arrived at that magic hour just after sunset when the sky itself
provides all the world’s light. The landscape outstretched
before them resembled desert as much as beach, while only a darkling
glimmer along the horizon belied the presence of a sea, wine-dark
and becalmed. Between here and yon top-heavy sea-stacks loomed
in silhouette against the sky. After the sheltering confines of
the forest the vastness of the beach afforded a sense of openness
that was both liberating and a little scary. Scary, because Arti
knew she was being hunted, and knew also that the sky was littered
with electronic eyes. Liberating, because some of those eyes led
back to her father — and hot showers and soft beds, and
pretty dresses, and heels against tiled floors.
remained conspicuously absent, along with the canteens and all
the camping gear. So with nothing else to do and unable to make
camp, they wandered on, into the open and toward the briny scent
of the sea, an exotic lure for Arti who had spent most of her
life amid mountains, and a sign of food for Reegyn. The tang of
sea breezes evoked a sense of optimism Arti knew was irrational,
and yet she welcomed it. This had been such an emotional roller-coaster
ride of a day that she simply gave in to it. Besides, she knew
full well that a few trees would not hide them from the technologies
available to her pursuers. The greater mystery was why it had
taken them so long to find her.
was an awful thing to feel so torn. She truly loved this place.
Part of that love was powered by sheer curiosity, for now she
understood how little the public had been told about Selene. If
IlluminKraft had indeed lied, then she was seeing things she wasn’t
meant to see, and who could resist a peek behind the curtain?
And if IlluminKraft had lied, did her father know?
father had never lied about anything in his life for fear of burning
in Hell. So the question was, would he lie in order to keep his
job? Would the fear of unemployment trump the wishes of God himself,
that big CEO in the sky?
suspected the answer to this question would be determined by the
power of rationalization. It seemed to her that religious people
could rationalize just about any kind of sleazy behavior. But
then, she was young and cynical, and knew everything.
and foot-sore (and heart-sore, too) they both kept walking across
the great flatness of sand. Perhaps it was a kind of momentum
that kept them going, or perhaps hope, or wonder, or the lack
of anything else to do. The beach was wondrously huge, but offered
the promise of a sea somewhere up ahead. Arti spied movement from
the corners of her eyes, but when she looked directly she saw
nothing but tracks at her feet, widely spaced and crisscrossing
at random. It looked as if someone had been racing remote controlled
toy cars. While she puzzled over it, Reegyn yelped, “scramsanders!”
and took off running. Where in the world did he find the energy?
then did Arti realize her perception of movement had not been
a trick of the light. Those tracks had been made by creatures
running around on wheels! Later she would dictate the following
to her omni:
kid you not, dear diary. I swear to god, they were living creatures
with wheels! They looked like something from a cartoon, sort of;
a cross between Carl the Cab and Crabby the Crab. Much of their
bodies were made up of a kind of sack that bellowed furiously,
so I suspect their wheels were powered by air pressure. All the
huffing and puffing made it seem like they were really pissed
off all the time. Fully inflated the creatures were about the
size of a football, but deflation reduced then to bony little
crab-like things, but with wheels instead of legs. To be honest,
they were hideous looking things.”
the nonce, alas, Reegyn could not catch one. They zigged and zagged
and sprayed rooster tails of sand in his face. A last he collapsed
in a gasping, rib-aching heap. When Arti caught up with him he
said, “Shit. Too fast. Ain’t got net. Or knife. I’m
plopped down beside him and wiggled her toes in sand still warm.
A short distance away a flutterboat floated trapped and becalmed
in a tidal pool. The pool was big, about half the length of a
football field, its surface shimmering with skylight. The air
lay still. The flutterboat wiggled its butterfly sails fruitlessly,
seeking a breeze that refused to blow. She heard the sea breathing
in the near distance, long and slow.
you understand the tides here, Reegyn?” Arti said.
shook his head. “Can’t make,” he said, “heads
or tails. Of it.”
bet this whole beach is covered during high tide,” she said.
he said, “likely.”
looked at the sky seeking moons. Mothermoon was absent, but another
one floated stark and tiny in the east, almost full. She saw no
sign of swift little Blitzermoon. She wondered how much pull such
a tiny body would have on the oceans. Not much, she guessed. As
usual,The Traveler’s Guide to Selene wasn’t much help.
caught his breath now, Reegyn stood, took Arti’s hands,
and urged her to stand. He gazed at her with eyes full of sadness
and adoration, almost as if he had already lost her. Moved by
that look, Arti pulled him close and held him tight. “Don’t
be like this, Reegyn,” she said. “I’m not going
sensed him relax a little, perhaps somewhat reassured. Hand in
hand they veered past the tidal pool and continued toward the
sea. Neither of them knew why, really. Somehow it just seemed
important to complete the journey as far as they could. When at
last they arrived, the sea retreated from them, then returned
a few seconds later. The waves were low, and long and slow, and
not at all like ocean waves. Certainly not as dramatic as the
Pacific. The water seemed as warm as Arti’s own blood.
shallows seemed to extend seaward for many hundreds of meters.
On the horizon a flat-topped island loomed against luminous clouds.
Arti couldn’t imagine how its peak had been sheered off
so neatly. Elsewhere and all around, sea-stacks and rock sculptures
lay scattered on wine-glass pedestals.
wave rushed a hundred meters across the beach and surged past
Arti’s shins. The motion dizzied her, eroded sand from beneath
her feet and tickled her soles. Had Reegyn not held her hand she
might have lost her balance. She felt tiny, a mere mote amid immensity.
Only the movement of water stirred the air and made it wet and
briny. Reegyn looked from Arti’s face to rushing surf wearing
a tentative smile of awe. Solid ground seemed many leagues away;
now the flux of surf and the towering sky were all they knew,
and each other.
also knew an unresolved brokenness still lay between them. Arti
could see it in Reegyn’s expression, feel it in the tentative
way he touched her. He had such big expressive eyes for a boy,
and within those eyes lay anxieties Arti did not know how to assuage.
they waded ashore Arti remained keenly aware of Reegyn’s
awareness of her. She loved the way he scanned her hair, the way
his eyes lingered on her breasts before flicking to her face.
It made her feel truly seen. Such looks acknowledged her in a
way that seemed more than sexual. It was certainly more than sexual
for Reegyn, for Arti now understood that she had become his entire
world in a way that was not even possible for an ordinary person,
for someone not marooned in immensity, and without a past. Arti
felt this as both a burdensome responsibility and a flattery.
was love simply a huge ego trip for Artemis Wilde? No, of course
not, for Reegyn truly and utterly beguiled her. If sex is the
at the root of love for most young people, then this is particularly
true for a girl who had been a boy, and as a boy had found no
comfort or excitement in sex, a boy for whom sex had seemed a
cruel joke. The few times she had experimented with sex as a boy,
nothing seemed to fit. Not only was orgasm maddeningly elusive,
but so was its reputed spirituality. She had read in a sociology
text that a young person’s discovery of sexuality could
be experienced as a revelation. For Arthur Wilde Junior, though,
it had revealed only emptiness.
had banished that emptiness. He had made manifest the reputed
spirituality of sexual love.
analysis did not scroll through Arti’s mind in so many words
but revealed itself as a felt wholeness. Now she turned to her
lover and blurted, “You know, Reegyn. I do love you.”
smiled wanly, shaking his head as if he had just dodged a bullet.
“You ain’t said that since yesterday,” he said.
heaved a heavy sigh and said, “Jesus, what a day.”
stroked her hair, touched her face. He examined her as if he hadn’t
seen her in years. Arti felt as if she were being made love to
with his eyes alone. “Yea verily,” he said, “what
a fucked-up day.”
held one another. As easily as falling off a log, they kissed
tenderly, thus mending all the day’s wounds. It felt really,
really good. “I love you too,” Reegyn murmured.
there you have it, dear reader. Not a single issue was discussed
nor nary a disagreement resolved. Nonetheless they had suddenly
made up and were back in love again. So it goes.
pretty hungry,” said Arti.
too,” Reegyn said. “Sorry I couldn’t catch a
much meat is on a scramsander anyway?” said Arti.
much,” said Reegyn. “I’d have to catch three
one of your rotored friends could bring us a fish,” she
got my flute,” said Reegyn.
you do,” she said. “Look behind you.”
looked. Haiku bestrode the gloaming surf like an alien Jesus upon
the Sea of Galilee (or a giant two-headed goose), her dandelion
eyes catching the last of the day’s light. Beyond her, Blitzermoon
arose from behind the clouds, a hard starlike glint, waxing rapidly.
This crazy thought passed through Arti’s mind: Haiku’s
own star of Bethlehem.
ran to Haiku, splashing through the tide, gleefully calling her
name. The way he acted made Arti think of her own childhood when
her father returned home from one of his long business trips.
She, a little boy, would run to him calling Daddeeeee! as if he
embodied the second coming. (What’s with all the Christian
allusions all of a sudden? Sheesh!) Reegyn flung himself upon
Haiku thus answering the age-old question, How do you hug an alien?
Reegyn did it by leaping and swinging from one of her eye-stalks,
by swinging one leg through the Vee where her goose-necks joined
to form her “necky thing.” From there he climbed to
her back and lay on his belly, arms outspread. And that’s
how you hug an alien.
knows how Haiku felt about all this. Arti wasn’t any good
at reading splinkish body language. Haiku one-eyed Reegyn, regarded
Arti with the other eye, and kept on walking. Arti felt relieved
to see all their gear still in place on Haiku’s back.
Haiku reached dry land Reegyn was crouched on her back virtually
aglow with happiness. “Look what the cat drug in,”
about damn time,” Arti said. “Haiku, where have you
alien seemed to gather her thoughts and said, “Haiku flying
crushed them single-handed, did you?” Arti said.
ain’t got no hands,” said Reegyn.
a figure of speech,” said Arti.
pitched camp way back in the dunes in the lee of one of those
big pedestaled rocks, presumably beyond the reach of the tides.
Arti popped the tent while Reegyn and Haiku went hunting.
staking out the lamps Arti settled on a parachute and made her
diary entry. “Thank god I don’t have to sleep on bare
ground,” she said. “Sometimes this whole thing feels
like a dream, like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. Haiku
intrigues me. She knows more than she is able to express in English.
It seems to me she speaks with a slight Japanese accent, which
is weird for a creature who can parrot any sound she pleases.
And get this, dear diary. She goes missing all day right along
with my pursuers. Can this be mere coincidence? Has she done something
to them? She looks like a cartoon character and sounds like a
little girl, so it would be all too easy to underestimate her.
But saying so out loud makes me wonder if I’m being paranoid.
Come to think of it, I’m surrounded by cartoon characters
today. Maybe I am dreaming.”
the time Blitzermoon waxed gibbous in the east, a tiny shirt button,
a landward breeze had begun to blow. The moon she had spotted
earlier now stood at zenith, less than full, half the size of
Luna as seen from Earth. Its wane and verdant radiance highlighted
tidal pools scattered across the beach turning them all molten.
The distant sea wore a stripe of tarnished silver. Arti’s
stomach growled the very moment she spied Reegyn and Haiku in
the distance astride their own inky shadows.
they had eaten their fill they sat shoulder to shoulder atop a
dune and watched the tide advance across the beach swallowing
tidal pools. “So what do we do now?” she said.
go forth yonderly,” Reegyn said, “or to sidestep the
the question,” Arti averred.
we still slouch toward Humany?” queried Reegyn.
the plan,” said Arti. “If so, we could just sit here
and wait for that IlluminKraft runabout to land on us.”
thusly,” said Reegyn, “where the hell is it? And where
are the flying assholes?”
yet,” Arti said, “how does one tell friend from asshole?”
a pretty pickle,” Reegyn said, and fell into silent thought.
“Arti, what do you want to do? Are you itching to get back
home to dear old daddy?”
heaved a deep and trembly sigh, snuggling closer still. “Yes,”
she said. “No. I don’t know anymore. I want both.
I’m a spoiled brat, as you can plainly see.”
thinks we can cross yonder sea,” Reegyn said.
Did she tell you that?”
so many words,” Reegyn said.
bet,” Arti said. “So many garbled words.”
does Haiku have a say in all this now?” Arti said.
reckon,” Reegyn said. “She wanted me to come with
you, or you to come with me. You know, back at that other sea.”
Sea,” Arti said. “Did she really?”
think so,” said Reegyn. “It’s hard to tell.”
why?” Arti said.
can chik only a glimmer of an answer,” Reegyn said, “but
I think it’s because she cares about me. She was worried
was she worried, Reegyn?”
think I was dying,” he said. “Dying inside. I think
she knew how lonely I was.”
could she have been so sure?” Arti said. “I mean .
. . she doesn’t think like us.”
squirmed. Arti could tell he was uncomfortable. “You can
tell me,” she urged.
he said. “I didn’t fess it before, but . . . I tried
to off myself like you did. Only I jumped off a high place.”
no,” Arti gasped.
pretty sure the ground broke some bones. It hurt like hell, but
I didn’t die. I would have if it hadn’t been for Haiku.”
my god,” said Arti. She was curious to know how Haiku was
able to nurse him, but decided to save it for later. “So
Haiku cares about you and wants us to be together. Do you think
she cares about me too?”
can’t tell?” Reegyn said. “She thinks you’re
delicious. And I think she wants us to cross yonder pond.”
where is she taking us, Reegyn?”
won’t say. Or don’t know how. You know how fucked-up
as fucked-up as you thought, I dare say.”
double dare,” Reegyn said.
what are we supposed to do,” Arti said, “swim?”
can swim us,” he said. “Besides, she says it’s
not that deep.”
not-deep can a sea be?”
hell outa me,” said Reegyn. “Maybe we can walk.”
the way she felt during their brief wade earlier, Arti couldn’t
imagine even trying.