Fiction: Aqaara – Part One
We are pleased to introduce the first installment of our inaugural venture into fiction with Donald McPhedran Gibson's Aqaara, the second book of a speculative fiction trilogy Umiariak, chronicling a trans-generational journey to a distant planet. Set in the present day, Gibson's work reflects on what awaits in our inevitably entangled future.
A link to a separate glossary covering some of the terms may be found at the bottom of the text. Installments of Aqaara will appear every Tuesday on Outer Places.
The wall didn't look right. It was made of a rock mined from the moon, something called anorthite. It had a grain to it and looked like wood, or half wood, half metal, like cedar zinc or pine nickel. It was smooth but granular too. Everything on the ship was made of it, anorthite, the walls, floors, stairs, buildings and pods. Everything. Dee was lying half asleep on a moonrock ship. There was nothing weirder than that, except that she would never to see Earth again.
Dee considered the ship's sounds, a humming that flowed and ebbed in a cyclical patter, building, dissolving, turning into a distant chant, a vibration of flocking birds, distant, close, out of the complex of echoing walls, the joints and seams alternately compressing and expanding, imitating the changing pressure of Earth's barometric atmosphere, the approaching storms, the changing of the season. It was a life force, organically created from the ship, its interaction with the dark matter, a vibration, or a feeling, barely that, something that paused and started again, a pressure, like water coursing through the pipes in the walls, steady, closer and then gone. Her head was still clogged from the ascent, the pain behind her eyes all the way to the back of her head, there and then not, a throbbing that wasn't. It was supposed to have passed – that was another thing they had said – even if it had got worse, her eyes compressed against her skull, like her allergies when she was a kid. She had never gone outside in summer but stayed in her room instead, in the dark, waiting it out. That was supposed to be the irony of this, getting allergies again after so long, when there was no fall to get allergic to, no seasons, no spring or summer, no trees, no pollen, nothing left to be allergic to, nothing but this weird moonstone wall and a space blanket twisted around her shoulders.
She didn't care about losing the summer. She didn't care that she would never again see an autumn or spring. That wasn't the thing. She would have been happy to have had every day the same, exactly the same, the same temperature, the same weather, everything the same, without seasons. It was not having days anymore; she couldn't get her head around that. The days were no more. No more nights. No mornings, no afternoons, no evenings, no hours or minutes. She would only have the empty blackness, that void that went on and on. Wherever she was now, that was it, always that, that nothing, without a horizon. She tried to picture being somewhere, in an Earth place, on the surface, held down by gravity, as simple as that, the day ahead, peaceful day, and then the day, wonderful day, darkness into light, certain of that, nothing more certain than that, sure in that exact regularity, that remarkable thing she had always known and was now lost in something called Lagrangian Orbit, an orbit not of the Earth or the moon, but between them, an eddy, endlessly circling, pulled back and forth, never closer to either. She had been in Lagrangian Orbit for three days now, or ex-days, Earth Days, EDs, as they called them, the newest and last member of the expedition. Everyone had been here longer than her, some as much as a year, an ex-year or EY, so long that that was the abstract now, time measured by Earth's rotations, something they were just told about, that was no longer true. No days. No nights. They had the years now, for as long as they stayed here, revolving around the sun, but soon they would no longer have that.
Dee pressed her hand flat against the wall and pulled the metallic blanket off her shoulder. She was going to sit up, her muscles involuntarily pulling her up for a moment, but didn't and lay inert, considering her fingers, thinking about how she was no longer on Earth, still that, and turned her palm face-ward and tried to bend her thumb to roll the Bearing from the ring on her index finger but couldn't find the notch, and just spun it around, flashing the tiny screen on and then off. She wanted to give up, go back to sleep, as she turned the ring around on her index finger and tried it again, sliding the edge of her thumb on the outside edge, but she still couldn't get it to work. She turned it slowly with the tip of her thumb, exactly like they had taught her, just against the knuckle of her finger, touching the outside edge, but there was nothing still. She shook out her hand, spread her fingers, adjusted it again, turned it around and spun it slower, still with her thumb, and got it to work abruptly, the screen appearing as a projection with a blue-black background, the ship, elegant and long, in the palm of her hand, the start screen there:
Anori, Sinclair Log-in.
She tried to log in on the hovering keyboard but double hit something or missed something else. She sat up, typing slowly, and her screen unlocked.
Hello, Dee Sinclair. Join Solaris?
Dee swiped to the next screen.
Welcome to Anori Mission, Day 462, Temperature 72. Initiating Sequence: 46 hours. Join Solaris?
She tapped Search and then: Anori News
Anori News broadcaster, Chantal Deschampes, appeared on the screen, her hair much shorter than on Earth, half on her shoulders, the other side lower down, partly braided, some sort of new-galaxy look. "Cease all preparations for launch." That is the entirety of their message. Chantal spoke deliberately, trying to be historic. "Cease all preparations to launch." The same message repeated over and over. "Cease all preparations for launch." They have failed to reply to any of our messages. There is just the one repeated command. "Cease all preparations for launch." Zhe Hu, Liaison and Strategic Commander, has been equally clear.
An image of Zhe Hu appeared next, her jaw set, upper lip just up, revealing her smooth, wide teeth, her hand on the Anori console as she spoke in a monotone. Negative. Anori has initiated departure sequence.
An image of the Earth popped up, the bridge of Anori turning past the distant blue orb against the blackness. Cease all preparations for launch.
Negative. Anori has initiated departure sequence.
It went on like that, on a loop. Dee checked the display, to see if the image was frozen, but it wasn't. It continued like that until she scrolled back to the main menu and then spun the ring around with a jerk, almost knocking it off her finger, and opened her Facebook. A gif image from the film Knocked Up played – Paul Rudd walking out of a room, his friend laughing after him: Don't let the door hit you in the vagina on your way out! Paul Rudd's baseball hat and shirt sported Anori's Infinity insignia.
The next gif was of the Death Star exploding in Star Wars, captioned Anori. She scrolled further to find a gif of Al Pacino, in a Hawaiian shirt from Scarface, walking into the street and gunning down a mobster, yelling, Your turn! The caption read: Have a nice trip, Anori. It had 453,000 likes. She scrolled back. The Anori Death Star had 800,000 likes, the Knocked Up scene 160,000. She continued down her feed; there was nothing but images, gifs and rants against Anori. Keep Calm and Fuck You, Anori.
"Okay, we get it." She flicked the screen off, flipping the Bearing back into the slot of her ring and got up, her feet now on the warm anorthite floor, and walked across the blue-toned triangular room, away from the bed tucked into the nose, past the two conical chair, the desk built into the wall and an armless seat – each made from the same anorthite – and into the bathroom. The round mirror looked normal, the sink, even the slender toilet seat, and the water ran perfectly, like she had been making the whole trip into space up in her head.
She spun her thumb on the ring again, hunching over her palm, scrolling through the menus as she brushed her teeth, and stopped to study a map of the ship. The Anori was sleek, an arrow-like space craft, two kilometers long, with eight pods, nine including Dante, the hemisphere at the rear where the void-space was produced and would generate the dark matter ignition. Val had told her that. It was fifty degrees below zero in Dante, the ideal temperature to maintain even displacement. She had tried to read about how the engine worked – anisotropy generators, tensile modulation, reverse polarization – but just felt stupid and then scared about actually understanding too much. She had enough to remember with everything else. She thumbed the length of the screen and studied the pods again: Zenobia Pod at the tip, and then Eno, Miyazaki, Didion, Coltrane, Sooja, Aeschylus and Zaha. And then after that, Dante, split in half, at the back. She zoomed in on the screen, enlarging the second last pod again, her pod, Aeschylus. It was like the rest, three hundred meters across, an outside-in world of hemisphere houses and buildings curled around an empty center. Aeschylus Pod was separated from the Zaha pod by the Uumasut, the virtual zoo, another hemispheric thing, where she would spend her time on the voyage, cloning creatures that had been taken from Earth, none of them wanting to be part of this voyage, like her, but now were stuck, not for months or years because those things no longer existed, but something like that, some unit of time that moved forward at the speed of light to another planet, whatever the hell they would call that.
"That's the last thing I need." Dee flipped the Bearing back on the bed as she stood and put on a pair of jeans and her Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt. "Another app."
The hallway had the same wood-polished stone as her room, the concave walls meeting in a peaked ceiling as the passageway sloped down to the spiraling stairs and out to the odd open-not-open space and muted light of Aeschylus Pod. It was a pod like all of the others, three hundred meters in diameter, three hundred meters to each side, ahead and behind, three hundred meters to the end of the artificial sky, lit like a spring morning, bright, long shadows cast across the curved landscape, a blue-glazed arching apartment block across from her, and amazingly, directly above, another dozen domed buildings specking the curves on all sides, twelve complexes, many still incomplete, construction apparatus – cranes and scaffolding – secured at the side. She would get used to seeing buildings above her and not feel so suddenly sick. That's what the flight deck guy had said and the systems analyst that came to her door. She couldn't remember their names. And it was ridiculous, the world overhead, on every side, surrounded by it, the buildings and paths, saplings, labyrinths of hedges, the beginnings of a park, people there, walking past one another, trying to be normal as things flew past, the delivery crafts called Kikis and the MARAs, in every direction, around the circular buildings and plants, twirling in and around each other. It was just another thing to get used to, along with her stuffed head, the constant nausea and her bones slowing drifting apart.
She looked at a winding stream above, wondering if was real, as it trickled between the anorthite rocks and anorthite barriers, straight above her head, impossibly winding like a kite tail in the sky, but water, water that didn't fall on her, or maybe it was a projection of that, she wasn't sure, spreading out in the stupefying concave landscape, the Uumasut in the near distance, the sea-green light of the Mazu and the Sooja portal beyond that. It made her stomach contort. There was no place to go, no place to hide, no corner, nothing that no one knew about, a little forgotten alcove, an abandoned yard, nothing like that. All was accounted for here. And she would never get used to that.
"Did you sleep?"
Dee looked around to see a young man, his shiny black hair in his eyes, smoking beside her, his legs hanging down from his balcony.
He blew out a wisp of smoke. "It's good to sleep."
"You can smoke here?"
He leaned down, earnestly offering his hand, the tattoo of a hummingbird revealed on his wrist. "Zheng Liyuan."
"Hello, Zheng Liyuan." Dee reached up and touched his fingers.
"Liyuan is fine." His smile was broad and sudden, an awkward expression that seemed to be not what he intended but had settled on it as the right thing to do.
"I know who you are." His accent was strong, some of the consonants swallowed, the vowels merging together in a guttural incomprehensible sound. "Ms. Deirdre Sinclair!"
"You know me?"
"Of course." He nodded, adjusting his right ear-piece, a tiny silver and blue tab, and then his hair out of his eyes. "Apollo!"
"What do you know about him?"
"Everybody knows about Apollo. He is a wonderful cat who lived on three continents. He senses right from wrong."
"Who told you that?"
"Och made the record." Liyuan had a number of tattoos, small things dotting his shoulder and neck, a ragtag collection of outlined images, smudged, no color. "It is a very good sound. Melodic."
"He made a record about Apollo? What do you mean he made a record?"
"It was very popular in my colony. It is one of my favorites, Cat on the Open Sea. Do you know that one?" He sang softly. "Hissing at the crest, Thought light, Swim fright, Dream Tight, Forever in your chest."
They watched a Kiki, the automated drone used for material delivery, cross overhead and turn to the topside of the pod, then descend – ascend from their point of view – to a construction site surrounded in a tight cloud of dust that enveloped a group of workers, everything coiled in a swirling white and blue light that vanished down – or up – into an unseen vacuum.
"Have you been to the Sortavut?"
"That building up there." The Kiki released the package and skimmered back toward the portal to Sooja. "It is our community center. There is one in every pod."
"Why do you wear that?" Dee tapped her ear. "Is there music?"
"Oh." He took the oval tab out and rolled it back and forth between his thumb and forefinger. "It's for everything."
"May I?" She reached for a cigarette from his package.
"Of course, yes. Have a cigarette with me."
"Like what? Listening to that Chantal woman?"
"Chantal Deschampes, yes." He put it back in his ear. "Everything, news of the problems with Earth, updates on Dante."
"You listen all of the time?"
She had the feeling that he had learned everything in the last few months, living out in space, what to say and how to behave. "You were on the colony? The moon?"
"I worked there for many months, almost the year."
"You've been in space all of that time?"
"I left Earth more than a year ago, much more than a year now."
There was something else that made her feel off. It wasn't just the world rounded all around her, buildings and trees sideways and upside down, the black glimmer of eternal space on every side, but a sound, not a silence nor even a humming of the ship's engines, but something else, like distant traffic, doors closing, voices, each sound there and then not, a chaotic oscillation, like in a city, just like any place she had been, but outside-in, like she was a tiny thing in this sound, being absorbed. "Does it ever go away? This feeling?"
"What feeling is that?"
"In my head, like I'm going to be sick."
"Oh, that is nothing. It is gone already. You just don't know it." He smiled maniacally, nodding at Dee for approval.
"What did you do on the moon?"
"Processing." He pulled his legs in and wrapped his arms around his knees. "We were all processing anorthite."
"Do they use that to fuel the ship?"
"Oh no, no. You mean Helium 3. Helium 3 is what powers the ship, but not the engine. I don't know enough about how that works." He looked more serious now, still smiling. "What we did was process the anorthite silicate. It's like aluminum, but more complex than that. There are many derivatives of anorthite silicate." He tapped the balcony railing. "This is anorthite." He slapped the building's exterior wall. "And this." He pointed at random, indicating railings, posts, tables, vehicles and buildings. "Everything you see, everything, it's anorthite."
"What about you?"
"Me? Am I made of anorthite silicate? Is that your question?" He waved at her gleefully. "No, I am from Earth. My parents made me. What about you? Are you made of anorthite? Tell me."
"I'm just a little old Atavok."
"You're not Atavok."
Dee shrugged. "Why not? They're basically the same, right?"
"Not the same." Liyuan tapped his finger at her. "There is something different in how the Atavok perceives, how they process their understanding."
"Process? They're not machines, Liyuan."
"Atavoks are manufactured."
"Like humans, right?"
"We're the result of a natural and complex evolution. That's very different than the Atavok. We created them."
"I didn't create them. I created nothing." Dee watched a stream of Kikis come out from Sooja Pod and fly through the center, each twisting back and forth in unison, a miniature airshow. "I have a question for you, Liyuan."
"Yes." He leaned forward, expectantly.
"Is there some kind of gas being pumped in here? Extra oxygen? Something like that?"
"I know what you're asking." He toyed with the cigarette butt between his fingers. "It's the helium you are talking about. 90% gravity. That is the change."
"It makes me feel lighter?"
"And makes you feel something else, something better. I had this feeling on the moon for many months. I felt stronger, more aware. It is not as strong here. The gravity for me, for all of us from the lunar project, is stronger. I felt slow sometimes. I felt unsure. But I do my exercises. I have memorized a routine. I am much better now."
Dee stepped out from the building, onto the grated sidewalk, peering down to see if there was anything below, but saw only a dim blue, maybe a conduit to another level. "Are you on Solaris?"
"Yes, the Solaris app."
"I have been on Solaris since the beginning. It is everything."
"I don't want it."
Liyuan reached toward her, opening her hand and spinning the Bearing open expertly. "You just have to scroll to the top and remove it from your options. "There."
Dee considered the screen, the prompts gone, as she stepped backward, a reverberation echoing in the distance. "I should go to the Uumasut."
"I like that word, Uumasut. It means place of animals, from Greenlandic, yes?"
"That's all on Solaris. All of those definitions are there."
"You prefer animals, yes? You prefer animals to humans?"
"I don't do well with people."
He nodded back profusely. "You should come to the grievance session, share your thoughts with everyone."
"The governments on Earth want us to return. They say they will kill us if we don't." He offered a full, formal bow. "They are thinking of communicating with the Ethis. I like that idea."
"Ethis? The app?"
"Ethis are like us, Dee, like our conscience."
"You think a computer game is a conscience?"
Liyuan looked at her, strangely smiling. "Och created them for us to feel better. I think that we will need them. We will need that soon."
She took a step backwards on the path. "Just another thing to scare the hell out of me."
The Uumasut entrance was indistinct, a low archway, like the entrance to a parking garage, that led down a widening ramp, opening suddenly, remarkably, to the illusion of the open space, through simulations and projections, of the world they had left behind. Areca palms, Boston Ferns, Palm lilies, Gerbera daisies, Dracaena, English Ivy, and Green Spider Plants filled the passageways and domes, the thick green for filtering and humidifying the air down the concave slope to a row of Maritime Pines, their thick tops and long straight trunks stretching out to the thick clouds broiling on the horizon, a glimpse of the ocean beyond that, a vertiginous expanse. She stepped down the anorthite cobblestones and found the world transformed into a jungle, creepers hanging thick, the blur of sunlight behind the towering canopy, kapoks, cecropias and ceibas, a macaw looking down at her, turning its head, a Crested Gecko freezing and then racing up a vine that twisted around a ceiba.
She stepped after it around the tree, but it was gone. She continued up to a plateau, the sound of a waterfall ahead, and continued in long strides, suddenly in a scrub forest, acacias and khejri trees now, and a red panda in the branches above, swallows hovering and twisting overhead in the brief open sky, diving down and vanishing down behind the cliffs. She followed the rocks down to the sea, not sure where the projections evolved, when her foot might find nothing but space, and sooner than expected, was at the water's edge, where her sea lion, Finn, looked up expectantly from the simulated sand.
"There you are." She sat over him and scratched his chin, pulling his flippers out and rubbing hard along the sides of his mouth. "Any other sea lions out there in your little ocean?"
Finn looked at her blankly, eyes wide and black, out of place. She thought about how Och might write a song about that in a Starship Singalong, Finn saved from certain death on Fernandina Island, only a pup, about to be torn apart by a Galapagos Hawk and now here, in Lagrangian Orbit, waiting to drift off into the infinite dark.
"What do you think, old man?" She looked over the water that really looked like it might go on forever, where there really might be a distant land, the depths filled with sea creatures, fish and urchins and more sea lions, but really only went for fifty yards at best. "Have you already figured it out? Stuck in a zoo, just like home."
Finn started to squirm and thrust his tail into the sand as he rolled away from her, barking with a fury. Dee turned to see Icarus, her cloned serval, leap from above and crash into her, his tarsal joints banging sharply into her side, as he flipped into the sand after Finn. Finn opened his jaw wide, feigning to bite Icarus back, each crazily, happily attacking the other. It was an odd scene to watch, to see this clone, or Atavok as they called them on the ship, of her serval, the creature with which she had spent so much of her life, who had been the impetus that brought her out here, whom she had lost only two years ago, his Atavok now wrestling with this sea lion, who Apollo had rescued as a pup in the Galapagos, Finn now the elder, Icarus the kitten, both playing like brothers, until Icarus dropped something from his mouth and lunged to get it back.
Dee was faster, grabbing it from the sand, a limp patch of fur, and pushed Icarus away. It was a Mentawi Flying Squirrel, or what was left of it.
"What are you doing?" She glared down at him as he stepped forward and back on the sand, his jaw opening and closing, ready to jump, just like Apollo had been, such a beautiful animal, regal as a cheetah, sleek and alert, a gorgeous coat of black splotchy lines running down his shoulders and sides, spread out like the stages of a waning moon. He looked nothing like an Atavok at all. "You can't hunt in here!"
Icarus bobbed his head up and down, letting out a hiss and circled low and away, putting a paw out, begging to have it back. She could no longer distinguish between him and her memory of the original, Apollo, an idea she hated as much as made her glad. "I should seriously kill you."
"Threatening the residents." Angelica was young, still in her 20s, eager and taut. She had supervised the transfer of animals from Earth, on every launch, all of the 464 animals, climatizing the ones that survived, disposing of the 53 which didn't, packaging and sealing the chromosome banks, organizing the Uumasut in the six months she had already experienced in Lagrangian Orbit before Dee would take over again. "Not a good start."
"How did Apollo get in here?"
"You mean Icarus." Angelica moved in bursts, erratic jumps sideways and ahead, funny at time, more often irritating. Dee could see falling in love with her and then wanting out as fast again.
Dee closed and opened her eyes. "Icarus."
"The idea was supposed to have him live here." Angelica's Uumasut uniform was bunched up at the side, dirt smudged on her face, like she had snuck down to the planet for one last hug. "Get him used to the environment."
"He can't live here, Angelica. He'll eat everything."
"Don't tell me that." Angelica's wide face glowed in her Bearing light as she swung a rectangular case on her shoulder and set down a cluster of stakes on the ground. "Em's the one who left him here."
"Em left him here, in the Uumasut? I don't believe it."
"She wants him to acclimatize," Angelica repeated. "That's what she said."
"Icarus needs people. Not prey." Dee held up the damp, shredded ball of fur, and turned to Icarus, his paws planted firmly, innocently in the sand. "It's not the first one, is it, Icarus?"
"He didn't mean it," Angelica replied. "It's instinct."
"Instincts in a clone?"
"I don't know. Why not?"
"It seems to me…What the hell do I know?" Dee pushed Icarus down the beach as she placed the squirrel's remains in a plastic bag. "Go play with Finn. Try and eat him. See what he has to say about that."
Angelica watched Icarus slink off, lean down onto Finn, and flip over top, upside down in the sand. "How are you doing? You feeling okay?"
Dee glanced back at her. "My head's still messed up."
"You tried Cyber Infusion? That works for me."
"Not into drugs."
"They're organic, Dee." She turned out her palm and followed the blue-white light from her Bearing, as it sketched a long line on the plateau beside the beach and began to place the stakes. "I can't sleep without it."
"Lucky you. I've never been able to sleep."
"Did you hear about the call that Shanshan got?" Angelica asked. "It was completely bad."
Dee frowned after her. Shanshan was Angelica's partner, the only other employee at the Uumasut. "Where is she?"
Angelica shrugged. "Her mother told her to die, just like that. 'I wish you were dead.' What parent would say horrible stuff like that to their kid?"
"My uncle left me a message." Dee pushed her toes through the anorthite sand, digging out narrow furrows. "He didn't say what they wanted him to. He just rambled on about the Pirates."
"The Pittsburgh Pirates, baseball. He's worried about the pitching." Dee made the furrows into figure eights, trying to keep each of the lines as clean as possible, and then obliterated everything with a sweep of her foot. "The hitting isn't bad. He didn't say anything about that. It's the pitching. Only two solid starters."
Angelica tore open a thin plastic pouch and squeezed the soil out in chunks. "It was the Seahawks with my dad."
"Is that who called you?"
"No, not my dad; he died." She hammered a poll into the ground, wedged it back and forth, before pulling it out and planting a row of fine seeds. "He wanted me to be here. He wanted to come too. That's why they went after my sister instead; she's a professor at Carnegie Mellon."
"How did that go?"
"It was the most surreal thing." She moved ahead and planted the poll again. "She doesn't care, you know? She really doesn't, and she was, like, freaking out on me. She was shrieking into the phone, I mean, literally freaking, going completely crazy. I'd never heard her like that, screaming at me. It was like I had killed her children or something. I couldn't stop her. She just kept going."
"We used to be close."
Dee dug down into the anorthite sand with her heel now. "Nothing like burning a few bridges."
Angelica kicked the dirt down over the row, made two strides before planting the next stake. "They're going after Nico, no quarter. His whole family is in jail."
"Treason." Her voice rose to a sudden broken falsetto, and she laughed at herself for that. "And those awful video messages they're posting on social media, the threats and everything. They're so graphic and hateful."
"We're supposed to be this advanced race, Angelica. We call it civilization when the truth is we don't care about anything but ourselves. We just pretend to care about others so that they won't get fucked over in the end. Consciousness is bullshit, if you ask me. It's just an excuse to manipulate and use."
"We're not bad. I mean, we're only organisms like everything else. We only know that we must treasure life. It's all we have."
"We don't treasure anything. We consume and hoard. That's it. We suck all we can. We're vampires." Dee dug further down into the anorthite sand, expecting it to end, to hit the ship's shell or maybe find a hole and fall into space. "Anyway, give those idiots a month and they'll be on to something else."
Angelica planted the last stake further up the hill. "You know we won't be allowed to have Christmas anymore. Did you hear that?"
"What are you planting?"
"Why do we want that? It's an invasive."
Finn barked, thrusting his chest into the anorthite sand, his front flippers spreading wide.
Angelica squinted out at the shimmering light, Finn a silhouette against the projection of the volcanic island in the distance. "It'll help Finn feel like it's a normal environment."
"Except that if he swims for ten meters, he crashes into a wall."
"24 meters," Angelica corrected. "And besides he has the chip in his head, Dee. It doesn't feel as bad you might think."
"A duck is a duck, no matter how we make it quack."
"It's the same for all of us, isn't it? We're on this ship, just like them."
"They didn't choose this, Angelica," Dee argued. "We chose it for them."
"What's worse? Being on this spaceship? Or getting exterminated at home?"
"I don't want you planting verbena, okay? It's an invasive. That's the last thing we need out here."
"It grows so well, Dee. And it really makes the animals feel better."
"You'll have to dig those up too." She kicked at the freshly dug holes. "No verbena, no more invasives."
Angelica closed the bag and rolled it back tightly into her stomach, pulling out a stake with a jerk. "No verbena. And no Christmas. Next I won't have a birthday."
Dee went up the path after her, Icarus behind them, back through the scrub forest. "Allowed? What do you mean? What's going to happen? You'll get sent to Christmas Corner?"
"Lai said it wouldn't be allowed."
"Lai?" Dee felt her face flush as they came to a transparent anorthite wall, an oval of blue-smoked glass running along at eye level.
Angelica drew her Bearing along a shallow seam and they entered a long low horseshoe-shaped room, glowing blue and orange, the incubator and nursery, the Nukak. "She's in charge of some committee for holidays, creating new holidays for the ship."
"Lai's on Earth."
"She arrived on the shuttle before you, Dee."
Dee absently twisted a Primary Issue metal crate pressing it against the cubicle's side. Lai had been in charge of the program in Greenland; she had created the technology – Second Skin, the MARAs; she had organized the launches; she had drafted every phase of the mission; and she had directed Dee to collect animals from all over the world. This voyage had been hers from the beginning, and then she had gone, vanished when it came time to leave, gone back home, just like that. Dee knew that. Everyone had told her. "Lai went home to Oregon."
"She's in Sooja Pod, Dee."
Dee had been furious with her for leaving, but accepted it as another thing, just like Nico. "Nico's here too? You're telling me that?"
"You know he isn't. That's been on the news constantly."
Dee didn't want to open the crates; she wasn't ready to start any of this. "Take over the committee then. Create a Christmas revolution."
"I'm just saying that it's something to think about, right? I mean, I like Christmas. It's a nice day."
"What about any and every day? What about a Monday? We're losing all of that, Angelica. No weekends. Nothing."
"We can simulate everything, like we did it in the Arctic. We can do it wherever we go."
"I don't get it, Angelica. I mean, we're on this ship going off to some planet on the other side of the universe. Why do you want Christmas? Aren't you supposed to be leaving all of that behind? No more Earth. We'll never see that place again."
"Hera," Angelica replied.
"Hera," she repeated. "They renamed it."
"Hera, Gaia, Terra, the third rock from the sun, whatever you want to call it, that planet, our planet. We're leaving. Keeping everything like we used to have it will just drive you crazy."
"There's nothing wrong with Christmas."
"I'm just saying that when you leave something, you have to leave it. When you leave high school, you leave high school. You don't go back to hang out with the teachers. That's it. You move on."
Angelica slid a Primary Issue container along the floor and heaved it up to the counter. "I hated high school."
"And I hate Christmas." Dee snapped a collar around Icarus' neck. "I'm going to get this guy out of here, see if I can find Em."
Angelica spread her hands on the container. "What about New Year's Eve? You like that, right?"
"Only thing worse than New Year's is Christmas."
To be continued: 11/06/2018
Anga Greenlandic derivative of 'Qanga': 'When? Sometime in the past'
Angilu Greenlandic for disappointment (Short for Angilugtornek)
Anori Greenlandic for 'wind'
Aqaara Greenlandic derivative of 'qaninaaqaara': 'I think it's close/I thought it was further'
Arcob & Ongse Warring planets who eventually destroy one another (Enchantress Cx)
Atavok (Vok?) Greenlandic for 'one and the same' – euphemism for clone
Bearing Computer/media device for communication/information
Blaze Cast Popular confessional entertainment on Anori
Boochy Miniature animal crossbreed (eg. panda/lemur)
Chula Desert climate at Uumasut
Chund Slang, meaning profound, foul (short for fecund)
Cyberfy (also Cyfy) Herbal hallucinogenic
Cyto Frequent users (addicts) of Cyfy
Cx Dee's mythic empress from Planet Xx
EDs Acronym for Earth Days
Ethi/Empi Empathetic, ethereal Companion – personally programmed hologram
Evaser Hive device used to categorize information and experiences
Gz Myth of alien super race
Hawking Quantum physicist, expression of triumph/happiness
Hawking Speed .24 light speed
Itivok Greenlandic for "is very deep"
Kiki Automated drone
Kinarsiva Greeting/hello in Greenlandic
Koalnyx Boochy breed – cross between koala and lynx
Lagrangian Perfect (related to being in two harmonious orbits)
Magneto Slang, meaning 'cool, hype or clique'
MARA Magnetic Resistance Apparatus
Mina Greenlandic derivative of 'minaaq': 'that which one keeps or takes home'
Namamgigtaipok Greenlandic for 'can never get enough'
Nerri Greenlandic derivative of Nerrivik: 'eating place'
Nukak Nursery at the Uumasut, from Greenlandic for youngest of siblings
Omniety Slang, meaning 'amazing or entirety'
Pedlarpa Greenlandic for 'a single thread' (name of Atavok ship with Lai)
Pok Exclamation of anger (Derivative of Greenlandic root for darkness)
Piursa Greenlandic derivative of 'piursaarpoq': telescope/Vision
Qajaalaq Greenlandic for "kayak alone at sea" meaning "Earth-out-of-view Syndrome"
Rotwang Slang, meaning bad or evil, derived from scientist in "Metropolis"
SENSA Sensory System Attenuation (Artificial environment program)
Slice Close friend
Solaris Computer server/memory bank
Sortavut Greenlandic for 'gathering place'
Space suit Slang word, exclamation of happiness
Tak(ku) Greenlandic for 'sight'
Umiariak Greenlandic for 'a boat/canoe of the legends'
UniWi Short for The Universe Within, an interactive program derived from The Hive
Uumasut Greenlandic for 'animals', meaning 'zoo' in Anorian society