Rain From Another Country

by Mark Tiedemann


Just outside Customs, past the sign welcoming her to Fall’s End, Homestead, Ann stopped, abruptly unable to move. The anxiety experienced during the shuttle flight down now escalated. Her pulse raced and her hands became moist.

People moved around her, a few casting annoyed glances over their shoulders at her as they hurried into the main port arcade. She knew she was getting in the way, but she could not make herself take another step. She felt her breathing begin to quicken, heading toward hyperventiliation.

Far back in her mind, a routine detached itself with a perfunctory what in hell? For a second her vision doubled, then the color seemed to fade and a sense of being two people distracted her.

“Okay, what’s the problem?”


Then she saw them. Nonhumans, just a few. This was Homestead, after all, deep in human space, close to Sol (to which Ann now desperately wanted to return). But she identified a trio of Distanti, one Menkan, and a pair of Rahalen.


A fast exchange of data – memory? – coursed through her mind.

“Xenophobia. You should have told me.”

I’ve never told anyone. It’s nobody’s business.

It became clear then that Ann had even kept it from herself, buried it under layers of rationalization and habit, and over the years had simply ignored it to the point of forgetting. Till now.

“No seti on Earth, except in the diplomatic enclaves. But this isn’t Earth. How did you expect to get through this without making allowances?”

Didn’t think about it.

“No worry. That’s why this monitor routine is in place, just in case. We can work with this, but it would have been better if we’d known in advance.”

Another exchange occurred, handshakes and whispers from one part of her mind to another. Slowly, her pulse came down, her muscles relaxed, and she was able to move forward.

“Thank you,” she said under her breath.

That’s what we do best, a voice seemed to reply. We listen …

She found a pub with a view across the plains to a low line of mountains glowing gold against a blue-grey sky. Tau Ceti shone marginally warmer than Sol, so the greens seemed slightly yellow and the reds too dark. The view reminded her of the Serengeti, except …

She picked out collections of tall tube-like structures dotting the plain, rising from the yellow-green grasses. From time to time, a cloud of off-white scintilla burst from one of the openings to disperse in the breeze. And along the outside base of the window, bluish insects tumbled over each other, trying to find purchase on the smooth surface, falling off, struggling, leaving faint viscous smears where they had clung.

More details worked at her newly-established calm. The gravity was slightly less here than Earth standard. The air smelled like a combination of sawdust and damp moss. Around her she caught other accents, from other worlds …

She ordered a scotch, neat, and settled in a booth to take in her first sight of Homestead.

To another part of her the landscape seemed very familiar.

That felt wrong. She ran a quick diagnostic on the overlay. Off to the left of her vision, neon green telltales floated, glowing confirmation. Occlusion was optimal. The host personality showed no sign of bleeding over, even after its necessary intrusion to overcome her paralysis at the sight of aliens. Mollified, she closed the dialogue scroll and resumed looking at the landscape. She felt embarrassed about the episode. An oversight on her part, but she honestly had not thought about it in so long …

Her drink arrived and she opened her pack. The booth possessed a polycom link into which she jacked her own portable unit. The small screen cleared and her short itinerary scrolled up.

Willem Karkaris topped the list, followed by his comcode and location code. All she needed to do was touch the contact icon next to his name and she could let him know she was on Homestead. She had sent no word to expect her. Now that she was here, she still hesitated. After the unexpected reaction to the presence of seti, what else might she have suppressed? She withdrew her finger, lifted the glass, and looked back at the scenery.

Seven years, she thought, you’d think it would be long enough for some perspective …

Maybe. But now that she no longer had time, perspective was elusive, impossible. She finished the scotch, delaying, trusting that instinct would see her through.


She raised the empty glass till the bartender saw her and nodded. She set it down, a little too hard, and jabbed her finger at Willem’s icon, a little too hard. The portable unit skittered several centimeters over the table. She grabbed it and pulled it back.

The second scotch and Willem’s face appeared simultaneously.

The small screen made it difficult to be sure, but Ann saw surprise in his face. That, and a touch of anger. She felt mildly gratified.

“Will, hi,” she said.


“Who else?”

He frowned, his pale grey eyes narrowing. His light brown hair was much shorter than the last time she saw him, and his face showed a few more lines, but he looked mostly the same. Especially frowning.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“Fall’s End.”

“You’re here?” He glanced off-screen. “Right. I’ll come get you. If you want, I mean.”

“Since I’m not sure how to get to your stead …”

“Be about a half-hour.”

“I’ll be here.”

But why? he wanted to ask. She saw it, clearly as if he had said it. The screen went blank. A moment later the menu, offering local services and information, came up. She toyed with booking a shuttle back up to the transit station and going back to Earth. Or steeling herself to head further out, maybe all the way to the Secant.

Then what? “Ann Myref” would fade in time as the overlay broke down and the poor host would be stranded somewhere, underfunded, with no way back.

The second scotch was gone. She considered a third, but decided to get a coffee instead. Being drunk when Willem arrived might be a bad idea.

Being totally sober might be worse, she thought.

She spent the next half hour downloading data about Homestead. The portable would belong to the host after the contract ran its course and she might need the information.

Willem arrived ten minutes late. He stood in the entrance to the pub and for a few seconds Ann thought he might turn and leave.

The shock in his eyes faded and he came to her booth.

“All the way here,” he said, “I still didn’t quite believe it.”

Ann gestured to the opposite seat. “So you came to prove me an illusion?”

“Illusion? No.” He glanced at the portable polycom and her cup. “I’m not sure what to say first.”

“Say what you want. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

“Why are you here?”

“Ah. To business. I’m here to see you.”


Ann laughed. “What, you don’t trust me?”

“Trust is a finite resource. What you’re asking for is faith and I never really had that. So I’m left with requiring proof. You never do anything without a motive. This I know from experience. And I have to wonder what motive would be strong enough to get you to leave Earth and come all the way here just to see me.”

Ann’s mood collapsed. She had intended to tell him gradually, with kind words and a gentle attitude.

“I’m a codicil,” she said. “Ann Marie Teresa Myref died a week ago, Earth local time.”

The shock in his face gratified her. “Dead …” he said. “How?”

“Nerve degeneration. It started with flashes of pain along my forearms and numbness in my fingers. When I couldn’t hold a stylus for more than ten minutes, I saw the meds. New strain of virus, they told me. No cure. At first, though, the prognosis was generous. Ten more years with minimal impairment, then a gradual worsening for another five to ten. But then it took a turn for the unpredicted and I was in a float chair before I knew what happened. Hell with that. I have no patience for suffering.”

“You never did. Yours or anybody else’s.”

She felt a flare of rage at the implied criticism. “I’m not the one who couldn’t adapt.”

“You didn’t this time.” He shook his head. “So, how does this work? I mean …who are you really?”


“No, no, I mean the person wearing the – what do they call them? – the overlay.”

“It doesn’t work that way. She’s not part of this at all. I’m Ann Myref.”

He grunted. “You look like Ann.” He leaned forward and made a show of examining her features. “Same shade of hair I remember, same freckles … This kind of work must pay well.” He sat back. “All right. I’ll play along. Why are you here?”

“We have unfinished business. I didn’t want to leave any dangles.”

“Very Ann. Did it occur to her that some things never tidy up?”

“You don’t have to refer to me in the third person.”

“I wouldn’t if I knew who you were.”

“I’m Ann.”

“Ann’s dead. If I understood you correctly.”

“Physically. For all intents and purposes, though, I am Ann Myref.”

“‘All intents and purposes …’ I never fully understood that phrase.” He smiled. “Forgive me, maybe I’ve become morbid over the last seven years. I have to know—who’s wearing Ann?”

She slapped her hand on the table. “It doesn’t work that way!” She glanced around the pub to see if anyone turned to look. She closed her eyes then and sighed. “This isn’t easy.”

“No kidding.”

“You don’t have to make it harder.”

“Me?” He chuckled bitterly. “Look. Whoever you are, the woman who hired you to do this … this job … Well, no doubt she paid you well, but she did you no favors. She’s – was – a callous, self-obsessed workaholic who thought she could run everyone’s life for them. Even now, after she’s dead, she wants to make sure my life is the way she thought it should be. Well, I’m sorry. To quote you, it doesn’t work that way. Some things stay broken.”

“Only if you can’t figure out how to repair them.”

He looked skeptical. “From you that’s rich.” He sighed. “You have to ask if it’s worth it. Better maybe to just throw it away and get new.”

“Is that what you did?”

He frowned, then started to stand. “Sorry you wasted the trip …”

“Will, please.” She reached out, but stopped short of touching him. “I’m a codicil. This is part of my last will and testament. Maybe you could spare a little time to find out what it’s about before you send me packing.”

He did not want to. She could see that. But the longer he hesitated, the more his conscience worked on him. Willem Karkaris had always considered himself fair before anything. He fell short often, she remembered, but he always tried. It felt oddly good knowing that about him.

“All right,” he said. “Come out to my place. You can at least see that I’m fine.”


Willem drove at a steady clip over roads that seemed only recently paved, the ground effect transport sliding between low hills that gradually showed the signs of agriculture, native flora gradually displaced by recognizable strains of Earth crops. He left the main road after nearly twenty minutes and shot up a narrower stretch into vine-covered swells.

He pulled onto a broad pad before a wide, two-story house with a magnificently sprawling roof. A long building stood nearby, the gaping doors filled by a heavy transport on which motiles loaded flats. A dog stood at the top of broad steps on the encircling porch of the main house, its tail wagging happily.

Ann shouldered her single pack and looked out at the surrounding hills.

“It’s a bit dry right now,” Willem said. “Rain’s late. Maybe just as well.”

She followed him into the easy shade of the house. Willem still liked blues and various shades of violet, mixed with natural woods oiled to a high sheen. Geometric patterns covered the furniture in dizzying profusion. Neoromantic realist art broke over the walls – heroic images of mountains, nebulae, oceans, and people under nature’s threat.

Ann spotted something to the right of the main window. A shadow box, small and nearly lost amid all the rest of the decor. Within its small sections she saw bones, sticks, pebbles, torn paper, and handwritten notes, collectively composing an allegory of sorts. She recognized a number of allusions. Unexpectedly, she felt flattered.

“Guest rooms are on the second floor,” Willem said. “Pick whichever one you want.”

Ann set the pack down on the floor and walked to the rear of the house. The porch, she discovered, encircled the first floor. She stepped out to gaze at the vineyards.

She heard Willem stop beside her.

“You did it,” she said. “This is what you wanted.”


“You didn’t need me after all.”

When he remained silent, Ann looked at him. He wore a complex expression part puzzled, part hurt. He exhaled slowly and shrugged.

“I have to finish supervising this load,” he said. “Go make yourself comfortable. I’ll cook later.”

Alone, Ann felt herself begin to relax. She leaned on the railing and let the view suffuse her. Willem had talked about this all the time they had been together – land, vineyards, a winery.

But there had been no available property on Earth and Ann refused to leave the planet of her birth. What had begun early on as an attempt to find Willem a parcel in the Sol system had turned into a career for her, drawing her further away from the few dreams they had shared. One day she looked back and saw that she had become very wealthy dealing in land – most often land she herself never saw except by comlink – and Willem had already found a place out-system.

He had wanted her to come with him. She would not even consider it. He had not understood. What had begun as a minor irritation between them turned into a test of feelings – and they failed.

She returned to the living room and stood before the shadow box. They had not fought often, but the intensity of their few battles more than compensated. After the last one, Willem had simply walked out.

Didn’t even say good-bye … maybe he thought I’d follow … arrogant shit …

“Sticks and stones,” she muttered. She hefted her pack and headed up the stairs to the second floor.

She shoved open one of the oak-paneled doors and stepped into a cozy bedroom done in ambers and greens. She set her pack on the cedar chest at the foot of the large bed and shook her right hand to revive the circulation.

From the window she could look back along the road by which Willem had brought her here. Except for that and the house around her it seemed humans had left no imprint on the land other than the too-neat rows of vines. Tau Ceti bathed the landscape in warm light. Pristine, she thought, though she knew that eighty kilometers south lay Fall’s End and a spaceport. But the illusion pleased her.

She turned from the window and felt suddenly tired.

“Is there a house intelligence?” she asked aloud.

“Yes, Co Myref,” a voice replied.

“Hm. Good. I’m going to take a nap. Would you alert me when Willem starts preparing dinner?”

“Of course.”

Ann pulled off her boots and stretched out on the bed.

He looks good, she thought as she drifted to sleep. Pity …


The house woke her four hours later. Ann got out of bed and stretched, feeling stiff. Her back ached dully and her neck felt gripped by a large, powerful hand.

She showered and felt much better. Gazing in the mirror, though, toweling her thick red hair, she thought she looked pale. For a moment she experienced a sense of dislocation, as if the face she saw belonged to someone else. Pale green eyes, small nose, a faint scar over the left eyebrow. Freckles. She blinked, frowning, and the sensation faded.

Overlay slip, she decided. Another diagnostic would be a good idea, but as she dressed she experienced none of the third person impressions usually accompanying a bad fit. Leave well enough alone…

She carried her polycom downstairs. The first floor was filled with the odors of cooking. She smelled garlic and peppers, Bacian oil and curry.

Outside, Tau Ceti touched the edge of the hills, gilding the landscape in gold. Ann set her portable on the window sill and stared. She wondered why she felt so drawn to this place. She had spent a lot of time and capital on Earth building a home very different from this and till now had felt satisfied with the results.

“I trust you’re hungry,” Willem said, entering the room. “Dinner is served.”

He led her through a broad archway into a dining room. One wall opened to the porch, letting the early evening light fill the space. Motiles carried the trays.

“If I hadn’t been,” Ann said, “I would be now.”

While the machines set plates on the table, Willem busied himself with a bottle of wine.

“Yours?” Ann asked.

He nodded. “Five years old, one of my best vintages. It was questionable whether the Nortons would thrive in this soil, but after a slight modification in the acidity and phosphate content, they’ve done very well.” The cork came out with a pleasant pop and he filled her glass with the rich red liquid. “We have sautéed Nine Rivers eel, Cetian moss cakes, fried mussels, fresh sourdough and olive oil, and creamed fela berries.”

“A feast.” She raised the glass and sniffed, then took a mouthful. “Excellent.”

He smiled slightly and poured his own glass, then sat down opposite her. The motiles finished serving and trundled out of the room.

He raised his glass. “Welcome to my home.”

“Thank you. The place is … beautiful.”

“I could never have had this on Earth.”

“Oh, I don’t see why not. The only problem was money.”

“Then, yes. But …” He glanced to his right, out at the view. “It’s different. The light. The air.”

“It’s not Earth.”

“No … it couldn’t be.”

“Close enough, though.” She tore off some bread and dipped it in the dish of olive oil beside her plate. Chewing, she sliced the eel.

“In your expert opinion?” he asked.

Moss cake followed eel into her mouth. She chewed slowly, letting the flavors mingle and linger.

“I suppose,” Willem said, “you won’t be opening offices here.”

“Is that supposed to be irony?”

His face danced through a series of expressions, small shifts of the mouth and eyebrows, and she knew he was sorting responses. It seemed to take longer than she remembered, but perhaps he had more to think through.

“I suppose,” he said finally, “I’m just extremely puzzled about why you’re here.”

“Can you wait till after dinner? This is really very good.”

A smile flickered across his face and he nodded.

They ate in silence. Ann remembered this, too – many nights, especially toward the end, when everything either of them said came burdened with so many interpretations, when it was easier to be quiet rather than risk another altercation.

Maybe I should just wrap this up tonight …

For dessert, Willem opened another bottle of wine – a white this time. He glanced at Ann’s polycom as he poured. Ann leaned back in the chair, comfortably sated, watching him.

“That was excellent,” she said. “You always were a good cook, but this … you’ve outdone yourself.”

“Maybe instead of living with you I should have gotten a job as your chef.”

Ann sighed. Tau Ceti had dropped below the horizon and left the dining room bathed in a cool afterglow from the twilight sky. Small lights winked on near the ceiling, not bright enough yet to compete with the natural light. The motiles returned then to clear away the dishes and clean up, quietly and efficiently, dancing through their routine while Ann and Willem regarded each other across the table.

It would be so easy to just fall right back into it, she thought. Instead, when the last motile left the room, she took her polycom from the chair and set it on the table. The top swung up and the access panels glowed softly. She tapped a few commands and data appeared.

“There’s a few items we need to deal with,” she said. “You’re in my will. I’ve left you some things.”

Willem’s mouthed opened. He looked genuinely surprised. He straightened in his chair and raised his glass.

“First off …” she began.

“Wait.” Willem held up his hand. “I’m sorry. I find this all very disturbing. I mean – how does this work? You aren’t Ann. You told me she died. But …”

Ann folded her hands on the table. “Ann Myref died on Earth. Before she did, she encoded her persona and hired seven of us to wear the overlay to take care of certain details left unfinished before her death. She had been confined to a support bed for eight months. She could not physically tend to this herself. So I and six others are carrying out her final wishes. The overlay is a full personality recording. That’s a profound simplification, but it’ll do. This host and the others went through minor physical modification to resemble Ann as closely as possible. Before you think otherwise, this is done as much to maintain the overlay as for any kind of deceit. When I look in the mirror, I see who I am, it reinforces the persona, maintains it. It also makes the entire experience more personal for the recipients of these visits. Would you believe me if I hadn’t looked like Ann and told you who I was?”

“I’m not sure I believe you now.”

Ann flicked her right hand, dismissing the comment. “There’s a time limit. I won’t be Ann Myref for long. So when our business is concluded, at some point the host personality will re-emerge and assume control again.”

Willem frowned uncomfortably. “Why didn’t you just send for me?”

“Would you have come?”

“I …” He hesitated, then shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

He studied her, eyes narrowed. “You know, the woman you’re doing this for was a controlling, manipulative, self-serving …”

“Stop it. You already pointed that out and you know that’s crap. You’re not even saying it with conviction.”

He flinched, as if a charge had coursed through his entire body. He raised a hand, fisted it, and set it on the edge of the table. “All I wanted was to be with you.”

“More crap. If that was all, then you could have stayed.”

“You’re not listening. I wanted to be with you. What is me, what I am, included having this.” He waved toward the twilight-black hills. “This is part of what I am. To give this up would have meant crippling myself.”

“And I wouldn’t leave Earth. That was part of who I am.”

“Why not? Look at this place! ‘Close enough’ you said. For all practical purposes it’s no different!”

“We went over this.”

“Often. And we never resolved it. You never gave me an answer. But there you sit, and if I am to believe that you really are Ann, then this is impossible. Ann would never leave Earth.”

“Death puts things into perspective.”

“You had to die before you could do this? Were you dying when you made the encoding?”

“It was beginning. I knew it was coming.”

His breathing came hard, strained. “That must have been terrible.”

“Pretty bad.”

“Who was with you at the end?”

“Meds. A couple of attorneys.”

“I would have come.”

“Seven years, Will. You never did. I wasn’t that hard to find.”

“Ditto.” He stood. “Now it’s too late. Nothing we say here will make any difference.”

“Don’t take that attitude.”

“Ann’s dead. You aren’t her. You’re just a mannequin.” He grunted. “You know, it’s actually painful looking at you.”

“Then let’s conclude this so I can leave.”

“There’s nothing to conclude. Anything I might have wanted from Ann, you can’t give me.”

“What? Seems to me we left a few things unsaid.”

“Ann and I did. You – I suppose they’ll just have to remain unsaid.”

“Will, dammit, I am Ann!”

“No, you’re not. And this is really not very pleasant. I’m glad you enjoyed the meal. You can spend the night, but I’d appreciate it if you’d leave tomorrow. Early.”

Ann slapped her hands on the table. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“And you can’t. Good-night.”


He walked through the panoramic opening, onto the porch, and out of sight.


Fireflies, or something like them, sparkled across the blackened landscape. Occasionally, several of them fell into formations and swept through the darkness, a cloud of pulsing light arrowing somewhere, then breaking up just as abruptly. Ann sat on the porch with a glass of wine and her polycom, for a time fascinated by the stars and their flickering reflections below. Tau Ceti was not that far from Sol, so she could still pick out many constellations, but the sky seemed odd all the same.

Her polycom chimed and she looked at the small screen. Insertion into the house system, it informed her, would set off a series of alarms. Willem would know. The machine assigned a low probability to getting around all of them. Did she wish to proceed?

Who would have thought the wine business required so much security?

She checked the specs her polycom provided and grunted to herself. He had simply bought the most expensive and comprehensive package. Typical. All or nothing, like so much else Willem did.

She canceled the probe and shut down the polycom. No matter in any case – she had to talk to Willem, that was the contract. What Ann Myref wanted to give him, he had to accept personally.

Was it really so bad?

She had gone over the memories of the relationship and the breakup during the voyage here. Perhaps time had blunted the sharper edges, perhaps she had indulged more than a little justification and revision, but she could not understand Willem’s continued anger. She had moved on, and clearly so had he. It seemed reasonable that now, seven years later, there ought to be some neutral ground upon which they could talk.

“Some things stay broken …”

Things had all happened quickly then. Her business had grown exponentially after she had tapped into the trend of the offworld-wealthy returning to Earth to buy property as status symbol. There were many enormously wealthy people scattered among the colonies and seemingly overnight they all wanted a sliver of land on Earth – just because they could afford it now.

For a time, she had thought Willem left out of envy. But she decided not – he could be petty, but not that way. No, he had genuinely wanted this, what he now had. At the time, the price for it on Earth was beyond their reach. No matter, he told her, there’s plenty offworld.

The idea of leaving Earth … she simply could not. She recalled her reaction at Fall’s End, in the port.

But I still wanted to give you your dream … now that I can, you won’t even talk to me …

He said she had never given him an answer. That sounded ridiculous. All the fights, all the terse conversations, all the times they wrestled over this. She had told him time and time again …

She brought up the overlay menu again. Against the night it glowed a brilliant green. She chose the review function. For a few seconds it seemed that she remembered nothing. Panic began – and ended as abruptly with a dialogue-space opening between the host and the overlay.

“At what point will my contract be considered fulfilled?”

As stipulated, upon acceptance and transfer of bequests.

“He won’t discuss it.”

That’s my problem, not yours.

“I can’t be you forever. The overlay will start to deteriorate.”

That’s my problem, too. Failure to fulfill contract requirements will void payment.

“Then that’s my problem. What if you can’t solve your problem?”

Consideration will be made. A contact number is filed in the case of overlay failure.

The space contracted, the separate halves of her persona stood apart for a few moments, and then “Ann” reassumed awareness. She felt unsettled and dissatisfied.

She closed her polycom and finished the wine.

As she stepped back inside, she heard glass breaking. Setting the polycom on the dining room table, she pushed through the door to the kitchen.

Willem knelt on the floor, carefully picking up shards from a puddle of dark red wine. An open bottle stood on the countertop opposite the sink. He looked up at her; light caught in the tears nesting in his eyes.

“Forgive me,” he said, his voice softly slurred.

“You should let a motile clean that up,” Ann said. “You’ll cut yourself.”

“My mess, I’ll clean it up. You should clean up your own messes. Otherwise …” He jerked his hand up, wincing, and sending the handful of pieces flying. Ann danced back. “Shit,” Willem said, fingers in his mouth.

“Told you,” Ann said. She walked carefully behind him and took his shoulders. “Come on.”

He got to his feet, wobbled briefly, then shrugged her off.

“I can walk,” he said, stumbling back against the counter. He looked at his cut fingers. “Not bad. I’ll live.” He looked at her, frowning. “You’re still here?”

“I’m leaving in the morning, remember?”

“Ah. That’s what I said.” He grinned. “Remember?”


He blinked, the grin fading. “You’re not Ann … She’s gone. But you know all about her. Don’t you?”


“Then you know she took the easy way out.”

Ann stared at him. “How? By dying?”

Willem nodded. “And leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.” He sighed. “I know a little about that. I didn’t clean up my own, either.”

“I am cleaning up my messes. Why do you think I’m here?”

He laughed. “Uh uh. Ann didn’t clean ’em up. She arranged to have you do it so she could go out with a clear conscience. That’s what she was good at -arranging things – that’s why she was successful. So at the end, she arranged to believe everything was settled, completed, finished. If you failed, it didn’t matter. She could choose to believe you wouldn’t. Mess tucked away where she’d never have to see it again.”

“Is that how you see this?”

He blinked at her. “You didn’t even say you missed me.”

Ann felt her patience slipping. A motile rolled into the kitchen, hesitating at the proximity of humans to the mess on the floor. Ann put a hand on his arm.

“Come on,” she said. “We need to take care of that cut.”

He pulled his arm away petulantly, then acquiesced and let her direct him past the motile, into the dining room. She sat him down at the table and went to the bathroom. She found a bottle of healant and a box of bandages and returned to Willem.

He watched her tend the cuts, cleaning them, spraying the healant, and applying the bandages. She tried to gauge how drunk he was, but it was impossible after all these years. I might have known once, just by the set of his mouth, the way he blinked … too much time has passed …

“Why didn’t you send word?” he asked. “I would’ve come.”

“I know.”

“Then …?” He looked puzzled, then shook his head. “Has there been anyone else?”

“A few. No one like you.”

“Maybe that’s a good thing.”

Ann sighed. “I hated you. You took off, I hated you. It passed. Nothing original. I imagined you hated me.”

“Not for a long time.” His face contorted briefly. “I just wanted you to come with me.”

“I couldn’t leave Earth.”


Ann’s patience snapped. “Dammit, we’ve been over this …”

Willem held up a finger. “No. We haven’t.”

“Yes, we have. It’s all we fought about at the end.”

Willem shook his head slowly. “We fought … sure … but you just said you couldn’t. You never told me why.”

Ann stared at him, stunned. She remembered the arguments, the bitter rituals of accusation and rejection. At some point during all that she was certain she had said …

“Excuse me,” she said, standing. She walked out onto the porch. Leaning on the railing, she opened the dialogue once more.

“So did you?”

Tell him? Sure, I—

“No, review it. Did you actually say the words? Or did you assume he understood?”

Scanning memory … no. I never actually said the words.

Ann watched the flickering in the night, remembering scenes from their last few fights. Finally, she closed down the dialogue and went back to the table.

Willem had not moved. He looked up when she sat down.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She cleared her throat. “I couldn’t leave Earth because I was afraid.”

“Afraid …”




He almost laughed. “You were never afraid of anything.”

“Is that what you thought?”

“You never … you never told me you were afraid.”

“I was afraid of that.”

“You never said.”


“To anyone?”


“Not even yourself.” He nodded, as if he understood. “So all you could do was fight.” He drew a deep breath. “When you love someone … I wanted to be enough for you …”

“So I wouldn’t be afraid anymore?”

“Something like that. If I had known …”

“If you don’t know what it is you have to do you’re not responsible for not doing it.” She touched his hand. “I never told you. It’s not your fault.”

He turned his hand over and closed his fingers around hers. When he looked up, though, Ann thought she saw a glimmer of skepticism. But it faded.

He stood. “I need to be alone for a while. Whatever …” He waved at the polycom. “You can tell me about it in the morning.” He paused at the doorway. “Thank you.”


Her scalp itched in the morning. Her mouth felt cottony and she staggered to the bathroom, half-blind through a kind of spun-glass haze that coated her eyes.

She found a towel and soaked it in warm water, then pressed it to her eyes as she sat on the toilet. Her bladder felt full to bursting and her release was long. She shuddered a few times.

Finally, she could see clearly. She remained seated and idly scratched her head, letting the sensations of sore muscles and mild nausea pass. Finished, she stepped to the sink and resoaked the towel.

Her hair was dark. She blinked and brown eyes stared back at her from the mirror. Most of the freckles were gone.

She brought up the menu and opened the dialogue.


Contract fulfilled satisfactorily. Overlay extracted, somatic regeneration initiated.

“I haven’t completed transfer of bequests.”

Primary requirement fulfilled. Transfer of bequests a formality.

As she watched, a list of her compensations and options scrolled across her vision. In the night, the overlay had opted to terminate its presence. Imbedded nanoprocesses began reworking her, reverting hair color and texture, eye color, and skin. Over the next several days slight adjustments would reshape the underlying bone and redistribute fat deposits, giving her back her original face and body. Already, though, she looked very different from Ann Myref.

“I am Dadal Reos,” she said aloud, watching her reflection. It felt strange for a moment, then clicked into place. “I am Dadal Reos.”

She remembered enough of the overlay to complete the formal arrangements of the will.

“Shit,” she hissed. “Might have been simpler to wait till I left.”

Dadal sat on the bed for a time, letting her own memories and her own emotions sort themselves. Some of the odd moments of recognition she had experienced since grounding on Homestead made sense now – she had been born here, lived here till age six, when her family had moved to Sol System. The feeling of place had been strong enough to tease at the overlay and the client persona’s aversion to Seti jarred.

She dressed, grabbed the polycom, and went downstairs. She heard movement from the kitchen. Reluctant to confront Willem Karkaris, she stepped onto the porch.

Morning sun drove the shadows away from her. A heavy cloud loomed above the hill to the west. The air smelled faintly of rain. Nearby, a motile worked to dig up one of the multi-flue, blue-streaked Shimby Castles – that’s what they’re called! – while pumping insecticide down the central shaft. A cloud of Shimbys floated around the device, impotent against it.

Dadal suddenly resented Ann Myref. It would have been better to be well away from here, away from Homestead before ..

“Good morning,” Willem said from inside. “Hope you’re hungry. I prepared …”

She tensed and turned. He stood just inside, staring at her. She found that she no longer knew how to read him, but it seemed he was surprised and disappointed.

“The overlay shut down, Co Karkaris,” she said.

“Which means, I suppose, everything is done that she wanted doing.”

She said nothing. After a minute, he shrugged.

“Maybe she was right,” he said. He made a smile. “I still hope you’re hungry, Co …?”

“Dadal,” she said. “Dadal Reos.”

“Call me Will.”

She felt embarrassed and self-conscious through breakfast. Willem chatted about the winery and the different vintages he hoped to lay down.

She found herself growing interested. She had lived near Ozma, several hundred kilometers from Fall’s End, in a more urban environment. Farming was something she knew little about.

“And it looks like the weather is changing,” he said as the motiles cleared away the dishes. “Only a few weeks late and none too soon.”

“Co Karkaris, I …”

“Will. Please.”

“I had no idea this would happen. It’s not standard procedure. Usually we leave …”

“It’s all right.” He smiled, but he looked sad. “Very Ann. Get in, do what needs doing, get out.”

“Well. But there are still details.”

“Of course. Show me.”

Dadal opened the polycom and accessed the bequests. Willem read the list.

“Damn,” he said. “You got it.”


“Oh, uh … I meant, Ann.” He laughed. “When we started looking for a parcel on Earth, I found an old estate on the western coast of the North American continent … of course, it was far too expensive. But it was ideal. When I came to Homestead and bought this place, I picked it because it looked so much like it. It seems she finally got it.”

“And she left it to you.”

His breath shuddered. “Damn.”

After a long silence, Dadal indicated the screen. “Please touch the acceptance icon.”

He nodded and pressed a finger to the contact. The screen cleared and a moment later it showed transfer complete. Dadal closed the unit down and stood.

“She must have kept her eye on that parcel all this time,” Willem said. “Property on Earth goes fast. Small window of opportunity.”

“You sound surprised.”

“I suppose I am. I guess …”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, Co … I need to pack and arrange transport.”

“Um. Do you have to leave today? I …”

Dadal watched him work through his feelings. Finally, he shrugged.

“I never found out much about you,” he said. “Yet I feel I’ve known you …” He grinned, telling her he was joking.

“I’ve been doing this kind of work for five years,” she said. “Most of my own time, between commissions … it’s not very interesting.”

“How do you know?”

She looked out at the vineyards. Maybe she was finished, but this isn’t done yet …

Besides, she was not so sure she was ready to leave. She wondered – briefly – if this had been a factor in Ann Myref’s selecting her.

“You first. Would you like to tell me about her?” she asked. “I have time.” She grunted. “One thing we do best is listen.”


He was still talking when the rains began.


Mark W. Tiedemann has been publishing stories since 1990. His novel Compass Reach was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award and Remains for the Tiptree. As of this year, he has sold over 70 short stories and published 13 books. A native St. Louisan, he has actually set two novels in his home town, the novel Realtime and his brand new just released book from Blank Slate Press, Granger’s Crossing. The latter is (shock!) Not Science Fiction, but an historical novel set in the 1780s. He still lives in St. Louis.