Fiction: Aqaara – Part Nine
We are pleased to introduce the ninth 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 separate glossary covering some of the terms may be found at the bottom of Part One. Installments of Aqaara will appear every Tuesday – except Christmas, 2018 – on Outer Places.
A schematic of the spacecraft Anori may be found here. Links to previous installments may be found at the top of part seven. Last week's installment is here.
It was almost too loud at Zenobia's MARA park, not just from the mass of teens flipping, spinning and crashing on their boards, yelling as they swarmed one another at the newly-built zoon-line, a crazy straw tube impossible to skate to the end, but more from the space-house music of Tone Jockey, Solaris' DJ platform, pounding out jet-engine beats. Calli and Gem had moved to the far end where it wasn't as oppressive, the beats and screams compressed between the tube bends, as they did flips on an antiquated ramp. Gem was much better of the two, taking the ramp hard, excited, anticipating the gap, thinking about nothing as she hit the turn and reached behind her head, elbows out, her body completely still, floating up like a bubble, and then touched back with just her toe, a perfect Mobius Turn.
"Wow, Gem!" Calli floated beside her, ready to try again.
"I missed the end. I should have had that."
"Like you ever miss anything." Calli tried the Mobius again, her front foot out further, trying to stay lower, and climbed, thinking she would miss and did, swinging back around, everything sideways, and crashed.
"You almost had it!" Gem did a 1460 in-and-out torque as Calli swung back toward her. "You just have to be more Hawk-styling!"
"Hawk-styling?" Michael glided down hard, just missing Gem as she finished her trick. "Who says Hawk-styling?"
"I say it," Gem replied. "Everybody says it."
Michael was a tall, good-looking boy, with tight curly hair and a confident smile; his father, Jay Knowles, was the President of the Third Anorian Committee. "Nobody says it except Atavoks."
Calli turned her MARA hard, jutting back into him. "I say it too. I say it all the Hawk-styling time."
Michael pushed back on the rear of his board, like a Herian-day wheelie, and spun down to the base of the ramp. "Can you do what she does, Calli? Can you make the Mobius turn?"
Calli narrowed her eyes, turning her MARA slowly away. "I'm just learning."
"She's an Atavok," Michael replied. "She's programmed to do this stuff."
"You're good, Michael." Gem hovered in front of him. "I mean, you're better than me."
"What can I say, Gem?" Michael glided off. "I'm just Hawk-styling."
Gem pirouetted absent-mindedly on her MARA and drifted back toward Calli. "Why shouldn't I use Hawk-styling? Everyone uses it all of the time."
"He likes you."
Calli stepped off her board, looking up from the MARA park at the blue-green light from the Sclera. "He's just going through his stupid teen angst phase. You saw that Solarian meltdown he has with his father, right? Everybody did. He's still so pissed at his father for bringing him on the ship. Can you believe that? Never been on Hera, and he still thinks it's, like, this dream place to be."
"I don't know if I would have come on the ship, if I had that choice."
"None of us had the choice, Gem." Calli didn't like the smell of the MARA park, acrid and sweaty. She wanted to leave. "We were all born on the ship. So what?"
"You can still dream of having something, can't you?"
"Guys like Michael are a waste of our O2. Send him on a life pod." Calli gave a mock wave to Michael and his crew of friends. "Bye-bye."
"Michael lost his chance of living on Hera, didn't he? He lost that, like you did, Calli." Gem rode her MARA around the ramp, doing an easy somersault, ending in a wide meditative circle, arms dangling down. "And he likes you. You just have to be nice to him."
Tone Jockey's music became suddenly intense, frenetic beats melding into a supersonic crescendo as Calli clutched the front bar of her MARA and ducked low to get away from the sound. "He's an asshole. He's an asshole who hates Atavoks."
"You know what I wonder?" Gem watched a girl coming spinning backwards out of the zoon-line, her head upside down through her legs. "Sometimes I wonder if that's the reason you like me."
"What do you mean?"
"Because I am an Atavok."
"Gem, we're like…That's such a weird thing to say."
"You know what you were saying about suicide?" Gem replied. "You said you've thought it, right? Well, I haven't. Ever. I've never thought about suicide."
Gem looked back, surprised, and pursed her lips.
"Gem, I know you want to be human, or something like that anyway. But there have been 24 suicides this year, 24 people, and all of them our age, 15, 16, 17 years old. And all of them human. That's who commits suicide, human teenagers, not Atavok."
"I miss Grace." Gem banged her foot awkwardly against the bottom brace of her MARA. "She reminded me of Michael. She didn't want to be here. It was such a tough thing for her."
Calli glided forward, her toes just dragging on the ground. "None of them were Atavok."
"Grace wasn't an Atavok. Fanny wasn't an Atavok. None of them were."
"There was one suicide." Gem curled her MARA around in a tight circle. "Jason."
"That wasn't suicide, Gem. It was a mistake. Everyone knows that."
"He killed himself, Calli."
"Even if he did – and I don't agree that he did, okay? – even if he did, that would be the only one Atavok suicide ever." Calli banged her MARA headlong into Gem's. "Ever."
"We're young." Gem tried to laugh, but it came out oddly. "Give us time."
Calli tried to turn on her MARA as Gem had, oscillating back and forth, but couldn't keep her balance, and was able to just get her left foot out before falling. "Anyway, I thought that was one thing that was different."
"What do you mean?"
"We are the same, me and you, the same cells, DNA, cognition, all of that. I don't see any difference between Atavoks and humans. Except for this. Suicide is supposed to be a stupid human thing. Nothing is as stupid as that."
Gem landed her MARA abruptly beside Calli. "Atavoks can be stupid too."
"No one's as stupid as humans," Calli replied. "I mean, look at me. I can't even do a Mobius!"
Gem looked up at the group at the zoon-line, Michael now trying to make it through, sputtering out upside down and crashing into the balloon fence. "He can."
Calli laughed. "I wouldn't count on him for much else."
They were now halfway through the curriculum of Failed Societies, a seminar in Hera's divisional politics and governance. The class met in Zenobia, in an oblong room with views of the Sortavut and the Tak Observation Deck beyond that. Calli was fascinated by the challenge of understanding the multitude of ideas, creating her own perspective in that, and the realization that she might think of something that no one had ever had.
"What comes to mind when you think of the French Revolution?" AJ was their advisor, a scruffy-faced giant of an Atavok, kind and demanding. AJ had been subject to the rancor of the Humans First movement, primarily for his work at Tak. Division of labor had become an issue on Anori less than two years into the flight, when many roles had been made redundant with the transformation of the ship into an orb. Maintenance positions became the norm – checking monitors, reviewing protocols – but the work was unsatisfying most of all because the information was already managed by Solaris. AJ's position as primary programmer at Tak was a coveted position, and there were those who believed that humans should be the only ones considered for the position. The on-line debate on Solaris fueled much of the conflict, resulting in the termination of the Second Committee. Many humans lobbied for AJ to keep his post – he was not only efficient but also had a specifically empathetic demeanor – and he did, although future hires would have to select a human first.
"Robespierre had it right." Michael always answered first, thinking that gave him control of the argument. "He just got corrupted by the power."
"That's the point, Michael." Gem had her hair into a tight ponytail balanced regally on her right shoulder. "He failed. That's why they all fail, because of the power."
"He tried to change too much." Nick was a big Atavok with dark skin and darker hair. "He did it too quickly."
"He didn't have the support," Michael replied sharply. "The others didn't understand what he was trying to do."
"Dante did." Nick always slouched in his chair, trying to hide his wide, heavy frame. "It's like-"
"Not Dante," Mike laughed. "That's the poet, buddy."
"And the engine room!" Bryce quipped.
"He meant Danton." Calli liked Nick. He was kind and genuine, and smelled of cinnamon. "It's just a name."
"Just a name? Yeah, okay, Kayla."
"But you know my name," Calli replied sharply.
"And Nick should know the guy's name isn't Dante!"
"The point is how the movement started, the intention of it." Bryce was a small, blond-haired boy, very bright but equally scattered. "Danton could have made the French Revolution work."
"But he didn't." Natasha was a beautiful girl, perfectly so, her nose, eyes and mouth ideally set and proportioned, her expression measured, everything about her a pure concept, and she knew it, which was the flaw that made her not what she really wanted to be. And she didn't like the debate; she just wanted the answers so that they could move on to the next thing. "They executed him."
"For being lenient with their enemies," added Nick.
"Who were their enemies?" asked AJ.
"The Royalists," Natasha replied.
"Well, everyone, in the end," Calli replied.
"Everyone." AJ tilted his head. "That's very broad."
"That's why they all killed each other, because everyone was an enemy."
"What do we learn from that?" AJ demanded.
"Keep your head down." Michael laughed.
"Take measured steps," Bryce replied.
"Danton didn't take measured steps," AJ said.
"It's a revolution, buddy! You can't do that when you're changing everything." Michael turned to AJ. "Like what you Atavoks pulled back in the day."
"That wasn't a revolution," Nick replied. "That was a protest."
"People got killed," Michael replied. "Humans and Atavoks."
"It only turned into something else." Gem almost shrieked, her voice cracking at the end. "I'm sorry, but it turned into something else because of the violence against them."
"Like the peasants in the French Revolution, right?" Michael continued. "Isn't that what the peasants were fighting against?"
"Atavoks aren't peasants, Slice," Nick said.
"Listen, buddy, there's nothing wrong with being a peasant."
"I'm not a peasant!"
"Didn't say you were, buddy!"
"All right, what about this?" Calli kept her hands at her side, like she did with the sea lions; she had taught herself to do that. "Michael, since you've raised it, being a peasant, tell us what you think that is, being a peasant."
"It's the working class, the ones who do all the shit."
"Atavoks do all the shit?"
"It's not a bad thing, Calli. It's just how it is, right?"
"Michael." She started to feel herself getting irritated. "The word 'peasant' connotes being ignorant and unsophisticated."
"That's not what I meant."
"Doing the shit? Same thing."
A boochy appeared out of Bryce's shirt, crouching low, its pointed ears just out of the shadow of his sleeve.
"What the hell is that?" Nick demanded
Bryce coaxed the creature into his hand. "Koalynx, cross between a koala and a lynx."
"No boochies." AJ replied. "You know that."
"I didn't know he was in my pocket." Bryce stuffed the creature back into shirt. "I swear."
"Can't we talk about the American Revolution?" Natasha demanded. "Isn't that what's supposed to be next?"
"What do you think about peasants, Natasha?" AJ asked.
"I don't think anything about them. They're part of Hera's history. That's what we're studying, right?"
"Do you agree with Michael's remark about peasants?"
"I didn't say that Atavoks were peasants," Michael protested.
"Natasha? What do you think?" AJ asked again.
"I don't think that Atavoks are peasants, no. And I agree with Michael. It's not what he said. He just said something about revolutions, and that happened here too. We had a revolution twelve years ago."
Calli snorted her disapproval. "If it were a revolution, Natasha, like you say, then the Atavoks would have taken over. They would be the ones in charge. We would be ruled by them."
"Come on, Calli, things did change," Michael replied. "They took over Miya."
"Change isn't a revolution," Calli replied. "It's just change, like The Hollow used to be The Hive."
"Listen, I'm not an idiot. I'm just a simple little human, like you are, right? I get that AJ is an Atavok, and Gem and Nick. I get all of that." Michael patted Nick on the back. "We all got to get along here, Atavoks and humans. Everyone is so Hawking fine. I'm totally into that. We get along, space-time and everything."
"You compared Atavoks to peasants, Michael."
"Not like I meant it to be bad. I was just talking about change that happens. Things happen. It happened on Anori too. People demanded change. It happened in the French Revolution. It happened in China. It happened in the United States. And it happened here."
"The thing is, Michael, you used the word 'peasant'," Calli replied. "You sounded like the son of the Committee President when you said that."
"I was making a comparison."
"Ignorance is your excuse then?" Calli demanded.
"Wow, I mean, wow, buddy. Are you, like, cloning on me now? Should I watch my back?"
"Cloning?" Calli smirked. "Is that an expression now? Just more negative connotations, if you ask me."
"Let's backtrack a second." AJ stepped in. "Let's focus on the discussion. This is a discussion of failed political systems."
"We left Hera for a reason." Gem's face was red with anger. "We left Hera."
"Yeah, we did. We're on this ship and we're talking about the French Revolution." Bryce held his hands out like he might reveal a crystal ball. "This is a class about all of those things."
"Exactly, Bryce. That's what I mean," Michael agreed. "We're all Hawking here."
"That's what we're talking about," AJ said. "I think it's very Hawking that we are able to apply it to a present circumstance. That's very Hawking. We need that focus."
"I'm focused on what you're teaching, buddy," Michael replied. "I'm here to listen to all that."
"What am I teaching, Michael?"
"Failed societies, like the course is called, AJ."
"What about them?"
Michael sat up straight, leaning toward AJ, ready for any question he might ask. "Why they failed."
"Why did they fail, Michael?"
"That's what we're learning, right?"
"What do you think?"
"What does that mean?"
"People with power want to hold power over the people that don't have that."
"And what is the difference between those two positions?"
"Having it or not?"
"What I mean, Michael, is what about power that corrupts people?"
"Having control over others."
"What would you do with that control?"
"Not what the French did, or the Chinese and Americans all did."
"What Anorians?" AJ continued. "How have we done?"
"Hey, like Calli said, my father's the bigshot on the committee, so I'll say Hawking fine."
"You can't get off that easy, Michael."
"What do you want from me here, AJ? My father's the one who dragged me and my mom on this ship."
"It's about equality, I think," Bryce jumped in. "We are striving to achieve an equal distribution of power, and each Committee has done that better than the one before. That's the way forward."
"Representation isn't equal," Calli argued. "We have an Atavok population of over 15% and only six Atavoks on a committee of 56. That's not even ten percent."
"9.3 percent," Bryce added.
"9.33, repeated," Nick corrected.
"The numbers don't matter as much as the policies," Natasha argued. "Everyone is fair on Anori. There is no discrimination."
"But Michael just said that they do all the shit," AJ argued.
"Humans do it too, buddy." Michael shrugged. "We all do."
"Let me ask you this." AJ laid his heavy arms flat on the table. "And I want each of you to think about it for a moment and tell me what you think, all right? Just think about this. Is Anori doomed to be another failed society?"
"No," Michael replied immediately.
"Michael, give it a moment," AJ shot back. "Think before answering. Just think about it for a moment. How will we be doing as a society by the time we get to Mina? Will we have figured any of this out?"
Calli studied her hands, looked at how tightly they were clasped together, rubbing her thumbs systematically down her index fingers, over and over. She tried to control that but she couldn't stop; it was involuntary. She pulled them apart and sat on them for a moment before bringing them back together and rubbing them again.
"Can I start?" Nick asked.
"Any time you're ready," AJ replied.
"No." Nick slapped the table and nodded his head at everyone.
"No? Nothing more than that?" AJ asked.
"We won't figure anything out. No. And that's it."
"Why not, Nick?"
"Because we're human." He looked around at the others, surprised at his over-confident statement. "And Atavoks. Which is the same, if you ask me."
"I agree with Nick," Michael said. "He's right. We'll fail. We will fail on Mina. We always fail and we always will."
"And there's nothing we can do about that?" AJ asked.
"Oh, buddy, there's all sorts of things we can do, right? We can do lots and lots of Hawking, cool stuff, but we'll fail. Yeah, Nick's right."
"I don't know." Natasha sighed, knowing that this was only opinions and no answers would be given. "We left Hera for a reason. That was a conscious decision for our society. It was not easy for our parents. It was a very difficult decision. If we maintain our invested interest in our society, in our future, I believe that we will achieve our dreams on Mina. It's a new place for us to live."
"You sound like a Chantal broadcast," Michael replied.
Michael laughed. "I meant it the other way, Natasha."
"Why, Natasha?" AJ asked. "Could you please expand on that thought?"
"When you make a commitment to something, that matters. We made a commitment to come and live on Mina. No greater conscious commitment has ever been attempted."
"And so you have faith in our rationality?"
"I have faith in our need to make this society work."
"I like what Natasha says. I like it." Bryce had stood up at the table and paced tightly back and forth. "I don't agree, but I like it."
"What do you think then, Bryce?" AJ asked.
"Doom and gloom, like everyone else. We're not such a great species. Anybody can see that, like the bacteria in all those movies they show at The Terra. Look out, Mina. Here we come."
"That bad?" AJ asked.
"Look at what happened to the Anori Games, okay? All those sports with killing say a lot. We're never satisfied with the way it is, what we have. We always want something more, killing Orion Tigers and Meteor Bears, Star Leopards."
"Come on," Nick protested. "That stuff is Hawking."
"And each other too, killing each other."
"But it's not even real."
"It's the idea of it, Nick," Bryce replied. "Why do we do it?"
"Well, I don't suppose I should say anything about none of you playing those games," AJ commented. "Not like any of you need me telling you this, but those things were discontinued a long time ago, as Bryce says, and they
shouldn't be played. It made a lot of people very upset. And now it's gone."
"Come on, AJ, you know they're still going on," Michael replied. "That stuff is everywhere."
"It doesn't mean you have to do it."
"No." Gem tried to disguise her emotions, but she never succeeded. That was what Calli loved about her, something she saw in herself, the kind of girl, the kind of soul she wanted to run their world. "I don't think that those things matter. That's an excuse. We talk about games and things because we're lazy. We just point at it and say, 'Yeah, you see that? We suck.' And we don't. We don't suck. I'm proof of that. So is Nick. We have come to understand basic laws of our DNA. Everything grows from that. It is a process. If we stay true to M Theory, we will succeed."
"There are no gods in science," AJ quoted himself.
"Except maybe Hawking," Michael replied.
"What would he think of you saying that, Michael? Disappointed perhaps?"
"Just like my dad."
"Calli?" AJ leaned back, raising his eyebrows at her. "It looks like you have the final word."
"I sometimes think like Gem. I wish I did that more." She pressed her hands flat on her legs. "I'm astonished by where we are, on this ship. I was born on this ship, like everyone here, except you, AJ. We were born at Hawking 4X. I don't know anything else. I have lived my entire life at Hawking 4X. You have taught us about where we come from, about Hera, about humanity, the wars, the discrimination, the annihilation of the environment, but those are just stories now. Stories. We are here. I would like to believe like Gem, and at times I do. But I'm afraid about the mistakes that have been made. I wish we could do better."
"Is that a thumb up or a thumb down?" AJ asked.
"In the middle, I guess."
"Wavering, Calli! That's not like you!"
"Yeah, well, I guess I'm getting old."
"Tell us about Yever." Ashe sat on the counter above Dee, her legs dangling down, Po beside her.
"I want to hear about the people of Buzz," Po added.
Dee had an infant three-toed sloth in her hands, the bulging pink of its claws poking out from the blanket. She stroked down its thick, downy hair and watched the fresh claws curl back. "Why do you like that one? It's got such an unhappy ending."
"Lassiter is a hero," Ashe replied.
"I love Lassiter," Po assented.
"Don't you want to hear about how Lassiter became a star cat?" Dee wrapped the sloth in the blanket and tucked it back in the incubator. "That's your favorite."
Ashe swung her knees idly back and forth. "Tell me about how the future was a velvet black."
Dee nodded down and the unfinished bottles of nursing milk for the pups and kits. "Did you finish making the solution?"
"Yes, tell us," Po added.
"The future was a velvet black, soft and wonderful, the distant stars pristine in the endless depths. Cx was lost in herself, unsure if she was moving forward or back, if she was moving at all." The stories had always helped Dee think, moments suddenly appearing, things she thought she had forgotten now clear and exact – a stone floor, her flowered blouse off her shoulder, looking at the shadows between her arm and the crinkled, soft fabric. "Lassiter dreamed of going home to Apo where he could dive in the warm water with all of other sea cats."
"I want to go to Apo," Ashe mused.
"Me too," Po agreed. "I want to play with the sea cats."
"It's a magic place, a perfect place," Dee added.
"Magic and perfect," Po repeated. "Yes, that's for me."
"It's the place that Lassiter thought he would spend his life," Ashe explained.
"Yes," Dee replied.
"But he wasn't there," Ashe continued. "He was only imagining it in his head, like Enchantress Cx was dreaming of being a little girl."
Dee nodded again. "Maybe you should tell the story."
"You tell it." Ashe picked up the bottle of solution, checking it for opacity. "Only you."
"Lassiter pulled himself out from his perfect place." Dee opened the next incubator drawer and examined the tapir piglet for mucous in its nose. "And he hissed wildly to wake Enchantress Cx."
"Lassiter saved her," Ashe explained to Po. "He always does. Lassiter is her protecting saint."
Dee stopped, feeling suddenly like she might cry, listening to her daughter's voice, the words she said, how her daughter found belief out of nothing, just these made-up things, things Dee had said, silly, and now here in the marvelous impossible place, these stories more real than anything she had ever known. "And she saw it ahead…" She didn't like how she let her voice break. It was ridiculous that she let herself do that.
"It's okay, mom," Ashe put the bottle down and looked at her mother through her fingers. "They live."
"The black was darker than anything ever was, a wall of nothing." Dee had her voice better now, normal and flat. "It was an ominous hole, so deep and wide, she felt that it was inside her. Lassiter tried to fly back to the edge,
but he couldn't. The glimmer of stars pulled away and vanished. They were falling back, their bodies stretching, widening, turning into nothing. This was it."
"But it isn't," Ashe said with glee. "Not Lassiter!"
"No!"' Po jumped and down beside her.
"Not Lassiter." Dee returned the piglet to its warmth and pulled out the next. "Even inside that nothingness, Lassiter held that thought, even if there was nothing anywhere, nothing to be seen, no light, no sound, nothing, not even them."
"And then they were on Planet Yever."
"He was gasping for breath, almost dead."
"Lassiter would never die like that."
"Life can be hard sometimes, Ashe. You never know."
"But he's Lassiter," Po proclaimed.
"There they were, gasping for breath," Dee continued. "They had no idea how long they had been gone – an hour, a year, for a millennium, or less than an instant."
Ashe stretched up beside Dee, looking intently at the piglet. "Is it okay?"
Dee rubbed the edge of the anorthite pincher against the piglet's quivering leg, trying to get her to catch it. "Oh, she's fine. Just waking up."
"I bet it was a century," Po said. "At least a century."
"It could have been anything," Dee replied. "Time is relative."
"Like I don't know that," Ashe replied.
"What was it like on Yever?" Po demanded.
"Well, it was very hard to see," Dee replied. "The sun was low on the horizon. It was always like that, the sun just above the mountains in the distance, even when she turned the other way-"
"Because of the other sun!" Ashe jumped in.
"The light reflected everywhere and so they couldn't see."
"Planets need shade," Po stated. "Night is an important time."
"Enchantress Cx tied long strips of her dress over their eyes, both hers and Lassiter's, so they could see everything though these tiny, tiny slits, and went everywhere, high and low, and found nothing but the same metal and glare."
"And then one side of the planet got dark." Ashe dropped down beside Dee as they examined the next miniscule creature, a koala, its fur only beginning to come through.
"And why was that?" Dee asked.
"The eclipse from Arboc," Ashe replied. "The other planet."
Dee tested the koala's grip, getting it to hang onto her finger. "How often did Arboc eclipse the sun?"
"Every 13 hours."
"And what happened then?" Dee asked.
Ashe spread her arms wide. "The planet opened."
"There was an immense sucking sound as they were violently pulled down toward the surface. Lassiter almost crashed."
"But he didn't."
"They saw the planet's surface splitting apart, the whole thing dividing into black sections, razor-sharp lines, the brilliant surface suddenly no longer there, but dark now, and things coming out, towers and wires and cranes and all sorts of other machines, and then people jumping and swinging, putting everything in place."
"The Buzz people!" Ashe burst.
"The Bochia," Po corrected her.
"I call them Buzz," Ashe replied.
"And what were they doing?" Dee asked.
"Trying to save the planet," Po replied.
Ashe clapped her hands excitedly. "Ongse and Arboc were in erratic orbits around each other because they had two suns and twelve moons. And if they didn't fix their orbits, they would smash into each other and everyone
"And so what were they doing?"
"They were trying to change their orbit with the machines, just like the Arboc people were doing too."
"But why were there no Arboc or Ongse on the machines?"
"They were made to do the work by them. The Arboc and Ongse kidnapped their families and said that they would kill them if they didn't do what they were told. They were their slaves."
"What do you think of that?" Dee asked.
"It's bad. You should do what you have to do for yourself. You don't make others do it for you."
"Why didn't they just help each other?"
"They didn't trust each other," Po replied. "People need to believe in each other for a planet to work."
Ashe waved at Po to stop. "The Ongse and Arboc both used the Buzz people to build a protective barrier around their planets, even though they could only work on it for thirty minutes a day, when they eclipsed each other."
Ashe had her hands on her head, manically pulling at the strands. "It must have taken thousands of years!"
"Thousands and thousands," Po added.
"Except that they kept moving back into each other's orbits," Ashe continued. "They couldn't stop that."
"The more they tried to separate," Dee added, "the closer they became."
"I want to hear the part where Enchantress Cx tries to save the Buzz people and then the Ongse thing breaks the spell and Lassiter saves everyone."
"I think you just told it, Ashe."
"Tell it right. Only you do that."
"Well, Enchantress Cx tried to build an accord, but they accused her of treason and sentenced her to death, and she was cast into the forum with the Onga monster, an oozing, slippering thing with tentacles in front, stubby
legs and great green glass eyes." Dee tapped Ashe in the stomach. "Not the kind of thing you'd want to have as an Ethi."
Po nodded in agreement.
"Enchantress Cx tried to hypnotize the Onga beast, but its great green glass eyes deflected her powers back at her."
Po jumped up and down on the spot, clapping her hands manically. "Lassiter!"
"Not yet, no," Ashe chastised her. "You have to wait for the story of the Onga monster."
"The Onga monster is bad," Po replied.
"Nothing is bad. Listen."
"Enchantress Cx lay prone, the Arboc and Ongse both screaming for her to be sucked up and dissolved in the belly of their beast," Dee continued. "But it didn't."
"But why?" Po asked.
"The Onga beast only touched Enchantress Cx with a tentacle, just one, and it wasn't to hurt her but understand."
"It's the hypnosis," Ashe added.
"Enchantress Cx's aura was absorbed wholly into the Onga beast. It no longer wished to suck her up and dissolve her in its stomach. And so the crowd turned the magnetic ray on him."
"Lassiter!" Po shrieked.
"But Lassiter is really smart," Ashe added. "He didn't move."
"Do you want to tell it?" Dee asked. "Or me?"
"I want you to tell it," Ashe replied.
"Yes, please tell it," Po agreed.
"Lassiter stared back at the Onga beast as the crowd screamed for it to attack. And that's what it finally did. Lassiter only licked his paw, like he didn't even know the Onga beast was going to eat him."
"I love this part," Ashe danced around with Po.
"Lassiter leaned back to give his neck a good solid scratch, when the Onga beast lashed a tentacle out. And Lassiter leapt away, turning back at the Onga beast, giving it a glare of disappointment, almost like he was saying,
'You can do better than that.' The Onga beast lashed out again and again, and Lassiter kept jumping away, guiding the Onga toward the audience. They screamed for the beast to go back, but it wouldn't and they all went screaming and telling everywhere."
"Lassiter is so Hawking!" Po proclaimed.
"Enchantress Cx and Lassiter leave Yever, and that's the last anyone heard of the Ongse or Arboc."
"Their planets were destroyed?" Po asked.
"Like I said," Dee replied. "It's a bad ending."
Ashe pirouetted around Po. "They had it coming."
"You really think that?" Dee asked.
"I mean, they tried to kill both Lassiter and Enchantress Cx even though they were just trying to help."
"No more Yever," Po added. "Gone. Poof."
"What about the Buzz people?" Dee asked. "Doesn't that make you sad?"
Ashe spun toward her. "I think they got away."
"How did they do that?" Dee asked.
"With the magnetic machine," Po burst in. "They used it to escape."
"Magnetic machines do that?" Dee asked.
"And now they live on another planet," Ashe added.
"They're waiting for us on Mina now!" Po screamed. "We will see them there."
"Okay." Dee shrugged. "Why not."
"It's possible," Ashe replied.
"Yes, it is."
Shanshan entered the Nukak, three boochies, a lemur-koala breed, swinging and playing with each other, battling Shanshan's fingers. "Aren't they adorable?"
Dee held Zephyr by the neck. "They're an abomination, Shanshan."
"Everyone loves them, Ms. Sinclair. They are so playful."
Dee tried to get back to her screen, to examine the anomaly in the Atavok otter, where and why the cell deterioration had begun. "We're not running a pet store, Shanshan."
"People get lonely, and the boochies make them happy."
"We're supposed to be preserving these species, not mutating them."
"You don't want to play with one? You should try." The boochies were in full battle, swiping and biting, ganging up on each other in mad sudden swings, until the middle one almost toppled off, Shanshan catching him. It
whirled around, like it might snarl and then comically spread his legs out and licked his stomach. Zephyr hissed and whimpered to get closer. Shanshan pushed the three boochies together in a tiny pile. "They're too cute."
"Is that why you got into biology?" Dee pulled Zephyr tighter against her leg. "To make cute things?"
The boochies sat in a haphazard row on Shanshan's arm, licking and preening each other.
"How long do they live, Shanshan?"
"Almost a year."
"And then what? What do people do then?"
"You play with Zephyr."
Dee hated how true that was, how she had agreed to the cloning of the clone of her cat, Apollo. She didn't want to let go, not with the technology there, and knew that she would keep on doing it for as long as she lived.
"Icarus was a present."
"You don't have to explain anything to me, Ms. Sinclair. I love Zephyr. I loved Icarus too. I will love the next one. I love them all."
Dee watched the boochies climb over each other, licking and pawing. "Shanshan, it's just…so awful and sad. It's miserable to think we've made creatures like this."
She laughed. "We're not eating them!"
"Shanshan, they're puppies that we don't have to abandon because they just fucking die."
"The next breed will live for two years, Miss Sinclair. Maybe more. And they're helping genetic research for the Atavoks."
"That is a lie."
"We could create a small exhibition, Ms. Sinclair." Shanshan lowered her arm, one of the boochies dangling precariously from it, for Dee to get a better look. "I think that the people would really like that, especially the kids."
"Either you take them out of here," Dee was close to killing it. "Or I'll feed them to Zephyr."
"You don't mean that, Ms. Sinclair."
Zephyr lurched up, only grabbed at the last moment by Dee.
Shanshan shielded the creatures in her arms. "I'll just go."