For a fleeting instant there was a flicker of nothingness. Then the world crashed into existence about her. Information poured into her: facts, skills, experiences; all the false memories she would need to fake the identity of the body she wore. The new memories were dull gray in comparison to the stunning recollection of a tent set in the middle of a frozen wilderness.
The world sprang into motion around Elza. While a moment ago she had waited for Hess in overpowering cold, now she baked beneath a fiery sun in a lush field of Taro lined by plantain trees. The brown-skinned women and men working the fields cut greens with bronze knives and dug into the ground for the starchy fruit. They would work at the harvest all day, then feast that night, just as they would every day until the crop was harvested and stored for the coming year.
Elza turned to the woman beside her, a cousin named Lana who was also her best friend. Each recalled fact pushed the tent further back in her memory, diminishing the lingering sense of coldness. Lana put out a hand. “Are you well, Nora?”
She looked down at the brown skin of her hand, then to her shapely figure. Elza recalled that she was the most beautiful woman in the village. Many of the boys hoped she would ask them to be her man, but so far she had not chosen one.
Elza placed her hands to her temples. One moment she had been waiting for Hess and the next she was here. There had been no transcendental union with the Creator. There hadn’t been any experience from beyond. And now she was surrounded by strangers she knew intimately. Fake memories of fake people filled her head.
“No, Lana, I am not well.” Even the language she spoke was different.
“Go in from the fields, child,” said one of the older men. “No one will think bad of you if you need a break. We will manage without you for a time.”
Elza nodded and ran to the village, a collection of thatched huts where she had grown up surrounded by a close-knit agricultural community. No, I never lived here. I was with Hess this morning. He promised he would be quick, but he didn’t make it back in time.
The village was small and her long legs were swift, so she was soon at the far side of the village. Rolling hills stretched into the distance, dotted with small settlements much like hers. Elza stopped running and sank to her knees.
Was he out there somewhere? She refused to believe the Creator would discard Hess, no matter how poor of an Observer he might be. He had to be out there. As her eyes scanned the horizon, she remembered more false memories, of people telling her that the land went on forever in each direction and that there were as many villages as stars in the sky.
The Creator had separated them. Elza squeezed her eyes shut, dwelling in the last moment they had shared, visualizing the way he had looked at her. She sighed. All the brutality and tenderness of that world was gone forever. A new one stood in its place and it was her purpose to observe it.
“What is wrong, Nora?”
Elza turned to look at her cousin Lana. She stood up. “Nothing. I just felt odd for a moment.”
Lana stroked her hair. “They will think we’re lazy if we stay away too long.”
“Let’s go back to the fields, then,” Elza said. As she rejoined the rest of her village, they smiled encouragement at her. She returned to where she had stood when the world began and bent to her task. It seemed a good world to her. She thought even Hess would approve of this one.