I got bored and when I get bored, I design covers. Though this story is technically a proof of concept novella-thing (I have like 9k right now, it’s easily going to cross the mandatory 12,500 SFWA barrier into novella territory) for The Things We Remember, I also have a second novella in mind, The Lies We Tell(which is set in 2028, about nine years later, and deals with the start of the Terran Schism and Second Contact).
I’m, frankly, loving writing Remember as this allows me to get into the head of Astraea, my blind New York lawyer (no jokes please) and also establish her timeline. Especially as the other stories she narrates, all novellas, are individual cases set in different points in her life and career.
This story, though, it’s about her pregnancy and the stories she tells her unborn son. The lives, the fragments of memory she’s kept locked away, but remain with her due to their importance or, sometimes, their normality. This is interspersed with the modern day as she moves from discovering her pregnancy, celebrating her niece’s bat mitzvah and telling family to and giving birth.
I’ve already written the last scene but the fun bit are the italicised sections, each a different life. Oh and I do like this cover, though it’s sadly inadequate due to Canva’s limited font-manipulating abilities, especially as the one for Lies is the left side of the same image, a much more troubled, stressed looking side to Astraea, which mirrors what happens when the Ashterai reveal themselves to humanity and she volunteers to be in the ‘hey I’ve been pretending to be human but I’m not’ vanguard.
I liken writing to being a jigsaw puzzle. With anything—a short story, a novel—you have the corners and sometimes the outside pieces but the middle is a hole, an absent picture you have to piece together.
I wrote“When the Stars Fade” a couple of months ago and only as I’ve gone through more drafts and several rejections have I realised that there are several components to the story which makes it bigger than 7500 words.
Hesri’s relationship with her eventual murderer, Meiku
Kadjat’s romantic relationship with Hesri, their marriage and Kadjat’s widowing.
Meiku’s execution and how this affects Kadjat.
Hesri’s faith in the Ubani, the Mortal Gods, and Kadjat’s agnosticism versus Meiku’s suspicion/atheism.
Kadjat’s application to the Space Program and the process involved with her becoming an astronaut.
The winnowing of the other applicants.
Nadir, his secret and Kadjat’s discovery of it.
Her decision, not that she actually gets to make one, the moral quandary, however remains.
The shuttle disaster and Kadjat’s demise in space.
I also know several other things, such that this is a story written in-universe by Jaada Serani after her world for the Commission investigating the Directorate, after she learns to use her abilities as a wild muse.
I usually find a track and this one, well, it perfectly reflects Jaada’s perspective given her relationships, with Tobai in her present and, as Kadjat, with Hesri and Meiku. This one sums up her desire to rewrite history, to change her past, but this is tempered by the knowledge that she’s a muse, not a god:
When this story came back from being critiqued, the one thing the group wanted to know more about was the Ubani. This story, which will probably be a novella, is about pieceing together the world between The Mortal Gods and The Singularity, the two parts of Jaada’s novel The Divided Land. This is a world after war but before chaos, there’s a unique status quo coupled with a desire to find a way out of the cycle of violence.
The faith in the Ubani is strong, even in Taborin, but science is rising. Oh and there’s a planet to colonise … of which Jaada’s failed mission is the first tentative step.
The story itself is set decades before the Singularity and is going to help me fill in important holes needed to make sure there aren’t any in the Atridia Duology. After all, jigsaws do come with pictures to help you put the pieces together and this story is not onlu Jaada’s attempt to deal with her own demons but it’s my way of making sure nothing is left out and the world will be all the richer for it.
I actually don’t know what this is yet. A novel? A series? Short stories? Novellas. There’s definitely more than one though because they’re each set in a different year. Randomly writing scenes has been my guilty pleasure while I should be doing other things, like revising short stories and finishing Ash Seeketh Ember (which I’ve just now finished).
I know the basic outline and that each story involves a particular case from a technopathic teenager to an alien cleric accused of murder. Oh and the legal ramifications of interspecies sex in London, that’s my favourite. I have five sketched out, each taking place in a different year, from 2016 through 2028. The final story ushers in Second Contact and the Terran Schism, the Ashteraiverse endgame, which I’ve been wanting to write for nearly a decade.
For now, here’s a rough first draft exploring one of protagonist and Ashterai Elder Astraea’s dates with her eventual husband and soulmate, Marc, on a snowy day in January 2005.
Edit: And here’s the perfectly fitted song I found while writing it …
The day Tara died, it had snowed the night before and I was praying someone had gritted the streets.
I could taste the cold in the air, feel the burn on my skin as I huddled under layers of clothing, a turtleneck jumpers, a coat, an infinity scarf, thick boots with special studded oversoles that offered me some traction on snowy streets, trousers and wool socks. I hate being cold and sometimes it feels like I’ve been exposed to absolute zero in the moments before the heat death of the universe.
Maybe it was a memory, of before and beyond.
Bad weather makes me even more hyper-vigilant than I usually am. When your blind everything tries to kill you and snow, in particular, makes the streets deadly when you have a working set of all six senses. I was down one of the major ones.
“Hi, Tara.” Marc made me jump, waiting just outside the lobby of my building. “I wanted to meet you, the sidewalks are murder.”
“Sorry, you made me jump. Thank you.” I smiled, liking the fact he cared, risking his own life because he wanted to help me and not out of pity either but genuine concern.
“No, thank you. The weather was worrying me. I’m terrified I’m going to slip and break something.”
“What do you want to do today?” he asked, it was a Sunday and I’d been looking forward to a day with him. What we’d do hadn’t occurred to me.
I grinned. “Something new. Something I’ve never done before.”
So he kissed me.
You have to understand from the get-go that reality has rules.
That’s part of why now is better than the place I grew up. There were rules but they were fractured, nonsensical and we knew, all of us, a clean slate was required and guardians to make sure the rules are kept sacred. The world I was born into, it was a mess of cataclysmic proportions.
But I was never happy being disconnected from time and so I asked to live within it, with Marc as my companion. Each time we’re reborn in a different place and age, our memories are suppressed. For a while we think we’re normal, average, it makes it easier when Marc and I finally meet, when we remember who we are. We have people to be as a foundation and time to just be like everyone else, even if it’s only a few decades per lifetime.
We don’t always sync or fall in love. Once in a while I can go an entire lifetime believing I’m no one special—which is a good thing, it keeps you humble—until I hear the voices of the guides and my true self is reasserted. It’s like a tide rising on a beach, the water washes away the memories of my old life and I’m left knowing what I am, liberated from the cycle of life and death. It’s like waking up from a dream and it’s always easier when Marc is waiting for me.
I looked up at him, my eyes opened the fraction I could allow and see his shadow against light then smiled. “Yes. Hey—”
He cut me off. “Don’t, not my first name. I’m not him anymore. Marc suits me better, don’t you think?”
“Yes.” I agreed. “I’ll always be Saere.”
“Shut your eyes, before you get a headache.” He gently set my dark wraparounds back over my nose, careful not to catch my ears. “Are you all right?”
I nodded. “I will be. Once I figure out who I am.”
“It’s easy, remember? I’m Marc and you’re Saere.”
“Except I’m also Tara.” I said. “We have families.”
“We always do.”
Maybe it was because I’d never had a family; my mother, the original one, was never in the picture and my father abandoned me, his blind daughter, to the street rather than claim me as his own. It was easier than be saddled with me, not that I even had time to be a burden on him. Not even the Princess of Stories could get him to be the better person and admit I was his, despite my mother naming me so, as his true child.
Perhaps getting over that was my true lesson and, if it was, it was one I still had trouble learning.
“Ahhh, I get it.” He knew this. “You have Dee.”
“Who do you have?”
“Parents, an aunt. You?”
“Dee and her husband have a baby, Ella. Our parents live in San Diego, enjoying the sunshine.”
“Are you close?”
“I guess. I speak to them once a week, if I remember.” I shrugged. “Can we get a coffee? Do this somewhere a little more warm.”
“We could go back upstairs?”
I shook my head. “I want to be around people, not because of you, not because I don’t trust you. I need to be Tara, not Saere.”
“Sure. We do have some catching up to do.” Marc suddenly flustered. “Do you want a hand?
I nodded. “We’ve just found each other, I’d rather this not be a quick meeting.”
With that I set my hand on his arm for the first time and we headed out into the snow.
The coffee mug in front of me smelled delicious, I cupped my hands around it for warmth. I felt like I’d spent the last two and half decades method acting my way through life. Tara was just the mask I’d worn and now it had been removed, a band aid pulled from a wound, raw and hurting.
Marc was doctoring his coffee, I prefer mind basic and boring. I could smell the headiness of recently roasted beans saturating the air and inhaled, coffee has always calmed me.
“So,” he said and sat down on the opposite side of the table. “How are we going to do this?”
“Carry on as normal.” I said, not even having to think about it. “It’s not time yet.”
“Actually, give me one second before we talk about normality.” I picked up my phone and began to dial. The numbers were random but the intention was there, the desire to connect with someone not on this plane of reality.
“Lady Saere, hello.” Amber’s voice was warm and welcome, I could hear other ones behind her, as if she worked in a call center. “It’s been a while.”
“Indeed.” I said. “Would you mind calling me Astraea? Pass that around, too.”
“Not at all. I was about to ask. What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to announce my reappearance, Marc’s too.”
“Marc? Oh you mean Lord—”
“No need for titles, Amber, you know that.”
“Sorry, force of habit.” She said and I could hear the unspoken ‘Lady’ on her lips. The young like to give their elders epithets because we were there in the beginning, despite reminding us them they will be there at the end, just as we will.
“Oh and he’s decided on Marcus for now. Can you make sure his employees are aware if they’ve not already heard.”
“Done. In regard to yourself, would you like me to make sure Alycia, David and Matt are notified.”
“I’m sure they already know but please make sure they have a corporeal method of communication. My email, phone number.”
“I can do that.”
“Are the aware?”
“Everyone bar Alycia.”
That meant she was probably going to wake up with a bump. “Where is she?”
“Chicago. Erm, Lady?”
“She’s in a relationship. With a human.”
“Ouch.” I winced. “Then definitely make sure she has my phone number. Actually, I need one from you if possible, for someone.”
“Sure. Just tell me who?”
The name popped into my head, a residual note left intentionally in the back of my human brain that I’d otherwise not know. “Chaya Jordan.”
“Shall I email it to you? Do you want me to let Lady Chaya know you want to speak to her?”
“She knows and, yes, please.”
“Thank you. Oh and Amber, has the new girl started yet?”
“New girl? I don’t believe so.”
“Damn, ask Chris to let me know when she does. He knows who I mean.”
I heard whispering and then Amber’s voice. “He says 2015.”
“Really? That ages away.” I sighed, hating that it was 2005. “Okay, thanks, Amber. Can you email me your number as well, I’d rather have a fixed line for you if I need you.”
“I’m typing it right now.”
“Thanks.” I said and signed off.
Marc was sipping his drink almost meditatively. “Everything okay?”
I was envious of his calm. As the Buddhist, I should have had it but reawakening, it always left me feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. I had a prescription in my bag—being a paralegal was stressful—and felt guilty reaching for the tiny bottle, as if by taking the little tablets I was proving mortality won out over my older self. “It will be.”
“You’re like this every time. It’s okay.”
“Easy for you to say. How do you do it? Be so calm?”
“I’m southern. Nothing phases me, Sae.”
I looked up at the sound of the contraction of my true name. “I missed you calling me that.”
“I’ll be better once I’ve spoken to Chaya, it’s my ritual.”
“You and her have always been close.” It sounded almost like a concession but he wasn’t jealous. She and I, we’d known each other longer. “And if it helps you come to terms with remembering, I’m all for it.”
I loved him in that moment, for the first time as Tara. “Thank you.”
“Do you know what you’re going to do? Are you going to tell Dee?”
“Not yet. She wouldn’t understand.” I said. “But I am going to change my name.”
“Oh?” Now he sounded curious. “That was … fast.”
“New life, new me.” I replied. “How do you like Astraea?”
I heard the frown. “That’s … Greek, right?”
“She was a goddess of justice in one of the older myths. Or the daughter of the goddess of justice, Themis. When the ages changed, she was the deity who stayed on Earth the longest.”
“Sounds like you.” He set his cup down. “Astraea Themis.”
I grinned. “That does sound good.”
“Dee is going to be …”
“Wow, you’re actually scared of her, aren’t you?”
“You don’t have siblings.”
“Somehow that makes me glad. I’ve always been a loner though.” Marc murmured. “But I’m close to my family, my parents, my aunt.”
“I’m glad you had someone.” I said.
“Now we have each other.” I didn’t answer, not immediately, which unsettled him. “Sae? Did I say something wrong?”
“No, no. I’m just … it’s going to look odd. We’ve known each other a month.”
“So? We keep on dating, if you want to that is. We don’t have to get married and, even if we do, it’s not instant thing.”
“Yes.” I said. “And I do want to keep on seeing you.”
“So we keep on doing that. Or are you worried I have a ring in my back pocket or something?”
I must have sounded pained. “You don’t do you?”
“No. Do you know how much teachers make?”
“Probably more than a paralegal.”
“Quite possibly but not much more. Plus, you’re a feminist, if anyone’s going to ask, it’ll be you not me.”
“True.” I agreed. “My parents are going to want a proper Jewish wedding.”
“I thought you were Buddhist?”
“I am. My family on the other hand are very Jewish, hence why Dee is so damn protective of me, and why she must never know I have bacon in my fridge. There’s a reason I go to stay with my sister on Friday nights. I can read Braille in Hebrew as well as English.”
“There are different versions?”
“For each language, yeah.”
“I thought Buddhists didn’t eat meat?”
“I’m a bad Buddhist. I got into it for the meditation and never quite got as far as giving up meat. I like meat.” I replied. “And now I get why. I thought it was all about the cycle, liberation from birth and death. It wasn’t, it was my Ashterai nature seeping through.”
“If it helps you, where’s the harm?”
“The stance on religion …”
“You’re human right now. Faith is never a bad thing.”
“I used to dream of a woman, I thought she was the Boddhisatva who bears my name.”
“She has lots of names. I think we only know a quarter of them. I used to hate church, it always felt like I shouldn’t have been in there, despite being dragged by my aunt. She’s a pious woman.” He stopped. “Wait, girlfriend?”
“Am I the wrong gender?”
“No, stupid. I wouldn’t have let you buy me apology wine if I thought your masculinity mattered.”
“Why’d you break up with her? Your girlfriend?”
“She kept trying to cure me.”
I heard him wince. “Yes, I can see why that would be a problem.”
“I’ll make this easy: I like women and men, I like people. I just like you more.”
“No problems then.”
“Good.” I sipped my coffee. “I love how understanding you are.”
“I didn’t used to be. Marcus Hunter was known as being a little stern. Especially with his charges.”
“Then time to mellow in your middle age perhaps? Love can change people.”
“You sound like a movie tagline. Are you okay?”
My phone had started ringing and I must have gone the wrong shade of white. “It’s Dee.”
“So answer it.”
I fumbled with it, my heart stuck in my mouth. I’d not expected to have to speak to my sister so quickly after reawakening. “Dee?”
“Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Did you have the same amount of snow as we did last night?”
“I don’t think so. I’m okay, I’m with Marc.”
“Wow, you two really are serious, aren’t you?”
I went bright red, my cheeks burning. Tara would blush, be embarrassed, the physical side-effects of my fake life were still there. I didn’t even have to pretend to be her and I almost felt relived.
Dee was laughing but then said, serious. “Well at least you’re safe. I was worried about you with the streets so icy.”
“Marc’s a gentleman and I’m always careful, you know that.”
“Cool. Listen, give me a call later in the week? Paul wants you two to come to dinner. Mom and Dad will be in town too, she just called me to confirm the flights.”
“Sure.” I said. “I’ll call you once I’ve got my diary in front of me.”
I’ve been waiting for Seanan McGuire’s latest for a while. I loved her short story “Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage” and Every Heart A Doorway is almost an extension of that tale, focusing on the children who came home and wished they’d stayed. I bought this novella—which is what this is, really—via Audible and it was five hours I’m so glad to spend in a magical world, sort of like Hogwarts but with High Nonsense instead of magic. I wanted to visit Nancy’s world, the Land of the Dead, where Persephone ate pomegranate seeds and the darkness is spotted by stars.
Published by Tor.com, this is not a novel, rather it’s one of several tales which are transcending the boundaries, welcoming shorter fiction into accepted society. Before Tor, everything had to be a novel but this story is perfectly paced. I’m a huge fan, freely admitted, of Seanan’s other fiction, especially her Mira Grant persona (hell, Uni and I, well Lesley, died in one of her stories; that’s how much of a fan I am).
The audiobook, my preferred medium, was beautiful. Perfectly narrated and leaving me wanting more … even though the stort stands-alone quite perfectly. It’s a beautiful work, mixing special children with the grief that comes from growing up. I adore it; and all the broken hearts that come with it. So many children visit other worlds but being forced to grow up is another kind of torture.
Seriously, you owe it to yourself to read this, right now.