After Xirra left, Septemus carried down a wooden box full of journals and bundles of letters tied up with string.
“There are some things you need to know,” he said, “before you go through with marrying me. I’d tell you myself, but I’m afraid I’d leave too much out. One look of sadness or horror on your face–and what you’re about to learn is full of sorrow and horror–and I’d never be able to follow through. I can’t bear to see you sad. But you need to know about me, my past, and where I come from. If I’m going to ask you to share my life, you need to know what you’ll be sharing. I should have told you before we got engaged. I’m sorry, byu. I got carried away by you, and I couldn’t think.”
He went upstairs to bed, leaving me with his history.
I spent the night reading. His father began writing him letters a few days after he adopted him. In his first letter, he told him he was writing so that, “when you’re on your own, later, when you’re all grown up, you can have something to look back on, to help you remember, to keep you connected to your past, and maybe even, to answer some questions.” I guess my questions were being answered, now, the ones I didn’t even know to ask.
The box contained journals, too, which Sept started writing when he was a teen. He was right. The story packed grief and brutality.
I read about Sept’s trauma from the crash, which Sebastion helped heal when Sept was still a tiny kid, the grief from Situ’s death, the longing to find the other 143 children rescued with him. I read of Sebastion’s search for other caregivers selected by the government program to provide homes to the 144 children found in the crashed spacecraft, and I read of their joy at finding the forums where these caregivers shared their struggles and successes.
Sept’s journals revealed the fate he’d been spared, which he learned of from Xirra, who’d sought him out when he was a teen. Where he’d originated, those who’d cloned him didn’t believe clones had souls. They produced them in vast labs for slave labor or, worse, for their organs. Sept’s brain had been destined for implant in the premier’s daughter, and his eyes, hearts, and other organs to the highest bidders or traded for political favors.
Situ had interrupted this fate. She, with the other rebels, had rescued him and scores of other children from the lab. Rebel children filled out the roster, and the craft sailed for Haven. But when they’d been detected, Situ attempted an emergency landing here, on this planet, after first securing all the children in their travel pods. The ship burned when it entered the atmosphere–something had malfunctioned. And so Situ died in the crash. All the children survived.
I realized, then, the depth of meaning that being compared to Situ carried. She was not just his first caregiver, the first to love him, she saved him. She gave up her life in rescuing these children. I could never live up to that, but I could do what was in my power: stay beside him so that he might always know the sweetness of home.
Sept had been cloned from Baxin’ivre, the poet, and, I gathered, something of a Siddhartha to his people a thousand years before. The rebels, stealing the tissue sample from the lab, had cloned Emmanuel from Baxin’ivre’s brother, Batuotuo, who’s been called the George Washington of that time. Together, a thousand years ago, the two originals founded the rebellion, in protest of the abuses perpetrated by the elite.
This was what Sept had come from. His genes, his cellular memory, carried the rebellion.
I read through the night. At dawn, I stretched out on the couch and slept. I didn’t want to disturb Sept in our bed. I wanted to sleep alone so that, through the solitude of my breath, I might process all that I’d read.
I woke after noon to find that Sept had covered me with a quilt and arranged a pillow beneath my head.
I was thirsty and starving. A cup of tea and cinnamon toast with cream cheese waited for me on the table.
When I finished my snack, I looked out the window and saw Sept, standing on the bluff, gazing over the bay to the horizon.
I ran out to him.
“I read it all!” I said.
“Oh,” he said. “I’m bashful. I’m afraid to even ask. What did you think?”
“It’s hard to put into words,” I said. The air sparkled–could I see the molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide? Sounds carried great distances–I heard the ferry horn, though it was well out of the bay–and yet, inside and out, hung great silence.
“Let’s walk,” Sept said, leading us down the trail to the beach.
“So,” Sept said as the waves crashed, “I want you to know that if you’ve decided it’s too much, and it’s not the life you choose, I understand. It was never fair of me to ask anyway. I just got carried away, byu.”
I wrapped him in a hug.
“Are your eyes closed?” I asked him.
“They are,” he said.
“I’m going through with everything,” I said. “I choose you.”
“Even knowing it all?”
“Especially knowing it all!” I said. “Let’s get married!”
“OK!” he said.
“No,” I said. “I mean, now! Let’s get married now!”
“This is a moment!” he said, and he whipped out his phone so we could have this moment always.
“If you want to marry me,” he said, “you’ll have to catch me first!”
And he raced towards the boardwalk.
I chased him through the walkers’ tunnel under the road.
“Look!” I said. “It’s Mojo!” He sat with his head hung down in a spot of sun on the boardwalk.
“Mojo,” Sept said. “What brings you out here?”
We hadn’t seen him since the day of our first date, three weeks before.
Mojo picked up his head at Sept’s voice and spun around.
“He knows you’re Max!” I said. “He recognizes you, disguise or no disguise!”
Mojo reared and placed his front paws in Sept’s hands, and they waltzed.
“He loves you, Sept,” I said. “He missed you. He came all this way to find you.”
“Did you miss me, my friend?” Sept said, dropping to his knees and hugging Mojo.
“He’s chosen you, too,” I said.
“Catch me!” I yelled. I knew the place where I wanted us to get married.
Sept ran after me. “We’ll be back, Mojo!” he said. “Wait for us!”
I ran through the upper meadow.
The stream flowed into the bay, and the air sparkled again, and the beat of my heart banged in my ears, and the noise of life, with singing wrens and chattering gulls and piping killdeer, cascaded around us until the racket burst into dense silence: this was now, and Sept stood beside me.
“I never thought I’d catch you!” he said, as we collapsed on the bench.
Time has always been strange with Sept. It’s not chronological. It’s a strange Wittgensteinian mix of the moment and the eternal. Three weeks stretches longer than three decades. And a lifetime passes in a moment.
“Do you know when I first loved you?” Sept said.
I expected him to say something romantic.
“When you started scowling at me while I watched you work,” he said. “You looked so cute trying to look to tough!”
“I loved you from the moment I first saw your mop-top hair,” I said. “And your cute little tight bell-bottoms.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m just happy you still feel the same when I look like this.”
We stood and walked toward the vista.
“I’m not the type of person that just anyone could accept,” he said, as we exchanged vows, “not with my origin and history. But you’re so far from just anyone that I sometimes can’t believe I was lucky enough to meet you. I thought I might lose you, the more you got to know me and those who are connected to me. But you know it all, and you’re still here.”
Whenever I’ve told this story to family and friends, they seem surprised that, after only three weeks, we pledged our lives to each other. It’s not the way things are done. We know this. But it was that Wittgenstein time, that feeling that we’d known each other forever. And besides, I was convinced then that within a decade, maybe sooner, all of this would be underwater. Where would we go? The planet would be inhospitable, and civilization, as we know it, crumbled. If I’m to be perfectly honest, and I am really striving to be so in these accounts, I’ll admit that part of me hoped that when life here was unsupportable, Sept’s people would come for him and take him someplace pleasant, and if they took him, maybe they’d take me, too. And maybe even Mojo. I wasn’t selfless in marrying Sept. I was very, very selfish. But it’s that selfishness, I discovered, that brings out the best love in me, the fierce love of a warrior and a mother.
I told him that he was the best, bravest, most deeply good person I’d ever met, and the more I knew of him, the deeper I loved him.
It was true then. It’s still true now.
Some loves crumble in the crucible of challenge. Others transform into metamorphic gneiss. Sept has taught me to rise to the challenge, for you never know what treasure you will uncover.