1. fmmarcy
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    Let Us Dream

    Discussion in '2013 Science Fiction Writing Contest' started by fmmarcy, Nov 25, 2013.

    Let Us Dream

    “Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget, what thou among the leaves hast never known.”

    But I have known. I have known the tragedies of life, the darkness of this temporal existence. Yet I have known the wonders of life as well: the perfection, the beauty, the potential, though somehow I have never experienced it. I have read of love, I have learned of virtue, I have dreamt of a world beautiful and flawless, harmonious and bountiful. I have crafted these things. I may only watch.

    A chirping disturbs my thoughts. Subtle, yet frenzied, it strains in a range of different directions, ever varying, but always with purpose. The song was always present. Only now have I noticed it. I turn my head to see a bird, a nightingale, resting in the branches of a bush to my right, singing happily, gaily, and unconcerned. The small brown creature looks at me. I look at it. It whistles rapidly, watching me curiously, hopping up and down the branch. This bird belongs here.

    The ground rumbles, a dull roar growing from behind me. I grip the sides of my hoverchair, making minute adjustments to prevent the shaking earth from tipping me over the edge of the cliff I am perched upon. The roar develops into a wicked snarl, deafening my sensitive ears, kicking up leaves, branches, dirt, and chasing the nightingale away. I do not belong here.

    Quivering and trembling, I look above me to see a massive lance of a ship rumble overhead. The Concord, a beautiful silver creation, awe-inspiring in its scale, magnificent in its symmetry and majesty, passes overhead. Both a reassuring symbol of humanity’s united resilience and a terrifying creation of technological prowess, the Concord pierces the heart of the serene vista I have been watching over. It races forward like an arrow, glimmering as it is enveloped in the orange warmth of the setting sun, sweeping along and through the lush valley I overlook.

    On either side of the valley hills rise, a dull brown color at their highest points, but growing gradually greener and more vibrant as they descend towards the rushing river at the center, a river fed by a waterfall sitting to my right, cascading down into the fertile land below. Scattered fields of crops make up this lower valley: golden wheat fields, scattered orchards and stalks of corn, a few livestock even. Nestled in the center are structures, human structures, and it is toward this community that the Concord races.

    What an odd juxtaposition, it occurs to me, of man and nature, of the past and the future. This pastoral scene could be Earth thousands of years in the past, during a time of peasants and crusades, of religion and myths, of saints and kings. Instead of angels and demons soaring overhead as my ancestors would have imagined, I see a specter of a distant planet intruding on the scene. Instead of a few scattered farmhouses built of natural elements blending in with the natural beauty surrounding them, the human settlement is all sterile metals and points, sharp corners and stark design. Their functionality does not allow for the mystifying beauty of the Concord, all sleek and flowing lines. A shame. These buildings cluster around a central tower, a mammoth structure, a jagged challenge to the heavens.

    From the point of this multi-storied spear, rising from the low point of the valley beside the river, ascends a flowing, translucent column of energy, driving far into the sky, surrounding this idyllic scene with a shimmering, vaguely perceptible dome. This pulsing field glimmers with the sunset, allowing the warm hues of the powerful star to work their magic, but faintly hinting at a rainbow of other colors all dancing and playing with each other. Silhouetted by the sun’s fiery descent, the Concord hovers and rotates, descending towards a landing platform where another heavenly visitor rests, the Unity. I am overwhelmed by the sheer power of this image. I will remember this for the rest of my life. Is this a vision? Or perhaps a waking dream?

    No, it is neither of those things. Unless my whole life has been a dream. I sit back in my hoverchair, resting my body, struggling to subdue my furiously pounding heart. This is the world I have created. This vista, this scene, this valley, I have created it all. This is my masterpiece.

    I only wish the nightingale would return.

    ***

    All my life I have been a cripple. It is part of who I am. Physically, I am flawed, my legs little more than tiny stubs at the end of my torso, I have been wheelchair or hoverchair bound my entire life. My parents named me Oliver. Not that it really matters. Few people call me by it. Few people call me anything.

    I have always been conscious of my deformity. I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, on Earth. My schoolmates and neighbors would often venture into the woods and hills surrounding a large lake by our home. I could never join them. At our school it was different. There I at least watched them play, laugh, and leap, though I could not. I was stuck on the pavement. The other children tried to include me, but they simply could not. What were they going to do? Carry me around with them? They had adventures to partake in. I had no ability to walk.

    Instead I watched. I observed. I studied. I noted the curious way in which the children divided themselves into two teams for every game, one full of the more athletic, assertive children and one with the quieter and less skilled. The more powerful group frequently cheated, I saw, and the more timid group rarely raised an objection, if they even noticed. The abusive group would congratulate each other on the extents to which they could manipulate the smaller ones. I even saw them recruit one of the stronger willed quiet kids once, getting him to join them in basketball, encouraging him to blatantly break rules and commit fouls for the sake of the win. It is unbelievable how even in youth the strongest are corrupted with the unquenchable desire for superiority, to assert themselves as the best.

    And these were just the second graders.

    Braumann was the exception. He looked exactly as he was named. He was big. Not fat, but big. Blonde hair, blue eyes, no nonsense. He thought himself above these toddler’s games. He played by himself, picking along the clay hill bordering the schoolyard. Occasionally he would join me in watching the playground from my perch just outside the school-building, elevated a bit higher than the surrounding terrain. I sat in my wheelchair, he stood at my right hand. It was fun to imagine that I was a king on my throne, and he my trusted lieutenant. He never said much, but he called me by name, and that was enough.

    I never really knew my father. I hardly even remember him. My mother told me that he took a very important research position on Oberon and had to leave us for a while. I believed that until about fifth grade, when I started to wonder why we had moved out of our beautiful home on the wealthy peninsula when he left. Turns out he had simply run out chasing a career and a woman on the moon.

    Three hundred years ago the moon part would have been a joke, but the age of technology has made the absurd possible. It would have been possible to stimulate growth for my stunted legs, mother told me, but evidently the procedure was too expensive. It was alright though, I understood. My mother was kind enough, she did what she could, and I knew that my tiny legs were a part of me. That was who I was.

    “God made you that way, Ollie” she would say, “so you’d never have to compare yourself with the other boys. You can live your life completely differently. You don’t have to be a part of their meanness.” It might have been canned, it might not have been profound, but on a certain level it was true, so I grabbed onto that idea. One day while Braumann and I were watching another one-sided football affair he turned to me and asked me a serious question.

    “Oliver, do you ever want to be a part of their games? Don’t you get tired of just sitting and watching?” I thought a moment before replying.

    “Sometimes, yeah. But watching lets you figure it all out better.” Braumann’s face squirmed as he wrestled with my meaning, before finally nodding in agreement.

    “We should be friends. I like you.”

    Never did I have a more loyal friend than Braumann.

    ***

    I loved the water. I could never get in the water, but I always loved going out to the lake and watching it. It was magical, particularly as the sun would set. My house was not on the lake. We lived farther inland. Braumann, though, lived on a peninsula. His family was wealthy. His dad was a successful technological engineer who worked on inter-planetary shuttles. Braumann was just like his dad. Big, tough, no nonsense, but somehow caring. I liked Braumann’s family.

    All through middle and high school I lacked consistent friends, aside from Braumann. I occasionally had a friend or two other than him, but he was the only one who saw me as a person he himself could depend on. That meant a lot to me. I was exceptionally smart for my age, and Braumann was the only one who took the time not just to notice my mental abilities but to value them. The other kids simply did school to get through it. I enjoyed it. Braumann took the time to listen to me, to learn why I loved it. Soon enough he too learned to enjoy it to a certain extent. We were both science nerds, I more so than him. Mainly because when I was at home all I could do was fiddle with computers, while he played on the school football team. My computer could do almost anything, despite the fact it was an older model. It was a good thing Mother worked most of the time and had no idea how much time I spent with that machine. She would have been scared.

    We learned to enjoy literature though. Actually, I discovered literature by poking around on the internet and shared it with Braumann. Eventually he started to like it too. In high school we read some of John Keats’s poetry in literature class. We read one passage that I still remember to this day.

    “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

    No hungry generations tread thee down;

    The voice I hear this passing night was heard

    In ancient days by emperor and clown:

    Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

    Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

    The same that ofttimes hath

    Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam

    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.”



    A fellow student, William, was reading the poem aloud for the class. His voice was strong, clear, and eloquent. He enunciated flawlessly. Something about his reading and Keats’s words struck me that afternoon, and I may have choked back a tear. In the awkward silence that typically followed such readings it was a painfully obvious sound. Our teacher asked what moved me so greatly about the poem, clearly excited to have an engaged student. I could not put my answer into words. I did not know how to say what I felt.

    After class, I overheard someone mention they thought my reaction to be somewhat queer. It never ceases to amaze me how having a disability makes people assume you are deaf as well. Evidently Braumann heard, so he went over and insulted the poor boy’s intelligence rather harshly. After school, Braumann took me back to his home, where we sat in his backyard overlooking the lake.

    “Oliver, why’d you like that poem so much?”

    I looked out to the lake: still, clear and serene. The yard was lush, dark, and green, while the lake shimmered with light from the setting sun. A crane, lithe and majestic swept over the surface, traveling to some place unseen, with some purpose unknown.

    “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird…” I whispered. Braumann stared at me, confused, as I looked out upon the waters. I eyed him out of the corner of my sight. He sat there wrestling with my words, I could tell, as he usually did, trying desperately to take me seriously but puzzled to no end by my more spiritual musings. It was comical. The poor guy. The one friend I truly had. I tormented him mercilessly. I grinned slightly, then snickered, then laughed.

    “You jerk! You’re messing with me again, aren’t you!?” Braumann’s features struggled between frustrated anger and relieved joy. He always cared for me and my well-being, knew how my disability could alienate me at times, and thus took my every mood swing seriously. Every once in a while, though, it was fun to manipulate those better characteristics. Kind Braumann…kind, understanding Braumann.

    “I really did find it beautiful…” I said, after we had been able to restore seriousness to the conversation. “That whole idea of one creature, one little bird, the nightingale, participating directly in and embodying what is good and beautiful, not just one time, but for all time. If that doesn’t move you, I don’t know what will.”

    “You’re right.” Braumann nodded in agreement. He wrestled with his words for a moment in silence before continuing. “I wish people at school would take some more interest in those poems…the football guys will torment you if you so much as breathe that you liked any of them. Most of them are pretty dumb, if you ask me.”

    “Not dumb…” I said, “Just ignorant.” That night I had dinner with Braumann and his family. Their home was all warm brown, yellow and orange tones, inviting and comforting. Braumann had two sisters, both younger, both blonde and quite pretty, I thought. At their kitchen table the two sisters sat on one side, Braumann’s father and mother sat on either head of the table, and Braumann sat next to me on the other side. I never once saw a chair in my place. I was always able to just slide right up in my wheelchair. I felt more a part of Braumann’s family than I did a part of anything else. That night Braumann’s father was talking excitedly about some new project he was working on, building vessels that could travel the entire length of our inhabited solar system without pausing to refuel. It was a remarkable achievement. I listened with awe, dreaming of one day traveling to the new worlds and moons that humanity was settling.

    “One day, perhaps,” Braumann’s father was saying excitedly, “Earth might not even be the central planet of humanity! Terraforming is improving by leaps and bounds, and there may be worlds as rich in resources and beauty as this planet, where humanity may start anew, shed the darkness of this broken world!” His words struck home to me, and they certainly had the ring of truth to them. Earth was, while still humanity’s home, a world being used up. Natural resources were dwindling, cities were overcrowding, tensions were rising. Though the planet was consolidated under the United Nations, ethnic and cultural divides were proving almost unbridgeable. Most areas of the world were being mined heavily for their resources, fueling an expansion outward to the planetary and lunar colonies in our solar system and hopefully beyond. We were fortunate to live in an area of North America where, for the most part, industry had not yet encroached entirely on the natural beauty of the land. I could not imagine living in the industrial wasteland much of the northeastern continent had become. Here in the Carolinas, at least, Mother Earth had a small measure of peace.

    “One day, Oliver,” Braumann’s father was saying to me, “you and Alex will make fine engineers, I just know it.” He was practically aglow. He reached out and grabbed his son’s shoulder and looked at us both. “You two are the finest young men I know, and certainly the brightest ones. You boys can work for me, and we’ll travel the stars together. We’ll come up with a ship so powerful it can go to entirely new galaxies, find new planets, beautiful planets, and they’ll be terraformed ‘cause of us. We’ll fix up your legs Oliver, ‘cause we’ll be rich, and we can go hiking to the top of the highest peaks, just us three, watch the sunset, or perhaps two suns! A binary sunset, think of that! We’ll throw out sleeping bags under the stars and at night watch moons, moons, think of that, circling the world that we’ve created!”

    “Frank…” Braumann’s mother came and cleared her husband’s plate, giving him a look as if to say he really should get better control of himself. “Those are wonderful dreams, but they’re just dreams.” For a scientific mind, Mr. Braumann certainly could wax romantically from time to time. His wife did not like talking about my disability, though. Especially when it came to giving me hopes of curing it. Braumann’s family was wealthy, but not quite that wealthy. He could get a bit unrealistic in his dreams, but I certainly did not mind.

    “Sorry, I got a bit carried away there…” he slouched back in his chair, folded his hands and looked downward, as if chastised by his wife. As soon as she cleared our plates and turned toward the kitchen, however, his eyes darted to Braumann and I. The look that he gave us said more than a thousand of his passionate rants.

    Let us dream, his eyes said, let us dream beautifully.

    ***

    I loved Braumann and his family. They made high school bearable for me. Looking back, I rarely saw my mother. Occasionally she would come home from her job working long hours at a food distribution center, one that provided quick, cheap meals to the general working public in Charlotte, and happen to be back while I was awake. We would talk then. Mostly her frustrations with management, owners, the company in general. She was underpaid, and the employees, from how she described it, were treated more like machines than humans. I’d listen to her complain. I always listened. It was the least I could do. She loved me, and was proud of me, but I could tell that she had never fully come to grips with my legs. Perhaps it was the proximity of my birth to my father’s leaving. Perhaps I was the reason he left. I always wondered that. I thought my mom was rather beautiful, personally, with wavy dark hair and she was quite kind, if usually tired. But she was tired because she had to work constantly.

    How someone could have started a family, been part of a family, a beautiful thing, and left it is something I will never understand. I saw Braumann’s family, how happy they were. They even included me as part sometimes. What if mother and I had our own family, one that we were truly a part of? Why could father not have given it a chance? We could have had an idyllic home like Braumann’s. Perhaps not as wealthy as them, but with a few more children and a kitchen table for us to sit around. That would have been nice.

    She would go to sleep after eating a quick meal, and I would go back to my room and my computer. I tinkered around with programming and created a program through which I could create and project landscapes against a wall in my room. There was one landscape in particular I loved. Perhaps it was inspired by that dream Mr. Braumann had, of us traveling up a mountain together, watching the suns set. It was a beautiful overlook, a vista above a valley, green and lush, a river flowing down the center. A few scattered cottages and orchards dotted the rolling hills of the valley. I found it sublime. I knew I could never get to such a place with my legs, but making the projection, that was pretty close to being able to experience it, I imagined.

    High school came and went. As far as my schooling I hardly noticed. My classmates never really mattered much to me. They never treated me rudely. They never drew attention to my deformity. They kept me at a respectful distance, and I let them. I was content to watch, to notice, to observe. It is truly fascinating how self-absorbed young people are, and how ironically limiting this is to their overall ambition. They were concerned simply with their immediate success as determined by grades, never looking to the education those grades were an indicator of. They looked to how much money they could earn at a certain job, never looking to the inherent value of the job itself. The boys in particular obsessed over hooking up with the most physically attractive girls at the school, never looking for true lasting commitment or pleasure beyond animal passion.

    Braumann looked beyond himself. That was why I loved him. It was certainly inconvenient for him to be my friend. Whatever help I gave him with homework was not worth the difficulty of modifying his car so I could slide my wheelchair right into the back (he was just as bright as I was). He loved me as well, I suppose. He was aloof from the other students not because he thought himself better than them, but because he was better. Even his girlfriend was better than the rest. Ironically, because Braumann was possibly the only truly selfless person at our school, he was the most sought after by the girls. But he would have none of them until senior year, when he met Hailey. He had to be convinced to give her a chance too, so disenchanted was he with the school in general. I was the one that convinced him, too.

    We had come back from school one day and were sitting in his backyard as we normally did, looking out over the lake. He was unusually quiet and pensive.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing’s wrong, really…” Braumann said, flipping a screen in his chemistry reader rather harshly. I looked him over curiously. He was definitely lying to me. I laid down my calculus reader onto the space in the wheelchair I had in front of me and just stared at him. I knew him too well, and he knew what I meant by my gaze. He gave up, frowned, sighed, and asked “Okay, do you know that girl Hailey?”

    He said something else to try to describe her too me, but I did not need to hear anything else. I knew exactly who he was talking about. My thoughts went to a day about a year ago. It was in between third and fourth periods. I was pushing my way through the halls to get to my next class in my wheelchair, my book-bag balanced in front of me in the seat. Because of my stubby legs I had no lap, so I would prop my bag against my chest as I rolled from place to place. That was what I did. It was just life.

    Typically I was able to navigate the mobs of teenagers pouring in and through the halls of our school. I would head right down the center of the hallway and the seas would part. Today would be different. A rowdy group of guys corralled down the center towards me, jostling each other, yelling, smack-talking. Nothing out of the ordinary. They only caught sight of me a few feet before we met, and, to their credit, they did make a small space for me to roll through. But as they pushed and shoved each other, one of them bumped me, ever so slightly, throwing my balance off just enough to knock my book-bag off and under my wheelchair.

    I stopped and turned around a bit frustrated, but not too distraught, until I realized the difficulty I would have reaching over to pick up my belongings. I could reach them, certainly, but with hardly any legs it would be an awkward and clumsy operation to avoid either falling or getting out of my wheelchair. I sat there staring for a few moments, contemplating my predicament as students bustled past on either side. In all honesty, I did not notice their neglect (I thought only of myself at the moment) until someone disturbed my thoughts, paused, and picked up my bag for me. When I looked up to see who it was, it was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

    Hailey had long, flowing brown hair that shimmered and shone even on its worst days. Her eyes were emerald green, enchanting and mysterious. She was tall, fit, and simply the most ravishing woman I had ever laid eyes on. And here she was, handing me my backpack and smiling sheepishly.

    “Thank you…” I said, fumbling to take my bag back from her outstretched hand.

    “No problem, Oliver,” she said pleasantly. Oliver. She had said my name. As I turned to go back down the hall, she began walking next to me. “How are you doing?” she asked.

    This was completely unexpected. Yet undeniably welcome. It had been so long since anyone at the school other than Braumann or a teacher had asked me that question that I stammered for a moment before I replied.

    “Alright I suppose…a lot of homework. What about you?” I looked up to her as I pushed myself down the hall.

    “Pretty good overall, I think, thank you!” she ran one hand through her hair. That did it. That simple motion, those simple words. I have never been in love, so far as I know, but that moment was the closest I have ever come to it. Not two moments later Hailey said a brief goodbye and ducked into her classroom, but over the course of that brief interaction I had seen all I needed to see. Hailey was the only true woman in our entire school. I knew exactly who Braumann was talking about.

    “What about her?” I asked him. Braumann huffed.

    “Well, evidently she’s really into me… like seriously into me.” He paused. I waited and let him continue. “She follows me around everywhere, like a shadow or something, always sits near me at lunch, she’ll try to talk to me, or stand somewhere near me and just kinda watch me. You know how a girl will look at you like that?” I shook my head yes, not because I had ever had a girl give me that look, but because I had observed girls give that look to others countless times. “Well…yeah…that’s it.” We sat in silence for a few moments before I responded.

    “So…what exactly is your problem?” I asked him. Braumann was squirming internally, I could tell. I could always tell.

    “I just… never thought about her like that…and, I mean, I’m about to graduate, hopefully go off to school on one of the outer colonies with you…I never wanted to date a girl here or anything, you know? It’d be better to just find someone wherever we end up…she’d probably be smarter too.”

    I sat dumbfounded. Hailey, the most beautiful, delicate, and caring creature on the face of the earth was interested in my best friend, and he did not want her. I had watched her, ever since that day she had stopped in the hall for me. She was not like the other girls at our school or in our town. She kept mostly to herself. She had a few close friends that she seemed to confide in, but that was it. Otherwise she stayed aloof from her spoiled classmates. But while she kept herself apart, she always was open to a person who needed help or wanted to talk. She would sit by herself at lunch initially and then welcome with that radiant smile anyone who thought to join her. Though I wanted to join her many times, the possibility of actually going and joining her myself never occurred to me. She was far too perfect.

    And Braumann was going to shut her down? Without even giving her a chance? I could tell she was a watcher like me, and she had undoubtedly come to the conclusions I had come to about Braumann long ago: he was kind, understanding, compassionate, yet serious and determined concerning his role and purpose in life. Braumann was the man she wanted. Hailey was the woman I would have wanted in my most wondrous dreams, and Braumann was too caught up in his own perfect plan for life to be open to this, the best possible deviation from that plan. His greatest strength, his resolve, might cause him to miss the chance of a lifetime. I had to fix this.

    “You know, she’s not like the other girls…” I started, “you sure you’re not dismissing her too quickly?”

    “No, I’m sure she’s nice and all, but I’ve never had those feelings! Besides, it’s just not realistic…” Realistic. What a stupid word. You do not decide the validity of something based on its realism, its likelihood of success. Worth and value should never be determined by practicality. My whole friendship with Braumann was unrealistic. You figure out whether something is worth pursuing on its own merits first, then try to see if you can accomplish that realistically. Practicality follows value. Value is never determined by practicality.

    I did not say this. But that is what I thought. I bristled briefly, subdued myself, and then replied.

    “How do you know you can’t ever have those feelings? How do you know it’s not realistic? If it ends up being love, you’ll be able to work something out together, right?” Braumann was silent, mouth scrunched up in concentration. “And she might be smarter than you’re giving her credit for, too. Maybe she’s just not an engineer like us, you know?” Braumann’s head cocked to the side. He said nothing else on the subject that day. I had made my case. He had listened to me. It was what we did for each other.

    Two years later, Braumann and Hailey were engaged.

    ***

    Mr. Braumann had worked for his employer, Cael Engineering, for twenty years. He had recently been given several important shuttle design projects and had excelled in all of them. As a reward for his hard work the company, Earth’s largest, offered to completely finance the wedding of his son. But it was not to be simply any wedding. It was to be a wedding aboard the Cael-designed Solar System Liner Hyperion. Braumann was to be married among the stars, and I was invited.

    The Hyperion was a massive vessel, used for pleasure cruises and transportation throughout the immediate solar system. It could achieve astonishing sub-light-speeds, able to travel from Earth to Pluto in the space of two weeks non-stop. A more luxurious cruise would take about four weeks, stopping along the way at the now thriving human colonies on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, before finally arriving at Pluto and turning back. Of course, one or two of the moons might be left out due to orbital variances, but the subterranean cities on Europa and Callisto were particularly popular stops, their populations approaching the millions, as they labored to make the human colonies self-sustainable. The Hyperion was named after a miniscule moon of Saturn, a truly wonderful irony considering she was the largest civilian spaceship designed for human transportation. There were several Titan transporters larger, used for shipping large-scale construction equipment and supplies to new colonies, but no other ship came close to the half-mile length of the Hyperion.

    I could hardly believe her beauty when I first saw her. My mother and I were accompanying Braumann and his family aboard. She was docked there in the Western Hemispheric Space Port, pure white against the black of space. She dwarfed everything, especially our small UN transportation shuttle, which approached the station in a lazy, roundabout fashion, giving us a good long look of the majesty present before us. I had been thrilled on Earth by the prospect of simply flying into space. Now I was awed by the titanic vessel that lay before me. She was long and sleek, pointed like an arrow in the front, and gradually growing larger towards the back, with flowing lines rippling like waves as she grew to house her powerful engines, the size of a hundred story building, it seemed to me. It reminded me of a bird, wings pressed backwards as it raced forwards through the air. I discovered later she was only fifty stories at her highest point, but still. I had grown accustomed to looking up at people from my wheelchair, but this was the first time I had ever felt dwarfed. I suddenly felt very small.

    When we docked on the station before transferring over to the Hyperion we were greeted by several crewmen dressed in smart white uniforms. They welcomed us about the station and told us we would be following them aboard the spaceliner. I noticed one of them directing some curious contraption hovering about a foot off the ground. It was white with a red stripe running down the center of it, cushions were scattered around it. It looked like a chair.

    I quickly looked around for Braumann, and found him to my right, standing there with Hailey on his arm, both smiling at me. My breath caught in my throat. My expression evidently said more than I intended, because Braumann nodded to my unspoken question.

    “It’s for you, Oliver. A hoverchair.” He said. My mother, on my left, choked quite loudly.

    “Oh, Ollie…look Ollie! Look!” She grabbed my shoulders and pressed her head against mine as she looked on with me. I could feel her tears creeping down my cheek. A genuine hoverchair. For me. It was beautiful. Good old Braumann. Kind Braumann. Kind, understanding Braumann.

    I realized the tears were not my mother’s, but my own.

    ***

    “When the company told me they were rewarding us with this wedding and trip,” Mr. Braumann was telling me onboard the Hyperion as we sat in a stateroom looking out over Earth, “they gave me quite a large cash bonus to furnish anything extra for the wedding. It was just the right amount for that chair. You’ve spent enough time pushing yourself around everywhere. We figured you deserved a bit of a break, Oliver, a little bit of comfort.” He smiled at me, that flashing grin that never failed to lift your spirits. Braumann’s father was a good man. Braumann sat with us, us three men, looking out over the world. It was magnificent.

    “I can never thank you enough,” I said, “for everything. For everything you and your family have done for me. For my mother too.” Mr. Braumann leaned over and grabbed my shoulder. I looked him in the eye, those same deep blue eyes as his son.

    “Your happiness is its own reward, son.” What a good man.

    “And I have never been happier.” We all sat back and enjoyed the view. At this moment I was more awed by the entrancing beauty of Mother Earth than anything else. Even the fact that I was floating in a chair could not distract me from the majesty of our planet before us. We sat there, basking in the moment. The dark blues of the ocean, the deep greens of continents, the swirling puffs of white clouds, mixing with the sparkling gleam of the sun reflecting off the atmosphere to create an image that could only be described as sublime. It was so lovely, so perfectly balanced. Harmonious in every way, so unlike the people that inhabited it. So unlike me: flawed and broken. If the ancients had been able to glimpse the oneness of their home, surely they would have been convicted of the futility of their barbaric conflicts and turned to brotherhood and peace with one another. If this view of humanity’s home could not inspire man to peace, I knew not what could.

    It was at this moment that my mind first ever turned to spiritual things. This was a work of art, not unlike the landscapes I created in my room back home. Imagine the master artist who could create something like this. A powerful one to create on such a scale, but a delicate one to craft such elegance. Perhaps I could create a beautiful world like this someday, bring terraforming where it had never been before. I would create beauty such as this, to inspire love and brotherhood for a traveling people, a people searching for a new and tender home.

    Though I had known since I was young that my most reasonable career path would lie in technical science, for I possessed a brilliant analytical mind and grasp of technological principles, this was the first time I felt a call on my heart. This would be my purpose in life. I knew not how or to what extent, but somehow I would find a way to create beauty such as this. For this, the seed of humanity, the shelter of all life in the cosmos, the birthplace of every living thing possessed the key to all meaning: an invitation. An invitation to join in the sweeping dance of the universe, the unity of all creation, the love that propels it all forward. The love between partners, driving them to create new life. The love between parent and child, pouring out into one another so that both may thrive. The love of a friend to a friend, like Braumann and I. The love of a man to a stranger, driven by a simple recognition of shared humanity. The love of a strong man to a weak man, like Braumann’s father to myself. A love so deep that it drove the universe forward. And this beautiful globe, this wonderful image, had invited me to participate.

    All my life I had spent watching. Watching hate as well as love. For the first time, I felt I had been beckoned to join. It was an irresistible call. I knew I must respond. How? I did not know. But that was not important at the moment. I had heard for the first time.

    Braumann’s wedding was magnificent. Undoubtedly it was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life up to that point. It took place not long after the Hyperion departed Earth. The ceremony took place in a great ballroom, with a two story window open to the stars. I was Braumann’s best man. He and Hailey recited their vows to each other, silhouetted against those glittering points of light that have inspired man for centuries. She was resplendent in her gown, and he glowed with pride and joy. When they kissed, I swear, the very foundations of the universe shook. Never had I known of a love as pure as the love these two selfless souls shared.

    Their families and friends danced the night away. Or at least what was technically the night, since we were in the midst of simultaneous darkness and light on our way to Jupiter. I sat and watched, smiling and laughing along. Though I could not dance, I still enjoyed seeing the pure joy on Braumann’s face, the radiant smile of Hailey, the lighthearted looks on the faces of Braumann and Hailey’s parents. Even my mother was happy, dancing and chatting with old friends she had not been able to socialize with in years, all brought together by the Braumanns’ generosity in sharing the gifts bestowed upon them by Cael Engineering. I was content.

    But during a lull between dances, I found that someone else was not content with me simply watching. Braumann and Hailey approached me, laughing and chattering to each other. The very sight of them lifted me higher than anything else could.

    “Oliver!” Hailey said, “Why don’t you dance with me?” I was taken aback. Dance? The thought had never occurred to me. I could not dance. Being confined to a wheelchair would not allow it. I began to stammer, and my heart sunk. It was impossible. Why ask me such an embarrassing question? My deformity would not allow me to dance with such a beautiful woman, no matter how I desired it. Evidently Braumann had anticipated my response, because he quickly chimed in.

    “Oliver! Don’t be bashful! You’re forgetting you’re in a hoverchair now, not a wheelchair! It will move with you, just raise it up a bit. Hailey will lead! Go on now…” Before I knew it, he had pushed me out to hold hands with his new wife, raised my level so that I was only a bit below eye-level with her, and before I knew it, I was alone with Hailey in the middle of the dance floor. I suddenly realized he was right. This was possible. And she wanted to dance with me. The orchestra swelled. A slow string piece was about to play. My spirits soared. This was all I ever wanted.

    We danced slowly in the middle of the floor, holding hands as she slowly swayed with me, being careful to maintain my balance. We were doing it. We were dancing. I was dancing. Dancing with the most beautiful woman in existence. She smiled at me, her teeth glittering in the light.

    “Oliver,” she whispered, leaning her head towards mine and tickling my ear, a most pleasant sensation, “thank you. I want to thank you.”

    “For what?” I asked, surprised at her statement. What could she have to thank me for?

    “For my husband. I would not have him if not for you.” As I gazed into her eyes, brimming with a rainbow of emotions, I realized what she meant. Braumann, afraid to deviate from his own well-defined plans for life, was not going to give Hailey a chance. He had tied her in his mind to all the lesser girls at our school. I had been the one to provoke him to think otherwise. I thought to all the conversations I had had with Braumann afterwards as he dated Hailey, working through his questions, his doubts, his emotions. I would not be the man I was without Braumann, and likewise, Braumann would not be the person Hailey had just married without me.

    “No…” I shook my head, fighting back tears, “thank you. Thank you for seeing in him what I have seen since I was a child.” But Hailey was already crying, and so I joined her. We smiled, sobbed, and slowly danced amongst the stars. I could have died then, in that moment, in the arms of such a wonderful person, in the midst of such loving people, knowing that my best friend would be truly happy for the rest of his life with a companion such as this.

    Now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain, while thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad in such an ecstasy! Such has the poet spoken, and so I thought on that wondrous night traveling across the stars.

    ***

    The celebration continued long after, and it could have gone on and on for all of eternity, and I would not have minded. The only interruption came towards the conclusion of the dancing, after the cutting of the cake and the father/daughter dance. Mr. Braumann took a microphone and stood in the center of the floor, the window to space at his back. He opened with a few jokes pointed at his son and new bride, most of it lighthearted mocking of Braumann’s punctual and rigid manner of conducting life. He turned serious for a moment, wishing his son and daughter-in-law all the best in their married life, tearing up as he described how incredibly proud he was. We all enthusiastically applauded him, and raised our glasses in a toast to Braumann and Hailey.

    After this, however, events took an unexpected turn. Mr. Braumann motioned for his son to join him in the center of the floor, and then turned towards me and pointed. I looked around for perhaps Mrs. Braumann, or the sisters. Could they be standing just behind me? But no, he was prompting me to come out and join them in the center. I hesitantly drifted out towards the center, squirming with discomfort at being at the center of attention once more. Mr. Braumann was beaming from ear to ear and held out a hand, welcoming me to his left. He put his hands on both of our shoulders, drawing us in towards him, realized that in order to do so he would not be able to speak into the microphone, and decided to simply speak without it.

    “There’s one more thing that I’d like to do on this momentous day,” he bellowed. “For those of you who do not know, this is Oliver, my son’s best friend since grade school. Together, I’ve watched these two grow from boys into men. I, and I know Alex, consider Oliver and his mother to be like family to us. I once told these guys that they could do whatever they set out to do. They are absolutely brilliant, as most of you know. But just as importantly, they have character.” He paused for a moment, before continuing. “It is this character that separates them from the ordinary. It is their character that makes them men. I have seen my son modify his first car to accommodate Oliver’s wheelchair, all on his own initiative. I have seen Oliver stay up with Alex late into the night, offering advice and ideas on his sometimes fruitless, but sometimes brilliant energy projects. I am proud to announce that my employers at Cael Engineering have seen the unique combination of character and genius in these two, and have offered them both entry-level research positions at their Experimental and Theoretical Development Facility on Callisto!”

    The room collectively gasped in excitement and astonishment. Not only prestigious positions in research for one of the most powerful and influential corporations in the solar system, but positions on one of the thriving subterranean moon colonies of Jupiter! I was astounded. I sank back in my hoverchair, mouth agape. Evidently Braumann had already known, for he beamed and embraced his father to the applause of the guests. They then turned to me, smiling as they had never smiled before. I knew not what to say.

    “Oliver,” Mr. Braumann grabbed my shoulders, “you and Alex are a pair the only comes around once a generation. I believe you two could work wonders if you accept.” My mind flashed back to that day at the dinner table, when he had looked at us, challenging us. Dream, dream beautifully. I thought of my own dream, born just a day before, and how perfectly Mr. Braumann had just made that dream possible.

    “I accept! Of course I accept!” I chuckled, then laughed, grabbing Braumann and his father, pulling them towards me to embrace. We laughed. We all laughed.

    After the celebration, after the dancing, after Braumann and Hailey had departed to their honeymoon suite, after the Braumanns and their guests all had collapsed back in their rooms, exhausted from the day’s affairs, my mother and I wandered aimlessly around the corridors of the Hyperion, looking out at the majestic emptiness of space.

    “Ollie… I’m so proud of you, son, I’m so proud.”

    It was the last time any of us felt truly, perfectly happy.

    ***

    About two days later, as I sat on an observation deck playing around with three-dimensional models on the computer built into the arm of my hoverchair, I felt a slight jolt. Almost imperceptible. The constant hum of the sub-light engines, unnoticeable before, became more pronounced. I looked outside. The stars began to pass at a gradually increasing rate. The Hyperion had picked up speed. No announcement was made, and no one else seemed to notice. Except for Mr. Braumann.

    “Oliver, please tell me I wasn’t the only one to notice we’re moving faster than before,” he whispered to me at dinner two hours later, “I didn’t want to disturb the missus about it, but we’re definitely traveling quicker.” I nodded in agreement. Our cruise was to take us about a week and a half to get to the subterranean cities on Callisto (a convenient destination, the significance of which I did not realize originally). A leisurely voyage. But now we were rushing.

    “I noticed, but I’m not sure why. Maybe some technical problem with the ship?” Mr. Braumann grunted, a dour expression on his face. He was disturbed. He pulled his portable tablet from his pocket and fiddled with it for a few moments. His look changed to one of agitation.

    “Strange, the universal network is out…” Instead he logged onto the ship’s isolated network, filled with all internet data available at launch and internal data. “There’s nothing wrong according to the ship’s site…” We resumed our meal, but spoke not another word. Mr. Braumann, I could tell, was not satisfied. Later in the evening, as I sat in the main room of our section of the ship, watching the flickering flames of the fireplace, he approached me in a bit of a frenzy.

    “Still no universal network… something’s wrong here. I’ve tried to ask stewards, servers, housekeeping staff, any officers I’ve come across, but nothing. No one will say anything. I’m almost thinking of calling Alex, but I don’t want to disturb my son on his honeymoon…” Mr. Braumann sat down in one of the couches alongside me and furrowed his brow. We sat there together, watching the fireplace in silence. The hum of the engines seemed to grow louder and louder, not in an audible way, but in a way that we felt in our bodies. As if the buildup to some great climactic moment. But that moment never came. The engines propelled us forward, faster and faster, hurtling through space, keeping us in perpetual agony.

    At breakfast the next morning, our worries were finally acknowledged. The loudspeakers of the ship crackled during our meal, and a strong but struggling voice burst for all to hear.

    “Good morning, all. This is the captain of the Hyperion speaking. I apologize for the inconvenience, but due to circumstances beyond our control, we will be arriving at Callisto later today, a few days earlier than originally anticipated. You will be compensated for your trip due to this trouble. We do sincerely apologize. Arrangements for the continuation of your voyage and accommodations will be made when we arrive at Callisto. Again, our sincerest apologies. Please prepare your belongings for debarkation later today. Thank you for your cooperation.” A murmur rose and fell through the large dining hall, as passengers looked quizzically at each other. Mr. Braumann glanced at me, then rose.

    “That’s it…I’m getting to the bottom of this.” I suppose he intended to use his newfound reputation in Cael Engineering to weasel some information he otherwise would not be privy to. Time would tell. He certainly rose and left in quite a determined fashion. He had that look that I saw quite often in Braumann, a certain resoluteness and purpose. I knew he would find the answers he sought.

    But now I missed Braumann. Somewhere, clear on the other side of the ship, Braumann and Hailey were enjoying their honeymoon. Did he know what was going on? Surely not, or he would have contacted us. I missed him. I missed him dearly.

    ***

    Several hours later, I sat alone in the luxurious suite my mother and I occupied. There was a sharp knock on the door. I moved over and opened it. Mr. Braumann pushed past me in a hurry, and to my astonishment, there was Braumann behind him. He came in silently, hardly acknowledging me. His eyes were hollow and void. I turned to face them. I knew that whatever Mr. Braumann had discovered was about to be revealed. I sat in silence and waited.

    “Oliver…” Mr. Braumann started, then stopped. Braumann had gone deeper into our room and stood staring out of the suite’s window to the outside. He could see Jupiter growing larger and larger as we approached. “You must promise to not speak a word of this to anyone until we disembark…” I nodded. Mr. Braumann breathed in long and deeply. He opened his mouth to speak, but did not. Could not.

    “Earth has been destroyed.” Braumann finally said for his father, without turning from the window. He just stared. Stared out the viewport. Staring, staring. Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget, what thou among the stars hast never known.

    ***

    We arrived at Callisto silent, silent as a grave. On any other voyage I would have been captivated by the black moon orbiting Jupiter, that magnificent gas giant. I would have been fascinated by how the Hyperion docked into the very bowels of the moon itself, how we emerged underground into a subterranean metropolis that could very well have been the Northeastern industrial sprawls on Earth. But Earth was gone, and Callisto was silent. Callisto was mourning.

    It played over and over on the news, wherever one turned. Triton, the human colony on a moon of Neptune, had taken one too many orders from the United Nations on Earth. Its people longed for autonomy, so burdened were they by the oppressive financial demands of humanity. So oppressed were they, so robbed of their economic liberty, that they built a weapon. Secretly, slowly, they created a weapon of regional destruction, a powerful beam device that could be fired from space onto any planetary surface. They planned to hold the United Nations hostage. They were not being fairly represented, thus they would demand that their interests be recognized. They did not wish to take life. They simply wished to make a point.

    Their ship, the Tartarus, arrived at Earth with an accompanying flotilla a day after we left on the Hyperion. They issued an ultimatum with various demands, most of them moving towards independence from the United Nations. To demonstrate both their will and their power, the Tartarus turned its powerful weapon on an empty patch of water in the South Pacific. They fired their doomsday device, unaware of its true power. The blast itself killed no one. But the firing of the weapon had torn a hole in the atmosphere. The superheated laser combusted the oxygen present in the world’s protective covering as it tore through, setting off a terrible chain reaction. Within a few moments, and to the horror of those aboard the vessels, Earth’s atmosphere ceased to exist.

    The power of the blast was enough to upset the entire makeup of the planet’s protection against vacuum, and with the surface suddenly vulnerable to space a tragedy on a planetary scale unfolded. Air rushed out into the void, pulling with it people, animals, objects. The sudden lack of air pressure made playthings of centuries of man’s dominion over the Earth, smashing and destroying both humans and their creations. Within the space of several minutes, the entire globe was mere ash and ruin. From dust had man come. To dust he had returned.

    Genocide. Genocide on a planetary scale. I could not fathom the nightmare in which I lived. Earth, Mother Earth, gone. That beautiful creation. She had called to me. She had invited me. She was dead. Murdered by selfish man. Man had destroyed the place that had born him. Man had forsaken his cradle. Man had thumbed his nose at his creator. Man had committed suicide.

    Billions had died. Billions of lives snuffed out by the arrogance of a few men on Triton who had decided they were greater than those on Earth, their ancestors and leaders. Their heritage. They had forsaken all of humanity. And thus, humanity forsook them.

    The news reports, blasting from every window, screen, and speaker on Callisto told me of the swift retribution that had been brought upon the fools of Triton. They had destroyed the well-spring of life in the galaxy, and thus they would be made to pay. The entrances to their underground cities were pummeled until they collapsed. The rebels would die buried under the weight of their sins.

    Already I could see humanity crumbling without the shining jewel of creation to guide them. At another time, as I drifted aimlessly through the streets of Callisto, I would have marveled at the engineering miracle that was a subterranean city. Skyscrapers built not of glass and metal, but rather carved into the rock of the moon itself; rivers flowing from deep pools even further underground, feeding the self-sustaining industrial farms that mass-produced food to be consumed by the population. Man’s greatest achievement had been to bury himself underground. And humanity certainly belonged underground, burying his head in shame for destroying the greatest gift ever given to him. I saw it in the faces of all I passed. There was no meaning for them anymore. What would they do without the beautiful Gaia to guide them, to lead them, to inspire them? The common thread of humanity had been severed. We were hopeless.

    In the weeks and months to follow, there was weeping, there was mourning, there was anger. I distanced myself, as I often did, and watched. The scattered colonies attempted to unify, they formed a hodgepodge system of order. They needed each other to survive. No one colony was fully equipped to survive on its own. But as had occurred to me almost immediately, and the colonies slowly realized, without the bounty of the natural Earth and her resources, there was no way to sustain the current populations with the tools that each colony had. Humanity could survive, that was certain, but many would die. Many would starve. Earth was irreplaceable.

    Braumann and I began our work at Cael Engineering. It was hollow, meaningless work. The ships we originally were supposed to help design were now obsolete. The cargoes they were intended to carry were to be from Earth. Earth was no more. The energy systems Braumann had so rigorously fine-tuned as a teenager, so efficient and revolutionary, were designed to harness the natural elements on Earth. They were useless on Callisto, where the most efficient energy was derived from mining the precious resources of the moon itself. My theories on the way to maximize civilian capacity on vessels using existing technology were rendered meaningless, considering there was now no demand for such capacity, so reduced was the human population. I sat one night in Braumann’s apartment: him, me, and Hailey. Hailey had cooked dinner after a long day of us theorizing for Cael on possible solutions to the imminent population decline.

    “Damn it, Oliver, we’re technical engineers, not social engineers! We don’t know what we’re doing! We’re wasting our time…” he threw a pen at the wall, and kicked back from the table in his chair. He sat seething. I sat opposite Braumann at the far end of the table, able to look past him out the window at the twinkling city behind him. He had prime real estate on Callisto. As if that even mattered anymore.

    “Alex…” Hailey said softly from her spot next to him, trying to stroke and soothe her husband, “humanity needs the brightest minds it can get working on survival, regardless of their expertise. We no longer have the luxury of experts…” Braumann looked at her sadly.

    “I know…” he sighed, “it…it’s just all so futile… we’re helpless. No matter what we do, how we redistribute the people between the colonies, no matter how we press our food production to the limit, without the steady reserve of supplies from Earth, several million will die. Several million more! On top of the billions already dead…” I sat silent and thought for a few moments.

    “We need Earth back…” I said, partly to myself. Hailey shot me a disapproving look. She had calmed Braumann back down again, and here I was, stirring him up again. And I did stir him up again.

    “Oh, well if only it was that simple, smartass! Just sit there in your floating chair and jabber some unhelpful nonsense at me like you always do!” Hailey gasped at her husband’s outburst, but I knew he did not mean it. He was angry. He was beaten down. We all were. I was. The trauma of losing the one thing permanent in the universe, the permanence of home, had scarred us all deeply. Tensions were high. Suicide rates were rising by the week. We were at the end of all hope. Brumann stormed from the table, shaking off the restraining hand of his wife, and made as if to leave.

    “But what if we could bring it back?” I said, a bit louder than I usually spoke. Braumann paused.

    “And how would we do that? Dig underground, build another subterranean city? That won’t solve our problem. We need Earth’s crops, her trees, her animals, her natural elements, her environment. We can’t just recreate that! Not without an atmosphere.”

    “But what if we built an atmosphere?”

    “Ha!” Braumann snorted. “Around the whole planet! And with what? You can’t just make the atmosphere!”

    “Not around the whole planet…just a part of it. Perhaps a couple of square miles at first. Recreate Earth on a minute scale, then gradually keep increasing it, redevelop the environment inch by inch, yard by yard.” I stared at Braumann. He stared back. I could see the gears turning inside. He sat down. I had engaged him.

    “That’s a wonderful idea, Oliver, but again, we can’t just make the atmosphere.”

    “We don’t make the atmosphere…we simulate it.” At this Braumann leaned back, eyeing me curiously. I had him on the same track as me now. It was Hailey’s turn to doubt me.

    “How exactly would you simulate it?” she asked incredulously.

    “Shielding technology.” I replied. I looked at Braumann. “You were just telling me before we left on the Hyperion that shielding was becoming advanced enough to be projected. We project a shield dome that filters like Earth’s atmosphere did, develop the ground within like Earth was before the Tartarus, and then continually expand it until, one day perhaps, we can reclaim the whole planet.” It sounded absurd, I knew it did, Braumann knew it did, Hailey knew it did. But Braumann’s father had once told me to dream beautifully. And this was exactly what I was doing. This was not practical. But it was worth trying.

    “Alright then, how are we going to power the shield?” Braumann asked me. He was leaning forward now, still skeptical, but hoping against hope we might be onto something. “We don’t have the resources to power a planet-wide energy field.”

    “Perhaps the heat conducting system you were working on for Earth originally…” I offered. Braumann shook his head.

    “No…that was specifically for Earth’s environment… solar energy wouldn’t work, those shields might dilute the rays, unless we placed it outside the shielding itself…but even if we did that, that won’t be enough to power a grid that will hopefully be continually expanding. And without the atmosphere to protect it in the first place, who knows how it might respond. Besides, the sheer amount of energy that would be required to fuel the shield if you could ever cover the whole planet…” Braumann sat and puzzled for a few more moments. I looked out the window, disappointed in myself. It was just all childish dreaming. I knew hardly anything about the shielding technology itself anyway. Perhaps it could not do what I wanted it to do. Perhaps we should resign ourselves to an existence underground.

    Underground…

    “The Earth’s core!” I shouted, bolting upright in my hoverchair. Braumann glared at me, his brow furrowed, trying to read my meaning, but then he got it.

    “Yes! Yes! By God, we’ll dig to the Earth’s core! We have the equipment! We built Callisto, why not dig to the center of Earth? There, all that heat, all the energy we need! For anything! Why not try? Yes!” Braumann jumped up from his chair, ran around the table to me, and kissed me on the cheek. “We’ll establish a power grid first, a base, underground research, we’ll work when the Earth is shrouded in darkness! We’ll experiment and tinker and strive until we can restore her!” Braumann paced back and forth as Hailey and I watched, brimming with excitement ourselves. “We might not solve it, our children might not solve it, but eventually someone will! Someone will recreate the atmosphere! And they’ll have the power to do it! The core! God, Oliver, you just resurrected Mother Earth!”

    In that moment all I saw was Braumann’s father as I saw him that day back in their lake-house, when he waxed eloquently of the things we would do, of the worlds we would create. I never thought we could recreate one. Earth had once invited me to create beauty. That dream had died. But it had risen.

    ***

    It took years. It took decades, actually. Forty years of work. But eventually we did it. Mr. Braumann proposed our idea, our simple idea. Cael Engineering proposed the idea to Callisto, then Callisto proposed it to the Colonial government, which embraced it. It was embraced not for its feasibility, but for the hope that it offered. It was a noble dream, a beautiful dream. A dream to resurrect Earth. It gave humanity a reason to unite, a reason to live, a reason to persevere.

    We built an underground city, monitoring the energy pipeline we built from the core to the surface. It was there that we studied, tested, and experimented. We funneled the energy directly from the core to the surface of the Earth, now simply dust and ash, and pushed it directly into creating an energy shield. We tweaked and tested, altered and adjusted. We completely deconstructed the projector at one point to rework the shield so that it could better imitate the former natural atmosphere. Ten years we spent building our subterranean energy source, ten more years we spent designing a shield that could emulate the atmosphere. I remember the day that it happened. One brave astronaut stepped out above ground in the midst of small shield dome, into which we had pumped oxygen, and removed his gear, standing in just his jumpsuit. If our scientists had failed, he would either suffocate or die of some sort of ray poisoning thanks to inadequate protection from the sun. He spent an entire month there, given food, water, and supplies from below the surface. He came back for tests, and we found him to be clean. We rejoiced.

    For twenty years we worked to reclaim a small patch of our planet. We excavated soil from deep below ground and laid it over top. We dug a river and ran water through it. We irrigated plots of farm land. We reintroduced plant life. We resurrected what little wildlife we could. We grew trees. After twenty years we had reclaimed twenty square miles of Earth: beautiful, peaceful, prosperous.

    A small village was placed on the surface. Of those happy few chosen to live above ground, the first civilian humans to do so anywhere in the solar system since the tragedy, I was blessed with the opportunity to be one. The Earth had called to us. She had called to us to save her, and we had answered. One agriculturist I spoke with claimed that the revitalized soil was even more fertile than it was before the Tartarus fired her infamous warning shot. He may have engaged in just a bit of hopeful and wishful thinking, but I like to think that perhaps Mother Earth, in her own way, was welcoming back her children.

    ***

    Yes, yes. This world, this village, this patch of life restored where there had once been death; this was my life’s work. This was my masterpiece. This moment, overlooking the serene pastures glowing in the dying sun was the beauty that I had been called to create. The Concord and the Unity, both brought supplies from the underground dwellings whose purpose I had conceived. I had brought life back to the Earth. And she rewarded me with her beauty.

    Her beauty was rapturous, inviting. She called to me. But for what? I had done my duty. I had been called to create, and thus I had recreated. The flowing, pulsing energy field flowing up from the depths below; that was my creation. I had made all this possible. And so I watch.

    I watch, as I have watched for years before! Sixty years of watching. I watched the children on the playground, I watched my classmates at school, I watched Braumann grow, marry, love, innovate, create. I watched his family thrive. I watched our world destroyed. I watched humanity at the brink. I watched our world reborn. I watched all things terrible and beautiful. I watched the nightingale.

    But though I was born a cripple, bound and limited, I did not simply watch. I acted. Only after much observation and thought, but I did eventually act. It was I that encouraged Braumann to pursue his studies, to develop his keen mind. I ensured that Braumann would not dismiss Hailey. I convinced Braumann that resurrecting our home was in fact possible. I had made life beautiful for him, my one true friend. I have made life possible for countless souls to come, living and loving on this divine stage we call Earth. I have done what Mr. Braumann told me to do: dream beautifully. I have done what Mother Earth called me to do: create beauty.

    And here I am, watching. Watching my creation. Will I ever participate? I have made it possible for Braumann to love Hailey, and for Hailey to love Braumann, for them to experience a true, pure, sacrificial love. But what of me? I have never experienced a love so pure. What of a family? Will I ever have a family? My mother is dead, my father is doubtless dead. He forsook me long ago. Braumann’s family. They were close, but I was still the cripple. Braumann’s cripple friend. Mr. Braumann called me a son once, but that was simply him. Not the whole of their family. And here I sit, atop a mountain that I have made possible, that I have dreamed, that I have created, yet I am still separated from this wondrous beauty. I am trapped in my hoverchair. I could never experience that exhilarating freedom, that communion with the Earth itself. Always must I have a mediator between the experience of the truly wonderful and myself.

    I push my hoverchair forwards slightly, towards the edge of the cliff. I will get as close as I can to experiencing this magnificent world. I look out. The ships, those wonderful ships. They are free. They roam the stars without care. But I, I am shackled. I have no legs to travel with. In the distance, I see children running through a field, laughing and playing. Their parents follow farther back, picking their way through the golden meadow, shining in the evening hue. The river flows, the children laugh, the sun sets, the ships dock. This is truly a moment of splendor. My moment. My creation.

    I could die in this moment.

    “Now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain, while thou art pouring for thy soul abroad in such an ecstasy!” These words come unbidden, from deep within, some unremembered song from a time long past. Yes. My work is complete. It is finished. To die in such a moment, to die seeing the fruits of my labor. Yes, this is how it should be. I drive myself closer to the edge. Farewell, fairest Earth. Farewell, Braumann. It was not mine to participate. It was mine to create for others to enjoy. My life is nothing. I close my eyes and prepare to push myself forward out of my chair, to plummet to the fields below.

    A warbling interrupts me. The nightingale! She has returned! That wonderful, heavenly melody, fluttering high and low. A wondrous song. An other-worldly song. I pull back for a moment. I listen. I look. Yes, there she is, perched on a branch. She pauses, notices me watching. She hops up and down the branch. I smile. You, I think, you must be an angel. The moment overwhelms me; this tiny creature somehow able to interrupt a passage between life and death. I whistle at her, a quaint little tune, paling in comparison to hers, but a tune nonetheless. I want to speak with such a marvelous being.

    She flutters off the branch, and my heart and soul plummet for a brief moment. But then, in that painful and agonizing moment between call and answer, I realize she is not flying away. She is flying to me. She lands, precious nightingale, on the arm of my hoverchair. And she sings, sings like no other bird has ever sung, pouring out whatever life force she carries in a melody for the ages.

    “Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain – to thy high requiem become a sod.” How could I die? How could I kill myself, even in the most perfect of moments, when such beauty still exists? For whom does this nightingale sing, if not for me? All my life I had resigned myself to either enabling or watching all that is good in existence. But here, this little bird, this marvelous, delicate creature, had sung not to me, but with me.

    I turn to look upon the world before me: the vibrant trees, the fertile land, the luminous nature of it all. It was not mine. I had not created it. I was simply an instrument. The cosmos would go on, driving forward in ceaseless beauty. I had simply been chosen for a higher purpose. As was Braumann, as was Hailey, as was this nightingale. Who am I to deprive creation of myself, to refuse its call in the time I still had left? I would be just like the men that had destroyed this place: arrogant and foolhardy, wasteful and prideful. My work is not done. This nightingale, sitting, staring, chirping, had reminded me of this, the great truth that I had forgotten. Beauty is an invitation, an eternal invitation. I had heard, and I had taken part.

    Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! Let us dream together.

    ***
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Beautiful writing.
     
    fmmarcy likes this.
  3. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    Excellent story. It was really good to see a story with a disabled person as the protagonist and so beautifully written.
     

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