Chuck Rothman’s story “The Passing of the Beacon Star” appeared in the eighth issue of Tomorrow Speculative Fiction in April of 1994. Although it has a strong fantasy feel, the story is a science fiction tale, set on another planet in which the human settlers carry around insect-like jerritch on their shoulders.
The jerritch act as retainers of the human’s memories, so individuals have no long term memory. If they need to access details of something that has happened in the past, whether to them or to the world at large, their jerritch plugs its antenna into a port on the human’s neck and allows the person to access the memories they need. This allows each individual to essentially live a variety of lives without reference to their earlier existence and in the process they take on new names and identities.
The story is set in the city of Amak during a festival known as “Choosing Day.” On this date, the citizens of Amak not only choose their new identities, but also choose which House of Guidance, essentially a sect, will guide the city for the next year.
Rothman focuses on a woman who is using the name “Weaver of Colors.” Wandering through the crowded city aimlessly, she connects with her jerritch looking for a place to get away from the crowds. The jerritch leads her to the Cult of the Beacon Star, which is the current Guiding House for Amak. Unlikely to be selected again, the house is empty except for one of its Holies, the priest who oversees the sanctuary. Weaver and the priest learn, through their jerritches, that they were once lovers, and although their recollections are limited, they reconnect with each other until the votes are cast and the Cult of the Beacon Star is not longer the guiding light, at which time, Weaver learns more about herself from her jerritch.