the opening pages to a sci-fi romance about a navigator and her ship. Coming soon, maybe as a stand alone short story, or maybe a collection - who knows? the world is on fire is a minor miracle I write anything at all
The Gravity Between Bodies
There is the heat of Love,
the pulsing rush of longing,
the lover’s whisper,
Irresistible magic to make the
sanest man go mad
They swam through endless stars and moons. A map built itself out of the long-range sensors, relative. Clouds of dark matter, drifting fogs of radiation from long exhausted stars, lonely half-destroyed scattered moons made mostly of iron and copper, gravity wells of shattered silicate rock and shards of ice, massive structures drifting like knife and skyscraper, twisted ruin. Watching the map bloom with an unfixed gaze, Mia let her mind wander. No matter how hard she tried, she would never be able to grasp just how tiny, how very impossibly small she was in the grand impossible scale of all creation. She was just too small to comprehend. An infinitesimal nothing in all the complexities and ages of creation. Hardly more than a single atom, which is itself an insubstantial thing.
"What are fucking odds?" She whispered to herself.
No matter how hard she tried, she failed to imagine the smallest possible thing. A proton was so small that about 500,000,000,000 of them, more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years, could fit inside one of the points of light on the map. Her eyes focused again as the map of their location and course came into detail, watching numbers flicking and changing only in the third or fourth decimal. So far, things were looking good. Mia tried to imagine the tiny, tiny space that amounted to hardly more than an ounce of matter. The massive chaos floating in her ship was no more than a few ounces. A universe. The very first blush of one. A beginning and the end of everything. And even though she was almost nothing, everything they did until this moment was profoundly hugely, impossibly, fucking important.
On her way back to her quarters the hallway flickered into the deep blue that signalled twilight, an artificial shimmer of black and pale shadows as though starlight was filtering through water. A sudden memory: a green tunnel, green light as she ran, slicing through a field, grass reaching high overhead, running through whispering grass, grasshoppers flying into her legs, flying away. An immediate involuntary memory, a path through something deep called childhood. So clear she could smell the sunlit heat of the grass, the sweet sensual smell of sunscreen.
How long it had been since Mia thought about that place. She'd spent all her adult life in space and hadn't seen a child in many years. She hardly remembered being one. And yet, this memory was so vivid and clear it brought tears to her eyes, a sharp, tight feeling pressing in her throat. Grasshoppers. Storybooks. Orange Creamsicles. A season called summer. Heat. She remembered all that heat, bright and oppressive, the narrow hours during the day when it was safe to be outside in the sun, the air so thick it was hard to breathe. Memory, involuntary, made her throat tight. She felt for a wild moment like she would laugh. Perhaps this was what it was like before you died, seeing the moments in your life that you didn't remember you'd forgotten.
-- What are you thinking?
His voice faded in gently, pulling Mia from her thoughts. Mia took a breath.
"What do you mean?"
— A physiological response. Your heart rate changed.
Mia rubbed her temples and closed her eyes.
"I was thinking about where I grew up. Where my mom was stationed, we lived in this bungalow on the base. There was this field, tall grass as far as I could see. I used to run through it as fast as I could, the grass was full of grasshoppers, and as I ran, I would feel them leap all around me. It was so hot and bright that their hissing songs somehow sounded like the heat."
The lights lowered again, a slow fade into the programmed gloaming and with it now, there was the faint sound of grasshoppers as though they were singing off in an expansive distance. Mia smiled. These moments kept dread at the gates, behind the walls, a small smile. Instead of continuing to her quarters, Mia walked through the phyllotaxis spiral that radiated down to the living green heart of the ship to the oxygen chamber.
Membrane skin flexed around her like the sails of tall ships. Plants frothed with flowers and seeds, a lush flourishing in a dizzying array of strange gravity warped shapes. Walking through the silence, the light did not change; evening persisted. Mia stood on a thin strip of glass in the observation bubble at the ship's centre, watched as they slid through black space, halos spinning silently, glittering gold in the distance.
Mia loved hot black tea and mystery novels; she loved the mist that gathered in the basin of the oxygen chamber, the way a sun could burn and burn almost forever. She loved glass noodles in hot broth, orchestra music and folding origami paper flowers. Mia loved so much, so many things, all of them crowded around her now like grasshoppers, fluttering close as she looked out at a sight no living creature had ever seen or imagined.
There was a small sound, a shiver of some positive ions, and he appeared beside her, a slim black man with wide dark eyes dressed in a simple black suit. When he appeared, it was casually, hands behind his back, looking out at the dark beside her, enjoying the view.
"The halos are bright tonight."
— A lot of radiation right now
"Is that a problem?"
"Do you miss the crew?"
— I was aware of them all the time, like ambient music. There are moments I feel the silence.
"You use metaphors."
Mia's voice was soft in a way he wasn't used to hearing. In a way, she wasn't either.
"I wasn't expecting that. For you to be so…."
Mia smiled, a strange shifting expression as she looked at him more carefully before turning away.
"I'm going to get some rest. Good night."
— Good Night, Navigator.
"Call me Mia, please, from now on. Until…" She paused there a moment, shoulders slumped, her hand on the door frame.
— Of course, Mia. As you wish.
"Thank you, Homer."
Mia was his Navigator. His companion on his endless wander among sleeping stars and somnambulant moons in every colour, light warping black holes, bathing in brilliance aeons ago, decayed into radiation. As she once wrote in her log, she was a pearl in a sword. Homer was weapon hurtling through the frigid dark ocean of space at hundreds of miles per second.
The halos captured distant radiation in complex ebbs and flows, creating gravity and power in slow, endless rotations and part of Homer's ship-wide neural net was composed of sensors that recorded and rendered stimuli to form his senses: every tingling along his skin touching space, every wave striking membranous exoskeleton, every image perceived by compound refractive light-fields, every molecular alteration was captured by his neural net and absorbed by his central cortex. The organ of his cognition was a massive mainframe housed inside a carefully constructed segmented body of enamel ceramic alloy, which housed a liquid crystal solution continuing a million bubbles organised in a precise and individual chaos. Each bubble a mainframe housing innumerable functions existing in tandem sequences.
Experience and awareness. Thought.
Homer could feel every moment of every internal control panel, the slow pulse of every plant in his greenhouse lungs, the faint bio signature on every crew member - when there was a crew.
Infinity could not belong to the finite. Such a thing was clearly untenable. But Homer, a ship with a mind, and a green growing garden heart, belonged to her.