The Absence of Us in 58 Seconds
A NightSkin Fiction
No one can hear you in the vacuum of space. Or at least that’s what they say.
Why someone would put that on a poster just before entering the last and final intergalactic transport before the disintegration of what we now call Earth Prime, I have absolutely no idea. And yet there it was. Sitting plain as day. On it, an orange spotted kitten hangs from a branch. It was a reprint of the ‘hang in there’ meme of the early twentieth century. After nearly a hundred years of living among us, they still can’t grasp a decent punchline. We boarded the final transport shuttle to take us abroad into the vast expanse of space a few years ago, but I’ll never forget that poster. Turns out global warming did get the last laugh after all. The Earth’s core was dying out so slowly that no one ever really truly noticed until it was too far gone. The Axartiens arrived and helped us to understand that the moon was never really truly a moon. It was six to be exact. Six celestial bodies (that we’ll call moons from this point on) have been circling and orbiting the earth for the past sixty million years. Five of which are Vanta Black. That’s a black so deep and dark there’s no possible way you’d to be able to see in space. It’s quite literally removes all source of light. Those six moons ,one white and five black, have been a series of satellites the Axartiens have been creating for over 1000 millennia to save humanity. Why was such an advanced race working so tirelessly and secretly on lunar spacecraft that would save 8 billion of probably the most selfish self-centered egotistically, irrational people in the universe?
Well, that’s pretty simple. If the white moon is the caboose of the intergalactic train that’s going to save all humanity, the other five black moons are the engine. What do engines run on? Fuel. But not just any fuel, those Vanta Black lunar balls run on neuromelanin.
Before the end of the world, the Axartiens sponsored a global Study to see who had the highest concentration of melanin in their DNA. The top five were picked and their families were given almost celebrity status which brings me to where I am today.
Everyone on earth possesses some degree of melanin in there body. Some more than others. In this tiny molecular compound, the Axartiens are able to create self-sustaining linear reactions that could power everything from nuclear power plants to sustain major infrastructures for up to fifteen years on a single charge. What’s more…neuro melanin wasn’t just something to provide power but storage. One single molecule of melanin had enough space to store 21 zettabytes of data and Black people have it in abundance. These human superdrives were trained to be pilots. We call the pilots Lunarsmiths because what they do is a lot more than fly an intergalctic RV. Each moon is an internally terra-formed home to roughly a third of the remaining human population. They are able to grow life sustaining crops, complete with water and artificial ozone under the crust of the moon. The Lunarsmiths are able to chronicle the lives of every living soul as a catalog of data from their corepod, a flightdeck of sorts that gives them nigh omnipotence and control over the celestial body.
I’m not one of those pilots. My sister, Kelsa is however. Which is why I’m here. When you possess enough melanin to power a intergalactic propulsion engine wrapped in a planetary body, you and your family get certain perks. Right now my perk is blonde, tall and nestled neatly between my legs as I eat hand grown cherries from our lunar grown crops.
“Yaya!” my baby brother Nkune calls out. “Yaya, where are you?”
I nearly choke on a cherry pit as I realize today was an early dismissal day. Our parents didn’t make the trip so I’m literally my brothers keeper. And I’m doing a craptacular job of it. Blondie and I scramble off the storage bay cowling and adjust our flight suits, mine having been completely off . We dressed and zipped our flight suits just in time for my brother’s quizzical expression. “The hell are you doing here so early?” I may or may not have said in a loving tone.
“Didn’t you here the notification?” my eyes rolled. “What notification?”
“One of the moons went down.” I waited ten second for the punchline. “Well, that wasn’t funny at all.”
He meant the notification on our wristlets that are never to be switched off so we can always be alerted of potential cataclysmic events. “Yeah, yeah, of course I did”. Blondie and I immediately switched on our wristlets and the series of flashing alerts holographically bombarded us both like a swarm of Axartien bumble flies. Blondie, Her name was Kyrus shot up and ran off as at least one of her notifications came from her still living mother wondering where she was.
The only note I cared to read was from our sister, it was encrypted with a video of her saying in her most somber of tones as always, “Something went wrong. Get here soon as you can.” No , “Hi Yaya,” no , “Bring a loaf of Monkeybread on your way. Let’s stay up late and watch reruns of PLL.”
But, oh no, not for me. It’s, “Get here…soon.”
Great, I’m babysitting, I don’t get to third base and the literal shit is hitting the fan. Nkune and I and head for the closest sling pod. We cultivated the inner mantle of the moon. We built better homes. We float above our crop fields with the aid of electro magnets powered through, you guessed it, neuromelanin. The people with the higher melanin have excellently working devices that never fail and those without as much have some difficulty. I am well aware of my melanated privilege. But hey, we help the less melanated decently enough. We donate molecules to local banks through a noninvasive process. Others charge exorbitant amounts of currency to serve as live in melanin banks. Every now and then, there’s a protest from the ‘lessers’ about how unfair they are treated because they don’t have darker skin. As we approach Center City, we see all the Holo-monitors are replaying the fall of LSS-4. The Axartiens made each Lunarsmith and their family sign a 30 page liability waiver that stated the general risks of intergalactic travel and to not file a suit if something happens. Some of the risks stated: Blood pressure, diarrhea, nausea, migraines, infrequent bouts of psychotic breaks, terrible itchy foot rash and death. What the fuck?
The moon eviscerated like a mound of ants in the rain. There was no explosion. No loud bang. It’s space. You don’t hear detonations. It’s more like nothing. The absence of it. The absence of us. Chunks of rock and terraformed communities fell out into the depths. People, homes and all. Entire families suffocated and froze within seconds. Men, women and children. In the center, was Bobby Enkoye. A 58 year old, garbage collector from New Detroit. The camera from the other moons caught the entire thing. Bobby’s eyes had burst like popcorn kernels in a microwave. His head had swollen nearly twice as large and a small small crept across his face. Creepy. Moments after we saw the Axartiens picking up the remaining bodies in droves. There was just one small detail. The bodies with little to no melanin didn’t get retrieved. Not at first. Within a span of a few minutes, a large vessel with a tubuluar opening began pulling the darker bodies with extreme prejudice. We stood, all of us, in sheer mortification as hundreds of thousands of bodies were left floating in the abyss. That’s when we knew. We weren’t gods or even low range celebrities. We were batteries to be used by the Axartien populace to power there engines. We were cogs in a machine too far gone in its processes. “Yaya!” the holovid screamed inside the sling pod. It was Kelsa. “Don’t waste time. This is serious. Get here.” No shit Sherlock. I just saw a tiny planet full of people die while an alien race swept up all the Black folk for the sheer reason of preventing excessive product loss.
I punched a few numbers into my wristlet and we fell free from the tether as engine links attached to my hands. I had to get to Kelsa quick and the sling system wasn’t going to do it fast enough. Manual slinging isn’t advised but only Night skins can do it without their heads imploding. I engaged the thrust magnet and found an open tubule that I knew was a straight shot to the lunar core. Nkune’s face was free of any expression. Both Kelsa and I both told him he’d be safe after we lost Mom and Babba. I’m no stranger to breaking promises. This promise though, was decimated with no help from me. “You ok , bud?”. His eyes stayed locked on the holo screen mintues after we left Center city. He stared out the back of the pod looking for eternity. “I knew people on that moon.”
The lunar core was a station of engineers, mechanics, IT specialists, and healthcare workers. On any given day, on the few instances Kelsa requested us for a visit, these people worked like a hive mind, telegraphing thoughts and behaviors only to translate them to actionable plans. The Axartiens trained every last one of them to move as one with the efficiency of sociopathic bee colony. Nothing fazed them. Loss of power-no problem. Crop shortage-easy day. There was a solution to every problem. Everything made sense. Until today. Kent Onden knew my dad before the Lunar migration. They went to school together. Trained with the Axartiens before they showed there true colors. He was the lead mathmetician for Moons 3 and 6, which required external sling travel at least twice a day. His husband and kids lived on LSS 4, though. Nkune and I past him as he sat on the floor buried in their most recent family portrait. Tanday was excited to celebrate his eighth revolution. Last year, over watermelon sherbet, he told me that he loved Math like his dad but wanted to be a Lunar Pilot. He was holding his Babba Marsden’s hand when everything fell apart. We’d gotten a few yards away from Kelsa’s Lunar Pod when I looked back and saw Kent walking to the air lock with several other people. I heard the alert notification that a depressurization was occurring. Next thing I know, a holoscreen appeared with a decrease in the LSS-3’s manifest.
No one said a word. I’d imagined it was because more than a few people were still considering Kent Onden’s decision. Silence like that was deadly. “If anyone else wants to shit the bed like Kent Onden” , a voice rang through the tech hub with a spicy southern twang, “be my fucking guest. I needed to trim dead weight from the manifest anyway.” Vonda Reynolds was the Lunar Operations Manager. Our captain. Nothing happened in a single corner of this orb without her blessing. She was top of her class in lunar School, tall, gorgeous and ratchet as fuck. My hero. Her mother was asleep on LSS-4. Policy stated Captains had to live on a separate LSS from the one they worked. The Axartiens called it ‘Invested redundancy’. Now I see why. “Yaya and Nkune Willa?” she stopped in our tracks, “Your sister has been bugging me about you both since the morning started. Get the lead out and see what she wants so I can finish saving the fucking day. “Aye, aye.” I gave my best salute. Vonda turned to the crew and began a speech. Her voice trailed as we made our way closer to Kelsa’s Lunar Pod but I could only hear her first words. “The day is FUBAR’d people but lives are still depending on us. Suck’s to be the last of humanity but this kind of shitstorm ain’t new to at least thirteen percent of us. Let’s save who we can and let universe take the rest, Ashe?”. A solemn rumble of dejected voices replied. “Ashé.”
The Axartiens maintained an emissary to accompany each Lunar Pilot as a navigator and guide. Because they didn’t process oxygen well, each one carried a tankard of cerulean goop which circulated across the gills in there neck and ribcage. Before today, I was awed by their advanced capabilities and stalwart resolve. If the phrase, ‘matter of fact’ had an image in our Archives, it’d look like an Axartien. To make themselves palatable these androgynous species would abbreviate there names or take on all new names to ease their Lunar Pilot and the crew. Berimba Obbae Botchunbinzobae (or BOB). Stood next to Kelsa with a smile. “Greetings, Yaya and Nkuné Willa,” Bob said, “How is your day?” I stalked to Bob and snatched the left circulation tankard with every ounce of gall I could muster. “Yaya,” Nkuné yelled in the first display of emotion since the moon fell, “What are you doing?” He grabbed my arm holding the tank as I pulled it away a tad more carelessly than I intended. “Oh, hey Bob. I’m just dandy as a lion’s mane after seeing the mass grave floating outside my window. How the fuck are you?”
Kelsa surpisingly said nothing. Normally , she’d defend Bob because they had a bond. An understanding. Bob had shown my sister wonder’s only she could fathom because her neuromelanin had the capacity to store it. The entire universe was at her fingertips and she was grateful to Bob for that opportunity. Today, she was quiet as I began my interrogation. People were dead. Our people. And she wanted answers as much as I did. Bob gasped as the tankard emptied into a slimy puss filled puddle on the floor. The ooze would refill and recirculate after I replaced the tank but I wanted Bob to know I wasn’t above expiration. “Answer me Bob”, I squatted next to Bob as gasps of fluid gurgled beneath the gills. Bob’s mouth moved but nothing came out. I put the tankard back on and watched it fill up. “Thank you, Yaya Willa,” at no time had Bob lost his unsettling smile, “Time is short. Your training must begin now.” Training? What the hell was in that goo? “Why are our people floating in the abyss of space, Bob?” Kelsa asked in a calm tone. “All will be clear when your sister acknowledges her training, Pilot Willa.” Bob stood a clean two meters taller than the rest of us but he stoopped down to Nkune’s eye level faster than I could gather and whispered in his ear. Nkune’s eyes, once again lost any hint of emotion and he nodded. I grabbed two of Bob’s breathing tanks and eased him away from my brother. “Come near him again and you suffocate.” Bob nodded and stepped to the other side of the pod. “Do you accept your training, Yaya Willa?”. I moved my brother across the mirrored ebony floor to Kelsa’s Pod. “Don’t know where your brain is in that lanky frame of yours pal but you have clearly lost it.”
“Yaya,” Kelsa placed a hand on my shoulder from her pod. Something she hadn’t done in years. “When was the last time you checked you NMEC?” The NMEC was implanted in all the Night kin with a melanin count higher than 70,000. Anyone over that was potentially a candidate for the program. Only the highest became Lunar Pilots. Word around the hub was that the Axartiens were always on the lookout for a NMEC count of 250,000. A prophecied legend foretold them of one who’d use the moons to save their people and the universe. My neuromelaninic emission counter hadn’t been checked for weeks. Partly, because its painful and also because I wasn’t concerned with how close I was to becoming a Lunar Pilot. Hell, it took me three weeks to get Blondie alone. I looked up my count and felt my stomach drop to deck 84. My count was only 71000 a month ago. Today it’s 251,996. That ain’t right.
Kelsa hadn’t seen my wristlet reading but she knew by looking at me. “Damnit, Yaya,” her admonishment couldn’t be worse, “You were supposed to keep a count.”
Sorry, I’ve been busy been fucking off since…birth.
“The time has come to fulfill the prophecy, YaYa Willow.” The fuck is he prattling on about? “Prophecy, my melanated ass. I’m getting my brother, my emotionally vapid sister, getting in a safety pod and getting the hell off this moon. I went to grab Nkune and for the first time in nearly four years, I saw my sister get out of her pod to wrap her arms around me. She only did that when I refused to see what was coming. A skinned knee when I insisted on swimming in the salt pool. Powering through a broken arm during a wrestling match because Tommy Kinjobu just has to show girls he’s better. Not one but two dead parents who were never supposed to leave us so early. It was the kind of hug that told time to take a long smoke break. “I knew this day was coming, YaYa.” She wiped eyes I didn’t know were leaking. “This is why I said to keep your count.” I buried my head into her chest even though I was at least four inches taller than her. “You’re all knowing, aren’t you?” I muffled. “Why didn’t you say something?” She smiled. Another first in years. “Sweet girl,” mom used to call me that. “If that were true, I’d have saved you years ago.”
“Ahem” Bob shuffled with that incredulous smile still on his Avartien mug, “We must hurry before the Balroki arrive.”
“Not now.” I said sharp and free of kindness.
“Fuck the Balroki” Kelsa grabbed my shoulders and I relented.
“It is time, Yaya.” I gave.
“Bob,” Kelsa returned to her stone face, “Begin the failsafe.” Bob twisted his head and waved a tentacled digit. In one swoop, Nkune, my spry well-mannered, annoying, beautiful little brother rose several meters above my head. Being the tallest in the family meant nothing. I couldn’t scale anything and he was too high before I even realived it. I ran to Bob, ready for lime green blood but Kelsa rose a barrier. My heart twisted in my throat as I gave her my most acidic scream. “Nkune was always the failsafe, Yaya. His count was second highest after you. He’s been preparing for it everyday in school.” she said swiping holographic buttons and levers, “That was fated to happen no matter who was to fulfill the prophecy.” I stared at her like she set a match to the only life raft I had. “And you knew this too?” Kelsa finished her swiping and stepped away from her pod as a dazed Nkuné was placed inside it. “Descendant Host pilot program initializing…” Bob trailed off as the universe went quiet. “The Balroki are nearly here,” She herself began to rise off the floor and glide to the airlock. “They have no demands. Only destruction.” Before I could snap out of my daze she was already in the airlock with the door closing behind her. A cerulean light encapsulated her, the airlock opened as lifeless human bodies not yet retrieved trickled in and she was gone.
Bob opened a holo-channel that showed Kelsa approaching LSS-4. “Bob,” I could hear her over the static and interference, “Engage the Nano-melanin repair protocols.” Bob waved tentacles I wanted to snap off and fricassee, “Protocols engaged. Initiating Leader Moon link in t minus 30 seconds. ”
Kelsa waved her hands as pieces of the fractured moon returned to it’s original form, closing behind her. “T minus 15 seconds.” The radio link stayed open long enough for Kelsa to say, “We were always meant to finish the mission as a family, Yaya. Just know that we will always be together. Even far apart.” The channel closed with a snap. “Link engaged.”
Did you know the white moon we’re so used to was never a moon? It was a space station that could only be run by someone with a minimum 239000 NMEC units of melanin. That’s how much is required to transfer the knowledge of the cosmos into our brain without turning it to oatmeal. You know how long it takes to absorb and process that kind of data?
In 58 seconds I lost my sister, my brother, and nearly my humanity to be the last hope for humankind and the universe because of a fucking prophecy I didn’t ask to be part of.
Link successful,” Bob mewled a celebratory tone. Seconds later, LSS-2 and five were hit with warp fast projectiles. Again, bodies littered the pitch black starless abyss. “Are you functioning, YaYa Willa?” Bob asked softly. “I am Bob.”
“Splendid”, he retorted. “We must defend humanity against the Balroki threat.”
The last shred of my humanity hung by a microscopic thread and threatened to snap but I held it nonetheless. “You mean the Balroki threat to the Axartiens must be tended to.” Bob opened his mouth to speak but my newly acquired skills silenced him in an instant. “I will tend to this threat Bob.” I rose to the airlock encapsulated by nothing at all. No blue light. No suit. Just my skin covered in nano melanin robot drones that protected my lungs from exploding and skin from freezing. “I will handle this threat, Bob. For my family and humanity as I am so tired of being caught in the middle of power struggles I never began.” He could hear me telepathically speak over a channel I opened across the moons in totality. “But know this,” the battle damaged moons reassembled as nanobots covered and revived all humans affected from today’s assault.
I could see inside the moons. I saw families rejoicing as people were revived. Their bodies were cold and stiff but their melanin, those who had it, kept their memories. The nanobots simply gave them a system reboot and all was right. I pulled up the camera feed of Bob as he stood smiling next to Nkuné. “When I am done with the Balroki, I will return for all the Axartiens, Bob. I will hold them accountable for their transgressions against humanity and the lives lost from the moment you all arrived. And Bob…I’ll start with you.”
After everything, nothin felt more rewarding than wiping that smirk off that Axartien Dipshit Bob’s face.
Looks like he finally understood the punchline.
About the author
Just your average, run-of-the-mill, melanated storyteller, hoping to make new friends and become a fan of new writes. Im a disabled vet, husband(20 years), father, devastatingly handsome grandfather, and purveyor of chocolate chip cookies.