W. Gregory Stewart
MAYFLOWER IV: Launched July 7, 2031
If endangered butterflies had farted in Sri Lanka,
blogworts from Boston to Yonkers
would have flamed it in a week.
That was then, and back home – now,
we have no butterflies, no Boston
(nor evidence that there are Yonkers left to –
well, whatever yonking is -at all), so
before I leave, I’ll thaw the cockroaches, set them free, and wave –
and, maybe – maybe – that says it all.
Va. coming out of cryo is nothing like waking up, nothing
like crawling out from under anesthesia
and starting the gradual climb back to –
well – this. all of this, spread out against the sky.
there is in that, ‘stead, a single unending moment
while the medulla spiders up from ice,
during which you are the center of
the nanowires –
inserted in the brain/cord complex when you went cold –
are stim’d hard, no longer e-bleeding
their slow drip of electrons
(to keep the downbrain lowcharged), instead
warmed first near the stem and then up, out, and radial, and down,
and carrying now real current
while finepoint laser-guided microwave styli track
capillaries back and forward,
and dance along the larger nerve bundles,
and when – suddenly –
you are awake, you are not-awake-only-aware
you are in hell, not gradually,
you are a block of ice, screaming, mouthless, at the heart,
of a beast you do not love –
agonistes on the halfshell with garnish and matte black –
want hugely to hurl
everything hurts beyond anything like pain.
if there is an psycho-Venn intersect of
death by fire and acid
death by crushing and drowning
death by despair and claustrophobic hysteria
and – really – no release of death,
it is, coming out of cryo…
I came out of cryo, weeping, sobbing, racked, and I will never go back –
which is of course all that was expected of me.
Of us, I mean – of us, and of us, and of us…
II. 10 pods, 5 prayers. a tractor ship. 500 souls. on ice.
and a hectannum ahead – give, take (taking, taken, will have toked) –
the seed scout
(seeking G2s with rocks in the range –
wet rocks or nearby ice-roids, either –
hauling the latter as necessary
for the building of seas – or large lakes, at least –
to jumpstart the littoral scum puddle
cradle of humanity’s next new home and its gods.
something with free oxygen, life or not,
tho’ likely so; casting
certain viro-bacts if so, and – so or not – nitrobacts
and prokaryotes, anaerobes and cyanobacts, lichen, algae –
scatter ye life, Bud, while ye may. spores of scores of – well, whatever
worthwhile species had been deemed needed
Artemia eggs over the waters (salt), and
clover seed, the land – I like
to think some secret wag/wit/whim hid
apple seeds in that sack – infecting what it can and…)
leaving a trail of breadcrumb and beacon
to lead us to that next terroculant world
and the crapshoot raison of our d’earth.
(a really really BIG tractor ship.)
III. we were 87 when Mayflower 4 was awoken/thawed/defrosted/
brought screaming back to here (wherever, was).
there should have been 100, but – Requiem aeternam dona eis, Universum.
Cryo is not thana-proof and only comes
with a nontransfereable lifetime guarantee. The Nanawacks and
the Dempsey boy, they just thawed cold,
and then – a few I never truly knew – wire-rot, eqpt failure… we were 87
now, with a starter heap of 13.
lucky, lucky thirteen –
and thanks for playing the game.
I had liked the Dempsey boy…
there was green below. some of it was ours – terran, earthican, Gaian.
only some of it.
I became one of the tokens – the how of it, here:
I was just a carpenter (tho’ that they needed – more than, say
a string theorist or an alternate brane topological design analyst or a poet –
quite near’ as much as a shaman, in fact).
The tech list was high and low,
the craft matrix
defined many cells; somewhere in there, I fit –
w’each needed to bring something
to THAT table, obviously and of course.
But I was unpaired – and I was an unpaired Asperger spectrum, is what I was,
is all I was, is all.
I was that token item, twice-removed,
out from under the bell bit, one SD and then some, over to the right.
And they came to me, needing – geneto-schiz, Aspergers, even hi/fun/auts –
the brain things at the edge of them. (We are always there,
they say/suppose/hypothesize/guess/bet the farm, in this case and
in case the paradigm shifts. The mainstream and their tzitzit.
Like the thumb.
And social strategies, of course, have drawbacks
under stress – and, I wasn’t that social.
In their world, turned bad, it’s fringe up or kill ourselves, but
at the edge of urb and the next unknown, when A crashes and B becomes
more real than maybe, becomes
some new thing – the next thing in the species history –
when the glaciers come
and when they leave
and when the bridges formed and before
and never before, or after, only during
crises, calamities, catastrophes and clams taken in the wrong month –
we go where the short bus takes us
and we get off where they won’t.
THIS IS WHERE we get sent in and not driven mad, not caring, not despairing,
just getting on with things and doing
what needs to be done.
Like – upright did the larger us no good in trees,
but at the water’s edge
on the savanna
running the break across the land bridge –
that’s when odd became norm and more, even, moreover;
WE climbed down – and bred back to them, in time,
in their time, but still – in time…
But they won’t/don’t wanna put all their eggs into THAT basket, and so –
I was just one of the tokens,
and the tokens were just a few of 500.
(For now – at least for now.))
And anyway – they came to me, the Asperger carpenter (I was a twofer):
“Are you happy here? [in my old life]
Are you really going anywhere? [in my old world]
Are you really doing anything? [after my fashion, I did abide]
Ok so – listen. (R u listening?)
You just might become important, when you wake up in –
well, we don’t know how long. OR where, actually, but.
Well, or maybe not, but even so –
here, now – are you happy?”
it was a what-have-you-got-to-lose thing,
a mile-in-our-shoes thing,
and they – funded and bell-capped and hat in hand –
they were right.
I wasn’t the only ass-burger carpenter they approached –
even the fringe is BIG, thesedays/backinthosedays/there, but –
I was the first to say yes –
So you might want to write that down:
“…first to say yes.”
I. Everyone knew everyone new, in no time – needing to – and there were families –
and some of the older kids called some of the tokens ass-burgers,
but not the Dempsey boy, and neither me, on either side –
there I was, waiting for what-happens-next
and maybe wondering, but not too much…
mostly, they just told us what to expect, for a week.
mostly, we were oriented (tho “polarized” is likely
a better word, isn’t it?
…a compass doesn’t point east. “polar-iented”?) and
mostly, a week of orientation came down to:
A. Of the 5 potential colonies – me, in the 4th.
B. Each colony would be provided
1. a bio pod
2. a tech pod
3. an all expenses paid trip to
4. a new and we really really hoped earthlike world with
5. at least some minimal prep work (see seed ship notes,
if I’ve written any…) gone on before
C. And ‘colony’ is another bad word – on our own & only, shipmates in a bottle,
Roanoke with prayer beads and a can opener.
D. And we might never wake up
IVa. our bio ‘pod –
Frozen embryos, seeds, gametes, whole fish –
If it could twitch and freeze and thaw and twitch again…
and if it had a place – if it could stir after centuries
to life – if it had a chance, or half, or at all –
and if it had a place…. new world considered as a series of
small sustained vivaria. infusoria, pink crustaceans,
and a hand to hold…
bamboo, barley, sugar cane, maize and oats and dozey doats and
liddle lambs besides. ficus, no ivy. and olives.
palm. apple, pine, citri, cacti, walnut, pecan, maple. ironwood. boxwood. redwood.
wheat – we were celiacfree – and barley. grape. clover. crow berry, tundra moss ,
Myrrh and mustard, aloe, ash. rubber tree. strawberry. papyrus.
parsley, sage, all the other lyrics. lavender . cinnamon and cinchona. just in case.
And… Garlic. Did I mention that?
Oh, yea – there is no civilization without garlic,
or even polite discourse, Gallic or non.
Garlic. (Not that elephant stuff.))
duck and water buff’, bos and bees,
ants, flies, earthworms. carp and catfish, rift lake cichlids,
plankton, nekton, and benthic layabouts. finch, sparrow, chicken
(the Thai Gallus).
geese – an ungolden kind.
lowland potatoes, mountain spuds, rabbits, in time. mice. beets.
cats to chase the mice – we were assured there were reasons.
dogs, for later on: their plastic germ, a waiting form…
goats and camels and horses, of course. alpaca, had we highlands. foxglove, soy…
the fun thing about lists is the building, tho –
or trying to see what was left out of somebody else’s –
so – the ‘strategy’ (a do or die thing, of course) was,
get the veg up and running first, landside, while then to the waters, that which may.
crossing our fingers, and hoping we get it right…. or just not
so wrong that we only stain the deserts for a year.
the seed ship, mentioned elsewhere – scattergun, but tons of shot.
ABUNDANT REDUNDANCIES. dreams. Decapodia.
and guppies. bramble and bracken, and wee beasties for brackish waters.
I walked, and scattered seed across, 12k. a day, the much of that first year.
some random tree seed here or there, breaking soil,
planting whatever, wherever – whenever I could.
VIII. naming a planet – not
designating a planet, but calling it something
for your children to know – at all important?
so hard so hard to do.
earth, new earth, neoterra, nova terra – no;
the Project itself had given designations,
numbers, 1 thru 5, i thru v, uno, cinco, etc.
corresponding to the Mayflora
but left the familiar names to those
“cast upon those far shores,
homely, yet to be…”
New ________ in any form was shot down early –
‘Bronson’ and ‘Bob’, not too much later. And ‘Claire’.
Newkeep, I said, again – and it was shot down again –
Noughkeepsie? No, and they threw things…
and in the end, we chose only to call it ‘the world’, or ‘here’ –
just for a while, you understand – and wait
to see what name it earned,
and leave the naming thing itself to the 7th generation –
or whichever, really, cared to deal with it – WE
(Dances with Worlds? (That had something like
a happy ending, right? just before
What you KNEW was going to happen?))
IX. Bethany’s husband had
almost certainly had a name but
some of us – I –
did not know it, not before.
and some of us – I – will likely not remember it.
even Bethany lost it, early on, before totally losing it, later.
he was not one of the first, one of the thirteen, not
someone on that starter heap.
in fact, he was a stayback, he was. a reneg. HE LEFT the Project,
at the very last and after
she was ice. and the only.
we didn’t know at first thaw, though we knew our dead –
ice pax with passed, or faulted boxes – these blinked red on some panel
where someone knew to look – but no one
expected empties, only
to wake up and wander and find.
but finally we blinked, grabbed a cuppa & counted noses
and then there were 86, and we found out who – whom? – and Bethany
spent a long time staring at things
that were not there.
[in time, I will come to care for her, for a while.
feeding and clothing the shell of her, I mean:
first ward of a new state. we will share
occasional comfort, if not lives, but likewise,
she will be a reason I walk so faraday, in fact –
while she sits and rocks until I feed her, or clean her,
or put her to bed. ] A year, maybe,
and then she will begin to walk again, herself
(though never herself, again)
around the world, iteratively and Gump-like –
keeping the river on her right, and
straight on ‘til morning.
I come to miss her, idly – probing the place in mind, she was,
as I might wonder, a lost tooth from 10 years ago –
the gap is there to prove a loss, but
there is no pain,
and I still eat.
we suppose she is eating native, mostly.
we know she is surviving – the younger begin
to build stories around her,
the older begin to use the fear
those stories breed
for fun, or filial control –
the name Bethany will never be given to a live-born child.
she is our first neomeme.
IVb. the bio ‘pod itself, emptied, is a high lofting dome – its walls still filled with
freeze-dried foods for 5 years, frozen, whatever,
and chlorine bleach – it becomes
our community hall and auditorium. our cyberlibrary. our sole and only hangout.
“use it up, wear it out –
make it so, or go without.”
…as well, our Doomsday Clock – 5 years o’ freeze-dried, and 13% more than that. 14%.
the service window at the rear of the high lofting dome – the one
through which our daily bread is signed for and delivered –
we call the Omega Bodega.
at first it was the Alpha Omega Bodega,
and briefly that flipped to the Alpha Ralpha B Bodega,
and then back,
and then The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,
then Doug’s Place, for a while,
then back to Omega Bodega.
OB, for short –
“See you tonight at the OB, Juan?”
There is no Eat at Joe’s ( yes, rt – THAT was her husband’s name.
And that’s probably why…)
Vb. it comes to me, that
we have depended too much on random hope…
tho’ there was clover here, when we arrived –
3- and 4-leafed, and I know the clover blossom –
these are earth’s, from the seed ship.
there are water things near the shore, up the creeks –
golden algae and waterbears, and such –
that ring the familiarity bell, but
there are no trees, yet – no shrubbery (shrubbery? Ni, at all!) –
everything now is low-growing and off-green
(the far large sun shines more white, I think)
and rangier than might have been expected (it shines more white).
flat, maybe rolling at most – the odd hillandnomountains-at-all –
the water cycle is leisurely, untorrential,
it thoughtfully suggests its paths – nothing as rude as ‘rosion –
and ‘meandering’ is too aggressive a verb
for what happens here; a brook
neither babbles nor murmurs;
it mutters distractedly –
it sighs, perhaps, but
only when your back is turned.
there is something off about the silence, some wrong thing,
and my tinnitus
is the closest thing to crickets, on this new air.
we are here to handcarve a rubberstamped niche for Homo perplexus –
that, or its communal headstone.
Vc. it’s an odd sea, belts this world – more
an endless equatorial lake waisting its way
between 2 continental mega-masses – or some world river, vast and wide,
with its headwaters in its mouth – there is
more land than sea, here, tho
stream and creek and river
streak across the land, draining at the last
to those midworld waters, het Middelzee
and there is green on either side of Sea, and rust, from those greensward, to the poles –
the poles are white or gray, across the seasons –
that rust is mixed of our lichen and moss piglets and something else,
those poles gather snow in the white season
and give melt in the rest…
(it is – as the philosopher said – what it is.
and what it is looks like a blown glass ornament clumsily celebrating
the national flag of Gambia.)
Vd. I stare at the thing in my hand – toadsized, though it is nothing toadlike.
It is deltoid, neckless – some mad god thinking of manta while doodling mouse.
3 legs – 2 hind, and one in front –
it jumps or skidwaddles, it oui-jas,
it is a planchette of meats that inflicts more questions, than answers…
a single moiré eye, a mouth, tympanic surfaces – this world is silent, I think,
but it must hear something, some vibe that plays upon
taut skin on either side of the eye, across the back.
it jumps – I’ve seen this – to catch small flying things, gnatty things –
this world’s blackfly – and flicks
that forelimb to snatch them, move them to the mouth at the forepoint,
and then –quick! – exend it for touchdown.
I don’t think it stares back at me – this eye would only see the shift of light and dark,
the edge of shade or cloud or the edge of night – I think
it hears its prey, little battoad – perhaps
the eye was more useful in the sea, assuming… well,
and perhaps I squarepeg 8th grade biology into a world that has no need of it.
III. this is the tech ‘pod of the Mayflower 4 – tech’ pod, and and culture containment.
(bei mir, technodiversity begins with a swiss army knife
and a roll of duct tape – after these,
it seems to have been pretty much
a transnational high tech blank check kitchen sink sort of exercise.)
every carpenterial tool and nice-to-have I’d ever seen, and nails. and screws.
decks of cards, disks of Hoyle, shovels, mountain bikes, axes, arrows and composite bows –
farmware, firmware and a MASH – our doc-in-the-box clinic – & the entire written works
of our kind in English, and then some, and the phonohistorical mark of them –
Eminem, Moran and Mack, Lauder and the pipes,
(really, the complete desert island lists of
ii. everyone you know
iii. The Rolling Stone
iv. …and then M. Zagat got into the act; it was fun
and anything else they could copy in time,
even Tiny Tim – even der Bingle’s ‘ Baba).
guitars (‘coustic) and woodwinds and the idea of piano and percussion BUT
(which will come to make the recorded polka musics
more mysterious than, ever were at home).
an almanac (tho’only as a model, not for any true use in this new world).
tools for every kind optical ‘scopy – micro-, macro-, tele-. binoculoscopy – all that.
sun ovens, pot belly stoves (on spec’), freq-tweakable solar panels, dental gear,
(LOOK OUT, HUMANKIND IS MOVING IN)
knives and labs and pots and pans and chemistry kits and kayaks and…
look – if your mom had to pack you to –
– go to camp that summer that Dad left and
– send you off to college and
– get you ready to leave the country and the world and
– let her grandchildren that she will never meet
know she loves them and theirs and
– also spend the summer down the shore
and all that at the same time as you might be planning
to colonize a small island off the major sea lanes –
and if she tended to overdo things (and c’mon, you know Mom could)
and if Mom had really deep pockets
and God forbid ever did any think tanking…
that is the tech ‘pod in overloaded overview – and a spare hair dryer –
(HERE COMES THE NEIGHBORHOOD…)
and how it was packed – we were never going home, and we were home now.
plays, plows, fish hooks and harpoons – all our sweat and culture, hard and soft – what
would YOU take, leaving Earth, forever?
we had that too.
& the tech ‘pod was a centipod, and then some. multipartmented.
some too many many of my days
were spent podbusting – breaking it down,
shifting this here, that there…
\each lesser pod \room enough\family of 6\
arranging our village
(…AND THERE GOES ANY CHANCE YOU EVER HAD)
like a refrigerator crate encampment
in a sepia-tinted depot Depression era
labs and clinic and craft shops and shoe repair.
walls and abutments.
and truth, told –
there was no need in this for a carpenter, as such –
we would have no wood
or to burn, or carve, or… well.
a general contractor would have done as well
if there had been anywhere else
for him to be
than on the job.
but, there wasn’t and remember:
”…first to say yes”.
oh, and platiform plastic disks that spin and glide through the air
when you throw them to play catch and stuff but have
no copyrighted name or trademark that would keep me
from mentioning them here, for frizzle.
VII. I came to stand on the edge of nothing, it seems
and to build some thing, beyond.
I’ve got blisters on my fingers,
tho no real sense that I belong here.
my hands, and what I know of joists and joints-
but the fringe bits that are me – there’s no use of us.
I disassemble and move things and re-assemble them, and I wander and sow.
I care for things.
I watch THEIR world
take on form
and acquire history.
that will be my sole mark here.
tell them, I say.
tell your children.
they have Bethany’s look when I say it,
and I have the tinnitic noise of virtual crickets in quiet moments.
I sleep in an empty box, and build them, a new world.
I make them, houses – they make those houses
W. Gregory Stewart – the letters of his name can be re-arranged to spell “We Are Srgtwtrogy”. And really, that pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? There are those who see Greg’s work more as experimental psycholinguistics than as poetry, but Greg believes that might be said of most of his fellow genre writers; the Venn intersect of poetry and F&SF should be a pretty mad part of human experience – and here, Greg moves into his own small niche in that madness…
Photo credit: Wallhere https://wallhere.com/en/wallpaper/1310153