Schrodinger’s Book Chapter Twenty Five: The Revelation of Aubrey Vance

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“So there was a colony on Mars.” Aubrey turned around slowly, taking in the details of the square. If there was anything that made it clear the architecture was designed with a lower gravity or thinner atmosphere in mind she couldn’t tell. But then, she also wasn’t an expert on building design. “That’s another point for Lang.”

“Lang?” Sarah tilted her head. “Is he the current Vaultkeeper?”

Aubrey laughed. “Pretty much the exact opposite. It’s complicated. If this colony is on Mars I’m guessing this isn’t a real time picture?”

“No.” The sadness in Sarah’s voice brought her up short. “This is the way Mars was in the past, over two centuries ago. When it was first settled.”

Probably the biggest point of confusion Aubrey and the martians – the spacers, rather, given that she was talking to a real Martian and was now convinced Lang and Priss were telling the truth when they said they weren’t – had been what happened in the missing two centuries between when the space colonists left Earth and when they came back. And that argument had started with their insistence there was a colony on Mars. The question was, what else were they right about? “Can you tell me about the colonization effort?”

Sarah shrugged. “I wasn’t alive at the time but my grandparents were and from what they told me it started about like you’d expect. A mixture of excitement, curiosity, a desire to go places we hadn’t been and learn things we didn’t know. Of course, most people figured doing those things would improve their lot in life and, to be perfectly honest, a lot of the time that didn’t happen. Some people’s reasons were different and I know my grandparents came to Mars because they were tired of the governments on Earth never seeming to work for their own people. The colony was a kind of international collaboration – in theory – and my grandparents hoped the smaller size of the colony would make managing the endeavor more personal and less political.”

“Did it work?”

“Not in the slightest. Human nature isn’t that mutable, it would seem.” Sarah sighed. “That didn’t keep people from trying.”

Aubrey wanted to know what that meant but she also wanted to let Sarah proceed at her own pace. “Meaning what?”

“For some people, it meant extrasolar colonies. Superluminal drives were deemed safe the year my parents were born and the first colonists departed the year they met.” Sarah waved a hand and Aubrey gasped as the cityscape around them vanished with a flicker of motion, giving way to a dizzying spread of stars and an armada of eighteen enormous objects floating in space. They were little more than long tubes that grew thicker towards the middle and tapered to a dull point at either end, flying under the force of dozens of small engines arranged all along one half of the ship. With a sudden burst of light each ship vanished in turn. “No one ever heard what happened to them. Not that I know of. I hope they did better than we did.”

And that was an opening for the question Lang had been asking her since they first met. “What happened to Borealis? We don’t hear about a Mars colony here on Earth anymore.”

For a moment it seemed like Sarah wasn’t going to answer. Then, with another disconcerting jump, they were standing in a bleak concrete square surrounded by red brick walls. One would think that two such places would be very similar but, in truth, the atmosphere here was totally different from the Borealis square. And there was the towering portrait of a balding Eastern man that stood over the arched entrances and exits. Sarah gestured towards the picture and said, “They wanted to erase Mao.”

“It is an odd decorative choice,” Aubrey admitted. “He looks important.”

“He was.” Sarah sighed. “He changed everything about China in just a few decades, and he never paused a moment to consider the millions that died in the process. He was an egotist and a megalomaniac and the world was better the moment he died. That doesn’t mean we should have forgotten him.”

Aubrey turned around in the square, taking it all in. Dreary brick, dreary concrete, dreary men in dreary clothes glaring at passersby with baleful stares. “I don’t know,” she said. “If this is what he made we might be better off not thinking about it.”

“That was the thought,” Sarah admitted. “And for five years after the Memory of Mao was buried – literally,” another flicker of motion put them at the base of a featureless concrete box surrounded by flowers, black wreathes and a reflecting pool full of small paper lanterns, “we heard about how setting down the past made China a better place. People tried to debate the issue but it was hard, so very hard, when we couldn’t even say his name without provoking outrage. In China you could wind up in prison. Of course, that just made some people more determined to talk about him. But the leaders of the time were dead set on trying it again.”

“Who did they want to erase next?” Aubrey asked, half-remembered names Dex had obsessed about flitting through her mind. “Hitler? Moussini?”

“Mussolini,” Sarah corrected. “And it wasn’t a who. It was a what.”

“Okay. What did they want to erase next?”

Another change of scenery. Another town square. A wooden platform with a dozen or more dark skinned, naked men and women in chains and a man with a hand in the air, waving for the attention of the crowd. For the first time, Aubrey realized the moment was frozen. Nothing moved and the mouths of the crowd were blessedly silent. “They wanted to erase slavery.”

Aubrey turned away from the gruesome image. “Good riddance.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But you don’t know what it cost to forget that.” They skipped through several places quickly, a dignified black man speaking to a crowd, a plainly dressed woman slipping through the night, another man bent over a rack of chemicals, an almost impossibly tall and gangly white man speaking at a graveyard. “Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, all great people whose lives and character were shaped by slavery and forgotten when it was. To say nothing of one of the most eloquent leader of the era. The words of Abraham Lincoln inspired every generation from his own to mine. But no one after us knew him. And that was just the effects of slavery in one continent in one era. We can’t look at the greatness in human history without facing human frailty. To expunge one is to expunge the other.”

New scenes spread out one after the other. Dozens upon dozens of easterners, men and women, all dressed in dour black suits and stovepipe hats with oddly square fake beards attached to their chins, some walking on stilts to give added height, all gathered in the red brick square from before, apparently reciting something off the tall signs others were holding up for them. An enormous bronze statue perched on an island in the middle of a harbor, holding a tablet and a torch in its hands, had a banner with the face of Mao draped over its own head. And back in the square on Mars, a visiting ships were covered with graffiti of Lincoln and Mao doing everything from arm wrestling to mounting each other’s heads on pikes. “Protests became almost constant. But it was worst on Mars.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Aubrey said. “It wasn’t even your history!”

“Of course it was!” Sarah snapped. “Mars had barely been colonized fifty years. What history did we have but Earth’s? Believe me, you do not understand how important that a connection history is until you’ve grown up in a world where it’s your only connection to the rest of humanity that your parents didn’t build with their own two hands. Without it we would have eaten each other alive out here. Even with it things got too close for comfort more than once.”

“But-”

“We were not going to forget. Even tragedy and evil has its place, even if only in keeping a few wayward souls from destroying themselves. Or so we thought.” The defaced ships vanished and the landing square on Mars vanished, replaced with a much stranger sight. It was less a landscape spread out all around them and more of a single point of view, project for them to see. A table stretched out in front of them, three generations of family gathered around it. Grandparents, parents and children were all crammed around a table that could barely fit the two dozen chairs around it. But there was no happy talk, no bustle of meal time, not even the strained air of a vicious family argument. Instead they were all silent, collapsed on the table, over the backs of chairs, on the floor. “I was ten years old when Shutdown came. The bastards in UNIGOV flipped a switch and turned the nanotech that was supposed to keep us healthy into our own damn prison. This is the last thing I saw. My family slipping away with no idea why. We never woke up again.

“I never grew up. Never had a family of my own.” Sarah whirled around, pointing at her inhumanly precise face. “I don’t even know what I look like now. I’ve been in this fucking coma for nearly a century and a half. I’m older than even that damn Mond and all I’ve ever had to live in is these flat, shitty images of a world that no longer exists. You said you were at the bottom of the Vault? Woman, you do not understand Schrodinger’s Vault. UNIGOV likes to forget it’s crimes rather than learn from them. Whatever it told you about the Vault pales in comparison.”

As perfectly drawn as Sarah’s face was, twisted in anger it was still well and truly terrifying. Aubrey backed away slowly, starting to wonder when Priss would get off her ass and pull her out of the pool. In spite of her efforts to put distance between them Sarah still managed to change the world again, leaving them looking down at rack upon rack of pods – eerily close to coffins to be honest – bolted to the walls of yet another vast underground chamber. “Look at that! Every man, woman and child of Borealis, Mars. Kept in a catatonic state for the past century and a half, all because we wanted to remember who we were. Well that’s what we got. No contact with anyone save fucking Vaultkeepers and the rest of the colony in this damn virtual reality they dumped us in. Are we alive? Are we dead? Someone would have to open up the box to check and no one has ever bothered. Well, you’re one of us now, so I guess you get to wait around with us until we can find out. Welcome to the real Schrodinger’s Vault.”

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