noticed all the older monks coughing constantly.”
There was an awkward silence.
“You’re not very observant, are you my son?” He asked.
“I’d just assumed you guys were allergic to landclam pollen or something,” I said.
He waved his hands, “Landclams are so foreign to human biology that it’s impossible to be allergic to them. Anyway, an interesting quirk of the program,” he abruptly said, “is that SDs were almost always given the names of great historical thinkers, writers, scientists, and philosophers. Plato, Galileo, Franklin, Hawking, Sapho, or, in your case, Dante. Unrelated to that, my son, will you stay?”
I said nothing. I didn’t know. I went back to my cell, prayed, and went to sleep.
I was in my paraglider. I was flying low, maybe a hundred feet above the ground. It was pretty flat desert, with nothing but sand and scrub and the pyramidal local equivalent of cactus as far as the eye could see. Every now and then I passed a harmadillo or two. The noise of my engine made them jump a few feet into the air, then curl into a ball. I was nearing a canyon on the horizon. Suddenly there was a flash and a bang, and I was falling, falling, falling, it was only a hundred feet, but I was falling forever. One of the lines holding my parachute/wing in place had torn free, and I was spiraling out of control. As I spun, I could see a trail of smoke. My eyes followed the trail back to a grenade rifle being held by a bald man with an eye patch, standing atop a hovertruck in the distance. Somehow, despite the distance, I could see him clearly. There was another man with him. My para corkscrewed wildly as I fell, and I saw them in strobe-like flashes as they entered and left my field of vision a dozen times a second. My chute was still slowing my fall, a little bit, but not by much. There was a wave of pain and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground staring at the Cetian sky, pinned beneath my smoldering aircraft. Every time I closed and opened my eyes, the clouds and sun were in a different position. I must have been blacking out constantly. Once I opened my eyes, and the bald man was staring down at me.
“He ain’t dead,” he said, “You want I should finish him?” He pointed a rifle at my face. It was all I could see, the barrel eclipsing my field of vision. “Nah, it’s better this way,” said another voice that I almost recognized, “If anyone finds the body, it’ll look like an accident.” The rifle barrel moved away. Another man was there, dark hair, handsome, and he smiled at me with perfect teeth. I recognized him vaguely as a passenger on the Bahman on my last cruise. Van Skaik? Van Shank? Something like that. I must have blacked out again, because the next thing I knew he was holding my eyelids open and shouting in my face. I
“Know this before you die,” he said, “It was Les Wynans who sent us to kill you! Did you think you could ruin his plans, and then just walk away? You’re dying because of what you did to him, and what your kind did to the earth.” The bald one jumped on the wreckage of my paraglider, knocking the wind out of me. I blacked out.
Blackness, pain, dizzyness, pain, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, pain, panic , nonexistence. Suddenly alert, blinding light, pain, still couldn’t breathes, still couldn’t move. Something wet pooling beneath me, was that blood? Panic, the blackness again. Blind in one eye. More panic. Confusion behind the panic, looking for anything to hold on to, then, the blessed return to unconsiousness. Many times over, it seemed, an eternity.
Well, there it was. I knew. I was just a somewhat Aspergery engineer from Florida, with no particular dreams whatsoever. How had I ended up with an arch nemesis? How had my ex-best friend come to hate me so much that he’d go to the trouble of an interstellar journey to kill me? How many agents did he have on Gagarin, anyway? How much trouble was I in, here?
Dan and I went to the ruined ranch dome. I slapped together a pet elevator with a basket, a pulley, and some rope, and hauled him up. He enjoyed the trip. There was a porch or balcony that wrapped around most of the house on the outside. I found some lawn chairs, and sat in one, with my feet up on the guardrail. Dan hopped into my lap, contentedly munching and slurping on the egg of a birdish thing he’d found in a nest up there, and getting me all sticky. I ignored it. The view was breathtaking.
In the east, Selene was up already, a full moon, grey and white in bands, looking for all the world like a Stalinist interpretation of an Easter egg. It was bright, much brighter than the earth’s moon. Then, while I watched, Ares, the much larger second moon, climbed over the horizon. It was all blue oceans and green land and white clouds. My lost love Asia had visited there five years/five decades ago, another time, another life. I realized suddenly that I’d been avoiding looking at it the whole time I’d been here, whenever it rose in the sky. I’d been doing it the time I’d gotten eaten by the sea monster, too, I guessed. And now I could look right at it. Ain’t that a thing?
A calm came over me. I decided I probably wasn’t in any real danger from Les’s goons. They thought I was dead, and so long as I stayed here, there was no way they’d learn the truth. So did that mean I was going to stay? Yes, I guess. The prospect didn’t seem bad at all. I realized, I’d have stayed even if someone wasn’t trying to kill me.
I stared at the moons for a long while, long enough to sort of zone out into something like a hypnotic state, where I was aware of everything and nothing at the same time. An uncharacteristically warm breeze flowing over me. In the gunmetal-colored light of the moons, the desert was beautiful. The pyramid things were in bloom, the crickets - or whatever the local equivalent was - were chirping, the land clams were spurting up pollen, which smelled great. It was beautiful. It was all so beautiful, and I was all so conscious of it.
I’m staying, I thought. How could I leave? I was genuinely happy. Genuinely happy for the first time in my life.
But of course you knew that couldn’t last, right?
TO BE CONTINUED...
Copyright 2011, Paula Tabor, Republibot 2.0 and Republibot 3.0