Size / / /

Seven for the seven stars in the sky.

Britain boils, her very rocks turned to gas in a timeslice broad as a dozen generations, while at the same time narrow as a single breath of mine. I am old as the world, and heavy with her memories.

Pleiades boosts outsystem on a slow, spiral orbit, jealously leaching energy from bloated Sol even as the ship stays ahead of the limits of her radiation shielding. Sister Sun eats her children. As for me, I am surprised to make this trip. I had thought to die among the hot winds.

"Dirt deck," says a man. He is a man, at least in principle, for all that his mentarium is spread across multiply-entangled quantum nodes and his corpus is a collection of transient functional modules light-years distant from one another. He has dispatched a homunculus to the belly of Pleiades -- unlike most recent human technology, this ship has a form and function nearly sensible to almost any hairless ape of my historical acquaintance.

It is this homunculus that speaks in a voice like helium on fire, its wizened body reminiscent of fetal ontogenesis except for glittering compound eyes that wrap from the rumpled nose all the way around the temples. The homunculus pulls itself along like a lemur, one tiny fist at a time, through my pathetic forest of sticks and leaves.

"Dirt deck," it repeats in that tiny, fiery voice. "Who is here?" I hear it whistle on arcane frequencies, a chittering language that echoes through the aether.

No one, I think. Just a last egg from Brother Earth's discarded sac, a little corner of Britain saved from the fire. No one at all. Even here, bereft of my ancient majesty in these far depths of time, the stunted sticks rattle in sympathy to my will.

The homunculus runs a furred thumb up and down the bark of one of my little trees, exchanging thoughts with its distant self, contemplating the lie of my existence. "No One, I feel you in the genome, smell you in the loam."

You dug up the heart of the mystery of the world, I think, salvaging the last green remnants sheltering in the shadow of my grave.

"A grave can be a womb." The homunculus stares solemnly at my sere soil.

Now the sticks sigh with my thought, dust stirs as my breath. There have been none to heed my words since . . . well, some spans of time even I cannot measure.

The homunculus grasps its stick tighter, words echoing along secret channels among the stars. "The measure of the mother world is more than meets the eye."

Pleiades rolls to shed some of the burden of her heat, shifting the temperature in my dirt deck a few degrees upward. My bones, ancient ash within this friable soil, are pleased. I try my faithful sticks, bringing my ancient voice to bear. "Thank you," I whisper aloud. "For the rescue."

The tiny face screws into pleased amusement. "Not all of Earth's children are forgetful."

We are stars in the sky, my rescuer and I, fleeing Earth to bring the Green to places mother Ge never foresaw. I am a proud old forest spirit, a happy corn god, as my raddled, gene-scarred sticks push a fresh bud, a little green crucifix, into the homunculus's tiny hand.

 

Copyright © 2003 Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

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Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family and their books. In 2003, his work is appearing in diverse markets such as Realms of Fantasy, Writers of the Future XIX, and The Thackeray T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. For more about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at jlake@jlake.com.

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