Elder mocked me for praying once, and i spent an hour berating him for that. He ended up throwing up his hands, laughing, and telling me i could believe whatever i wanted if i was going to hold onto my beliefs so hard.
I wrote a book. It sucked. I wrote nine more books. They sucked, too. Meanwhile, I read every single thing I could find on publishing and writing, went to conferences, joined professional organizations, hooked up with fellow writers in critique groups, and didn’t give up. Then I wrote one more book.
...that was before I'd started thinking about how life stuck on a ship wouldn't be so bad if Elder walked around pantless more.
I am as silent as death. Do this: Go to your bedroom. Your nice, safe, warm bedroom that is not a glass coffin behind a morgue door. Lie down on your bed not made of ice. Stick your fingers in your ears. Do you hear that? The pulse of life from your heart, the slow in-and-out from your lungs? Even when you are silent, even when you block out all noise, your body is still a cacophony of life. Mine is not. It is the silence that drives me mad. The silence that drives the nightmares to me. Because what if I am dead? How can someone without a beating heart, without breathing lungs live like I do? I must be dead. And this is my greatest fear: After 301 years, when they pull my glass coffin from this morgue, and they let my body thaw like chicken meat on the kitchen counter, I will be just like I am now. I will spend all of eternity trapped in my dead body. There is nothing beyond this. I will be locked within myself forever. And I want to scream. I want to throw open my eyes wake up and not be alone with myself anymore, but I can't. I can't.
She is trying to control me with fear, because she cannot control me any other way.My eyes open wide. They burn as if they are on fire—no, as if they are made of fire. Eyes are the window to the soul.
My heart will never forget what it’s like to fade in and out of time, to never know if one year or a thousand have passed by, to torture yourself with the idea of your soul trapped behind ice for all eternity.I know what torture there is behind ice.
Power isn’t control at all — power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own.
Our masterpieces are Shakespeare and Jane Austen and griots and Murasaki Shikibu, but they’re also J.K. Rowling and Chuck Palahnuik and Douglas Adams and Amy Tan and Suzanne Collins and Chinua Achebe. Read. Read them all. Read the books you love, and try to read books you don’t. Read the genres you love, but sometimes also read a book outside your comfort zone. Read voraciously.
The glitter in the sky looks as if I could scoop it all up in my hands and let the stars swirl and touch one another but they are so distant so very far apart that they cannot feel the warmth of each other even though they are made of burning.
It’s all in my mind.I’m in my right mind now, and my right mind is crazy.You need to wake up, Ella.The words are a command I cannot obey.
Or… maybe I’m not going crazy. “Maybe I’m some sort of android-cyborg-clone-thing, and I’m just breaking down.I’m not sure which way is worse.Dad laughs. “You’re not in your right mind, dear,” he says. “No, no, no, you’re not.”And then——Silence.Dad fades away. The reverie chair disappears.There’s just blackness. I remember then that I am in the reverie of something dead. Whatever that thing was, it was dead.And, just as I’m starting to wonder if, perhaps, I have died, too, I see a light, far away in the corner of the dreamscape. The light isn’t soft; it’s not glowing. It crackles like silent lightning, burning with electricity, sparks flying out and fizzling in the dark.I don’t know why—it makes no sense, the way dreams often don’t—but I want to touch the light.So I do.
As the dreamscape around me grows clearer, I slip further away from it. The mind is a magical thing, I’m discovering. A dreamscape is made of thought and is wider than the sky, able to grow large enough to fit not just our own world, but every possibility and impossibility beyond it. Once I quit thinking of it as being forced into the laws of physics, it’s easy to manipulate the dreamscape into anything I want. I don’t know how I know all this, no more than I understand how I know things when I dream. I just do.I throw up my hand, and a wall rises between the orange grove and me. Behind the wall, I start creating the world I need in Representative Belles’s mind.
And this is what she wants to do to people. Let them have their own lives, until she wants them. Give them the strength of giants, but not the power to control it.
And I know what I told my father was true: let us taste the world, and we’ll do whatever it takes to shape it into our home.
The President called it the “Epitome of the American dream.” Daddy called it the “unholy alliance of business and government.” But all it really was, was America giving up. Bailing out in order to join the Financial Resource Exchange. A multinational alliance focused on one thing: profit. Fund global medical care to monopolize vaccines. Back unified currency to collect planet-wide interest. And provide the resources needed for a select group of scientists and military personnel to embark on the first trip across the universe in a quest to find more natural resources—more profit. The answer to my parents’ dreams. And my worst nightmare. And I know something about nightmares, seeing as how I’ve been sleeping longer than I’ve been alive. I hope. What if this is just a part of a long dream dreamt in the short time between when Ed locked the cryo door and Hassan pushed the button to freeze me? What if? It’s a strange sort of sleep, this. Never really waking up, but becoming aware of consciousness inside a too-still body. The dreams weave in and out of memories. The only thing keeping the nightmares from engulfing me is the hope that there couldn’t possibly be a hundred more years before I wake up. Not a hundred years. Not three hundred. Not three hundred and one. Please, God, no. Sometimes it feels like a thousand years have passed; sometimes it feels as if I’ve only been sleeping a few moments. I feel most like I’m in that weird state of half-asleep, half-awake I get when I’ve tried to sleep past noon, when I know I should get up, but my mind starts wandering and I’m sure I can never get back to sleep. Even if I do slip back into a dream for a few moments, I’m mostly just awake with my eyes shut. Yeah. Cryo sleep is like that. Sometimes I think there’s something wrong. I shouldn’t be so aware. But then I realize I’m only aware for a moment, and then, as I’m realizing it, I slip into another dream. Mostly, I dream of Earth. I think that’s because I didn’t want to leave it. A field of flowers; smells of dirt and rain. A breeze ... But not really a breeze, a memory of a breeze, a memory made into a dream that tries to drown out my frozen mind. Earth. I hold on to my thoughts of Earth. I don’t like the dreamtime. The dreamtime is too much like dying. They are dreams, but I’m too out of control, I lose myself in them, and I’ve already lost too much to let them take over. I push the dream-memory down. That happened centuries ago, and it’s too late for regrets now. Because all my parents ever wanted was to be a part of the first manned interstellar exploratory mission, and all I ever wanted was to be with them. And I guess it doesn’t matter that I had a life on Earth, and that I loved Earth, and that by now, my friends have all lived and gotten old and died, and I’ve just been lying here in frozen sleep.
Don’t you understand? You are Elder. When you take my role as Eldest, you must dedicate your whole life to this one idea: you are the caretaker of every single person on the ship. They are your responsibility. You can never show weakness in front of them: you are their strength. You can never let them see you in despair: you are their hope. You must always be everything to everyone on board.
As soon as I say the words, I know they were the right ones. My eyes dip down to Dad’s memorial plaque. Truth doesn’t lie in the heart of fortune… it’s under Triumph Towers, where the labs are.
Images of broken light dance behind my eyelids. How could this giant lamp compare to the sun?Everything is wrong here. Shattered. Broken.Like the light.Like me.I never thought about how important the sky was until I didn’t have one.I am surrounded by walls.I have just replaced one box for another.
I can think of nothing but the stars. It is like a piece of my soul had been lost, empty, and it is now filled with the light of a million stars. They are all that I have ever dreamed of; they are nothing that I ever expected... I will never, never be the same. I have seen stars. Real stars.
I guess when someone's gone from your life for a while, all you think about are the big things. The big regrets, the could-have, should-haves. Or the big moments, the memories that are going to be with you forever, those life-changing moments, like first kisses and first confessions and first trusts. And you think about the lasts too: the last kiss, the last words, the last moments.
Ella!” the voice yells, but I cannot tell where it is coming from. The sound wraps around me, spreading like spilt water and then evaporating into silence.“Where am I?” I whisper again.The darkness stretches out for eternity.I take a few steps forward, but the feeling is surreal—I cannot tell if I’ve actually moved or not, because everything is nothing. I feel something wet and warm slide down my cheek, and I touch the tear with my fingertips, swiping it away.Representative Belles is dead. I’m certain of that now. He’s gone. I’m… I’m in the place where he was, and now he’s gone, and now I’m stuck. I’m stuck in the nothingness of a dead body, and I don’t know how to get out.My heart thuds against my chest, and I gasp for air. What if I can never get out? What if eternity is nothing more than me, alone, in the darkness? Trapped in someone else’s death.I collapse, but it’s not like I fall on the floor. There is no floor. There was the illusion of one, but as my body gives way, I realize that I’m floating. I stretch out, my fingers and toes aching to feel, but there’s nothing, nothing at all, and I draw myself into myself, hugging my legs, my knees tucked under my chin.I’m alone.Maybe when Representative Belles died, I died too.Maybe this is it.
More than the sound of my own beating heart, I miss the sound of a ticking clock. Time passes, it must pass, but I have no more assurance of moving through time than I have that I am moving through space. In a way, I’m glad: this means perhaps 300 years and 364 days have passed, and tomorrow I will wake up. Sometimes after a cross-country meet or a long day at school, I’d fall into bed with all my clothes on and be out before I knew it. When I’d finally open my eyes, it would feel like I’d just shut them for a minute, but really, the whole rest of the day and half the night was gone. But. There were other times when I’d collapse onto my mattress, shut my eyes and dream, and it felt like I’d lived a whole lifetime in that dream, but when I woke up, it had only been a few minutes. What if only a year has gone by? What if we haven’t even left yet? That is my greatest fear.
And I try to remember if this happened before, because this is a memory I would want to keep.But there is no echo of it in my mind.
I’ve heard that when you’re in a life-or-death situation, like a car accident or a gunfight, all your senses shoot up to almost superhuman level, everything slows down, and you’re hyper-aware of what’s happening around you.As the shuttle careens toward the earth, the exact opposite is true for me.Everything silences, even the screams and shouts from the people on the other side of the metal door, the crashes that I pray aren’t bodies, the hissing of rockets, Elder’s cursing, my pounding heartbeat.I feel nothing—not the seat belt biting into my flesh, not my clenching jaw, nothing. My whole body is numb.Scent and taste disappear.The only thing about my body that works is my eyes,and they are filled with the image before them. The ground seems to leap up at us as we hurtle toward it. Through the blurry image of the world below us, I see the outline of land—a continent. And at once, my heart lurches with the desire to know this world, to make it our home. My eyes drink up the image of the planet—and my stomach sinks with the knowledge that this is a coastline I’ve never seen before. I could spin a globe of Earth around and still be able to recognize the way Spain and Portugal reach into the Atlantic, the curve of the Gulf of Mexico, the pointy end of India. But this continent—it dips and curves in ways I don’t recognize, swirls into an unknown sea, creating peninsulas in shapes I do not know, scattering out islands in a pattern I cannot connect.And it’s not until I see this that I realize: this world may one day become our home,but it will never be the home I left behind.
Mom used to say that the thoughts in our heads were nothing more than electrical impulses. I remember Dad and her talking about this over dinner. It frustrated Dad that the human brain can fire electrical sparks and think, but that the electricity he’d pump into an android brain would never give it independent thought. The body isn’t that different from a machine. Humans and androids both run on electricity.That lightning spark of energy I saw in the reverie.That was my mother’s last thought, an echo of electricity, something that sparked when I entered her dreamscape.That spark is gone now. Her life is gone now. Everything that made her, her, is gone now. Faded into nothing.
We are, at least in part, who we remember ourselves to be. Take away our memories, and you take away our selves.
FAILURE IS INEVITABLE. I will fail. We all will. And having failed, and gotten back up, and failed again, taught me that I can survive failure. This is a downfall in most modern stories: the hero always wins. Because while this story is inspiring, it’s also false. In reality, not everyone wins. It’s 100% true that no one wills all the time, and we expect that—every hero must fall at least once. But it’s also 100% true that some people never win at all, and that’s the thing we try so hard to ignore behind the pretty stories. I could spend the rest of my life trying to be a prima ballerina, and it would not happen. I would fail at that for the rest of my life. FAILURE TEACHES US WHO WE ARE. Because even though I know I would fail forever at being a prima ballerina, I also know that I am not someone who should be a prima ballerina. It’s not who I am, it’s not what I want. Of course I would fail at it.
(D)reams are like that: they go in and out of memories and scenes, but they're never real. They're never real, and I hate them because they aren't.
It was to apologize, and apologizing means he remembers what happened, and that means being trapped in a nightmare that’s already come true.
What else can you tell me?” Dad stares at me. “What have you learned while you were awake?”I learned that life is so, so fragile. I learned that you can know someone for just days and never forget the impression he left on you. I learned that art can be beautiful and sad at the same time. I learned that if someone loves you, he’ll wait for you to love him back. I learned that how much you want something doesn’t determine whether you get it or not, that “no” might not be enough, that life isn’t fair, that my parents can’t save me, that maybe no one can. “Nothing much,” I mutter.
I have no emotions. I just stand there, in the rubble of my life.This… this was my home. If it were a person, this would be a gaping chest wound, the kind no one can recover from.
I reached inside her and pulled out the deepest memories in her body, the memories that words can’t describe, the memories that are as much a piece of her as her arms and legs. Those are the ones she’s filled with now.