by K. C. Gray
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
I closed the door and walked down the hallway, prepared to see what Tanika was doing. She brushed past me and into the kitchen. She had taken off her jacket and shoes in the bedroom.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I followed behind her.
She turned to me quickly, her bare feet pivoting over the glass. Her tinkling voice rose and fell. “Did you tell him?”
“No,” I almost shouted. “No.” I touched the round of her jaw, drawing attention to the rough patch, where the paint had begun to dry. “You’re going to have to fix this,” I said.
“Don’t.” She shrugged my hand off. “Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not,” once again, my voice came out stronger than I meant it to. “I said no, and I meant it. I didn’t tell him anything.”
A stare-down began between us. I fought the urge to avert my eyes. When I felt I was about to, I walked up on her quickly, the glass crunching beneath my tennis shoes. I pulled her body to me and pressed my nose into hers.
Her eyes rose up in the corners as a musical laugh escaped. Her hands touched my chest. Her eyes flicked back and forth in little movements as she focused in on me, and her left contact lens moved enough to show her sun-flowered eye. I touched her wrist, but she pulled away, still making music.
“Stop. No. I mean it.” But her smile said otherwise. She walked towards the table, her elbows were pressed into her body and her hands came together in front of her.
I laughed and squatted down into a football stance, my hands up, legs spread apart and knees bent. She swatted at me. I lunged at her, but she turned around so quickly that I grabbed her from behind. I kissed her cheek. Her laughter fell into a sigh as she relaxed against my body. I tried my luck once more, moving my hand down her forearm.
She turned and pushed away from me. “Stop it. I have good news.” Tanika hopped up on the table. “Just listen, okay?”
I walked up to her and laid my hands on top of hers. “So talk.”
Tanika pulled her hands away and pushed me again. “Come on, now.”
I cracked my knuckles, pulled out the chair in one quick motion and sat down. “Fine.” I squeezed my eyes shut to help relax away the tension. When I opened my eyes again, Tanika was staring at the wall in front of her. “I’m sorry,” I sighed. “Firand, you know.” Every four years, my body produced the chemicals needed for reproduction.
“I know,” her wind chimes turned into one soft note. “It’s just,” she slapped her hands against her thighs. “Good news. Oscarson.”
I laughed at the name. It conjured giggles in all of us. Oscarson’s father paid homage to an old human naming ritual, where the child’s last name would be the father’s first name followed by “son.” Only he misunderstood the concept and gave it as a first name.
Tanika gave me a few moments before asking, “Are you through? You wanna listen now?” Her eyes scrunched up and the wind blew again.
I cleared my ostof, “Yeah. Yeah, go ahead.”
“Oscarson,” we both fell into a laughing fit again. She straightened up, and tried one last time,
“Got the project closed. NASA is officially no longer sending out satellites. At least for a year, but everything is looking good. Something has to be cut, and Osc...” — she narrowed her eyes and pointed a finger at me — “he has convinced them it’s the best project to lose.” She clapped her hands and let them fall into her lap.
I pressed my teeth together, but pressed so hard that they loosened. “That’s it,” I finally said. “I mean, it’s good news, but—”
Tanika leaned in towards me, “And” — she stretched the word out far more than necessary — “I got the next week off. I wanna go to Ombri and visit my Dad.” Her voice grew quiet at the end of the sentence.
“Okay.” I nodded and smiled at her. “You get in touch with the authorities?”
“Yeah. Oscarson” — our smiles grew bigger — “sent a messenger out earlier. He let them know how I sabotaged the satellites and requested time for me. They should let me.”
I stood and pulled her into my arms. If what happened to her dad happened to me, I didn’t know if she could handle it. As much as I trusted Demarco, what I told him was bigger than any secret he would ever be told and if he couldn’t carry it, I wouldn’t be angry.
Tanika’s mouth relaxed a little. “You didn’t tell him, right.”
I took in a deep breath and kissed her forehead. “No. I didn’t tell him.”
“Okay, okay. No more.” She leaned in and pressed her lips to mine. It was an odd feeling, her thin lips against mine, but it was also nice. “I love you.” Her lips brushed against mine as she spoke. “I trust you.” She pulled away. “We have to leave.”
I nodded, “It’ll be dark soon enough.”
“I’ll go get our bags together.” She walked out of the kitchen. I paced the kitchen length several times. I pushed at the temple up past my hairline with one finger, letting the seam fade enough that I could pick at the glue. When I got hold of enough, I rolled it between my forefinger and thumb. “It was a dumb, dumb, dumb thing to do.” I stopped pacing at the hushed sound of my voice.
“Tanika,” I poked my head out into the hallway.
“Yeah,” she answered from our bedroom at the other end.
“You should pack dress clothes for us. You know, just in case we can see him.”
“Yeah. Got it.”
I walked out of the sliding door before calling Demarco on my cell phone. He answered after a few rings.
“Hey ’Marco,” I sat down on the porch. “I know I said you could come over tomorrow, but Tanika made plans. Know how that goes, huh?” I tried to fake laugh, but it came out more like a cough.
“Look, I’m trusting you, Man, really. More than you can know. It’s just... I know, I shouldn’t have told you in the first place, but since I have... Please.”
“I’m glad you didn’t lie. I just need some time, man, seriously. You’re trusting me, I know. But look at what you told me.”
This time I did laugh. It felt strange, doing something so dangerous and laughing at it. I laid my head down in my lap. “It’s crazy, I know.”
“Yeah. Look. I have to go, but I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Okay. We’re on vacation, so I’ll call you when we get back.”
He hung up. I wasn’t sure if he heard the last bit or not. The sun lowered behind the suburban houses: all various shades of whites and browns, part vinyl part brick. Where the sun met the outline of the houses looked like a flowing river of reds and yellows. It circled around to include the two houses across our back yard inside its heart; it looked unusually big.
I exhaled through my mouth, allowing my ostof to fully push out all of the air.
The officials from Ombri took Tanika’s dad when she was twelve years old. I had heard about it at the time, as all of us had, both as gossip and as a warning. He’d told his next door neighbor that he wasn’t from Earth. I didn’t know all of the details, just that the neighbor called the police. An officer there was one of us and heard the report as it came in. The human police all treated it as a joke, but Tanika’s dad was gone the next day. No trial, only conviction for putting us all in danger of discovery.
It wasn’t just someone I had told, it was Demarco. The one who came over every day when we were kids; who took the fall for me when my mom caught us with alcohol; the one I told when I bailed on Donna at Necker’s Ridge after she touched me below where a belly button should have been. He knew I was running, but I couldn’t tell him why.
Tanika slid open the door and asked, “Ready?”
* * *
A patch of sky showed through the hatch in our attic. Dark pinks, yellows and hues of red streaked the sky, each color marbled into the other perfectly. Tanika had packed the top of the pod with a change of clothes for each of us. We could have taken two pods, but with both of us pushing, we could get to the home planet faster, and give her more time to negotiate in order to see her father.
The pod resembled a bullet, cylindrical and coming to a point at the top, and the triangular tip was the carrying case for our things. Tiny cameras and videos encircled the whole thing, allowing it to look invisible. We would push it out of the atmosphere, but once we reached space, the exhaust would be turned on to give us extra speed.
Tanika stood in one half, and I got into the other and pushed it closed. We both pressed out hands against the top and rose, pulling the pod with us. I turned on the cameras and videos. The world around us disappeared into black and the bottom of tip turned on so that we could see where we were heading. A camera at the tip transferred video to that panel.
The sky rushed towards us as we ascended. Alarms would alert us if we were headed in the flight path of anything. It took decades for our scientists to find the safest ways for us to travel. People like Tanika and Oscarson found ways into NASA not only to learn but to find out how to sabotage their project. We only wanted to remain safe, to not have to worry about the fears of humans turning into misunderstandings and hatred.
The stars shimmered but did not twinkle as they did from Earth. The curve of the atmosphere gave stars a romantic feel, but outside of the distorting field, they were just dots of light, like shadeless lamps from a distance.
I moved to type in the speed setting of the exhaust, but Tanika pulled at my elbow. “I want to go there,” she said. I nodded and we moved toward Sun.
We stopped the pod once the walls warmed up. If the heat damaged the cameras and videos, we could get others on Ombri. We took one last deep oxygen-filled breath and I opened the pod. My pores tightened up in response to the cold. We stripped down and left our clothes floating. Tanika led the way.
By the time we approached Mercury, the heat from the Sun had was already triggering the necessary responses. The dull peach-colored planet loomed over us as it moved closer. Craters became more defined. The pocks and lines looked like scars. As it rotated and swung towards us, the gravity tugged like a drain.
Energy surged through my body, and I felt as if I had just woken up from a whole day’s sleep. I turned my back to the Sun and held Tanika’s elbows as we flew. Her contacts were the first to go, the plastic melting against her eyes and then coming out in the corner like droplets of water, floating in space seconds before the heat completely broke them down into pure energy.
My sight blurred for a second and then cleared up. Her gold eyes searched my face. Next, the medium brown tint flaked into little black specks and flew off like ash from a fireplace: the gold revealed in tiny bits like pixilation coming into focus.
She loved the medium-brown paint, applying it so that the gold could show through. It gave her a toasted wheat look. Her hair went up in a whoosh of spark and she spit the remnants of teeth out, before they, too, burned down into nothing. I spit out my teeth and they floated past her before they disappeared.
I turned and flew at a faster pace while pulling at Tanika’s elbow with my left hand. She sped up some until she flew beside me.
Fire flew up from the Sun then fell back down, making a pure white loop. Our pores stretched open, and our genetically engineered lungs stopped. The Sun’s rays penetrated our skin, beginning a process long ago halted by our scientists.
We breathed in and hydrogen entered our bodies. Our bodies took it in and broke it down, supplying energy directly to us and secreting, in tiny portions at first, small amounts of clear fluid through our pores. As the fire lapped at us, tiny poofs of fire broke out over our bodies.
Tanika moved in front of me, her back to the sun and her body framed by the white fire. It started as a point at the top of her head, then moved down to surround her face. There was the pressure, like being buoyant in water. With little effort, like sweeping aside a web, we were able to overcome it and move further to the surface of the Sun.
An exploding flare pushed against Tanika’s back and pressed her into me. We flew out and back down in the loop: a mass of arms and legs. Tanika’s laugh tinkled in my ear. We flew away from the spew of fire before it could press us into the surface.
Our arms wrapped around each other’s body as we weaved through the erupting parts of the Sun. I pressed my lips into her ear and said her name in our native language. She told me once that my real voice, in our language, sounded like Ashiko drums, the light taps on the taunt skin emitting hollow pulses.
I breathed the fire in one gulp through my nose and mouth at once. The jello-like texture moved directly into me. Firand erupted in my body and I grabbed her wrist with no thought in my action. She pulled back from me.
Her name exploded from my mouth, and her eyes widened when her fire engulfed her face.
She spoke my name in hushed pulses and then pointed down to an ilirn. “Don’t you think it’s something,” she said in our language, “that we get the satellites pulled back right at your firand, when we could make this trip?”
I rubbed my slick head; the inhalation of the flame had caused my body to produce extra fluid. The ilirn, the amoeba-shaped dark spot, rotated as it moved across the liquid surface. Bulges in the stew rose and fell like tiny waves.
“I, uh,” I stuttered. “Well. Are you sure about this?”
“Yeah,” she answered. “I mean. I know I said no more, but you did not tell him, right?”
I touched her face, our flames melded into one. Her skin felt dry and wet at once while the flames both burned off and produced the fluid at the same time. Her eyes searched mine for the truth as I tensed my mouth up into a smile.
“I did not.” If I were to be taken, at least she wouldn’t be alone.
We flew down to the ilirn and rested on the force of the fire as I placed my hand on top of her hand and wrapped my fingers through the gaps of her fingers. Our hands melted into the sunspot. She lay on my shoulder, the smoothness of her head rubbed against my skin. The ground flowed beneath us.
The molten plasma surrounded our hands and opened up the pores between our fingers more. I tightened my grip, but apologized. I felt so much more in the ilirn.
“If it’s a boy,” I grunted, “Philipson.” Her music filled the star.
I lay on the currents of the fire afterward, allowing the pressure to cause me to ebb and flow nearer to the surface. Tanika was riding some solar flares. They pushed her up, but as they came down and fell back into the plasma, she slid down them like a slide. She was already glowing brighter with the extra production of fluid.
After a while, she came and lay beside me. It must have been wonderful living on the Sun, the fire giving us energy, and we, in turn, producing more fuel for it to burn. There couldn’t have been any struggles, any worries, just existing.
We flew to the edges of the Sun, but I pulled back on Tanika’s elbow. My flames had completely disappeared but hers engulfed her body. “Wait,” I said. I wrapped my arms around her waist, and she wrapped her arms around my shoulders. “I love you,” I pulsed. I dug my head into the crux of her neck and breathed in the flames. Our bodies perfectly aligned with one another as we rotated. Our genes swirled around inside her hand.
Copyright © 2012 by K. C. Gray