Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




From the Largest Crater


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2083-14-09 13:36

This . . . feels strange. They said that it’s healthy for those of us whose spouses take Return Missions to record our thoughts. Audio journaling, they called it. Zeli, if you saw the way these devices look, you’d have laughed at the very suggestion of it. They said other spouses who’ve done it have found it helpful for “processing difficult emotions.” It just makes me think they want to keep tabs on what I say and do, but that’s my father’s paranoia coming in. They said it helps to finish my recordings with “over” so that I know when I’ve gotten my thoughts out. Doesn’t that seem strange? Ugh . . . now the word “strange” sounds strange. But I guess this is where we are—in a strange time. Watching you leave on your Return Mission yesterday gave me such a sense of pride. My Zeli, leading her own Return for a change! I love you. I miss you already, but I really am proud of you. Over.

2083-14-09 21:02

I didn’t realize how empty the bed would feel without you, Zeli. But when I speak into this, it feels like I’m speaking to you. It’s soothing. I hope you sleep well tonight. Let me know if you can look up at me as I look down at you. I love you. Stay safe . . . Over.

2083-16-09 09:13

Which of the mealpacks are you having for breakfast? Jody brought over a fresh supply of vegetables, but he gave me too much green onion. What the hell do I do with that? Tofu scramble with beets for me . . . Over. No, not over. I shouldn’t shit talk Jody, he’s just being nice. I think he’s afraid of admitting that he misses Marcus, but I know you’re taking care of him. Of all the crew. Work was hell yesterday, Zeli. They’ve got me working on new temperature-ignorant strains of corn. I think their hope is that we can send some of it down to Earth, but it seems impossible to me. Why not just focus on cultivating as much as we can up here? If we can make it resist the heat, then we can make it resist the cold. But I guess time will tell. Okay, now, over.

2083-16-09 20:58

Work was exhausting, and my research team is being asked to double our efforts to find better strains of our current crops. I suppose no one considered that moving populations to the Moon would require this much thought. Idiots, all of them. I hope you’re safe down there. Jody and I have been joking with each other about what to cook when you get back. “Bioengineered corn and vacuum-resistant turnip shit-salad,” how delicious! Sleep tight down there, Zeli. Over.

2083-21-09 11:02

It’s my first day off since you left. I wish the Command Center would let me see you—not even the new footage, just some old recordings would be nice. To know you’re okay, you know? They said they’re closely monitoring your “classified” mission, that they’ll tell me if something happens. “I shouldn’t worry.” But of course I worry, I’m your wife! And with all the lessons we get up here about how hellish Earth has become, it’s not irrational for me to want to know my wife is safe down there. Right? I think so. And what about your crew? Zeli, you know I hate when others try to make me feel crazy for no reason. I need to take a bath or something. Get my mind off of research and Earth for a bit. I love you. Over.

2083-23-09 18:37

There are rumors that if the average temperature on Earth passes twenty Cel, even more viruses and diseases will come from the permafrost and oceans. What’s it like down there for you, Zeli? Have you met any people? Are most of them Shortened like we thought? Jody says we should be engineering medicines to help increase their lifespans, but I don’t think it’s possible. The air is just too toxic. We should focus on what we’re doing up here instead of trying to save a bunch of doomed people. Maybe that’s rude of me—it just seems so hopeless for any of the Earth-born. Moriko and I were talking about all the possible ways to get rid of the CO2, but what do we know? According to our bosses, not enough. Ha. Over.

2083-25-09 09:22

One more week! I’ve asked Jody for his best produce for dinner—I bet it feels like ages since you had a fresh vegetable. I can’t wait to see you, Zeli! Over.

2083-25-09 11:13

There’s news of a storm brewing over the Atlantic, something bigger and more dangerous than they’ve ever seen. What can you see from your end? I hope it doesn’t hit you too hard. Back to work, stay safe. Over.

2083-27-09 08:46

They sent word today that they’re evacuating you early. We can see the storm from here, just by looking in the sky. It covers almost half of the Atlantic, Zeli. Half! There are smaller ones in the south Pacific, but they don’t come close. They’ve announced it as a top ten storm for the past twenty years. Imagine that! It’s incredible . . . what’s it look like for you? If they name it before you get back, they should name it after you. To honor your bravery for leading a crew down there in all that chaos! “Azelia.” You can always go back later. Jody and I are going together to the Command Center tomorrow to pick you up. I hope you like dinner, even if it doesn’t feel like a celebration. Collard stew feels so plain. Maybe I’ll find something better. Over.

2083-28-09 03:24

I can’t sleep. I’m so ready to see you, Zeli. Over.

2083-28-09 10:31

What the fuck, Zeli. What the fuck, where are you. Marcus, Alejandro, Talia, Bertan, they’re all here. Where the fuck are you. Fuck over.

2083-28-09 14:03

I haven’t eaten all day because of you. What’s happening? Where are you? Command Center won’t tell me where you are, they won’t let me talk with your crew. What the fuck happened, Zeli? I hate this. I’m so nauseous. Shit. Over. Over!

2083-28-09 18:27

Commander Hernandez came to our home today. He said you chose to stay behind and sent your crew ahead. He said that you met a healthy girl, someone you think has immunity to the permafrost diseases. And he fucking approved you to keep her alive until she’s old enough to come back with you on a Jump. Zeli, what the fuck are you thinking. I can’t—whatever. Over.

2083-29-09 01:48

I can’t believe you. I fucking can’t. I’m too pissed to sleep. Too worried to think straight. Over.

2083-29-09 03:10

I’m terrified for you alone down there. Just the thought of losing you—it hurts. You’re hurting me, Zeli. And for what? A fucking child, a little girl? You have to train her to jump! It takes years, and that’s with a class and technicians helping! What the hell are you gonna do, Azelia? You’re alone. I’m alone… Over.

2083-01-10 20:21

I’m still mad at you. Over.

2083-03-10 19:48

Command finally talked to me. They told me the girl might actually be immune to the disease, that her immune system let her escape the worst of it. They say they can use her blood to help create a cure. Maybe create some new drug that we can somehow incorporate into the crops and build herd immunity that way. It’s crazy. I hate it all. Why would you put this much pressure on yourself, Zeli? When you realized she was healthy, did you just instantly give up on coming home? Did you not once think of any other option? Was this really the only way? I just . . . I need answers, Azelia. Are you even alive down there, or did the storm take you and that little girl away? They won’t tell me how long you’ll be gone. But I know it’s going to be years. Years alone, years away from you. Years of our empty-ass bed on this empty-ass space rock. And as much as I hate you, Zeli, I’m here. Waiting. For you and this kid. She better be fucking worth it. Over.

2083-09-10 20:17

The only way I stop talking into this fucking recorder is by keeping busy with work. But still, it doesn’t feel right to ignore this, like it’s actually you. Jody said Marcus has been busy facilitating research based on the blood sample you sent. You could’ve just come back, you know. The girl would probably be fine on that toxic shithole. She was fine without you. She’ll be fine without you. Over.

2083-10-10 12:43

I feel like such an ass . . . I don’t want her to die. She’s a child, for God’s sake. I know she can’t help whatever awful thing has happened to make you want to stay there with her. I just hate this so much. We need her blood to help develop some kind of blood stabilizer for Shortened Earth-borns—I know that. But why does it have to be my Zeli risking her life for this? Over . . . I guess.

2083-13-10 22:36

I learned how to delete recordings I don’t like, but the fuckin’ counter keeps goin’ up. Fuck this counter. Fuck you. Fuck Jody. Fuck Marcus. Fuck that kid. I hope you come home and see me fuckin’ wasted off bourbon and wine and a fuckin’ mess from being left alone. I miss you so much.

2083-14-10 08:15

Remind me not to touch the bourbon again while you’re gone. Over.

2083-20-11 13:01

According to the counter, I’ve tried saying something to you at least twelve times over the past month. And all I can do every time I hit record is stare and cry. I’m not usually like this—you know that. But for some reason, I just can’t make words. I can’t think straight. I want to apologize for thinking so terribly about a literal child. She’s human, after all. I want to tell you that I’m proud of you for making this sacrifice for the future of humanity. I want to tell you just how much I love and appreciate you. But it’s so hard to make it come out sometimes. You’re all I can think about. You and that child, you raising this child on your own while the world crumbles around you. Marcus says I need hobbies to get through being apart. But what kind of hobby passes years of time? Over.

2083-22-11 17:57

For my own mental wellbeing, I’m only going to use this thing to update you on something new. I’ve started regularly seeing a therapist to just get better coping skills, and I don’t think talking here has been helping. So . . . goodbye for now, Zeli. I love you . . . over.

2084-19-06 20:12

My therapist said to wait six months before updating you on my life. It’s been hard, Zeli. You’d be so proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m not angry anymore. At least, I don’t think I am. Maybe talking right now will bring it out again. Wouldn’t that be sad? Ha! What have I been up to in the past half year, you ask? I improved some of our fertilization techniques with Jody’s help. We’ve both been working on this for months, and it finally resulted in a stronger spring harvest. With higher production, we might actually have to increase our dry storage supply! I sound so stupid getting excited over plants, but it really has been such a long time coming for this project. How are you? I hope the weather isn’t too hot down there. It’s a perfectly controlled twenty-one here, thank goodness. All anyone can talk about is how it’s another blistering year for Earth. Something like records of sixty-five in Europe? I just don’t get how we ever let it get that bad. Hopefully with my fertilization improvements, we can stop worrying about maintaining a sustainable life here and worry more about reducing the temperatures down there. And I guess that involves giving us all some immunity to whatever awful diseases have unleashed down there. Which makes what you’re doing all the more important. It makes what we’re both doing so important, and I’m even if I’m pissed at you for staying, I can’t hate you for doing what you know is right. Over.

2084-30-10 20:12

When you get back, let’s celebrate birthdays again. Remember the last time we did anything? It was for your twenty-seventh birthday, and we had to shovel wine and cake into our faces during our briefing break right before you started Jumping. That seems like so long ago—more than five years. That was right after Jumping was officially approved as the best way to get small groups between the Earth and the Moon. You became such a guinea pig for them, testing all the ways to improve Jumps. No wonder you became a Jumplead, no wonder you became the hope for humanity. Through it all, I supported you. So that’s why I want to do my best to support this Jump, too. Over.

2084-31-12 23:54

When we first met, we did the countdown to ring in our first New Year together, remember? Last year I was too pissed off to say anything, but I missed you too much to celebrate with anyone else. My New Year’s wish was to see you again sometime this past year. It’s a dumb wish, they told me it’d be at least five years. I don’t know if that kid will be ready in five years to make her first jump, but damn she couldn’t have a better teacher in the universe. After all, not everyone can do it—and if you can tell that she can, then I believe in you and her. Maybe one day I’ll actually meet her. Oh—I missed the countdown. Happy New Year. Over.

2085-02-02 09:54

That last thing I said, about meeting the kid . . . I meant it. I just want to make sure you know that. If she’s kept you away for this long, she’s important to you. And maybe that means she should be important to me. I don’t know her, and you know I’m not a huge fan of kids—that’s why we agreed to stay on the Moon Colony and focus on research in the first place. But if this changes things, I want to at least be able to consider the possibilities . . . whatever they are. Over.

2085-25-08 21:33

It’s been a while, so I figured I’d update you before bed and the harvest season really picks up. I’ve discovered some hobbies I love! Can you guess what they are, Zeli? Here’s a hint: none of them are knitting. I’ve started painting the Colony. I’m not that good yet, and I’m not painting more than the surrounding units. But it’s something I’m proud of. I love the ways watercolor mixes. Sometimes it’s too gray, sometimes there’s not enough blue, and the sky is never black enough. But it always seems to work, and these weird splotches of faded colors turn into something that brings me peace. I’ve been hanging them up around the unit. Above our bed, I’ve put you and I as stick-figures next to our unit, with Jody and Marcus waving in the corner. When you see it, you’ll probably think a child painted it. But I think it’s cute! Oh my gosh, speaking of Marcus, listen to this. Last month, Marcus joked that with you bringing that kid up here, we’d be this new age family. A disease-resistant lesbian family with some adopted dirty Earth-tween. The wine had us cry-laughing about that one! Ah, it’s getting late, and I’ve got an early morning tomorrow. Goodnight, Zeli. I haven’t said it in a while, but I love you. Don’t forget that. Over.

2086-02-01 06:22

I woke up early to paint the section of the Earth you’re on. Right as the Moon’s rotation and the Earth’s link, right in that moment where I know where you are and you can look up and know where I am. That’s what I want to paint. With a bright yellow dot for where you are, thriving. I hope you like it. Over.

2086-07-07 10:11

It never occurred to me until today that the girl would need somewhere to stay when you bring her back. She isn’t some test subject. We have the space, so I suppose they’d just place her with us once they give her vaccines and do their tests. Or at the very least, they’d let her sleep in a real bed and not some lab. Would that make her ours? Over.

2086-08-07 22:18

Would you want her to be ours? Over.

2086-15-07 10:47

I’ve done a bit of research into what it’d look like to have a child here. I never imagined having kids on the Colony—I always imagined we would both be focused on our research, we’d help fix Earth and maybe get to live on it again to help others. But never raise our own. What do you want to do with that girl when she gets here? I hate not knowing. Over.

2087-28-01 18:05

I met with some higher-ups today. They said if we wanted, and if the child wanted, we could keep her with us if she acclimates to the Moon. These past couple of months, I’ve been reading child rearing books and clearing out the office to make room. Maybe I’ll do some watercolors for her space? We can work on the layout when you both get here. Over.

2087-06-04 17:58

I’m starting to warm up to this, Zeli. Don’t disappoint me with some asshole, no manners child you’ve been raising for these few years. Oh also, the room is blue-and-white themed, to remind her of where she comes from. Over.

2087-13-09 17:58

Hernandez finally let me listen to you during your last check-in. You sound so different, Zeli. Rough. Patched. Where has your silky, sultry voice gone? I’ve been crying for the past hour just thinking about how awful it must be down there. How my Zeli could’ve turned into what I heard, that person living every day as a struggle. And . . . I heard the girl in the background. She was talking about where you two would be going next—Algiers, I think? She sounds so youthful and knowledgeable—I think I was expecting her to have some kind of born-on-a-dying-planet tone to her voice. I’m almost ashamed at how I think about her. About all the Earth-born Shortened, really. It’s not right, and I’m working on it. She sounds so smart, and I want to know more of how she thinks and what you two talk about. Do you two laugh together? Does she know about me? God I wish the tears would stop. Over.

2087-15-09 21:49

I can’t get her voice out of my head. It’s ringing louder, this prepubescent collection of sounds. I wish I knew her name. I wish I knew her favorite colors, her favorite things to eat. Does she like sweet things? Are there even that many sweet things down there? We don’t have much sweet stuff besides fruits and chocolate, but I bet I could make something she’d like. I miss you, Zeli. But I think I’m excited to see what our future holds together with this child. This could be something . . . new. New isn’t always bad, right? Over.

2088-26-02 02:32

I had an awful dream, Zeli. The Moon was crashing into the Earth. And we both got close enough to barely touch fingers with each other. I wanted to grab you, to feel close to you before it all ended. And I could see you crying, Zeli. You never cry, and it broke my heart. It was awful. I woke up sweating. I just needed to talk to you, I think. Goodnight . . . over.

2088-17-06 17:32

It’s been almost five years since I last saw you. I do my best to keep busy with work and painting. I’ve gotten so much better, Zeli. You’d be proud! I replaced some of the first ones around the house with these newer ones, and they feel almost professional enough to give to others. For Marcus and Jody’s anniversary, I gave them this fantastic painting of two whales. I don’t know why, but they feel like whales to me—big men, but soft and all-knowing, too. They loved it. When you get back, we’ll have our ten year anniversary in October. It’s awful to think of how much of it has been spent apart, but we’re all the stronger for it, wouldn’t you say? How would you like to celebrate? Oh I know! What if you and I cook together, and instead of celebrating being together, we celebrate becoming a family with the child? That’d be adorable! I’m all excited now! See you soon, Zeli. I love you. Over.

2088-20-07 08:31

Hernandez said you’re preparing to come back before the next hurricane season starts! I can’t wait to see you, Zeli! This has been hell! Haha! It’s almost over!

2088-22-07 14:59

Hernandez just called to say that you’re planning an emergency jump before nightfall. Is everything okay? I hope you both make it safely. I’m sure with your training, with both of you watching out for each other, it’ll be okay. I’m headed to the Command Center now to meet you! Yes, yes, I know I can’t fully interact with you both until they’ve sanitized you and all that. But still! Oh also, I’m bringing a gift for the girl—it’s a teddy bear! Turns out I did pick up knitting, ha! I’ll see you soon! Over.

2088-22-07 19:03

I’m in the holding area waiting for you. I decided to record it so I can play your voice back after so long. My stomach is such a fucking wreck right now. Will you still find me attractive after all this time? It’s no question at all for me—you’ll be coming back as this rugged, toned woman. I can’t wait to kiss you again. To hold you and be held by you. Oh Zeli, my heart is racing. Over.

2088-22-07 20:00

You were supposed to have been here by now. Where are you? Over.

2088-22-07 20:05

They won’t tell me what’s going on, but my nerves are killing me so I need to talk. Zeli, please get here safe. Please make sure you both get here safe. Over.

2088-22-07 21:13

The jump alarms are going off, which means you’re both here! I want to record our first time seeing each other again, Zeli. Ah, I think I can see Hernandez in the tunnel, he’s coming out soon. He looks awful, my goodness! You must’ve been stressing that poor man out. Good thing this is all over. Ah! Zeli! Zeli, do you see me? I’m here, to your left! Look through the sanitation tunnel window, silly! It’s so great to see you again—where’s the girl? . . . Azelia? Where—

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Jendayi Brooks-Flemister

Jendayi Brooks-Flemister. A young Black nonbinary person sits smiling at the camera. They have a short black afro with shaved sides, black-rimmed glasses and gold nose piercings, and they are wearing an unbuttoned light blue jacket over a black shirt with a yellow square and a red carnation in the middle.

Jendayi Brooks-Flemister (they/she) has been imagining the weird and unsettling since they started writing at 7 years old. Their experiences as someone queer and Black have lent themselves to how they understand the mental and emotional toll that comes with being othered. This lens manifests itself through the people, cultures, mental health issues, and experiences in their writing. Their fiction has appeared in FIYAH Magazine, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, and more. Jendayi is currently working on their debut novel in their new home of Portland, Oregon.