This file has been approved by the leadership of The Trust for Eternal and Ephemeral staff members visiting the databases of TETRA.
I was born in the year 1824, in Albany, New York. My parents were both of French-Canadian descent, though their respective families had moved south to warmer climes and a newer government. They took the French language with them. I speak the language as well, learned from them, and I have still not quite lost the Canadian accent.
My father was a historian; my mother, a schoolteacher when she wasn't chasing after her own children. I was the oldest of four – and the only daughter. My own predilections followed those of my family. I read every book I could get my two hands on. Those reading habits were blamed for the spectacles I needed. I usually refrained from wearing them. In the years when I was a schoolteacher, they were very useful for intimidating students.
Looking back, and trying to pinpoint the time when my life first changed from that of an ordinary mortal, I realize that it must have been the accident in 1847. It was when I was twenty-three, while my brothers and I were returning from a cousin's wedding in early summer. I don't even remember the accident itself, or what happened for a couple of hours before or after. I've learned that this often happens with head injuries.
I was told that something spooked the horses pulling the carriage, probably a particularly ornery dog that was passing by and barking. This happened when I was peering over the side, pointing out something interesting that I had just noticed. The natural result was that when the horses bolted, jolting the carriage, I lost my balance and fell over. My brothers were not unobservant, and the oldest of them was studying medicine at the time. They told me afterwards that once the carriage was stopped and they were able to get to me, there was a moment when they were sure I was dead, that I must have broken my neck in the fall. And that they were glad they were wrong, that it was only a sprain and a concussion.
But I believe, now, after unexpectedly many long years, that their first guess was not wrong.
I may have been born Marie-Renée Nicolet, but the name I kept longest was Wallace.
It was at a Christmas party after the accident that I met Benjamin Wallace. He was the doctor who had encouraged one of my brothers to pursue medicine. He had a sense of humor and strong political opinions, which often worked together to both his benefit and detriment. He had a solid practice as a doctor and an excellent reputation. My parents still objected to the match, for various reasons. After some considerable debate, we managed to convince them that it was fine, and we were married in the summer of 1848.
How can I describe the years that followed? Before there were children, there was time spent together, and time spent apart, bickering and making up, and all the myriad ins and outs of young married life. His father passed on shortly thereafter – he had a weak heart – and I stood by him. We shared the joy when I finally conceived in 1850, and the pain of the long labour the women in my family are subject to. (If any man ever tells me about how childbirth is a natural, beautiful process, I am severely tempted to slap him.) Ben and I shared the elation when Jonathan was born. When our son perished from a fever a week later, we shared the grief.
That last was a turning point. I felt like I was drowning in sorrows, and everything I saw, in our small home, in town, reminded me of what I had lost, and everyone I met seemed to watch me with pity. Ben must have felt the same way. When an old friend of his living in New York City sent a letter saying that he was looking for a new partner in his practice, he leapt at the opportunity, and we left Albany behind. Two of my brothers – including the doctor, who had since married as well – also left Albany in 1850, unable to resist the lure of California.
Cities in those days were not as they are now. The streets were filled with people, carts, dogs, horses, and all the consequences thereof. Even then, New York housed over half a million people. But as with all such things, you adjust with time. Ben settled in to his work, and I raised the two children who survived childbirth, Mark and Bethany. There were a few good years.
But then life began to unravel, little by little. Bethany succumbed to influenza. We received word that my middle brother had been killed in a dispute over a gold claim. My father passed on, and mother shortly thereafter. Then came the worst of it, the war between the states. Young men leaving to never return. Mark was far too young to be drafted, my husband, too old. I talked Ben out of his vague notion of volunteering. Nonetheless, he made a point of buying war bonds and we were all firm abolitionists.
I still wonder what might have happened had I let him go. Or if I had convinced him to stay home during Draft Week in 1863. They call it the New York Draft Riots now. He insisted on visiting a friend with political ties, to make sure that the rioters had left him alone. They hadn't. And they didn't leave my husband alone, either.
Then there was the funeral. It was made worse by the fact that I had failed to age normally. Of course, my quick recovery from pregnancy had already been remarked upon, but being mistaken for Ben's daughter, instead of his wife, didn't help matters.
I held myself together as best I could, for Mark's sake. We lived with my youngest brother and his family, who were still living near Albany at the time, and I worked again as a schoolteacher. While my quick recovery from pregnancy years before had been remarked upon, everyone there at least was kind enough about my apparent youthfulness. Until a year or so after the war, when several of the local busybodies decided it was time for me to remarry. I disagreed. Vehemently. Strongly enough, in fact, that when my youngest brother took his family and left to join the others near Los Angeles, Mark and I went with them.
I will leave out the details, since the pleasant and unpleasant day-to-day is not of such great interest. But my oldest brother took the fact that I now seemed many years his junior far better than I had expected, and I again taught school, and Mark became a stubborn, adventuresome young man. He joined the army against my wishes, and he died fighting Indians in 1876.
And that was the last straw. My last good reason for holding on without Ben was gone. More reminders everywhere, more pitying looks. And this time, many people thought I was his sister. I didn’t have the heart to tell them otherwise.
I stayed at my oldest brother's after that. It was only a fortnight after receiving that news that someone in one sister-in-law’s family was getting married. The whole family left for a few days, for the wedding in another town. I couldn't stand the thought of being there, of trying to rejoice with those who rejoice. I told everyone I would be fine, that the peace and quiet would do me good. I lied.
At that point, I am ashamed to say, I gave up my hold on reality. There was half a bottle of brandy somewhere, the kind Ben would have liked. I took it that afternoon, and a revolver, and went out of town to a quiet place near a creek. I cried, and tried to replace the empty feeling with alcohol. It didn’t work. I wondered why everything I touched seemed to turn to dust, seemed pointless. The students who had learned their letters under me seemed a poor purpose compared to everything I had lost. I wondered if that old woman had been right, somehow.
Immortality apparently increases your ability to tolerate alcohol. Eventually, when I reached for the bottle, it was empty. Then I reached for the revolver. Soon enough, it was also empty.
The problem with attempting to commit suicide when you're immortal is that it doesn't work.
Fortunately for me, my sister-in-law sent my brother back to make sure someone kept me company. Not quickly enough. After some searching, he went to that one little quiet place outside of town, where he found me, the empty bottle, and the empty revolver. For the second time, he was convinced that I was dead.
For the second time, he was wrong.
If there had been rumors about my lack of aging before, there was a small explosion over my “accident.” A few days later, a gentleman came to the door, inquiring after me, and explaining that he represented a Trust. He also explained why I wasn't dead.
For the sake of brevity, I will only state that I spent the better part of the next year recuperating, in both body and mind.
In 1877, finally understanding something of my state of being, and armed with a desire to make my continued existence have some purpose, I changed my name and went to the California Wesleyan College, now known as the University of the Pacific. It was one of the first coed colleges on the west coast. I studied in both nursing and French, focusing on the former.
It was a difficult thing, in those days, to be a woman of independent means. However, I had no interest in attempting to replace Benjamin. I managed. I also learned that it can be useful to carry a revolver as a deterrent.
I spent nearly two decades after that sharing a small house with whatever other unmarried women who were in the same situation. I worked as a nurse and midwife, largely because I so hated the idea of any woman losing her child. What time I did not spend on work instead went into reading – fact and fiction. I discovered the worlds of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, and the rapidly expanding frontiers of science. Who before now had conceived of so many bacteria, such a thing as radiation?
I kept in touch with my brother until 1900, when he took ill and I was forced to move because, despite my makeup, I seemed a little too young for someone of my stated age. This time, I headed for San Francisco. I had saved enough to indulge my love of learning again…
Once again, I took a name other than Nicolet. This time, when I spent another round of years in school, I studied physics. It was an exciting time, given all the discoveries of that era… though rather more difficult for a woman in the field. I was mistaken too many times for someone's secretary, even after I had joined the faculty at a school in New York.
I spent my time adding my own small pieces to the puzzles of physics, with occasional participation in the movement for women's suffrage. The War to End All Wars (I wish) claimed one of the students I knew, and the arm of another. I was all too glad when that was over.
A few years after the war, when the old identity was again starting to wear thin, I finally decided to do some of the traveling I had thought about doing, once. I spent a while traveling abroad, mostly through areas where I knew people. Near the end of that, in 1923, I decided to settle back down. I chose to stay in Paris.
Since I have yet to complete this record, I will add a couple of more decades:
When I moved to Paris, France, I maintained the same identity as Dorene Beckman as I had in the United States. Fortunately, few enough people asked my age, and as years passed, a little makeup went a long way. Nonetheless, I was almost never mistaken for a Parisian; it took years to dampen the remaining traces of my Quebecois accent.
I worked as a researcher for the university. While times were good, they were wonderful. I would often spend time in one particular café, with a cup of hot tea, watching the world walk by. I had the opportunity to work briefly with Irène Joliot-Curie. I took the opportunity to visit Lausenne.
I also had a chance to meet Ivan and Yulia Tokarev. They were a couple who had moved to Paris shortly before I met them. Ivan was a writer; Yulia, a painter and a language instructor who had taught French in Russia, but now taught Russian. Yulia would often join me in that little café. Her love of languages was such that she jumped at the chance to learn English from a native speaker, and she insisted on teaching me Russian in exchange.
But nothing lasts forever. Though the Depression seemed to wait to strike France, it did not recover quickly from the blow. The Tokarevs went through some hard times, and I did what I could to lend a hand. Yulia realized around then just how serious I was when I said I was older than I looked. France itself was wracked with strife, and I worried about the riots and the new government and the growing communist movement. And later, Germany.
Then came September, 1939, and everything changed. Germany invaded Poland, and France joined the UK in declaring war.
- - - -
By June of 1940, many, many people had died, and France had fallen. The German army seemed unstoppable. Ivan and Yulia and the two children they had by this time had left for Switzerland. Though offered a chance to go to Lausenne myself, I refused. I could not simply abandon everyone else.
I joined the French Resistance. For a time, I helped in the production of certain chemicals, but the woman I was working with was caught, and our methods changed by necessity.
Instead, I started work on a different front: communications. It is now recorded that the average lifetime of a French Resistance radio operator was about six months. Then he would be caught by the Germans.
Realizing this might occur, I had obtained from the Trust a set of German documents, indicating that I was a spy working on their behalf to root out the resistance.
But not the second time.
After being “killed resisting arrest,” I took what I could of my things, and made my way – carefully – to the Swiss border. By then, the war was nearly over.
After the war, I spent a little while adrift. The records said I, as Dorene Beckman, was thoroughly dead, and I let them stay that way. My friends, the Tokarevs, were made into Trustees. They had been through enough already.
It wasn't long afterwards, after seeing the bombs fall on Japan, that the Trust approached me with a proposition. I was on “sabbatical” from the rest of the world, while they finished working up my next identity.
According to the official records, that sabbatical lasted until 1972 or so, when work started on the Mars project. In reality, it ended much sooner. I spent ten years drifting – writing, working on a few little ideas, toying with the available information on nuclear fission, then fusion. Then my new identity was ready… and someone else had proposed the Runaway.
In 1956, I took up the role of Margaret Donehue, quiet and competent secretary for the newly founded General Atomic in San Diego. I spent a number of years typing, taking notes, filing papers, and sending copies of interesting research (and a few of my own notes) back to the Trust.
I stayed quiet and out of sight most of that time. There were a few close calls, though. I had to be careful to avoid demonstrating my own knowledge of physics, and I once got caught with a set of classified designs that I shouldn't have had access to. (Getting out of that one was a bit dicey. I pretended it has been some sort of mix-up, and for some reason, they bought it.) I stayed there until the early sixties, then joined the group that kept watch on our escape plan.
Regardless, there were two major end result of all of this: The Runaway was built. And, watching the bombs fall, I decided that I had had enough of Earth.
The following is an excerpt of the impromptu interview of Marie-Renée Nicolet, immediately after the big reveal by the Trust. The interview was done with a roughly forty-minute time lag. A question would be asked, followed by a wait of a few minutes to give her a chance to answer, then followed by the next question. The conversation has been reconstructed so that the questions and immediately followed by their respective answers.
Q: So, uh, what's the weather like over there?
A: When in doubt, ask about the weather? Well, at the moment, it's clear and cold, though not as cold as Mars can get, since we're not too far from the equator. And, occasionally, windy, though, as I'm sure you know, the air is very thin. It's the dust storms that are more impressive, though we stay inside the Cave for those. Tracking in dust is bad enough without having it follow you in of its own volition.
Q: What do you eat on Mars?
A: Algae, mostly. We grow batches of it, which also provide the oxygen I'm breathing at the moment. This is why I mentioned missing chocolate. There's not much variety in the cuisine. You're probably not going to find the stuff very marketable back on Earth.
Q: What are the living arrangements like?
A: Hah. Cold and cramped. We usually spend the entire time in our spacesuits, with the Cave only pressurized with the plentiful CO2. We'd saved up enough oxygen that I can talk to you know, instead of sending typed messages the way we normally do. We also spend a large fraction of the time, especially in the winter, “cold.” Which means we turn off the heaters in our suits and effectively hibernate for a while. Waking up from that is… well, it's the strangest and most painful feeling of pins and needles you can imagine.
Q: What do your friends and family think back home?
A: [pause] I can really only speak for myself, as Macarius is… well, a man of few words. He doesn't really keep in touch with anyone. But for me. My close family is all long gone. And as are many of my old friends. Three or four decades here is a long time for most people. Those who are still around, and know where I am… they worry, a little, I think, but I also think they're glad I've had the opportunity.
Q: How do you handle waste disposal, sanitation?
A: [pause] You really want to know? [pause] I suppose you do. It's not a pleasant arrangement…
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