Elizabeth has spent her life exploring the world, visiting strangers, and learning all the customs she could. When the first Volunteer Project began, she had been in her fifties and out of the running. Now, at eighty-two, they offer to tune her up and send her to the stars. What world traveller could resist?
She becomes taller, stronger, but her sense of humour remains the same. Her assignment is to collect memories from alien ancients who have been gathered on one world as a disconnected think tank. She needs to get them together, one at a time.
She begins her journey there as a novice monk and works her way up to master. She deals with the indifferent man who greeted her and prepares to be charming with the other ancients until one goes too far, and she shows him what she is made of. Her mind is not his playground, and she has a strong right hook.
Elizabeth Montcross entered the embassy, and the conversations came to a halt. She rapped her cane against the polished stone. “I have been invited by Minerva-Gaia. Would one of you be so kind as to notify her that Libby Montcross is here?”
She looked around, and the woman with brown hair and green eyes that somehow looked like the colour of every leaf in the forest at the same time. The woman looked young, but the age in her eyes was infinite. “Ah, Ms. Montcross, please, come this way. I have had tea laid in in the sitting room.”
“Delightful. I have only had three cups today.” She smiled brightly.
Minerva laughed. “Sorry. It is a default setting. May I say, you are very spry for an octogenarian.”
“Ah, miss. You do say the sweetest things. Walking keeps me moving; moving keeps me alive. If I stand still, everything starts to lock together. I am collapsing into my own bones.” She chuckled.
The young woman with the old eyes escorted her to a bright room with a tea tray and teapot waiting.
The young woman poured and looked at the sugar. “Would you care for some?”
“Four.” Libby smiled. “At this point, it isn’t sugar in my tea that is going to kill me. It is falling asleep two inches off my normal pillow that is probably going to do me in.”
Libby took the teacup and sipped the sweet brew. “Very nice.”
“That tea is grown on a mountainside on a planet with two suns and five moons. There is a monastery where folks spend their time in peaceful contemplation and focus on connecting to the minds of others and record the great moments in history.”
Libby paused. “History?”
Minerva sipped at her tea. “Indeed. There is a world in their system filled with ancient beings who have lived on hundreds of worlds for thousands of years. They know about the development of species and the most ancient of rituals. For a human, it would be an archaeologist’s dream.”
Libby smiled. “It was my dream. Well, thirty years ago, when I applied to the Volunteer Project. I was too old even then. Now, I would be a sad cautionary tale.”
“What if I told you that you weren’t too old?” Minerva set aside her teacup with a click.
“I would think you were trying to kill me. The gravitational force on someone like me during launch would turn me into paste.”
“We have gel beds that would support you. You might break a rib or two, but they would take it easy on you.”
“So, launching me into space for a year seems feasible for you?”
Minerva picked up her tea. “We have a project planned to reset a few humans back to their optimal physical condition, based on their existing genes and some extras that might make you a little more sturdy.”
“What kind of extras?” Libby sipped at her tea.
“Oh, just genes to make you taller, stronger, possibly glow in the dark under the right circumstances. You can pick your eye colour, your hair colour, your physique. Name it, and the alteration can be made.”
“I would like dark blue hair. I would like to keep my eyes the way they were. I would like to be six feet tall. I have always wanted to be as big as I feel.” She laughed. The thought of turning into a blue-haired marauder appealed to her.
Minerva set her teacup down and refilled it. “Would you be upset if you were taller? The living archives strive for a certain unity of appearance.”
“Living archives? That is an actual job description?”
“It is more like a calling. You will learn how to meditate and coax the history out of the ancients. Some of them are rather fussy about being approached, and these are techniques that you would have to know.”
Libby tilted her head and smiled. “Is it really worth all this fuss for a little information?”
Minerva smiled. “You don’t understand. We aren’t talking about years or decades; they live thousands of years in some cases. Imagine what you could see with three thousand years of human history in front of you.”
“In some cases, it would only be lifetimes of trees and rainfall. In others, you could see the evolution of civilization.”
“Precisely, history depends on where you are sitting. These beings were sitting in the middle of species development. They have seen it all.”
“Don’t tease. I am drooling.” Libby checked. “Nope. My bad. Not a stroke.”
“How is it that your mind is so sharp?”
Libby finished her tea. “I come from a long line of long-lived grouchy women who married late. I outlived my memorable husband of five years and decided that marriage was an experience best engaged in once only. In my day, you couldn’t do squat until you had gotten married, and then, you were tied to him until he passed on. I was lucky that I knew how to work a bank account and read a financial statement. My father raised a very pretty son with an excellent head on her shoulders.” She smiled. “He was a good man who raised an odd daughter in any way she asked.”
“How much of your life do you remember?”