Author: Paul Colby

Hirvath led the way down a narrow valley in the highlands of Euclid. As he approached the foot of a cliff, he looked up into the white sky, threaded with bands of purple cirrus. The Archivist trailed him by five or six meters, taking his way more slowly over the chunks of granite.

“Hard to believe these aren’t real,” he grumbled.

“Who says they aren’t?” Hirvath countered.

“Not real like Earth rocks,” Berizad said, treading sideways. “Not like the ones you touched in the old, old days, when you were called Hervey Rule.”

“I knew those rocks with the nerves of my fingers. Same as these. The same way a future generation will know the rocks of Paragaia.”

Hirvath stopped at the edge of a creek bed and waited for his companions to catch up. There were four of them, ranging in age from the Archivist who was part of the first generation born in space, to Volna, recently graduated from the Astral College.

“Is this the place?” Berizad asked, casting a skeptical glance at the towering cliff, barren except for a scattering of lichens clinging to rock ledges.

“Close enough,” Hirvath said. “I only have to take a few more steps before I reach the dissolution zone.”

His words were followed by heavy silence. In the distance, a rock fell from the cliff, and all of them waited in suspense until they heard the muffled report of its landing.

“To my right,” he indicated, extending a finger. “In the hollow formed by those rocks.”

Clearing his throat, the Archivist said, “Our plans, gentlemen … Time for us to go ahead. We might as well begin with Volna.”

The young man reached inside his tunic, took out some sheets of paper, and began unfolding them.

Hirvath stopped him with a sharp shake of his head.

“No, I’ve set it all behind me now. I’m done with all that I once knew, done with the memories of Hervey Rule and Hirvath. I stink of death already.”

The silence deepened again as the elderly man looked at each of his companions in turn. He turned to gaze one last time up the face of the mountain; turning back again, he held out his upturned palms. One after another, the men who had accompanied him placed their palms over his. Then Hirvath stepped into the hollow between the stones, drew his right hand across his midriff, and the man who had once been Hervey Rule disintegrated. The leftover particles streamed through a tube on the invisible wall of the projection compartment, and then only the four companions were left.

“Now?” Volna asked cautiously.

“Yes, you can begin,” Berizad said grimly.

“As the youngest,” he said, “I have less personal experience to draw on, so Hirvath gave me a memory of his own to share with you.”

He began reading what was scrawled on the paper: “ ‘When Earth first disappeared …’ ”

“Wait a minute,” the Archivist said. “Let me see that.”

He took one of the sheets from Volna’s hand and ran his finger along its surface. “It’s like new,” he said. He held up his finger. “Look. The ink isn’t even dry yet.” He held onto the paper a moment longer, reluctant to part with the last remains of his mentor and friend. Then he handed it back to Volna.

The young man again began reading: “ ‘When Earth first disappeared from the viewscreen, I suddenly recalled the time my sister fell from the apple tree, clutching a green apple. This is how it happened …’ ”