As Harry walked passed the living room, he happened to look out on to the verandah. He was surprised to see Jane standing at the edge, overlooking the spot where her father’s body had been discovered. The scene was surreal. She stood there bathed in the red light from the LifeShield wearing a cream colored dress that seemed to barely touch her body. Her arms were bare and her skin practically glowed in the morning light. Her brown hair was curled and reached to just below her neckline. She was fingering the same pendant that Harry had seen her wearing on the STAR. Harry put his immediate plans on hold and walked out to see her. She didn’t turn around when he opened the door and walked up behind her.
“Did you sleep well, Mr. Salem?” she asked.
“How did you know it was me?” Harry asked.
“At this moment, there are only three people in this house, you, me and Lydia. And you don’t walk like Lydia.”
Harry smiled. “Mr. Fitz-Porter isn’t around?”
“No. He has his own place on the third circle,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I naturally assumed that you and he...”
“We became engaged off planet,” Jane said. “We were going to tell father when we got back.”
“How are you doing?” Harry asked stepping up beside her and looking out of the LifeShield in the same direction as she, but keeping her in his peripheral vision.
“I don’t know. I’ve never lost a father before,” she said softly.
Harry had had little practice being tender. He wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed. “What about your mother? Is she still alive?” he asked.
“No. But it isn’t the same thing. With my mother, we had time. She got sick. She wasted away. She died.”
Harry sensed a subtle tone of bitterness beneath the surface of her comment. He turned to her. “She couldn’t be helped?”
“Yes, she could. But mother was a Purist. She didn’t believe in Youth Treatments or replacement organs.” Jane turned and faced Harry. She looked him directly in the eyes. “She believed that the universe gave us one body in which to live and that part of living was dying. To her, postponing the inevitable was the height of selfishness.” Her eyes were wet as if on the brink of tears.
“Did your father believe the same?” Harry asked.
“No. He was considerably older than my mother and had already had one Youth Treatment before they married. However, since then, he has not... had not... He decided to age naturally.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“You shouldn’t be,” she said turning back to face the LifeShield and it’s intense red sky.
“My father is not lost to me,” she said gesturing towards the top of the green sward that stretched between them to the edge of the dome. “He’s right out there in every tree and in every plant. He will be ever present. The core elements of his body will enrich the greenways providing me and you with natural oxygen to breathe. With every breath I take, some of him becomes part of me. He returns to me. His molecules become my molecules...”
“And everyone else’s...”
“Exactly. That’s what makes living here so special. We all become part of each other. It’s why no one who stays here for any length of time ever wants to leave.”
“The red-ore has nothing to do with it, I suppose.”
“If it were only the red-ore, then people would fulfill their work contracts and bolt with more money than they would normally see in their whole lives.”
Harry felt that she was being totally naive. Her father hadn’t even been dead 48 hours. This was her hour of mourning. He decided not to press her on it. “Maybe you should go inside,” he suggested. “It must be hard for you to be so close...”
“...to where he died?” She finished his statement.
“No. Except for playing around in the kitchen with all those antique utensils, this was his most favorite place in the whole house,” she said gesturing around her. “He used to love to come out here and smoke a cigar and stare out into the distance. ‘Look at that red sky,’ he would say. ‘There’s nothing in the galaxy to compare with it in any corporate sector... and it’s ours.’ And he was right, Mr. Salem. Did you know that no other planet in the known galaxy has a red sky. There is no other color on this planet’s surface to mute or detract from the red glow. We are unique. It makes the people living here unique.”
“It certainly does that,” Harry said.
“I know it must seem strange to you,” she said. “I’ve been to other worlds. I’ve seen how the people act and how they live and how they struggle to get what they want whether it’s rightly theirs or not. Here, if you want something, you simply ask for it and it shows up on the next freighter. Once people learn that they don’t have to deny themselves, they are free to be who and what they really are.”
“And who are you, really?” Harry asked.
Jane smiled. “I’m Steve Somerset’s daughter,” she answered. “My father gave me this pendant. I only have to hold it and smell the air to have him with me.”
Harry looked at her, at the pendant, and then at the verandah, then down the steps to where Steve Somerset’s body had lain. It took him a moment to understand what was happening... what Jane was doing. He had heard of insects that were born in one form and then, when the time was right, wrapped themselves in a cocoon and metamorphosed into another, completely different form than that in which they had been born. Whoever Jane Somerset had been before her father’s death, that person could no longer exist. Harry had been exposed to enough raw data to realize that Steve Somerset occupied a unique place in the planet’s hierarchy. That’s why Lydia had taken up with him. Whatever position Somerset occupied, that place would now devolve to his daughter and she would need his strength to occupy it.
“If I can help you in any way... “ Harry began.
“... Thank you,” Jane said. She reached out and placed her hand firmly on his right forearm. “Believe me, if I need you, I won’t hesitate to ask.”