Of the moon
The transmission window would open in a few hours, but Crea had more to add to the messages she would send out. She had finished updating her formal notes. Now she was excited to recount recent developments for her mother. She had prepared a video message weeks ago, and she was approaching the maximum amount of data she could send before the window closed, so she contented herself with attaching an audio recording. She had to remember to leave space for a hasty response to whatever her mother would say to her, too, when the message came through. But it would be tough! There was so much to tell.
It had really all come out of nowhere in the past few days. First, she had discovered a new door! Cunningly disguised as yet more rock, what tipped her off were the engravings she was just beginning to learn to interpret. She noticed patterns that matched the first door they had found. Her scanner hadn’t picked them up because they weren’t duplicates, but a second half. A continuation of each symbol, that aligned perfectly. She needed to recalibrate her equipment to look for more of that. She had a feeling the patterns weren’t complete yet. That is… she had a feeling there were more doors.
It had only taken her three days (by the Earth’s rotation) to open this one. She was finally beginning to understand this place. Understand wasn’t the right word though. It wasn’t very scientific, but she was beginning to intuit this place. The first one had taken three and a half months, and she had achieved that after others had been working on it for… Well, she didn’t know. Nobody had mentioned. But she had the impression it had been a very long time. She had been hailed as a genius when she succeeded. She had almost given up, convinced after one hundred days that she was getting nowhere. Confused as to why her funding hadn’t been pulled after so much time with no results. But she did it, and now she was running the place. It was all hers.
Crea had a whole moon to herself.
And what a moon! Behind the new door, was a new room. That was even more exciting than the door. It contained tomes. Giant manuscripts, stacks upon stacks. They were made of the same kind of thick, leaf textured papyrus as the ones in the first chamber, but subtly heavier, and more yellowed in tone. The inscriptions were smaller, too. Crea hadn’t figured out what the ink was made from yet, but she suspected that the greater concentration of the writing contributed towards the weight.
This was not the most incredible thing however. The most incredible thing was behind the tomes. A three dimensional scan of the space had revealed it at once. Behind rows of towers of books, were tablets. Engraved tablets. The scan was high quality; Crea didn’t need to access them to visualise their surface. Slabs of rock - not the same rock that the cave walls were made from - it was utterly unfamiliar in makeup. But the materials in this place were a secondary priority, anyway. The pieces were slotted into the wall itself, held in individually carved spaces. And the wall was full. Some of the pieces were stacked against the side, like headstones in an overcrowded graveyard, and later (she assumed) covered with the books.
There was so much here. Twice as much as they suspected, at least. She barely knew where to start. Except… and breathe… She did know where to start. At the entrance. She should not get carried away with the second chamber. And she had all the time she needed. She would study all of it, she felt sure.
After this afternoon’s transmission, nobody would disturb her again for another six months. Crea checked her timer, checked her remaining disc space, and saved the recording. Her mother was the only person who enjoyed listening to her ramble on about her work, or at least who could do a good impression of doing so. She attached the audio to the package of data poised to be transmitted out when the airwaves were clear, and started randomly browsing her notes in case she’d missed something critical the scientists on the planet’s surface would need to see. She had a lot of notes.
Crea checked her timer again. Ten Earth minutes had passed. Four Sagga minutes. Lutati didn’t have minutes. Nothing changed enough on the moon to make it worth measuring. The transmission window was to open on Earth’s schedule, even though no-one from Earth would be sending or receiving anything. Most official things still ran on Earth’s schedule, in fact. When Crea was a student, she had taken part in a campaign for the university to use Sagga’s timing primarily. Once, she and her friends had broken into a laboratory and re-calibrated all of the equipment. They didn’t know what the equipment was used for, or even what went on in that laboratory. Alarms had sounded, and the campus had been shut down for almost a week. The five of them had escaped through a window, broken into a nearby dormitory, and laid low in the closet of a sympathetic first year for two days. The kid was terrified of getting caught, and went out to buy them food rather than let them order pizza for delivery. He switched dorms a week later.
The university never did adjust its timekeeping, maintaining good relations with collaborators on Earth was too important. They had plenty to say a year later when Earth’s Council for Extraterrestrial Affairs excluded academics from Sagga from applying for joint grant funding with Earth-based institutions however. Sagga needed to strike out on its own, the Council said, assert itself as an independent nation. Besides, collaboration through the wormhole was time-consuming and resource-intensive. Crea and most of her friends at the time agreed with the university’s new position that Earth was abandoning them, and they were better off without. Earth took too much, and gave too little in return.
Crea had been at a protest, too, a year after that, when a delegation from Sagga had gone to Earth to negotiate complete devolution of power to the Board of Overseers. Devolution was not enough; they wanted independence. They didn’t know it at the time, but that was to be the last ever use of the Lunar Passageway. It took a while for people to realise that the delegation was not coming back. The last message from Earth - that operation of the Lunar Passageway was ceasing until further notice - shook the small nation into action. After barely a year of floundering, the new Government of Sagga was pouring everything it had into scientific research and technological development. Everyone had a job to do. Those who lacked expertise were trained. Sagga’s environment was coaxed into flourishing despite the altitude of the land, and its sole city began to expand into a state.
In between mandatory tech placements, Crea studied her heritage. The second generation of native Saggans was being born, and they might never know of Earth. She grilled her mother for everything she knew of the blue planet, even though she had been young when she arrived on Sagga. She pursued her mother’s friends, their parents if they were still around, then chased the gradually settling refugees; those who had been visiting Sagga when the wormhole was closed, who had been left stranded. Crea’s thesis was a vast compendium of interviews; an interactive archive of experiences of the early settlers and their descendants. One could view it, and even add to it, at the Sagga Museum, alongside Earthly artifacts like tree branches and shells.
Science and industry continued to use time keeping instruments based on the rotations of a planet in another galaxy; of a star half way across the universe.
No matter how you measured it, time was standing still for Crea. Still one hour to go before she could transmit. Crea stepped away from her console and walked around the corner, to the entrance of her cave. On her way out, she shed her loose jacket, depositing it in a heap on the floor. She curled her toes over the edge of the rock that formed her entry way, and let the vertigo seize her for a moment. The cave was in the side of a sheer cliff and the entry way jutted out over an impossible drop. There were steps beside the entrance, leading up and over. They were mostly a natural formation, but Crea had helped them take shape a little by grinding away sharp edges. She took them delicately, on tiptoes, her arms spread wide for balance. Her heart was racing by the end of the steep ten minute climb to the very peak of the cliff, and her feet were covered in the soft orange pink dust that coated this moon.
At the top, she sat cross-legged. The sun of the perpetual dusk warmed her bare arms. The larger star, Ava, dipped below the horizon directly ahead, and Crea could feel the warmth from its sibling Mira on the back of her head. The sky was shot with oranges, pinks and reds. The planet Sagga was a white smudge. Her mother would be preparing a meal usually at this time, but today she would instead be fussing around unfamiliar technology, afraid to miss the call from her daughter, and excited to transmit her own message. The house would be uncomfortably full of scientists and beeping devices, and probably one or two people from the authorities. There would be black, serious looking vehicles outside, and equally serious looking guards to protect the beeping devices. Her mother, amidst the flurry, would be somehow keeping them all liberally supplied with tea.
Crea spent a moment more looking across the landscape. Her moon, Lutati, was broken and uneven. More a cluster of rocks held together by the miracle of gravity than a complete entity. She could walk its perimeter, and arrive back where she started, in a few days if it was flat. When she trained for this assignment, she had been made to walk enormous distances on Sagga. It was for naught, as the moon was torn to pieces; there was no route she could take that wasn’t split by an impassable crevasse.
Crea closed her eyes. Nothing moved but the tiny hairs above her lip as her breath floated by. Her breath was a gentle hum; almost silent, but the only sound in the world. Her ankle buzzed, disgruntled at the pressure she was putting on it. The backs of her hands tingled at their contact with the linen of her trousers, and the tops of her knees were warmed by the backs of her hands. Her buttocks communed with every grain of dust beneath her. Her lower back was heating up, and discomfort seeped around her kidneys. Crea straightened her spine. The movement caused tips of her hair to tickle the back of her neck. The ground beneath her passed on messages from the cave below; the hum of her equipment, coupled with vibrations of the secrets held within. The top of her head was cool, out of direct line of either Ava or Mira. The moon’s gravity pulled gently at the hundreds of hairs protruding from her scalp. An itch arose on her left forearm. The sensation teased her for a moment, and then was gone.
On Sagga there was always wind. It tousled her hair, lifted it and threw around, and the lower gravity meant Crea always looked wild. Most people covered their heads, to go outside if not all the time, but Crea imagined she was being tugged into space. Great hands reached for her from above, and they needed something to latch on to. Now she was here, nothing was tugging her back to Sagga. The moon had her, and she had the moon. Nothing tousled her here; all was still, all was stable.
The air was warm when it entered her lungs, but warmer when it left. The insides of her nostrils affirmed it. Crea was sharing energy with the moon, a fair exchange. The atmosphere seeped into every pore of her skin. It took longer to get to her legs, back and chest, first having to pass through her clothes. It made it though, and caressed every part of her body. The moon embraced Crea, and her heart opened wider in return.
Crea softly opened her eyes. She blinked Lutati’s landscape back into focus. Sagga’s primary moon, Bella, and the Lunar Passageway station itself had made an appearance on the horizon, so it would soon be time. Crea had been to Bella twice, but stepped foot on its surface only once. It didn’t really count though, because she hadn’t breathed its air, touched its atmosphere. Bella didn’t have an atmosphere to speak of. Crea had spent the entire journey from Sagga to Bella begging, sweet talking, and otherwise cajoling the shuttle captain to let her try on a space suit and step outside. She had the training to do so, after all. After much reluctance and much breaching of protocol, and under very close supervision, and only for one minute mind you, the captain conceded. Bella was grey, like Earth’s moon. It’s surface was gritty and crumbly where Lutati was soft and powdered.
Crea rose slowly, and took the steps down to the cave entrance one by one. On the way back in she retrieved her jacked and slipped her feet into loose sackcloth shoes, and padded back to her workstation. Her seat was suspended from the roof of the cave - an anti-sand measure which didn’t work because she immediately tucker her feet underneath herself without dusting them off. It squeaked as she reached for her screen. With a few taps and swipes she lined the files up for transmission. Her message to her mother first, and then the data she had collected and the analysis she’d done so far. Whilst they were sending, she could download incoming transmissions. She would have time to watch or listen to a message from her mother and to record a response to add to the end of the queue. It would finish sending just before the window closed.
The visitors to her mother’s house would be doing the same thing on their end. If they were all lucky, an additional message from her mother might squeeze through in the last moments, too.
Crea was poised.
The transmitter kicked into life. Each message was broken into chunks by her software (it was hers, at least, she helped write it), packaged and repackaged until it could be propelled through space. With each chunk sent, a square on the screen filled with colour. The display was split, to show progress on their end as well as hers. When each bundle of data reached its destination, a square was filled in on their side too. Sometimes one didn’t make it intact, and Crea had to nudge it to send again. The chunks might arrive out of order, but they would put it all back together.
Nothing had arrived yet. Crea’s transmitter was sending, but the data had a long way to go. The waves of energy squeezed out of Lutati’s thick atmosphere, propelling a path between particles. Then they would hit the vacuum of space and surge forward. In the wrong direction. The station built around the Lunar Passageway provided an ad hoc deflector to redirect them. They bounced once, into Bella. This slowed their particles down considerably, and changed their direction once more. The next time they entered the vacuum, they were bound for Sagga. The antenna installed in the field behind Crea’s mother’s house waited patiently as the data fought its final battle against the planet’s atmosphere. Eventually the first packet would make it, the dish would send an acknowledging ping on a different frequency, and one of the ‘received’ squares would finally light up.
She kicked her legs out from under her, scattering sand across the desk. She dropped to the ground and turned her swing seat inside out, shaking the rest of the dust to the floor. She brushed off her desk. One more packet sent, still none received. On either end. Lutati’s atmosphere must be extra thick today.
Crea rolled her jacket sleeves down to her wrists, bouncing on the balls of her feet. She rolled them back up again. She twisted her black hair into a bun on the top of her head, dragging it round and round until it was so tight it hurt. She let go and it tumbled back down to her shoulders. She placed her palms on the desk and leaned forward until her nose was almost touching the screen. The static made her skin bristle, and from here she could hear its hum. Crea stepped back, hands on her hips, a frown furrowing her brow. She perched back into her chair, but not all the way, so her feet still brushed the ground. With a big toe, she drew shapes in the sand.
An exasperated sigh. She dropped to the ground again and peer around the back of her desk. The screen was plugged into the power source and the transmitter. The transmitter was plugged into the power source too, and its light was blinking rapidly. As it should be. She followed the cable from its third outlet down to the ground and up a narrow shoot in the rock behind her desk. She stretched as high as she could with her arm through the chute, fingering the cable as far as she could reach. She leaned back around to look at her screen, and sighed again.
Her sleeves were unrolled once more, and she chewed on a corner of the fabric. Briskly she re-rolled them, and jogged to the cave entrance. She turned right and scrambled up and over some rocks, no steps on the other side. Where the chute from inside the cave emerged, there was a small dish. She needlessly brushed sand from it as she crouched down, checking the cable here too. The dish was warm to touch, but not hot; a combination of the suns’ heat and its electrical activity. Crea looked to the sky. The Lunar Passageway station was in alignment, outlined by the colossal grey Bella. Had Bella’s orbit changed? Had they calculated something wrong? What if someone tampered with the deflector on the station? What if the Passageway itself had been reactivated? The particles it emitted would certainly interfere with her signal.
She chewed her lip, and looked further to Sagga, willing her messages home.
The only time Crea had been on the Lunar Passageway station was to protest. It was a unique occasion, with a special transport for protesters organised by the Sagga Association for Greater Autonomy (SA-GA). The flight from Sagga took two days, and in this instance around two hundred students were crammed into a commercial cargo transport shuttle. Crea had spent most of the journey pressed into a hard metal corner, carefully rationing the protein bars her backpack was bursting with, and catching up on reading for her latest technology development assignment. Others busted around, playing games, singing songs, making ever more elaborate signboards, and practicing their protest chants. Her two closest companions spent half of the journey trying to get onto the flight deck to question the crew about space aviation. Crea had declined to accompany them; they returned periodically with stories of their various failures, and eventually gave up, took sedatives, and went to sleep.
She had never taken an ordinary passenger shuttle off Sagga until her first trip to Lutati. Having a reclining seat, access to a food dispenser, and a much smaller person-to-bathroom ratio made for a much more enjoyable voage, despite Lutati’s greater distance.
It was on board the transport to the Lunar Passageway station when Crea’s interest in long distance communications had been piqued. An aside in one of the academic articles she had skimmed noted the difficulty of reliably transporting bulk loads of data from Earth to the machine-controlled base station on Mars, and back. The intricacies of this problem nestled in the back of her mind, and resurfaced again several months later when she was placed on a team tasked with building transmission software capable of reaching the outer edges of Sagga’s solar system.
The vessel carrying the protesters docked at a transfer point on the surface of Bella, and they were hustled in small groups into pods, essentially elevators, to whoosh up to the Lunar Passageway station itself. Crea was lucky to make the cut. At some point, authorities cited capacity problems, and blocked about one third of the protesters from reaching the station. The recreational facilities at Bella were lacklustre at best, and dozens of impatient students were left to antagonise the security forces for several hours.
The Lunar Passageway station was shiny. It was in much better repair than the aging transfer station on the moon’s surface. As her group was guided to an area set aside for demonstrators, Crea dawdled to absorb a history in pictures along its corridor walls. The images were three dimensional holograms, and the captions were engraved directly into the glimmering metal. They depicted the construction of the station following the discovery of Bella. The discovery of the Passageway itself by researchers on Earth’s Moon had several meters dedicated to it. The international conflict about access to the Passageway, and the sudden availability of support for Moon infrastructure by nations previously not interested in funding space exploration was merely a footnote. The timeline skipped the years after construction of the transit stations on the moons at both ends, during which political division had prevented any real progress from being made. There was no mention of the private companies which had sprung up without government support. Credit for the discovery and subsequent occupation of Sagga was given to a cohort of international Earth organisations, containing governments, academic institutions, and enthusiastic citizen scientists.
From this history, the settlement of Sagga looked as peachy as Lutati’s sands. A triumph for all nations on Earth, and a step towards the future.
On multiple occasions while she was compiling her thesis, Crea tried to arrange a return trip to the Lunar Passageway station to document this display first hand. With the Passageway closed by Earth, none of the shuttle lines had thought to operate transit for station tourism, and there was nothing for people to visit on Bella. Later, the only people who could access the station were diplomats, desperately trying to renegotiate access to Earth for those on Sagga.
Transmitting messages through the Lunar Passageway itself was a whole different ballgame. Much of the research for that, spanning the years since the Passageway’s discovery, was closed. However, Crea had accessed what she could when she worked in a communications lab. The Passageway collapsed hundreds of lightyears of space into just a few kilometers distance. When the Passageway was open, one could see Earth’s Moon from Bella, and vice versa. The respective stations at the ends of the Passageway were designed to permit that. The Lunar Window.
The station above Bella hosted an enormous transparent panel to welcome new arrivals. Once inside the station proper, only space was visible through this window; it was angled to benefit those transiting through the Passageway.
From were Crea stood on the station during the protest, she had been able to see the Passageway open up as the shuttle housing the representatives from Sagga entered. Black, empty space shimmered. The void became a pool, quivering due to the proximity of matter. Then the Moon appeared, at first like a reflection in a lake, until it trembled into solidity. The Moon’s transit station was a shining spec in orbit. The shuttle jetted off in its direction, and the whole apparition phased back out of existence.
Did you see Earth? Crea had heard someone nearby whisper excitedly. That wasn’t Earth. We can’t see Earth from here. But we’ll get there one day.
Some of the protesters, perhaps, weren’t here to impress upon the delegates the importance of Sagga’s self-governance, but to try to glimpse the greener grass of the blue planet they had never seen.
Most of the data segments were sent, and it wouldn’t be long until the transmission window closed altogether. Crea leaned forward on the desk, her elbows boring dents into the clear polycarbonate. She massaged her temples, pulled on her cheeks and earlobes, pressed her palms into her eyes.
The final package was sent. Her face an inch from the screen, Crea tapped the controls to re-send the first blob again. She ran her hands through her hair, bundling and unbundling it on the top of her head. It sent. Still nothing on the receiving end. Nothing from her mother. No acknowledgements.
Maybe it was just her end that was broken. Maybe everything had been sent fine and her equipment just wasn’t receiving. There were probably ten people pushing buttons and swiping dials in her mother’s kitchen right now, and nobody would be telling her mother what was going on. In fact, her mother would be blissfully unaware that anything was wrong at all, in another room, hand against her heart and tears in her eyes as she watched her daughter’s video for the fifth time over.
Lutati, Bella and Sagga would be in alignment again in around another six months.
Crea dropped back into her swing seat, leaning all the way back. Her hair claimed particles of dust from the ground and her fingertips left trails in the sand. She breathed out, long and slow. She hung there until the blood rushing in her ears became too loud to bear. She hauled herself back upright then, and waited for the dizziness to pass.
A glance at her screen; a gnaw of concern in the pit of her stomach. Crea wandered to the back of the part of the cave in which she lived. She placed her hands against the stone and closed her eyes. Behind this wall was everything. She could see every inch of every surface in the room. Her mind wandered across dusty volumes, traced the intricate patterns on their covers. Stories of a civilisation, waiting to be told.
She sighed and tramped deeper into the cave. The corridor narrowed and got darker; the ground began to slope downwards. She relinquished her grip and let gravity glide her cloth-covered feet over fine loose stones for a few moments. The narrow passage continued, but Crea turned right and hoisted herself through a hole in the wall. Without a light, you’d only know it was there if you knew it was there. She emerged behind a rock in a wide but low-ceilinged cavern. With her chin to her chest she advanced until her foot kicked into a box on the ground. She bent to turn it over, and the cavern was illuminated momentarily by two green lights blinking. She dusted them off and put the box back down; the tension of the cables protruding from both sides jerked it back into its lights-down position. One cluster of several thing cables disappeared into a hole in the ground a couple of meters away. They connected to a power relay under her desk, which in turn kept her screen on and her flashlight and stove charged. The other cable was as thick as her wrist, and made its way through another tunnel across the cavern. At some point it forked, and emerged at the two positions on Lutati’s surface with the most intense and consistent sunlight from Ava and Mira. Sheets of silver paneling covered the ground, soaking up the energy.
If anything went wrong with these, there was not a lot Crea could do. She had no means to traverse Lutati’s inconveniently jagged terrain to reach them. This equipment was old, well tested, and notoriously reliable though. Panels like these had kept Sagga powered for decades, in the early years. She had a backup supply of good old fashioned oil stashed away for emergencies in any case, which would last six months on a budget.
So, energy source was good. She had better go back and run diagnostics on all the rest of her equipment too. Not that she had much, but if she was going to need to panic at all she was better off finding out sooner rather than later.
Back in her cave, Crea collected all of her electrical equipment into a heap on the floor. She had a device that made light, one that made heat, and one that made high frequency vibrations. They could be purposed in all kinds of ways, in various combinations, but primarily they served Crea as a flashlight for the cave tunnels, a stove, and a showerhead. She picked them up and put them down again, one by one. Paused for a moment. Picked the heater back up, and took it to the cave entrance. She stood it upright, flicked a switch to open upward facing support arms, and balanced a bowl atop those. On her right, set a little back from the entrance, was an enormous chest. From within she produced a bean the size of a pebble, which she dropped into the pot with a light clatter. She turned up the heat, and sat down beside the stove. In the distance, Bella had drifted further overhead and Ava had sifted just a little across the horizon. Crea’s attention jolted back to the pot as the bean puffed up, doubling in size. It burst, spitting brown globules against the sides of the bowl; the globules continued to expand and sizzle. Crea reached into the pot with a pair of tongs and retrieved from the bubbling liquied a bean which looked a lot like the one she had put in to begin with. She returned it to its place in the chest, and idly stirred her simmering stew.
When she was a student, one of Crea’s dorm mates studied plant sciences. She had gone on to be a key figure in developing self-replicating foods on Sagga. In another lifetime, Crea would learn how this process worked.
Crea smelled the contents of the pot. It smelt… brown. As always, it would be rich and satisfying, and provide her with all the nutrients she needed. She lowered the heat, and returned to the chest. She surveyed her sack of flour and gallon of water, neither of which were self-replicating. Into another bowl she scooped flour, and drizzled water, stirring it together with her hand, just enough until a ball formed. Crea took once more a seat on the ground at the cave entrance, and gazed up at Bella as she massaged the dough between her palms.
Pull the ball into a disc. Fold the disc in half. Stretch, fold, stretch, fold. Roll it back into a ball. Roll and roll more to extend the ball into a cylinder. Turn the tip in and make a spiral. Press it flat, fold the disc in half. Repeat. A couple of rounds of this was plenty to make airy, layered flatbread, but Crea was on her seventh repetition when she smelt something somewhat charred. She scrambled to her feet and snatched the stew pot from the stove. It hissed as it landed in the sand. She placed the dough ball back in its bowl, and scraped around the edges of the brown goo with her tongs. It was pretty well stuck to the sides. She knew from experience its taste and nutritional value would not be affected though.
Crea dug a flat pan from the chest and let it heat, rolling the dough ball between her hands some more while she waited. She broke the dough into four smaller balls and spread one out on a plate, flattening it with her palm until it was almost see through. Carefully she picked it up with her fingertips and dropped it into the pan. It immediately began to swell and bubble. Crea flipped it over; the underside was just starting to brown. She flipped it out of the pan and onto the plate. Three more times, and she turned the stove off.
She gathered her pot of stew and plate of flatbread, and traversed the steps to the top of the cave once more. Bella and the Lunar Passageway station were at her back now. She used the bread as a spoon, scooping stew into her mouth. The bread was soft and flaky, and she relished the contrast.
A small dollop of brown narrowly missed her knee. It absorbed the dust, and solidified. With nothing to eat her waste, the waste ate Lutati. Crea’s mother had told her once about Tepi, a non-human family member back on Earth. Against the will of her parents, Crea’s mother would discard scraps of food underneath the table, and Tepi would efficiently vacuum them up. Tepi had four legs and and a tail, shaggy fur, and dopey eyes. Tepi would place her hands on Crea’s mother’s shoulders, and lick at her face. Crea’s mother would often fall to the ground under Tepi’s embrace; she recalled this with a fondness Crea didn’t quite understand. They left Tepi behind, so as not to interfere with Sagga’s ecosystem. As if humans were somehow neutral agents. It was best, Crea’s mother supposed, because Sagga had slugs and fat red bugs, and Tepi liked to eat anything that squiggled through the mud.
Crea had tried keeping a slug as a pet when she was small, but she had never managed to forge quite the same level of affection with it as her mother had with Tepi. She had gone so far as to name it, but didn’t recall what any more.
Lutati was her companion now. Lutati, and its rocks and sand and dust. Every particle was there for her when she needed it. Crea had been pressing her fingers into the sand and was almost up to her wrist. She dug her other hand in alongside. She squeezed balls of sand in her fists, the grains massaged her palms, relieving itches she never knew she had. Beneath the surface, the sand was cool. Not damp, just cool. Ava and Mira’s rays were not powerful enough to penetrate deeply.
On Sagga, Crea had been to the coast many times. There was only one piece of land on the planet, which the settlers occupied, and its coastline was varied, but nowhere had sand like Lutati. Her favourite seaside spot on Sagga had clay. Thick, black, and cold, it made a smack smack sound under her feet. If you stood still for long enough, and closed your eyes, and listened to the sea, it would gradually give way beneath you. The clay was never welcoming like Lutati’s sands. It was reluctant to take you in, a begrudging host to visitors from above. Impatient, Crea would plunge her hands in to feel the mud slide between her fingers. If she squeezed hard enough, she could pull out almost-solid balls. When she threw them, they hit the surface with a splat, and were absorbed much more readily than her feet had been. When she was very young, she would escape from her mother and slather herself from head to toe in clay, then lay down, camouflaged, and wait to be found, or run around her mother and her friends bellowing like a beast. Crea’s mother grumbled about the mess, but would herself smear clay on her cheeks and into her hair from time to time, and bottle a little to take home as well.
Crea tossed and turned, making her hammock sway. She was too hot with the cover, but too cold without it. She never normally had trouble sleeping. This was the first time in over six months of being in the cave. The fact made her anxious. Or was it something else making her anxious? Her eyes were still squeezed closed, but for a fleeting moment she felt like she was being watched. The feeling passed at once, and she carefully slowed her breath, and didn’t open her eyes. She could get up and work but… she was exhausted. She pictured herself sitting up, swinging her legs over the side and dropping the couple of inches to the floor. She imagined padding across the mat that kept most of the sand and grit off her feet, towards her desk in the far corner. The corner near the door. She would hoist herself up into the swing seat, then lean forwards and tap her screen. The screen would blink to life, showing her the most recent document scan she’d been working on. Which one was it? She couldn’t quite recall. She had left off half way through the last one. She could swipe her finger around the screen to rotate the scan, pinch to zoom. She was searching for new symbols, something she hadn’t come across yet to add to her dictionary. Some dictionary. What kind of dictionary only had icons but no definitions? No translation? But she would get there. She had time. First she needed to gather data, then she could analyse it. In her mind’s eye, Crea saw herself zooming in on a section of the scan which the computer had marked with a red outline. There was something there that it hadn’t been able to extract and automatically classify. She tried to make it out, but it was blurry. Maybe she should get up for real and take a look after all. She didn’t remember noticing this highlighted section on the last piece she worked on though. Maybe she hadn’t rotate it all the way around yet. The section was in the bottom at the center.. no in the corner. It was just the cover of the book, she hadn’t even gone inside yet. The inscriptions on the pages appeared to be a completely different alphabet, so she had decided to take just the covers first. She had time. What was in the highlighted section? She really should get up and find out. She thought she was sitting up for a moment, but perhaps she had drifted off and dreamt it. She tried again, but her body was a boulder. Crea rolled onto her side. Her eyes were still closed, and it seemed impossible to wrench them open. She felt the course fabric of the hammock under her cheek where the sheet had wrinkled away. Her face and the material were joined, inextricably linked, as one. She couldn’t get up. She nuzzled the hammock and stretched her limbs. A small groan escaped her. She either needed to get up and do some work or go to sleep, really. She couldn’t just stay here, neither being productive nor restoring her energy. Why did she feel so heavy? Finally she lurched upright and swung her legs over the edge. For real this time. She pulled the cover aside and felt the taught rim of the hammock in the backs of her knees. She allowed herself to lean forwards, unconsciously stretching her toes for the floor. Crea slipped off the edge, and the floor never came.
She jerked awake, heart in her mouth. Still in the hammock. Her eyes were open now but she could see nothing in the darkness. Her breathing slowed. She pulled the cover around her shoulders and stared at the ceiling. Resisting the urge to look over at her desk. She remembered she had finished the last cover she had been analysing after all. There had been only one new symbol, and a handful of new combinations. Nothing the computer couldn’t read, that was for sure. She had begun to feel hopeful that perhaps she was starting to get a complete picture, of the covers at least. But something niggled. What if she had missed something? She had got through dozens of the books so far, and with the computer to help her she was normally confident of her progress. In any case, she could check in the morning. Just to be on the safe side. The sense of urgency was gone altogether now; her dream faded.
Crea rolled over again, this time onto her right side, facing away from the desk. Finally she was ready to sleep. Thoughts of enormous books, stone tablets, and mysterious carvings flitted through her mind, but dissipated as quickly as they came. She sank gently into oblivion.
On the other side of the cave, her screen flickered to life and the computer started to reanalyse the file that had been open last. This time, it found something different.
The training for this mission had been rigorously routine. Crea had gone along with it, keenly aware that once she was deep in to the work on Lutati her instincts would override any sense of schedule they tried to instill.
On Sagga, sleep came in two shifts. Two bursts of a few hours when both Ava and Mira took their leave and allowed darkness to envelop one side of the planet. The in-between period when the light was soft and the world was dozy was Crea’s favourite time to get things done. There was something about Mira’s light, more distant and cooler, which helped Crea to think.
Mira setting did not stop her from thinking however. She could be productive just as well in darkness. Ava rising was always a surprise, and a reminder to her body and mind to collapse. To hide away and squeeze in some rest before the rest of the world realised she was missing.
Lutati was eternally bathed in half light from both stars, but the eyemask they had given her to help her sleep lay untouched in a desk drawer. The first while here alone, Crea’s hammock was installed in the deeper cave, too. She moved it forward herself, closer to the light, but also closer to her work, closer to the library.
Crea’s eyes snapped open. Air filled her lungs and she swung her legs over the side of the hammock before her brain had fully kicked in. From the chest by the cave entrance she took a different bean. This did not spawn more of its own when heated, but to her mind was far more valuable. The one crop from Earth which had survived on Sagga, though her biologist friend had once told her it took a whole handful of beans to make a pot of coffee on Earth, and you had to grind them first. Eearth people had all kinds of intricate rituals around preparing it, but on Sagga, by Crea’s generation at least, they only had one way. On Sagga, however, water was not in short supply. Crea’s coffee beans were modified, not only to generate their own liquid, but also to stand in as a replacement for a full meal.
She moved to drop the bean in the pot, but it was still encrusted with brown goop from her previous meal. She pocketed the bean instead and scoured the pot with her sonic emitter.
A memory stirred, of a new discover. Not a real memory, one of a dream. Still scrubbing the pot, Crea wandered to her desk. She stopped short; there were marks in the ground beneath her chair. It was a symbol from one of the books, sketched into the sand. Parallel lines, forming circles and a sweeping arc, in duplicate, mirroring each other.
Her mother’s house, her mother’s kitchen. No matter how long Crea had been away in the city, she was always welcome there. The fragrance of her mother’s specially blended herbal tea, a unique combination of Saggan plants, filled her nostrils, and the back of her throat.
Crea placed her fingertips in the grooves in the sand, and they fit perfectly. Four lines, four fingers. In between the mirrored symbols were thinner incoherent lines, where her hair had dusted the ground as she hung upside down yesterday. She dropped the pot and hopped into the seat, leaning backwards once more. Her hands rested one each on the markings, and the arcs ended at her arms’ maximum reach.
She sat upright, yearning for her mother’s tea, and vaguely astonished that she had been studying the volumes so hard that symbols had impressed themsevles on her subconscious to such an extent that she was drawing them in the sand without realising.
Her stomach growled, and she obeyed its call.
Coffee was best enjoyed in direct sunlight; she took the steaming bowl to the roof of the cave and watched Lutati as she sipped. Nothing moved. Not a spiral of dust, not a breeze across the plains.
Did the crevasses lead all the way through, to the other side of the moon? What would falling through be like? She had never had the opportunity to peer down; did the light reach all the way? Who had lived here, once upon a time? Maybe the crevasses had been rivers. The coffee went from bitter to floral on her tongue and she almost spat it out. As she swallowed, the taste returned to normal.
When she was a child, Crea drove her mother crazy by sitting on the kitchen worktop, willing the water to boil. Her mother would lift her down, always in the way, and Crea would scramble right back up as soon as her back was turned, pulling out a drawer to use for a leg up. As an adult, she would sit there too, challenging her mother to lift her down now.
Crea approached her desk but hesitated a moment before she sat down. She turned back and went to change her shirt, from one reddish brown sleeveless top to a green one. She added the former to a small pile by the hammock. She could take care of laundry later.
She woke up her computer with a tap on the screen. First, she closed the transmission software, which was blinking a frantic no connection message. Behind that, her most recent book analysis waited. It was done, but she rotated the image on the screen anyway, surveying it one last time before moving on to the next one. The 3D model was not a photographic replica, but was overlaid with a dark brown texture to give it the feel of the real thing. The patterns on the cover, embossed as they were, had been easily picked up by Crea’s software and glowed with coloured highlights. Green ones had been positively matched to icons already in the database, and blue needed manual confirmation. That was just on the surface though. In the background, the system was processing and computing every combination of lines, both within individual symbols and between them. From the patterns the software had found so far, Crea had been able to determine with reasonably certainty that the characters on the book covers constituted a spiral, to be read from the center outwards. Or the outer tip inwards. What they read, on the other hand, was still to be discovered. As crea had progressed deeper into the archives, the symbols had become more elaborate, or perhaps less controlled, more chaotic. Deeper in meant further back, away from the door, towards the far wall. Literally deeper in terms of the stacks of books. She was about half way through the first room. The software had lost track for a while, but it was a straightforward matter for her to recalibrate it once she had caught on.
One hundred and eighty degrees around, a flash of red suddenly dominated. In the bottom corner of the back - what she supposed was the back - the software had highlighted an unfamiliar symbol. Crea zoomed in, digitally and physically. It was at the tip of the spiral, and the icon itself was spiral in nature. Crea curled her hand into a fist, and held it up to the screen. With her other hand, she reoriented and increased the size of the icon until the pattern matched the spiral formed by her first finger and thumb. Even the ridges of her knuckles matched the shape on the screen. Crea turned her fist a little, and knocked lightly on the screen. She let go of the breath she didn’t realise she had been holding.
Her computer chirruped, nudged by her contact with it, prompting for acknowledgment of a brand new combination of lines. She stepped back, then reached forward and tapped the confirmation. The symbol turned green.
Crea zoomed all the way out. She rotated the model three hundred and sixty degrees once more to be on the safe side. Using her whole hand, she swept the image away, and the next appeared. The symbols lit up, one by one, in blue or green. She attended to the blue ones - confirming whether or not she had seen them before. In all cases she had, two on the front and two on the back (probably the back). She matched each with similar ones the software suggested. None of the volumes she had analysed so far had any symbols on their spine. Each was adorned with a single wavy line, all alike.
Her game plan was process all of the covers, using the database and the software’s pattern matching as an extension of her own senses, and hope that what emerged would eventually fall into place and exude some kind of meaning. Her system also contained a database of every known alphabet from Earth, ancient and not so ancient. A few parallells had emerged so far, but Crea had dismissed them as coincidental. The odds of a written language, even the essence of one, travelling millions of lightyears in either direction seemed pretty remote to her. As for her own arsenal, Crea’s mother had taught her an ancestral language, passed down through generations, little changed - for hundreds of years at least - although little spoken as well. Her ancestors, an ancient culture on Earth, had been colonised a very long time ago, and a majority of their traditions were lost. Many of the original settlers of Sagga had the same heritage as Crea’s mother, a displaced people looking for a new home, though few spoke the languages from their past.
Crea proceeded to categorise seven or eight more volumes in the same way. She was not a language expert, and relied heavily on the software. When she wasn’t working on the discovery directly though she was perusing the archives, trying to consume all she could. Before her long term station on Lutati, she had studied all she could on sagga too, in preparation. She had visited all twenty one universities to speak to professors and researchers with areas of expertise she lacked. She dropped in on classes, hassled students, and tailgated into specialist libraries. The room she stayed in in the city was yet filled with overdue or unofficially borrowed books.
A year and a half ago she had been planning a new museum exhibit, and simultaneously writing a proposal to petition a museum or department somewhere (anywhere) to take her on to develop exhibition software. She had been reading about the Lutati discovery in the news just like everybody else. She didn’t know her own advisor from her graduate thesis had been involved; all the glory and exposure was being given to the the astronauts who had been charting Lutati’s terrain and found the cave in the first place. The minutae of the subsequent excavation was little covered.
Professor Hirana Matui had messaged Crea directly with these minutae, and invited her for a chat about the discovery’s historical significance. The message had remained buried for two days before Crea noticed it. She dropped everything to head to Hirana’s office.
The implications that the discovery had for understanding anything at all about life on Sagga before humans arrived were profound. It was the first sign they had ever found of civilisation. Hirana had talked to several potential candidates for excavating the full extent of the finding; experts who were fascinated with the materials, the language, the process for getting books onto a moon. They started putting together a team, and Crea was the missing piece. Someone to process the content of the books, to make sense of the revelations within. To assemble and, most importantly, to communicate the stories of the Saggans who came before. Crea had dropped everything. They pulled together funding, and began training within weeks.
A month in, the linguist was called away to a more pressing government project. The materials scientist was next; he had a family emergency. The archaeologist was deterred by the training process itself, and agreed to participate under the condition that he could remain on Sagga and work with rock samples and digital images.
Crea persisted, waiting for Hirana to enroll the next best experts into training. There were a few on the cards, but somehow they never came.
One dreary afternoon, Crea had taken her leave of the training encampment through a hole in the fence out of sign of the front gate. It had taken her three hours to walk to the city; arriving so soon felt like a pleasant break after she had been walking the circumference of Lutati every few days recently. She trod the familiar hallways to Hirana’s campus office and let herself in without knocking. Hirana swiveled their chair and surveyed their bedraggled former student with their head cocked to one side and a look of wry amusement. Crea sat without being invited, shunting papers aside on the barely visible couch. The launch date was drawing near and Crea had no idea about how she was expected to do this alone. She had read and re-read the deliverables of the project, and was most conspicuously unqualified for the tasks ahead. She was concerned that there was not really enough time left to sufficiently train new team members for life on a moon, unless they already happened to be astronauts.
Hirana reassured Crea that she didn’t need to know everything, and didn’t need to meet all of their goals alone. They demonstrated the software that was almost ready for analysing the 3D scans, and produced photos of the environment on Lutati that was already being set up for Crea’s occupation.
Hirana had shrugged. They would be the first one by her side, had they not a family to supervise. Not to mention three fresh graduate students.
Hirana plied the weary Crea with coffee, then accompanied her on the tramline to the outer reach of Sagga City. Crea held Hirana for just a moment longer than usual as they hugged farewell.
Crea’s confinement and astro training had concluded not so long afterwards. Back in the city, Crea set about honing skills and searching out information she never knew she would need.
After a while, Crea’s head began to swim. She had lost count of the covers she had looked at so far, and coudn’t shake the feeling that she was missing something today. She walked to the back of the cave, around a corner to the right, and surveyed the door. The Door. The door that had started it all. Against the rules, she ran her hands lightly over its surface. The engravings were barely visible, a whisper on the surface of well-worn rock. To the casual observer, it might just be a particularly gnarled section of the wall. A digital scan had revealed the markings at once, but nothing compared to physical contact. Under her fingertips, the message was clear.
The first time she came here, a technician told her that behind this wall was a vast cavern, and that the cavern contained something - or many things - that weren’t rock. They just needed to find a way in to find out what. The technician’s name began with B, and he was young. He wasn’t still, even for a minute, as Crea watched him setting up and tweaking the devices which could see through rock. He showed Crea the door on his handheld screen. They didn’t know it was a door yet, just a distinctly marked section of the wall. The markings were from floor to ceiling, and when Crea stood with her arms outstretched they reached from the fingertips of her left hand to the fingertips of her right. She stood like this on many occasions over the following weeks, sometimes with her eyes closed and her face so close to the wall she was breathing its dust. S buzzed around, adjusting things. Crea ignored him.
The deep orange light from outside made it through to this part of the cave at all hours, but Crea’s favourite time to sit in the corridor was when Ava was just disappearing out of view from the front of the cave, and the shadows cast highlighted the edges of the engravings. The angle was right for mere moments, but it wasn’t long before Crea made a habit of catching it when the time came every few days.
Once, S had been explaining some modifications he had made to the sensors when Ava caught Crea’s attention and she excused herself. S followed her to the corridor, still talking, but he stopped when she sat cross-legged on the floor opposite the door, leaned forward with her elbows on the floor and placed her head in her hands. He was blocking the light, and obeyed at once when she waved at him to move.
From her position looking up at the wall, the shadows cast by the carvings formed lines which spidered and crisscrossed towards the ceiling. For a few seconds they were sharp, and as Ava shifted further out of sight they began to blur and stretch. All but one. By the floor was a shadow which did not interact with Ava’s light in the same way, didn’t follow the same patterns as its fellows. The carving which cast it was deeper than the rest. When S took a bathroom break from following her around, Crea carefully dug the dust out, then waited for the next opportunity for Ava to light up the wall.
The next time, the carving cast a half moon. The minute of Ava’s passage was eternal; Crea watched the slow motion journey of the crescent as it rolled across the floor and then a little up. All of a sudden it grew, filled itself, faded and was gone, merging into the pale light that was a result of what remained of Ava and Mira’s combined illumination in the corridor.
By the time Crea had understood the door’s message, the excavation staff had rotated thrice. With each departure, she had the opportunity to take a break on Sagga, but something kept her in the cave.
In the center of the crescent shadow was a tiny nick. It hadn’t registered on any of the scans as a deliberate mark, and it had taken Crea weeks to discover that it was the start of a trail. The trail was a smattering of similar nicks, winding their way across the wall. There was little to distinguish them from random decay. They lead up and around, winding like a river across the landscape of the cave tunnel. She followed the trail, marking its course on paper. Sometimes the trail forked or ran back over itself. Sometimes she got lost and had to search for the next clue. Crea drew a map, and noted other natural fissures, dips and elevations.
One day she had been musing over the map in the entrance to the cave when a technician stopped by to offer her some tea. She took the cup absently, and the guy remained, looking over her shoulder at the map. He asked her why she was studying the Zhira region of Sagga.
Crea had blinked, and suddenly it became clear. Transparent. She was a fool for not seeing it sooner. Well, perhaps not a fool. It had been many years since her marine geography classes. But it came flooding back at once. (Pun intended.) Most of Sagga was deep under water, but the shallowest region was a short boat ride from the mainland. The sheets of paper spread before her displayed an almost perfect sketch of that area. The river she had drawn was a well-known current trail. Sailors used it actively to navigate the region quickly. If you let the current carry you freely, it whirled you out to a submerged volcano. The water was so clear that people would head out and spend days surveying the lifeless depths. The sides of the volcano were stacked with crystals. The light from Ava and Mira refracted through them and the water, creating rainbow displays comparable to the Aurora Borealis told of in stories from Earth.
The volcano was in the center of Crea’s map, formed by a circular pit in the wall with jutting edges. The river / current trail spiraled around it several times, and out in four directions from there. The volcano (which needs a name) was one of the better explored parts of subterranean Sagga. The crater in its peak provided the entrance to a network of tunnels which snaked their way through the landmass of the planet. Many of them emerged as hot springs across the mainland.
Crea ran to the wall in the cave and examined the miniature volcano. She stuck her fingers in the hole, and dust and dirt gave way under pressure. She knocked on the wall in different places, and was rewarded with different vibrations. The technicians had scanned the wall on her request, and sure enough, a micro version of the underwater tunnel network wormed its way throughout the wall. Indeed, there were many tunnels in the wall that none of them had seen on any full-size surveys of the volcanic area.
The natural reaction to a small round hole is to want to pop things in it, isn’t it?
Since that day, Crea had kept safe the pebble she had picked up from the cave entrance and polished into a perfect sphere. It fit into the hole, and rattled pleasantly as it rolled through the tunnels. She waited patiently for the clunk of an obstruction, and took the tiny metal rod one of the technicians had furnished her with the first fateful time she had put the ball in the hole, and poked it into a tiny pinprick of a hole in the wall which in real life corresponded to a popular hot spring not far from Sagga City. She angled the rod just right (this had taken a while to crack) and something inside the wall shifted, allowing the ball to proceed. Three more carefully implemented interventions from Crea and the metal rod, and the ball reached the critical part of its path. With a groan, the carved area of the wall suddenly separated. Seams appeared where there were none before. Now the door could be pushed gently, and spun on a central hinge. Crea stepped inside the room, and retrieved the ball from the small groove which caught it at knee height beside the door.
The door swung silently closed behind her and she flipped on her torch. The device sensed its proximity to delicate materials and cast a soft blue light. The covers appeared dark, and the walls eerily pale. She stood in the only space available - the semicircle left to accommodate the door - and surveyed the room. The air in here tasted different. She reached one slightly trembling hand forwards, and hovered it over the nearest book. Each volume was about the size of her torso. If she wanted to, she could fairly comfortably embrace one against her chest with her arms around and fingers just reaching the spine and page ends on either side. For just a moment, she felt the weight of a book pulling on her shoulders and the edge of the cover digging into her upper arms.
The book felt almost as though it was breathing. There was electricity between the cover and Crea’s fingertips, and the cover was straining upwards, yearning for contact. She looked around at the stacks, half-expecting a technician to pop out from behind one of them and insist that the volumes must not be disturbed. Even breathing the air around them was discouraged. But books were meant to be opened. To be consumed. To be experienced. She knew, somehow Crea knew, that there were no secrets within these pages. No spells or confidential records. Only stories, waiting to be heard.
She leaned forward, examining the cover of the nearest book. Though what she could see was the same, the proximity gave her something that the 3D model on her computer could not.
Crea started, jumping backwards as she heard a whisper. When the buzz of the extra blood her heart had forced to her head subsided, she rolled her eyes at herself. It must have been the wind… but there was no wind on Lutati. She probably just slipped her foot through the sand a little, or scuffed a flap of her shirt against the wall behind her. She balled her hands up - one clutching at her torch which was pointing downwards - and pressed them against her chest, carefully slowing her breathing. It would be warmer on the roof of the cave, but for a change Crea did not crave the twin suns’ caress. She turned the torch off, and folder her legs beneath her. She leaned her back against the door, then moved forward just a little so there was no contact.
Her breathing was still a little fast but it was naturally beginning to slow. The air kissed her top lip as her nostrils drew it in and released it back out again. She focused on the top of her head until she could feel each hair in contact with her scalp. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck too. Out of sight of Ava and Mira, the temperature really was much lower than Crea was used to in the main part of the cave. Her shirt was sleeveless and bumps began to appear on her arms. For a room that had been sealed for so long, the air was fresh, cleansing. She forgot, for a moment, that she had not closed her eyes. Not a sliver of light made it inside; there was not a single crack around the edge of the door.
She could feel the presence of the door behind her back, a hair’s breadth away. Just knowing it was there kept her spine straight. Her heels pressed into her buttocks and the tops of her feet into the ground. Her feet were bare and grains of sand and dust and microscopic pieces of the moon nestled deeper and deeper, making themselves new homes in her skin. As her weight cut off the blood supply to her legs, her knees tingled, then cried out. The feeling spread, from her knees to her ankles. An army of firey insects charging through her limbs. Let them charge.
Crea’s chest rose and fell steadily. Her shoulders moved a tiny bit, in rhythm with her breath. The motion traveled down both arms and she could feel it in her fingertips. The backs of her hands rested on her thighs, and as the burning sensation spread through her lower body the slightest twitch of her hands caused a new wave of discomfort in her legs. Her legs called out to her. Every pinprick was emulated as a whistling in her ears. Though she could see nothing, the world was spinning. Crea lost contact with her toes first, and her lower legs soon followed. The pain had stopped, and she was hovering, but for the tops of her feet which tingled delicately from the dust on the ground. Her lips parted a little and air flowed in through a new route, cooling her chest.
She began to fall. No, she was floating. Pinpricks of light emerged from the blackness, floating bouncing sparks, hovering across the front of her mind like fireflies. Beyond the fireflies were smaller whiter dots. The blackness was not so black any more, the lights gave it depth. Her back and the back of her head pressed against something hard but forgiving. Her hair fell around her shoulders and back; some of it trailed into the water and she could feel it pull. She could hear the water gently lapping at the sides of the raft, inviting her in, but only playfully. It was too cold to really be enjoyed.
The universe stretched itself out around her on all sides. As much as she loved Ava and Mira, this blackness of the sky was welcoming. So was the reminder that there were other stars than Sagga’s twins. A breeze swept across her; something else she had not felt in a while. She tried to sit up, but the raft wobbled alarmingly so she relaxed back down again. She felt around with her foot, dragging it across the coarse wooden surface until it plopped off the side into the water. The sudden iciness almost made her retract it at once, but just in time she resisted her instinct, and allowed the sensation to come creeping back. The cool was absorbed into her foot, then spread up her leg on the inside. When the sensation reached her chest she lifted her foot out, and raised it above her. There was just enough light to see the droplets of water running down her leg. She shivered involuntarily as a little water wound its way around to the back of her knee.
She lowered her leg in time to see a shooting star blink briefly into and out of existence in the sky. A passer by.
The air got warmer and dryer again and the fireflies took their leave. The stars began to fade away one by one, until there was nothing but blackness once more. Her feet felt contact with sand not water, and lapping of the waves had ceased.
Crea swung her legs back and forth, on autopilot as she responded to the software’s prompts to acknowledge new symbols. The books were getting older now; deeper into the archives. There was less and less that she had not seen before, but still just enough stylistic changes in the calligraphy to confuse the computer. That afternoon, she entered a new era.
The spirals on the covers became wider and the symbols had more space between them. They were a little less elaborate, fewer twists and flicks. To her eye they were clearly the same alphabet, and after five new covers she had seen every symbol and brought the software up to speed.
The second room, deeper in the cave, was going to be a drastic change again. She was sorely tempted to skip ahead and start processing the carved tablets. Nobody in the world knew about them but her. (Unless her messages had been received after all.) She had discovered the second door completely by accident of course. She had literally tripped over it in fact. The corridor with the wall map of Zhira had been a block end as far as every rotation of the survey team was concerned. Crea had spent enough time sitting around down there herself and seen no reason to question this.
Dust and sand in the corridor was piled pretty high and packed pretty tight. For reasons unknown, a chunk had come loose at some point, and during one of Crea’s routine wanderings the chunk found its way under her foot and sent her thudding into the ground. Once on the floor, she had located the new hole, and felt an urge to dig out some more of the dust around it. The sand prised away in satisfying clumps and it wasn’t long before she had created a new mound to her left and uncovered a fresh portion of the rock wall and floor to her right. The ground was uneven, but not in a jagged, stony way. In a carved symbols kind of way. Crea scratched the dust out of the grooves, and cleared the area until she found the edges. The carving stretched for about one foot from the back wall of the cave, and was twice that length wide. Just like the door and the book covers, the patterns formed a spiral. The bottom edge however seemed unfinished. She had unpacked the three-dimensional scanner, which hadn’t seen any action since the last of the survey team left, and dragged it through the corridor. The computer had recognised all of the symbols except for the bottom row. Crea had stared at this row until it was fixed in her mind, and then spent the afternoon meditating on it.
Several hours later she made the connection. The first door appeared to be a little sunk into the ground, so the symbols there were cut off. This was not an accident. They were continued at the end of the corridor, on the patterned section of the floor.
She returned to the wall map immediately to search for a way to open it up. There was not a doubt in her mind that it would open. Whatever equipment the survey team technicians used to scan for caverns must have missed this one. But there weren’t any other inviting holes to drop pebbles into. She mauled the wall in a way that would have made S and the other technicians crazy. There were no secret levers, nothing moved or twisted, there were no slots to fill. Next she examined the panel itself, pushing and pressing the edges. She searched for other potential maps on the surrounding walls.
History had layers. And societies had layers. To understand an era, you have to understand what came before. Through the layers, connections run like thread, linking the past to the future and weaving the tapestry of time. Crea went into the first room, turned on her light, and found the end of the thread at once. There was a path through the stacks of books, so clear it was inconceivable she hadn’t seen it before. Gently, she moved her face close to the ground and blew the dust loose. A ridge in the ground had been there all along. She took the same pebble she used to open the first door, and placed it at the start of the ridge. She gave it a gentle push, and Lutati’s gravity did the rest. The stone trundled into the books and she lost sight of it. It turned left and right, zigzagging between the towers of tomes, a gentle clatter muffled by the dust which slowed it. A click, and the sound of the rolling stopped. Crea held her breath.
She hurried back out into the corridor, where a new opening beckoned. The carved panel had disappeared. Tentatively, she held the light into the blackness, and narrow stairs revealed themselves. Without a moment of hesitation she began to descend. The hole was small, but so was she. And Lutati she trusted absolutely. The steps continued for a little over her own height, and stopped before they touched the ground. Crea stayed on the bottom step, suspended, and took in this new discovery.
The stairs emerged in the middle of the cavern. Shining her light in every direction revealed new stacks of books. She could tell already they were different from the ones in the first room. But it was the walls that captivated her. Across every inch, compartments were gouged, and filled with what she now knew (from the 3D scans she took later) to be carved stone tablets.
The air she breathed tasted ancient.
She had no idea how long she spent in that room on the day she found it. She had sat on the steps for a while, rotating her light, playing with the shadows, and inhaling epochs. Before she ascended back to the corridor, she noticed something by her feet. The pebble she had sent into the stacks of books in the room above had emerged in the bottom step, and was waiting patiently in a tiny groove to be retrieved.
Crea dropped a coffee bean in the pot and turned on the heat. She sat down beside it in the entrance of the cave and watched the patiently unmoving landscape. She did not feel like eating; her stomach was already full of lead. Or perhaps it was sand.
She had lost track of what time it would be on Sagga, but the odds were good that her mother was preparing a meal. Her mother once shared memories she had of her family’s garden on Earth. Growing one’s own food on a small scale was a novel and exciting idea to Crea. On Sagga, this was best left to experts.
Although she couldn’t grow, she could still create. She looked back down at her coffee pot, to find no change. There was no heat being emitted either. She fought the fleeting tightness in her chest - she only had one device which emitted heat - and extracted it from under the pot. She flicked switches back and forth, and twisted dials to rotate through the various settings. She shook it, and some sand escaped. She shook it harder, and then tightened anything that could be tightened. She set it back down and tried activating it again. This time, she felt the heat it began to emit within seconds.
Relieved, she replaced the coffee pot and went to the chest by the cave entrance to fetch another bowl full of flour. When the survey team had been planning the inventory for Crea’s long stay, they allowed certain space for raw materials. They had been expecting to pack chemicals for experiments with the rock, but when the geologist backed out Crea had seen no need. She requested the space be used for flour and water, to help with morale. Flour and water were two edibles that were widely available on Sagga which hadn’t been processed and optimised extensively. The flour was highly nutritionally enhanced of course, but it didn’t have an special properties like the beans.
They had briefly toyed with the idea of attempting to grow food on Lutati. In the end the chances of success were deemed to low to make it worthwhile, on this expedition at least. It didn’t help that Crea had no experience in keeping plants alive under optimal conditions, let alone in an artificial environment on a barren moon.
Once the coffee had brewed, Crea added the flour and stirred. She turned the heat off whilst she combined them, scraping the sticky mixture away from the side and making sure the two were thoroughly integrated. She closed the pot with a lid and turned the heat up high, and let it be.
She licked the spoon she’d stirred the mixture with as she walked back into the cave. She picked up her sonic device and took a few minutes to pass it around the spoon, and then put the clean implement back in the chest. On the way back out, her foot snagged a stray shirt on the floor and she almost fell. She kicked it away and returned to the pot and turned off the heat.
Crea faced into the cave, hands on her hips, and sighed. It was getting pretty chaotic in there. She zigzagged through, picking up the fallen clothes. She either flipped them into the air with her foot, or grabbed a corner between her toes and lifted her leg rather than bend down. She scattered more sand than was ideal in the process. She threw the armful of clothes in a box. She was wearing her last clean shirt, but taking the time to wash the others didn’t interest her. What was the point? Everything was sandy anyway, and there was nobody here to complain about the smell.
She retrieved the pot and placed the heating device carefully beside the sonic one, near her desk. The contents of the pot had puffed up and grown into a light and fluffy cake. She held it close to her face and inhaled the coffee scent. Then she grabbed a spoon, and took the pot up the steps to the roof of the cave. She sat cross-legged in her usual spot, and dug in.
When the final survey team shift returned to Sagga, the first thing Crea noticed was the enveloping silence. The last sound she heard that wasn’t made by her was the fading chug of the departing shuttle. For a while, her footsteps were deafening. The low hum of her computer was maddening. If she dropped a pot, the sound reverberated across the whole moon, circulating once and coming back at her from behind. She found herself apologising under her breath for disturbing Lutati.
She soon realised Lutati was unshakable. Its surface was still, but the vibrations of her equipment joined the rumble of the perpetually shifting dust and sand. From her position on the roof of the cave she could hear it all. Sometimes, she could even feel the quiver of the moon’s slow rotation.
Sitting up there and taking in Lutati’s murmurs quickly became the best way to clear her mind and let all she had observed from the contents of the library settle into her subconscious. A series of unfamiliar sounds, though distant, she was immediately alert to. From the sky, they came; high pitched squeaks combined with dull tapping. Though Crea had never seen birds of any kind before, she recognised seagulls at once. A flock was circling, in no kind of coherent formation, cartwheeling and diving around each other. Their calls were backed by the roar and crash of waves. Lutati’s orange-pink landscape had been replaced by blue sky and blue ocean, and the taste of dust turned to salt and spray.
Crea was perched far above the waves. She wriggled to the edge of the cliff to peer down, letting her legs drop over the side. The water was smashing hard into rocks below, the white foam almost reaching her toes on occasion. She took a long, deep breath, and stared up at the sky. Ava and Mira were not giants on the horizon, but far above her. She could see and feel them both, and the perspective was familiar. Her fingers rested on sand, but it was much finer, soft and white. A few blades of coarse grass poked through.
Eternity passed, and the sand reshaped itself the harsh orange granules she had grown used to. Ava and Mira swooped inwards, repainting the sky. The water was gone, and the sky emptied. The last caw of a seagull faded away, and the smell of the ocean lingered in Crea’s head.
A truly unfamiliar sound pierced the quiet. It wasn’t loud, but it was big. Just distant, and roaring. Crea’s eyes snapped open. Something was happening in the sky near Bella. The dusky orange looked like water that someone had released a drop of ink into. A midnight blue was spreading out from a point, twisting and spiraling outwards. It began to obscure the edge of Bella’s silver white silhouette. The roar got louder and louder and Crea’s whole body was tense. There were some flashes of light at different points across the black octopus and against Bella’s surface as well. The roar stopped and the dark shape abruptly collapsed in on itself.
Crea’s eyes were dry from not blinking, and her hands had involuntarily clamped themselves over her mouth. Did she just witness the Lunar Passageway opening once more?
She hastened back down to the cave and checked her computer for messages. The software was as inanimate as it had been for months, but she left it running in case something was to come through. If something had come through from Earth though, the people on Sagga probably had other things to think about than one woman on a moon. Her mother would be in touch if only she knew how to operate the equipment herself. Perhaps she would ask the scientists, insist even, if they hadn’t left by now.
Perhaps Earth was extending the hand of friendship after all these years. Reopening its borders for trade and collaboration. There would be resistance at first on Sagga, now their identity had been so keenly carved after Earth’s abandonment, but a national desire to show off all they had accomplished would be the overriding sentiment. Their technological advancements would have surpassed those of Earth, since one united world could move much faster than bickering nation states. Even though the population was smaller, every single adult individual was engaged on some level in scientific research and development. Unless Earth had changed drastically in the past years, there was no way they could compete with that.
Not that there would be any competition. Sagga would freely share its technology and resources with Earth. In exchange, Earth would bring plants and animals, which could now be sustained and thrive in Sagga’s enriched landscape.
Transport links between the two planets would re-open. Many of the thousands of people who had been separated from family on Earth or wished to return to their roots would be able to do so. Crea’s mother would probably obstinately stay put on Sagga, and Crea expected that she would stay with her. But Crea’s brother would come to visit them from Earth and she would finally be able to meet him as an adult. She would take him to the mud flats where she had been able to run as a child, when he could only sit and watch. She would take him out on a boat across Zhira and they could peer at the underwater crystal light show from a glass-bottomed boat, the kind that just couldn’t accommodate his chair years before.
Maybe she could even bring him to Lutati, introduce him to the orange sands of her beloved moon and share with him the stories of the people who came before.
She could find out what he did on Earth, how he was building their chaotic society into a better place. Perhaps he was involved in re-opening the Lunar Passageway in the first place! Perhaps the whole endeavour was driven by his desire to return home and reunite his family. Crea imagined that he would be tall, with dark piercing eyes. His hair would be as long as hers, and tied into a bun or ponytail at the base of his neck. He had always been big as a child, which made the fact he couldn’t move himself around even more of a challenge. He was always serious, too. Crea was certain he would one day move planets with his sheer force of will.
Crea would be the first to sign up to the knowledge exchange program her brother would be facilitating. She would delight in sharing cultural artefacts and social memes that had developed in the time since the planets’ last contact. It would not be long before someone hooked Sagga’s global communication system up with that of Earth, and individuals on both planets would be able to interact directly. People from Earth could join Sagga’s virtual communities, and vice versa. They would soon learn that they were all same same but different.
What if the the Lunar Passageway was not reopened out of love and seeking unity, but aggression? The first ships from Earth would be a scouting party, with a full invasion force to follow. Enough time had passed that Earth would no longer see Saggans as their own, but as occupants of an alien land, to be conquered and colonised. All that Sagga had built would be fair game for Earth. They would take technology and plunder knowledge for their own land, offer nothing in return, and leave Sagga destitute. The Saggans were apt at rebuilding of course, but it would set their progress back decades.
Perhaps Earth had plans for Sagga beyond stripping them of their resources. The streets of Sagga City were coherent and ordered. It would be a simple thing for invaders to take control of the systems that kept the trams running and the food delivered, to block people into their homes and grind the well-oiled machine to a halt. And then to start it up again with a new goal in mind.
The scientists perpetually pervading her mother’s home would be replaced by soldiers. Her mother would make them tea nonetheless, and look out for any among them who hadn’t really been born on Earth. She would rule out those who tripped over their own feet as they got used to Sagga’s low gravity, and offer them head coverings if they didn’t like the sudden increase in volume of their hair. If they asked her mother about the room full of long distance communication equipment crammed into one corner of her kitchen, or the enormous satellite dish on the street corner by her small domed house, she would claim complete unfamiliarity with what the visiting research group was doing. Her location was prime, that was all, for whatever it was they wanted to measure in space, and as a dutiful resident of the City she was willing to support the work in any way she could. She would not mention her daughter on the moon.
If they were smart, the invaders might even take over Sagga without anybody noticing. People were reassigned all the time to different City projects; not at random, but it would not be seen as unusual for someone’s work to change directions over night. Intruders from Earth could repurpose Sagga from the bottom up if they approached the authorities with friendly intentions.
And Crea, far away, was helpless to do anything about it.
She returned to the roof of the cave to watch the sky some more. If only Ava and Mira would take a break so she could see further into space. She closed her eyes and listened to her heart beat. She could feel it not only in her chest, but in her fingers and toes as well. Her landscape, newly darkened by her eyelids, became peppered with the stars she would see if the twin suns did not dominate.
All at once the sky was alive. The stars were streaking across and down, so many of them and far brighter than they ought to have been. Crea felt the urge to run, and was swept along in a crowd of others doing the same. Her shoulders were jostled on both sides; she had no choice about the direction she was taking. Her foot caught on something and she almost went down. A child was on the ground, screaming and reaching for help. She grabbed his tiny arms and hauled him to her chest, out of the way of the trampling feet. She tried to ask him where his parents where, but her words came out as strangled gasps, and she could remain in one place no longer. Squeezing the child close to her she was compelled along with the crowd.
The surge slowed and their destination came into view. The entrance of a tunnel was a bottleneck. Uniformed men with eyes too big and too wide were shepherding the incoming masses into five single file lines, trying vainly to restore order before the crowd made it underground.
The sound of an explosion crashed in the distance, and a flash of light brightened the scared faces around her for a moment. Some people screamed. The crowd thronged forwards. Under the sky was not safe; Crea squeezed and wriggled into any gap she could, drawing closer to the tunnel. She was close enough by an officer to see her and the child (who had stopped crying, but was almost strangling her and she hardly needed to support his body herself). She found herself beckoned into line and there was space to breathe again.
The pace into the tunnel was a fast march and Crea felt whomever was behind her make contact with her back more than once. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but the baby was weighing (and dribbling) on her and her back felt the strain. She concentrated hard on getting one foot in front of the other. The ground was sloping downwards, and there was neither time nor space to stumble.
A tremendous crash shook the ground and rattled stones and dust from the tunnel roof. It sent her flying forwards into the person in front, and she was equally pummeled by the person behind. She swung one hand out wildly and lurched sideways, hoping to contact something to slow her fall so she wouldn’t crush the child (who was screaming again, in tune with many others).
A hand grabbed her upper arm and hauled her back to her feet. She looked around gratefully but her saviour had already moved on. The line was moving again and she had no choice but to continue. It was getting darker as they moved from the cave entrance. Blue lights flickered and buzzed overhead, but they did little to illuminate the route. She was plunging down into darkness.
Crea’s eyes blinked open and she found she had crawled to the cliff edge. She squinted at the sky, its brightness a sudden shock to her system. Her hands were dug into the sand, gripping so tightly there was no blood left in her fingers. She released them and took a breath, sitting back on her heels. Her arms still ached from the weight of the child. Absently she touched her chest, expecting it to be wet from his saliva. She could not recall his face, only the dark curls on top of his head.
She dragged herself to her feet, and back into the cave. Her limbs felt heavy as she lifted herself into the hammock, and her eyes closed at once. The pot from the coffee cake remained on the cave roof, somehow accumulating sand even though there was no wind.
Walking around with the weight of the world, not on her shoulders but in her stomach. They weren’t even her problems, weren’t even her pain. She had grown attached to her new friend very quickly, and now she was afraid for him. Afraid, and utterly powerless, not only in action but in words as well. All she could do was exist in sympathy, watch out for burdens and stumbling blocks and ease them wherever she could. She tried with all her might to just emit compassion whenever she was around him. It didn’t make sense for her to care so soon, and quite this much, so she could not express it. What if she never had the chance to? Whenever she met his eyes she started to transmit her feelings, but always looked away. She had no idea if he noticed. She wanted to tell him how she felt, but language was so weak that a great injustice would be done if she tried. Her heart beat for his wellbeing, but to say as much would be diluting. No expression at all was better than cheap muted sentiments. It was better he knew nothing than knew half of the story.
She took her agitation out on her paint brush. It was dry and she pulled at the bristles, poked her finger all the way in the middle, splaying them wide. She brushed it against the wall in front of her, spreading dust around but she was too distracted to commit to making a mark. She stared at the wall but what she saw was a face. A face with the kindest eyes and warmest smile she had ever encountered. A face that housed a spirit so powerful not only did he persist in his own endeavours, but he inspired and led others at the same time, all despite a failing body and unending discomfort. He was there, all the time, for all of them. It was easy to overlook what else he might be going through. Easy to assume everything was fine. But she saw, in the corner of her eye, the moments when he took a break. He was so strong. She longed to be like him, and longed for him to know how much he was admired. She had always found herself crumbling under much lesser pressures, and needed time to put herself back together again. He was one who truly deserved a break, who needed a break, and who needed caring for. But he didn’t need her. She was but a bystander. In truth he did have support, and hers would make no difference. But she wanted him to know he had it nonetheless.
There was no reasonable way to convey it in words. She dipped her brush in the paint and spread a streak across the wall. She was an hour early, and perhaps if she could cover most of it there would be less work for him to do. Not that there would ever be a shortage of walls to paint.
Crea awoke standing upright, one hand resting against the cave wall a little across from her desk. She felt sick, and dropped to her knees. The memory of a certain pair of smiling eyes persisted in her mind. They should have been comforting, but instead anxiety gripped. Her chest hurt in a way she did not understand. She sucked in air, forcing it into lungs that did not want to expand. The last time she felt like this she had been just old enough to be home alone, and her mother was sick. Their neighbour came by one evening to find Crea tidying the house into an arrangement that made sense only to her, and taken her at once to Sagga City Medical Center. Her mother was pale and languishing under a thin hospital blanket. Crea had gripped her hand and tasted tears. The time after that was a blur. Crea was cared for by nurses and neighbours. They all told her afterwards how perfectly she had behaved, how quiet and helpful she had been, how dutifully she had finished her schoolwork and eaten what she was supposed to. Crea remembered none of that. All that remained was the weight of a boulder inside her and a dull ache in her chest. She felt all the time like the world was about to end and there was nothing she could do to stop it, and she knew that wishing hard would make no difference, but she wished and wished in any case.
One day her mother was better, and she took Crea home beaming with pride at her daughter who had represented her so well. Crea became a normal child again, but a dark seed was sewn. The face in her mind now caused it to blossom, just for a moment, into consuming dread.
She gasped for air, and a sound escaped her that she had never made before. Her face was wet, her hands grasping at her chest as if she could reach inside and soothe her heart with touch. Gradually her sobs became whimpers, she could breathe again. She hugged her shoulders and trembled on the floor for a little longer. The face was gone, but she could remember. She had been visited by someone incredible, and they had stirred feelings she had little experience with.
Finally calm, she dragged her feet as she went back to her hammock. She slept again at once. When she awoke, all that remained of the experience was an unease she couldn’t shake.
Coffee was her first priority. As usual, she took the bowl up to the cave roof, and gazed out over Lutati whilst she sipped. She was more alert than usual though, listening and searching for anything out of the ordinary. Bella was further away now, though not far enough that Crea thought she would miss the Lunar Passageway opening, if it did so again.
She reached over to her right and picked up her other bowl, the one she had made cake in the day before. Some sand was crusted to the inside, but she shook away what was loose. Her feeling of foreboding intensified, a small tornado in the pit of her stomach. She recalled the tunnels, and the curly-haired child. She swirled hot, bitter liquid around her mouth and her mind went to the map on the cave wall. The tunnels under the sea, around the volcano in the Zhira region.
There had been some expeditions there, many years ago, but they were little explored. In more recent times, since the closure of the Lunar Passageway at least, the priorities of Sagga had been focused around the land and sky, but not the sea. Finally she returned to her desk.
With each three dimensional model which floated past her on the screen, her stomach became heavier. She was missing something, but she didn’t even know what questions to ask. Her hands brushed and tapped the screen automatically. The symbols floated across the front of her mind, and in the back of her mind she was trying not to think about her mother.
Her mother would hear reports of the Lunar Passageway opening, and something coming through. She would worry about not one but two children now, though she would never show it to visiting friends. She would go about her day, reading, making music with her tiny stringed instrument, perhaps taking care of kids in her neighbourhood to give their parents a break for a few hours. She might take the tram into the City proper and stay on for the whole loop, just gazing out of the window. She would be well dressed for the occasion, with accessories she made herself, which befit her heritage. Genuine materials were difficult to obtain on Sagga, but she made do with what she could find, including her own parents possessions which were ripe to be repaired and repurposed.
She gifted things like this to Crea fairly frequently; decorative hair ties, necklaces, arm bands. She had tried to teach Crea to make them when she was younger, but it never stuck. When she was older, Crea re-learned the techniques as a way to reconnect with her past, but she struggled to make something as truly beautiful as that which her mother could produce. The pieces which hadn’t made it to her museum display remained in a box in her room in the City, and she rarely took them out. One item which had made it to Lutati was a drawstring bag. The material was thick and brown, extracted from the bark of a tree native to Sagga. Her mother had pressed it upon her before she left, promising that it would be useful. There was a small cluster of white beads stitched to the bottom corner, just loose enough that it rattled gently when shaken. The drawstring was long enough for Crea to hang it around her neck, but she left it packed in her chest for the first months. She had nothing to keep in it, and when empty it was liable to whirl around and get caught on things.
It was the obvious home for the key to the library though. With the pebble to weight it, the bag was no longer a nuisance, and Crea kept it on her at all times. She told herself she kept the first stone she had used to open the door out of practicality, rather than sentimentality. There were many stones around that would fit in the hole, but in the interests of not having to search for one each time, she would keep one on her person.
Crea was swiping to acknowledge the symbols the computer presented with one hand, and clutching the pebble in the bag with the other. She blinked the screen into focus and scowled, leaning back in her swing seat. She zoomed out for a view of every book processed so far. There were hundreds complete, and hundreds more to go. Surely this must be enough to start translating? But she was not a translator. If her message to Sagga had been sent, real language experts would be working on her data. She was to look for clues to civilisation, keys to the culture behind these documents.
Staring at the screen made her eyes tired. There were more books listed here than she remembered. More than she imagined could possibly fit in the first room. She sighed, zoomed back in, and called up the next image. Everything was red. The symbols were all unfamiliar to the software, and the computer immediately flagged an anomaly in the scan itself. She leaned in. The iconography was similar but different to all which came before. It was familiar though, but not from the first room. She recognised it from the second. Crea had not scanned the books in that chamber yet. She dismissed that mystery in favour of the more immediate one. This volume was the wrong shape. It bulged near the spine, and the cross-section showed what looked to Crea to be a wad of paper stuffed between the pages. It warped the surrounding pages out of shape, distorting the scans of the writing within.
This was not an accident. There was a message here. Someone had left something above and beyond what was formally documented in the library. A person had left this, an individual. Suddenly Crea felt the presence of a face to the library, not some institution or mechanical process. Real hands had touched these objects. Hands like her own… or maybe not.
Trembling, she reached forward and pressed her palm against the screen. She was so close to understanding, so close to hearing. The pixels were a barrier she could not cross. Crea made up her mind. She grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. She extracted the pebble from the drawstring bag around her neck, and popped it into the wall. She paused for a moment in the first room, but something was calling her deeper. She opened the second door, and descended the stairs. The panel slid quietly closed behind her.
She had not brought a light, but it didn’t seem to matter. She knew where each stack of books was, and weaved her way between them, all the way to the back wall. She ended in a spot small enough for her to sit in the fetal position. On her way down, she lifted a volume from the top of the nearest pile. She opened it in the middle, propping it between her chest and her bent legs. It was too dark to see the pages in detail, but as her eyes adjusted she could at least make out some contrast between the dark ink and the light parchment. She ran her hands down the pages, breathed deeply, and closed her eyes.
Crea was freezing. She pressed her eyes closed and tried to go back to sleep. She tried to tug her blanket tighter but it wasn’t there. But she was wrapped tightly in something. Something padded. A coat. Where had this come from? The hammock was no longer swaying.. No longer there either. Cold hard concrete pressed at her through the meager padding of the coat. She pushed her body against the only thing that seemed still to be comfortable, and that thing moved and grunted. Hyyon, her love, was soft and padded but freezing just the same. His beard and eyebrows and fringes of his fur hood were crusted in ice.
She reached up a trembling hand to caress his pale cheek, but felt nothing. Not even pressure through the inside of her glove. His lips were blue. She supposed hers were as well. She licked them and found nothing.
She was glad to be in his arms, but sorry it had taken such desperate circumstances to find her way there. None of them had really believed all was lost until the sky went dark three days ago. Though the scale of the tragedy was huge, she was on the opposite side of the world. But it had gone from not their problem to very much their problem in less than a week. She thought they would rebuild. Go through a time of hardship, maybe, then rebuild. It would be a challenge, and the world would come out better on the other side. The world would come out an entirely different shape, and perhaps with a different ecosystem, and its population - what remained - would learn and grow.
The hardship was what they had been planning for. Seven of them at first, had tripped over themselves to place their assets into storage. They were the record keepers, and their job was already fraught. They were hounded by those with too much power, and those with not enough, to track history in certain ways. They already had emergency security procedures in place, and the destruction of the far side of the planet seemed to be as good a time as any to activate them. Records were sealed behind stone. Some needed moving, some could remain in place. Rocks were still falling from the sky, but their little team was planning a defense against saboteurs from the ground in a world scrambling to piece itself back together.
When both of the suns were obscured by thick black cloud, and most of her friends and colleagues had abandoned ship to be with their loved ones, was when she decided to be true. He had been stacking smaller books onto shelves in the growing darkness when she approached him from behind and took his hand. She looked into his eyes and unveiled herself once and for all. Hyyon looked right back, and dropped his own mask. She chased away the feeling that he reciprocated her confession simply because his own love was out of reach.
They packed up the final room as best they could, and she took her own diary, a tiny bulging notebook, from her pocket and poked it into a larger book on a pile near the door before they left and sealed the room.
They took up residence together in a warehouse full of food. They lit a fire on the ground, and talked and held each other until the flames could no longer sustain themselves. After that, they just held each other, never knowing that they were the very last of their kind.
A crushing emptiness covered Crea’s whole body. She was surprised to open her eyes to darkness, then remembered where she was. The crushing feeling was exaggerated by the tome resting on her chest. She pushed it aside and gasped for air. Something fell and made a gentle tap as it hit the ground. Without thinking she felt around in the darkness until she found a small book that had been squashed between pages of the larger one. Its cover felt different, smoother than the large books; extra scraps of parchment poked out from the sides, and the whole thing was bound together by string.
When she touched it for a moment she was drowning. Her chest filled up, but she realised it wasn’t with water. It was a love and desire for a person she had never known. Despite the emptiness, she was at peace.
She wobbled to her feet, and with the small book still in one hand, she hefted the larger one back onto the pile where she had found it. She groped around until she found the start of the steps, then climbed up. On her way past the bottom step, she retrieved the pebble and returned it to the bag. A gentle brush against the ceiling at the top opened the door and she lifted herself out, taking care not to scuff the diary against the sand as she did so.
The door slid silently back into place behind her, and she lay on the floor, holding the diary above her head. It’s cover was a dark brown just like the others, but there was no writing on the outside. She took it through to the cave entrance to examine it in better light.
On her desk she carefully removed the loop of string, and peeled open the first page. The paper was delicate, it felt like it might disintegrate underneath her at any moment. This record had not been made in as durable ink as the large books. She could see that every shred of paper had once been packed to the edges with writing, with a similar script to the others in fact but less carefully executed. But the letters were faded and most pages appeared almost completely blank. Nonetheless, it pulsed with longing, and a story unfinished.
Crea knew the ending to the story now, but something was missing. She had met - no she had been - the people who had created the library, and she had died with them too. If they were here on Lutati, there surely must be some remains. Even after millennia, Lutati had been untouched. If they were on Sagga, which is what her heart said, then how did the library get to the moon? Either way, there were more books out there, more records. She had seen them. She had touched them.
There was no sequence of steps Crea could take in her cave that she had not taken before. She paced when she was thinking, she paced when she was done thinking and just needed some rhythm. She paced when she couldn’t sleep; she paced when she was worried and she paced when she was calm. She knew the roof of the cave well too. The narrow steps that led there, steps she had carved herself both actively and passively through continued footfall. There was only one way up that wouldn’t involve hanging from rocks, but once she was there she had traversed every inch of this surface as well.
She had stood on every edge, peered in every direction. Watched the suns as they slowly rolled their way around Lutati’s horizon. The survey team had reassured her that there were no more hidden treasures, that they had thoroughly scanned every rock about the place. But they had not discovered the second chamber, and now Crea wondered what else they had missed. If there was more out there, she knew she would find it. Even if there wasn’t, Lutati was her friend, and she barely knew her. The cliff and the cave alone could surely not tell Crea all she might know about her moon. The moon, and the people who had once set foot here, in times long past.
Mind made up, Crea dug a small lightweight backpack outside of her food chest. She had not needed this since she arrived. She took the time to make some flatbreads, and packed those along with a handful of coffee beans, and regular beans. She threw in her pot and her heating device. She slung the bag across her shoulder, and marched back up to the top of her cliff. Her feet were bare, but she knew Lutati would be gentle.
During her last staring contest with the horizon, Crea had figured a possible way down. It was a sheer drop to the next flat surface, too far to jump, but a little way below the edge was a narrow crack in the rock. If she could reach the crack, she could wedge herself inside and ease her way down. Without a moment of hesitation, Crea climbed over the edge of the cliff. She hung by her hands, and dragged her feet along the rock face until she felt the opening. She could get both feet inside, about her shoulders width apart, but that was all. She searched for something to grab on to so she could lower herself down further, but the face was gentle and crumbly. Her shoulders and wrists began to cry, and she scrambled her feet against the surface searching for purchase. Suddenly the breath left her body and she dropped. She flailed wildly, and slammed her arm against the inside of the crevasse. This slowed her descent a little, and spun her into the crack in the rock. She expanded immediately, sticking out both arms and both legs, wedging herself in the gap. Barely a squeak escaped her, but her breathing was heavy. She pushed hard against the sides, and waited for her heart to slow.
As the shock faded, she felt her forearms and hands and the tops of her feet searing. They were raw from the impact, but she wasn’t bleeding. Lutati’s sands were forgiving. She was facing outwards. She was finally seeing her moon from a slightly different perspective. The shadows cast by distant crags had shifted. Some canyons seemed deeper and wider, and some seemed now as though she could hop right over them. Lutati had so much to tell her, so much to share.
She released the tension in her arms and legs a little - just a little - and allowed herself to slide. The rock ground at her heels and the sides of her feet, and dust and tiny stones embedded themselves in her skin. But this just made her closer to Lutati, that’s all. As she floated downwards, she tried to peer around her own limbs to get a look at her approach. As far as she could tell, the crack remained consistent all the way to the ground. It was still a long way to go, but she could continue this means of travel.
When her forearms were too sore, she changed angle. She swung her left foot to join her right on one side of the crack, and turned so her back was pressed against the other side. Then she placed her feet one below the other, over and over. Her shirt was immediately pulled up, so she occupied one hand by twisting it and holding it in place to save her back from being dragged down the rock as well.
When she was a couple of feet from the ground, she simply let herself drop. She lay her head back and closed her eyes. Her legs were almost numb from the pressure she had exerted on them, and her hands and arms were still tingling. She could already feel Lutati’s dust on the skin of her back where her shirt had worn away.
Crea checked out every inch of the surface of her skin. In some places, she acknowledged soreness, even burning. In others, nothingness. In some places, the ache from her muscles drowned out any sensations on the surface. On her chest and stomach and lower back she could feel rolling beads of sweat. Her hands and feet were dry; the sand caking them had absorbed any hope of moisture. Her face was sweaty too, but at the same time stuck all over with the dust she had disturbed into the air during her slide. She could feel it on her lips and tried to chase it away with her tongue, but only succeeded in getting it in her mouth too. She hadn’t brought any water.
Finally she straightened her spine and leaned forwards, stretching over her legs. She wiped her forehead with the back of her arm, then rubbed her entire face with her palms. Spreading the dust around. She stood up, and ran her hands through her hair too. The sweat was cooling, and a little cleansing. She pulled on her backpack straps, tightening its grip so the tears in her shirt were covered. The weatherproof material of the bag was somehow jarringly cool against her exposed skin.
Now the real journey began.
The ground here was harder and less dusty than it was around her cave. The surface was zigzagged across with cracks, and appeared consistent and flat for a good way ahead. In the distance she could see dunes, and beyond the dunes, just over the horizon, another peak. If one of these towering rocks could house a library, so could another, so that’s where she headed.
Crea took her time to walk to the dunes. She had all the time in the world, after all. The parched ground sometimes crumbled under her feet, and occasionally broke into pieces sharper than she expected. Her soles bled a little, but the dust soon sealed them back up, and she paid no mind.
Her left shoulder was starting to glow red under Ava’s gaze. Mira, further away in the other direction, was less violent towards her right side. She had left her jacket in the cave. She licked her lips, which were moist with sweat, and placed one foot in front of the other.
She had walked the circumference of Lutati several times during her training months, but never had the ground pulled at her so. She had walked the distance on grass or mud, which bounced her along and sprang back in her wake. The packed sand yielded nothing, and the core of Lutati called to her whole body with much more urgency than did the core of Sagga. She persisted; one foot in front of the other.
After several hundred steps, she stopped suddenly. She turned back and surveyed where she had come from. She hardly seemed to have distanced herself at all from the summit which housed her own cave. She blinked sweat out of her eyes and proceeded forwards once more. The solid flat ground was beginning to waver and quiver ahead of her. Almost as if water was pooling, but she knew that to be impossible.
Suddenly the hard sand gave way beneath her. She almost fell. The world spun for a moment and she realised she had stumbled into the dunes. She let herself drop to her knees. The sand was warm but not hot. Why did sand gather here? Perhaps it moved with Lutati’s orbit of Sagga, pulled like tides. The survey team had probably taken the time to explain it to her at some point, but she couldn’t recall. She had spent a lot of time in the cave with technicians babbling away in the background about everything from the constellations visible from Lutati to the specifics of the rocks which made up its core. But her focus had been the wall, the carvings, the door and the secrets it held.
Crea let herself drop to her knees in the dune and ran the sand through her fingers. Then she began to climb, hand over hand and foot over foot. The dune pulled at her legs and arms, massaging her skin and drinking up her sweat. It was cooler in the depths, and she embraced it. Surprisingly quickly she was at the top, and she paused half buried in sand. The side of the dune rolled down in front of her, and smoothly met another dune. The cycle continued until the peak which was her target, at the base of which sand formed great heaps that she would somehow have to climb. She could deal with that when she got there. The sand had a pinkish tint which matched the sky. Some of the dunes were topped with angles which cast dramatic shadows in two directions. The shadows right now were sharp, like they had been on in the first door when Ava was in the right position. How long would she need to wait and watch to understand the message Lutati was trying to spell out to her here?
Crea looked behind her; she had unfurled chaos in her wake. The once seamless side of the dune was churned and torn from her efforts to surmount it. Perhaps she should not have come. Was she to tear a line all the way to the other peak? She didn’t see that there was a choice; the peak was surrounded by dunes on every side.
She shifted from her hands and knees to a seated position, shifting the sand around her to make a nest. She pulled a flatbread out of her bag and began to tear it apart. Each piece she put in her mouth was covered in sand by the time it got there, but she hardly noticed. As she crunched and chewed and swallowed, she listened to the dunes.
The dunes were living, breathing creatures. Immediately beneath her she could feel the sand shifting and scrambling. It was a colony, constantly active, each individual grain chasing its own mission. They took it in turns to support her, coordinating and switching places so that she did not just sink. There was order, but adaptability too. The chaos she had brought could be worked around, and there was coherency once more. She found one grain of sand on the underside of her right leg, and followed its path. It crawled across her skin, then rolled away to join its brethren. It tunneled deeper and deeper into the dune, and joined a mass of others which were moving away from her. There was a stream, like a current, of grains all moving as one. They spiraled beneath every dune, twisting and turning to avoid other distinct whirlpools of activity, and, deep below the visible surface, poured into a hole in the rock at the base of the peak to which she was headed.
Crea started to stand, then thought better of it. She loosened her body from the dune that had begun to hug her tightly, and let the grains carry her down the side. She left a single, smooth trail, which was quickly refilled.
Now she had to climb again, but it wasn’t so difficult this time. The dune did not give way so easily. The colony of grains of sand was pushing back, helping to keep her afloat, and guiding her feet forwards. She didn’t need to use her hands this time. Perhaps a cluster of grains had taken pity on her and banded together to walk with her. She felt almost as though her feet were being lifted with each step. Once more she reached the peak of a dune, and once more she relaxed her control to glide down the other side. She didn’t sit this time; the sand collaborated to keep her balanced upright.
Up and down she continued, following not a straight line, but the route of the under-dune current. It twisted like a river. As she (they?) got closer to the peak, the current became harder and harder to feel. It was far beneath her now.
She reached the final ascent. The sand lurched its way up the side of the rock peak, like it was desperately climbing for the sky. Or perhaps, like a hand grasping at the cliff, trying to pull it down and fold it into the ranks of the dunes. Crea started to climb, and this time the sand offered no assistance. With each step forward and up, she floated back down and was pulled deeper. She tried to use her hands for purchase, but there was nothing to hold on to. The rock face itself was still far out of reach.
She paused, and ran her dust covered hands through her hair. It was plastered to her head by now, and the sand and sweat were forming a clay all over her head and face. But she hardly noticed.
Crea gazed up at the peak with her hands on her hips. This one felt a little taller than the one which housed her cave. Even if she surmounted the sand pile, she would reach a sheer rock face which she was not particularly well equipped to climb. And even then, she had no idea if climbing to the peak would yield any kind of entrance. From her perspective at the base there were no obvious caves. Maybe Lutati knew that and wanted her to try something else.
She turned her back to the rock and sat down, nestling a hole in the sand. Her knees were at ninety degrees, and her feet jostled footholds until she was stable. She could see her own cliff. It was going to be a long walk back. Crea closed her eyes; her back was straight and unsupported except a little at the base where the sand was piled, and her hands rested on her knees.
Her breathing slowed and her heart returned to its normal rhythm. A bead of sweat ran down her temple. The blood pounded in her feet, and heat radiated from them. Thousands of grains of sand pushed at her lower back, her bottom, and the backs of her thighs. Beyond the parts of Lutati in direct contact with her body, however, there was nothing. Only stillness.
Then the pressure of the sand was suddenly relieved. Her heart jumped to her mouth and she floated for a moment. She felt the warm embrace of the grains as they crawled around her thighs, up her legs, and wrapped around her waist. When she felt it reach her fingertips, she held tight to her knees. She licked her dry lips, but kept her eyes closed as she felt it crawl up her arms and smother her chest. When she felt it on her neck she opened her eyes. The sand had not risen up, merely made way for her to enter its depths. She sucked in a huge breath and closed her eyes again before it enveloped her face.
The grains continued to rush around her. She could feel them flowing by adjusting to accommodate her body. She wondered briefly if her backpack was well sealed. Though she could feel sand on her cheeks and forehead, her lips and eyelids were untouched. She tentatively opened her eyes and gasped at the rush of colour before her. She witnessed now shades of oranges, browns and pinks that she had never seen on the surface of the moon. These spectacular granules were underneath her clothes scrubbing every inch of her skin as they eased her down.
Before her eyes, a story played out. A drama in a thousand acts. A child with skin much darker than her own ran through lush green grass, mud squelching beneath his feet, plucking any tips his fingertips chanced to brush. He emerged into a clearing and joined his sisters. They danced and played with rocks and sticks until it was night. This family knew only each other, and that was enough. They aged and touched and the women bore children and the boy who had run through the grass had many sons and daughters. They too ran through the grass, and climbed trees to pick nuts and berries. Some of them hunted small rodents with spears, and some of them hunted each other.
When the cave was full they tore apart the trees and made shelters from branches and palm fronds. As members of the family grew older they asserted themselves, or left. Every few decades, someone not from the family arrived, and often they stayed. The family grew and built and grew and built.
One day almost all of them disappeared, and the story was passing so fast that Crea almost missed the reason. A wave of invaders had swept through, a different family. They kidnapped and killed, burned the houses and departed. A few remained, nursing their wounds. They rebuilt their lives, rebuilt the family, and the family became a village again. Crea had so many minds in her head, loving and hating, fighting and fixing. Every tear she shed was gobbled by the sand.
More visitors came in time, peaceful and bearing novel things from the rest of the world. The village traded and built and traded and built and became a town, then a city. The time of running through the grass was gone. Now children ran over cobblestone and climbed walls instead of trees. Death found new ways to manifest, and the people found new ways to fend it off. Crea felt sickness and starvation. She felt her bones wither and then burst into new life. She felt the wonder of seeing the world for the first time, and the exhaustion of seeing it every day for one hundred years. Every grain of sand which touched her skin brought with it a new life to experience.
She lived in places which were both familiar and unfamiliar. Even the unfamiliar ones she recognised as Sagga though. She climbed the Zhira volcano, only it was a mountain in the sky, not in the water, and there were no crystals covering its sides. She gazed across a sea of clouds, rolling and churning like the ocean, and shrouding in mystery a great chasm which stretched across the horizon as far as the eye could see. She felt snow, densely packed around her, harsh and biting, but could see nothing at all.
Crea connected, through the sands of Lutati, to every being that had every lived on the planet she called home. The centuries meant nothing to the countless lives being played out simultaneously in her head. Her own life was there too, wrapping everything. She was being pulled deeper still and it felt like rocks were grating her skin. She opened her mouth to scream, hoping desperately to explode, to break apart and infuse with Lutati if it wanted her so much, but sand poured in. Granules poured down her throat and airway, they lined her stomach and engulfed her lungs. The sand seeped into her bloodstream, and flowed around her body.
She awoke in darkness. At first, she was floating. She moved her hands and feet and felt nothing. But it was just that the pressure of the rock she lay on and the air around her body were nothing, negligible compared to the aeons of sand that had surrounded her inside and out. Her clothes were gone, shredded she supposed, disintegrated by Lutati. The absence of Ava and Mira quickly raised bumps across her whole body. Crea rolled over and tried to push herself up. She was dizzy and weak, and she let herself drop back down at once. The ground jutted into her cheek, but in that moment was the gentlest touch she had ever known. Her throat was dry. Her eyes were too, though she opened them wide, waiting to adjust to the low light. But there was no light.
Before her grandparents died, they told her stories of their journey to Sagga. Crea’s mother would be hovering in the background, smiling and nodding or shaking her head, depending on how outrageous the tales began. Sometimes she would interject with a papa, really and her father would retract. Crea remained enthralled by every word. They had come to Sagga because life on Earth was not fair for them. They could trace their history back for thousands of years because their ancestors didn’t move. In general, people on Earth shifted around a lot. Crea’s grandmother’s grandmother had moved to a city when it became fashionable to do so, and lived among the most recent colonisers who had made her family’s land their own. But she found she was even less free than before, not more so. Even so she stayed, and raised her family in the city. There was something empowering about being by the sea, despite the concrete and metal which took the place of rocks and trees.
Crea’s great grandmother, born in the city, returned to her roots as soon as she was able. Her extended family welcomed her. She knew the city, and she knew her own people, and she spent most of her life working to bridge the gap between them. She was killed by those who were supposed to protect, when Crea’s grandmother was just a little girl.
This memory stayed with her until she was an old woman. After that, all she knew was that things got worse. People with more power and more resources forced the families to move around. Her grandmother remembered young friends being loaded into schoolbuses. They were just moving to the next village, said a reassuring voice in her head. Be that as it may, she never saw them again. With no parents to look out for her, Crea’s grandmother was passed from family to family. She learned to speak and sing in her native tongue, but never to read or write.
When it was time for her grandfather to take over the story, he announced with gusto that he had taught her to read. As a young woman, Crea’s grandmother’s problems were immediate and local. Where was her next meal coming from? Where would she be sleeping a week from now? Her grandfather, though his lineage was the same, had a different perspective.
His laughter bellowed as he told how he ran the city. Crea’s mother whispered that he was just a public servant, he just sat behind a desk writing reports and pushing buttons. Her grandfather was a politician, of great vision and strategy. He could get things done, and did all he could for his own people, those who had not done so well as he had.
When he met Crea’s grandmother, she was homeless. She refused to go with him, spat at his feet in fact, scorned his shiny shoes. He gave her money and let her be. They both remembered this encounter in identical detail, and looked lovingly into each others’ eyes as he told it. It was several years before they met again. By then, Crea’s grandmother was teaching children to paint. Where she lived was remote, for those used to the city. Crea’s grandfather was trying to have the city build infrastructure for them. They had water, electricity and an internet connection of course, but he wanted to build roads or trainlines. There was resistance, from both directions. Crea’s grandmother tried to persuade him to let it be.
Eventually the city expanded anyway. Not in an effort to integrate remote settlements, but in a grab for more space. Crea’s grandfather fought and fought and eventually resigned. The children of the village left. The old died. This was no longer their land. There was no shame in starting again.
When they heard about the new light in the sky, Crea’s grandparents packed soil and sand in jars, and journeyed to the capital city. It had taken months for her grandfather to convince her grandmother to leave. But once he had, she was the one who disparaged him for wanting to take containers of earth with them. If we’re going to leave, leave it all!
Her grandfather knew someone who knew someone, and the pair of them were added to the list of passengers for the moon. The moon was already filling up with refugees, from all over Earth. Getting off the planet was the easy part, but the Lunar Passageway was more tightly controlled. Soldiers and scientists had been through in recent years, to explore the moon (Bella) and the planet (Sagga) on the other side. Civilians were clamouring to follow.
A few months, they were promised, for the waiting time. Meanwhile, they lived and worked in a multi-storey warehouse, along with hundreds of other people, packaging food in assembly lines, and sleeping where they worked. It was tough, but it would be fine, for a few months.
One year later, Crea’s mother was born. Her grandfather told with delight how his love gave birth at her workstation, still labeling boxes. He glossed over the shameful part of the story, when months later he had watched an old man die and taken his papers for his new daughter. Crea’s mother told her this when, seven years old, Crea had asked where they had got an extra ticket for the baby, if it had been so hard to get two in the first place. Papa is jolly, but he’s not all good. Crea had nodded solemnly.
It took three more years for them to reach the moon. By then, the transport process to Bella and Sagga had been streamlined somewhat, and they were only trapped in a freezing barren holding camp for four months. Crea’s mother was sick and almost died. They had lost by this point everything they left home with, except for a bottle of sand so tiny that Crea’s grandmother could conceal it in her boot if necessary. They were packed into transports through the Passageway. Crea’s mother remembered being on her father’s shoulders, wilting and snivelling, but somehow aware she needed to stay up there to avoid being squashed by the crowd. She remembered her father cursing because there were no windows to see space from. Crea’s grandmother reminded him they could see space from the desert just fine and if that was all he wanted, they could have stayed home. Crea’s mother asked innocently what home meant, and her mother burst into tears.
Crea’s grandfather reassured the child that home is where they were going to. He was determined to make it so. Crea’s grandmother cried some more when they alighted on Bella, because it was just the same as what they had left behind.
When her grandparents arrived on Sagga, they found luxury awaiting them. Their ‘temporary’ accommodation was a shared house with nine other families. With a choice between two bathrooms, a room with a couple of sofas, and a whole private bedroom for the three of them, as well as the proximity of open fields, Crea’s grandmother could only believe she was dreaming. The novelty soon began to wear off. Though spacious compared to the factory they had lived in for all that time on Earth, the quarters were still cramped. There were too many small children running around, and too many adults at a loose end.
Crea’s grandfather rapidly injected himself into some organising committee that delegated tasks and training. He quickly got to know everyone in their little village, what their interests and qualifications were, and set about making sure everyone was put to best use.
Before the surge of refugees, before the Lunar Passageway was widely known and any cowboy with a spaceship could take a fee for a trip to the moon, Sagga had been occupied by a research group of about one hundred scientists. They had some infrastructure, but it wasn’t designed for the population of a city. Neither was their governance.
Crea’s mother’s overriding memory was of spending days running through fields, soaking up the light of Ava and Mira, which were still a marvel to her mother. Both of them remembered the view from their bedroom with great fondness. Their shared house was five storeys tall, a cylindrical transport container stood on end, with somewhat rickety stairs running in a spiral around the outside. From the top they could see the ocean and mud flats in one direction, and mountains in the other. Sometimes, especially when Crea’s grandfather was working too hard and didn’t come home, they would wake up before either sun rose and watch mist roll down the mountains in the distance. Eventually a school was set up. Later, they were moved into their own little house in what was these days almost the dead center of Sagga City.
Crea had visited her mother’s childhood home as part of her research. She was lucky it was still there, as a lot of similar buildings had been deconstructed to make space for new highrises. It was a small dome, the colour of the sandy ground both outside and in, a single room with plastic dividing walls which could be rearranged at will. The three of them had continued to live in one room until Crea’s mother became a teenager and demanded privacy. The structure was still sound, though it obviously wasn’t the most modern building in Sagga City. It wasn’t connected to the communications network, for a start. There was a hatch for food delivery, which had been dispensed from the central warehouse directly to residences, back in those days. Her mother was not interested in accompanying her. When she visited, an elderly man was living there, who begrudgingly let Crea poke around, but did not have a lot to share. There was no trace of her mother’s life there any more. The building was on the edge of a small collection of similar houses. From above - a perspective that was easily gained by visiting the top of one of the nearby ten storey apartment blocks - the domes made the ground look as though it was bubbling.
By the time they moved there, her grandmother had learned to read enough to teach young children. Her grandfather was coordinating and orchestrating things. When the mandatory technical training programs were set up, he somehow got out of it. Her grandmother learned technical drawing; she took complicated schematics generated by computers and turned them into something palatable for humans. Something beautiful, Crea thought. She had taken one as the backdrop for her exhibition. By his old age, her grandfather boasted about being the least technical person on the planet.
Her grandparents moved once more when Crea’s mother wanted to leave to go to university. They moved away from the center, back to somewhere they could see the sea again. By then, the tramlines were finished; five lines ran from the center of the city to the outskirts, and in two loops, an outer one and an inner one. They were fast; it took five minutes and five stops from Crea’s mother’s university accommodation to her parents house, though she didn’t visit them as often as they would have liked. Her mother studied electrical engineering, specialising in historical
All of Crea’s mother’s and grandparents’ friends had similar stories. When Crea was researching her thesis, the Lunar Passageway was a universal beacon of hope to those who had almost given up.
For every individual who had made it to Sagga, there were a dozen who did not. Crea wondered if Earth had improved in her lifetime. Many of the older folks she talked to didn’t believe it would, or could, but people her own age were itching to go there. It was commonly held that the sudden surge of people fleeing the planet woke those in power up to a crisis that needed to be solved. Before the Passageway had closed and communications ended, the situation on every landmass was reportedly improving. But Crea couldn’t imagine living on such a crowded planet. She was glad to call Sagga her home.
One old man she had spoken to longed to return. His parents had packaged him up as a baby and had him smuggled aboard a transport. They bundled him with letters, which he hesitantly handed to Crea for display in the museum. He knew them by heart now. Even though he did not remember Earth, and his parents were long gone, the connection with the planet of his birth was a strong one. And after all these years, he had never found a way to go back.
One of her mother’s friends was born on Sagga, but her parents were scientists and traveled back to Earth many times during her childhood. She often accompanied them, and had no horror stories of cramped shuttles or squalour. She showed Crea a photograph of the inside of their transport. It was operated by an Earth university and while it wasn’t luxurious, it was nothing like the refugees described. It was this kind of thing that Crea pictured when she thought about her brother visiting.
The woman told how it had taken her years longer to learn to walk than the other children her age. The frequent changes in gravity threw her balance out of whack. She had a choice, when she was a teenager, to study on Earth or Sagga. Her parents wanted her to go to Earth, where the schools were more established. But she had friends on Sagga whom leaving behind would have ended her world. The woman chuckled and leaned in close to Crea; there was a boy. It hadn’t worked out, but when she looked back she was glad she stayed. Almost all work on Sagga was revolutionary, new scientific boundaries were broken as a matter of course. No matter where one was assigned, there was a sense of community, a sense of working for survival. Especially in those earlier days, nothing was easy, and nothing could be taken for granted. Even back then, dependence on Earth was a point of contention. Her parents were hopeful, they were dreamers. They had not lived to see the Lunar Passageway close again.
Certainly not all who had arrived to Sagga found the promised land they had hoped for. Crea spoke to a man who had been born on Sagga after his parents were settled, but his brother, ten years his senior, did not take to his new home. They moved around a lot while he was growing up. His father was a builder with no particular specialisation, back before everyone received mandatory training in some technical field, so they were perpetually at the edge of the City wherever temporary houses needed to be constructed. His father worked long days, and his brother ran away often. One of his earliest memories was visiting Sagga’s muddy coast, clutching his mother’s hand, as part of a search party. That time, his brother had fled to the City center. He was found safe and sound in the office of a well-known spacecraft designer, who was dutifully answering this young eager student’s questions. The old man sighed. His brother just wanted to get off. As he got older, he realised he could get off so long as he didn’t do what his father did. He signed up to learn aerospace engineering, but dropped out of that. He stayed long enough to find someone to teach him to fly though, and got himself a job as a transport shuttle pilot. His first assignment to Earth, he did not come back.
Jaspar missed food from Earth most of all. Whenever there was a celebration of any kind to be had, his whole family would pitch in to create enormous feasts, enough to feed the entire neighbourhood. And of course, the entire neighbourhood was always invited. His teeth were gone by the time Crea spoke to him, and he croaked to her that perhaps it was a blessing that there was nothing on Sagga with crunch, for him to be envious of others eating. False teeth weren’t for him, he insisted, there should never be anything artificial between one’s body and one’s sources of pleasure.
His mother specialised in pies, sweet and savoury. All kinds of fruit, and nuts too, with sticky sauces, tangy preserves, and cream to contrast. Her pastry crusts were perfect, flaky in the middle, tough enough to support a bulging filling, and absorbant enough that a couple of millimeters of the inside of the pie shell soaked up a little of the contents, merging into gooey softness.
His father made breads and cheeses. Nothing like the bread on Sagga, bread on Earth came in so many varieties. There were so many different kinds of flour! Fluffy white rolls, as light as clouds, were perfect for stuffing with salad or jam. Dense hunks of black rye, to use instead of a plate for your stew. Though Jaspar spoke out the cheese possibilities with great enthusiasm too, Crea didn’t really understand what he was describing. He gave her old photos of his father alongside some great barrels to illustrate the churning process.
But Jaspar’s favourite, what he missed the most, were the greens. He had come to Sagga a keen entrepreneur, determined to expand his family’s local food empire with exotic offworld additions. Shortly after Sagga had been discovered, he dreamed one night of brightly coloured flowers and extravagently entangled leaves, and of bushes covered in berries in colours he had never even considered before. He yearned to preserve them, to candy them, to pickle them, every last one. To give to his brother to create new levels of decorated cake masterpices, or to his sister to sprinkle through gigantic salads. He announced to his family immediately that he would go to the stars, and return with ingredients they had never imagined.
He appealed to join the research expedition as an edible plants specialist. His portfolio consisted of delicacies he had coaxed from seaweeds, mosses and grasses in otherwise barren landscapes, and his passion for crafting meals - the likes of which could not be found in the heart of any scientist who studied plants in a laboratory - sold his application. By the time he was on his way, they already knew that all of the greens they had found on Sagga so far were poisinous to humans, and none of the seeds or seedlings they brought from Earth would take. Nonetheless, Jaspar set out with confidence.
The plantlife was not as exotic or as intricate as he had dreamed it would be. He got quickly up to speed with the various methods they alread had to detect toxic substances, and began experimenting. He started out with techniques he knew from Earth, but nothing responded how he expected. He could dry neither leaves nor berries - they shrivelled up into almost nothing under Ava and Mira’s rays. He couldn’t roast, bake, fry, pickle or ferment them either. Leaves, flowers and berries alike dissolved or disintegrated. He made himself sick, a lot. It was like once the plants were taken from the ground or plucked from their branches, they started to decompose at once. No preservative could persuade them otherwise. There were no root vegetables anywhere the expedition had surveyed. Not a tuba to be found. There was no seaweed on the mudflats, and no moss on the trees.
After five Earth years, his family were begging him to give up and return. There was still so much to eat on Earth, after all. Then he had his breakthrough. His major finding was a fungus, the Satra mushroom, he named for his mother. On another fruitless quest for moss, he was far from their base of operations, and had hoisted himself to the top of the tallest tree in the woods. As he peered between its splayed branches, too preoccupied with his mission to admire the view, he discovered the top of the trunk was hollowed out like a bowl. The mushroom was yellow, the pale colour of gone-off milk, and it surface a little sticky.
The growth had a central stalk with a large bulbous head. Smaller bulbs surrounded it, coating almost the whole of the inside of the trunk. Without thinking he tapped the top of the large bulb to test its texture, leaving a sticky fingerprint behind. Jaspar drew his hand back immediately, and carefully took photos from every angle before he touched anything else. Then he scrambled in the bag slung across his shoulder, and pulled out a container and a small knife. He scraped generous samples into the container from the edge of the growth and sealed the lid. The next thing he remembered was being back in his lab, excited to experiment with the new discovery.
It did not take Jaspar and his colleagues long to find out that this fungus was everything they had been waiting for. These days, Satra provided the foundation for Sagga’s entire sustainable food system. When mixed with a certain combination of proteins and heated, the mushrooms multiplied rapidly. Not only that, they took on the properties of the substances they were exposed to. And even better, when Jaspar sprinkled spores in an old log in the lab and left it in darkness, the next day he came in to find it covered in new growth. Below a certain temperature, the spread paused. Though they could grow it easily, they still hadn’t find any evidence of the fungi anywhere else. It turned out to love warmth but was light shy. They investigated further the tree where he had found the original samples and found that occasionally Ava’s light only hit the outside of the trunk, warming it, without spilling over to the inside as well. For these few moments, the patch expanded visibly, then ceased again as soon as the temperature dropped or the rays touched the mushrooms directly.
Jaspar’s team tripled in size and worked around the clock, extracting the essence of Satra and combining it with the various crops of beans that had been coaxed into life on Sagga. Several more years of research resulted in the food options Crea and all other Sagga natives were familiar with: beans with modified DNA from Satra mushrooms, which only needed to be heated a little to expand into full meals, and could be stored indefinitely once they were picked.
Jaspar continued to strive to produce decadence from the mushrooms. He had always been a little disappointed that none of his creations rivaled his family’s enterprises on Earth in terms of flavour or appearance, though he carried a quiet pride that something he created had become a staple in every household.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to die for someone else. One decision, in a lifetime of decisions, and nothing else you ever said or did matters any more. Dara spent her life waiting for the right moment, and for the right target. She fell in love with everyone she met so that they would all be viable candidates. Her chance finally came when she was hiking with a group of friends. They planned to hike half way up the mountain, camp there, and make the peak on the following day. It was not a challenging climb. Hundreds of people or more did it every year, and the trail was well marked and well trodden, if a little steep in parts.
Dara brought up the rear of the party of four, her boots crunching against the white gravel of the path. The two at the front alternated between swinging their joined hands, half wrestling and half dragging each other along. Dara loved them both, but she wasn’t in love with either; that wouldn’t be fair. She pushed her hands deeper into her coat pockets and focused on the back of the person in the middle of their little group. She had known Tenoin for years, stuck by him through some hard times, and some radical changes in his life. For some reason he wasn’t wearing a hat or a hood, and she took a moment to admire the way the wind mussed his hair.
The first rumble was gentle. Dara looked at the sky expectantly but though darkening, it was still blue and clear. A clatter by her feet as gravel rolled past. Tenoin must have kicked them up. Dara was ready to catch him if he fell.
When they were teenagers who thought they knew who they were, Dara admired Tenoin from a distance. He was always around and always kind, but their lives were not entangled. In truth, Dara admired many people from afar. Several of Tenoin’s friends were also the subjects of her affection. Dara was the first to notice when Tenoin began to drift from the group. Her biggest fantasy was that he would come to her and ask for help. With anything. She made sure to hang around after classes, to cross paths with him in the town center, to walk her dog through his neighbourhood at weekends. Once, he had asked her for change for the bus, and she had fallen over herself to provide it. On another occasion, he needed to borrow a book that she didn’t have, and she considered briefly searching every library in town for it on his behalf before coming to her senses.
The pair at the head of the group charged ahead suddenly, having scoped out a promising outcrop to pitch their tent. Tenoin looked back at Dara and beckoned with his head. She grinned and reached out her hand so he could help her along.
Once, she hadn’t seen or heard from him for a week. Every day she felt sicker. She was embarrassed to check up on him, he was a pretty private person. When the second week came and went she could bear it no longer and knocked on his door. His mother answered, and was relieved that someone was looking out for her offspring. They watched a movie together in a darkened room, and spoke little. Tenoin did not go outside for a long time, but Dara’s visits became a regular thing.
As Tenoin’s gloved hand wrapped around her own, Dara’s heart surged. She floated up to be by his side on the outcrop, and the four of them began laying out their things.
The mountain rumbled again, and this time the source was clearly below them. As it subsided, Dara was clutching the front of Tenoin’s coat, and his arm was around her shoulders. Her every hair was on end, and it was neither the cold nor the earth shaking that caused it. She took a snapshot of this moment and set it in her mind.
He pointed out to her the view. The mountain range rolled into the distance, green and grey and peaked with white. Another tremble, and small rocks clattered down around them. Expressions of concern. Thoughts about heading back down right away. Dara turned and her moment came. Without a sound she put all her weight against Tenoin’s chest. He was slight, and moved easily aside. The boulder that had burst forth from the rock face leapt into her arms. The last thing she saw was the sky, and the last embrace she felt was gravity’s squeeze, and she knew her purpose had been fulfilled.
(The Princess who Discovered the Rest of the World)
Princess Suari felt something was wrong immediately, and hid in the secret passageway in her room just as her father had taught her to in case of trouble. She stayed near the entrance and listened for a while, but the sounds of shouting and running and fighting continued well into the night. When she started to get hungry, the Princess ventured further into the tunnel. As far as she knew, it went under the palace. Since it was for emergencies, maybe someone had put some supplies there too. The Princess could walk upright, but if her brother or her father had come with her, they would be crawling. The Princess thought of her secret penpal, Jackann, who lived in a distant land. In her haste she had left his most recent letter under the floorboard, and she struggled to recall everything he had written. She had only read it a few times.
The Princess walked and walked. Sometimes the sounds from the palace got louder; men shouting and women screaming; dogs barking and horses braying. The torch she carried was burning low, and she was really very hungry now. Just in time, she came across a door. She listened for a while, and all seemed quiet, so gently she pushed it open.
The first thing she noticed was that her silk slippers made contact with grass. She had only seen grass in her mother’s artificial garden, and it was different to this. She could smell it too; sweet and fresh. Her torch went out, and she was in darkness for a moment as her eyes adjusted. She heard a quick whisper, and the laugh of an old woman. She blinked and blinked until finally she could make out shapes in the dim light. The shapes started moving, towards her!
At first the Princess thought they were children, they were even smaller than her. But as they came closer she noticed their strange waddling gait, and that their faces were too big. They said things to her in soothing tones, sometimes giggling, and took her by the arms to guide her forwards. There were seven creatures in all, each with wild hair, huge crooked noses, and deep set kindly eyes. They smelt like baking bread and fruit pies. Crea - no - Princess Suari realised where she was as they ushered her to join their circle, seated on the ground. The little person directly opposite her was dressed in a flour sack from the pantries. The Princess recognised it because she would hide in there from the cook when she was sneaking around for sweet things to eat. The Princess was surrounded by the gremlins who lived in the palace walls; who hid things from the servants and made them curse and cry. Who dropped food, knocked over jars, and scattered hay. But the gremlins also soothed crying babies, closed doors that had been left open, and woke up those who almost overslept.
At the circle’s invitation, the Princess joined hands with the two creatures either side of her. Their hands were softer than she expected, and warm. Every creature in the circle closed their eyes, and began to hum. The Princess closed hers too. When nothing happened, she sneaked her left eye open a crack. Somehow the gremlin to her right knew, and gave her hand a sharp squeeze until she closed it again. The humming got louder, and seemed to be coming from the ground now. Suddenly the Princess could see all seven creatures as clear as day, even though her eyes were still closed. They appeared to her as pulsing warm lights. She could see their hearts beating in their chests, and feel their love. Suari loved them back. The feeling burst from her body, reaching out in seven directions in great flowing strands.
The gremlins lifted her, and soon she was high above the palace. Their little circle of dimly lit grass was still visible directly below, but it was surrounded in every direction with scurrying chaos. Men with swords roamed the hallways, driving servants to their quarters or sending them to fetch things. The Princess’s family was in the main hall. Her mother and her mother’s mother were holding each other and trembling and leaning against a tapestry as if they would disappear into it. Her father and brother were on the ground, surrounded by strange men. Everyone was shouting, but from so far above the sounds were muffled. Her uncles and her father’s guardsmen were on the ground too, but they were still and quiet.
The Princess could see everyone who was in the secret passageways under the palace too, racing to get out. The gates were open, and people raced to get in as well. People who lived in the village and worked in the fields, covered in mud and scrawny as anything. They were taking goblets and jewelery and carpets, and scrambling for bread in the kitchens. The rooms and hallways of the palace were filling and filling before the Princess’s eyes.
The gremlins lifted her higher. The palace and the village were surrounded by a great desert, bigger than she had even imagined. If it hadn’t been for the birds which carried letters across the great chasm to and from the Other Kingdom, they might have all believed they were alone in this world. The Princess could see where the desert ended and the chasm began. It stretched from one horizon to the other, shrouded in clouds, a rolling white sea that no boat could cross.
Jackann lived on the other side of the chasm. His Kingdom he had described to her, but now she saw it for herself. Tiny white houses, carved out of a vast hillside. A little railroad wound between peaks, with people pushing and riding trolleys from top to bottom and from bottom to top. On the highest peak, a great round wooden building. The Princess strained to see if she could find Jackann. The round building spewed a cloud, a dark mass of many small shapes that moved as one to spiral into the sky, before suddenly dispersing in every direction.
The Princess longed to catch one of those birds, to ride the back of it and help it deliver messages. Once she begged Jackann to send her a bigger bird, so that she could ride back with it.
They went higher still, and this is when Princess Suari discovered that the chasm was not, after all, infinite. On one end, it tapered closed, and on the other it bowed down to the sea. Nobody had told her this. Not even Jackann could know, he was obsessed only with his birds, and plans for flying machines that could one day take them across.
When the Princess felt herself descending back towards the palace, she was frightened. It wasn’t safe there. If the men with swords had the rest of her family, they would be looking for her. But she knew no-one outside of the palace.. except for Jackann.
When she opened her eyes, the gremlins and the grass were gone. On the ground at her feet were a small bundle and a folded piece of paper. She pulled aside one corner of the handkerchief and discovered a package of food; some pies, fruit, and hard biscuits. She closed it back up and pulled the string. The paper crackled as she opened it. It was a map Jackann had drawn her of how he could see the world from his vantage point in the bird house. If she could find her way around the chasm, she could go to him. North was further, but the south was sea. She would have to make a decision. But that was a while off yet. First, she had to get out of the palace.
Crea woke and slept on her body’s schedule. Just as she did most days, she sat cross-legged on the roof of the cave, relishing in the bliss that comes of knowing there is nobody and nothing around which could disturb her. Of knowing that this was her place, that to exist here was her right. She stayed as long as she felt like, relaxed and free. She listened to the vibrations of Lutati, and the hums of her own body. Often, they were synchronised.
I can’t tell if Crea is really tired, or I am. She wants to sit on the floor, lean her back against the wall and close her eyes. I thought she was going to be unswayable, and always full of energy, but she isn’t. I thought she would be easily occupied by her work, and not even notice time passing, but she’s distracted.
Perhaps she should mediate more. Perhaps we both should.
How do I get this story moving?
They need to get inside her head. Maybe the ancient race needs a name. Well, they can be Ancient Saggaans for now.
First they will come to her more in dreams I suppose. She will wake up and forget, and then recall her own memories of somehow similar or related events in her life.
She’s trying and trying to read the symbols, but not getting anything. She’s not supposed to touch the books, but I guess she is about to. As she gets frustrated she will leave the cave more. Walk out across Lutati as far as she can.
Eventually when the visions are coming more and she realises how to tap into them, she uses them as escape. When she is grounded, she is increasingly worried. One day she sees the wormhole open by Bella. She can’t tell if something goes through or in which direction. She checks her equipment, but nothing is changed. No emergency transmissions or anything. She becomes more agitated and concerned. What if people leave Sagga and go back to Earth and leave her behind? Her mother won’t forget her of course, and Hirana won’t. Enough people know she is up here.
What if Earth is re-invading Sagga? What if her colleagues and family are captured or killed. They might not tell anyone she’s up there to protect her. What if she never gets back?
Maybe at the end, we skip to the future. Long long future, Crea and everyone who knew her should be long gone. Humans are rediscovering Lutati… I imagine children, perhaps it’s easy to get to and can be a playground now. or somewhere easy for kids to run off to, when they’re not supposed to. Crea is embedded in Lutati now. Her essence is part of the moon. The kids can find something of hers and hear her story. She will live forever. And so will the Ancients.
I don’t know that we’ll ever find out what’s going on with Earth and Sagga and the wormhole. Crea doesn’t know, at any rate. Maybe that’s a spinoff waiting to happen.
Through the books… well through Crea’s experiences we’re gonna learn about the Ancient Saggans. She escapes into the visions for a while, but it turns out when she does that she isn’t giving anything back. For a while we just get visions and none of Crea’s own memories. And then they trail off and she can’t get them any more. She has to build up to working her way back in. Maybe she panics and goes wandering off and falls down a hole and hurts herself. She gets stuck somewhere for a couple of days and has to reflect. Eventually a secret tunnel or something is revealed to her and she can crawl back to the cave.
After that, her relationship with the Saggans is more respectful. They share stories of their history, and she shares her own memories, and eventually the memories of all the people she interviewed for her thesis.
Eventually she’s almost always in visions or memories and never present in the physical world. To really cement this, maybe she can have an out of body experience. Or witness some present events on Sagga or Earth. She can start to see through all of time as well, and into the future. Maybe the future kids coming to Lutati are from Crea’s perspective.
We can have reoccurring meditation themes around her awareness of her physical body, and how this changes as she is integrated into the Ancient Saggans’ visions. When she’s present on Lutati, and meditating, her awareness of her body could casually extend into awareness of a different body, or several bodies, from a past point in that location.
We learn at some point that Lutati was once part of Sagga. The extinction event that wiped out the Ancient Saggans is probably the same thing that catapulted Lutati into orbit.
13 Meditate, process some more books, examine inside some.
14 Dream about someone learning to read. Examine more books. Recall her own experience of learning to read.
15 Examine more books. Meditate. Go for a walk as far as she reasonably can away from the cave. Make some kind of coffee cake.
16 Dream about something.. dream about setting up the lunar library. Recall her own experience of setting up her thesis project in the museum.
17 Process more books. Count all of her supplies. Her heating thing might be broken, but eventually she fixes it. Just needed a wiggle.
18 Meditate. Fall asleep on top of the cave. Dream about things falling on her, and falling down a hole. Recall that time she fell down or out of something as a child. Wake up to find herself on the edge of the cliff or something
19 Take a book out of the room and curl up in the hammock with it. Pour over the pages… this is much better than looking at the computer screen. After hours of staring at the symbols and turning carefully every page, meaning starts to come to her. She reads an epic tale of adventure across the seas of Sagga.
20 She goes up to meditate. Watches the sky and sees something going on at Bella. the lunar passageway is opening… Something comes through and jets off towards Sagga and she loses sight of it. If only there was darkness here so she could see further into space.. She speculates frantically about what could be going on. She isn’t asleep, but a vision of shooting stars combined with general worry or panic comes to her. People are retreating underground, into the tunnels.
21 She sets off to see if she can get to the center of Lutati. It seems like a good idea at the time. She descends a crevasse and thinks about what her mother might do in the event of an invasion force from Earth. Maybe we get a hint about where her father and brother are. She falls and hurts her leg. She tries all kinds of ways to get out, up and down, and eventually tires herself out.
22 In the hole, she meditates and reflects. She has a vision of who lived on this precise bit of rock once in the past, and then the next generation, and then some huge change, and then some more inhabitants. changing technologies, changing lodgings, changing activities, over centuries.
23 She thinks of her own home where she grew up, and the times she and her mother moved. She thinks of the various dorms she has stayed in and some of the people she has shared spaces with.
24 A guide appears to her. Maybe an animal. It leads her through a gap in the rock she thought impassable. and then reveals a tunnel which she can fit through. She crawls in the dark for a while. In and out, she is experiencing the life of someone else who had to crawl through a tunnel. Maybe it switches between someone who was crawling through a tunnel for fun, and someone who was hiding or running away from something. By the time she emerges in the depths of what she recognises to be her cave, she is emotional and confused. She takes solace in the library.
25 She meditates, and her contemplation of sensations turns into contemplation of some other body’s sensations. She reads the books and tries to get lost in another epic adventure. She gets hints and flashes but nothing sticks. She recalls the epic adventure of some of the earliest settlers from Earth to Sagga. An epic adventure from the Ancients arrives in her head eventually.
26 Let’s assume this particular epic adventure is extremely epic. We get stuck in another story for a while. I don’t really know how much time passes, but by the time she is back to reality enough to drag herself to the surface there’s frequent activity at the lunar passageway, and her system has finished scanning all of the books and tablets. Somehow it categorised the unknowns itself.
27 She begs the new found Ancients for help with knowing what is going on on Sagga, how she can help. She is granted visions of the dying moments of several people as Sagga is wiped out millenia ago.
28 She reflects on the couples and families she has seen through the eyes of, and compares them to those she knows in her own life. Her new psychic experiences help her make sense of a few things that didn’t make sense before.
29 Some more story exchanges. Witnessing lifetimes go by.
30 Kids in a rickety but extremely sophisticated transport show up on Lutati. They are clambering over things - Crea is watching - and they find her hammock. Her cave has caved in, everythign is buried under rubble and rocks. This starts out like a regular story/vision until the hammock is revealed as Crea’s. Crea and Lutati embrace the children warmly, ready to share stories of the moon.
Crea opened her eyes, and was enraged. She floundered, trying to get a grip to slow it down; these reactions didn’t have to happen all at once. She was angry now, but experience taught her that later she might just love. Her breaths came fast and harsh and she tried desperately to focus on love. She swallowed, but did not swallow the anger. She did not repress it. She was balancing a tightrope; she didn’t want to express the anger either. She longed to hurt everyone around her. Blood pounded in her chest. Her fingernails cut grooves into her palms. A scream caught in her throat and fire burned behind her eyes. She let herself feel these things and then feel them some more. Let the scream tighten and ball up. Let it fill her airway, halt her breath. But she did not let it go. The ringing in her ears turned to burning and joined forces with the rest of the fire in her face, filling her head with static. Formless and overwhelming. Tears leaked from the corners of your eyes, and she did nothing to halt their flow. They glided down her cheeks. One tiny ball of salty liquid slipped into the corner of her mouth and it tasted like rage.
It would be so easy to tell everyone what she was thinking, how she felt. To scream it from the rooftops.
But this moment, like every moment, was to pass. Right now, even if she tried she could not speak, only spit. Every word would be a weapon, every sentence an offensive. She must not say anything. Even if she tried to be level it would come out twisted. The nicest remark would have a brutal edge. She could cut her friends because of the pain in her own chest, but they felt their own pain already.
There was a prickling sensation throughout her body. Every hair stood on end. She was surrounded by crackling electricity. She was ready to explode. How was she to keep this pain inside her? It permeated the air.
It will pass.
She closed her eyes and bathed in the pain. Tears came, and she let them come. She felt them, accepted them. She did not wipe them away. She lay still and felt her blood coursing through her veins. Felt every millimeter of her circulatory system. She honed in on a blood vessel and traveled with it, from her heart, through her limbs, around her organs, and back to her heart. She tracked one which traveled up, through her brain. She sat aboard the tour bus, witnessing the fireworks of neurons firing. The road was being built, even as she traveled it.
When she re-emerged, the world had changed. The things she wanted to scream were forgotten. The letters she wrote and never sent, no longer made sense. Towards her tormentor, she felt only love. They were never her tormentor; just another person in pain.