Orchestral chimes should have pealed when Anna crested the rise and looked down at the matte white prow of a starship. Juan Carlos looked down as well and said, in that big, boisterous way of his when he was excited, “Anna, is that your family’s starship?”
“That’s Harbard’s Ferry!” Anna exclaimed, as if she had unexpectedly run into an old friend. “It’s our expedition starship; our home away from home. I’ve gone with my parents in the Ferry to explore amazing worlds ever since I was a baby!” Even though Harbard’s Ferry was as big as a commercial airliner, it levitated in place as serenely as a rowboat anchored on a mirror-smooth lake.
“Our camp is arranged around the Ferry,” said Anna. Nestled against the vehicle’s hull, white clusters of tessellated hexagonal tents cast cool shadows over an outdoor living room, field kitchen, and laboratory complex. Robots like squat centaurs, but with six wheels instead of legs, scurried back and forth using their mechanical arms to load scuffed, round-edged, shipping crates of scientific instruments into the cargo bay of the starship.
“If that’s really our camp,” Anna said, falteringly, “then are…Mama and Papa…down there too?” Just then, her question was answered when the renowned husband-and-wife exploration team of Lars and Inga Ivlis, poked their heads out the laboratory tent. Only Lars’ thick, silky beard distinguished him from the pair’s shared ice-blue eyes and blonde-on-honey-blonde hair.
“You’re right, Anna, your parents are down there,” Mindy said quietly. “And so are you.”
Inga Ivlis called out to the starship, and in response a young girl with cornflower-blue eyes, golden hair, a touch of swagger, and limitless curiosity and enthusiasm bounded out of Harbard’s Ferry carrying a scientific instrument in her hands.
The older Anna stared at her younger self in surprise. Unconsciously, she picked at her hair, which hung down limply to only her shoulders, was groomed as carefully as a haystack, and was dyed and streaked so often its color had become dingy yellow-and-off-white.
Juan Carlos looked at Mindy in amazement and said sotto voce, “Is that really the way Anna used to be? You didn’t edit anything?” Mindy shook her head. “She was so different then, so full of life,” Juan Carlos said. “How could that be…?”
Mindy turned to her colleague and whispered, “Tragedy changes people.”
Anna didn’t notice Mindy’s and Juan Carlos’ conversation because she was too busy scrutinizing and experiencing every detail of the camp they were walking into. But the Ivlis family did not challenge, or even seem to notice for that matter, the trio of strangers ambling into their camp, and then into their laboratory tent. Inside the tent, Anna’s two-years younger self looked sulky while her parents ignored her as they excitedly huddled over the display screen of a microscope.
“Mama. Papa,” present-day Anna whispered to herself as she observed the scene. “They’re here. They’re all right. They’re real…”
“No, Anna, nothing you see is real,” said Mindy. “These are all just living memories—what we call ghosts—of your family’s encampment, your mother, your father, and even your younger self, that are still clinging to your necklace like unseen cobwebs. Juan Carlos’ Talent is enabling him to perceive the ghosts that your necklace remembers, and my Talent is rebroadcasting a version of his vision to all of us.”
“Then, my parents…what I think are my parents…are not real,” Anna said forlornly. “That means I can’t…I mean…I just wanted to…hold them.” Anna stood right next to her ghost-mother and father, and she stared them in the eyes, but they didn’t flinch or react in any way to indicate they were aware of present-day Anna. “They’re nothing but hallucinations,” Anna said, defeated. “They can’t see us, or hear us, or feel us, or even know that we’re here. They’re like smoke; figments of Mr. Daimler’s imagination; daydreams.”
“No, Anna, you misunderstand,” Mindy corrected, being as gentle as possible, but as adamant as a slap across the face. “Ghosts are more than mere daydreams. Psychics call ghosts ‘living memories’ because, purely at the discretion of the medium, you can interact with the ghosts. You can communicate with the memories; you can ask them questions, and they will tell you honestly what they know. They won’t notice you until you ask, and after they answer, they won’t remember they had ever spoken. But they’re not daydreams. They’re ghosts.
“So, Anna, do you still want to learn about your past?” challenged Mindy. “To get the answers to questions, that frankly, only your family can answer? Well, this is your opportunity. If you still want to know, ask the ghosts.”
Anna could not have looked at Prof. Obermeyer with more disbelief than if the owlish psychiatrist had said go have a conversation with a court of fairies. But Mindy’s stolid expression did not falter. “Could she be telling the truth?” thought Anna. “Is the only thing I need to do to learn about my past is…ask?”
But instead of speaking, Anna hesitated. Earlier, she had balked at coming down the hill to enter the Ivlis encampment, and now she balked at getting answers to the questions that tormented her each waking hour she wasn’t vigilant, and each midnight hour whenever she closed her eyes. Her hesitancy made no sense to her, until she realized the obvious truth: she was afraid. “Of what?” she wondered, but then she jumped to a conclusion that seemed like another obvious truth: “An army of doctors moved heaven and earth to hide the tragedy that happened to the Ivlis Expedition from me. Is that because the truth is so awful? That the disaster, whatever it was, was somehow my fault?”
Suddenly, a shiver ran down Anna’s back, and her insides turned to water. “I can’t do this! We have to stop the séance!” her brain screamed, even before the words could get out her mouth. But at that moment, Juan Carlos placed his hand firmly on Anna’s left shoulder, steadying her, and Mindy squeezed Anna’s right hand, reassuring her. They were reminding her: she was not alone.
Anna made a decision at that moment, although she wasn’t conscious that she had done so until she found herself staring into the pouting face of the ghost of her younger self. “What happened to our family?” said Anna’s older self to the younger. “What happened to our mother?”
With that last question, the point of view of the séance’s narrative turned topsy-turvy as Anna Ivlis’ ghost spoke.