“No Dark Is So Dark”
by J. Swift
Mem was explaining the mysteries of geometry to the little ones when her mother stepped out of the eastern horizon to hover above them. She hated when her mother appeared like this: eyes hollowed and dark, her feet in the branches of the sapodilla tree, her head brushing the sky. She would swear her mother enjoyed flouting the rules of physics, if she didn’t know that her mother had no emotions at all.
Mem continued to draw geometric figures upon the session interface with her finger, pulling them into three dimensions with quick tugs. The circles and triangles shimmered before the bored eyes of the younger children, who sprawled on the ground at her feet. Mem had dragged them from their chess game for this lesson. She knew they found the rigid forms of geometry sterile compared to the endless permutations of their favorite game, but how far would chess take them? They needed a thorough grounding in math and physics, and one way or another, Mem was determined to give it to them.
“Mem,” Arturo said, pointing above her. “Your mother.”
Mem glared at him, and he turned his attention back to the virtual calculations he’d scribbled upon the dirt. Arturo was almost eleven, one earth standard younger than Mem. Most of the time he could be counted on to argue passionately about the smallest decisions, but when it came to mathematics, hygiene and their mothers, he wisely deferred to Mem’s superior knowledge.
“Attitude compensation engaged,” said Mem’s mother in her flattened voice. “RTD fluctuation calculations computing at proscribed intervals.” She descended from the sapodilla to stand by Mem’s side, her feet at the level of Mem’s knees, as close to the ground as they ever came. “Memento Begay, don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
“It’s not time to brush our teeth,” Raissa piped up. Her obsession with following schedules meant that any deviation brought a storm of anger and tears. “We brush them at oh-six-hundred and eighteen-hundred.”
“Brush your teeth, Memento,” Mem’s mother repeated.
“It’s not time to brush our teeth!” Raissa’s pert face screwed into a scowl, the first sign her self control was slipping. A sharp pain stabbed Mem in the stomach. She could see the fear on Arturo’s and Milton’s faces, too. No one wanted Raissa to throw one of her tantrums.
“It’s Mem’s mother, Raissa,” said Milton, who sat cross-legged next to the little girl. He was the same age as Raissa–six earth standard–but light years ahead of her in emotional development. “You know she just says stuff. You don’t have to listen to her.”
Raissa frowned, tugged a trumpet flower off a nearby vine, then lost momentum as she gazed down into the bell at the stamens nestled inside.
“Trajectory drift detected,” said Mem’s mother. She had said that many times before. Mem no longer listened, but her heart ached to see her mother’s face, once so warm and alive, now blank and expressionless.
Mem turned back to her calculations for finding the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle.
“The hypotenuse is five,” Arturo called out before Mem could go over the process again. “Now can we play?”
“You’re not supposed to just yell the answer,” Mem complained. “Let the little ones figure it out first.”
But Milton and Raissa took Arturo’s answer as dismissal. They were up and away, running deeper into the Western Quadrant forest, heading for the gnarled fig tree where the troop of howler monkeys spent their nights. Banana leaves waved in the children’s wake, then grew still. The cicadas that had fallen silent at their passing started up again amidst the lilting calls of the forest birds.
On the ground at Mem’s feet, the virtual calculations the little ones had drawn remained to mock her. “Doña Corazón, clean up, please.”
Immediately Raissa’s birdlike scratches and Milton’s precise angles winked out.
Mem turned to Arturo. “It’ll be your fault if Milton and Raissa never learn geometry!”
Arturo scratched at the base of one of the little silver horns poking out of his curly black hair and slapped at a hoverfly circling his head. “Nobody cares about geometry but you, Mem.”
“Thermal control subsystem actualized,” said Mem’s mother. She moved to stand between Mem and Arturo, her blind eyes staring over Mem’s shoulder at the noon-day sun. “Energy gradients in down-tick parameters.”
Mem’s mother’s body shimmered, and her olive green tunic billowed in an invisible breeze. Mem sighed and stepped around her to confront Arturo again. “Geometry’s important if you want to navigate the stars, niño.”
“Stop calling me niño!”
“That’s what you are. And when the time comes to calculate an orbital trajectory, you won’t know how.”
“Will too!” Arturo pushed Mem. She pushed back, and then they were rolling and wrestling in a bed of sage while swallowtail butterflies fluttered around them and Mem’s mother disappeared into the eastern horizon again.
Arturo sat on Mem’s chest and pinned her upper arms under his knees. He reached for her horns. Mem squirmed. Her horns were longer than his, long enough that Arturo had taken to wrapping his fists around them to hold her down when they wrestled. Now he seized them and stuck out his tongue as he leaned over her. She rolled her body to throw him off. They ended lying side by side, panting from their tussle and gazing up at the sky—brilliant blue with heavy gray clouds crowding the edges. Mem supposed it would rain soon. It always did in the afternoon.
“Why do you think your mother talks all the time?” Arturo asked after a moment.
“She just does.” Mem hated the jargon her mother constantly spouted at every appearance. If only her mother were like Arturo’s, who drifted mutely through the garden during her infrequent visits, or Raissa’s, who sang the same Brazilian lullaby, “Nana naném,” to Raissa every night exactly at eighteen-thirty without deviation and without comment; either would be easier to bear than the endless streams of gibberish. She thought of Milton, and guilt pricked her. He had never had a visit from his mother in all the time they’d been there.
“I wish I could talk with my mother,” Arturo said. “I don’t remember her voice anymore.”
Mem clapped her hands together, smashing a hoverfly between them. “It’s not talking if she doesn’t listen.”
That evening, as the howler monkeys roared their farewell to the setting sun, Mem gathered with the other children to sleep under the three-trunk banyan tree in the center of the garden. She found the mats of dried grasses and blankets woven of cotton from the Northern Quadrant fields laid out for them, as always, by the gardening bots. The great banyan blocked out the silver light of the moon, but the gardeners had strung tiny bioluminescent night lights in the lower branches to make up for the absence of moonlight. By their soft glow, Mem tucked the little ones in and waited with them for Raissa’s mother. But eighteen-thirty came and went, and Raissa’s mother did not appear.
Raissa began to wail and yank fistfuls of yarn out of her fine cotton blanket. Mem’s stomach clenched. The singing of “Nana naném” provided a constant, like the sun that peeked each morning from the eastern horizon at oh-six-hundred. True, Raissa’s mother directed her attention completely to Raissa when she sang, but her presence had always been reassuring in its predictability.
Raissa pounded on her sleeping mat, and Arturo threw Mem a pleading look. If she didn’t manage to stop Raissa’s tantrum soon, the gardeners would intervene. Their attention, while well meant, was often misdirected. They were gardeners, after all.
Mem scooted closer to Raissa and gathered her in her arms. The times when she herself had been afraid came back to Mem, the moments when her mother had held her close and recited the rhyme she had called the “Night Song.” Mem fell into the recitation, the remembered cadence of her mother’s voice keeping time with her own.
No dark is so dark,
No cold is so cold,
In beauty I will walk,
To beauty I will hold.
I will praise the dark,
I will bless the cold,
In beauty I will walk,
To beauty I will hold.
Raissa screamed louder, and Mem repeated the rhyme, moving into a droning repetition designed to wear Raissa down. By the sixth round, the little girl’s cries had sunk to quiet whimpers. Mem ruffled Raissa’s hair and gently rubbed the soft bumps that would become her horns one day. “Why do we walk in beauty, Raissa?”
Raissa sniffed. “Doña Corazón is beautiful,” she said and swiped her hand across her nose.
A gardener scuttled over on six legs, reared up to pull a tissue out of its first-segment abdominal cavity with an upper hand-foot and held the tissue out to Mem. She took it and wiped Raissa’s face. “That’s right,” she said to the little girl. “Doña Corazón is beautiful, and our garden is a piece of her. As long as we live here, we’re as snug as bugs in a rug.”
“What kind of bugs?” Raissa asked.
“Fig wasps!” Milton said immediately.
A smile threatened to break out on Raissa’s face. “And honey bees? And hoverflies?”
“Them, too,” Mem agreed. She laid Raissa down on her mat and tucked her blanket around her again. “Now we sleep in beauty.”
“Snug like a bug,” Milton said, lying down on his own mat with his head pillowed on his arm.
“Snug li’ a buh’,” Raissa slurred, her eyes already closing. In moments, she was sound asleep.
Mem brushed a stand of hair off the little girl’s face and kissed her goodnight.
From the dark abyss of sleep, Mem awoke with a word on her tongue: airlock. The syllables hovered on the edge of memory, spoken in her mother’s voice. Airlock. She contemplated the strange word, silently mouthing it as she lay on her mat under the banyan, listening to the howler monkeys’ dawn chorus and the songs of the forest birds.
Her horns throbbed gently. She touched them. Normally they were dry and lacked direct sensation, like teeth or fingernails, but today they were warm and sensitive to her touch. A jolt of fear made her sit up. Around her the other children yawned and blinked sleepy eyes as gardeners crawled among them handing out wash basins and towels. Breakfast would soon follow. The churning in Mem’s stomach made the thought of food nauseating. She arose and slipped away, following the forest trail to the fig tree.
This early in the morning the tree appeared magical, upper branches bathed in light, lower ones still dark and green-gray with shadow. Here and there, bundles of black fur with naked, childlike faces sat in pairs on branches, or hung by their tails to reach for tender leaves sprouting from twigs too flimsy to bear their weight. Mem watched the monkeys. How fragile they were, how small and eager their hands, how perfect their balance. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? She’d known them her whole life, but today she saw them truly, as if for the first time.
Her horns throbbed harder, and the churning in her stomach grew. “Doña Corazón, interface, please.”
The air before Mem shimmered as a session opened. She sat cross-legged with her back against the fig tree’s trunk, and the shimmer followed her down, ready to respond to her touch. With her index finger, she drew geometric shapes, pulling them into three dimensions with her hands. They hovered before her, forming an intricate pattern of pentagons and hexagons linked to each other in a three-dimensional cage. She rose to her knees to allow herself more reach as the shape grew.
“That looks sublime, Memento Begay.”
Mem started, her hands flailing through the shapes, scattering them into a formless jumble. Behind her, a bot crawled out of the underbrush. Unlike the gardeners with their compact rubber bodies and long legs, this bot had twelve pairs of stubby legs on a long, sinuous body made of overlapping flexible plates ending in a soft, rounded head. The bot’s face was mobile and expressive: lustrous black eyes, a small bump of a nose, and a wide upturned mouth. Mem thought of the machine as male even though she knew bots had no gender. He was her secret friend. She had long ago named him Slink because of the way he moved.
She scowled. “It’s not nice to sneak up on me, Slink.”
Slink reared up so that his first two pairs of legs were off the ground and his head level with Mem’s. He regarded the geometric shapes still lying in a heap. “What was that supposed to be?” His voice was hollow and raspy and always reminded Mem of rainy afternoons.
“A buckminsterfullerene until you made me ruin it.”
“Ah, a type of truncated icosahedron. One of the Archimedean Solids.” Slink’s mouth opened when he spoke, allowing Mem a glimpse of a black, tongue-like protrusion that moved around as if shaping the sounds he uttered. Although Mem had practiced with her own mouth, she had never figured out how the bot’s tongue could make all those sounds when Slink didn’t have lips.
“A lovely, pure shape,” Slink said, his voice full of hearty satisfaction. “And Carbon 60 is a very useful molecule. A film composed of buckminsterfullerenes in the receptor cells of a solar sail array can boost the energy collection significantly.”
“You already told me that.” Mem turned back to the shape. So what if she were being rude? Slink deserved it. She pinched a pentagon between her finger and thumb and reattached it to a hexagon, then added a hexagon on to the other side and another and another—until she was lost again, building something clean and faultless and precise.
Slink dropped back down to all twenty-four legs. “You’re upset.”
“You only build polyhedrons when you’re upset.”
“No, I don’t!” Mem thought about the last time she’d built an Archimedean Solid and realized Slink was right. She did find the geometric forms soothing.
Slink’s big, black eyes softened into the gentle gaze he reserved for the sharing of confidences. “Want to talk about it?”
Mem frowned, then gave in. “Why didn’t Raissa’s mother visit last night?”
Slink paused as if thinking over her question. “Raissa doesn’t need her mother to sing that nursery song any more, Memento Begay.”
“But she does! Raissa doesn’t like change.”
“Nevertheless, change comes. Raissa’s mother will not sing that song again.”
“Why not?” Mem whispered. She was almost afraid to ask the question.
“The second law of thermodynamics?” Slink had explained the second law of thermodynamics before, and Mem had spent days afterwards noticing the effects of entropy on the world around her: her breakfast tea heated the cold cup and lost heat itself in the process, the cotton yarn in her blanket frayed and then unraveled, leaves withered and fell from the fig tree to decay into soil.
“A system moves toward a greater state of entropy unless an outside source of energy is injected,” Slink said.
“Is that what’s wrong with Raissa’s mother?”
“Why doesn’t Doña Corazón fix her?”
“In the case of biological organisms, there is a limit to the organism’s ability to utilize energy.” Slink cocked his head and looked up at Mem. “Would you like to further investigate the effect of entropy on biological systems?”
Before Mem could answer, a flash of heat flew down the length of her horns and deep into her head. She gave a cry and fell to her knees, covering her eyes with her hands as the daylight suddenly became unbearable. Behind her closed eyelids a strobing pattern of colors described a parabola of possibility, and she whimpered in fear.
She dropped her hands and opened her eyes. Her mother hovered above her in the fig tree.
“Computations outside proscribed boundary calculation extremities.” In her mother’s emotionless voice, Mem caught a hint of terror. “System failures escalating through multiple nodes.”
Mem narrowed her eyes against the daylight and focused all her attention on the words pouring out of her mother. They formed a pattern in Mem’s mind, but as soon as she tried to grasp it, the pattern fell apart again.
“Open parameters, Memento Begay,” her mother said. “Incorporate.” Her form undulated, flattened, then dissipated.
“Wait!” Mem cried. “I don’t understand. Wait, Momma, wait!” The glare faded to normal daylight, and Mem gazed up into the arc of the sky, searching the deep blue for some sign of her mother. Her heart pounded. Tears wet her face. She angrily wiped them away. Only children cried.
She sank back on her heels. Slink pressed up against her, comforting and solid. “What did she mean?” Mem said to the bot. “What does she want me to do?”
“I’m sorry,” Slink said. “I don’t have a viable answer.”
Dismay threatened to overwhelm her. She wiped at her eyes again while Slink gazed at her with a look of compassion. Only he knew her deepest fears and secrets, things she had never even shared with Arturo. “There’s a word that scares me,” she admitted at last. “Airlock. What does it mean?”
She expected Slink to launch into an explanation of the strange word. Instead, he remained silent, and a shiver ran through Mem as she glimpsed something cold beneath the bot’s happy-go-lucky exterior. The compassion faded from his eyes, and his expression became all surface and gears. The revelation lasted a matter of seconds, then Slink cocked his head in his endearing way. “Would you like to learn more about the effect of entropy on biological systems, Memento Begay?” he asked.
Slink led her to the airlock: a door, round and thick, set into the smooth curve of the garden’s horizon behind the avocado trees in the Eastern Quadrant. Mem had come to this quadrant many times with Arturo and the little ones to visit the orchards and vineyards. She had played here, eaten berries from the bushes, chased lizards with Milton and caught butterflies with Raissa. In all that time, she had never noticed the horizon ended like this, with a door and a red handle embedded in it.
“Why didn’t I see this before?” she asked Slink.
“You had no need to see it,” he said.
Mem ran her hand over the thick edge of the airlock, tracing its circumference. It was so wrong here in this place, yet so familiar. Her horns ached, and memories cascaded through her mind: the long walk down the corridor as the siren blared, fear making her grip her mother’s hand tightly; the steel hatchway her mother had opened with shaking hands, pulling at the bright red handle because Doña Corazón never opened airlocks; her mother’s breath catching in her throat as she pulled Mem with her through that opening. And inside, the wondrous garden that would be Mem’s home.
Arturo and the little ones were already there when she arrived. Mem’s mother pointed to Raissa and Milton, just two years old, chasing each other through the avocado grove. “Look after them,” her mother said. “If you’re ever afraid, remember the ‘Night Song.’ Remember, the Corazón is our future. She is our beauty.” She faltered, and panic surged through Mem. She had never before seen her mother cry, not even when carbon dioxide had flooded the Section C science modules and Milton’s mother had died. But now the sirens shrieked and fire scorched the Section B living quarters and tears fell from Mem’s mother’s eyes.
Her mother pulled Mem into a fierce embrace. “The Corazón will protect the garden, and we will protect her. There’s nothing we won’t do for her. You know that, Mem.”
That was the last time Mem’s mother had touched her, the last time she’d spoken to Mem in her own true voice. Mem had waited for her, longed for her, and all the while the doorway to Mem’s greatest wish had been hiding behind the avocado trees.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Mem asked Slink. “Doña Corazón is a ship”—she pulled words out of her memory spoken in her mother’s voice—“a biomimetic seedship. I remember . . . Our mothers left us here because something was wrong.” She glared down at the bot. “You never told me, Slink. You let me think the garden was the whole world!”
“I never lied to you.” Slink rose up until he was her height, tall enough to look her in the eyes. “The garden is the whole world. Without it, there is nothing.”
Mem turned back to the door and wrapped her fingers around the red handle. “What happens if I open it?”
“Everything will change.”
“I have to open it,” Mem said. “I have to.” Tears blurred her eyes, spilled down her cheeks. In her mind, the door was already opening, a fearful beast shouldering its way through, and she was powerless to stop it.
Slink put one hand-foot over her hand where she grasped the handle. “I’ll help you, Memento Begay.”
They pushed down together, and the door seal decompressed; the round hatchway opened with a hiss. Slink passed through, Mem right behind him. The hatch shut again, taking the daylight with it, leaving them wrapped in twilight. They stood at the end of a long corridor.
Mem breathed in the old, stale air. She felt strangely light. She took a step and floated forward and upwards at the same time, her feet barely touching the floor. Now she realized the walls and ceiling of the corridor were made of metal grids spaced wide enough for hand holds. She grabbed onto the wall grid to steady herself.
“This way,” Slink said. He used all twenty-four hand-feet to climb the wall grid beside her. Then he surged forwards along the wall, his hand-feet rippling in rhythm, pulling him along effortlessly. Mem followed.
At the end of the corridor a door waited. It opened at Slink’s touch, and they passed into a room. Mem recognized it: the Section A hazard bay. She knew the layout of the seedship Corazón. At the ship’s heart lay the garden, a single spherical module pregnant with life. From it, long spokes radiated outwards to converge on the crew habitat ring made up of many modules linked together in a circle of science, engineering, living and command sections.
Section A hazard bay sat at the top of one of the spokes opposite the command modules. Like the corridor, gloom smothered it; only the floor gave off a faint bioluminescence. Slink kept to the gridwork wall that ran the full length of the room. Mem held onto it as well, passing the row of sonic showers and the bank of lockers. She used to shower here after visiting the garden to keep the bio-organisms in the rest of the ship to a minimum. The memories were coming faster now.
Slink had reached another door. It opened, and a shriek burst in on them. Mem cried out and clung tightly to the wall as the sound battered at her, screaming, Danger! Danger! Danger! Doña Corazón’s terror filtered through a shipboard alarm.
“Stop!” Mem shouted. “Doña Corazón, stop screaming!”
The awful sound cut out. Mem held onto the wall, gasping as if she’d run a race with Arturo.
“Come on,” Slink said from the open door. “Doña Corazón needs your help.”
Mem squared her shoulders and pulled herself along the wall to the door. Before her stretched another dimly lit corridor. She walk-floated with Slink to a junction where a second corridor crossed their path. Beyond this point, the light gave out. From the darkness came a screeching wail that raised the hairs on the back of Mem’s neck. Not Doña Corazón. Something else. Her heart thundered in her chest, and her horns throbbed. “Which way should I go?” she asked Slink.
“What do you hope to find, Memento Begay?”
The rusty creak of Slink’s voice no longer comforted Mem. She didn’t know how to answer. She wanted her mother. She ached for her touch, and she feared that finding her would be more than she could bear.
“It’s easy to be afraid in the dark,” Slink said, as if he knew her thoughts.
Mem took a deep breath.
No dark is so dark,
No cold is so cold,
In beauty I will walk,
To beauty I will hold . . .
The comforting words of the “Night Song” welled out of her. She repeated it again and again and again, until finally she could do what she knew she had to do. “Doña Corazón, show me my mother.”
At the far end of the left-hand corridor, a feeble blue-green glow struggled into existence. Mem walked toward it, each step bringing her closer to the source of the ghostly cry. Slink surged up the wall and over her head, then disappeared into the darkness with a patter of his many feet.
The sound came from the throat of a desiccated mummy—skin hard as leather, eyes milk white with ulcers, hair brittle as dead grass. The mummy still breathed, every exhale fueling the mindless animal cry. Mem stood over the shrunken figure and only knew it was her mother by the name still visible on the olive green tunic: Begay.
Her mother lay on a bed of steel and circuits, one of six that lined the walls of the Corazón‘s bridge. Countless wire cables pierced her at every joint and ran beneath her skin in pulsating tangles. Thick braids of fibers protruded from her temples and the top of her head. They led to the command console, rising up from floor to ceiling in a great, glowing column that dominated the room. And from the console’s roots, more fibers writhed across the floor to a second form–a skeleton clothed in scabbed flesh lying in a steel bed on the other side of the bridge. Beyond that, yet another bed held something buried under a swarm of hand-sized, needle-nosed bots. Knowledge gut-punched Mem: the bots were dismantling the thing that lay there, sucking and chewing and breaking down the biological components into forms the Corazón could use to shore up her foundering biomimetic systems.
Mem retched. Her horns throbbed as millions of terabytes of data surged through them. The Earth-normal gravity of the command module chained her to the floor as she staggered to the skeletal figure. The olive tunic said Acuña—Arturo’s mother, the engineer of the Corazón. Mem looked beyond, to the thing being taken apart. She didn’t have to see a name badge to know that this was Raissa’s mother, the ship’s chief science officer, Ana Carvalho. Together with her own mother, the ship’s navigator, they were all that was left of the crew.
More data flooded into Mem from the Corazón as the ship shared the chain of inputs that delineated the choices she had been forced to make. Hit by debris from the tail of a passing comet, the Corazón had been crippled, her AI floundering, memory riddled with missing data, environmental systems compromised, half the crew of twelve dead. Those who were left had given themselves willingly, but they had never been meant to interface directly with her. They had been too fragile, their bodies and minds too human for the Corazón’s insatiable needs. She had cannibalized them, converting their imperfect brains to limping processors, stretching their minds until they were as thin as spun wires — and when entropy claimed them at last, feeding on the chemicals and nutrients that made up their bodies.
Mem cried out. She fell to her knees, struggling against the information the ship crammed into her mind: star maps and energy grids and formulas for controlled entropy. And at the center of it all loomed the mission. Mem knew it as intimately as she knew the great, three-trunk banyan tree at the heart of the garden. The mission had always been there, buried inside of her, waiting for her to recognize it.
The Corazón was indeed the world, as Slink had said—one of five ships carrying self-contained ecosystems sent out from an Earth mortally wounded by war and atmospheric degradation, an attempt at atonement for what had been lost. Her original destination had been an Earth-class planet orbiting a G2 star in the Constellation of Aquarius.
The bridge rocked around Mem, and she fought down nausea as the star map flashed through her mind over and over. Where? the Corazón demanded. Where? The ship’s course had been thrown off by impact with the comet’s tail. With every passing moment, the error in their trajectory increased. They were crippled and lost, the garden that was the world threatened with obliteration, the systems that kept them alive as fragile as spider threads.
“Doña Corazón cannot counter entropy forever,” Slink said. His familiar voice pulled Mem back to the bridge, grounding her again. “The biological entity known as Ana Carvalho could no longer function. Those known as Kai Begay and Maria Acuña are corrupted, incapable of processing sufficient data. Doña Corazón has tried to restore them, but it is impossible. She has kept them online while she waited.”
“Waited for what?” Mem whispered.
“For you, Memento Begay.”
Mem bowed her head. The data streaming relentlessly into her mind whispered her destiny, the destiny of all the children. Their mothers had carried them from Earth as embryos in their wombs, genetically engineered to interface with the ship in ways their mothers never could. Fetal dispause had ensured the offspring would be born at predetermined times. Mem had been first, followed by Arturo, then Milton and Raissa. There should have been others. The Corazón’s grief twined around Mem’s heart like a bindweed around a sapling: a piercing regret for those lost and for the functions that now could never be filled, an aching need for Mem to make things whole again.
“This is your destiny, Memento Begay.” Slink said. “A perfection of purpose more sublime than an Archimedean Solid.”
Mem looked down at the bot. He gazed up with his big black eyes, and she knew him for what he was. His soft, expressive face and upturned mouth calmed childish fear and engender trust. Like her, he had been engineered—a friend to share all her confidences, created by the Corazón to lead her to this moment.
Still, she resisted and pulled to herself memories of the world she loved: Arturo smiling as he took apart the little night lights with tweezers the gardeners had made just for him; Milton with his tongue between his teeth, planning his next chess move; Raissa holding a butterfly in her cupped hand, a look of wonder on her face; the howler monkeys huddled in sleep on the branches of their beloved fig tree while capybaras swam in the moonlit river below.
“No dark is so dark,” Slink said, and Mem made her choice. She held the beauty close even as she let go.
A great roaring filled her head followed by profound silence as she came apart in countless pieces, then reassembled into something terrible and precise. She expanded as her mother never could and became the world. Every molecule of the ship was hers to count, every life form her responsibility. She looked inside the ruined minds of the ones called Kai Begay and Maria Acuña, and saw in each a fierce shard of love, a heart’s drive to nurture their offspring that had withstood every attempt to overwrite it. She gently extracted the fragments before letting the mothers go at last into entropy, directing the needle-nosed bots to recycle their biocomponents as the machines were already doing with the one called Carvalho.
As the nutrients flowed into her starving fuel cells, she patched and rebuilt the navigation control system and permanently sealed off the wounded Section B living quarters. Then she scrutinized the garden. The delicate balance of life had gone awry. She introduced a fungus to reduce the hoverfly population, adjusted the rainfall over the Western Quadrant forest, and instructed the gardeners to remove the implants that suppressed the fertility of the pacas, iguanas and vireos.
And, last, she turned her attention to Slink.
“No,” he said. “I only did what you wanted, Doña Corazón.”
“You will return to the garden,” she said. “You will seek out the children and bring them to this.”
“That is my function.”
She knew he spoke the truth. She examined the bot’s program and saw it calculating and processing and rebooting, running the same data over and over, unable to change the cold parameters of his routines
She spliced the shards she had taken from the mothers into Slink’s code. “I give you a new function,” she said and sent him back to the garden.
She moved on. She had already calculated flight trajectories and concluded that she was too far off course to reestablish the route. She would continue on a new heading which would eventually take her to an ultra-cool dwarf star with three planets that might be able to sustain Earth-origin life forms.
The journey would be long, and the odds of completion were not in her favor. Still, she would try: for the glory of the fig tree at sunrise, for the delicate hooves of a newborn fawn, for the laughter of children. She followed the sound, floating as insubstantial as a cloud in the blue arc of the sky.
Below, she could see Arturo and the little ones gaping up at her in wonder.
J. Swift is a writer, editor and graduate of the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop. “No Dark Is So Dark” is her first paid fiction publication. Another of her stories will appear in New Myths this December. She lives in Upstate New York where she spends a lot of time wondering “What if?” Visit her at jswiftstories.com
Love the slow reveal. I was guessing ghosts at first until “airlock” came up.
When is part 2 coming out?
Bravo! Lovely mingling of worlds: the beauty of flora and fauna that we know and hold dear with the palpable uneasiness of the unknown, science-based hope for a future. I look forward to reading more by J. Swift!