother could decide which of them should respond. As a challenge to bypass censorship, I created a program to encrypt a binary coded message disguised as my DNA profile that Ariel would discover when she attempted to compare it to hers. I assumed the censors—ours, theirs, or both—would not be interested a young girl’s DNA sequence.
I selected verses from St. Luke’s Gospel describing the birth of Jesus to transmit in code, and it exhausted my entire DNA. Names selected from the Book of Genesis out of their Biblical context might possibly elude censorship and pass for those of my maternal ancestors. Ariel would consider them merely unusual female names, if she hadn’t knowledge of the Old Testament. The following expunged narrative accompanied my altered DNA sequence.

Adam begat Seth. Seth begat Enosh. Enosh begat Cainan. Cainan begat Mahalalel. Mahalalel begat Jared. Jared begat Enoch. Enoch begat Methuselah. Methuselah begat Lamech. Lamech begat Noah. Noah begat Shem, Ham, Japheth, David, Angel, Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Savior, Peter, Paul, Popes, Mohammad, Luther, Phyllis (my mother) and Marty (me).

As I had hoped, Ariel responded within a few weeks following our thirteenth birthdays, and her letter arrived at my family’s home terminal a year later on July 21, 3051. My father delivered a hard copy directly to my campus dormitory at St. Cloud International University, as my electronic mail at school would be screened and possibly censored. At age fourteen, I had earned his trust, but not so, the International University system. Her letter implied that she interpreted my messages, but from her perspective, they appeared meaningless. She referenced her DNA sequence that either the censors at Space Mission or Earth Base had deleted.
They also blocked her use of the word and from her entire letter. I reinserted it twenty four times and questioned Ariel’s overuse of the conjunction. It probably contained a code that I had no means to decipher.

Marty: I’m not sure what one can say that will be relevant a year from now, but here goes. To spare you having to calculate it, I’ll start with my age, the same as yours when you receive this memo. I grew up in a world quite different from yours, yet I am sure we experience many of the same problems with parents, friends, and changing bodies. I am a virgin and probably will remain so at the time you receive this message, but if all goes well, I will have a daughter by then.
Thank you for listing all your female ancestors with strange sounding names. I am sorry I haven’t access to mine on this end. You will note how little our DNA structure has changed over the past millennium.
I wish to share a poem I created to honor some of your mothers and the daughters they bore.

Adam’s your madam and daughter was Seth,
And what husband and father be named?
Marty and Ariel the last to this time,
Seek husband and husband to further our line.
With daughter and son and possibly more,
Through Albert, my Caesar, and I of the Nile,
A proud Cleopatra attired in satin and gold.
Marty make proud Phyllis and Luther,
If still aboard this life and probably old.
Of Mohammad and Pope and Paul and Peter,
I would like to know more.
And of Savior and Jesus,
The sounds of their names I truly adore.
Who are Mary and Joseph and Angel and David?
A litany of ancestors mothers of all.
Tell me as much as you can recall,
So I can no longer know nothing of them!

Ariel responded to my biblical references, and from her poem I deduced her society had been denied the existence of God. I pondered her references to herself as Cleopatra and Albert as Caesar, probably the father of the child she is expecting yet remaining a virgin. A reference to the birth of Jesus? Had she implied two societal factions at odds with each other such as Rome and Egypt? A Romeo and Juliet reference would have stated it more clearly. Had my sister been denied both God and Shakespeare?
My parents had been pushing my career choice in different directions, religion and space technology. The problem confronting me with Ariel’s situation may require competence in both areas of study. Since Dad traveled to lecture at Mogadishu, Somalia, an International University branch, I decided to skip my classes to develop a response to Ariel’s letter.
A mysterious message from my mother interrupted my researching secret codes. The missing luminous disks have been found. Come home immediately popped onto my screen. My parents and I considered St. Mary’s Rectory as home, but I had opted to move to the university dormitory to avoid the daily walk to school.
I switched my research generator to luminous disks as they probably related to her church and armed myself for our meeting. As a part of the architecture of St. Mary’s Cathedral, a series of limestone medallions encircled the building’s lower exterior, five of them containing swastikas. Early Christians had borrowed the broken cross symbol from pagan religions as a transition to Christianity.
Two years after the completion of the church in 1933, the German National Socialist Party claimed the swastika as their symbol. Out of respect for the millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust, the five disks containing twisted crosses were replaced in 1999 with images depicting Mysteries of the Rosary.
One of the original disks displayed on the wall near the elevator in the northwest entrance of the church included their history and a prayer. The remaining 20 inch by three-inch thick disks had been lost or purposely misplaced.
No doubt, Mother had conveniently located these missing disks in time for the restoration of the Cathedral after last year’s Great Lakes tectonic earthquake. The project is scheduled to be completed by the 1150th anniversary of the Diocese of St. Cloud, allowing Mother four years of campaigning to have the original pagan crosses replace the Mysteries of the Rosary medallions. I’m not sure what she expected me to do about the matter other than draw me into her area of interest and away from my father’s, as I had been leaning toward space travel over religion.
She thanked me for the information about the disk’s history and asked for my opinion about replacing them. I agreed based on the rationale for including them in the first place, respect for the natural evolution of religion, and as a matter of architectural integrity. She requested more research on the origin of the symbols to present her argument for restoring them to the exterior of the cathedral. I agreed to research their history but not for the next two weeks, offering no explanation for the delay. She’d be reminded of Ariel’s letter—alerted to it if Father hadn’t told her it arrived—and would discover the context of our exchange that might misrepresent my degree of interest in religion. I agreed to remain home with her until Father returned since I couldn’t concentrate on class work with Ariel’s letter dominating my mind.
The day before Father’s scheduled arrival, a female officer with Earth Base Federation emblazoned in gold across the visor of her cap and lieutenant bars on her uniform appeared at our door. She stood at attention and announced, “I have a message from Space Mission.”
Mother groaned and gestured toward me. “My daughter’s in charge of communication.” She whispered, “Please excuse me, but I’m late for Mass at the Cathedral.” She sidestepped the officer and entered the lift to street level at St. Germaine.
The officer faced me. “I’m sorry if I interfered with your mother’s devotions.”
“Her congregation will wait for her,” I lied. The few devout Catholics who continued to attend Mass at the side altar, the only safe area left after the earthquake, were quite unforgiving when Reverend Phyllis Haggart started her service late. I visualized her prostrate at the altar in front of an empty church or in the vestibule sipping altar wine and sniffing incense. I beckoned to my guest. “Would you like to come in?”
“Thank you, but my report will take but a second.” The lieutenant paused as if unsure how to proceed. “Perhaps it is best if you experience it directly.” She tapped a code into her wrist device and locked her gaze on me, no doubt anticipating my reaction. I immediately understood why she hesitated to announce the message verbally. All future personal communication between Earth and Ariel’s habitat had been restricted to technical and scientific matters. I blamed myself for the breech by creating a secret channel of communication intended to bypass the censors, but who had instigated the suspension?
Her curt response to my curiosity, “It wasn’t a decision from our side.” She reached into her pocket and extracted what appeared to be a coin, as if to offer money for an ice cream cone as consolation. She glanced over her shoulder and dropped a computer chip into my hand. “We received a database from Space Mission either accidentally or secretly transmitted.” She turned to leave. “I would prefer you not to tell anyone that I gave you a copy.”
After she left, I opened the program titled Twentieth Century Literature Prepared for Ariel Gordon’s Tutorial. It consisted of thousands of movies, television shows, and books available during that period. Had this been the limit of my sister’s knowledge of us back on Earth?
I opened her most recently accessed document, The Diary of a Young Girl, and scrolled past the title page to Anne Frank’s first entry. Her thirteenth birthday! Eleven of the following journal entries were glaringly out of context, both in style of the author and the century in which the incidents occurred. Ariel had inserted an elaborate narrative of her personal experiences over a three-week period beginning with her—our thirteenth birthdays.
Since the document would not transmit directly to my memory, I settled my media cocoon over my head and established a comfortable five hundred words per minute flow across my retina. The meter calculated fifty-six minutes and nine and one half seconds to complete the reading. Never before had it rounded to the nearest half second.

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