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Not To Praise Her

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later, he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the fourth most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published original and translated stories in NATURE, F&SF, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. He blogs about writing at loldoc.net.
I have some words to say. Some will be new to you, loanwords from her language. Attend, I shall endeavor to explain.
She was my adversary.
She was my friend.
She is dead.
"She" is a pronoun that refers to egg-carriers; also possessive "her," noun "woman" and adjective "female." There are other accommodations their language makes to indicate whether an individual is currently an egg-carrier or an inseminator.
"Dead" is our word, but one we rarely use. Her people deny regeneration; they see each interruption as we see the dying of a star; they fear it as we fear the heat death of the Universe.
Our people are genetically the same, separated by perhaps a thousand years of divergence. We're cross-fertile with them: a fact I have not ascertained in person. Yet the confusion in which they live, about the permanent and the fleeting, is as alien to us as their physiology is familiar. The trivial, ephemeral role we play in the process of regeneration is for them enshrined in their very grammar, said role being the first fact one learns from their personal pronouns --
"Do you remember living," she said once, "before your last regeneration?"
"No," I said. "Do you remember learning to walk?"
She lowered her head. "Point taken," she said. "Do you at least know who you were?"
"I was decanted from my Shipwomb as Segment 9291125. My designator factors into three primes. In me, Segments 5, 239, and 311 continue."
"What if the counter is in error?" she said. "What if your designator is prime itself?"
"Then I continue the First Prime life," I said. "It does not matter. All lives are precious."
"And your aggression against us?"
She had fought like no one I had ever seen in her singleship against the squadron I commanded. When we disabled her craft, I boarded it certain to find its pilot interrupted. She was not; she fought my officers, tooth and claw, two of them damaged slightly, one to interruption. We left her in a holding cell for three cycles. When we returned to remove her cadaver, we found her weakened by hunger and thirst, but once again she went for our throats, this time inflicting no damage. I have never seen anyone suffer as she did, and choose to suffer more.
"Our shipwombs here will stop when our star dies, less than a billion years from now," I said. "We must build shipwombs everywhere, then we can hold out till heat death of the Universe."
She told me they respect us because we're not afraid to die, and envy our faith in regeneration. I told her we're not afraid because we do not die, and faith is of no relevance. Time-space tensor calculations work the same regardless of belief in infinitesimals, do they not? It is the same with our segmented lives. In early parts of our segments when we learn necessary skills in life resumption schools, we undergo supervised near-interruptions. They are unpleasant enough to keep us from self-interrupting for trivial reasons, but not nearly so to be feared as we fear pain, debility, or worst of all, extinction.
This segment of my life has gone uninterrupted longer than any in our history. I'm almost deaf and blind. It hurts to walk. She asked me if we have substances that ease discomforts. Except for me, who'd need them? I've longed for interruption longer than you've been alive, but I delayed for these important reasons.
I wished to study her.
She feared death, this interruption without regeneration. She thought us braver than her people for not sharing this fear. She thought her people weaker for they mourn, they use extraordinary means to extend damaged segments, they mark their dead with funerals, for they are gone forever. And yet they fight. Through fear, through pain, through shame, through pains not one of us would suffer uninterrupted, yes, through lives such as mine has now become.
It is in part by my efforts that our war is interrupted, but this is not enough. I fear attacking her people again will be the last mistake our people make. I fear this war will wipe out all of us, every egg-carrier, every inseminator, every shipwomb. I fear there being no more regeneration.
This war must not regenerate. You must remember this. When I am interrupted, upon regeneration this is the first thing I must learn in life resumption school:
This war must die, as she has died.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 5th, 2019
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