The sweeping winds batter the field. The rain, falling with the slowness and lightness of snow, knocks on the dome like soft pebbles. This light shower—an occurrence that happens every few years—now happens much more frequently. The hydrocarbons swirl through the cold outside like a twisted mist confused and uncertain where to turn next.
I sit on the same bench at the rim of the field overlooking the outer mist and the pummeling of the rain. The cool pale blue light of the field dims for evening hours. I watch the drops glisten and glide down, falling slowly, freezing and unfreezing as the field transforms the pearls into energy.
The field weeps, nature mourns, another moon, another planet; humanity mauls or maybe it doesn’t care—indifferent to the humans picking the scab; squeezing the pimple; will we ever learn? Should we be terraforming or should we allow nature to run its course? Fifteen hundred years later and it seems humans have not learned that our actions have consequences and that nature is not very forgiving.
But, I’m new here; what would I know? It appears we’ve made some environmental strides and I wonder at what cost.
AUDIO MUSIC PRIVATE, and a twenty-first century classical Icelandic tune begins to flow through the small flesh-like audio piece embedded in my ear, I assume. I feel the then modern melody move through my body like a drug. The score feels appropriate to me considering my current surroundings, especially waiting for Saturn to appear like a behemoth before me.
The music, meaningless to them, buried in their archives; zettabytes of data imported from Earth and the neighboring Saturnian colonies; loads of data that squats in shadows, buried in drifts that would never be exposed to any of their minds; data that may never know the enthusiasm and joy of discovery; music that sits soundless never played aloud nor danced to; art never to be looked upon and evaluated and pondered over; stories sit idle and unshared; characters unknown; data, like stars, perched flaming in the deep blackness of space sitting alone lurking, undiscovered, sad, and apart.
I fixate on the drops through the permeable thickness of the bubble as they evolve into crystallized energy that power the field and everything within it. The more it rains, the more energy the field generates. Terraforming makes the frequent rain possible. Hundreds of years ago, it rained once every thirty years. Now it’s a more common experience. Depending on your definition of common. I have yet to see the more potent storms; something that both excites and alarms me—those inexplicable feels of extreme weather.
DO THEY EVEN HAVE EXTREME WEATHER HERE IN THIS WONDERLAND?
Q displays something about solar storms, which sounds both fascinating and frightening.
The music continues, in my ears, in my head.
Wynne joins me. We both sit silently for quite a while. I stop the music and listen to the sounds of the field—a white noise of a rainstorm distant and faint.
“When I was young, I lived at my aunt and uncle’s house deep in the Appalachian Mountains. I mean like Deliverance deep.” I pause realizing she would have no concept of what that means. I continue regardless looking straight into the clutter of the past. “It snowed four or five feet and the cold was nothing like I’d ever felt before. That was long before I’d felt the bite of a Wisconsin, Chicago or New York winter later in life. Anyways, no central air, no indoor toilet. We lived off the land and had a wood burning stove and an outhouse. This was in the 1980s, which was modern for the time. At least, I thought it was modern still being as poor as we were. We hiked through the snow in the middle of the night to go pee. I hated and loved it. I usually went around the corner of the house and squatted. We kidded each other next day about eating the yellow snow.” I titter awkwardly under my breath. “Sometimes afterward in the middle of the night, I stopped and looked up. I stood there for the longest time staring at the sky. The stars were so close and the sky clear, the air pure and clean and so much beauty. It was overwhelming. There’s nothing like standing on a mountain without any light pollution surrounding you. Nature and the stars have always been … my friends and being poor from West Virginia, I always had a certain reverence for nature. You have to. You learn it early. This was before it all changed for the worse. We took it all for granted.” I let out a long sigh. “Nature, like the universe, is such an indifferent bitch and one you gotta admire and respect.”
“We see stars rarely from this vantage,” she says quietly. “The hydrocarbons, the smog, and terraforming prevent it. The view is much more unambiguous at the Metis Security Station Alpha.” She sits in a deferential silence.
“Metis Security …” My voice fades as Q displays an elaborately large geosynchronous orbital station and habitat above Titan and Anderas with similar orbital stations above each Saturnian colony including Saturn herself. The breadth and scope of each of the habitats are mind-blowing. “I… wow,” I mumble stunned.
As Wynne waits for me to go on, I realize I strayed from our conversation. I file this information in a ‘must read’ folder for later and continue where I left off.
“Um, yeah,” I say dazed. “Even though I hated winter and cold weather, I loved the smell of fresh snow in the mountains. It was a pure clean smell and the snow on my face, on my eyelashes, my lips, looking up at the sky was … perfect. It was one of those moments in life you realize that nature is so beautiful and profound.” I lose myself in my enthusiasm, smiling, my face turned upwards towards the roof of the field imagining I’m back in that moment and how much I missed some things even before I left. How experiencing the beauty and brutality of nature in my childhood led me to recognize the atrophy of it around me in my adulthood. The power and perks and joy of nature unknown to those that never fully experienced it, tragic and catastrophic. To those that willfully disregard the force nature has over us and the destruction they produce in their wake? A perpetual cycle of devolution? Do humans know what they wrought? They have to. These failures cannot be lost on them, can it? I hope not. I don’t investigate if they ever did in the past. I’m afraid to.
When I look at her, she stares at me full, eyes wide, head tilted, lips parted, teeth white against her dark skin in a shared wonder.
Have they ever known the fascination of nature? An Earth nature? The rolling waves of an endless salty glass sea—unlike the methane one here—or the openness and importance of a never-ending field of flowers teeming with bees and the overwhelming bouquet?
The look of fascination on her face is new. My piss poor attempt at flowery prose stirs her. My smile slowly goes the way of my thoughts—cynical; a consequence of the age of fascism that I just exited. Afraid of her expectations, my mood is continuously ironic and skeptical of her motives, but incredibly thankful and I cannot yet grasp how to react emotionally to any of this. “The archives have these descriptions: pictures and videos. Why don’t you experience those?”
“The digital representations are not like the reality of experiencing.”
“My”—pantomiming air quotes and not attempting to hide my mockery—“experiences are like those experiences and those experiences are so much more … artistic. Eloquent even. Important. I am not important. I am just another boring person of the many.”
“You are real. Your experiences are authentic.” She looks up at the roof of the field. “We seek the science and…art of the delivery and dissemination in the experiences. We do not dismiss or deny any experience. Even yours, Peyton. The imagination, the words, the emotions, the intrinsic value of your truth as it is given as examined by council and community.”
“Art? Truth? Emotions?” I scoff. “Truth is an illusion.” I hesitate. “Have you tried this before?” As soon as I say it, I know the answer and feel like an idiot. “They can never experience if they’ve never been.” Right?
“We can only send those that have been and are. Presently, any attempt at sending someone new has failed.” And she goes on. Something about quantum entanglement worries me even more.
Sending someone new? Been and are? Her words confuse me. Something I missed or something lost in translation? This is nothing new. The data I accumulated over the last few days has me perpetually flustered; a continuous cluelessness.
“What do you mean sending and how do you know that if I’m the first? Awareness, memories have a guide—me, right? Interpretation comes from discussion and collaboration afterward? Like a college class or a book club?” The analogy sounds ridiculous to me considering all this, but it’s the best one I can devise considering. She says nothing and my apprehension grows. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Your experiences are important. You are important.”
“I’m not looking for you to stroke my ego. I’m looking for answers to my questions.”
She smiles. “Why are any of us here?”
Baffled and bemused by this philosophical turn, this is the first time I’ve seen her smile. “What…?” The word fades on my lips as her smile holds my attention. It has a transforming effect on her and it makes me incredibly unsure and uncomfortable. If this is a kind of tactic in changing the conversation, it works. Her teeth are perfectly white and straight against her flawless black skin. Even her pores are small and perfect. Her crystalline green eyes continue to hold that subtle look of wonder from earlier and an endless curiosity normally framed with an expressionless face.
The perfection in their genetically modified beauty, as sublimely average—I use the term average loosely—as it may be, both attracts and repels me. As an artist, I have an appreciation for the aesthetics of beauty, but as a woman, I understood the political power that beauty standards hold and never much cared for them, thus, the no beauty standards. Is it possible that I not know what beauty is? Has not having any beauty standards proven me incapable of knowing what true beauty is? On any spectrum? No, I don’t believe that. At least I hope not. Beauty is in the small things below the whispers of panoplies. I feel it around her and within her. I see it there in her eyes—those intriguing crystallized green eyes that all but dazzle and dominate occasionally insulating me from any coherent thought. This place has me continually questioning myself.
“You stare,” she remarks watching me steadily.
“You’re smiling. You never smile.” I stop for a long moment considering this, the implications, and how to explain to her. “I hate when someone tells me to smile. It was a common occurrence during my time by people—men specifically—that wanted to police emotions. A smile forged in falsehoods and coercion is a mask of illusion filled with a fury and a challenge. Now, I’m here and Anderans rarely smile. I’m okay with that. Y’all are like a planet full of introverts. It’s lovely. I finally feel like I’m part of a community I can connect to, but then I’m still trying to get comfortable with your … perfect origins. In my time, people are not genetically modified to perfection. They just … are, flaws and all and you’re smiling. You never smile so I’m wondering if you’re being deceptive. Your demeanor and body language are confusing to me.” I hesitate before continuing. “I had a Korean-American friend who said white women could never read her facial expressions. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been suddenly afflicted with that same white myopia.” It’s a disturbing thought and one I need to seriously think about given my situation along with all the other conundrums rattling around in my brain.
“Is it not an evolutionary step forward to improve that which we can? To enhance ourselves? Science is progress.” She is genuinely interested in my response and the conversation in general. I feel, once again, that she’s testing me.
“Science is progress—until it isn’t. Have you not read Frankenstein? The Island of Dr. Moreau? I am all for scientific progress, but to what end and at what cost? Will we all be the same? A perversion of a warped mind’s idea of perfection? Automatons like those menial servants you have downstairs terraforming this moon? What of our flaws? It’s freaking scary if you go down that rabbit hole. I dunno if I’m Frankenstein or you are.” Once again, my cultural references go right through her without pause or perception.
I’m eager and flustered and dazed at the volume of philosophical discussions that I needed to ponder and discuss with her and the consequences to humanity.
“Our automatons, as you say, are not menial servants,” she says curtly. “We still have flaws and they are subjective. I am overly curious and candid and much too honest and critical for Lalita and the other council. She says I’m … militant.”
I’ve insulted her. Again. I feel my face flush. “Sorry. The automatons remark was rude, insensitive, and ignorant.” She says nothing and I move on wondering if I’ve harmed our relationship. Reminds me of many of my awkward ally conversations with my black friends back in the day. “Militant? You?” I find that comical not seeing a speck of contentiousness in her. “I doubt that. What did you do?”
“I created you.”
I laugh. “My mom and dad and four and a half billion years worth of evolution would beg to differ, but I understand. Why am I not surprised? It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, right?” I nod my head. “I get it. Too strong-willed for them. Those are flaws?” I ask amused. “If those are flaws, that is why we get on so well. Then again, we’ve only known each other a few days.”
“Yes, Lalita asks me if we are having sex.”
“Sex is not obsolete then?” Another thought occurs to me. “Does privacy exist here or is it another obsolete practice? And what of sex? Are there rules on sex?”
“Sex is not restrictive. Gender and sexual fluidity evolved and are ubiquitous on the Saturnian colonies.” She looks at me searching for something. “Does that concern you?”
“You didn’t answer my question and no, it doesn’t bother me at all. The lack of privacy bothers me more.” Another pause and question. “Are you going to make me relive my first sexual experiences?” I sigh. “I suppose I can share it with you. It was awkward and unfulfilling like first-time-teenage sex usually is for women in my sexually regressive culture. I was ill-prepared thanks to my undereducated uptight family and embarrassingly shallow public schooling.”
“We have sexual synthetic tutors as well as the archives to assist in sexual instruction.” She avoids another question. “Was gender and sexual fluidity the practice of your time?”
“No. In my time few evolved to that point. The gender and sexual norms were still quite rigid and traditional dominated by strict archaic religious dogmas. Fundamentalists and extremists feared that which they didn’t understand and fought to eliminate any type of gender or sexual fluidity or what they referred to as exotic genders. They were boring, closeted, hypocritical, heteronormative sods that thought sex dirty and vile, for procreation only, instead of fun and adventurous and natural. They wanted no women to have agency over their own bodies and they definitely didn’t want women to have sex.” I look at her softening my expression. “I’m flattered. You’re far more interesting and attractive than my last partner.”
Wynne ignores my compliment. “You have not viewed the archives?” She doesn’t wait for me to say either way before continuing. “We no longer observe or practice mythological religions. Another practice that became obsolete over time.”
A snort and a laugh. “Mythological religions?”
“It’s nice to hear such facts stated as truths without the shadow of political fallout hovering over everyone’s freedom. Is calling them mythological religions redundant though?”
She considers my question then realizes it was rhetorical. “Do you practice a religion?”
“No. I find them philosophically interesting but all too often used as a tool of social and political repression…and misogyny. I don’t deny that religion can be…beneficial, spirituality and faith in particular. Religion, however, does not hold the monopoly on morality. I can separate the spiritual from any god or the white patriarchal Abrahamic god. I’m a firm believer in compassion and empathy and a live and let live free spirit—be who you are and worship whoever or whatever does it for you. As long as you don’t force it on everyone else or harm other people, I’m cool with whatever you wanna worship: gods or goddesses, Satan, demons, flying spaghetti monsters, Bat Girl, Beyoncé, whatever.” I reflect on something far more disconcerting. “Imagine the drama if you’d imported a zealot nutter? One from each religion.” Another snort and shudder thinking of that drama. “Maybe you should do that,” I mutter. “They could use some truths.”
The pale blue light of the field dims the interior of the dome as we continue our conversation. The rain persists. People continue to pass by on their way to and fro. Time here is impersonal and unrestrained and people roll by their own pace. They keep their own schedule. A parting in the haze lifts and for a brief and bright moment Saturn and her rings stand naked and bold in her brilliance.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly as the haze conceals her once again. “Gods, that was lovely.”
Is it wrong of me to swallow my apprehension? To find a place here and be content with everything looming around me? To find friends and a future?
Am I a phoenix rising from the hydrocarbons?
Am I being far too melodramatic and ridiculous?
She glances at me. “Your colloquial use of religious idioms continues to confuse me.”
“A product of growing up around unrelenting religious people. Their attempts to indoctrinate and drag me into their cult never ceased. An unfortunate byproduct of cultural imprint.”
Quiet for some time listening to the rain on the field, we wait for another glimpse of Saturn through the haze.
“I’m not sure I can trust you. You keep avoiding my questions.”
She looks directly at me in what I assume is annoyance…or impudence, which, if so, earns her points in my worlds. “I answer your questions and immediate needs. The archives have the answers you seek. More answers will arrive in due time. We will call this a product of my cultural imprint.”
I chuckle. “Of course we will.”
When the field finally dims to its lowest setting for the night, we return to our flats.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins