Delicate Ministrations (2017)

Read excerpts from Delicate Ministrations, including selections from the novelettes The Unlighted Sentinel and Liminal.

From The Unlighted Sentinel

We burn so little light, use no more electricity than we need. V-Station once depended upon energy from the Dyson array, batteries supplied by long-range cargo. Station’s builders never dreamt we’d operate a standalone rig.

Months ago I sat with Erinth, crouched inside our most secret hideaway. She laid her pale hand on my dark skin, and she smiled.

“Why don’t we commit suicide together?” she said.

I pulled away from her. “What?”

“We could leap from point-five gee, along one of the spokes—splat against the outer bulkhead. Or we could find one of the old airlocks and figure out how to override it. Whoosh! All gasping and skin burning from the cold and our insides boiling till we freeze dry or explode.”

“What’s gotten into you?” My lip curled.

“You’re so silly.” She laughed. “Of course I don’t want to kill myself. But why is that? Here we are, going round and round Safis in this pathetic, piece-of-shit garbage can, and for what? Why fall in love? Why have children? Why do anything at all? Sooner or later something’s going to break down and nobody’s going to know how to fix it, and we’ll all suffocate or burn or freeze or turn on each other like they did in the first days.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Of course I do. You do too.”

I lifted a shoulder, taking her hand again. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“How do you figure?” she asked.

“It just doesn’t. We can make Station better.”

She laughed again, so loud I feared someone would hear us. “You’re such an optimist, Caleb.”

“An optimist?”

“A complete idiot.”

“Stop being mean.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, kissing my cheek. “Listen to me, this is what I wish—I wish we could learn how to travel the stars again. I wish we could leave this place forever, go anywhere we wished, just you and me.”

I looked into her eyes and smiled. “Me too.”

Two hours later, she left me, and since the announcement of our arranged marriage, I have not seen her again.

From Liminal

II: Spirit of Place

In four standard days and some hours, Marya’s silvered corvette entered low Earth orbit, and she gained the Warren’s landing clearance. This marked her first return to the cradle of her birth in decades, only her ninth since first leaving it. She parked the corvette’s hefty interplanetary engines, its long-distance hardware, and detached the sleek flier. Above the piloting womb, three glued-on figurines—the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre—protruded from the dash, the kinds of resin miniatures bought by tourists in a former era.

The flier rattled through entry and glided through the atmosphere. On Earth’s nightside, clusters of light encircled ParLon, Warsaw, Petersburg, Rome, Delhi, Beijing, Tokyo, and two dozen other cosmopolises. Each dappled glow fell within in a strict sixty-four-kilometer diameter—sometimes double circles, like ParLon—leaving only darkness outside its influence.

In North America, the Circles encompassed Manhattan, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, VanSeaTac, and SanFran. Marya approached her destination, gliding the corvette at two kilometers, enjoying a tapestried view of the lands once called Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado. Hints of the Jeffersonian grid persisted, sans the long-ago expanses of farmland, now restored to buffalo grasses and forests. Abandoned infrastructures scarred the wild tapestry, remnants of highways or railroads or canals. To the north, a million bison painted the grasslands a dusky brown, a vast herd wandering eastward.

Marya overflew Denver, slowed, and circled its ruins. Decades ago, before the Warren herded the Unchanged—those Homo sapiens—into the Circles, an artists’ collective had transformed the ruins into a haunting marked site: twisted expressivist steel, shattered concrete, and broken brick laid into a ten-kilometer-radius helix, centered on what had once been Confluence Park. They’d intended it as a form of protest, an assertion of their humanity, an act of defiance larger than any Robert Smithson, grander than any Christo and Jeanne-Claude. No treaties protected the Denver Spiral, but nonetheless it survived. The Unmakers let it remain.

For some moments, Marya gave herself over to admiration, then flew south.

Ten minutes later she landed the corvette behind the crags of the Dakota Ridge, on high ground between the Queens Canyon and Fountain Creeks, in a field brimming with brittle late-autumn sage. She climbed from the corvette’s piloting womb, dressed, and checked her appearance in a reflected screen: amethyst-violet eyes gazing back at themselves. Beside the screen sat an ancient and empty bottle of Le Fée Absinthe, a memento of the Green Fairy herself.

On arrival, Marya’s Earth-side density measured low, even considering her muscular densities—forty-five kilos—so she increased it while making other small adjustments to her physiology. She lowered the ship’s gangway, but before descending it she retrieved a three-hundred-year-old brass key from beside her sleeping-berth.

A house key.