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Reversion Past the Mean

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Freya sat on a bench overlooking Bras d'Or Lake. At least, it had once been a lake. A slightly brackish estuary, to be precise, kept mostly fresh by positive flow from freshwater streams draining the hills around it. The narrow inlet just up the road had once been the St. Peter Canal, a mile-long waterway with two locks connecting the lake to the open ocean--an ocean that had risen enough to submerge the narrow isthmus. Or so she'd been told. Old digital images and older, faded photographs supported that.

She sipped from a mug of cocoa, the beverage warming her up. Another slight gust of late autumn breeze cut through her thick sweater. She shivered. Or was it a shudder? Probably both. Even after a whole year on Earth, she still found herself adapting to it.

Most mornings, she still awoke disoriented. She had good days and bad days. Sometimes, she barely noticed it. Other times, her dreams were so vivid that she would have sworn she was still on the ship and that the return to Earth was the dream. Often, she cried after waking, especially if her dream had been a good one, or an especially bad one. Occasionally, the two ran together in a strange, surrealistic montage.

It didn't help that St. Peter and Bras d'Or Lake so eerily resembled the Fetch and Long Pond. Bras d'Or was much larger, of course. But all the elements were there. Coniferous forest mantled the slopes rising up from the shore, dotted with shrubs whose names she almost remembered blazing red from the autumn frosts. Sailboats and the occasional cabin cruiser bobbed at the berths of two marinas. Parks and restaurants, like the one where she sat, stretched out along the curve of the shore. Gulls squawked at each other.

Other things were clearly different. The wind rippled the water in a way the air-movers in the Nova Scotia biome never had. Many of the smells were unfamiliar to her. And, of course, the sky was wide, expansive, and threatening.

She had her good and bad days with that, too. Some days, she couldn't bring herself to leave her home. Others, she barely noticed. Most days, it was still a struggle to go outside. She usually compromised by spending time on a covered patio like the one around her.

She sighed and took another sip of cocoa, the new and wonderful beverage that had quickly become her favorite, with coffee not far behind. She peered again at the sheaf of papers on the table in front of her and shook her head slowly.

It still amazed her that they wanted her to lecture at the University. Her, of all people! Of all the hundreds who had survived the trip home and that screaming crusher of a landing on Earth, why her? Badim had told her to go for it.

She'd protested that she had no idea what she was doing. He'd replied that it didn't matter, that she could make it up as she went along, just as she'd always done her whole life. The thing was, she desperately wanted to do it, but it just as powerfully terrified her. Not like the outdoors did. Not like the revenants had. No, it scared her in a different way.

She let her gaze shift across the table to Kaya, and marveled again at how she'd been so fortunate. Kaya, who'd helped her achieve her first victory over her agor-something. Kaya, who'd gone with her when she'd left California to begin a new project in Nova Scotia. Kaya, who'd held her while she'd sobbed from the nightmares and again when she'd buried her father just a week ago. Kaya, who'd asked her to marry him and who wanted to father the children she wasn't sure she could still bear.

“So?” he asked. “Are you going to do it?”

Freya smiled, took another sip of cocoa and tapped absently on the papers. “But I'm not smart.”

“Says who?”

Freya opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it again. They'd been over that many times.

“You know stuff,” said Kaya. “You have a whole life of it in that beautiful head of yours. You need to share it, all of it.”

“But the beach...”

“Will still be here. Or, well, it's going to be, once we've finished with it. And you've been a great help with that, don't forget.”

She nodded. It had been her memory of Long Pond and the Fetch that had guided the beach-building design team as much as the pre-rise photos and images.

Kaya reached out and took her hand, squeezing it gently. “You're amazing, Freya. And everyone likes you. You'll be good at this. Besides,” he added, “you kind of promised your father.”

Freya forced back another choke of grief. Badim's death still felt raw on her heart. And they hadn't even recycled his body! Instead, they had put it into a box and buried it in the ground under a meter of soil and gravel. She'd protested, quite vigorously in fact. The dead were supposed to be recycled, to feed the crops, and thus live on in those who survived them. It still felt so unnatural to her.

She nodded, then stuck out a foot and wiggled the black leather high-heeled shoe that she still thought looked like a slipper with a nail stuck to it. “But first, I suppose I'll have to actually learn how to walk in these things.” She glanced up at Kaya. “And you say all women wear them?”

Kaya shrugged. “Maybe not all. And definitely not all the time. But, yeah, most women I know have at least one pair.”

She shook her head slowly before standing up, still unused to how the high heels shifted her center of balance. She had to admit, she liked the look and feel of leather. It never would have occurred to her to use a cow's skin to make shoes...or jackets or skirts or any other clothing. In her world, the parts that couldn't be eaten had always been recycled. Synthetic materials, which sometimes looked a little like the leather currently wrapped around her feet, had always been printed according to need.

She slid the papers back into their manila folder and tucked it under her arm before putting her broad-brimmed hat back on.

It still amazed her just how sensitive her skin was to the sun. Badim had talked about the light spectrum and how there had been parts of it that the sunlines in the biomes had never emitted and so everyone else on the ship had what Kaya had called “great skin.” He'd explained what he'd meant by that, and Freya had mostly smiled and nodded.

Kaya offered his arm, and Freya took it. Together, they strolled out to the street, her shoes making an unfamiliar hollow clicking sort of sound that she found to be quite pleasant. She only tottered a couple of times.

“It's perfect, by the way,” said Kaya after a few moments.

“What's perfect?”

“What you're writing. 'Aurora,' you're calling it, right? After the moon where you were all going to live?”

She nodded.

“And 'Starship Girl.' That's a wonderful name for a first chapter.”

“You think so?”

“Absolutely. It's your story, and it needs to be told your way.”

Freya smiled. “That means a lot, Kaya. It really does.”

“So, what shall we do with ourselves?”

She shrugged. “I hadn't thought about it.”

“The day is still young,” he said.

“Let's just walk. Just like this. Maybe out to the jetty?”

“Sure,” he said, and kissed her tenderly.

From somewhere down the promenade, a guitarist sang a haunting song.

Farewell to Nova Scotia, you sea-bound coast
Let your mountains dark and dreary be
For when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed
Will you ever heave a sigh and a wish for me?