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Excerpts from The Computer

Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama

Michael Bishop

The first thing most American readers will have to do when reading Twenty Lights to “The Land of Snow” is put aside their preconceived notions of what the crew and culture of an interstellar spacecraft must emulate—western culture. And with the current pace of space exploration in the West, new notions of how it might actually happen are certainly worth considering.

Awards? Michael Bishop has them: two Nebulas, four Locus Awards, and multiple Hugo nominations. Did we mention that he also writes award-winning poetry? Mysteries? And that he has edited several science fiction anthologies? And, yes, he was an English major. . . .

* * *

Years in transit: 82 out of 106?

Computer Logs of the Dalai Lama-to-Be, age 7

Aboard Kalachakra, I open my eyes again in Amdo Bay. Sleep still pops in me, yowling like a really hurt cat. I look sidelong out of my foggy eggshell. Many ghosts crowd near to see me leave the bear sleep that everybody in a strut-ship sometimes dreams in. Why have all these somnacicles up-phased to become ship-haunters? Why do so many crowd the grave-cave of my Greta-snooze?

“Greta Bryn”—that’s my mama’s voice—“can you hear me, kiddo?”

Yes I can. I have no deafness after I up-phase. Asleep even, I hear Mama talk in her dreams, and cosmic rays crackle off Kalachakra’s plasma shield out in front (to keep us all from going dead), and the crackle from Earth across the reaching oceans of farthest space.

“Greta Bryn?”

She sounds like Atlanta, Daddy says. To me she sounds like Mama, which I want her to play-act now. She keeps bunnies, minks, guineas, and many other tiny crits down along our sci-tech cylinder in Kham Bay. But hearing her doesn’t pulley me into sit-up pose. To get there, I stretch my soft parts and my bones.

“Easy, baby,” Mama says.

A man in white unhooks me. A woman pinches me at the wrist so I won’t twist the fuel tube or pulse counter. They’ve already shot me in the heart, to stir its beating. Now I sit and look around, clearer. Daddy stands near, showing his crumply face.

“Hey, Gee Bee,” he says, but doesn’t grab my hand.

His coverall tag is my roll-call name: Brasswell. A hard name for a girl and not too fine for Daddy, who looks thirty-seven or maybe fifty-fifteen, a number Mama says he uses to joke his fitness. He does whore-to-culture—another puzzle-funny of his—so that later we can turn Guge green, and maybe survive.

I feel sick, like juice gone sour in my tummy has gushed into my mouth. I start to elbow out. My eyes grow pop-out big, my fists shake like rattles. Now Daddy grabs me, mouth by my ear: “Shhhh shhh shhh.” Mama touches my other cheek. Everyone else falls back to watch. That’s scary too.

After a seem-like century I ask, “Are we there yet?”

Everybody yuks at my funniness. I drop my legs through the eggshell door. My hotness has colded off, a lot.

A bald brown man in orangey-yellow robes steps up so Mama and Daddy must stand off aside. I remember, sort of. This person has a really hard Tibetan name: Nyendak Trungpa. My last up-phase he made me say it multi times so I would not forget. I was four, but I almost forgetted anyway.

“What’s your name?” Minister Trungpa asks me.

He already knows, but I blink and say, “Greta Bryn Brasswell.”

“And where are you?”

Kalachakra,” I say. “Our strut-ship.”

“Point out your parents, please.”

I do, it’s simple. They’re wide-awake ship-haunters now, real-live ghosts.

He asks, “Where are we going?”

“Guge,” I say, another simple ask.

“What exactly is Guge, Greta Bryn?”

But I don’t want to think—just to drink, my tongue’s so thick with sourness. “A planet.”

“Miss Brasswell,”—now Minister T’s being smart-alecky—“tell me two things you know about Guge.”

I sort of ask, “It’s ‘The Land of Snow,’ this dead king’s place in olden Tibet?”

“Good!” Minister T says. “And its second meaning for us Kalachakrans?”

I squint to get it: “A faraway world to live on?”

“Where, intelligent miss?”

Another easy one: “In the Goldilocks Zone.” A funny name for it.

“But where, Greta Bryn, is this Goldilocks Zone?”

“Around a star called Gluh—” I almost get stuck. “Around a star called Gliese 581.” Glee-zha is how I say it.

Bald Minister T grins. His face looks like a shiny brown China plate with an up-curving crack. “She’s fine,” he tells the ghosts in the grave-cave. “And I believe she’s the ‘One.’”

Sometimes we must come up. We must wake up and eat, and move about so we can heal from ursidormizine sleep and not die before we reach Guge. When I come up this time, I get my own nook that snugs in the habitat drum called Amdo Bay. It has a vidped booth for learning from, with lock belts for when the AG goes out. It belongs to only me, it’s not just one in a commons-space like most ghosts use.

Finally I ask, “What did that Minister T mean?”

“About what?” Mama doesn’t eye me when she speaks.

“That I’m the ‘One.’ Why’d he say that?”

“He’s upset and everybody aboard has gone a little loco.”

“Why?” But maybe I know. We ride so long that anyone riding with us sooner or later crazies up: inboard fever. Captain Xao once warned of this.

Mama says, “His Holiness, Sakya Gyatso, has died, so we’re stupid with grief and thinking hard about how to replace him. Minister Trungpa, our late Dalai Lama’s closest friend, thinks you’re his rebirth, Greta Bryn.”

I don’t get this. “He thinks I’m not I?”

“I guess not. Grief has fuddled his reason, but maybe just temporarily.”

“I am I,” I say to Mama awful hot, and she agrees.

But I remember the Dalai Lama. When I was four, he played Go Fish with me in Amdo Bay during my second up-phase. Daddy sneak-named him Yoda, like from Star Wars, but he looked more like skinny Mr. Peanut on the peanut tins. He wore a one-lens thing and a funny soft yellow hat, and he taught me a song, “Loving the Ant, Loving the Elephant.” After that, I had to take my ursidormizine and hibernize. Now Minister T says the DL is I, or I am he, but surely Mama hates as much as I do how such stupidity could maybe steal me off from her.

“I don’t look like Sakya Gyatso. I’m a girl, and I’m not an Asian person.” Then I yell at Mama, “I am I!”

“Actually,” Mama says, “things have changed, and what you speak as truth may have also changed, kiddo.”

Everybody who gets a say in Amdo Bay now thinks that Minister Nyendak Trungpa calls me correctly. I am not I: I am the next Dalai Lama. The Twenty-first, Sakya Gyatso, has died, and I must wear his sandals. Mama says he died of natural causes, but too young for it to look natural. He hit fifty-four, but he won’t hit Guge. If I am he, I must take his place as our colony dukpa, which in Tibetan means ‘shepherd.’ That job scares me.

A good thing has come from this scary thing: I don’t have to go back up into my egg pod and then down again. I stay up-phase. I must. I have too much to learn to drowse forever, even if I can sleep-learn by hypnoloading. Now I have this vidped booth that I sit in to learn and a tutor-guy, Lawrence (‘Larry’) Rinpoche, who loads on me a lot.

How old has all my earlier sleep-loading made me? Hibernizing, I hit seven and learnt while dreaming.

People should not call me Her Holiness. I’m a girl person—not a Chinese or a Tibetan. I tell Larry this when he swims into my room in Amdo. I’ve seen him in spectals about samurai and spacers, where he looks dark-haired and chest-strong. Now, anymore, he isn’t. He has silver hair and hips like Mama’s. His eyes do a flash thing, though, even when he’s not angry, and it throws him back into the spectals he once star-played in as cool guy Lawrence Lake.

“Do I look Chinese, or Tibetan, or even Indian?” Larry asks.

“No you don’t,” I say. “But you don’t look like no girl either.”

“A girl, Your Holiness.” Larry must correct me, Mama says, because he will teach me logic, Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, Buddhist philosophy, and medicine (space and otherwise). And also poetry, music and drama, astronomy, astrophysics, synonyms, and Tibetan, Chinese, and English. Plus cinema, radio/TV history, politics and pragmatism in deep-space colony planting, and lots of other stuff.

“No girl ever got to be Dalai Lama,” I tell Larry.

“Yes, but our Fourteenth predicted his successor would hail from a place outside Tibet; and that he might re-ensoul not as a boy but as a girl.”

“But Sakya Gyatso, our last, can’t stick his soul in this girl.” I cross my arms and turn a klutz-o turn.

“O Little Ocean of Wisdom, tell me why not.”

Stupid tutor-guy. “He died after I got borned. How can a soul jump in the skin of somebody already borned?”

“Born, Your Holiness. But it’s easy. It just jumps. The samvattanika viññana, the evolving consciousness of a Bodhisattva, jumps where it likes.”

“Then what about me, Greta Bryn?” I tap my chest.

Larry tilts his ginormous head. “What do you think?”

Oh, that old trick. “Did it kick me out? If it kicked me out, where did I go?”

“Do you feel it kicked you out, Your Holiness?”

“I feel it never got in. Inside, I feel that I . . . own myself.”

“Maybe you do, but maybe his punarbhava”—his re-becoming—“is in there mixing with your own personality.”

“But that’s so scary.”

“What did you think of Sakya Gyatso, the last Dalai Lama? Did he scare you?”

“No, I liked him.”

“You like everybody, Your Holiness.”

“Not anymore.”

Larry laughs. He sounds like he sounded in The Return of the Earl of Epsilon Eridani. “Even if the process has something unorthodox about it, why avoid mixing your soul self with that of a distinguished man you liked?”

I don’t answer this windy ask. Instead, I say, “Why did he have to die, Mister Larry?”

“Greta, he didn’t have much choice. Somebody killed him.”

Every ‘day’ I stay up-phase. Every day I study and try to understand what’s happening on Kalachakra, and how the late Dalai Lama, at swim in my soul, has slipped his bhava, “becoming again,” into my bhava, or “becoming now,” and so has become a thing old and new at the same time.

Larry tells me just to imagine one candle lighting off another (even though you’d be crazy to light anything inside a starship), but my candle was already lit before the last Lama’s got snuffed, and I never even smelt it go out. Larry laughs and says His Dead Holiness’s flame was “never quenched, but did go dim during its forty-nine-day voyage to bardo.” Bardo, I think, must look like a fish tank that the soul tries to swim in even with nothing in it.

Up-phase, I learn more about Kalachakra. I don’t need my tutor-guy. I wander all about, between study and tutoring times. When the artificial-grav cuts off, as it does a lot, I float my ghost self into bays and nooks everywhere.

Our ship has a crazy bigness, like a tunnel turning through star-smeared space, like a train of railroad cars humming through the Empty Vast without any hum. I saw such trains in my hypnoloading sleeps. Now I peep them as spectals and mini-holos and even palm pix.

Larry likes for me to do that too. He says anything ‘fusty and fun’ is OK by him, if it tutors me well. And I don’t need him to help me twig when I snoop Kalachakra. I learn by drifting, floating, swimming, counting, and just by asking ghosts what I wish to know.

Here’s what I’ve learnt by reading and vidped-tasking, snooping and asking:

  1. UNS Kalachakra hauls 990 human asses (“and the rest of each burro aboard”—Daddy’s dumb joke) to a world in the Goldilocks Zone of the Gliese 581 solar system, 20.3 lights from Sol . . . the assumed-to-be-live-on-able planet Gliese 581g.
  2. Captain Xao says that most of us on Kalachakra spend our journey in ursidormizine slumber to dream about our work on Guge. The greatest number of somnacicles—sleepers—have their egg pods in Amdo Bay toward the nose of our ship. (These hibernizing lazybones look like frozen cocoons in their see-through eggs.) Those of us more often up-phase slumber at ‘night’ in Kham Bay, where tech folk and crew do their work. At the rear of our habitat drum lies U-Tsang Bay, which I haven’t visited, but where, Mama says, our Bodhisattvas—monks, nuns, lamas, and such—reside, down- or up-phase.
  3. All must wriggle up-phase once each year or two. You cannot hibernize longer than two at a snooze because we human somnacicles go dodgy quite soon during our third year drowse, so Captain Xaotells us, “We’ll need every hand on the ground once we’re all down on Guge.” (“Every foot on the ground,” I would say.)
  4. Red dwarf star Gliese 581, also known as Zarmina spectral class M3V, awaits us in constellation Libra. Captain Xao calls it the eighty-seventh closest known solar system to our sun. It has seven planets and spurts out X-rays. It will flame away much sooner than Sol, but so far from now that none of us on Kalachakra will care a toot.
  5. Gliese 581g, aka Guge, goes around its dwarf in a circle, nearly. It has one face stuck toward its sun, but enough gravity to hold its gasses to it; enough—more than Earth’s—so you can walk without floating away. But it will really hot you on the sun-stuck side and chill you nasty on its dreary dark rear. It’s got rocks topside and magma in its zonal mountains. We must live in the in-between stripes of the terminator, safe spots for bipeds with blood to boil or kidneys to broil. Or maybe we’ll freeze, if we land in the black. So two hurrahs for Guge, and three for ‘The Land of Snow’ in the belts where we hope to plug in.
  6. We know Guge has mass. It isn’t, says Captain Xao, a “pipedream or a mirage.” Our onboard telescope found it twelve Earth years ago, seventyout from Moon-orbit kickoff, with maybe twenty or so to go now before we really get there. Hey, I’m more than a smidgen scared to arrive, hey, maybe a million smidgens.
  7. I’m also scared to stay an up-phase ghost on Kalachakra. Like a snow leopard or a yeti, I am an endangered species. I don’t want to step up to Dalai Lamahood. It’s got its perks, but until Captain Xao, Minister T, Larry Rinpoche, Mama, Daddy, and our security persons find out WHO kilt the twenty-first DL, Greta Bryn, a maybe DL,thinks her life worth one dried pea in a vacu-meal pack. Maybe.
  8. In the tunnels all among Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang Bays, the ghost of a snow leopard drifts. It has cindery spots swirled into the frosting of its fur. Its eyes leap yellow-green in the dimness when it peaks back at two-leggers like me. It jets from a holo-beam, but I don’t know how or wherefrom. In my dreams, I turn when I see it. My heart flutter-pounds toward shutdown. . . .
  9. Sakya Gyatso spent many years as a ghost on Kalachakra. He never hibernized more than three months at once, but tried to blaze at full awakeness like a Bodhisattva. He slept the bear slumber, when he did, but only because on Guge he’ll have to lead 990 shipboard faithfuls and millions of Tibetan Buddhists, native and not, in their unjust exiles. Can an up-phase ghost, once it really dies, survive on a strut-ship as a ghost for real? Truly, I do not know.
  10. Once I didn’t know Mama’s or Daddy’s first names. Tech is a title not a name, and Tech Brasswell married my mama, Tech Bonfils, aboard Kalachakra (Captain Xao saying the words), in the seventy-forth year of our flight. Tech Bonfils birthed me the following ‘fall,’ one of just forty-seven children born in our trip to Guge. Luckily, Larry Rinpoche told me my folks’ names: Simon and Karen Bryn. Now I don’t even know if they like each other. But I know, from lots of reading, that S. Hawking, this century-gone physicist, believed, people are not quantifiable. He was definitely right about that.

I know lots more, although not who killed the Twenty-first DL, if anybody did, and so I pick at that worry a lot.

Years in transit: 83

Computer Logs of the Dalai Lama-to-Be, age 8

In old spectals and palm pix, starship captains sit at helms where they can see the Empty Vast out windows or screens. Captain Xao, First Officer Nima Photrang, and their crew keep us all cruising toward Gliese 581 in a closed cockpit in the upper central third of the big tin can that’s strut-shipping us to Guge.

This section we call Kham Bay. Cut flowers in thin vials prettify the room where Xao and Photrang and crew sit to work. This pit also has a hanging of the Kalachakra Mandala and a big painted figure of the Buddha wearing a body, a man’s and a woman’s, with huge lots of faces and arms. Larry calls this window-free pit a control room and a shrine.

I guess he knows.

I visit the cockpit. No one stops me. I visit because Simon and Karen Bryn have gone back to their Siestaville to pod-lodge for many months on Amdo Bay’s bottom level. Me, I stay my ghostly self. I owe it to everybody aboard—or so I often get told—to grow into my full Lamahood.

“Ah,” says Captain Xao, “you wish to fly Kalachakra. Great, Your Holiness.”

But he passes me to First Officer Photrang, a Tibetan who looks manlike in her jumpsuit but womanlike at her wrists and hands—so gentle about the eyes that, drifting near because our AG’s gone out, she seems to have just pulled off a hard black mask.

“What may I do for you, Greta Bryn?”

My lips won’t move, so grateful am I she didn’t say, “Your Holiness.”

She shows me the console where she watches the fuel level in a drop-tank behind our tin cylinder as this tank feeds the antimatter engine pushing us outward. Everything, she says, depends on electronic systems that run ‘virtually automatically,’ but she and other crew must check closely, even though the systems have ‘fail-safes’ to signal them from afar if they leave the control shrine.

“How long,” I ask, “before we get to Guge?”

“In nineteen years we’ll start braking,” Nima Photrang says. “In another four, if all goes as plotted, we will enter the Gliese 581 system and soon take a stationary orbital position above the terminator. From there we’ll go down to the adjacent habitable zones that we intend to settle in and develop.”

“Four years to brake!” No one’s ever said such a thing to me before. Four years are half the number I’ve lived, and no adult, I think, feels older at their ancient ages than I do at eight.

“Greta Bryn, to slow us faster than that would put terrible stress on our strut-ship. Its builders assembled it with optimal lightness, to save on fuel, but also with sufficient mass to withstand a twentieth of a g during its initial four years of thrusting and its final four years of deceleration. Do you understand?”

“Yes, but—”

“Listen: It took the Kalachakra four years to reach a fifth of the speed of light. During that time, we traveled less than half a light year and burned a lot of the fuel in our drop tanks. Jettisoning the used-up tanks lightened us. For seventy-nine years since then, we’ve coasted, cruising over sixteen light-years toward our target sun but using our fuel primarily for trajectory correction maneuvers. That’s a highly economical expenditure of the antimatter ice with which we began our flight.”

“Good,” I say—because Officer Photrang looks at me as if I should clap for such an ‘economical expenditure.’

“Anyway, we scheduled four years of braking at one twentieth of a g to conserve our final fuel resources and to keep this spidery vessel from ripping apart at higher rates of deceleration.”

“But it’s still going to take so long!”

The officer takes me to a ginormous sketch of our strut-ship. “If anyone aboard has time for a stress-reducing deceleration, Greta Bryn, you do.”

“Twenty-three years!” I say. “I’ll turn thirty-one!”

“Yes, you’ll wither into a pitiable crone.” Before I can protest more, she shows me other stuff: a map of the inside of our passenger can, a holocircle of the Gliese 581 system, and a d-cube of her living mama and daddy in the village Drak, which means Boulder, fifty-some rocky miles southeast of Lhasa. But—I’m such a dodo bird!—maybe they no longer live at all.

“My daddy’s from Boulder!” I say to overcoat this thought.

Officer Photrang peers at me with small bright eyes.

“Boulder, Colorado,” I tell her.

“Is that so?” After a nod from Captain Xao, she guides me into a tunnel lit by little glowing pins.

“What did you really come up here to learn, child? I’ll tell you if I can.”

“Who killed Sakya Gyatso?” I hurry to add, “I don’t want to be him.”

“Who told you somebody killed His Holiness?”

“Larry.” I grab a guide rail. “My tutor, Lawrence Rinpoche.”

Nima Photrang snorts. “Larry has a bad humor sense. And he may be wrong.”

I float up. “But what if he’s right?”

“Is the truth that important to you?” She pulls me down.

A question for a question, like a dry seed poked under my gum. “Larry says that a lama in training must quest for truth in everything, and I must do so always, and everyone else, by doing that too, will clean the universe of lies.”

“‘Do as I say and not as I do.’”


Nima—she tells me to call her by this name—takes my arm and swims me along the tunnel to a door that opens at a knuckle bump. She guides me into her rooms, a closet with a pull-down rack and straps, a toadstool unit for our shipboard intranet, and a corner for talking in. We float here. Nicely, or so it seems, she pulls a twist of brindle hair out of my eye.

“Child, it’s possible that Sakya Gyatso had a heart attack.”


“That’s the official version, which Minister T told all us ghosts up-phase enough to notice that Sakya had gone missing.”

I think hard. “But the unofficial story is . . . somebody killed him?”

“It’s one unofficial story. In the face of uncertainty, child, people indulge their imaginations, and more versions of the truth pop up than you can slam a lid on. But lid-slamming, we think, is a bad response to ideas that will come clear in the oxygen of free inquiry.”

“Who do you mean, ‘we’?”

Nima shows a little smile. “My ‘we’ excludes anyone who forbids the expression of plausible alternatives to any ‘official version.’”

“What do you think happened?”

“I’d best not say.”

“Maybe you need some oxygen.”

This time her smile looks a bit realer. “Yes, maybe I do.”

“I’m the new Dalai Lama, probably, and I give you that oxygen, Nima. Tell me your idea, now.”

After two blinks, she does: “I fear that Sakya Gyatso killed himself.”

“The Dalai Lama?” I can’t help it: her idea insults the man, who, funnily, now breathes inside me.

“Why not the Dalai Lama?”

“A Bodhisattva lives for others. He’d never kill anybody, much less himself.”

“He stayed up-phase too much—almost half a century—and the anti-aging effects of ursidormizine slumber, which he often avoided as harmful to his leadership role, were compromised. His Holiness did have the soul of a Bodhisattva, but he also had an animal self. The wear to his body broke him down, working on his spirit as well as his head, and doubts about his ability to last the rest of our trip niggled at him, as did doubts about his fitness to oversee our colonization of Guge.”

I cross my arms. This idea insults the late DL. It also, I think, poisons me. “I believe he had a heart attack.”

“Then the official version has taken seed in you,” Nima says.

“OK then. I like to think someone killed Sakya Gyatso, not that tiredness or sadness made him do it.”

Gently: “Child, where’s your compassion?”

I float away. “Where’s yours?” At the door of the first officer’s quarters, I try to bump out. I can’t. Nima must drift over, knuckle-bump the door plate, and help me with my angry going.

* * *

The artificial-gravity generators run again. I feel them humming through the floor of my room in Amdo, and in Z Quarters where our somnacicles nap. Larry says that except for them, AG aboard Kalachakra works little better than did electricity in war-wasted nations on Earth. Anyway, I don’t need the lock belt in my vidped unit; and such junk as pocket pens, toothbrushes, mess chits, and d-cubes don’t go slow-spinning away like my fuzzy dreams.

Somebody knocks.

Who is it? Not Larry—he’s already tutored me today—or Mama, who sleeps in her pod, or Daddy, who’s gone up-phase to U-Tsang to help the monks plant vegetables around their gompas. He gets to visit U-Tsang, but I—the only nearly anointed DL on this ship—must mostly hang with non-monks.

The knock knocks again.

Xao Songda enters. He unhooks a folding stool from the wall and sits atop it next to my vidped booth: Captain Xao, the pilot of our generation ship. Even with the hotshot job he has to work, he wanders around almost as much as me.

“Officer Photrang tells me you have doubts.”

I have doubts like a strut-ship has fuel tanks. I wish I could drop them half as fast as Kalachakra dropped its anti-hydrogen-ice-filled drums in the first four years of our run toward our coasting speed.

“Well?” Captain Xao’s eyebrow goes up.


“Does my first officer lie, or do you indeed have doubts?”

“I have doubts about everything.”

“Like what, child?” Captain Xao seems nice but clueless.

“Doubts about who made me, why I was born in a big bean can, why I like the AG on rather than off. Doubts about the shipshapeness of our ship, the soundness of Larry Lake’s mind, the realness of the rock we’re going to. Doubts about the pains in my legs and the mixing of my soul with Sakya’s . . . because of how our lifelines overlapped. Doubts about—”

“Whoa,” Xao Songda says. “Officer Photrang tells me you have doubts about the official version of the Twenty-first’s death.”


“I too, but as captain, I want you to know that it cruises in shipshape shape, with an artist in charge.”

After staring some, I say, “Is the official story true? Did Sakya Gyatso really die of Cadillac infraction?”

“Cardiac infarction,” the captain says, not getting that I just joked him. “Yes, he did. Regrettably.”

“Or do you say that because Minister T told everyone that and he outranks you?”

Xao Songda looks confused. “Why do you think Minister Trungpa would lie?”

“Inferior motives.”

“Ulterior motives,” the stupid captain again corrects me.

“OK: ulterior motives. Did he have something to do with Sakya’s death . . . for mean reasons locked in his heart, just as damned souls are locked in hell?”

The captain draws a noisy breath. “Goodness, child.”

“Larry says that somebody killed Sakya.” I climb out of my vidped booth and go to the captain. “Maybe it was you.”

Captain Xao laughs. “Do you know how many hoops I had to leap through to become captain of this ship? Ethnically, Gee Bee, I am Han Chinese. Hardly anybody in the Free Federation of Tibetan Voyagers wished me to command our strut-ship. But I was wholeheartedly Yellow Hat and the best pilot-engineer not already en route to a habitable planet. And so I’m here. I’d no more assassinate the Dalai Lama than desecrate a chorten, or harm Sakya’s likely successor.”

I believe him, even if an anxious soul could hear the last few words of his speech unkindly. I ask if he likes Nima’s theory—that Sakya Gyatso killed himself—better than Minister T’s Cadillac-infraction version. When he starts to answer, I say, “Flee falsehood again and speak the True Word.”

After a blink, he says, “If you insist.”

“Yes. I do.”

“Then I declare myself, on that question, an agnostic. Neither theory strikes me as outlandish. But neither seems likely, either: Minister T’s because His Holiness had good physical health and Nima’s because the stresses of this voyage were but tickling feathers to the Dalai Lama.”

I surprise myself—I begin to cry.

Captain Xao grips my shoulders so softly that his fingers feel like owl’s down, as I dream such down would feel on an Earth I’ve never seen, and never will. He whispers in my ear: “Shhh-shh.”

“Why do you shush me?”

Captain Xao removes his hands. “I no longer shush you. Feel free to cry.”

I do. So does Captain Xao. We are wed in knowing that Larry my tutor was right all along, and that our late Dalai Lama fell at the hands of a really mean someone with an inferior motive.

Years in transit: 87

Computer Logs of the Dalai Lama-to-Be, age 12

A week before my twelfth birthday, a Buddhist nun named Dolma Langdun, who works in the Amdo Bay nursery, hails me through the Kalachakra intranet. She wants to know if, on my birthday, I will let one of her helpers accompany me to the nursery to meet the children and accept gifts from them.

She signs off, —Mama Dolma.

I ask myself, “Why does this person do this? Who’s told her that I have a birthday coming?”

Not my folks, who sleep in their somnacicle eggs, nor Larry, who does the same because I’ve “exhausted” him. And so I resolve to put these questions to Mama Dolma over my intranet connection.

—How many children? I ask her, meanwhile listening to Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” through my ear-bud.

—Five, she replies. —Very sweet children, the youngest ten months and the oldest almost six years. It would be a great privilege to attend you on your natal anniversary, Your Holiness.

Before I can scold her for using this too-soon form of address, she adds, —As a toddler, you spent time here in Momo House, but in those bygone days I was assigned to the nunnery in U-Tsang with Abbess Yeshe Yargag.

—Momo House! I key her. —Oh, I remember!

Momo means dumpling, and this memory of my caregivers and my little friends back then dampens my eyelashes. Clearly, during the Z-pod rests of my parents and tutor, Minister Trungpa has acted as a most thoughtful guardian.

The following week goes by even faster than a fifth of light-speed.

On my birthday morning, a skinny young monk in a maroon jumpsuit comes for me and escorts me down to Momo House.

There I meet Mama Dolma. There, I also meet the children: the baby Alicia, the toddlers Pema and Lahmu, and the oldest two, Rinzen and Mickey. Except for the baby, they tap-dance about me like silly dwarves. The nursery features big furry balls that also serve as hassocks; inflatable yaks, monkeys, and pterodactyls; and cribs and vidped units, with lock belts for AG failures. A system made just for the Dumpling Gang always warns of an outage at least fifteen minutes before it occurs.

The nearly-six kid, Mickey, grabs my hand and shows me around. He introduces me to everybody, working down from the five-year-old to ten-month-old Alicia. All of them but Alicia give me drawings. These drawings show a monkey named Chenrezig (of course), a nun named Dolma (ditto), a yak named Yackety (double ditto), and a python with no name at all. I ooh and ah over these masterpizzas, as I call them, and then help them assemble soft-form puzzles, feed one another snacks, go to the toilet, and scan a big voyage chart that ends (of course) at Gliese 581g.

But it’s Alicia, the baby, who wins me. She twinkles. She flirts. She touches. At nap time, I hold her in a vidped unit, its screen oranged out and its rockers rocking, and nuzzle her sweet-smelling neck. She tugs at my lip corners and pinches my mouth flat, so involved in reshaping my face that I think her a pudgy sculptor elf. All the while, her agate eyes, bigger than my thumb tips, play across my face with near-sighted adoration.

I stay with Alicia—Alicia Paljor—all the rest of my day. Then the skinny young monk comes to escort me home, as if I need him to, and Mama Dolma hugs me. Alicia wails.

It hurts to leave, but I do, because I must, and even as the hurt fades, the memory of this outstanding birthday begins, that very night, to sing in me like the lovely last notes of Górecki’s Third.

I have never had a better birthday.

Months later, Daddy Simon and Mama Karen Bryn have come up-phase at the same time. Together, they fetch me from my nook in Amdo and walk with me on a good AG day to the cafeteria above the grave-caves of our strut-ship’s central drum, Kham. I ease along the serving line between them, taking tsampa, mushroom cuts, tofu slices, and sauces to make it all edible. The three of us end up at a table in a nook far from the serving line. Music by J. S. Bach spills from speakers in the movable walls, with often a sitar and bells to call up for some voyagers a Himalayan nostalgia to which my folks are immune. We eat fast and talk small.

Then Mama says, “Gee Bee, your father has something to tell you.”

O God. O Buddha. O Larry. O Curly. O Moe.

“Tell her,” Mama says.

Daddy Simon wears the sour face proclaiming that everybody should call him Pieman Oldfart. I hurt to behold him, he to behold me. But at last he gets out that before I stood up-phase, almost three years ago, as the DL’s disputed Soul Child, he and Mama signed apartness documents that have now concluded in an agreement of full marital severance. They continue my folks, but not as the couple that conceived, bore, and raised me. They remain friends but will no longer cohabit because of incompatibilities that have arisen over their up-phase years. It really shouldn’t matter to me, they say, because I’ve become Larry’s protégée with a grand destiny that I will no doubt fulfill as a youth and an adult. Besides, they will continue to parent me as much as my odd unconfirmed status as DL-in-training allows.

I do not cry, as I did upon learning that Captain Xao believes that somebody slew my only-maybe predecessor. I don’t cry because their news feels truly distant, like word of a planet somewhere whose people have brains in their chests. However, it does hurt to think about why I absolutely must cry later.

Daddy gets up, kisses my forehead, and leaves with his tray.

Mama studies me closely. “I’ll always love you. You’ve made me very proud.”

“You’ve made me very proud,” I echo her.


We push our plastic fork tines around in our leftovers, which I imagine rising in damp squadrons from our plates and floating up to the air-filtration fans. I wish that I, too, could either rise or sink.

“When will they confirm you?” Mama asks.

“Everything on this ship takes forever: getting from here to there, finding a killer, confirming the new DL.”

“You must have some idea.”

“I don’t. The monks don’t want me. I can’t even visit their make-believe gompas over in U-Tsang.”

“Well, those are sacred places. Not many of us get invitations.”

“But Minister T has declared me the ‘One,’ and Larry has tutored me in thousands of subjects, holy and not so holy. Still, the subsidiary lamas and their silly crew think less well of me than they would of a lame blue mountain sheep.”

“Don’t call their monasteries ‘make-believe,’ Gee Bee. Don’t call these other holy people and their followers ‘silly.’”

“Fie!” I actually tell her. “I wish I were anywhere but on this bean can flung at an iceberg light-years across the stupid universe.”

“Don’t, Greta Bryn. You’ve got a champion in Minister Trungpa.”

“Who just wants to bask in the reflected glory of his next supposed Bodhisattva—which, I swear, I am not.”

Mama lifts her tray and slams it down.

Nobody else seems to notice, but I jump.

“You have no idea,” she says, “who you are or what a champion can do for you, and you’re much too young to dismiss yourself or your powerful advocate.”

One of the Brandenburg Concertos swells, its sitars and yak bells flourishing. Far across the mess hall, Larry shuffles toward us with a tray. Mama sees him, and, just as Daddy did, she kisses my forehead and abruptly leaves. My angry stare tells Larry not to mess with me (no, I won’t apologize for the accidental pun), and Larry veers off to chow with two or three bio-techs at a faraway table.

Years in transit: 88

Computer Logs of the Dalai Lama-to-Be, age 13

Today marks another anniversary of the Kalachakra’s departure from Moon orbit on its crossing to Guge in the Gliese 581 system.

Soon I will turn thirteen. Much has happened in the six years since I woke to find that Sakya Gyatso had died and that I had become Greta Bryn Gyatso, his really tardy reincarnation.

What has not happened haunts me as much as, if not more than, what has. I have a disturbing sense that the ‘investigation’ into Sakya’s murder resides in a secretly agreed-upon limbo. Also, that my confirmation rests in this same foggy territory, with Minister T as my ‘regent.’ Recently, though, at First Officer Nima’s urging, Minister T assigned me a bodyguard from among the monks of U-Tsang Bay, a guy called Ian Kilkhor.

Once surnamed Davis, Kilkhor was born sixteen years into our flight of Canadian parents, techs who’d converted to the Yellow Hat order of Tibetan Buddhists in Calgary, Alberta, a decade before the construction of our interstellar vessel. Although nearing the chronological age of sixty, Kilkhor—as he asks me to call him—looks less than half that and has many admirers among the female ghosts in Kham.

Officer Nima fancies him. (Hey, even I fancy him.)

But she’s celibacy-committed unless a need for childbearing arises on Guge. And assuming her reproductive apparatus still works. Under such circumstances, I suspect that Kilkhor would lie with her.

Here I confess my ignorance. Despite lessons from Larry in the Tibetan language, I didn’t realize, until Kilkhor told me, that his new surname means ‘Mandala.’ I excuse myself on the grounds that ‘Kilkhor’ more narrowly means ‘center of the circle,’ and that Larry often skimps on offering connections. (To improve the health of his ‘mortal coil,’ Larry has spent nearly four of my last six years in an ursidormizine doze. I go to visit him once every two weeks in the pod-lodges of Amdo Bay, but these well-intended homages sometimes feel less like cheerful visits than dutiful viewings.) Also, ‘Kilkhor’ sounds to me more like an incitement to violence than it does a statement of physical and spiritual harmony.

Even so, I benefit in many ways from Kilkhor’s presence as bodyguard and stand-in tutor. Like Larry, Mama and Daddy spend long periods in their pods; and Kilkhor, a monk who knows tai chi chuan, has kept the killer, or killers, of Sakya from slaying me, if such villains exist aboard our ship. (I have begun to doubt they do.) He has also taught me much history, culture, religion, politics, computing, astrophysics and astronomy that Larry, owing to long bouts of hibernizing, has sadly neglected. Also, he weighs in for me with the monks, nuns, and yogis of U-Tsang, who feel disenfranchised in the process of confirming me as Sakya’s successor.

Indeed, because the Panchen Lama now in charge in U-Tsang will not let me set foot there, Kilkhor intercedes to get other high monks to visit me in Kham. The Panchen Lama, to avoid seeming either bigot or autocrat, permits these visits. Unhappily, my sex, my ethnicity, and (most important) the fact that my birth antedates the Twenty-first’s death by five years all conspire to taint my candidacy. I doubt it too and fear that fanatics among the ‘religious’ will try to veto me by subtraction, not by argument, and that I will die at the hands of friends rather than enemies of the Dalai Lamahood.

Such fears, by themselves, throw real doubt on Minister T’s choice of me as the Sakya’s only indisputable Soul Child.

Years in transit: 89

Computer Logs of the Dalai Lama-to-Be, age 14

“The Tibetan belief in monkey ancestors puts them in a unique category as the only people I know of who acknowledged this connection before Darwin.”

—Karen Swenson,

twentieth-century traveler, poet, and

worker at Mother Teresa’s Calcutta mission

Last week, a party of monks and one nun met me in the hangar of Kham Bay. From their gompas (‘monasteries’) in U-Tsang, they brought a woolen cloak, a woolen bag, three spruce walking sticks, three pairs of sandals, and a white-faced monkey that one monk, as the group entered, fed from a baby bottle full of ashen-gray slurry.

An AG-generator never runs in the hangar because people don’t often visit it, and our lander nests in a vast hammock of polyester cables. So we levitated in a cordoned space near the nose of the lander, which the Free Federation of Tibetan Voyagers has named Chenrezig, after that Buddhist disciple who, in monkey form, sired the first human Tibetans. (Each new DL automatically qualifies as the latest incarnation of Chenrezig.) Our lander’s nose is painted with bright geometric patterns and the cartoon head of a wise-looking monkey wearing glasses and a beaked yellow hat. Despite this amusing iconography, however, almost everyone on our strut-ship now calls the lander the Yak Butter Express.

After stiff greetings, these high monks—including the Panchen Lama, Lhundrub Gelek, and Yeshe Yargang, the abbess of U-Tsang’s only nunnery!—tied the items that they’d brought to a utility toadstool in the center of our circle (‘kilkhor’). Then we floated in lotus positions, hands palm-upward, and I stared at these items, but not at the monkey now clutching the PL and wearing a look of alert concern. From molecular vibrations and subtle somatic clues—twitches, blinks, sniffles—I tried to determine which of the articles they wished me to select . . . or not to select, as their biases dictated.

“Some of these things were Sakya Gyatso’s,” the Panchen Lama said. “Choose only those that he viewed as truly his. Of course, he saw little in this life as a ‘belonging.’ You may examine any or all, Miss Brasswell.”

I liked how my surname (even preceded by the stodgy honorific Miss) sounded in our hangar, even if it did seem to label me an imposter, if not an outright foe of Tibetan Buddhism. To my right, Kilkhor lowered his eyelids, advising me to make a choice. OK, then: I had no need to breast-stroke my way over to the pile.

“The cloak,” I said.

Its stench of musty wool and ancient vegetable dyes told me all I needed to know. I recalled those smells and the cloak’s vivid colors from an encounter with the DL during his visit to the nursery in Amdo when I was four. It had seemed the visit of a seraph or an extraterrestrial—as, by virtue of our status as star travelers, he had qualified. Apparently, none of these faithful had accompanied him then, for, obviously, none recalled his having cinched on this cloak to meet a tot of common blood.

The monkey—a large Japanese macaque (Mucaca fuscata)—swam to the center of our circle, undid the folded cloak, and kicked back to the Lama, who belted it around his lap. Still fretful, the macaque levitated in its breechclout—a kind of diaper— beside the PL. It wrinkled its brow at me in approval or accusation.

“Go on,” Lhundrub Gelek said. “Choose another item.”

I glanced at Kilkhor, who dropped his eyelids.

“May I see what’s in the bag?” I asked.

The PL spoke to the macaque: a critter I imagined Tech Bonfils taking a liking to at our trip’s outset. It then paddled over to the bag tied to the utility toadstool, seized the bag by its neck, and dragged it over to me.

After foraging a little, I extracted five slender books, of a kind now rarely made, and studied each: one in English, one in Tibetan, one in French, one in Hindi, and one, surprisingly, in Esperanto. In each case, I recognized their alphabets and point of origin, if not their subject matter. A bootlace linked the books; when they started to float away, I caught its nearer end and yanked them all back.

“Did His Holiness write these?” I asked.

“Yes,” the Panchen Lama said, making me think that I’d passed another test. He added, “Which of the five did Sakya most esteem?” Ah, a dirty trick. Did they want me to read not only several difficult scripts but also Sakya’s departed mind?

“Do you mean as artifacts, for the loveliness of their craft, or as documents, for the spiritual meat in their contents?”

“Which of those options do you suppose more like him?” Abbess Yeshe Yargag asked sympathetically.

“Both. But if I must make a choice, the latter. When he wrote, he distilled clear elixirs from turbid mud.”

Our visitors beheld me as if I’d neutralized the stench of sulfur with sprinkles of rose water. Again, I felt shameless.

With an unreadable frown, the PL said, “You’ve chosen correctly. We now wish you to choose the book that Sakya most esteemed for its message.”

I reexamined each title. The one in French featured the words wisdom and child. When I touched it, Chenrezig responded with a nearly human intake of breath. Empty of thought, I lifted that book.

“Here: The Wisdom of a Child, the Childishness of Wisdom.”

As earlier, our five visitors kept their own counsel, and Chenrezig returned the books to their bag and the bag to the monk who had set it out.

Next, I chose among the walking sticks and the pairs of sandals, taking my cues from the monkey and so choosing better than I had any right to expect. In fact, I selected just those items identifying me as the Dalai Lama’s Soul Child, girl or not.

After Kilkhor praised my accuracy, the PL said, “Very true, but—”

“But what?” Kilkhor said. “Must you settle on a Tibetan male only?”

The Lama replied, “No, Ian. But what about this child makes her miraculous?”

Ah, yes. One criterion for confirming a DL candidate is that those giving the tests identify ‘something miraculous’ about him . . . or her.

“What about her startling performance so far?” Kilkhor asked.

“We don’t see her performance as a miracle, Ian.”

“But you haven’t conferred about the matter.” He gestured at the other holies floating in the fluorescent lee of the Yak Butter Express.

“My friends,” the Panchen Lama asked, “what say you all in reply?”

“We find no miracle,” a spindly, middle-aged monk said, “in this child’s choosing correctly. Her brief life overlapped His Holiness’s.”

“My-me,” Abbess Yargag said. “I find her a wholly supportable candidate.”

The three leftover holies held their tongues, and I had to admit—to myself, if not aloud to this confirmation panel—that they had a hard-to-refute point, for I had pegged my answers to the tics of a monastery macaque with an instinctual sense of its keepers’ moody fretfulness.

Fortunately, the monkey liked me. I had no idea why.

O to be unmasked! I needed no title or additional powers to lend savor to my life. I wanted to sleep and to awaken later as an animal husbandry specialist, with Tech Karen Bryn Bonfils as my mentor and a few near age-mates as fellow apprentices.

The PL unfolded from his lotus pose and floated before me with his feet hanging. “Thank you, Miss Brasswell, for this audience. We regret we can’t—” Here he halted, for Chenrezig swam across our meeting space, pushed into my arms, and clasped me about the neck. Then all the astonished monks and the shaken PL rubbed their shoulders as if to ignite their bodies in glee or consternation.

Abbess Yargag said, “There’s your miracle.”

“Nando,” the lama said, shaking his head: No, he meant.

“On the contrary,” Abbess Yargag replied. “Chenrezig belonged to Sakya Gyatso, and never in Chenrezig’s sleep-lengthened life has this creature embraced a child, a non-Asian, or a female: not even me.”

“Nando,” the PL, visibly angry, said again.

“Yes,” another monk said. “Hail the jewel in the lotus. Praise to the gods.”

I kissed Chenrezig’s white-flecked facial mane as he whimpered like an infant in my too-soon weary arms.

Years in transit: 93

Computer Logs of the Dalai Lama-to-Be, age 18

—‘A Catechism: Why Do We Voyage?’

At age seven, I learned this catechism from Larry. Kilkhor often has me say it, to ensure that I don’t turn apostate to either our legend or my long-term charge. Sometimes Captain Xao Songda, a Han who converted and fled to Vashon Island, Washington—via northern India; Cape Town, South Africa; Buenos Aires; and Hawaii—sits in to temper Larry’s flamboyance and Kilkhor’s lethargic matter-of-factness.

—Why do we voyage? one of them will ask.

—To fulfill, I say, —the self-determination tenets of the Free Federation of Tibet and to usher every soul pent in hell up through the eight lower realms to Buddhahood.

From the bottom up, these realms include: 1) hell-pent mortals, 2) hungry ghosts, 3) benighted beasts, 4) fighting spirits, 5) human beings, 6) seraphs and suchlike, 7) disciples of the Buddha, 8) Buddhas for themselves only, and 9) Bodhisattvas who live and labor for every soul in each lower realm.

—Which realm did you begin in, Your Probationary Holiness?

—That of the bewildered, but not benighted, human mortal.

—As our Dalai Lama in Training, to which realm have you arisen?

—That of the disciples of Chenrezig: “Hail the jewel in the lotus.” I am the funky simian saint of the Buddha.

(Sometimes, depending on my mood, I ad-lib that last bit.)

—From what besieged and battered homeland do you pledge to free us?

—The terrestrial “Land of Snow”: Tibet beset, ensorcelled, and enslaved.

—As a surrogate for that land gone cruelly forfeit, to which new country do you pledge to lead us?

—“The Land of Snow,” on Guge the Unknowable, where we all must strive to free ourselves again.

The foregoing part of the catechism embodies a pledge and a charge. Other parts synopsize the history of our oppression: the ruin of our economy; the destruction of our monasteries; the subjugation of our nation to the will of foreign predators; the co-opting of our spiritual formulae for greedy and warlike purposes; the submergence of our culture to the maws of jackals; and the quarantining of our state to anyone not of our oppressors’ liking. Finally, against the severing of sinews human and animal, the pulling asunder of ties interdependent and relational, only the tallest mountains could stand. And those who undertook the khora, the sacred pilgrimage around Mount Kailash, often did so with little or no grasp of the spiritual roots of their journeys. Even then, that mountain, the land all about it, and the scant air overarching them, stole the breath and spilled into its pilgrims’ lungs the bracing elixir of awe.

At length, the Tibetans and their sympathizers realized that their overlords would never withdraw. Their invasion, theft, and reconfiguration of the state had left its peoples few options but death or exile.

—So what did the Free Federation of Tibet do? Larry, Kilkhor, or Xao will ask.

—Sought a United Nations charter for the building of a starship, an initiative that all feared China would preempt with its veto in the Security Council.

—What happened instead?

—The Chinese supported the measure.

—How so?

—They contributed to the general levy for funds to build and crew with colonists a second-generation antimatter ship capable of attaining speeds up to one-fifth the velocity of light.

—Why did China surrender to an enterprise implying severe criticism of a policy that it saw as an internal matter? That initiative surely stood as a rebuke to its efforts to overwhelm Tibet with its own crypto-capitalistic materialism.

Here I may snigger or roll my eyeballs, and Lawrence, Kilkhor, or Xao will repeat the question.

—Three reasons suffice to explain China’s acquiescence, I at length reply.

—State them.

—First, China understood that launching this ship would remove the Twenty-first Dalai Lama, who had agreed not only to support this disarming plan but also to go with the Yellow Hat colonists to Gliese 581g.

—‘Praise to the gods,’ my catechist will say in Tibetan.

—Indeed, backing this plan would oust from a long debate the very man whom the Chinese reviled as a poser and a bar to the incorporation of Tibet into their program of post-post-Mao modernization.

Here, another snigger from a bigger poser than Sakya; namely, me.

—And the second reason, Your Holiness?

—Backing this strut-ship strategy surprised the players arrayed against China in both the General Assembly and the Security Council.

—To what end?

—All they could do was brand China’s support a type of cynicism warped into a low-yield variety of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ for now Tibet and its partisans would have one fewer grievance to lay at China’s feet.

With difficulty, I refrain from sniggering again.

—And the third reason, Miss Greta Bryn, our delightfully responsive Ocean of Wisdom?

—Supporting the antimatter ship initiative allowed China to put its design and manufacturing enterprises to work drawing up blueprints and machining parts for the provocatively named UNS Kalachakra.

—And so we won our victory?

—“Hail the jewel in the lotus,” I reply.

—And what do we Kalachakrans hope to accomplish on the sun-locked world we now call Guge?

—Establish a colony unsullied by colonialism; summon other emigrants to ‘The Land of Snow’; and lead to enlightenment all who bore that dream, and who will carry it into cycles yet to unfold.

—And after that?

—The cessation of everything samsaric, the opening of ourselves to nirvana.

Years in transit: 94

Computer Logs of the Dalai Lama-to-Be, age 19

For nearly four Earth months, I’ve added not one word to my Computer Log. But shortly after my last recitation of the foregoing catechism, Kilkhor pulled me aside and told me that I had a rival for the position of Dalai Lama.

This news astounded me. “Who?”

“A male Soul Child born of true Tibetan parents in Amdo Bay less than fifty days after Sakya Gyatso’s death,” Kilkhor said. “A search team located him almost a decade ago, but has only now disclosed him to us.” Kilkhor made this disclosure of bad news—it is bad, isn’t it?—sound very ordinary.

“What’s his name?” I had no idea what else to say.

“Jetsun Trimon,” Kilkhor said. “Old Gelek seems to think him a more promising candidate than he does Greta Bryn Brasswell.”

“Jetsun! You’re joking, right?” And my heart did a series of arrhythmic lhundrubs in protest.

Kilkhor regarded me then with either real, or expertly feigned, confusion. “You know him?”

“Of course not! But the name—” I stuck, at once amused and appalled.

“The name, Your Holiness?”

“It’s a ridiculous, a totally ludicrous name.”

“Not really. In Tibetan it means—”

“—‘venerable’ and ‘highly esteemed,’” I put in. “But it’s still ridiculous.” And I noted that as a child, between bouts of study, I had often watched, well, ‘cartoons’ in my vidped unit. Those responsible for this lowbrow programming had mischievously stocked it with a selection of episodes called The Jetsons, about a space-going Western family in a gimmick-ridden future. I had loved it.

“I’ve heard of it,” Kilkhor said. “The program, I mean.”

But he didn’t twig the irony of my five-year-younger rival’s name.

Or he pretended not to. To him, the similarity of these two monikers embodied a pointless coincidence.

“I can’t do this anymore without a time-out,” I said. “I’m going down-phase for a year—at least a quarter of a year!”

Kilkhor said nothing. His expression said everything.

Still, he arranged for my down-phase respite, and I repaired to Amdo Bay and my eggshell to enjoy this pod-lodging self-indulgence, which, except for rare cartoon-tinged nightmares, I almost did.

Now, owing to somatic suspension, I return at almost the same nineteen I went under.

When I awake this time amidst a catacomb vista of eggshell pods—like racks in a troopship or in a concentration-camp barracks—Mama, Minister T, the Panchen Lama, Ian Kilkhor, and Jetsun Trimon attend my awakening.

Grateful for functioning AG (as, down here, it always functions), I swing my legs out of the pod, stagger a step or two, and retch from a stomach knotted with a fresh anti-insomniac heat.

The Tibetan boy, my rival, comes to me unbidden, slides an arm across my chest from behind, and eases me back toward his own thin body so that I don’t topple into the vomit-vase Mama has given me. With his free hand, Jetsun strokes my brow, meanwhile tucking stray strands of hair behind my ear. I don’t need him to do this stuff. Actually, I resent his doing it.

Although I usually sleep little, I do take occasional naps. Don’t I deserve a respite?

I pull free of the young imposter. He looks fifteen at least, and if I’ve hit nineteen, his age squares better than does mine with the passing of the last DL and the transfer of Sakya’s bhava into the material form of Jetsun Trimon.

Beholding him, I find his given name less of a joke than I did before my nap and more of a spell for the inspiriting that the PL alleges has occurred in him. Jetsun and I study each other with mutual curiosity. Our elders look on with darker curiosities. How must Jetsun and I regard this arranged marriage, they no doubt wonder, and what does it presage for everyone aboard the Kalachakra?

During my year-plus sleep, maybe I’ve matured some. Although I want to cry out against the outrage—no, the unkindness—of my guardians’ conspiracy to bring this fey usurper to my podside, I don’t berate them. They warrant such a scolding, but I refrain. How do they wish me to view their collusion, and how can I see it as anything other than their sending a prince to the bier of a spell-afflicted maiden? Except for the acne scarring his forehead and chin, Jetsun is, well, cute, but I don’t want his help. I loathe his intrusion into my pod-lodge and almost regret my return.

Kilkhor notes that the lamas of U-Tsang, including the Panchen Lama and Abbess Yargag, have finally decided to summon Jetsun Trimon and me to our onboard stand-in for the Jokhang Temple. There, they will conduct a gold-urn lottery to learn which of us will follow Sakya Gyatso as the Twenty-second Dalai Lama.

Jetsun bows.

He says that his tutor has given him the honor of inviting me, my family, and my guardians to this ‘shindig.’ It will occur belatedly, he admits, after he and I have already learned many sutras and secrets reserved in Tibet—holy be its saints, its people, and its memory—for a Soul Child validated by lottery.

But circumstances have changed since our Earth-bound days: The ecology of the Kalachakra, the great epic of our voyage, and our need on Guge for a leader of heart and vision require fine tunings beyond our forebears’ imaginations.

Wiser than I was last year, I swallow a cynical yawn.

“And so,” Jetsun ends, “I wish you joy in the lottery’s Buddha-directed outcome, whichever name appears on the selected slip.”

He bows and takes three steps back.

Lhundrub Gelek beams at Jetsun, and I know in my gut that the PL has become my competitor’s regent, his champion. Mama Karen Bryn holds her face expressionless until fret lines drop from her lip corners like weighted ebony threads.

I thank Jetsun, for his courtesy and his well-rehearsed speech. He seems to want something more—an invitation of my own, a touch—but I have nothing to offer but the stifling of my envy, which I fight to convert to positive energies boding a happy karmic impact on the name slips in the urn.

“You must come early to our Temple,” the PL says. “Doing so will give you time to pay your respects at Sakya Gyatso’s bier.”

This codicil to our invitation heartens me. Lacking any earlier approval to visit U-Tsang, I have never seen the body of the DL on display there.

Do I really wish to see it, to see him?

Yes, of course I do.

We’ve lost many Kalachakrans in transit to Guge, but none of the others have our morticians bled with trochars, painted with creams and rouges, or treated with latter-day preservatives. Those others we ejected via tubes into the airless cold of interstellar space, meager human scraps for the ever-hungry night.

In Tibet, the bereaved once spread their dead loved ones out on rocks in ‘celestial burial grounds.’ This they did as an act of charity, for the vultures. On our ship, though, we have no vultures, or none with feathers, and perhaps by firing our dead into unending quasi-vacuum, we will offer to the void a sacrifice of once-living flesh generous enough to upgrade our karma.

But Sakya Gyatso we have enshrined; and soon, as one of only two candidates for his sacred post, I will gaze upon the remains of one whose enlightenment and mercy have plunged me into painful egocentric anguish.

* * *

At the appointed time (six months from Jetsun’s invitation), we journey from Amdo and across Kham by way of tunnels designed for either gravity-assisted marches or weightless swims. Our style of travel depends on the AG generators and the rationing of gravity by formulae meant to benefit our long-term approach to Guge. However, odd outages often overcome these formulae. Blessedly, Kalachakrans now adjust so well to gravity loss that we no longer find it alarming or inconvenient.

Journeying, we discover that U-Tsang’s residents—allegedly, all Bodhisattvas—have forsworn the use of generators during the 72-hour Festival of the Gold Urn, with that ceremony occurring at noon of the middle day. This renunciation they regard as a gift to everybody aboard our vessel—somnacicles and ghosts—and no hardship at all. Whatever stress we spare the generators, our karmic economies tell us, will redound to everybody’s benefit in our voyage’s later stages.

My entourage consists of my divorced parents, Simon Brasswell and Karen Bryn Bonfils; Minister T, my self-proclaimed regent; Lawrence Lake Rinpoche, my tutor and confidant, now up-phase for the first time in two years; and Ian Kilkhor, security agent, standby tutor, and friend. We walk single-file through a sector of Kham wide enough for the next Dalai Lama’s subjects to line its walls and perform respectful namaste as he (or she) passes. Minister T tells us that Jetsun Trimon and his people made this same journey eighteen hours ago, and that their well-wishers in this trunk tunnel were fewer than those attending our passage. A Bodhisattva would take no pleasure from such a petty statistical triumph. Tellingly, I do. So what does my competition-bred joy say about my odds in the coming gold-urn lottery? Nothing auspicious, I fear.

Eventually, our crowds dwindle, and we enter a deck area featuring a checkpoint and a sector gate. A monk clad in maroon passes us through. Another dials open the gate admitting us, at last, to U-Tsang.

I smell roast barley, barley beer (chang), and an acrid tang of incense that makes my stomach seize. Beyond the gate, which shuts behind us like a stone wheel slotting into a tomb groove, we drift through a hall with thin metal rails and bracket-like handholds. The luminary pins here gleam a watery purple.

Our feet slide out from under us, not like those of a fawn slipping on ice, but like those of an astronaut trainee rising from the floor of an aircraft plunging to create a few seconds of pedagogical zero-g.

The AG generators here shut down a while ago, so we dog-paddle in waterwheel slow-motion, unsure which tunnel to enter.

Actually, I’m the only uncertain trekker, but because neither Minister T nor Larry nor Kilkhor wants to help me, I stay mute, from perplexity and pride: another black mark, no doubt, against my lottery chances.

Ahead of us, fifteen yards or so, a snow leopard manifests: a four-legged ghost with yellow eyes and frost-etched silver fur. Despite the lack of gravity, it faces us as though it were standing on a ledge and licks its sooty beard as if savoring again the last guinea-pig-like chiphi that it crushed into bone bits. I hesitate. The leopard swishes its tail, turns, and leaps into a tunnel that I would not have chosen.

Kilkhor laughs and urges us upward into this same purplish chute. “It’s all right,” he says. “Follow it. Or do you suspect a subterfuge from our spiritually elevated hosts?” He laughs again . . . this time, maybe, at his inadvertent nod to the Christian sacrament of communion.

Larry and I twig his mistake, but does anybody else?

“Come on,” Kilkhor insists. “They’ve sent us this cool cat as a guide.”

And so we follow. We swim rather than walk, levitating through a Buddhist rabbit hole in the wake of an illusory leopard . . . until, by a sudden shift in perspective, we feel ourselves to be ‘walking’ again.

This ascent, or fall, takes just over an hour, and we emerge in the courtyard of Jokhang Temple, or its diminished Kalachakra facsimile. Here, the Panchen Lama, the Abbess of U-Tsang’s only nunnery, and a colorful contingent of Yellow Hats and other monks greet us joyfully. They regale us with khata, gift scarves inscribed with good-luck symbols, and with processional music played by flutes, drums, and bells. Their welcome feels at once high-spirited and heartfelt.

The snow leopard has vanished. When we broke into the courtyard swimming like ravenous carp, somebody, somewhere, stopped projecting it.

So let the gold-urn ceremony begin. Put me out of, or into, my misery.

But before the lottery, we visit the shrine where the duded-up remains of Sakya Gyatso lie in state, like those of Lenin in the Kremlin or Mao in the Forbidden City. Although Sakya should not suffer mention in the same breath as mass murderers, nobody can deny that we have preserved him as an icon, just as the devotees of Lenin and Mao mummified them. And so I must trust that a single Figure of Peace weighs more in the karmic-justice scales than does a shipload of bloody despots.

Daddy begs off. He has seen the dead Sakya Gyatso before, and traveling with his ex-wife, the mother of his Soul Child daughter, has depressed him beyond easy repair. So he retreats to a nearby guesthouse and locks himself inside for a nap. Ian Kilkhor leaves to visit several friends in the Yellow Hat gompa with whom he once studied; Minister T, who has often paid homage at the Twenty-first’s bier, has business with Lhundrub Gelek and others of the confirmation troupe who met with me in Kham in the shadow of the Yak Butter Express.

So, only Mama, Larry, and I go to see the Lama whom, according to many, I will succeed as the spiritual and temporal head of the 990 Tibetan colonizers aboard this ship. The shrine we approach does not resemble a mausoleum. It sits on the courtyard’s edge, like an exhibit of amateur art in a construction trailer.

Two maroon-clad guards await us beside its doors, one at each end of the trailer, now graffitified with mantras, prayers, and many mysterious symbols—but no one else in U-Tsang Bay has come out to view its principal attraction. The blousy monk at the nearer door examines our implanted, upper-arm IDs with click-scans, smiles beatifically, and nods us in. Larry jokes in Tibetan with this guy before joining us at the DL’s windowed bier, where we three float: ghosts beside a pod-lodger who will not again arise, unless he has already done so in yet another borrowed boy.

“He is not here,” I say. “He has arisen.”

Larry, who looks much older than at his last brief up-phase, laughs in appreciation or embarrassment: the latter, probably.

Mama gives me a blistering ‘cool-it’ glare.

And then I gaze upon the body of Sakya Gyatso. Even in death, even through the clear but faintly dusty cover of his display pod, he sustains about his face and hands a soft amber aura of serene lifelikeness that startles, and discomfits. I see him smiling sweetly upon me when I was four. I imagine him displeasing his religious brethren and sisters by going more often into Amdo and Kham Bays to interact with his secular subjects than our sub-lamas thought needful or wise, as if such visits distracted him from his obligations and undercut his authority in both realms, profane and holy. And it’s definitely true that his longest uninterrupted sojourn in U-Tsang coincides with his years lying in state in this shabby trailer.

Commoners aboard ship loved him, but maybe—I reflect, studying his corpse with both fascination and regard—he angered those practitioners of Tantra who viewed him as their highest representative and model. Certainly, he moved during his life from external Kalachakra Tantra—a concern with the lost procession of solar and lunar days—to the internal Tantra, with its focus on the energy systems of the body, to the higher alternative Tantra leading to the sublime state of bodhichitta, perfect enlightenment for the sake of others.

Thus reflecting, I cannot conceive of anyone aboard ever wishing him harm or of myself climbing out of the pit of my ego to attain the state of material renunciation and accepting comprehension of emptiness that Sakya Gyatso reached and embodied through so many years of our journey.

That I stand today as one of two Soul Children in line to follow him defies logic; it offends reason and also the 722 deities resident in the Kalachakra Mandala as emblems of reality and consciousness. I lack even the worth of a dog licking barley-cake crumbs from the floor. I put my palm on the Twenty-first’s pod cover and erupt in sobs. These underscore my unsuitability to succeed him.

Mama’s glare gives way to a look of fretful amazement. She lays an arm over my shoulder, an intimacy that keeps me from drifting blindly away from either her or Larry.

“Kiddo,” she murmurs, “don’t cry for this lucky man. We’ll never cease to honor him, but the time for mourning has passed.”

I can’t stop: All sleep has fled and the future holds only a scalding wakefulness. Larry lays his arm over my other shoulder, caging me between them.

“Baby,” Mama says. “Baby, what’s going on?”

She hasn’t called me ‘baby’ or ‘kiddo’ since, over seven years ago, I had my first period. I twist my neck just enough to tell her to glance at the late DL; that she must look. Reluctantly, it seems, she does, and then looks back at me with no apparent hesitancy or aversion. Her gaze then switches between him and me until she realizes that I won’t—I simply can’t—succeed this saint as our leader. Moreover, I intend to withdraw from the gold-urn lottery and to throw my support to my rival. Mama remains silent, but her arm deserts me and she turns from the DL’s bier as if my declaration has acted as a vernier jet to change her position. In any case, she drifts away.

“Do you understand me, Mama?”

Mama’s eyes jiggle and close. Her chin drops. Her jumpsuit-clad body floats like that of a string-free marionette, all raw angles and dreamily rafting hands.

Larry releases me and swims to her. “Something’s wrong, Greta Bryn.” I already suspect this, but these words penetrate with a laser’s precision. I fumble blurry-eyed after Larry, clueless about what to do to help.

Larry swallows her with his arms, like the male hero in an anachronistic spectal, and then pushes her away to study her more objectively. Immediately, he pulls her back in to him again, checks her pulse at wrist and throat, and pivots her toward me with odd contrasting expressions washing over his face.

“She’s fainted, I think.”

“Fainted?” My mother, so far as I know, never faints.

“It’s all the travel . . . and her anxiety about the gold-urn lottery.”

“Not to mention her disappointment in me.”

Larry regards me with such deliberate blankness that I almost fail to recognize the man, whom I have known seemingly forever.

“Talk to her when she comes ’round,” he says. “Talk to her.”

The blousy monk who ran click-scans on us enters the makeshift mausoleum and helps Larry tow my rag-doll mama outside, across the road, and into the battened-down Temple courtyard. The two accompany her to a basket-like bower chair that suppresses her driftability and attend her with colorful fake Chinese fans. I go with them, looking on like a gawker at a cafeteria accident.

Our post-swoon interview takes place in the nearly empty courtyard. Mama clutches two of the bower-chair spokes like a child in a gravity swing, and I maintain my place before her with the mindless agility of a pond carp.

“Never say you’re forsaking the gold-urn lottery,” she says. “You bear on your shoulders the hopes of a majority, my hopes highest of all.”

“Did my decision to withdraw cause you to faint?”

“Of course!” she cries. “You can’t withdraw! You don’t think I faked my swoon, do you?”

I have no doubt that Mama didn’t fake it. Her sclera clocked into view before her eyelids fell. But, before that, her gaze cut to and rested on Sakya’s face just prior to realizing my intent. Feelings of betrayal, loss, and outrage triggered her swoon. Now she says I have no choice but to take part in the gold-urn drawing, and I regard her with such a blend of gratitude, for believing in me, and loathing, for her rigidity, that I can’t speak. Do Westerners carry both me-first ego genes and self-doubt genes that, in combination, overcome the teachings of the Tantra?

“Answer me, Greta Bryn: Do you think I faked that faint?”

Mama knows already that I don’t. She just wants me to assume the hair shirt of guilt for her indisposition and to pull it over my head with the bristly side inward. I have sufficient Easterner in my makeup to deny her that boon and the pinched ecstasy implicit in it. All at once dauntless, I hold her gaze, and hold it, until she begins to waver in her implacability.

“I didn’t swoon solely because you tried to renounce your rebirth right, but also because you tried to humiliate me in front of Larry.” Mama stands so far from the truth on this issue that she doesn’t even qualify as wrong.

And so I laugh, like an evil-wisher rather than a daughter. “Not so,” I say. “Why would I want to humiliate you before Larry?”

“Because I’ve always refused to coddle your self-doubts.”

I recall Mama beholding Sakya’s death mask and memorizing his every aura-lit feature. “What else caused you to ‘fall out’?”

Her voice drops a register: “The Dalai Lama. His face. His hands. His body. His inhering and sustaining holiness.”

“How does his ‘sustaining holiness’ knock you into a swoon, Mama?”

She peers across the courtyard road at the van where the DL lies in state. Then she pulls herself upright in the bower chair and tells this story:

“While married to your father, I began an affair with Minister Trungpa. He lived wherever Sakya lived, and Sakya chose to live among the secular citizens of Amdo and Kham rather than in the ridiculously scaled-down model of the Potala Palace in U-Tsang. As one result, Minister T and I easily met each other; and Nyendak—Neddy, I call him—courted me under the unsuspecting noses of both Sakya and Simon.”

“You cuckolded my daddy with Minister T?” I need her to say it again.

“That’s such an ugly old word to label what Neddy and I still regard as a sacred union.”

“I’m sorry, Mama, but it’s the prettiest word I know to call it.”

“Don’t condescend to me, Gee Bee.”

“I won’t. I can’t. But I do have to ask: Who fathered me, the man I call Daddy or Sakya’s old-fart chief minister?”

“Your father fathered you,” Mama says. “Look at yourself in a mirror. Simon’s face underlies your own. His blood runs through you, almost as if he gave his vitality to you and thus lost it himself.”

“Maybe because you cuckolded him.”

“That’s crap. If anything, Simon’s growing apathy and addiction to pod-lodging shoved me toward Neddy. Who, by the way, has the eggs, even at his age, to stay on the upright outside of a Z-pod.”

“Mama, please.”

“Listen, Neddy loves you. He cherishes you because he cherishes me. He sees you as just as much his own as Simon does. In fact, Neddy was the first to—”

“I’ll stop saying ‘cuckold’ if you’ll stop calling your boyfriend ‘Neddy.’ It sounds like filthy baby talk.”

Mama closes her eyes, counts to herself, and opens them again to explain that when Sakya Gyatso at last figured out what was going on between Mama and Minister Trungpa, he called them to him and urged them to break off the affair in the interest of a higher spirituality and the preservation of shipboard harmony.

Minister T, ever the tutor, argued that although traditional Buddhism stems from a slavish obeisance to the demands of morality, wisdom cultivation, and ego abasement, the Tibetan Tantric path channels sexual attraction and its drives into the creation of life-force energies that purify these urges and tie them to transcendent spiritual purposes. My mother’s marriage had unraveled; and Minister T’s courtship of her, which culminated in consensual carnality and a principled friendship, now demonstrated their mutual growth toward that higher spirituality.

I laugh out loud.

“And did His Holiness give your boyfriend a pass on this self-serving distortion of the Tantric way?”

“Believe as you will, but Neddy—Minister Trungpa’s—take on the matter, and the thoroughness with which he laid out everything, had great effect on the DL. After all, Minister T had served as his regent in exile in Dharmasala, as his chief minister in India, and finally as his minister and friend here on the Kalachakra. Why would he all at once suppose this fount of integrity and wise counsel a scoundrel?”

“Maybe because he was surfing the wife of another man and justifying it with a lot of mystical malarkey.”

Mama squints with thread-thin patience and resumes her story. Because of what Minister T and Mama had done, and still do, and what Minister T told His Holiness to justify their behavior, the Dalai Lama fell into a brown study that finally edged over into an ashen funk. To combat it, Sakya hibernated for three months, but emerged as low in spirits as he had gone into his egg. All his energies had weakened, and he told Minister T of his fears of dying before we reached Guge. Such talk profoundly fretted Mama’s lover, who insisted that Sakya Gyatso tour the nursery in Amdo Bay. There he met me, Greta Bryn Brasswell. He was so smitten that he returned many times over the next few weeks, always singling me out for attention. He told Mama that my eyes reminded him of those of his baby sister, who had died very young of rheumatic fever.

“I remember meeting His Holiness,” I tell Mama, “but not his visiting our nursery so often.”

“You were four,” Mama says. “How could you?”

She recounts how Minister T later took her to Sakya’s upper-deck office in Amdo to talk about his long depression. With the AG generators running, they shared green tea and barley breads.

The DL again voiced his fear that even if he slept the rest of our journey, at some point in transit he would surrender his ghost in his eggshell pod and we his people would arrive at Guge with no agreed-upon leader. Minister T rebuked him for this worry, which he identified as egocentric, even though the DL took pains to articulate it as a concern for our common welfare.

Mama had carried me to this meeting. I lay sleeping—not like a pod-lodger but as a tired child—across her lap on a folded poncho liner that Simon had brought aboard as a going-away gift from a former roommate at Georgia Tech. As the adults talked, I turned and stretched, but never awakened.

“I don’t recall that either,” I say.

“Again, you were sleeping. Don’t you listen to anything I tell you?”

“Everything. It’s just that—” I stop myself. “Go on.”

Mama does. She says that the DL walked over, leaned down, and placed his lips on my forehead, as if decaling it with a wet rose petal. Then he mused aloud about how fine it would be if, as an adult, I assumed his mantle and oversaw not only our voyagers’ spiritual education but also our colonization of “The Land of Snow.” He did not think he had the strength to undertake those tasks, but I would never exhaust my energy reserves. This fanciful scenario, Mama admits, rang in her like a crystal bell, a chine that echoed through her recurrently, as clear as unfiltered starlight.

Later, Mama and Minister T talked about their meeting with His Holiness and the tender wish-fulfillment musing with which he’d concluded it: my ascension to the Dalai Lamahood and eventual leadership on Guge. Mama asked if such a scenario could work itself out in reality, for if His Holiness died and Minister T championed me as he’d once stood behind Sakya, lifting him to his present eminence, then surely I, too, could rise to that height.

“‘I’m too old for such fatiguing machinations again,’ he told me,” Mama says reminiscently, “but I said, ‘Not by what I know of you, Neddy,’ and just that expression of admiration and faith turned him.”

I find Mama’s account of this episode and her conspicuous pleasure in relating it hard to credit. But she has actually begun to glow, with a coppery aura akin to that of the DL in his display casket.

“At that point,” she adds, “I got ambitious for you in a way that once never would have crossed my mind. Your ascension was just so far-fetched and prideful a thing for me to think about.” She smiles adoringly, and my stomach shrinks upon itself like new linen applied wet to a metal frame.

“I’ve heard enough.”

“Oh, no,” Mama chides. “I’ve more, much more.”

In blessed summary, she narrates a later conversation with Minister T, in which she urged him to carry to Sakya—now more a brooding Byronic hero than a Bodhisattva in spiritual balance—this news: that she had no objection, if any accident or fatal illness befell him, to his dispatching his migrating bhava into the body of her daughter. Thus, he could mix our subjective selves in ways that would propagate us both into the future and so assist us all in arriving safely at Gliese 581g.

Bristling, I try to get my head around this message. In fact, I ask Mama to repeat it. She does, and my deduction that she’s memorized this nutty formula—if you like, call it a “spell”—sickens me.

Still, I ask, as I must, “Did Minister T carry this news to His Holiness?”

“He did.”

“And what happened?”

“Sakya listened. He meditated for two days on the metaphysics and the practical ramifications of what I’d told him through his minister.”

“Finish,” I say. “Please just finish.”

“On the following day, Sakya died.”

“Cadillac infraction,” I murmur. Mama’s eyes widen. “Forgive me,” I say. “What killed him? You used to tell me ‘natural causes, but at too young an age for them to seem natural.’”

“That wasn’t entirely a lie. Sakya did what came natural to him. He acted on the impulse of his growing despair and his burgeoning sense that if he waited much longer to influence his rebirth, you’d outgrow your primacy as a receptacle for the transfer of his mind-state sequences and he’d lose you as a crucible for compounding the two. So he called upon his mastery of many Tantric practices to drop his body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. And when he irreversibly stilled his heart, he passed from our illusory reality into bardo . . . until he awakened again wed to the samvattanika viññana, or evolving consciousness, animating you.”

Here I float away from Mama’s bower chair and drift a dozen meters across the courtyard to a lovely, low cedar hedge. (In a way that she’s never fully understood, Nima Photrang was right about the cause of Sakya Gyatso’s death.) I want to pour my guts into this hedge, to heave the burdensome reincarnated essence of the late DL into its feathery silver-green leaves.

Nothing comes up. Nothing comes out. My stomach feels smaller than a piñon nut. My ego, on the other hand, fills the entire tripartite passenger drum of our starship, The Wheel of Time.

Later, I meet Simon Brasswell—Daddy—in a back-tunnel lounge near Johkang Temple for chang and sandwiches. To make this date, of course, I first must visit his guesthouse and ping him at the registry screen, but he agrees to meet me at the Bhurel—as the place is called—with real alacrity. In fact, as soon as we lock-belt into our booth, with squeeze bottles for our drinks and mini-spikes in our sandwiches to hold them to the small cork table, Daddy key-taps payment before I can object. He looks better since his nap, but the violet circles under his eyes lend him a sad fragility.

“I never knew—” I begin.

“That Karen and I divorced because she fell in love with Nyendak Trungpa? Or, I suppose, with his self-vaunted virility and political clout?”

Speechless, I gape at my father.

“Forgive me. Ordinarily, I try not to go the spurned-spouse route.”

I still can’t speak.

He squeezes his bottle and swigs some barley beer. Then he says, “Do you want what your mama and Minister T want for you—I mean, really?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never known. But this afternoon Mama told me why I ought to want it. And because I ought to, I do. I think.”

Daddy studies me with an unsettling mixture of exasperation and tenderness. “Let me ask you something, straight up: Do you think the bhava of Sakya Gyatso, the direct reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the ancestor of the Tibetan people, dwells in you as it supposedly dwelt in his twenty predecessors?”

“Daddy, I’m not Tibetan.”

“I didn’t ask you that.” He unspikes and chomps into his Cordyceps, or synthetic caterpillar-fungus, sandwich. Chewing, he manages a quasi-intelligible, “Well?”

“Tomorrow’s gold-urn lottery will reveal the truth, one way or the other.”

“Yak shit, Greta. And I didn’t ask you that, either.”

I feel both my tears and my gorge rising, but the latter prevails. “I thought we’d share some time, eat together—not get into a spat.”

Daddy chews more sedately, swallows, and re-spikes his ‘caterpillar’ to the cork. “And what else, sweetheart? Avoid saying anything true or substantive?” I show him my profile. “Greta, forgive me, but I didn’t sign on to this mission to sire a demigod. I didn’t even sign on to it to colonize another world for the sake of oppressed Tibetan Buddhists and their rabid hangers-on.”

“I thought you were a Tibetan Buddhist.”

“Oh, yeah, born and raised . . . in Boulder, Colorado. Unfortunately, it never quite took. I signed on because I loved your mother and the idea of spaceflight at least as much as I did passing for a Buddhist. And that’s how I got out here ninety some-odd light-years from home. Do you see?”

I eat nothing. I drink nothing. I say nothing.

“At least I’ve told you a truth,” Daddy says. “More than one, in fact. Can’t you do the same for me? Or does the mere self-aggrandizing idea of Dalai Lamahood clamp your windpipe shut on the truth?”

I have expected neither these revelations nor their vehemence, but together they work to unclamp something inside me. I owe my father my life, at least in part, and the dawning awareness that he has never stopped caring for me suggests—in fact, requires— that I repay him truth for truth.

“Yes, I can do the same for you.”

Daddy’s eyes, above their bruised half-circles, never leave mine.

“I didn’t choose this life at all,” I say. “It was thrust upon me. I want to be a good person, a Bodhisattva possibly, maybe even the Dalai Lama. But—”

He lifts his eyebrows and goes on waiting. A tender twinge of a smile plays about his mouth.

“But,” I finish, “I’m not happy that maybe I want these things.”

“Buddhists don’t aspire to happiness, Greta, but to an oceanic detachment.”

I give him my fiercest Peeved Daughter look, but do refrain from eyeball-rolling. “I just need an attitude adjustment, that’s all.”

“The most wrenching attitude adjustment in the universe won’t turn a carp into a cougar, pumpkin.” His pet name for me.

“I don’t need the most wrenching attitude adjustment in the universe. I need a self-willed tweaking.”

“Ah.” Daddy takes a squeeze-swig of his beer and encourages me with an inviting gesture to eat.

My gorge has fallen, my hunger reappeared. I eat and drink and, as I do, become unsettlingly aware that other patrons in the Bhurel—visitors, monks—have detected my presence. Blessedly, though, they respect our space.

“Suppose the lottery goes young Trimon’s way,” Daddy says. “What would make you happy in your resulting alternate life?”

I consider this as a peasant woman of a past era might have done if a friend had asked, just as a game, ‘What would you do if the King chose you to marry his son?’ But I play the game in reverse, sort of, and can only shake my head.

Daddy waits. He doesn’t stop waiting, or searching my eyes, or studying me with his irksome unwavering paternal regard. He won’t speak, maybe because everything else about him—his gaze, his patience, his presence—speaks strongly of what for years went unspoken between us.

Full of an inarticulate wistfulness, I lean back. “I’ve told you a truth already,” I inform my father. “Isn’t that enough for tonight?”

A teenage girl and her mother, oaring subtly with their hands to maintain their places beside us, hover at our table. Even though I haven’t seen the girl for several years (while, of course, she hibernized), I recognize her: Distinctive agate eyes in an elfin face identify her at once.

Daddy and I both lever ourselves up from our places, and I swim out to embrace the girl. “Alicia!” Over her shoulder, I say to her mother in all earnestness, “Mrs. Paljor, how good to see you here!”

“Forgive us for interrupting,” Mrs. Paljor says. “We’ve come for the Gold Urn Festival, and we just had to wish you success tomorrow. Alicia wouldn’t rest until Kanjur found a way for us to attend.”

Kanjur Paljor, Alicia’s father, has served since the beginning of our voyage as our foremost antimatter-ice fuel specialist. If anyone could get his secular wife and daughter to U-Tsang for the DL lottery, Kanjur Paljor could. He enjoys the authority of universal respect. As for Alicia, she scrunches her face in embarrassment, as well as unconditional affection. She recalls the many times that I came to Momo House to hold her, and later to her family’s Kham Bay rooms to take her on walks or on outings to our art, mathematics, and science centers.

“Thank you,” I say. “Thank you.”

I hug the girl. I hug her mother.

My father nods and smiles, albeit bemusedly. I suspect that Daddy has never met Alicia or Mrs. Paljor before. Kanjur, the father and husband, he undoubtedly knows. Who doesn’t know that man?

The Paljor women depart almost as quickly as they came. Daddy watches them go, with a deep exhalation of relief that makes me hurt for them both.

“I was almost a second mother to that girl,” I tell him.

Daddy oars himself downward, back into his seat. “Surely, you exaggerate. Mrs. Paljor looks more than sufficient to the task.”

Long before noon of the next day, the courtyard of the Jokhang Temple swarms with levitating lamas, monks, nuns, yogis, and some authorized visitors from the Kalachakra’s other two passenger bays. I cannot explain how I feel. If Mama’s story of Sakya Gyatso’s heart attack is true, then I cannot opt out of the gold-urn lottery.

To do so would constitute a terrible insult to his punarbhava, or karmic change from one life vessel to the next, or from his body to mine. Mine, as everyone knows, established its bona fides as a living entity years before Sakya Gyatso died. Also, opting out would constitute a heartless slap in the face of all believers, of all who support me in this enterprise. Still. . . .

Does Sakya have the right to self-direct his rebecoming, or I the right to thwart his will . . . or only the obligation to accede to it? So much self will and worry taints today’s ceremony that Larry and Kilkhor, if not Minister T, can hardly conceive of it as deriving from Buddhist tenets at all.

Or can they? Perhaps a society rushing at twenty percent of light-speed toward some barely imaginable karmic epiphany has slipped the surly bonds not only of Earth but also of the harnessing principles of Buddhist Tantra. I don’t know. I know only that I can’t withdraw from this lottery without betraying a good man who esteemed me in the noblest and most innocent of senses.

And so, in our filigreed vestments, Jetsun Trimon and I swim up to the circular dais to which the attendants of the Panchen Lama have already fastened the gold urn for our name slips.

In set-back vertical ranks, choruses of floating monks and nuns chant as we await the drawing. Our separate retinues hold or adjust their altitudes behind us, both to hearten us and to keep their sight lanes clear. Tiny levitating cameras, costumed as birds, televise the event to community members in all three bays.

Jetsun’s boyish face looks at once exalted and terrified.

Lhundrub Gelek, the Panchen Lama, lifts his arms and announces that the lottery has begun. Today he blazes with the bearing and the ferocity of a Hebrew seraph. Tug- monks keep him from rising in gravid slow motion to the ceiling. Abbess Yeshe Yargag levitates about a meter to his right, with tug-nuns to keep her from wandering up, down, or sideways. Gelek reports that name slips for Jetsun Trimon and Greta Bryn Brasswell already drift about in the oversized urn attached to the dais. Neither of us, he says, needs to maneuver forward to reach into the urn and pull out a name-slip envelope. Nor do we need surrogates to do so.

We will simply wait.

We will simply wait . . . until an envelope rises on its own from the urn.

Then Gelek will grab it, open the envelope, and read the name-slip aloud for all those watching in the Temple hall or via telelinks. Never mind that our wait could take hours, and that, if it does, viewers in every bay will volunteer to rejoin the vast majority of our population in ursidormizine slumber.

And so we wait.

And so we wait . . . and finally a small blue envelope rises through the mouth of the crosshatched gold urn. A tug-monk snatches it from the air, before it can descend out of view again, and hands it to the PL.

Startled, because he’s nodded off several times over the past fifty-some minutes, Gelek opens the envelope, pulls out the name slip, reads it to himself, and passes it on to Abbess Yargag, whose excited tug-nuns steady her so that she may announce the name of the true Soul Child.

Of course, that the Abbess has copped this honor tells everybody all that we need to know. She can’t even speak the name on the slip before many in attendance begin to clap their palms against their shoulders. The upshot of this applause, beyond opening my tear ducts, is a sudden propulsion of persons at many different altitudes about the hall: a wheeling zero-g waltz of approbation.

Years in transit: 95
Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama, age 20

The Panchen Lama, his peers and subordinates in U-Tsang, and secular hierarchs from Amdo and Kham have made my parents starship nobles.

They have bestowed similar, if slightly lesser honors, on Jetsun Trimon’s parents and on Jetsun himself, who wishes to serve us colonizers as Bodhisattva, meteorologist, and lander pilot. In any event, his religious and scientific educations proceed in parallel, and he spends as much time in tech training in Kham Bay as he does in the monasteries in U-Tsang.

As for me, I alternate months among our three drums, on a rotation that pleases more of our ghosts than it annoys. I ask no credit for the wisdom of this scheme, though; I simply wish to rule (although I prefer the verb ‘preside’) in a way promoting shipboard harmony and reducing our inevitable conflicts.

Years in transit: 99
Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama, age 24

I’ve now spent nearly five years in this allegedly holy office. Earlier today, thinking hard about our arrival at Guge, in only a little over seven Earth years, I summoned Minister Trungpa to my quarters.

“Yes, Your Holiness, what do you wish?” he asked.

“To invite everyone aboard the Kalachakra to submit designs for a special sand mandala. This mandala will commemorate our voyage’s inevitable end and honor it as a fruit of the Hope and Community”—I capitalized the words as I spoke them—“that drove us, or our elders, to undertake this journey.”

Minister T frowns. “Submit designs?”

“Your new auditory aids work quite well.”

“For a competition?”

“Any voyager, any Kalachakran at all, may submit a design.”


“The artist monks in U-Tsang, who will create this mandala, will judge the entries blindly to determine our finalists. I’ll decide the winner.”

Minister T does not make eye contact. “The idea of a contest undercuts one of the themes that you wish your mandala to embody, that of Community.”

“You hate the whole idea?”

He hedges: “Appoint a respected Yellow Hat artist to design the mandala. In that way, you’ll avoid a bureaucratic judging process and lessen popular discontent.”

“Look, Neddy, a competition will amuse everyone, and after a century aboard this vacuum-vaulting bean can, we could all use some amusement.”

Neddy would like to dispute the point, but I am the Dalai Lama, and what can he say that will not seem a coddling or a defiant promotion of his own ego? Nothing. (May Chenrezig forgive me, but I relish his discomfiture.) Clearly, the West animates parts of my ego that I should better hide from those of my subjects—a term I loathe—immersed in Eastern doctrines that guarantee their fatalism and docility. Of course, how many men of Minister Trungpa’s station and age enjoy carrying out the bidding of a woman a mere twenty-four-years old?

At length he softly says, “I’ll see to it, Your Holiness.”

“I can see to it myself, but I wanted your opinion.”

He nods, his look implying that his opinion doesn’t count for much, and takes a deferential step back.

“Don’t leave. I need your advice.”

“As much as you needed my opinion?”

I take his arm and lead him to a nook where we can sit and talk as intimates. Fortunately, the AG has worked much more reliably all over the ship than it did before my investiture. Neddy looks grizzled, fatigued, and wary, and although he doesn’t yet understand why, he has cause for this wariness.

“I want to have a baby,” I tell him.

He responds instantly: “I advise you not to, Your Holiness.”

“I don’t solicit your advice in that area. I’d like you to help me settle on a father for the child.”

Neddy reddens. I’ve stolen his breath. He’d like to make a devastatingly incisive remark, but can’t even manage a feeble Ugh. “In case it’s crossed your mind, I haven’t short-listed you—although Mama once gave you a terrific, if unasked for, recommendation.”

Minister T pulls himself together, but he’s squeezing his hands in his lap as if to express oil from between them.

“I’ve narrowed the candidates down to two, Jetsun Trimon and Ian Kilkhor, but lately I’ve started tilting toward Jetsun.”

“Then tilt toward Ian.”


And Mama’s lover provides me with good, dispassionate reasons for selecting the older man: physical fitness, martial arts ability, maturity, intelligence, learning (secular, religious, and technical), administrative/organizational skills, and long-standing affection for me. Jetsun, not yet twenty, has two or three separate callings that he has not yet had time to explore as fully as he ought, and the difference in our ages will lead many in our community to suppose that I have exercised my power in an unseemly way to bring him to my bed. I should give the kid his space.

I know from private conversations, though, that when Jetsun was ten, an unnamed senior monk in Amdo often employed him as a drombo, or passive sex partner, and that the experience nags at him now in ways that Jetsun cannot easily articulate. Apparently, the community didn’t see fit, back then, to exercise its outrage on behalf of a boy not yet officially identified as a Soul Child. Of course, the community didn’t know, or chose not to know, and uproars rarely result from awareness of such liaisons, anyway. Isn’t a monk a man? I say none of this to Neddy.

“Choose Ian,” he says, “if you must choose one or the other.”

Yesterday, in Kham Bay, after I extended an intranet invitation to him to come see me about his father, who lies ill in his eggshell pod, Jetsun Trimon called upon me in the upper-level stateroom that I inherited, so to speak, from my predecessor. Jetsun fell on his knees before me, seized my wrist, and put his lips to the beads, bracelet, and watch that I wear about it. He wanted prayers for his father’s recovery, and I acceded to this request with all my heart.

Then something occurred that I set down with joy rather than guilt. I wanted more from Jetsun than gratitude for my prayers, and he wanted more than my prayers for his worry about his father or for his struggles to master all his studies. Like me, he wished the solace of the flesh, and as one devoted to compassion, forgiveness, contentment, and the alleviation of pain, I took him to my bed and divested him of his garments and let him divest me of mine. Then we embraced, neither of us trembling, or sweating, or flinching in discomfort or distress, for my quarters hummed at a subsonic frequency with enough warmth and gravity to offset any potential malaise or annoyance. Altogether sweetly, his tenderness matched mine. However—

Like most healthy young men, Jetsun quickly reached a coiled-spring readiness. He quivered on Go.

I rolled over and bestrode him above the waist, holding his arms to the side and speaking with as much integrity as my gnosis of bliss and emptiness could generate. He calmed and listened. I said that I begrudged neither of us this tension-easing union, but that if we proceeded, then he must know that I wanted his seed to enter me, to take root, to turn embryo, and to attain fruition as our child.

“Do you understand?”


“Do you consent?”

“I consent.”

“Do you further consent to acknowledge this child and to assist in its rearing on the planet Guge, as well as on this ship?”

He considered these queries. And, smiling, he agreed.

“Then we may advance to the third exalted initiation,” I said, “that of the mutual experience of connate joy.”

I slid backward over the pliable warmth of his standing phallus and kissed him in the middle of his chest. He reached for me, tenderly, and the AG generators abruptly cut off—suspiciously, it seemed to me. I floated toward the ceiling like a buoyant nixie, too startled to yelp or laugh. Jetsun shoved off in pursuit, but hit a bulkhead and glanced off it horizontally.

It took us a while to reunite, to find enough purchase to consummate our resolve, and to do so honoring the fact that a resurgence of gravity could injure, even kill, both of us. Nonetheless, we managed, and managed passionately.

The ‘night’ has now passed. Jetsun sleeps, mind eased and body sated.

I sit at this console, lock-belted in, recording the most stirring encounter of my life. Every nerve and synapse of my body, and every scrap of assurance in my soul, tell me that Jetsun and I have conceived: Alleluia.

Years in transit: 100
Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama, age 25

Some history: Early in our voyage, when our AG generators worked reliably, our monks created one sand mandala a year. They did so then, as they do now, in a special studio in the Yellow Hat gompa in U-Tsang. They kept materials for these productions—colored grains of sand, bits of stone or bone, dyed rice grains, sequins—in hard plastic cylinders and worked on their designs over several days. Upon finishing the mandalas, our monks chanted to consecrate them and then, as a dramatic enactment of the impermanent nature of existence, destroyed them by sweeping a brush over and swirling their deity-inhabited geometries into inchoate slurries.

These methods of creating and destroying the mandalas ended four decades into our flight when a gravity outage led to the premature disintegration of a design. A slow-motion sandstorm filled the studio. Grains of maroon, citron, turquoise, emerald, indigo, and blood-red drifted all about, and recovering these for fresh projects required the use of hand-vacs and lots of fussy hand-sorting. Nobody wished to endure such a disaster again. And so, soon thereafter, the monks implemented two new procedures for laying out and completing the mandalas.

One involved gluing down the grains, but this method made the graceful ruination of a finished mandala dicey. A second method involved inserting and arranging the grains into pie-shaped plastic shields using magnets and tech-manipulated “delivery straws,” but these tedious procedures, while heightening the praise owing the artists, so lengthened the process and stressed the monks that Sakya Gyatso ceased asking for annual mandalas and mandated their fashioning only once every five years.

In any case, today marks our one-hundredth year in flight, and I am fat with a female child who bumps around inside me like those daredevils in old vidped clips who whooshed up and down the sloped walls of special competition arenas on rollers called skateboards.

I think the kid wants out already, but Karma Hahn, my baby doc, tells me she’s still much too small to exit, even if the kid does carry on like ‘a squirrel on an exercise wheel.’ That metaphor endears both the kid and Karma to me. Because the kid moves, I move. I stroll about my private audience chamber, aka ‘The Sunshine Hall,’ in the Potala Palace in U-Tsang. I’ve voluntarily removed here to show my fellow Buddhists that I am not ashamed of my fecund condition.

Ian announces a visitor, and in walks First Officer Nima Photrang, whom I’ve not seen for weeks. She has come, it happens, not solely to visit me, but also to look in on an uncle who resides in the nearby Yellow Hat gompa. She has brought a khata, a white silk greeting scarf, even though I already have enough of these damned rags to stitch together a ship cover for the Kalachakra. She drapes it around my neck. Laughing, I pull it off and drape it around hers.

“Your design contest spurs on every amateur-artist ghost in Amdo and Kham,” Nima says. “If you wish your mandala to further community enlightenment by projecting an image of our future Palace of Hope on Guge, well, you’ve got a lot of folks worrying away at it—mission fully goosed, if not yet fully cooked.”

I realize that Sakya Gyatso, my predecessor, his eye on Tibetan history, called the world toward which we relentlessly cruise ‘Guge,’ partly for the g in Gliese 581g. What an observant and subtle man.

“Nima,” I ask, “have you submitted a design?”

“No, but you’ll probably never guess who intends to.”

No, I never will. I gape cluelessly at Nima.

“Captain Xao Songda, our helmsman. He spends enormous chunks of time with a drafting compass and a pen, or at his console refining design programs that a monk in U-Tsang uploaded a while back to Pemako.”

Pemako is the latest version of our intranet. I like to use it. Virtually nightly (stet the pun), it shows me deep-sea sonograms of my jetting squid-kid.

“I hope Captain Xao doesn’t expect his status as our shipboard Buzz Lightyear to score him any brownies with the judges.”

Nima chortles. “Hardly. He drew as a boy and as a teenager. Later, he designed maglev stations and epic mountain tunnels. He figures he has as good a chance as anyone in a blind judging, and if he wins, what a personal coup!”

“Mmm,” I say.

“No, really, you’ve created a monster, Your Holiness—but, as one of the oldest persons aboard, he deserves his fun, I guess.”

We chat some more. Nima asks if she may lay her palm on the curve of my belly, and I say yes. When the brat-to-be surfs my insides like a berserk skateboarder, Nima and I laugh like schoolgirls. By some criteria, I still qualify.

Years in transit: 101
Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama, age 25-26

I return to Amdo to deliver my child. Early in the hundred and first year of our journey, my water breaks. Karma Hahn, my mother, and Alicia and Emily Paljor attend my lying-in, while my father, Ian Kilkhor, Minister Trungpa, and Jetsun perform a nervous do-si-do in an antechamber. I give the guys hardly a thought. Delivering a kid requires stamina, a lot of Tantric focus, and a cooperative fetus, but I’ve got ’em all and the kid slams on out in under four hours.

I lie in a freshly made bed with my squiddle dozing in a warming blanket against my left shoulder. Well-wishers and family surround us like sentries, although I have no idea what they’ve got to shield us from: I’ve never felt safer.

Mama says, “When will you tell us the ruddy shrimp’s name? You’ve kept it a secret eight months past forever.”

“Ask Jetsun. He chose it.”

Everyone turns to Jetsun, who at twenty-one looks like a fabled Kham warrior, lean and smooth-faced, a flawless bronze sculpture of himself. How can I not love him? Jetsun looks to me. I nod.

“It’s . . . it’s Kyipa.” Like the sweetheart he is, he blushes.

“Ah,” Nyendak Trungpa sighs. “Happiness.”

“If we all didn’t strive so damned hard for happiness,” Daddy says, “we’d almost always have a pretty good time.”

“You stole that,” Mama rebukes him. “And your timing sucks.”

From behind those crowded about my babe-cave, a short, sturdy, gray-haired man edges in. I know him as Alicia Paljor’s father, Emily Paljor’s husband—but Daddy, Ian, and Neddy know him as the chief fuel specialist on our strut-ship and thus a personage of renowned ability. So I assume he’s come—like a wise man—to kneel beside and to adore our newborn squiddle. Or has he come just to meet his wife and daughter and fetch them back to their stateroom?

In his ministerial capacity, Neddy says, “Welcome, Specialist Paljor.”

“I need to talk to Her Holiness.” Kanjur Paljor bows and approaches my bed. “If I may, Your Holiness.”

“Of course.”

The area clears of everyone except Paljor, Ian Kilkhor, Kyipa, and me. A weight descends—a weight comprising everything that’s ever floated free of its moorings during every AG quittage that our strut-ship has ever suffered—and that weight, condensed into one tiny spherical mass, lowers itself onto my baby’s back and so onto me, crushing this blissful moment into dust and slivered glass. Ian edges to the top of my bed, but I already know that his strength and his heavy glare will prove impotent against whatever message Kanjur Paljor has brought.

Paljor says, “Your Holiness, I beg your infinite pardon.”

“Tell me.”

He looks at Ian and then, in petition, at me again. “I’d prefer to deliver this news to you alone, Your Holiness.”

“I’m not here,” Ian declares. “Proceed on that assumption.”

“Regard my agent’s simultaneous presence and absence as an enacted mystery or koan,” I tell Paljor. “He speaks a helpful truth.”

Paljor nods and seizes my free hand. “About fifteen hours ago, I found a serious navigational anomaly while running a fuel-tank check. Before bringing the problem to you, I ran some figures to make sure that I hadn’t made a calculation error; that I wasn’t just overreacting to a situation of no real consequence.” He pauses to touch my Kyipa’s blanket. “How much technical detail do you want, Your Holiness?”

“Right now, none. Give me the gist.”

“For a little over one hundred and twenty hours, the Kalachakra traveled at its top speed at a small angle off our requisite heading.”

“How? Why?”

“Before I answer, let me assure you that we’ve since corrected for this deviation and that we’ll soon run true again.”

“What do you mean, ‘soon’? Why don’t we ‘run true’ now?”

“We do, Your Holiness, in the sense that First Officer Photrang has set us on an efficient angle to intercept our former heading to Guge. But we don’t, in the sense that we still must compensate for the unintended divergence.”

Ian Kilkhor says, “Tell Her Holiness why this ‘unintended divergence’ constitutes one huge fucking threat.”

Totally appalled, I look back at my bodyguard and friend. “I thought you weren’t here! Or did you leave behind just that part of you that views me as an unteachable idiot? Go away, Mr. Kilkhor. Get out.”

Kilkhor has the decency and good sense to do as I command. Kyipa, unsettled by my outburst, squirms fretfully on my shoulder.

“The danger,” I tell Kanjur Paljor, “centers on fuel expenditure. If we’ve gone too far off course, we won’t have enough antimatter ice left to reach Guge. Have I admissibly described our peril?”

“Yes, Your Holiness.” He doesn’t fall to one knee, like a magus beside the infant deity Christ, but crouches so that our faces are nearly at a level. “I believe—I think—we have just enough fuel to complete our journey, but at this late stage it could prove a close thing. If there’s another emergency requiring any additional course correction, that could place us in danger of—”

“—not arriving at all.”

Paljor nods, and consolingly pats Kyipa’s playing-card back.

“How did this happen?”

“Human error, I’m afraid.”

“Tell me what sort.”

“Lack of attention to the telltales that should have prevented this divergence from our heading.”

“Whose error? Captain Xao’s?”

“Yes, Your Holiness. Nima says his mental state has deteriorated badly over these past few weeks. What she first thought eccentricities, she now views as evidence of age-related mental debilities. He stays awake so long and endures so much stress. And he puts too much faith in the alleged reliability of our electronic systems.”

Also, he came to feel that creating a design for my Palace of Hope mandala took precedence over his every other duty on a strut-ship programmed to fly to its destination, with the result that he put himself on auto-pilot too.

“Where is he now?” I ask Paljor.

“Sleeping, under medical supervision—not ursidormizine slumber but bed rest, Your Holiness.”

I thank Paljor and dismiss him.

Clutching Kyipa to me, I nuzzle her sweet-smelling face.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell Nima to advise her flight crew that they must remain up-phase ghosts until we know for sure the outcomes of Xao’s inattention and our efforts to correct for its potential consequences: a headlong rush to nowhere.

Without benefit of lock belts, my daughter Kyipa kicks in her bassinet. I seldom worry about her floating off during AG outages because she loves such spells of weightlessness. She uses them to exercise her limbs—admittedly, with no strengthening resistance—and to explore our stateroom, which boasts Buddha figurines, wall hangings, filigreed star charts, miniature starship models, and other interesting items. At five months, she thinks herself a big finch or a pygmy porpoise. She undulates about, giggling at the currents she creates, or, the AG restored, inches along with her pink tongue tip between her lips and her bum rising and falling like a migrating molehill.

As Dalai Lama (many argue), I should never have borne this squiddle, but Karen, Simon, Jetsun, and Jetsun’s mama disagree, and all contribute to her care. Even Minister T acknowledges that conceiving and bearing her has confirmed my sense of the karmic rightness of my Dalai Lamahood more powerfully than any other event to date. Because of this sunny girl, I do stronger, better, holier work.

To those who tsk-tsk when they see Kyipa squirming in my arms, I say:

“Here is my Wheel of Time, my mandala, who has as one purpose to further my evolving enlightenment. Her other purposes she will learn and fulfill in time. So set aside your resentments that you may more easily fulfill yours.”

But although I don’t fret about Kyipa during gravity outages, I do worry about her future . . . and ours.

Will we safely arrive at the Gliese 581 system? Of the fifty antimatter-ice tanks with which (long before my birth) we started our journey, we’ve used up and discarded thirty-eight, and Paljor says that we have exhausted nearly half of the thirty-ninth tank, with over five and a half years remaining until our ETA in orbit around Guge. From the outside, our ship begins to resemble a skeleton of its outbound self, the bones of a picked-clean fish. And if the Kalachakra makes it at all, as Paljor has speculated, it will slice the issue scarily close.

I stupidly assumed that our eventual shift into deceleration mode would work in our favor, but Paljor cautioned that slowing our strut-ship—so that we do not overshoot Guge, like a golf putt running up to but not beyond its cup—will require more fuel than I supposed. Later he showed me math proving that reaching Guge will require “an incident-free approach”—because our antimatter-ice reserves, the fail-safe tanks with which we began our flight, have already dissolved into the ether slipstreaming by the magnetic field coils generating our plasma shield out front.

Still, I don’t believe in shielding our human freight from issues bearing on our survival. Therefore, I’ve had Minister T announce the fact of this crisis to everyone up-phase and working. Thankfully, general panic has not ensued. Instead, crew members brainstorm stopgap strategies for conserving fuel, and the monks and nuns in U-Tsang pray and chant. Soon enough, when we begin to brake, everyone will arise again, shake off the fog of hibernizing, and learn the truth about our final approach. Then every deck will teem with ghosts preparing to orbit Guge; to assay the habitable wedges between its sun-stuck face and its bleaker side; and to decide which of the two wedges is better suited to settlement.

Years in transit: 102
Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama, age 27

Captain Xao Songda, our deposed captain, died just twelve hours ago. Although Kyipa celebrated her first birthday last week, the man never laid eyes on her.

Xao’s ‘bed rest’ turned into pathological pacing and harangues unintelligible to anyone ignorant of Mandarin Chinese. These behaviors—symptomatic of an aggressive type of senility unknown to us—our medicos treated with tranks, placebos (foolishly, I guess), experimental diets, and long walks through the commons of Kham Bay. Nothing calmed him or eased the intensity of his gibbering tirades. I had so wanted Kyipa to meet this man (or the avatar of the self preceding this sorry incarnation), but I could not risk exposing her to one of his abusive rants.

It bears stating, though, that everyone aboard Kalachakra, knowing the sacrifices that the captain made for us, forgives him his navigation error. All showed him the honor, courtesy, and patience that he deserved for these sacrifices. Nima Photrang, who assumed his captaincy, believes he and Sakya Gyatso suffered similar personality disintegrations, albeit in different ways. Sakya used Tantric practices to end his life and Xao Songda fell to an Alzheimer’s-like scourge, but the effects of sleep deprival, suppressed anxiety, and overwork ultimately caused their deaths.

Xao created designs for my mandala competition, I think, as a way to decompress from these burdens. During the last hours of his illness, Ian Kilkhor searched his quarters for anything that could help us fathom his disease and preserve our memory of him as the intrepid Tibetan Buddhist who carried us within three lights of our destination. However, Ian returned to me with two hundred hand-drawn sketches and computer-assisted designs for my Palace of Hope mandala.

These “designs” appalled and saddened us. The ones Xao hand-drew resemble big multicolored Rorschach blots, and those stemming from his cyber-design programs look like geometrically askew fever dreams. All are pervaded with interlocking claws, jagged teeth, vermiform bodies, and occluded reptilian eyes. None could serve as a model for the mandala of my envisioning.

“I’m sorry,” Ian said. “The old guy seems to have swallowed the pituitary gland of a Komodo dragon.”

So, given our fuel situation and Captain Xao’s death, I’ve declared a moratorium on mandala-design creation.

Now there is a strong movement afoot—a respectful one—to eject Captain Xao Songda’s corpse into the void, one more human collop for the highballing dark. As I’ve already noted here, we’ve used this procedure many times before, as a practice coincident with Buddha Dharma and, in this case, as one befitting a helmsman of Xao’s stature. But I resist this seeming consensus in favor of a better option: taking the captain to Guge and setting his sinewy body out on an escarpment there, to blacken in its gales and scale in its thaws, our first sacrificial alms to the planet.

One work cycle past, Captain Photrang began to brake the Kalachakra. We are four years out from Gliese 581g, and Kanjur Paljor tells me that, unless a meteorite penetrates our plasma shield or some anomalous disaster befalls us, we will reach our destination. Ian observes that we will coast into planetary orbit like a vehicle with an internal-combustion engine chugging into its pit on fumes.

I don’t fully twig the analogy, but I get its gist. Alleluia! If only time passed more quickly. . . .

Meanwhile, I keep Kyipa awake and ignore those misguided ghosts advising me to ease her into grave-cave sleep so that time will pass more quickly for her. Jetsun and I enjoy her far too much to send her down. More important, if she stays up-phase most of the rest of our journey, she will learn and grow; and when we descend to the surface of Guge with her, she will have a sharper mind and better motor skills at five or six than any long-term sleeper of roughly similar age.

Every day, every hour, my excitement intensifies. And our ship plows on.

Years in transit: 106
Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama, age 31

Maintenance preoccupies nearly everyone aboard. In less than a week, our strut-ship will rendezvous with Guge and orbit its oblate sun-locked mass. Then we will make several sequential descents to and returns from “The Land of Snow” aboard our lander, The Yak Butter Express.

Jetsun will serve as shuttle pilot for one of these first excursions and as backup on another. He and others perform daily checks on the vehicle in its hangar harnesses, just as other techs strive to ensure the reliability of every mechanical and human component. Our hopes and anxieties contend. At my urging, the Bodhisattvas of U-Tsang go from place to place assisting in our labors and transmitting positive energy to every bay and to all those at work in them.

Twelve hours after Captain Photrang eased Kalachakra into orbit around Guge, Minister T comes to me to report that Yellow Hat artists in U-Tsang have finished a sand mandala based on a design that they, not I, chose as our most esteemed entry.

Lucinda Gomez, a teen-ager from Amdo Bay, has taken the laurel.

Neddy asked the monks to transport the mandala in its pie-shaped shield to Bhava Park, a commons here in Kham Bay, and they do so. A bird camera in the park transmits the mandala’s image to public screens and to vidped consoles everywhere. Intricate and colorful, it sits on an easel amid a host of tables and happy Kalachakrans. Because we’re celebrating our arrival, I don’t watch on a screen but stand in Bhava Park before the thing itself. Banners and prayer flags abound. I seize Kyipa’s hand and approach the easel. I congratulate the excited Lucinda Gomez and all the artist monks, and also speak to many onlookers, who attend smilingly to my words.

The Yellow Hats chant verses of consecration that affirm their fulfillment of my charge and then extend to everyone the blessings of Hope and Community implicit in the mandala’s labyrinthine central Palace. Kyipa, now almost six, touches the bottom of the encased mandala.

“This is the prettiest,” she says.

She has never before seen a finished mandala in its full artifactual glory.

Then the artist monks start to carry the shield from its easel to a tabletop, there to insert narrow tubes into it and send the mandala’s fixed grains flying with focused blasts of air—to symbolize, as tradition dictates, the primacy of impermanence in our lives. But before they reach the table, I lift my hand.

“We won’t destroy this sand mandala,” I declare, “until we’ve established a viable settlement on Guge.”

And everyone around us in Bhava Park cheers. The monks restore the mandala to its easel, a ton of colored confetti drops from suspended bins above us, music plays, and people sing, dance, eat, laugh, and mingle.

Kyipa, holding her hands up to the drifting paper and plastic flakes, beams at me ecstatically.

In our shuttle-cum-lander, we glide from the belly of Kham Bay toward Gliese 581g, better known to all aboard the Kalachakra as Guge, “The Land of Snow.”

From here, the amiable dwarf star about which Guge swings resembles the yolk of a colossal fried egg, more reddish than yellow-orange, with a misty orange corona about it like the egg’s congealed albumin. I’ve made it sound ugly, but Gliese 581 looks edible to me and quickly trips my hunger to reach the planet below.

As for Guge, it gleams beneath us like an old coin.

In our first week on its surface, we have already built a tent camp in one of the stabilized climate zones of the nearside terminator. Across the tall visible arc of that terminator, the planet shows itself marbled by a bluish and slate-gray crust marked by fingerlike snowfields and glacier sheets.

On the ground, our people call their base camp Lhasa and the rugged territory all about it New Tibet. In response to this naming and to the alacrity with which our fellow Kalachakrans adopted it, Minister Trungpa wept openly.

I find I like the man. Indeed, I go down for my first visit to the surface with his blessing. (Simon, my father, already bivouacs there, to investigate ways to grow barley, winter wheat, and other grains in the thin air and cold temperatures.) Kyipa, of course, remains for now on our orbiting strut-ship—in Neddy’s stateroom, which he now shares openly with the child’s grandmother, Karen Bryn Bonfils. Neddy and Karen Bryn dote on my daughter shamefully.

Our descent to Lhasa won’t take long, but, along with many others in this second wave of pioneers, I deliberately drop into a meditative trance. I focus on a photograph that Neddy gave me after the mandala ceremony at the arrival celebration, and I recall his words as he presented it.

“Soon after you became a teenager, Greta, I started to doubt your commitment to the Dharma and your ability to stick.”

“How tactful of you to wait till now to tell me,” I said, smiling.

“But I never lost a deeper layer of faith. Today, I can say that all my unspoken doubt has burned off like a summer meadow mist.” He gave me the worn photo—not a hardened d-cube—that now engages my attention.

In it, a Tibetan boy of eight or nine faces the viewer with a broad smile. He holds before him, also facing the viewer, a baby girl with rosy cheeks and eyes so familiar that I tear up in consternation and joy. The eyes belong to my predecessor’s infant sister, who didn’t live long after the capturing of this image.

The eyes also belong to Kyipa.

I meditate on this conundrum, richly. Soon, after all, the Yak Butter Express will set down in New Tibet.

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