The Scream that Changed Everything
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.
But I know they’re wrong.
I was born on this ship almost 18 years ago. My parents were born on it, too. And their parents. Only Mom’s grandparents remembered the planet Earth, and they died last year. They told me intricate stories about deep, blue oceans, purple mountains that seemed to touch the sky, and lush forests inhabited by the strangest creatures. There was something called “snow” that was as white as my boots, and lightning that lit up the sky like electricity, whatever that is.
I can barely imagine any of it, and since humans destroyed most of Earth–and Helios did the rest–I guess I’ll never be able to see it for myself.
So G-Ma–with the largest belly you’ve ever seen–boarded this ship with Pops and 499 other human families, and two weeks later Gram-Gram was born. And none of us have ever left.
They picked up another 500 families from Jupiter and 500 from Neptune, and they created a society. Pops told me there used to be something called “racism,” a byproduct of the Us-vs-Them dilemma. I can’t imagine that either. No one here cares about any of that. Mom’s grandparents may have been Terrans, but Gramps was born on Jupiter right before the Exodus. So my mom is half-Terran and half-Jupiterian. Dad is a quarter Jupiterian, half Neptunian, and a quarter Martian, somehow. So that means I’d have to identify like I was 4 different “races”, and people would have to judge me because of that? Sounds dumb.
My best friend, Glorpka, is part Plutonian because his G-Ma and Pops escaped to Neptune during The Crisis following Demotion Day. He’s really proud of being Plutonian, and I guess he should be. Most of them died.
Glorpka is so blue that he shimmers; it’s almost mesmerizing. I’d be jealous, if that was something I could feel. Most of my emotions are toned down; that’s true for everyone here. Except fear.
We absolutely feel fear.
Glorpka has a second half, T’ra’ne-e. (The hyphen tells you to click your tongue.) They’ve been seeing each other for nearly ten months. He thinks they’re going to commit themselves to each other. I told him I don’t understand how anyone could like someone else enough to commit themselves; it’s too permanent for me. He said I just haven’t found the right being, but I don’t think that’s it. Merging my essence with someone else? It’s not for me.
I think beings commit themselves out of boredom. This ship has been spinning for over 70 Earth years. That’s almost 6 Jupiter years and not quite half a Neptunian year. I know this because every time Pops said “68 years,” Dad would correct him. And every time I say that I’m nearly 18, he tells me that I’m practically an infant. He thinks he’s funny, but it just comes across as arrogant and snooty.
When I was 11, we flew close to a supernova; I’d never seen people so excited. I pressed my head and hands against the window with so much force that it began to bend. I stood there for hours until it was finally completely out of my sight.
And when I was 14, we went by a planet that was made entirely of water. The ship paused for a bit while some scientists took samples. They said it wasn’t clean enough to live on, so we continued into the Abyss.
Those were the two most exciting days of my entire life.
I’ve never told anyone that I’m a Dream Glider. Glorpka only knows because he’s a Dream Glider, too. All the Dream Gliders can identify one another, but there’s an unspoken rule that you don’t tell other beings if someone is or is not a Glider–even their family–because beings treat Dream Gliders differently. Some beings revere us; some fear us. Some see us like saviors; some believe we’re apocalyptic. Honestly, most of them don’t want to know who we are.
But they all need us.
Since we passed Helios decades ago, there’s no day/night cycle anymore. And that means there’s no sleep/wake cycle either. Beings just sleep when they’re tired and revive when they’re rested. It’s weird to me that Terrans used to do it differently.
I was 12 when I became a Dream Glider. I had stepped into my sleep chamber, just like every other time, attached the siphon, and closed the shield. I let my eyes relax as I fell into unconsciousness.
But this time, I was outside the ship, gliding across the endless nothing as if something existed there. I traveled smoothly from star to star, my essence never touching anything but the void.
Six days later, I did it again, and this time I saw Glorpka. (He later told me his Glides had started three months earlier.) He gently pinched my sleeve and led me through that tiny piece of the universe.
He plucked a star from the Abyss and placed it in my hands. Its name was “Jordan&Riley4Ever”, which just looked like gibberish to me. He showed me how to crinkle it into a sphere and throw it as hard as I could.
Dream Gliders are tasked with creating shooting stars that can be seen by distant planets. The beings who think we’re saviors call us “Hope Givers” or “Wonder Producers,” but we’re called “Light Destroyers” by our enemies.
There’s no way to know if you’ll Glide when you go to sleep. If it happens at all, it might only happen twice in your lifetime, or once a year, or a couple of times each month (like Glorpka). Controlling it is impossible.
Which makes me a little different. I Glide every time I sleep.
The scientists want to study me, but we’re waiting until I’m a full adult (two more years), so we don’t have to tell my family that I’m a Glider. Both of my parents have strong opinions on the role of the Gliders, and I don’t want to deal with any of that.
There’s this being, Ka-la-ra, who sleeps when I sleep so we can Glide together. We don’t speak to each other on the ship. The Sleepers don’t give us a second thought; I doubt they’ve ever said our names in the same sentence.
But we’re together every time we sleep. We meet 1 light second behind the ship and glide amongst the stars.
We rearrange the stars to create a platform on which we sit and play with the lights. I wonder if there are beings from some planet who can see our rearrangement and think that the constellations are moving. We’ve thought about leaving it like that just once, creating new constellations.
We sit on our platforms and pluck the stars from the sky. Sometimes we create shooting stars, but sometimes we just play with them. I’ll crumple the star, then stretch it out. Crumple it again and stretch it in a different direction. Eventually, it’s just a giant ball of light that expands and contracts as it wants, beating just above my hand. Then I’ll put it back into the sky and let it pulsate in a way that beings can probably see with a telescope.
But, of course, we can’t speak. There’s no way to speak in the Abyss.
Ka-la-ra and I have never heard each other’s voices.
Sometimes one of our enemies will say that there's no way that Dream Gliders can be actual friends or know each other at all. How can you possibly know someone when you can’t even speak to them? Sleepers are simply incapable of understanding the bond between Gliders.
But I don’t care what they say. I do know Ka-la-ra. And for those hours when we’re together, I give them, and the Abyss, all of my attention.
Plus, I know I’ll never be able to explain it to Sleepers–what the Abyss sounds like, feels like. Beings assume that it’s silent, but that’s not the right word.
It is the complete absence of sound. Even silence can be heard. There’s a pressure with it that can make your ears hurt, but that’s not the case with the Abyss.
There is simply nothing. Nothing.
The spaceship is a moving, living society, an organism. It’s loud and crowded all the time. G-Ma said it reminded her of Tokyo during the World Cup.
There are definitely parts of the ship that are calm–like the areas surrounded by sleeping pods and rooms in which people study. But the rest of it is filled with sounds and speech.
The absence of sound in the Abyss makes Gliding even more pleasurable.
One of the other responsibilities of Dream Gliders is to look for anomalies and unknown items in the Abyss. Basically, we report anything that isn’t a star. This is why the other beings need us. No matter how much technology we have to monitor the ship and the surroundings, a being’s eyes are still the best resource.
In fact, it was a Glider who first saw the planet we nearly inhabited.
Glorpka has found 27 anomalies including a piece of wood. The scientists still can’t figure out how or why wood was in that section of the universe. The sample is in a display case in the lab, and Glorpka is pretty proud of himself.
Ka-la-ra and I have found 448 anomalies. It’s not as impressive as it sounds because we’re out there for every sleep session, and sometimes there are groups of anomalies. For example, one time we found 38 tiny pieces of what turned out to be high-tech polypropylene. The scientists weren’t thrilled by that discovery; it’s definitely not in a display case.
A lot of scientists are Dream Gliders, which isn’t surprising. Typically, the Gliding causes them to seek that profession. So there are always a couple of scientists close by while I’m Gliding.
What profession did I seek? That’s not important.
My favorite scientist is Bi’lim. They’re 13 years older than me, and they were Gliding during my first Glide. I gave them my first anomaly, and that bonded us. If they’re nearby when Ka-la-ra and I find something, we always give it to them.
A few days after I give Bi’lim something, I’ll visit the lab, and they’ll show me the “new anomaly we just acquired” (to keep people from knowing I’m the source). They’ll explain everything they’ve found so far, usually with much excitement, and I’m always impressed with what they can uncover from my discovery.
Scientists like Bi’lim are a special type of Glider because they can carry anomalies between states of consciousness. Every scientist wears a pouch all the time, and Dream Gliders can place anomalies in those pouches. When they’re revived, the anomaly will be with them in their sleep chamber.
Pops said that shouldn’t be possible, but that was just his limited Terran perspective. Other than finding us a suitable planet, our scientists can make anything possible.
I wonder if they are the reason we heard the scream.
Yesterday, I finished reading the scientists’ latest book on missing baryons. My parents don’t understand why I’m interested in any of this, and I can’t tell them that almost everyone who regularly visits the library is a Glider. We see things they don’t, and we need to understand what we see.
I exchanged a subtle glance with Ka-la-ra as I left the library. They didn’t acknowledge me, but they did start to reshelve their books.
We met where we always meet and rearranged the stars like we always do. She made stars shoot across the universe, and I crinkled and stretched an ever expanding light.
But something came at Ka-la-ra–fast. I’d never seen anything like it. Some type of neon green and orange, short nudibranch, but with eight tiny teeth and one giant eye.
I grabbed its tail and held it tightly. Was it going to hurt Ka-la-ra or me? Was it just trying to travel? As long as it wasn’t a threat, I was willing to let it go, but its lipless mouth opened and closed rapidly, chomping its tiny, sharp teeth together.
I saw Bi’lim a few light seconds away, so Ka-la-ra and I glided towards them, with me still holding this restless, wiggling creature. And just as we approached Bi’lim, the creature screamed.
A piercing sound that seemed to direct to a single point in space. No echo or reverb. Just a shriek pointed at a gap between the three of us.
Bi’lim, Ka-la-ra, and I looked at the creature and then at each other. Why, why, was that possible? How could it scream? Just as importantly, how could we hear?
Bi’lim stepped closer and looked into the creature’s eyes. They looked at me, and I saw the dilemma on their face. The scientist wanted to put the screamer in their pouch and take it back to the lab, but the compassionate being wanted to let it go if it wasn’t going to hurt us or the ship.
Bi’lim gently shrugged, and I slowly released the creature from my grip. I expected it to come after me and bite me with those tiny mouth swords, but it didn’t. It just hovered between us and blinked its large eye.
Bi’lim slowly extended his arm, but the creature backed away. Ka-la-ra moved closer, but it began to glide, and it hovered over my shoulder.
I turned my head, and it stared at me, still chomping its teeth. I carefully placed my hand in front of me, and it glided slowly to rest on my flat palm. It curled slightly, seemingly content to stay in my hand.
It opened its mouth wide and screeched again–in Bi’lim’s direction. Again a loud, but narrow noise.
I gestured at Bi’lik to open their pouch, and they unsnapped the clasp. I knew Bi’lik had never taken a live creature onto the ship before, but how much different could it be from taking wood or polypropylene?
I looked at the creature and pointed to Bi’lik’s pouch. “Get in,” I tried to say, but there was no sound. I could neither speak nor be heard, which made me smirk. So it was just the little creature after all.
I stared at him, pointed at Bi’lik’s pouch, and pointed to the ship. I repeated this many times, trying to make it understand that once I revived, I would disappear. If it wanted to stay in my hand, it would have to be transported with Bi’lik.
Looking around carefully, it glided to the ship, and we followed. It flew around the ship so quickly that there was no way for us to join. It was back in front of us before we could even move.
Then it did the same thing to Bi’lik. Up and down, up and down, around in circles. Boots, suit, pouch, hair. Hair, pouch, suit, boots. Up and down, circling around.
Finally, it screeched at me before diving into Bi’lik’s pouch, its blinking eye staring upwards.
The three of us concentrated as much as we could to revive ourselves–which doesn’t come naturally to any of the inhabitants, Sleepers and Gliders alike.
But a few minutes later, we each revived in our chambers, and as I removed the siphon and shield, I heard a high-pitched, ear-piercing scream.
There was no way any of us could have foreseen how that scream would change our lives, our society, and the very essence of science.