The Infinite Matrix

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by Maureen F. McHugh


It hadn't always been a perfect marriage, but it was a good one. He could be Oblivious. She could be Bitchy. Even after a thousand years, some things remained the same. The tactics change, but it's all one battle.

For the past six decades, Isabelle had had gray eyes and high arching eyebrows, like her husband's ex-wife. Kaylen had only been married to the ex for eight years, but it was when he was only double digits in age. Those things shape a plastic brain. The mind grows less pliable after the first hundred years.

Of course, Kaylen didn't know they were his ex-wife's eyes and eyebrows, but Isabelle could tell that it unsettled him. That was the point. She had learned that too much comfort was bad, and too much change was equally bad.

He had always hated when she changed her appearance. He had kept the same look for, what, almost six hundred years? Mostly, he liked having a full head of hair.  But irritants were necessary — like the bit of grit in the oyster that the animal coats with nacre, smoothing and smoothing into the pearl.

So she had changed things, just enough to keep them from getting static. Moved him from Ohio to Australia, and then to Hong Kong for part of each year. And then Antarctica, which despite the dome was really like Australia. And after that to Dacca and all over.

The eyes and eyebrows were a Bitchy touch. She couldn't remember why she'd been angry — something about when they had lived on Mars, she thought.  But all she could remember about living at the edge of the Martian pole at all, just flashes of co-op meetings with that dark-haired woman whose name she couldn't remember, and behind her the big picture window looking out on the sere red desert.

She'd been angry before in the marriage, she simmered for centuries sometimes. But still whenever he traveled she missed him, and she felt him in her bed like a phantom limb.

He was just back now from working in Iquique, at the foot of the Andes.  He had been gone for three years, and they had sent presents to each other.  Her last present was a mechanical golden spider, a deft thing he could operate remotely, or just program to follow him.  Giving him things, courting him, had always made her love him.  And he had sent her a copy of her favorite Velazquez painting, the portrait of Juan de Pareja, and she hadn't even realized he knew she loved it.  She wasn't angry anymore.  It was time for a change. Hair, eyes, skin color. Maybe replace the ex's eyebrows with her own and darken her skin until she was all a tawny color from head to toe. She thought they both might like that.

But then the thought of it made her tired. Hadn't she done that before?

What change did she want? What was there left to do that she hadn't done?

Divorce? After 1,000 years? They had spent the better part of a century apart, once, and still had come back together.

It was time to be reborn.

"Kaylen?" she said, and he looked up from his reading. "Are you tired of me?" she asked.

He tilted his head back, patient, waiting for what she would say.


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Maureen McHugh is the author of four novels, the most recent of which is Nekropolis, (2001) and about two dozen stories. She received the Hugo award for her story "The Lincoln Train," and has also been awarded the Tiptree, Lambda, and Locus Poll awards; she has enough additional major-award nominations (seven Nebulas, three Hugos) to wallpaper a stretch HumVee.


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