Every day NuTay watched the starship from their shack, selling satshine and sweet chai to wayfarers on their way to the stars. NuTay and their kin Satlyt baked an endless supply of clay cups using dirt from the vast plain of the port. NuTay and Satlyt, like all the hawkers in the shanties that surrounded the dirt road, were dunyshar, worldless—cursed to a single brown horizon.
The Surrogate walked past Casey’s window. She watched its shadow slip across the shade, then she stood and zipped up her flight suit. This was the day. No matter what. The doorbell rang. It was polite, the Surrogate. It had manners. It rang the doorbell. It said please and thank you. It had saved Casey’s life, twice, and the first time she had been grateful.
It is customary to begin one’s memoirs at birth. As I was not “born” in the gross mammalian sense, I shall begin instead at a more logical point in time. To wit: I was borne to Earth on cosmic winds, falling through chance and the grace of the heavens to root in the soil of Notting Hill. There I grew rapidly to adult stature, devoured a lady’s maid who had the misfortune to come too close to my tendrils, and assumed her form.
Still in the hospital. Radiation burns suck. Mom came to see me, though, which was nice. She probably had to argue with that dick of a boss she works for to let her off early. You’d think since I nearly died because superheroes were fighting above my school that I’d get some sort of benefits or medical insurance, but noooo, it’s all on me and Mom to foot the hospital bills because fights are not a novelty anymore.
The news was everywhere. It was in our dreams, it was on TV. Tonight, the travelers on the first starship from Earth would awaken. That morning, Danous yawned with the expectant creak of shutters, the first stretch of shadow across narrow streets. The air shimmered with the scent of warming pine, it brushed through the shutters and touched our thoughts even as our dreams had faded. For this was Starship Day, and, from tonight, nothing would ever be the same.
Donna had picked up Jared’s favorite—Romano’s to go, he liked the rosemary bread and the penne rustica—and was just putting it in the oven to keep warm when they brought him in. They being EMTs, after pounding urgently on the door, and brought him in meaning he was on a stretcher. He had an IV in his arm and his eyes were bandaged with thick layers of gauze.
The City Man was calling him. Tracker lifted his head from his garden, distracted from the small fears and satisfactions of the black beetles sucking juice from the ruffled cabbages beneath his fingers. The scent of that calling came to him on the soft westerly winds that also carried molecules of ocean, fish, and seagull shit, dying shelled-things and hungry water-living mammals.
They hate me. They have told me this, again and again, starting from almost the first day of the mission, and continuing every day since then, carrying their hostility well outside the confines of the solar system and into the realm of bentspace. Their hatred does not quite extend to the realm of murder, at least not yet; but it does include telling me every day, in every possible way, that they find my presence intolerable.
Diana hasn’t seen her son naked before. He floats now in the clear gel bath of the medical bay, the black ceramic casing that holds his brain, the long articulated tail of his spinal column. Like a tadpole, she thinks. Like something young. In all, he hardly masses more than he did as a baby. She has a brief, horrifying image of holding him on her lap, cradling the braincase to her breast.
Every night I come home and I drink. I trade away the hope, the guilt, the fear, even the love—I think it’s love, crazy as it seems. I trade them for oblivion, because otherwise I won’t sleep at all. I drink until there’s no life left in me, until I’m able to forget for just a little while the chrome vessel in the corner and what’s at stake. Sometimes I hope that I’ll dream of her.