It’s not unusual to hear music in a spaceport arrival lounge. After all, if aliens didn’t enjoy music, I’d never have been able to travel. But this sounded familiar. Disturbingly familiar. Standing in line, I felt a sinking sensation as the tune wound its way to its conclusion. It was The Beatles. Millions of light years from Earth and I was listening to The Beatles. How did I feel?
Let me tell you of a creature called the Bork. It was born in the heart of a dying sun. It was cast forth upon this day from the river of past/future as a piece of time pollution. It was fashioned of mud and aluminum, plastic, and some evolutionary distillate of seawater. It had spun dangling from the umbilical of circumstance until, severed by its will, it had fallen a lifetime or so later, coming to rest on the shoals of a world where things go to die.
Io Destiny is a rich planet, home to three billion lives, built as a faceted gem to honor the Seven Suns. All the gods are worshiped equally here in peace. Temples caress the lower atmosphere and ships dance in celestial orbit; the Seven Suns are honored in effigy in great statues and holograms that mortals adore. Io Destiny is the only neutral world. While the gods chafe and feud with each other, hovering on the cusp of war, this planet is sacrosanct.
We have traveled here, to this most innocuous of country landscapes, to make good on a promise made by my grandfather, Carlton Whitmore, to a girl he loved in his youth. How foolish that sounds, writ down so! But it is true. Grandfather met her on the banks of the Bolton Strid, where she stood naked and confused, water drying on her skin. His notes state that she knew no modesty, and that “she was pale as the belly of a deep-river fish.”
::SO-COMMAND\TEMPLAR-NAVCOM-INFO: All systems functioning within normal parameters:: Peacekeeping missions were always the most difficult assignment for Lieutenant Macia Branson. Not that she longed for the combat which had been much of her duty in the Service of the Order, but the reality was that it was still war conditions, only with the setting lowered to a slow broil.
Times were strange, and those who survived the collapse had a jarring mixtape of skills. Plumbers were holy men, exorcising the encampments of the demons of human waste. They brought forth, stored and dispensed the holiest sacrament of all, clean water. Warriors emerged from the strangest of places, sex workers commanded respect and were offered it gladly.
“The point is not to make an exact replica of the Teheran embassy compound.” Exasperated, Ivan Venutshenko grabbed his hair in one hand and pulled up. “It’s the spirit of the place that we want to invoke here.” “This has the spirit of our storage warehouse, if you ask me.” “This is our storage warehouse, John. We make all our movies here.”
You ask how my brother died on the moon that day, but that’s the wrong question. Ask instead what he spelled with his bootprints when we first stepped down from the platform. Ask instead the one song he listened to, the whole flight there. Ask why he wanted me there instead of Jess, his wife. It’s because we used to pretend the backyard at night was the moon. That we were astronauts. That gravity was different.
“It doesn’t hurt, Gram,” Renata says. My sixteen-year-old daughter pulls up her t-shirt sleeve to show her bare arm, the skin summer brown and the muscle swelling slightly into smooth biceps, flawless. “I had it done when I was little and see, you can’t even tell.” My mother is sitting in the little examining room at the assisted living complex. Everything is white and hospital-like but there’s no examining couch.
His name was Two-Tongued Jeremy; he was a monitor lizard with a forked tongue, thick glasses, and a wild, wagging smile meant to convince children that learning could be fun, too. He came highly rated. He updated automatically. When our promising children propped their tablets against their stacks of textbooks, their glazy angelic eyes took on that ferocious determination we liked to see in ourselves.