Back | Next

13. The Short Way Home

Merola’s daily life with the Windlaces included “doing chores” in support of the household. One of these, required of her when she returned from school in the midafternoon, was to clean up the remains of the breakfast Emily had cooked. Merola was instructed to wash the dishes that each family member left to soak in the kitchen sink, as well as the pots and pans Emily left on the stove. She was required to use soap and hot water and a sponge—which was bright yellow, nothing like a natural sponge, and wasn’t even alive—to remove the bits of food and sheen of grease before arranging them in the “dishwasher.” This was a sealed cabinet under the kitchen counter that was supplied with hot water and drain connections, where more soap and agitation would complete the cleaning process.

To Merola’s orderly mind, the entire exercise was wasted effort. Oh, she understood the surfactant and hydrophilic properties of soap to break down the lipids in cooking and skin oils. She also knew of better ways to achieve this effect without water, heat energy, or physical agitation. But she dared not mention any of them to Emily.

So Merola bided her time. For the present, in the present—in her ridiculous present predicament—time was all she had. Approximately eight thousand years of it. If she happened to live so long, which was unlikely. As she went through each day’s allotment of foolish and repetitive tasks, Merola studied her options and formulated her strategy for returning to her own reference now.

The first option was to contact a parallel Search team. Of course, neither a Jongleur nor his accompanying intelligence could get her home directly. Without her own biosuit she could not ride a liteship above the atmosphere. But they could take a message for her, tell Rydin that she had disastrously jeopardized her Search, and ask him to direct a Jongleur to meet her with a workable suit.

The only trouble was, she didn’t know of any parallel team. Jongleurs worked alone, in places and times set by a pattern known only to the intelligences of the Jongleur Troupe. Perhaps Rydin would know of another team working nearby in her local time reference. But Rydin was at the other end of the universe in both space and time. And any team that she might learn about—and that only through some unimaginable error in protocol that could conceivably become local public knowledge—would still have come and gone long before she would be able to reach them.

The second option was to send a message herself. It was just technically feasible. If Merola could find a medium that would subsist through the eight millennia of civilizations that rose and fell, through wars, fires, and floods, slipping past vandals and the busy fingers and itchy minds of generations of querulous humans, past the territorial raids of the Flüchtlinge and the interdimensional intrusions of the Möglichen—then the message she inscribed might one day be read in Rydin’s time. Of course, it would have to be an obvious message in an obvious place. She couldn’t, for example, just burn three rocks and leave them in a peculiar pattern at the foot of a cliff. She would have to go to some place famous in her own time.

As she scrubbed the dishes, Merola’s eye wandered to the calendar Emily had tacked on the kitchen wall. The colored picture associated with the current month showed the granite arches of a mountain called “Half Dome,” rising out of a valley called “Yosemite.” The picture seemed familiar.

Merola realized with a shock that the formation still existed, although known by other names, in her native time and place. She could conceivably climb up the rock face and burn a message in her own language, using her own alphabet, in letters three meters tall: HELP COME RESCUE ME JONGLEUR MEROLA TSVERIN. The words would persist for future generations to ponder and try to translate, and for the people of her own time to understand and act upon.

Except … such a message had not existed in her reference now, before she had departed on this Search. So she hadn’t done it, and she wouldn’t do it, and it was no good thinking about it. Even to consider the proposition bordered on paradox.

Besides, in this crowded age, some breed of public busybody would certainly be guarding that picturesque mountainside. Five minutes after she finished cutting her message into the rock, they would make her take it down.

Back | Next