by Bud Sparhawk

Cold. I awake so cold that my heart feels a frozen pellet, barely able to pump slush-filled blood through my frigid veins. I strain to free my eyelids of their icy coating. How long, I wonder? Centuries? Eons? I shiver at the thought of so much frozen time.

Flitting memories of previous awakenings dance at the edges of memory, but, aside from these, little else climbs from the empty pit of my memory.

"I feel he is awake," an alien voice chirps. With that sound I realize that I have traveled to the far stars. With that knowledge I welcome the warmth seeping into my body. It thaws the core of ice at my center, and melts the years of stasis away, drop by drop; a year of icicles here, snowflakes of months there, a glacier of frozen centuries melting away as life returns and a flurry of wakening muscles arrives.

I wonder at what I awaits me as the ice that held my eyelids finally gives way. Best, I think, to linger a moment more and savor this sweet anticipation of the new and strange. Once my eyes open I will be forced to face whatever reality awaits me.

"Can you move?" the voice asks and I detect a warm breath, heavy with the scent of sweet herbs, on my cheek. "Please indicate that you are functional." I open my eyes and see a pair of soft brown eyes staring at me. The face surrounding those eyes is mantis-like – alien. She tilts her head in concern.

I wiggle my fingers and toes and nod to acknowledge her inquiry as I stare about me.

The ceiling glows with a warm autumn light, tinged in russet hues. There is very little equipment – apparently these aliens are beyond the need for the vast array of medical facilities I had devised to revive the frozen. I vow to learn as much of their revival process as I can before, before... What is the thought trying to come to mind? I struggle, but cannot focus.

A smaller triangular head peers over the creature's shoulder. "Is it all right, Paula?" he asks. I think it strange that I understand them, but my curiosity dies quickly, leaving placid acceptance in its wake.

"Yes, of course " the female responds. "Do you know your identity?" she asks.

I glance at the mirrored surface above me. I am nude and hairless and wear a tightly fitted helmet. Despite my nakedness amongst these aliens, I feel no distress. Is this perhaps some lingering, unexpected effect of the stasis, as much as my faulty memory and my strange, calm passivity?

"I am... Frost," I answer, and then add with greater certainty, "Doctor Frost."

"And where are you from, Doctor Frost?" she asks calmly.

Would I be as calm if I were suddenly to find myself reviving an alien creature? Would I be able to confront an alien with such calm and aplomb?

"I am from the High Brasilia, in near Earth orbit," I respond. "And whom do I have the honor of addressing?"

"My name is Paula," she replies with a nonchalant wave of her hand in the direction of the smaller alien. "And this is my... husband, Paul. We welcome you to the Christmas season and wish to have you help us celebrate."

There is a rote quality to her voice, as if she has said this many times before, but that question pales when I wonder how there could be a Christmas celebration here? This question makes my confusion worse. Just who am I?

I'd easily recalled my name and where I had lived. But the reasons that I'd traveled frozen into the far future, never to return, was still unknown. No matter how I try, I cannot bring any personal memories to mind. Perhaps it is an effect of the revival process. I hope my memories will eventually return or I'll not be able to satisfy my hosts' almost certain desire for information about my origins. I reach up to remove the helmet so that I can sit up.

"No, no!" Paula exclaims, placing an appendage atop the helmet and forcing my hands away with the others. "You must wear this. It will help with the remembering."

Ah, her words show that I was right; she does have experience with this. She must have learned from others; perhaps I'd had shipmates or maybe instructions had accompanied me. But I could recall no such device as this helmet. Was that another failure of my poor memory?

"You are to stay with us," she announces in a way that brooks no refusal. "We will enjoy having you."

"Your courtesy is appreciated, but I wouldn't want to disturb your home life," I stutter, expecting to be housed in some sterile examination facility where I would, no doubt, be visited by an endless stream of alien scientists, all anxious for the information that my mind refuses to divulge. Again, I strain to clear the fog that obscures it.

"It will be no bother," she assures me. "Besides, my children love to see you and hear whatever Christmas stories you have to tell."

At that point I am frozen with amazement: Would I have been so trusting of an alien from the distant stars as to invite them into the bosom of my family? I think not, and that might be a difference between this kindly creature and myself, between her society and my own. Could it be that this is a gentler world? Poor beings, to be so vulnerable and innocent.

Wait a moment! For a split second I recalled that I had a family! But when I try to focus, the thought fades away until I can recall neither faces nor names. Give it time, I tell myself; give it time. Perhaps the mind revives much more slowly than the body.

"Mama, mama!" Two smaller versions of the aliens race from the front door of a low-roofed building of strangely filigreed tiles and covered with faintly scented brush. The first to reach Paula is a yellow-crested lad, while the other has a back fin as dark as night. They tangle their arms with hers, and wiggle under her low-slung waist as she hugs them to her, laughing the while.

"These are my sons," she remarks, turning each to face me. "This one is Dominik and the dark one is Slova. Say hello to Doctor Frost, boys."

Each 'boy' stands very straight and then bends slightly at the waist. "Pleased to meet you, sir," they recite together.

This formal courtesy astounds me. I have a vague feeling that this is not normal behavior for youngsters. There's an air of slight familiarity in their demeanor, as though I were some frequent visitor or that humans made occasional visits, but not quite so rare as to awe them.

"And this is my darling little Mishta," Paul says as he shows me the beautiful miniature clasped to his breast. "She is my daughter," he pronounces proudly. "Say hello to Frost," he prompts. Mishta giggles delightfully and turns to hide her face on Paul's shoulder, sneaking a small peek at me after a moment.

"I am very pleased to meet you, Mishta," I say stiffly and touch her tiny forearm with my finger. Children? A small thought had suddenly glimmered from the cold pit of memory. Had I children? Or had Evelyn refused, like so many of her contemporaries, because of the sad state of affairs on Earth?

Evelyn! Memories of her appear from nowhere with sledgehammer force. Oh my God, how could I have forgotten sweet, darling, lovely Evelyn – the most wonderful thing that had ever happened in my life. The image of her perfect face comes clearly into my mind's eye; her golden hair, her blue, blue eyes, and the even, white teeth that glistened when she beamed that gorgeous smile of hers at me.

I remember her lithe figure, the wonderfully athletic body that had entranced and fascinated me. She had been the perfect bride, the epitome of the new order of humanity that would inherit the stars. With a pang of regret I wondered why I had ever left. How many years have you been dead and gone, my love, I ask myself, as I sped through space and slept my way through the centuries? My heart aches at the memory of her sweet, sweet face.

Yet vague thoughts of children continue to bother me. Had Evelyn been my entire family, sufficient in every way? I strain to recall our life together, but with no success. Perhaps the answer will come in time. Again I resolved to wait: "The helmet will help you with the remembering," Paula had said. I have no choice but to wait.

The two boys are leaping about the room the next morning when I come down to find that my hosts have prepared a breakfast of pancakes and fruits. I eat heartily along with them.

"Tell us about Christmas on Earth," plead the children. "Tell us what the Earth children do at Christmas time."

"Now boys," Paula says softly as she presses closely to my side and adjusts something at the back of the helmet. "There's plenty of time before Christmas. I think our guest needs time to settle in. I'm sure that he will tell us about Christmas whenever he is ready."

I smile at her. "It's not a problem. I do remember some things." And it is true. Without apparent strain, memories of my early childhood have come back to me. The words roll out as if from a well-rehearsed script. "Now let's see, where shall I begin?"

I ponder the situation as a sense of wonder comes over me. How could these creatures, so alien and so distant from my home, have a holiday named Christmas – and that it should have so many similarities is beyond belief. Had the outpouring wave of humanity carried our sacred traditions ahead of me? How else could it have come about? I add it to the list of questions I will ask.

"Long before Christmas day the children would be all a-twitter with excitement," I begin. "Parents would be unpacking the decorations and shifting the furniture to make a space for the tree. Whispered discussions about presents would be conducted where the recipient couldn't overhear - so naturally whenever adults started talking quietly every child would prick up their ears and listen intently, hoping to hear the slightest hint of what was to come. Presents would suddenly appear in the bottoms of closets and secret places in the basement and attics. Rolls of wrapping papers would disappear for hours as one person or another would secretly wrap some treasure. In the quiet times every child would make up a list of everything they wanted Santa to bring them..."

The smallest boy, Slova, suddenly chimes: "Tell us about the elves. You forgot about the elves!"

Paula claps a hand over Slova's mouth. "Hush, Slova. You will hear about these things when it is time and not before. Please do go on, Frost."

Apparently the boys have heard much of this before, but from whom I cannot imagine. It is another mystery that I must clear up in time.

I continue as if there had been no interruption. "Once the children's lists were prepared, they would be sent to the North Pole with great fanfare. It was always best to mail them well before Christmas so there would be plenty of time for the elves to build the toys and treasures that Santa would deliver.

"Santa kept all of his elves in his workshops since they were not allowed to mingle among true humans. Nevertheless, even these defective creatures could create small wonders, given enough incentives by the ever-diligent supervision of Santa's men. The elves' skills crafted everything desired by truly human children. When the toys were completed, they stored them in charmed bags: No matter how many they put in these bags they could never be filled."

Dominik screws his head sideways until I think it will break. "Then why did they need more than one bag?" he asks.

Paula intervenes once more and saves me some embarrassment: "Come along boys; time to go to school. Perhaps tonight Frost will share some more memories. Now run along, and don't forget your lessons!"

Dominik and Slova seem reluctant to leave my side for a moment and then, with a rush of limbs and scurrying of feet, they race out the door. "Bye," they yell in unison.

"Such dears," Paula says softly. "They are really excited about Christmas. They love your emotions so much."

"You mean my story, don't you?" I reply.

"Yes, that's what I meant."

Later, when I have an opportunity to reflect on the boys' reactions that morning, I recall the anticipation of my own children as the Christmas holiday approached: Little Fred asking his endless questions about the days remaining until Santa would arrive; Sam trying to act as if it didn't matter, but searching for his hidden gifts just the same, and Helen gazing with wondering eyes at every glistening decoration and light.

Each of their faces comes into my mind as I recall their names. Sam and Helen bore Evelyn's finely chiseled features, while Fred favored my side of the family with his distinctive nose and chin. I remember mercurial Fred racing about as if there were never enough time to get everything done and trying to cram as much into each day as he could. I recall how Sam would ponder every aspect of his life with an air of gravity, weighing the simplest decision with grave import. Helen was a treasure, my own little girl whose outpouring of love threatened to smother all who came into her charmed circle. All had been blessed by the board soon after birth, further proof of Evelyn's and my own perfect humanity.

Again, why did I leave these treasures, my precious children behind? What happened to them? Where is the line of their descent into this present age? I have no other memories of them, no details save images of their physical appearance and brief, too brief mental sketches of their childish personalities. I pray that further memories will come in time.

That night I repeat what little I've recalled to the family as they huddle next to me, quite close. Their sensitivity to my emotional state seems strange; and that itself is another unanswered question to put with the many others, only a few of which I can recall. Despite repeated queries I am no closer to discovering the strange coincidence of this alien Christmas either. Both Paul and Paula evade every question I ask with a laugh and a "later, dear Frost; you will have your answers later as a Christmas surprise."

I embellish my descriptions of the anticipation of Christmas, repeating it for the occasional visitors and to the other children Dominik and Slova bring to me during the day. To a fault all are intensely polite and well mannered; a very civilized race. I wonder at the rapt expressions in their postures as I recall scenes of my youth with them sitting close to me.

One of the boys asks about how we prepared our houses for the season so I describe the sconces and the wreaths, the candles and the pictures, the heirlooms placed in their special places, the decorative bowls filled with sweets and fruits. I tell them about the lights and the decorations; a crystal créche and another of wood that father had picked up at a cull's house, a pair of china angels, a plate painted by my grandmother, and stockings knitted by the colonists for each child to hang by the fireplace. It was a mixed collection of bric-a-brac, but one permeated with love and memories.

"We must decorate our house too," Dominik says impulsively, pulling me to the great room. Without pause he reaches into a box and withdraws a spun glass angel of exquisite design that sparkles in the light. This angel, unlike those I remember, has its multiple legs spread wide and features the familiar triangular alien head.

As the day progresses the house begins to take on a festive air. Mishta scrawls a huge wreath onto the front door while we work elsewhere, unknowing of her artistic bent. Her childish masterpiece brings a scream from Paul when he arrives, which starts Mishta crying - a hacking sound much like a saw going through a tree trunk. Paula gives a hearty chortle and decides that it is just perfect and should remain there.

"This is so familiar," I say and begin speaking of my own Christmas memories, of loving family and good friends. By the time I finish telling what I could remember of those times, all of them are pressed tightly against me, as if copying the warmth of my mother's remembered embrace.

"We know how you must have felt," Paul says, drawing Mishta nearer his own side and stroking her back. The others echo his sentiment. A raspy noise that I'd learned was their equivalent of crying comes from Slova. I marvel at the emotional depths of these aliens, to think that my memories should affect them so much.

Night comes and I lie abed, going over the events of the day, recalling the raspy laughter, when memories emerge of a similar sound in the background as a stiff subject lay on a slab. Was it something about preservation, persistence... my part in some experiment? Is it a memory from long before High Brasilia?

The subject's skin is bluish gray, the color of the recently drowned, and covered with a glistening coat of sticky fluid. Pipes emerge from beneath the table and converge on a face mask. Other, smaller tubes are attached to the subject's arms and legs, while a fiendishly wicked chrome pipe was inserted into her anus.

"Perfect stasis," Frogbottom remarked as he pinged the subject's frozen toe with his forefinger. "She's been under for six months and we've seen no sign of deterioration. If this test is any accurate predictor, we should be able to keep her like this for years, decades even!"

"No need to feed or house them, then?" asked one burly man, wearing long military braid. "We could keep a force in readiness as long as we need, right?"

Another voice interrupted before I could answer. "We need to think of how we can use this. Have you any suggestions, Frost?"

"Perhaps I do, ... " I recall saying, but the rest is lost to memory.

Morning comes and I help Paula strip the husks from the yellowish vegetables she is preparing for dinner. Dominik asks. "Can you help get a Christmas tree for our house, Frost? I know where we can find a nice one."

Paula hesitates for a moment before responding. "I think that you'd best wait until Paul comes back. After all, we don't want our guest working for us, do we?" With a quick glance at the pile of vegetables in the pan in front of me she adds, "Well, not hard work anyway. But, perhaps he can accompany you and Paul when you go to get the tree."

"Wow! We're going to get the tree!" the boys shout together as they race around the room. Then both of them hurry to the front of the house where they await the arrival of their father.

The forest proves to be shrub land dotted with tiny globular bushes bearing little resemblance to the conical Christmas trees that I recall with such warmth. They pick one that seems the right size for the corner of the great room and Paul cuts it close to the base with a single swipe of a long-bladed knife.

Getting it through the doorway and into the great room takes the combined efforts of both boys, Paul, Paula, and myself, for the branches are quite sturdy and bend only under heavy pressure. We get ninety percent of the tree through the frame when the final branches finally assert themselves and, with an explosive push, propel the tree, along with all of us, into the center of the room where we tumble in a tangled, laughing heap. Somehow they reflect the humor that I feel back to me and our laughter grows and grows until, exhausted, we lie silent on the floor.

The tree is too big for the space we had prepared. I guess that some things never change.

That evening we decorate the tree with ornaments that so closely resemble those that I remember that they bring tears to my eyes; drops of colored glass, balls with luminescent glory, spirals of gold and silver, and chains of crystallized light. When night comes and only the light from the small lamps Paul had affixed to the tree illuminate the room, I remember another Christmas, not of my youth, but of my later days. The family draws closer as I begin to speak.

"It had been Christmas eve when we gathered around the ceramic tree in our quarters. We couldn't have a real one on the station - bio-filters, you know. No, it was a masterpiece of the colonists' hands - more lifelike and perfect than any real tree could possibly be. Evelyn had adorned it with the bric-a-brac we'd accumulated over the years; gold and silver trinkets from our honeymoon visit to Mexico's processing center, bangles taken from the coastal drifters our ship's crew had encountered near New Orleans, little colored glass balls she had our colonists create in the zero-gee glasswork, and small knitted dolls and such that the colonial women knitted while they awaited processing.

"Our most prized ornament was a paper star that adorned the peak of the tree. It was a cheap thing; cones of gold-colored paper glued together to form a sphere of points with a spiral of wire beneath to hold it to the peak. Over the years several of the cones had come loose, and the gold was flaking from the others. Nevertheless, each year we took it from its box and carefully gave it the place of honor. It had been my own father's father's star, and one that rested atop their trees for years.

"We had finished a wonderful holiday feast, returned from church, and made an obligatory and terribly expensive, call to Evelyn's mother, who wouldn't remember the call ten minutes after we hung up, and then exchanged presents.

"Fred made me a nice platinum letter opener and gave his mother a nice bracelet made from scrap jewelry – diamonds, I recall. Sam gave me a bottle of scent, and for Helen he painted a picture of the station, with the colonists' ships racing away toward the edges, but done in bright fluorescent colors that bore no relationship to each other or the station's real coloring.

"What I wouldn't give to go back to that moment and touch that garish picture once more," I finish, with a feeling of immense regret as Paula and Paul rock back and forth with their children in their arms. I am becoming quite used to their habit of crowding close and am beginning to find their warmth and the fragrance of their herb-scented breath rather pleasant.

A few days later I can remember more. "Christmas was also a time of responsibility," I say at the beginning of the evening's story telling time. Only tonight, on Christmas eve, there are no guests. For some reason Paula turned away all who came instead of welcoming them in, as was usually the case. Paul reclines near the tree with Mishta draped over his shoulder.

Before I begin Paula makes a small adjustment to my helmet, then holds the two boys closely, as if to protect them, or maybe she is just holding on to them because one day too soon their youthful innocence will depart and it will no longer be proper to hug them so tightly. It is a quiet time. In the distance I can imagine church bells tolling out the call to services.

I start to speak softly, placing words around the thoughts as they spring from the depths of my memory. "In the evening, after the dinner dishes were put away, we would drive to our enclave's church. The congregation was a diverse group, with nearly every religion and sect represented. Everyone attended the same service since it was important for all of us to share. Even my agnostic uncles went, protesting laughingly all the way.

"But attending services was a responsibility to the family and to the great work. Responsibility was a big part of Christmas; doing things for others, renewing the ties of family and friends, giving deference to God, and serving as best you could."

With those words other thoughts begin to intrude, more sinister ones that do not spring from my lips but stay in my mind. I remember that shortly after putting the kids to bed I'd received a call: Could I come down for a few moments, they asked; there seems to be a little problem. With a tinge of regret I gave each child a quick kiss and left. After all, processing was my responsibility.

That was the last time I saw my dear children, I recall with horrifying clarity.

Burning questions flare into being, absent of the references behind them: What disaster had befallen us? Was I culpable in exposing Brasilia to the danger? Could I have saved Evelyn and the children? Vague memories of the cull war raging on the surface of the Earth below flit through my head, but fail to clarify. I briefly recall watching the brilliant night-time glow of Earth's cities fade to black, one by one, the coastal areas becoming obscured by billowing clouds and flaring flames.

I must have sought refuge in the Center, for I recall sleeping on benches or under a stasis table. One clear memory comes to mind with a rude shock: it is the steady boom, boom, boom of explosives as the enemy worked their way toward the heart of the station.

I recall how we began to process the remaining colonists, marching them quickly from their pens to the chambers, moving them first by the dozens, and then the hundreds. We worked furiously, racing against time until the last was done.

"Your records, Hans," someone said. "You must destroy your records at once." Then memory fails and I slump back, exhausted.

For a moment I reflect on how unkind fate is to deliver me into the hands of these kind and gentle people. How could they know that their very lives, their very selves, revive such painful memories, remind me of those precious four who had died so brutally and too soon? I almost yearn for the return to the nothingness of cold sleep; this time to wake no more, to cease remembering my bitter loss.

I open my eyes to find Paula leaning over me in a posture of what appears to be rapture, so thrown back is her head. "Are your memories too painful for you? Are you remembering too much?" she pleas with anxiety evident in her voice as she reaches toward the helmet.

"No. Yes," I reply sadly and the recalled memories recede. "I am starting to remember some things that don't relate to Christmas at all. Perhaps it is time for me to go to bed. I'm afraid my mood might spoil your Christmas eve."

Paula protests vigorously, but in the end lets me leave the great room and the warm glow of the tree. "We will have the feast of Christmas in the morning," she promises with rising excitement in her voice.

That night I quietly explore these new memories. The feeling that I must escape some unremembered pain is still with me. Momentarily I wish that I had awakened in some place so different that no reminder of my own sweet family would haunt me, but this alien realm reflects too many hints of what I'd lost. With these dark thoughts in my head I pray that I will not dream and fall asleep.

The next morning I wake with a tingling in my mind, as if some sleeping giant were about to awake. I can almost feel connections healing and synapses closing as my memories begin to climb out of their deep, chill pit at last.

Paula and the children are waiting at breakfast, and what a breakfast it is! The table is spread with every type of fruit and herb, and some I have not seen before. Steaming beverages sit in little pots and a pitcher of my favorite drink stands tall before my place. I have not seen a meal like this since the morning I was frozen, although in that instance it was to build the carbohydrates and sugars in the blood, and not to celebrate the holiday.

"Do you approve?" Paul asks anxiously.

"Indeed I do. Oh, yes. Most certainly. This is wonderful. How can I ever thank you enough?"

Paula smiles by turning her head. "Perhaps you will share more of your memories after we eat? That would be payment in full." The children squeal in delight and begin gobbling their food as if they want to get the meal finished as quickly as possible. The feeling is contagious, for both Paul and Paula eat with unaccustomed speed.

"As soon as you're finished we'll go in the great room," she suggests politely as I slowly consume my food. I can feel the pressure of their stares as I chew my final portion, burp politely, and push back from the table.

As soon as I am comfortably settled Paula reaches behind the helmet. "I think this is the final adjustment," she murmurs.

"Yes," I respond as her forelimb presses tightly against my arm, "When I awoke this morning I felt that this would be a special day." And with those words the curtain around my memories dissolves as the morning mist before the rising sun.

An avalanche of images, concepts, places, and people fills every corner of my mind, jostling and chivvying for their proper positions. I recall a judge, a crowd of naked people screaming in an airless tiny room, Evelyn with a doll in her hand as little Fred plays with a toy truck of solid gold that one of the colonists had tried to sneak past emigration. I remember hesitating before a keyboard, unwilling to destroy the great work of my life, and of feeling the butt of a rifle hitting my shoulder, throwing me away from the machine.

The trial! I remember the trial; that mock justice the defectives staged over our noble mission, our true calling to prevent the unfit from further polluting man's seed and interfering with our destiny.

They accused me of being one of the leaders, the man who perfected the solution to Earth's genetic pollution. "Frost," they had named me then; "Doctor Frost."

My timetable would have succeeded if only the weak politicians who had initially swarmed to our banner had not lost heart. But my successes were not supported by their moral courage and so they had lost; humanity had lost, and now the cowards sought to cast me as a scapegoat to protect themselves. So be it, I cursed; let them stew in the mess they allowed to happen.

High Brasilia was to be sent into the sun. Those defects, those misfits, those horrid genetic cripples all hated the station for its role of perfecting humanity and for its role in attempting to free our progeny from afflictions of mind and body. I pitied their inability to grasp the beauty of the great undertaking through the days and weeks and months of the trials, through the endless prattle of ill-informed tales and rumors.

"Where is this Charnel House?" I remember yelling at one woman who screamed accusations of genocide at me. "Stop spreading these lies," I cried out. "Where is the evidence? Where are the bones, the fillings from their teeth? The colonists are speeding to the stars, as we promised. If you want them back then go and fetch them," I finished with a smile, knowing full well that she could not hope to reach those empty shells of ships – one per thousand colonists processed – that we had carefully launched each month to support our claims.

The defectives hoped that this trial would destroy the cause I supported. But they understood so little. I knew others would continue the great undertaking to purify our gene pool, others as appalled as I by the barbaric remnants of our animal ancestry. Time would prove the truth of our cause. Time would vindicate my work. When this sham trial was over I would continue the great mission.

Then the trial erupted. My records from Brasilia were discovered, the ones that I failed to destroy, the ones that contained data about my experiments, about our operations.

Day by day they played them out, detailing how the thousands of my erstwhile 'colonists' shivered and screamed, shuddered and shat, died of pain and cellular explosions, sat as vegetables when awakened, or were simply too weak to allow me to finish a series.

In the marginalia I'd kept my daily counts of the efficiency of the bulk processing. I had even, in a weak moment of hubris, committed a design of an improved high-capacity processing chamber to my files. I had been so proud of the solar furnaces we'd incorporated – even bridgework and fillings would vaporize under its fierce focus.

Needless to say we of the station, of all those who played a part, were held accountable. What a travesty of justice, I thought at the time, as they sentenced each of our loyal members to death.

They made me watch every execution; brutal, barbaric, hideous methods far different from the humane industrial practices I had perfected. At the end they throttled my precious Evelyn. I watched her eyes bulge, her lips turn blue with cyanosis, her tongue swell, and her lovely, pale face turn a deep, dark red. I watched with growing horror as her life was slowly extinguished and my wife, my beautiful wife was destroyed.

That same pain of loss stabs through me again and I feel the salt tears fill my eyes. Oh, the horror of her death, the pain and suffering she must have felt. At that moment I remember praying that they would take me next and still my aching heart. They could only kill me once for what I had done, and when that was done I would be free of the memory of her death.

As I return to the present I feel that I am being smothered. I open my eyes to discover the family crawling on top of me in postures of rapture. Paula and Paul are swinging their heads in ecstasy and the children are drooling with pleasure. "More, more," demands Paula and wrenches the helmet from my head.

Cascading memories my mind. There is nothing I can do to stem the flow of emotion-laden memories that spring forth uncensored and with absolute clarity from the depths of my mind.

Hour after hour I remember the pain and agony of Evelyn's unnecessary, so mean-spirited death. She had never harmed anyone, never even taken a colonist's goods until after they had been processed. Such a moral person should not have suffered such an ignoble death. Each time this thought comes to mind Paul gives a groan of pleasure and Paula presses herself ever closer. I am drowning in memory and awash in horror.

"Please let this end," I plead tearfully as memories of my children's bodies being stacked with the others enter my thoughts.

Through it all I remember the uncountable times I have gone through this before. I recall the hundreds and hundreds of prior awakenings. They form a seemingly endless temporal corridor painted with scenes of repeated pain and suffering extending years and centuries into the past. How I had come to this; how long had this gone on, and how long it would continue are startlingly clear to me, a revelation of such depth that I am overwhelmed.

The butt of the judge's pistol came down on the desk as he pronounced the final judgment. "There is only one punishment suitable for your crimes. I order you put to stasis and launched to the heavens where God will forge your fate."

I remember laughing at his sentence, as if their weak God could possibly affect me. My God, the only true God, knows the true inheritors of the stars. My God had not intended for people only partly risen from the beasts to go forth, but had reserved that right for the pure humans.

I welcomed the cold sting of pseudo-death, knowing that the inheritors of my kind would find me. When next I opened my eyes I would have evaded the punishment that they thought to give.

With that thought I realize that the helmet must have been suppressing memories, allowing Paula to eke them out for her family to savor before the emotional feast that I would now provide!

Paula groans in ecstasy at my emotional reaction to my realization of the horror that is my destiny. There is no surcease until evening, when all are satiated.

I embrace the balm of lost memory when Paula replaces the helmet on my head and leads me to the slab. I lay down and close my eyes, yearning for forgetfulness, but knowing that I will wake again, I wonder how long it will be before Lethe finally envelops me in her cloak?

"I am ready," I say simply as I eagerly await the bite of the needle in my arm, anxious for the forgetfulness of cold sleep, and eager for the pleasant memories that will emerge when I am reawakened for Christmas, just as I equally fear the horror and pain that awaits me. My fate is to be heaven and hell in equal measures, a generous portion from the just God I may never meet.



Cold. The first thing that I become aware of is the intense cold that permeates every cell of my body, a cold so deep that I feel as if the core of my heart is a frozen pellet, barely able to pump slush-filled blood through my frigid veins. I strain to free my eyelids of their icy coating, anxious to discover what wonders await me.

The End


Story Copyright © 2007 by Bud Sparhawk. All rights reserved.
Pictures Copyright © 2007 Pali Rao. All rights reserved.

About the author

Bud Sparhawk's rather more cheerful stories and articles have appeared frequently in ANALOG, Asimov's, and other US magazines as well as anthologies, two more of which will appear later this year. This autumn his first published novel will appear. He has been a three-time finalist (1998, 2002 and 2006) in the SFWA Nebula's Novella category. More (and possibly too much) information may be found at

You can buy Bud Sparhawk's books from or from

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