Another Bradbury-inspired story? Cool beans! Thanks to my bro, and thanks to this website about Planetary Resources. Cool stuff; apparently it’s legit! If you’re an eccentric billionaire reading this post, might I suggest this as a super cool place to invest.

If not, too bad. I know how you feel. ­čÖé

Either way, enjoy!

—~

 

She closed her eyes and thought of the sea. In her mind’s eye she saw the sweet cerulean blue gently undulating, lifting small caps of frothy white in places joyfully. Her mind’s ear heard the calming roar, the voice of a mother singing an unending lullaby. Her nostrils flung themselves wide to welcome the salt tang of the sea air, drinking their fill of the pleasantly briny breeze. The azure waves grew old as she watched, sprouting white beards and kissing the shoreline before crumbling away, and submitting peacefully to the wave after. She closed her eyes and could still see it, from so long ago, could still remember, high above the water, the wind’s fingers attempting to steal her hair, the sun trying to melt her sweating skin off. The rocks under her bare feet like little knives, punching and scraping, and the distant crater across which she gazed a sleeping giant, rumbling secretly, so only she could hear, threatening, always threatening, to explode, to erupt, to swallow, to engulf! The blue waves pounding on the cliffs maddeningly, trying to get away, to escape, as she must—run! No time! The volcano is ready, the ashes spewing, lava hungrily churning, boiling, reaching, burning—

Her eyes snapped open. No, it would not do to think of the sea. Not out here, where everything actually was an enemy, and everything actually could go wrong, and was likely to.

As a child, on an island village where people had been finding contentment in the shadow of a volcano for centuries, she had been called┬ánev╠▒riko├║, nervous. Perhaps that was why she was so well suited to space. Out here, the quick and subtle movement of the eye, and the quivering stillness of heart and hand, was more likely to draw thanks and relieved sighs than worried shakes of the head. Yes, space hurled blazing rocks at you from millions of miles in the past, that would shred your ship without even slowing to notice. But there were also volcanos in space, that rumbled secretly but gave no sign of existence until suddenly the lava was upon you, swallowing your ship like a cherry on top. And these volcanos were the ones Ana spotted almost more easily than the already blazing rocks, somehow always aware of whence the next one would come, painfully attuned to another plane of hearing, sensitive to rumblings that seemed to sound for her alone. This ability, coupled with a natural aptitude for leadership, had named her captain of the first manned spaceship to the asteroid Eros. She commanded her ship with a steady hand but alert, quiet but always sensing, reaching out; always her tongue was on the brink of a crucial, subtle order, a slight change in direction that would avert certain catastrophe with an almost prophetic accuracy. The highly trained and steel-nerved crew would often stare with wonder out the windows of the craft as a jagged monster of a rock sailed ponderously and silently past, looking like a blue whale to a minnow, into the space where their ship had been minutes ago. And Ana would hardly glance at it, standing on the bridge, her hands clutching the railing, sending her thoughts forward, reaching out, sensing…

That was all over, though, at least for now, she told herself firmly, sitting bolt upright on the edge of her bed in her quarters. Her ship had landed, finally, on Eros, and the true purpose of the odyssey begun. They would mine the water, first, and use it to feed the ship’s thirsty fuel tanks, greedy for the promise of home, because fuel was the ticket home. The fuel tanks satiated, they would load more water into the ship itself, perhaps for thirsty mouths back home, where water was growing scarce enough to persuade eccentric billionaires to fund this frantic space-hunt for natural resources. Then, of course, they would mine for metals—precious platinum first, then unfailing iron, and wild methane. These ingredients would be loaded into the spacecraft and lugged homeward for a mysterious recipe to enlarge global GDP—or so the eccentric billionaires had said. For Ana, anyway, the Mining was to be two weeks in which she was to rest, recuperate her fraying abilities, and prepare for the exceedingly dangerous journey home. Her lieutenant would take over for these two weeks and oversee the Mining; Ana’s only duty was to prepare, plot, anticipate, and strengthen. Ana lay back on her bed again and tried to think of something else to think of besides the sea.

But Ana couldn’t rest, couldn’t close her eyes and think of her home; she couldn’t let her thoughts stray away from the ship for a moment, in case there was something out there, something coming, some deep rumbling that she alone could hear…

Yaya came up beside her on the cliff, huffing and creaking as usual, making no effort to ascend the rocks secretly. Ana turned away, abashed, frustrated at her own nervousness, at the wind, and at Yaya for intruding on her thoughts. This was the highest point on the island, and Ana often came here to be alone, sure that none of the villagers would want to follow her all the way up the treacherous path; but nothing ever really seemed to faze Yaya.

‘Ooh, but it is chilly up here,’ Yaya scolded; ‘why haven’t you brought your jacket up? You’ll catch a cold for sure, and then I’ll have to take care of you, and I have so many other things to do.’ Yaya’s┬ágray wispy hair danced gleefully in the stiff breeze.

Ana didn’t say anything, but toed the tiny rocks and watched them settle. Her T-shirt and cotton shorts whipped at her arms and legs, but the frown on her face stayed firmly put.

During a silence that was not really a silence, because of the roaring duet of the ocean and wind, Yaya gazed across the turquoise sea that so sweetly hid the caldera.

‘You know,’ she mused eventually, ‘the caldera is beautiful. But the houses lining it are quite lovely, too, I think.’

Ana looked across the windy space again; the sea was now flecked with gold as the sun set, as the white houses in the village gladly decked themselves in the accustomed honeyed-rose hue of the sunset hour.

‘But Yaya,’ Ana said almost before she knew what she was saying, ‘what if the volcano erupts? What if it wakes up and eats the village and then there are no houses anymore? And no sweet sea in the caldera? What then?’

Yaya was silent for a long time.

‘What if?’ she asked slowly, almost to herself. ‘Then we’ll have to build new ones, won’t we, Anastasia?’ Yaya looked sidelong at her granddaughter, whose gaze was fixed stubbornly into the wild air.

‘You must stand tall, my little┬ánev╠▒riko├║.’ Yaya smiled. ‘Anastasia. Your name means that you should stand tall and strong, just like those houses. No matter what rumbles beneath your feet.’

But I’m not strong, thought Ana. I shake and tremble at every wave; I feel like fleeing at every sudden sound. How are those houses so steady, knowing as they do how precarious their existence is?

And Yaya, with her uncanny ability to read Ana’s mind, said: ‘The houses know that some family will always love them, even if they crumble into the sea, even if a new family comes to replace the old family.’

The sound of the wind and the sea once again prevailed, and old woman and the young girl stood for a long while gazing at the ever-changing sea and the village, small and steady from such a height. Slowly the gold from the sun faded to dull bronze and Yaya turned away, and began the journey back down the cliff. Ana quickly followed, helping her grandmother not to slip on the loose rocks on the darkening path back to the village.

Slowly, Ana fell asleep in her quarters, as the mining equipment rumbled outside, as the asteroid sailed through space, steady as a rock, steady as Yaya, steady as home.

Advertisements