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"Skipping Stones"
  Neil Ayres
  E. Sedia
"Death's Little Sister"
  Mariev Finnegan
"Dirt Roads and Ka"
  Berrien C. Henderson
"Lady Glory and the Knave of Spades"
  Nicole Kornher-Stace
"Hard Little Shadows in the Early Morning Sunlight"
  James Owens
"Keep Calm and Carillon"
  Genevieve Valentine
"Problems of the Solid State"
  Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

"Off the Map"
  Ann Walters
"Homage to Al"
  F. J. Bergmann
"Performance"
  F. J. Bergmann
"How To Not Be Here When The Universe Dies"
  Marion Boyer


Problems of the Solid State

by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Back then, I showed up at the house a little after two and she was not there. I'm there this moment. I search the main room, I go running down the corridor all the way to the beach. A thousand sunny faces glare up at me as the sun glares down on them. Am I the sun?

I trot across the sand, and I can feel hands rise up. I am tired, and all the hands will stop me; this much I know.

I can't find her anywhere.

I can't find here anymore.

The others have lost their memories and I am left here with mine. Perhaps I have become one of their memories.

I am left here with mine and this is who I am.

Now.

They have told me many different things, and I must believe them all. In a crowded room a child comes up to me and asks me if I have seen its mother. If I exclude any one possibility, I fear it will be the truth. No matter, none of them remember. That is why they all say something different, which is always the same. I tell the child that I have never seen its mother, that perhaps it does not have one. I must disbelieve them all. The child asks me to be its mother. I can only confess to that which I have not committed, I tell myself. I am the child.

You move across a life of lies and you come to realize you are the lie and not the life. In two hundred and twenty four years I have never known myself to be anything but what I am right now. I have not been able to grow or change. This is a lie. I have been a thousand different people, each one a stranger to all others and no more real than I am in this indefinite present. By pretending that this is not true I am exploring a further multiplicity.

My friends left me before I arrived, and so there was little chance for real friendship. My children asked me if they had a father, and I looked at their mother, who looked at herself. My friends made fun of my children, and they took them from me. They ripped cells out of my body and called these fragments of my body children, and my children wept because they would never see the artificial moon set against the giant lavender buildings.

I knew a machine with which I made a pact, in an attempt to find information on her whereabouts. Let me see your mind, I said, and I will show you mine. The machine, a ship, misunderstood me and thought I had asked it to show me its "mine," and so it closed its mind and swallowed my own. I showed myself my mind.

I am running on the beach, and I swear I can feel myself falling to the ground even as I continue to run. Lungs burn and I run on and on.

Not even a glimpse of her.

There is a moment during the running when I tell myself I would give up my entire life to see a sliver of her—that and no more.

I do not see her, and I never will.

Why do I attempt to control my feelings?

The answer opens up a chasm of realization; it floods across the gray, shadow-strewn tunnels that bore through my mind; it showers splinters of spitting flame against the fickle glass of my awareness; the answer comes to me and it is this:

I cannot feel my way out of the problem.

I have spent my life looking for her. I met her on Tuesday, July 4, 1978. I fell in love with her over the course of eight and a half hours. I came back to the house Wednesday, July 5, to find the furniture in place and the house empty. I tilted my neck away from the clean and empty brown couch and raised my line of sight towards the fireplace to find it unlit. I ran across the beach looking for her. I knew I would never see her again.

I ran for two miles on the beach, and at the end of my trek I found the beach empty and a ship waiting for me.

I entered the ship, and we rose up from the earth like the breath of God.

The statement of the problem: The main problem is that only I can remember these things. No one else has memories of the events I describe, and it is therefore as though they never happened. I have, over the decades, searched for everyone who might retain the thinnest oyster-shell of recollection regarding that Tuesday, July 4, 1978. I have spoken at length to the cashier who scanned the bar codes of my purchases prior to my life-altering meeting, and she recalls nothing. I have visited everyone at their homes or accosted them on the street; I have written down every detail and every possibility of further detail and I have investigated every nuance. No one has been able to help me in my ambling reconstruction, and I am left alone with my memories. This is a statement of the basic problem. In time I have come to realize that time itself is the distillation of fact into nothingness, or emotion into fact, whichever you prefer.

This constitutes a second formulation of the basic problem.

I see in my mind that there are different types of everything just as there are different types of infinite. Everything that happened after I met her is fundamentally different from everything that happened before I met her. The two everythings intersect a few minutes after three in the afternoon, Tuesday, July 4, 1978 outside the local supermarket in the neighborhood where I lived at the time.

What is the actual intersection? An event or a person?

If she was the moment of intersection, then perhaps I have been someone else's moment of intersection and therefore I am more an event than a person.

She certainly was.

The machines have been growing in time. I have been growing with the machines. I remember a time before the machines were popular and had begun to grow. I was little more than a machine myself back then, and so I welcomed the possibility of growing with others like me. Now I am little less than a machine, which is to say, a lot more than little more than a machine.

The basic question that follows from the basic problem is why I can remember and no-one else can. Or, why I can't not remember and everyone else can. My memory has become more important than my life. I have been able to let go of the recollection, and yet the recollection has somehow not been able to let go of me, and I have spent my life trying to understand this passivity. I realize that wishing I didn't remember means wishing I hadn't been alive.

For a period of twelve years I was able to forget everything. This was what I had sought for nearly sixty years at the time, and it came at great cost to me, since it meant forgetting not only the events in question but all events prior to those, as well.

I was facilitated with not only a new way of storing memory, but new memories to store. Something went wrong.

I lost all of my memories, as planned. But the loss lasted only twelve years. The permanent peace of memory-oblivion was denied me. During those twelve years the old memories somehow formed a substrate beneath the organic pack components, and finally the unwanted memories sheared into my conscious mind, wholly formed, wholly unforgotten.

It is hard for me, even now, to accept the impact of the day when the past sundered the present.

I awoke, and it all came back, the result of years of self-secret association and accretion. It was simply there, before me, beneath me, inside me.

The child comes up to me and asks me for its mother, and I struggle to remember who I am. The sunset the night before I ran to the ship . . . I tell the child I cannot believe that it is a child. The sun rises over the mountains with the morning exhalations from above. The child is my mother, and I am the ship on the beach, and I am the exhalation and the rising sun and the mountains.

I am on the ship.

The ship is rising through the sky, and I am all alone.

I have never been here before. Somehow, I harbor the hope that wherever I am going is where she has been taken, that the ship will guide me to her and she will be safe and alive, and together we will be alone at last, away from the ravenous crowds of Earth and the gaping faces and groping hands along the endless beach.

Inside the machine I gain a more profound understanding of the nature of my quest. I am, over immense periods of time, able to develop the capacity to sustain contradictory positions along my routing pathways and to accept them fully. This is not madness or genius, merely the product of endless boredom and lack of fulfillment. I can remember her more accurately than ever. I can remember, also, myself before I became part of the machine. There is no escaping these memories, to be sure, but for long periods it is easy to suppress them and to pretend that I am someone else, with a different past and in a different state.

I cease to be solid. I can be anyone and anywhere.

Except for me or her.

For twenty years, every night I am assaulted by the same dream. I am myself, in the dream, and I am not dreaming. I am walking out of the supermarket, and a siren is blasting from around the corner. Ambulance, I realize, but by the time I make the connection my involuntary reaction to the startling sound has been to drop one of my grocery bags on the floor.

As I bend down to lift it up, I realize a woman is bending down to help me. For some reason I look at my watch and it is 15:04, Tuesday, July 4, 1978. I feel the chill—the woman's face.

The dream dissolves, and next I'm walking into an empty house, one day later.

Running across the beach, then, within minutes. The water is calm and the sky is clear. People are dozing in the sun, faded and fading. Tidal waves are crashing, but where, how? Right here, here, on me—though in the dream-imposed reality I am aware that this is the blood rushing in my ears as my heart becomes shrapnel inside my chest.

Finally I reach the ship. Everything is still and quiet and I'm alone.

My breath is calm. The ship opens up.

I enter and fall asleep, and I dream of everything that has taken place before my entering the ship.

When I awake, at last, I don't know if I am still dreaming or if I remain on the ship, still wrapped in empty space and surrounded by the nothingness between stars as distant as the shortest distance between two points at infinity.

This is what it means to become part of a machine. This is what it feels like. I have fulfilled a function, many functions. This is not a feeling, of course, but I have come to learn that feelings are always a function of something else, and therefore by fulfilling various functions I can in essence fulfill the feelings which result from them. This falls short of direct experience, but it confers considerable advantages over all that is intangible.

She is here before me. What? say you. I construct the memory, inch by inch, atom by atom, I reconnect the sequence of thoughts in my mind, the labels and the context-emotions, as I raise my head from the watch and contemplate her face for the first time. As I relive the moment, I cannot help but superimpose visions of the future. There is no avoiding this. Temporal restriction is, by definition, a thing of the past.

In her cheekbones the soft, burning sand of the beach crystallizes, and beyond the glimmer of wavelets lapping the shore of the pupils of her eyes, inside the very pupils, I can see the gleaming ship tearing through space.

I am in the ship, and I am in her eyes, even as I gaze at them from beyond.

I dream of the planet where the ship will land, and I imagine it boasts a beach ten million miles long. On the new planet, distance will not matter to me. If she is there, I will have nowhere to run. I will simply walk along the beach until my time comes, if ever a time can come to me which is not this.

I dream forever, and I feel good about the dream, I feel good and I forget everything. It is precisely then, in this moment of dream-forgetting, that I remember everything, and my dream froths. The ship lands. I feel the weight of it. I scream at the pain and force myself to emerge from the ship. There is an empty beach and a sigh. I turn around to board the ship once again, the emptiness burning my eyes and choking my lungs.

The ship is gone, and I am alone.

Until the very end I am solid.

Six hundred and thirty seven years go by and I am solid.

All through the vicissitudes and convulsions of history I am solid.

I am solid when the ship finally returns more than four centuries after my first encounter with it, and I am solid when it takes off, and I am solid when it lands.

I remain solid throughout this voyage and I remain solid as the ship lands and the hatch opens. My memory does not betray me. Everything is in place. In its right place, perhaps.

I step outside.

I look down, in fear of sinking.

I know—I know—I know—exactly where I am. I am on the beach, where I took off, exactly there. The beach is empty.

Instinctively I know this is because of me, and it does not sadden or depress me.

I begin the long walk back towards the house. Once inside, I let my eyes luxuriate on the pointless furniture and freshly painted walls.

A child, a small girl, knocks on the door.

"Have you seen my mother?" the girl asks in a soft voice.

I smile. It is pain. "Indeed, I have," I respond. "But she is long gone."

She nods and turns away.

"Go back into the sea, where you belong," I say.

I am still the only one who remembers. But this is no longer a problem, basic or complex. For I am now alone on Earth, and since there is no one else there is no one who can fail to remember or remember differently. My memory refuses to fail me now as it has refused to fail me throughout the centuries, and for once, maybe the first time in my entire life, this does not displease me.

I sit by the ocean and remember (what else is there to do?). Tuesday, July 4, 1978, and then she was away. I found a ship (similar to the one which she boarded?) and the ship imbued me with beyond-me intelligence and abilities. My recollection was flawless and remains this way. I entered the craft willingly. I was made partly mechanical, and I suffered the consequences. Despite the transformation I could not find her. The ship gave me no useful information. The beings who constructed it left long ago. Their interaction with humanity I can aptly reduce to a single phrase: Take one, get one free.

The ship returned. I beckoned to it, and it could not help but obey my command, follow the strength of the link and regress to me, in time and not only in space. After the second trip I was done, and I displaced all life: a massive exodus from land to sea over the course of three decades, and in the end only one small child remained. I took care of her upon my return.

And now, I am left here alone, with my memories. I am not one of theirs because they do not exist.

Back then, I showed up at the house a little after two and she was not there.


Alvaro Zinos-Amaro grew up in Europe, mostly, and despite the advice of his betters earned a BS in Theoretical Physics and studied creative writing. His fiction has appeared in Atomjack Magazine, Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine, and Neon (forthcoming). Alvaro's reviews of speculative fiction and poetry have been published in The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, The Fix and Fruitless Recursion. Visit him at his blog, Waiting for My Aineko.