By Dana Christina
7 January 2002
She watches the three sister-moons as they dance nightly across the paths of comets and meteorites. Their motions are bright lines in a glittering swirl of stars and planets; the moons whirl and fall, chased by the sun, like wheels of time.
Her cheeks, her brow, and the folds of her gown are tinted with a fine, gray shadow of minerals: an echo of the land before her, tinted with all that the world has ever been.
An ancient race of beings,
he once told her,
from a far-distant, blue planet,
believed the world lay at the center
of seven crystalline spheres, each one
nestled within the next, in ascending order.
The spheres held aloft stars and moons and
comets, and each sphere sounded a different
tone as it moved. Because of this,
the beings believed,
the spheres sang the song of the universe.
The horizon before her is a lace of veins and cracks and canyons, ripped in two by the blackened and beckoning fingers of a distant city. Sticky tar coils around her toes and slides in sweaty tongues over the edge of the platform on which she stands. On each side of her block, pipes lie half-hidden and collapsed.
She tries to remember sounds from long ago; he had played recordings for her of music he had found in the city. She lowers her gaze; in ten years, she sees him. But he, whom she watches, lies silent and still.
In the 4th year, she woke to whispers;
in the 18th, blackness became an undulating
shadow and glow that became sky and clouds,
tracks and city. In the 86th year, the world
around them ceased as then, and began as now.
The sky darkens and a breeze is born, gaining force, coughing with a swell of clouds in its throat, aching for release of moisture. Water, starting as a trickle, adds drop to drop, and the torrent swirls into the valley; this is the year's last and most, a planet sweating out its juices after a yearly fever. She is submerged with her hand outstretched and cannot see him in the murk, cannot see at all in the thick, rushing darkness.
The beings of the city, he once told her,
were created in sacs of liquid and kept far
from sunlight and air until they were
semi-functional; after removal, the remaining
growth and necessary programming of the
newly born took fifteen years or more.
I was created fully operational in three days,
he said, and you, in less than two.
The water moans, continuous and guttural: amniotic, a heartbeat of waves. Currents grind at her with grains and shards, the stuff of shoal and beach. When at last she rises, it is as she sank: day by day, through liquid clouds of blue-black sand. Cool winds pull the wet from her form as the surge drains to lower fields.
Her eyes find him for a moment, damp and worn beneath the tranquil sky, before winding arms of vines, prodigious, stream over the steps of her pedestal, up to her outstretched hands. With bloom as first chorus and fruit as second, she offers gifts, unblinking, to he who lies below her, hidden and silent and still.
Souls, he told her, were not found in rock or ore.
Souls traveled through crystalline spheres without
shattering them, gaining, on their way to births,
the music and harmony of the universe.
I am repetitive function, he said, and you
are decorative. Existence depends on quality
of performance. To avoid termination,
I must not err, and you must not break.
What is function, she wanted to ask, and why have we no souls, but he had moved on along the tracks, the whistle of his wheels like the sibilance of wind. The tracks carried him to the city, as the pipes carried the oil, to the beings that made machines and statues.
Statues are made in the likenesses
of the beings of the city. But, he said,
some forms surpass even
the dreams of design.
He traveled the tracks and checked the caps and the statues that topped them, sentinels whose purpose was to please the eyes of the city. He traveled the tracks, but spoke only to her.
For consciousness is anomaly,
he said, and not allowed in machine.
What is anomaly, she wanted to ask.
But she had no sound.
In the 4th year, he spoke to her, and
in the 28th, she replied, with a lift of
heel and sweep of leg, decades-long: her
first step, completed in the 55th year,
and undetected by all except him.
In the 86th year, the distant sky bled,
and fire ate the clouds.
Leaves and stems grow weary with age, drooping like damp garments from her frame. Beetles erupt from the ground, their dark, noisy carapaces emerging as through a sieve. Greedy forelegs grasp the dying green; ravenous mouthparts convulse on the wilted mass in a frenzy. They work their way through the pile, over her pedestal and body, a moving sheath of blacks and browns devouring the vegetation; fighting over rotting fruit; dropping to the ground in fat, swarming clumps.
The supply dwindles, and the bugs tangle and rut, burying next year's generation deep within the ground. They die, running and flailing over the stripped and tunneled soil, their hollow carcasses rustling in the wind. Tiny legs scrape and snap on the crackled surface of barren land.
The current of memory:
reality began as dim awareness, traveling deep within her,
crossing microscopic fissures and mineral crystallizations,
until the fragments had knitted a whole.
Comprehension and emotion, he once told her,
are anomalies in the midst of order.
She remembers a glittering in the sunlight, before the tracks fell useless; before the circuits shut down; before jagged rust and riddle-work opened his insides to the elements and silenced his sounds.
Words were arrangements
of clicks and whirrs.
Words were created by a circuitry
designed for specific movement and function.
Statue is beauty, he said;
beauty is love; love is eternal.
Machine is not beauty, he said,
and never more than machine.
His travels ceased in the 86th year.
His wheels collapsed in the 95th. In
the 114th year, a third step brought
her to the pedestal's edge, as he, below her,
recited histories and sciences from the beings of the city.
Until the 120th year, when the waters reached his brain.
Death is the natural end of a being's life,
he told her. The ancient people of the blue world
believed that after death, souls returned the notes of
music taken from the seven spheres, so that
in some Great Beyond, they arrived
free of all weight and woe.
To die, he had said, was to give up song
but for a brief time. Cleansed and unfettered,
souls began their journey anew, traveling
from the far reaches, to learn again
the music, and to be reborn.
One foot finds a stair, and the next, ground; months and seasons and years erase her footprints. Brushing back the sand, she reaches deep within the rusted hull, intuitive in the absence of knowledge, and slides a hand through the metal of a slim casing designed to withstand all but the insistence of stone. Smooth, white fingers close over tiny, wired squares, gathering them into the protective tomb of her fist.
Flames ate the city at the end of the before, and she heard a sputtering in the sky, and sky machines fell to the ground. The earth rumbled, fire traveled along the pipes, and the caps of wells and the statues that topped them -- unmoving, unaware -- were blown apart in a frenzy of flames.
Somewhere, far away, a pipe had been cut; the fire never traveled to her stretch of track.
I am designed to withstand short-term disruption,
he had said. I am able to override commands that
may place my function in jeopardy. Termination
is a result of error and reduction in
quality of performance.
Statue is love, he had said, statue is eternal.
Machine is function and service.
The soul is not found in rock or ore, he had said.
You move, he had said. And I speak.
Statue is not animate,
statue is not programmed,
statue does not think.
But you move.
Standing again, she looks to the dark and distant hand of the city, its fingers curling inward with weight and weakness, twisted structures clawing at the edge of the sky for a peek at the beyond. The beings of the city traveled great distances to this, her world, before they left again. The song of the spheres was an angry sound when the city burned and the sky bled, when thousands of the world died, leaving two.
He is not below her now; he is with her. She holds him, thinks of music. Her voice is the click and grind of crystals, strange to her ears, yet comforting; it is good to hear words. The city beckons to her, a center of creation now devoid of life.
But I live, she says.
And her journey begins.
In the 86th year, there was fire; in
the 120th, a silence. In the 301st,
a new song rises beneath an arid summer sun,
beneath waves, through life and rot.
Flip cards of centuries show the movement of stone.
Copyright © 2002 Dana Christina
Dana Christina lives on the outskirts of Atlanta, a strange and often surreal city in the southern US. She most often works as a freelance writer, scraping together odd bits for short stories, plays, the occasional poem, and, at the moment, a novel-in-progress.