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The high ceilings in the courtroom resounded to the sound of the gavel. The city’s only all-stone building, the new courthouse had been the obvious venue for the inquiry.

Henry Jacobsen, chair of the three-member panel, sat behind a long table, crafted in a local hardwood, known as sethin. Facing the three on a smaller table, Aven Kitson sat, alone. He’d been here before. Henry tapped his microphone and a loud fuzzy thump emerged from speakers hung around the room. The public gallery was empty bar Aven’s wife and a reporter from each of the city’s two newspapers. They already looked bored.

“This hearing is now in session,” Henry said into the microphone. He cleared his throat. Henry wasn’t old, but he looked tired. The black cape he wore could have been made of lead, such was the permanent hunch he had, his shoulders low over the table.

“You are Aven Kitson, son of Admiral James Kitson, late of Norfolk, Virginia?”

“I am.”

“Thank you for agreeing to appear at this hearing.” Aven nodded acknowledgement. “Do you know why you’re here, Aven?”

“Because of my father’s position back on Earth?”

“Well, if your father hadn’t been head of the US military at the time of the war, of course you wouldn’t be before us today. But it’s really your mother we’re interested in.”

“My mother?”

“What do you remember of your father, Aven?” Henry asked.

“Nothing at all. I was, as you all know, a babe-in-arms when we left Earth. I’ve seen photos, read books and so on. But, no, I don’t actually remember anything.”

“Precisely. It’s your relationship with your mother, his wife, we are keen to examine.”

“My mother died before we arrived at Sythalon. She died on the New Mayflower.”

“Yes, we are well aware of that. But you had years with her on that ship as you grew to be a boy, then a young man by the time of our arrival. She must have talked about your father endlessly.”

“Certainly. She told me what a caring husband, a protective father he had been in those final days.” Aven took a swig of water from an ornate crystal glass in front of him. “She told me of his love of sailing, how he would take his boat out onto Chesapeake Bay, how he felt at peace there, with the wind in his hair and salt on his lips, far from the politics of Washington.”

“Right, he was a navy man, wasn’t he? So your mother never spoke of the rebellion, the coup?”

“Of course she did, it was the reason we were on the Mayflower.”

“I mean in relation to your father, Aven.”

“No.” Henry waited a few seconds, but Aven showed no desire to embellish his answer.

“She never talked of his actions in the days before the war?”

“Mr. Chairman, Henry, I’ve attended countless hearings over the years and been happy to and I’ve said the same thing, time after time. My father is an innocent man, he was not involved in what happened. Why do we keep going over this, raking the same coals? We need to move on.”

“Oh, right, we need to move on. We need to stop fretting about the destruction of our home planet, the death of billions. How silly of me.” Henry turned and smiled at the other two members of the panel sitting either side of him. It was a smile devoid of any levity. “There is no blame to be apportioned from these hearings, Aven. No single person in this room today was in any position of power at the time of the events we are investigating. This is not a witch hunt. We simply seek the truth.”

The questioning continued. Questions he’d already answered. Raking coals. Opening wounds. They made sure Aven saw their dissatisfaction with the answers he gave, but after an hour, it was over.

“You’re free to go, Aven,” Henry Jacobsen told him after a short deliberation with the other two caped figures.

“Thank you, Henry.”

Aven picked up some papers from the table, took another swig of water and left to meet his wife outside in the grand entrance of the courthouse.

“Aven, when is all of this going to end?” she asked him.

“They know my father wasn’t involved, but they need to be seen to be investigating, interrogating. I’m sure I’ll be back here next year.”

They went to have a coffee in an adjoining café. No sooner had Aven sat down than Gemma fired another question his way.

“Are you seeing Morten tonight?”

“We’re having dinner together at his place.”

“Why doesn’t he ever come into the city? Why doesn’t he ever come to see you.”

Aven shrugged. “He likes it out of town, He comes in every now and again.”

“No, he just sits out in his hovel getting off his head. How many divorces it is now? Four, or did one of those poor souls manage to flee before he married her?”

Aven didn’t want to argue.

“Are you happy, Aven?” she said.

It was the question he dreaded because he knew where it would lead. Under the small table, he clasped his hands together. He was silent too long.


“Yes, I heard. Of course I’m happy. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I’d like to try for kids another time.”

“We can do that.”

“Don’t be so enthusiastic, Aven. You’ll do yourself an injury!”

“Hey, I said ‘yes’. I’d like to have another go.”

“If you want, we can go for a test at the clinic this week,” she said. “See if your sperm motility has improved.”

Aven knew his motility was fine. A few pills would soon take care of that though.


The brothers ate dinner at Morten’s house and spoke about the hearing. Though born on the same day, Morten was often taken to be anything up to ten years younger. Aven didn’t resent this. He was always proud of his brother, even if Aven himself fared poorly in some comparison or other.

Morten liked to dress like the men in the magazines he still had that showed images of Earth: men walking along city river banks, casually walking down grand stairs outside important buildings, perhaps with an arm around a sexy blonde in a park ankle deep in the leaves of autumn. While others shunned the past, Morten embraced it with homemade jeans, polo neck sweaters, even the occasional tie.

“They’ll be calling me to appear soon,” Morten said as they finished dessert.

“No,” Aven replied. “Henry knows better than to do that.”

“Let’s go outside, Aven. We’ll clean up later. I got a new batch of Memoir.”

It was still light outside, just. The sun set slowly on Sythalon in the winter, its mother star grinding slowly along the horizon before the planet gave up the fight and conceded to night. It was during this long period of half light, known locally as dusking, that the two brothers would sit on the roof terrace, look across the plains towards the New Sunrise Mountains and smoke Memoir A.

“Is this the good stuff, Morten?” Aven asked, though the question was merely part of their ritual. They’d been smoking Memoir A together for twenty years and Morten had never let him down.

Morten took the first drag from the short wooden pipe. Memoir A comprised cannabis, some local spices and the final flourish provided by Chlorine-38, a chemical that had existed in low quantities in Sythalon’s atmosphere when humanity had alighted there thirty years before, fleeing the demise of their precious pale blue dot. The new colonials had reported powerful hallucinations from the first day and Chlorine-38, almost non-existent back on Earth, was found to be the culprit. The terraforming plan was adjusted to suck the hallucinogen out of the air as quickly as possible and the soundless visions tapered off, stopping completely after a few years. They could only be brought back with Memoir A, covertly and for a high price.

“What do you see?” Aven said as he took the pipe from Morten’s hand.

“Ah, I’ve seen this guy before,” Morten replied, eyes closed. “This is 19th century, London. Our great great grandfather. We haven’t seen him for months.”

“Charles Watson, I presume,” said Aven, affecting a British accent.

“He’s in a public baths, there are half naked men sitting around, some smoking cigars or quaffing brandy from sifters. There are servants with trays of drinks.

“It’s switched, Aven. Now he’s in a park, he’s on horseback. There are great puddles everywhere, water still dripping heavy from great elms above. He’s waving to someone riding in the opposite direction. I think this is Hyde Park, Aven. I’ve seen it before.

“Ah,” Morten cried out, handing the pipe to his brother. “It’s gone.”

Aven took a long drag on the pipe and composed himself, holding the smoke down in his lungs a while.

“Let it sit there. Don’t fight it, hombre.”

Aven nodded at him and tried not to laugh. Then he closed his eyes. He began smiling. “It’s mother, I can see her skirt. She’s at home.” The brothers tasted so many memories of their ancestors but the sampling of their parents’ recollections, passed down through the strands of DNA and reawakened by the now very illicit Chlorine-38, was always something very special. It also provided the twins with their most tangible connection to a planet they’d both left when toddlers.

“She’s walking towards the patio doors, I think she’s going into the garden,” Aven continued. “No – she answered the phone. She’s talking away. Damn, I wish I could hear what she was saying.”

Morten was on the edge of his stool, hanging on every word.

“She’s turned and is looking in the mirror, Morten. I’m looking at her face. Hell! Lost it!” He made to toss the pipe across the terrace, but instead handed it back to his brother.

The two brothers looked at each other, glum faced. Memoir A’s rush of euphoria was always matched by the bitter kick it gave when the memories faded and became part of the receding mist.

“Damn Morten, that’s a good batch.”

“I paid a little extra, sort of a celebration of your sterling performance at the hearing.”

“You don’t have a clue how the hearing went,” Aven said. He had a wicked smile on his face.

“I have my sources.”

Morten prepared the next batch, carefully shaping it in the bulbous bowl of the pipe with the blade of a knife.

“How’s Gemma?” he asked Aven as he carefully screwed a new mouthpiece into the pipe. Chlorine-38 accumulated there quickly and a bad Memoir A trip could mean weeks of others’ inherited nightmares stretching back centuries.

“You know the deal, Morten. Without children, she says she feels empty. She asked me about having kids again today after the hearing.”

“Women take it differently. At least Gemma stayed with you. I’m staring in the face of my third divorce.”

“That bad?”

Morten nodded.

“Sometimes, I think we could find a little wiggle room,” Aven said. “You know, consider a single child, take great care.”

Morten clutched Aven’s wrist. His brother tried in vain to pull clear.

“Don’t ever say that, Aven. Not even when you’re all giddy with Memoir.”

Aven managed to wrest his arm free. “I’m not saying I would!”

“You know neither of us can have children. It’s not up for debate. The likes of Henry Jacobsen will continue sniffing around till he’s dead and buried. If you lose your marriage, you lose your marriage. I’ve lost two! This is about protecting our family, Aven, its honor. Our family’s DNA stops here with us two. End of discussion.”

Aven, flustered, began to rake his fingers through his thinning hair. He stood.

“I’ve got to get an early start tomorrow.”

“Oh, come on. Are you feeling sour now?” Morten asked.

“No, I’m fine. We’ll talk next week, okay?”

Aven used the steps to come down off the roof terrace. It was dark now and he felt woozy with the Memoir. They’d argued about having children a thousand times and would a thousand more. He kicked a stone and regretted it immediately as a jab of pain shot through his foot. Where had he left his damn bike?


Morten listened to Aven pedal away, the bicycle shaking on the rutted road back to town.

“You moron, Aven,” he said, then laughed. He picked up the pipe and lit it. The first smoke of the second batch was always the best hit. He could never explain it. He closed his eyes and smiled as the Memoir hit his lungs and his mind filled with the past.

With his father’s eyes, he looked at his reflection in the large patio window, the garden behind black and invisible. His attention returned to the hand-written note from General Cordon, a deniable, flammable piece of paper that left no electronic footprints. Morten had read this letter, this fragile tendril of recollection, so many times from inside his father’s head.

He knew Cordon wanted his father to passively assist the coup by taking no action against it, and he knew his father would do so, abetting those who rose up and sparked the global conflict. In his younger days, he would hurl his Memoir pipe in anger, shout at his father to think again, to reconsider the consequences for his family, for his planet.

Now he was accustomed to watching in silence.


Benjamin is a 40-year old Londoner who lives in the south of England with his dogs and his books in a house nearly as old as him. He took up fiction writing recently and is busy making up for lost time. You will find his stories in the Dreams & Duality Anthology, the Lowestoft Chronicle, Big Pulp, The Ranfurly Review, Inter Nova Science Fiction Magazine, The Broken Plate magazine, the 100 Lightnings anthology, Alfa Eridiani, and Hyperpulp. 


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