Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. But I don't believe it.
Since the day I lost my wife, I still hear the sound of her screams as she died, echoing through the atmosphere and into my ears. Ears that now, I adorn with the white glönntas ear ornaments she wore on her first voyage. I can hear her now, telling me emphatically about my purpose; that my hands were made to “carve stars in the sky”, my eyes made to “see the light in every universal soul” and my heart made to “discover a new reason to live, and then perish with dignity”. She believed in each of our people’s tenements in a way that not even I do now.
Well, when I was younger, I used to think bubbles were vacuums. This meant that whenever I slowly blew into the dense bodies of liquid near my home, I spoke secret messages into the large circles, head or mouth surrounded by the slowly-traveling reflective spheres. Thinking those words went undetected, when in fact they bounced around the circle and winnowed out into the world.
The memory of the silly misunderstanding makes me think of my father. How passionate he was. And how very wrong. He vehemently pursued the notion that the Åretgia people of the Nordd Galaxy were peaceful, that they would allow us to continue to use their second moon for building materials. As we on ÉkaPāx have no moons, and that was the richest we had ever found, it was a lofty prize. Yet my father’s was a thought largely and disgracefully disproven by the intergalactic war in which he died. At only four lifetimes. To me, his mistakes were not entirely shameful, but his hope was. Thankfully, I know not to nurture such useless feelings.
My mother, I have bare note of. She died soon after my father, of what they called Irrevka, or “deadly heartbreak”. All I know is that I wear her face, enough to make others expect her to suddenly step out of me. It seems that knowing nothing of her allowed for a natural progression of genetic attributes to make their mark. But we could not be more different beneath the skin. Still, none of my three older sisters mimic her like apparently I do, which gives the public a strange sense of respect for me. One I do not yearn to command.
Either way, I hear she was amiole, kind. Kind in the greatest ways possible. Kind enough to run annual festivals, to sacrifice her time for her people, to even let other high-ranking officials have Energy Training just like us royalty. But her kindness did not do much for us, for me. Her own daughter. Mostly because today I am being forced by my sisters and the Head Court to go on my own voyage. If she could see me now, my mother would probably die of heartbreak all over again.
Sighing lightly, I turn my gaze back to meet my reflection. From the amber sheen of my crystal mirror, I watch as my fingers come up to pinch my ear pieces tighter around my lobes and feel the thin stone press against my head. They are stunning when fitted correctly, and the sight of them on me suddenly fills me with the cold remembrance of her. Not my mother this time. Ellisä. My wife.
Surprisingly, my father’s level of skewed judgment had no influence in abating Ellisä’s ever-growing ambition. Even after his death, she still poured every cell of her soul into Terrestrial research, finally concluding that deep within the Nectar Realm, there was other life. She was wrong, at least about being able to make it there. She died at three lifetimes, trapped inside a vacuum in the Yedda galaxy, her crew perishing alongside her. Light Years away from Nectar. And even at that age, she still was much too young to have finished her journey there. I watched it from within the main hull of her transfer ship, as we sounded the emergency signals and made a rushed trip home. At the time, I was only negative four. Four years away from being able to join her. Now, finally at my destiny age of 20, I understand her more than ever. And love her, more than ever.
I take a step back, stomach suddenly burning with the fire of every one of our seven suns. With my redât coat on, and my high jewels adorning my head, I really do look like her. Head shaved closely to the skull yet still dark enough to form a notable helmet of short hair, pale skin, and large gray eyes that she used to say “hold fragments of the universe inside them”. Perhaps that was what made me think of her so vividly on this day. Because today, I am her. Today I newly lead, I give myself to progress, to prosperity. Today defines the day I die.
I always used to tell Ellisä she reminded me of a bright flower, a force among the wild. We have no natural flora or fauna on ÉkaPāx, and so even more, the years after her death put the memory of our love into an imaginary, ephemeral existence in my soul. Like a flower that will never die. And never grow.
The memories of her cut slivers of sadness into my heart, streaking across my mind like shooting stars. Or more like falling ones. Her bright gold eyes like distant moons, her laughter like gathering stardust, her knowledge…as wide as any galaxy. How she used to tell me I was beautiful for my strength and my weakness. How she looked the night of her Iradii crowning ceremony. How I heard of her from tales of the South Triangles’ greatest warriors, then dashed them as the greatest understatements the first day I saw her. The day our eyes met. Like distant planets coming into orbit. “I will spend every lifetime by your side”, she used to say.
I breathe brokenly, warring against myself to remain calm. Ellisä thought she would see all her lifetimes with me. My father thought he could be the first to initiate peace between two currently-existing populations. My mother thought her love was her power. It seems, from the moment I was born, a lot of people were wrong about a lot of things. I wonder with a panging bleakness which things I will be wrong about.
“Vellěnna!” Mariese’s voice firmly shoots through my senses.
“Yes Mariese!! I am prepared…” I respond, louder than her and not sure why.
But by the word “prepared”, I feel my tongue trip over the syllables. It ends up coming out quietly, as if I’ve forgotten how to say the word. Am I ready?, I ponder. But that’s not what worries me. I know I’m ready. What I really fear is, do I want this? The thought burns like a newborn star against my temples, filling my eyes with the bright heat of unwelcome trepidation as I rise from my quarters and walk towards the sleek hold of the Dasma’s main control vessel.
As I do, thoughts of the past step agonizingly across my mind, leaving bloody footprints in their wake.
On the way, I can’t help but pass the hall of circular windows I used to love looking out as a child. My feet click-clack resonantly across the long tiles, a hollow din close to that of clashing swords. The channel is cold, the familiar kind. Instead of continuing on, I fight a sudden pause, bright cape curling and curving at the movement. My mind tumbles with the whispers of go, and you do not have the time for this. But I stop anyway.
Profile thoughtful against the transparent spheres, the hush of the hall contrasts with the hum of the ship readying for takeoff. There are seven circles placed along the wall, wide and floor-to-ceiling. As I turn my head—almost unwillingly—I catch sight of Triangle 3 out the fourth window. My Triangle. My cut of ÉkaPāx. My cut of life. The rosy planet of my home twirls under my eyes, spinning against a bright blue and emerald storm, curving into the golding sky like a closing fist.
“My Triangle.” I whisper to the responseless window, to the responseless world. So used to saying that, I think resentfully. “My”, “Mine”. My crown. My cut. My planet my people my my my my.
“You are defined by the energies you heal, the people you have touched and loved, and the worlds you create.” Ellisä used to tell me. Good thing you can’t see me now. What did she really know of worlds anyway?
Against the glowing, swirling color of the window, my body stands like a black shadow. I can almost see how it looks, my figure breaking up the striking sphere in a dark line, cutting through the red chrome of ÉkaPāx like an unblinking eye. Staring out at a place that—to Ellisä—was the most beautiful Terrestrial in existence. If only she knew of the Terrestrials and Post-Terrestrial planets we have since found, I think disdainfully. Her screams ricochet through my head lightly before I dispel them with other thoughts.
“HIGH VELĚNNA—DASMA IS READY TO LIFT,” a digitized voice speaks into my temples.
I nod and press my chest to hush the com device. Not now. Now I am making other choices. My bright red-pink Éka stripes dip brightly beneath my lower lids and across my cheekbones, shaded slightly as my shimmered eyelashes come to rest together. I promise…I begin promising to myself and to the purpose of ÉkaPāx that I will serve my people and do the will of my ancestors, so that I may find my reason for being and accept subsequent death.
But as I stand there, looking out at the brilliant sphere churning and gleaming before me, a bolt of defiance blazes through me. I part my blued lips enough to whisper, to myself and to the rest of ÉkaPāx below me,
“I promise, that I will never return.”
“Nuclear warfare, environmental collapse, famine, on-ground war, sea-level rise…” my eyes widen slightly at every word printed on my handheld screen.
“Is this accurate!?” I ask a little too alarmingly, whirling around to look at High Gétakke, sitting calmly in her silk chaise. She meets my gaze, then raises an eyebrow coyly to my question, smothered with the air of a grandmother faced with an ignorant child.
Even in a room of colorful women, three with the shaved heads of new life, Gétakke stands out powerfully. She is on her seventh life, with more experience within her than any of the women in the vicinity besides Zēt, who went blind on her last journey and now sits with her glinting amber bob tilted toward the floor. The others are fairly undistinguished, war heroes and ancestors of long-standing family lines come to assume their high position. Their faces fuzz into cerulean, lapis, and blush dots in the background against the clarity of Gétakke’s disapproval.
“Of course it is accurate, High Vellěnna. We have been collecting this data for over a century.” She responds gruffly.
I nod. Gétakke had decided for this to be her last mission as a courtesy to me, her queen. But that does not mean she feels any respect for me, only duty. She speaks with a command I do not have yet, and acts without detection of doubt. She does have, however, an apparent distaste for others’ questions or qualms. I guess in her experience, neither served her well.
A sharp yet musical voice flits down the hall and into the hull, in more of a statement than an inquiry. “Do you mean to question our science, High Velěnna?”
Yelta. I watch as she enters the room, her lilting lavender hair lying just below her shoulder, curt in a way that fits her persona and flowing in a way that hides it. She is a fifth life, much younger than Gétakke and the other sixth and seventh-lifers, but she holds the air of a warrior who imagines herself already at her peak. Ellisä and I used to play tricks on her all the time. Now, I take in Yelta differently, all the childish joy wilting from reality.
“No.” I tell her simply, giving her an even stare and then turning to face the long windows. I know that behind me, looks and whispers are being shared between the High Seven, the grouping of my advisors and mentors with experience greater than mine but with less life left than I do. In some ways that makes me below them, in others it makes me their superior.
“APPROACHING 928,” says one of the many ship captains from the control room.
Earth. As they had called it. We’re approaching Earth. Planet number 928 of what its people called the “Milky Way” Galaxy. Now, we call it Heptā, or “Galaxy of the Dead”. It holds the most lived-in and currently dead planets to date.
The thought nudges doubt into my consciousness as the feeling of soaring through the air sleeks through my vertebrae. I stifle a pensive sigh. For years, my people have scoured the universe for planets with life on them, life similar to ours. After wars and destruction took out the only other peoples we had known of, we soon realized we were the last. At least the last within our and the nearing galaxies. But it’s enough to truly feel like the last.
As the histories of this universe have revealed, humanities and peoples like ours often sprung up on distant planets, survived for a couple hundred thousand years, then eventually fell to some crucial flaw, perishing and beckoning the onset of the next population rise in some other area a few hundred or thousand years later. Wars happened occasionally, sometimes one population leached from the other just as they were falling to their feet. But they could never coexist. Every time, our kind lives and dies just outside of the space and time to detect each other, to truly know each other, or to connect with each other. In the end, only one of us can live at a time. My father thought he could change that, but he failed.
“928 IN FULL SIGHT,” a ship captain declares loudly through the far corridor.
Attention suddenly stolen, I swiftly near the window’s edge. My fingers rest against the cold metal sill eagerly. Below, a bright and notably-radiating sphere advances, startlingly bright against the depthless black surrounding. It puts an orange glow on the stern yet curious faces of everyone in the room, and I can feel it breathe a strange warmth onto my pale cheeks.
I frown down at its brownness. Its….water. The sphere below me glistens with deep redding oceans and barely-there patches of something very far from healthy liquid. But still water. That’s something we never naturally had, could never manage to create in a way that stuck. My rose-tinted eyebrows knit together gently. I never understood what the Earth people found so beautiful about this space, this atmosphere.
Clearly they did not love it enough, at least not to let themselves burn it nearly to the core, I think, quite cruelly. But some of their originators were known to hail the very bent backs of the grasses and purple skin of the sky. And I guess that means something.
Something enough for us to think of adopting it as our own. To discover what it was that made it the greatest Terrestrial of its time. Gazing upon its halo of heat and burnt umber color, I tilt my head slightly at the cool curls of liquid embracing the mottled land, snaking about with an air of dignity and place. Imagery of what Earth used to look like flits through my mind, pixelated yet vast depictions of lush greens and water in the brightest blooms and currents. Everywhere. The burning dust storms and blazing, nightless days of ÉkaPāx flash through my mind too, stubborn and slightly haunting. Against the blues and emeralds of what once was, I feel my throat swell with unbridled jealousy. No matter how badly the life of this planet ended, we never had that.
But I don’t have time to hate this planet. I don’t have time to love it either. I just have time to remake it, use it for what we need. I think back to my orders: “Use your power to bring back life to Earth. Purge it of its curses. Then bring us back its cures”.
I roll my eyes without shifting my head, then return my gaze to the rotating sphere. The sphere to which I will dedicate myself for the next four years. I wonder suddenly what it looks like to stand on its crests. To see from that angle, from its ground. To not have the familiar triangle dividers of ÉkaPāx glaring above you and severing you from the rest of the land. From the contact and companionship of others.
It doesn’t matter, I remind myself firmly. This world was doomed from the start anyway. Funnily enough, its people used to call this place “the world”. I laugh almost silently. The world. As if it were the only one. As if they were the only one. As if there weren’t thousands before them and thousands coming after. With a detached sobriety, I squint to see the blackness erupting from every side of Earth, its surface ashen and bare, beleaguered intermittently with acid clouds. Evidently, this was the only world they cared about. Or didn’t.
Yet, more and more, I find myself unable to look away. As we get closer, I can feel its aura, its entire form of being, my mind and heart beating together to create an understanding only the people of ÉkaPāx have been able to truly master. In the depths of my mental cave, I call out to the planet, beckoning its history onto my arms. And though faint, I can feel its pain. But what startles me is that it is more. It is also beauty and joy and love—I stop myself there, opening my eyes suddenly and taking short breaths. I close my senses off to any more pulses, shocked at the unabashed purity alive beneath the scars of this battered world.
Unable to escape the trance, however, I gaze still at the hiccups of deadened green between clouds. I do not imagine conceding my perceptions to the idea of flaw, but I notice quietly how the water, still healing and dark, ripples delicately then widely sways, gathering together and pulling apart with a certain…spunk. Almost as if to laugh.
“UGLY, isn’t it?” Yelta comes from my right to say stoutly, the question a near smirk. I say nothing. She bites her scarlet lips and gives a smiling “hmmm” back. Face exuding a poignant joy, she keeps her gaze pinned outside, swaying and grinning like a child toying with a present. A hungry glimmer burns and grows in her eyes, and I watch her deep crimson features take in the sight. Her, the world. Huntress, prey.
“Do you know, High Velěnna,” she says without turning, noting my stare. “Why women are chosen as our highest leaders, as our greatest deciders, our top warriors?”
Intelligence. Strength. Tact. Care. Any number of things. But I stay silent, slightly interested in her delineation.
She gives it to me gladly. “Because women know no limits to emotion. And due to that, women and only women know how to continue life,” Yelta voices coolly.
She looks up at me with the feigned innocence of a teacher correcting a student, but I know her giddy undertone. It tells me strictly: You are responsible for being great, for continuing our legacy. DO. NOT. FALTER.
I won’t. I know that much. But I do wonder what things this planet will show me once I become a part of it, once it grows into a part of me. How it may urge me to change.
As I feel us begin our descent, my mind feels clouded with an unfamiliar sense of doubt. I have fought many battles for my people and for my place, whether I wanted to or not. And I have contended with myriad feelings and experiences that threatened my position. External forces as well as emotional ones. Change? Change has yet to win.
Footsteps never seem important until they measure the moments before greatness. When they’re used to walk from hall to hall, they mean close to nothing. When they are used to step up to the silver-tiered steps to your Iradii crowning ceremony or to meet your first Energy Trainer in the Kadêt forests, that’s different.
Still, none of these instances compare to the momentousness of my footsteps now. To the care in each footfall, the feeling that reaches eagerly from my toes now. Unable to touch the ground fully, my feet stay covered in Erekktika glass, a moveable and transparent cover that adorns the hands and feet of me and the seven women glancing around behind my arched ear crowns.
As I walk, leading them forward, my hands slightly stretch from beneath my light cloak. Low rumbles and gasps pitter and patter from behind my head, and I quicken my pace. As the sharp edge of the ship sinks behind my sightline, my heart dives into my stomach and grasps onto my voice tightly. All in a moment, body filled with the sound of energy and movement, eyes brewing with the stabbing light of sun, I welcome the sight and the actuality of Earth, spread out before me.
It is dazzling. Dark with a mysterious and emanating power, bright with something close to danger yet not far from beauty. The red expanse goes for miles, cracked with crater-like chasms and overall dryness, but patches of darker dirt catch my attention and beseech me to squint. Altogether, the energy of the planet sings like the music of the stars. It swirls and swings around me, humming blue inside my chest and pulsing red against my fingertips, even through my glass gloves. Ellisä would have been overjoyed.
Though the smell is fiery and dead, hints of dampness attract my senses. A light-orange sky sits in a setting ombré before us, broken up by dark and graying clouds. As I step from the brilliant white landing pad, my glassed feet meet the ground. Finally. I breathe in slowly, air filtering through my thin silver Erekktika mask.
The others move from behind me, stepping on the ground after I do. Though she masks it well, I can see High Gétakke’s expression shift slightly from stern to impressed as she soaks in the vibrational energy of the planet.
Everyone slowly fans out in a wide girth, inspecting their steps on the ground and the tint of the sky. It’s almost funny to see Yelta gape slightly at her feet making actual impacts on the sand. On ÉkaPāx, we always hovered slightly above the ground, as our magnetic pull technology kept us from ever touching the scorching earth.
Ignoring Yelta after that, I turn and catch Zēt faced in a funny direction. I frown. She sways close to Reyėi and Kandāa as they inspect rock specimens, but she seems intently focused on something else. Her pale, sightless eyes gloss past the dips and faults and settle on something about half a ship’s length in the distance. As the others spread farther out, I track her sightline.
Her gaze strays rightward, entire body tuned to the rhythm of something much more powerful than the radiation of rocks and dust. Suddenly, I see it. With a gasp, I view from the slits of my eyes something white and small waving from the ground. The urge to run toward it runs in energy-rich rivers down my spine, but I hesitate. I know I have a duty to explore and sample the Earth, note my energy detections and shifts, weed out the most energy and content-wealthy areas in our closest vicinity. But I cannot look away from this small white…white and yellow speck. Guiltily turning around to ensure no one noticed my shift in direction, I take a breath, then advance to the spot.
The word pulls itself from the depths of my teachings on Earth. It was the word for the small white flowers with yellow centers just like this one. Though thin and short, its beauty captivates me more than any stellar sky, and I kneel down eagerly against the tired soil.
As its clean white petals smile up at me, another word drops into my mind. Alume. The look of something lovely yet strong. I used to call Ellisä that, “my alume”, I think grayly. Now, it fits this small, unassuming flower well, like a crown on a tiny queen.
I feel the eyes of the others placed questioningly on mine, but I do not get up. At this moment, my leadership duties seem so far away, so unimportant. The daisy calls to me soothingly, telling me now of different leaders and different duties of a much different time. Her time.
The juxtaposition between her and I is great. Though only on my first life, I am still destined to live, rework my body, then live again. Up to seven times. My people believe with every fiber of their synthetic hearts that starting over after living your purpose is the only path to fulfillment. Replacing the parts of us that need it each time, except for our hearts, which are made at birth with the technology to feed into and respond to the intricate network of the universe's energies. Many of us have been saved from physical and mental disease that way, have found joy and success that way. It is our greatest power.
But this daisy lives only once. One time, one sight of the sun and one tiny grave. She counts every morning, savors every breath, embraces every sunlight. Lives without the safety of rebirth. With the fear of death’s final fingers. The concept is terrifying. But strangely exhilarating.
I touch her softly, with the hands of a younger me. But as I do, the Erekktika around my hands pushes the daisy sideways sharply. I grunt in annoyance, then swiftly slide off my gloves, tossing them to the dirt. In a single motion, I gently raise my fingers up to pet the petals of the daisy, as if attempting to play a foreign instrument.
This time, an energy soft and amber filters around the daisy, filling my bones strongly. With a radiation stark and sparkling, it revs and showers powerfully through my veins and I quietly gasp. Drinking in the force, I tremble, breath stuttering and loud. Tears soon tear through my facial markings in glimmering lines, and I think, with every fragment of love left in my body, I feel you, Ellisä. I feel you again.
Voices call out to me, alarmed, but I push them into oblivion. My attention stalls in the space below my eyes, the space where a small patch of sunlight gives a beautiful thing its life. No silicone. No glass gloves or magnetic fields. The plant simply exists, right into the earth. Like it was welcomed, always meant to be here. Not like us, not like ÉkaPāx.
Maybe, I get it now. How Earth and its people lived in synchrony. What made—no, makes, this world so enticing, so easy to take and hold. What type of ecstasy these Earth people chased. And what type of greed bloomed inside them that led them to their untimely destruction. That led them to and from this.
I realize with a sudden sharpness that they left just like I did. Left with fervor. Left saying no goodbyes.
I raise my jeweled neck gently and turn my head around, mouth still slightly parted and features shining in the sun. I feel a jolt of strange similarity to these people, and their spirits who walk past me in energies, endless waves of steps and speech ricocheting through me like the chatter of ghosts and the swell of an ocean they once knew. All energies I will use to take their planet again, to kill it all over again. To show them one more time what went wrong.
In a halting breath, I close my glistening eyes. Adorned with the starry gleam of all the women before me. And I make a different decision.
To live. I say within myself. I chose to live. To truly live.
Once. Unregretfully, absolutely purposefully in a way that surpasses all previous notions of “purpose”. Like a daisy would. Gracefully and bravely and without a single doubt. With love, even.
And it is just a wish. A futile one. I know it deeper than I know my own name. But the sight of that small clean flower, fearlessly standing among piles of dirt and loss, widens my lips into something like a smile. Something like hope.
I look across Earth, radiating and glistening in what soon will be moonlight. Then I raise my eyes to the sky, in the direction I imagine ÉkaPāx to be. Breathing in its outreach. Eyes alight and heart challenged with a new pattern, I stand the tallest I’ve ever stood.
As a lilting wind tilts my crowns, I speak to my past, to my planet. Whispering the words decisively, as if pushing them into bubbles like I did when I was a kid. Thinking they were vacuums, now knowing they were not. Now knowing that they will be heard, all across the galaxy.
No goodbyes….for this planet. No goodbyes…for this home.
About the author
Hi fellow writers and creators! I'm Katherine, and I have loved being able to share in and experience creative and linguistic uniqueness for many years now. Check out my page for some of my work, and do not hesitate to contact me!