This story was previously published in an ebook anthology ‘Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever’ Edited by Phoenix Sullivan, under a different name, before I adopted the pen name Cypress Butane.
“I wouldn’t know.”
“You wouldn’t know, huh?” He smiled at her as if he could find her secret with his eyes. Lift her gaze to meet his. “You wear it but you don’t know where you got it.”
“It‟s just a ring.” She held her hand over it to hide it from him. She didn’t want him to talk to her anymore.
It didn’t matter if he knew where she got it or if she was supposed to have it, she wanted to be left alone.
“Yeah, alright. Your father is in his office. Go ahead up.”
It proved to her once again that her father’s work was not a place she wanted to be. But she had promised to visit him and he was gone so much of the time.
The ring, which he had given her, was brought back from there. It was all over the news and people practically boiled over in the halls and meeting rooms of the high tech station where he was staying. The scientific find which signified first contact with another species; of an abandoned colony on one of the newly discovered planets. The earth, which was just beginning interstellar travel and colonization, had already found evidence of alien life. The theory was there would be living civilizations discovered soon, nearby.
She walks down the corridor to his office.
“Hello Geri,” her father says as she comes in. The room is like entering a museum. She is suddenly full grown.
She’s already realized she loves the ring. She realized when he gave it to her. Before he told her where it was from even. A shimmering glassy material in a multicolorful band, smooth all around.
When she sees the pictures of the planet it came from up in his office she believes in the distance between the stars. The lost civilization makes some sense in existing. She hadn’t thought of it as real before. But his office seems set up to point to evidence to convince her. She makes a perfunctory hello and stands at the side of his desk to drop her backpack.
A young red haired man in a suit and tie comes in practically behind her.
“Sir, you have a phone call from.. a… Doctor.. Wukovits? He‟s calling about the… condensed life theory?”
“OK, I‟ll take it in here. Sorry, I have to talk to this person.” She gestures an indifference.
“Yes, hello Doctor.”
She walks around his desk to get a closer look at the images of the planet and some pictures
of buildings on what must have been its surface.
“Yes, of course I’m familiar with the anthropic principles, and what you’re saying does make sense, although these theories are all a bit… conjectural.”
One picture must have been taken by an aspiring amateur photographer, and could have been the illustration for a book of pastoral poems about wheelbarrows and such things, except the alien versions, as whatever it depicts looks like a cross between a gavel and a mini scythe, next to some kind of barrel with two compartments.
“Well, yes, if there are aliens on every other star I suppose we might have to worry about resources, but on the other hand what if it was only us?” his tone and a brief eye meeting indicates to his daughter that he is humoring the Doctor. She looks at him and shares a smile.
He stands up and walks to the window and enters the tone of voice that seeks to end a phone call.
While she’s waiting for him to get off the phone, she sits in his swivel chair and, spinning back and forth, studies the titles on his bookshelf. Astrophysics and Technology , Alien Civilizations: Projections of the Mind , The Mind of Man in Space . He has made up his mind on
possibilities. She admires him deeply. And tries to imagine what it would be like to have his knowledge. Almost like having built a space station inside oneself, a stepping stone to the stars. It could give one a firmer grasp on one’s home planet. But she always wonders where he really lives. With no memory of her Mother, he is the earth and stars, and space as well.
The phone is cradled.
“You said you don‟t know much about them. I saw it on TV.”
“Well, we know a lot about them, but there‟s so much to know, it’s hard to say what a whole race is like.”
She thinks about it.
“We know they look something like us, and had a similar evolutionary history. And their technology was about at the level ours is now.”
“But you don’t know what happened to them.”
He leans against his desk. “It could have been a couple of things,” he breathes, a tape recorder pause, like he doesn’t want to be quoted on it, by her even. “They could have been in a war…
“Or maybe they left the planet because the colony wasn’t doing well. Or they might have died out. Or maybe they just abandoned the place, for whatever reason. We’ve barely done any study on it so we can’t say anything for certain.”
“Are these pictures from there?” She asks, pointing to an album on his desk.
“Yep,” he says, gesturing for her it‟s ok to look at them.
It isn’t like looking at a group of images from a TV show where they show you a ship landing on an alien world, and you see the headquarters of their government and everything is stylized to look like a certain culture, with one taste, uniform and homogenized. Instead it is much like Earth today, and more so just a handful of years back before the big thrust for more planning in cities’ constructions, with buildings of all sorts and jumbled purposes clashing and rising up against each other in the mostly natural landscape. Like a soft grid of streets ambaging a metropolitan community, nerve-center, with strong industrial capability. It looks run down by a few decades of overgrowth and decay, rusted and jungled. Resources and terrain, technology and construction methods, make it alien, but the same would make it home.
“So they’re going back then.”
“Yeah, and soon.”
“You’ll probably be going with them.”
“I‟m not sure.”
“Sounds like the opening to a horror movie.”
* * *
Riding her bike home, she thinks about what her father is doing. Everyone knows who her father is. She’s popular at school. She goes into her bedroom, surrounded by all of the books she’s bought since junior high, from popular science thrillers to philosophy, non-fiction on “The Varieties of Religious Experience‟ and “Art and Aesthetics‟, “Metaphysics‟ and “Being and Nothingness‟. And thinks about the hype everywhere. She could have any boy she wants.
I mean!– She thinks, if any of those newscasters busy bothering all those scientists up at where Dad works discovered this bookshelf! And thought that this bookshelf were from outer space… They‟d put more work into studying these texts… than they had into anything else in their lives. At least for a while. And they’ll never pick them up besides.
People are stupid.
If I grow up to be the writer I hope to be, she thinks again, I’ll put that in a book.
Or no, she thinks. I won’t. Some things you shouldn’t write down. That…
That would be saying too much, maybe. It’s a truth everyone should see so obviously. It’d be obscene to put it down.
Yes, she decides, I won’t write it down. I’ll keep that one for myself. And she does, just then, and wraps it around herself to keep.
I imagine the civilization out there… is much like ours, she thinks. They may be surprised to meet us, or they may have met many such civilizations. Maybe they’ll change us somehow, when we meet them. Maybe it will change us all.
She sprawls out on the bed. It’s nice to have someone to think about, the planet thinks, she thinks. But really, life here is life here. And that shouldn’t change. At least, she means… she
wants to think about her own life, and the things going on at school, with her friends, with the boys she talks to. There’s a lot going on right here, even in this boring capeside town, she thinks, as she drifts off to sleep.
* * *
“I thought you were still working on the Pre-Columbian excavation?” she says across the table. He’s finally home for dinner.
“The one you said was going to bring up more answers to man’ss history.. than… Any dig in history… And was the most important thing you ever did? And? You’sre just… quitting, what you work… worked, so hard on?”
“They need someone to head up the offworld excavation. They asked me. I couldn’st say no. It wouldn’t be right.”
“What does that even mean!?” She puts her fork down loudly.
“You know I always go with you on your trips,” she says. “But I can’t go with you offworld.”
“So I’m just stuck here, pretty much by myself.”
“I know, but… It means so much for us. It‟s a big opportunity! I can’t stay on an old project when the state of the art is being written out there!”
“Who cares about the state of the art?”
“Geri, this could mean so much more for man! It’s a chance to give all my previous work a context that has been… lacking.”
She waits. She palls. It isn’t an affront to her. It is a statement that just makes her wonder about the man her father is. And that makes her wonder about all men. And he sees it in her eyes.
She starts—almost stands up too as she exclaims loudly– “Letting things go—“ She struggled for words– “Isn’t the virtue you think it is!”
Then she does stand, and storms to her bedroom.
* * *
She holds her hand out with the ring, into the night, spreading her fingers and feels a web running in her bones that expands past her physical hand, — to everything, at the point where it cruxes, reaching to the sky…
She doesn’t go to the launch, but she can somewhat see the small transport take off, and even visible is the ship her father will meet in orbit, on this clear night.
The ship hovers in the sky like a blinking reminder for a higher nature and a lesser world. She’s used to seeing UFO‟s in these skies. The arc of the expunged fuel from the transport engulfs the moon in its curve, turning the horizon into a jackknifed dream.
She thumbs the ring on her middle finger with her thumb like playing a string on an instrument and tilts her head down and starts to run after the ship, so far above and so far away.
When you hang something up in your room, and only later realize what it is all about, you understand how the mind works. That’s how it was with her and the plastic glow in the dark stars, and the images of the moons and planets around the ceiling.
Because there is a meaning that you find later that was waiting for you to realize it… only now do you see how it really relates to you, and somehow you knew you would realize it, and that’s why you started the series of events. Why you decorated the walls, why you chose to come in contact with the meaning, and it’s like what must start a thunderstorm. Some fuse jump of
electricity like a neuron firing. And maybe she never wanted to think of the stars. Like that. Like beacons from all the individual could-be homes, so distant and calling…
But she knew she’d not be at home on one of them, looking at their pale imitations, their perfect imitations. She lies in her bed beneath the cool blanket and wishes to stay on her home world, in this bed, and find one to land on. Maybe one where they give you a ring to let you know you belong. And she holds on to the ring, and listens to the cool breeze of night, and breathes in with her eyes closed.
* * *
She decides to bury it.
She takes the automatic shovel from the garage. The moon watched her carry it along the back fence to the yard where the motion light came on and bathed her in a weary yellow light.
Watched it churn up the soil as she poked it into the firm but yielding earth.
And then… pausing…
Tossed her care below.
Neatly covers the site. For future archaeologists to discover. Perhaps after we’re all gone.
And walked away. Thumbing the possession she still kept, having only pretended, like playing a string on an instrument, twirling in the moonlight and dancing beneath it, running ahead to catch a ride.