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[2010: NOV-DEC] Best Left Unsaid


kvdbreem
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The First Day

The atmosphere around me is alien. The warm light of the sun is something more familiar to me though – something I've seen a thousand times. I don't want to talk to anybody. John seems finished with me. Is it because I'm better than he is? Or is he better than I am?

Rocks. Rocks and sand. That's about all there is to this place. Praxis. It's a name I've heard too many times this week. What are you going to do on Praxis? What's Praxis mean for you? Do you have family on Praxis? Stupid questions from people who aren't even interested in the answers. I'm going to Praxis because I have to, because it's part of my practicum. If you want to write you have to be comfortable with alien situations. You need to get out of your comfort zone.

Orson's psychologist believes I should be here. I'm a skiddish person, unaccustomed to the difficulties of modern life, she says. I can't disagree there. What's it been now? Four years? Yeah four years of working these simple jobs and trying to become a great writer. Maybe this isn't the life for me.

Ten thousand feet. The refineries below slide across the terrain like ships across a sea of grays, browns, and charcoal blacks. The newest one is fifty years old. I'm hovering above the caved in chest of what used to be Qo'noS's main income and I don't feel a thing. Five thousand. Noble metalwork looms below, the last of the surface stations to die. The steel skirts around it keep the place safe from the local wildlife – subterranean bacterial colonies. Those things move fast, they say. The snottites they formed from were the last things you'd expect to crawl up out of the ground and attack you.

100 feet. The ground directly below is smooth and black. There's a twisting wire frame protruding from it, arcing upward and then trailing back down into the quagmire. We move a few meters further, til we're directly above the metal walkways along the top walls of the building.

“Got your padd with you?” It's the first thing John's said in hours. The last thing was, “I'm sorry but I have to fly this thing.” What prompted him to say that was my asking him for a tip on my latest story. Practical life. That's what I have to learn and why I've come here.

“Yes.” 30 feet. Noble is a dark red landscape of rust and chipped paint. 10 feet.

“Good. I'm glad you're doing this.”

The words are hollow as though the man who spoke them could blow away at any moment. Practicum. It's what everybody who attends Orson has to go through. We're on the ground, and the small shuttle's engines fade into the rumble around us.

“You'll have about ninety seconds,” John says.

“Ninety?”

I'm terrified. The cabin around us shifts as the aft hatch opens. There's no way to see out into the back behind the door to the cabin. But I know what I'll see when the cabin door opens. John hovers his hand over the release. I look at him, trying to get a reading from his face. He's got a look I've seen a lot lately. His eyes are distant, his face bottomless. I imagine a ray of light from the far-off sun of my face feebly trying to penetrate the depths and meeting only water that goes on forever, until finally the last glimmer drowns.

The latch opens. Noble waits for me behind a thin film of energy protecting the interior of our tiny shuttle from wind damage. I step through the cabin door and watch the gaping maw of the open hatch grow, swallowing me. A gust belts the side of the shuttle and something indescribable – metal and blurry – clanks against the side and disappears.

In the corner of my eye I see the last of the shuttle interior disappear into the noise of movement and sensation where sight tapers into nothing.

My nose tickles against the force field. Forward. I have to do this. I plunge through the field, my body immersed in the derelict fluid that passes for air on Praxis.

I have to keep moving or I'll become just another piece of debris picked up and thrown away. Something bangs nearby. I turn. The shuttle's gone but I see a shed with an opened door. An arm beckons from inside. Running, I do my best to ignore the small things lacerating my face. The arm is waving slower now, its owner satisfied that I'm coming.

Darkness. The door slams behind us. I can hear the wind continue to howl outside, pulling at it.

“Life is very long down here, short outside.”

The man speaks with an accent that's hard to place. Is that French?

“But inside there is only one direction to safety. Down. Do you understand?”

I do.

“You will learn soon enough.”

We descend a metallic staircase. I can see the dim apparition of a light source ahead as the sounds of the surface recede. John is up there. Everything there is dead.

“John chose a good place for you to come.”

“John?” I say, the name as foreign to me as this man's accent. “You know--”

“Of course,” the man says. “Did you not think I was unaware of your coming? We plan these things for months. That is what real life requires. Planning. It is not spontaneous. That is a stupid idea. Whoever came up with it?”

He laughs and snorts. I guess it's funny. The light's brighter and I can see things below. There's a table. It's brown. The floor. It's brown. We reach the end of the staircase. Nearby is a bookshelf and a workdesk littered with s[...]s of paper. The words move around on the pages, shifting from one readout to another.

“As I said,” the man continues. “Planning. Something the Klingons failed to do. And it was to their detriment. Now they have orbiting them a trash heap they are no longer interested in, inhabited by... us.”

The Second Day

We worked for hours, trying to get the place cleaned up after the last pilgrim who'd decided to come here. I learned this place was a popular spot for aspiring writers. It's quiet at night and the wind above really helps keep out the thoughts of the civilization around you.

I learn the man's name. Michele. Michele's been doing this for years, he says. Planning things, that is. He's great at it. He starts with a bunch of pages from all over the known galaxy. Reports about stuff going on, pages from textbooks, paragraphs from novels. Planning, he calls it. I call it a mess.

“What you do,” he said to me about an hour ago, “is get material from the real world. You know, that is where dreams come from?”

I nodded. It was the best I could do. His words sounded like something from an old movie. Copy of a copy. That's what the people in 20th century Earth used to call a lot of the trash that passed for writing then. Sometimes I imagine myself walking down a dark road in a nameless city there. All around me are pages from a book called... oh I don't know. Lonely City Nights? Frack, I can even hear the crooning of a saxophone in the distance.

I feel a nudge on my shoulder.

“Look!” Michele's holding a faint picture from a 300-year-old atlas. The paper's encased in archival sheathing so it glistens a bit in the mat way papers in archival sheathing usually do. On the page there's a picture of a brown-gold planet with a gigantic ring around it. “Now we're going to perform our own harvest! Hah!!”

Next he picks up a piece of paper from the desk. The words flash across it, dancing in front of women. The women wear two-piece bathing suits and when the name Risa flashes they start to gyrate. The women fade and in their place appear the words “Planet of everlasting Rainbows.”

“Hold this.”

I do as I'm told and he picks up a jewelled box.

“What's in the box?”

“Chasse.”

“What?”

He looks annoyed at me. “It's called a chasse. The three wise men probably carried these to the birthplace of an ancient king.”

“The who?”

“Nevermind. It's important though for your story.”

“I don't even know what you're talking about.”

“Exactly.”

I look down at the two pictures. I hold the two side-by-side, the ringed planet juxtaposed against the burlesque postcard from the planet of everlasting rainbows.

“Sit down.”

I sit in one of the chairs around the table, still trying to piece together what is going on here. Michele sets the box – I'm sorry, the chasse – down in front of me.

“Open it.”

I set down the pictures and lift the lid to find a glowing pearl inside. I reach for it and grasp the tiny thing. I can feel its warmth between my fingers.

“Name it.”

“What?”

Michele gives me his annoyed look again. “Give it a name.”

“Any name?”

“Yes! It is a character isn't it?”

“No. It's a warm ball of ga-- I don't know.”

I don't know why I wanted to say it. Gas? A warm ball of gas? No, it isn't. It's just a warm pearl.

“Michele.” I look right into his eyes so he gets the message. “What is this really?”

He looks sheepish and says, “Oh well I got it from a trader from Iconia. He found it in one of the mines here on Praxis, 60 years ago, when this moon was still a viable asset and not just garbage. He said there were thousands of stones just like it in that mine.” He takes a sip of coffee. “But he told me they're only good for making trinkets.”

But it's not just a trinket. There's something odd about it, like the feeling you get when you're walking down a street at night and you see a house that looks like yours and you catch yourself looking up into the windows for your family. I look closer at the pearl, holding it up to my eyes. It looks more like a spherical diamond, like that thing the Vorgons were trying to steal.

It changes colour. Sometimes it's a bright orange. Other times it's blood-red. Now it's a brilliant white. Red again. Brilliant white.

“What will you call it?”

'planet of everlasting rainbows' flashes across the picture and my eyes drift slowly to the edge of the Risian postcard to see... A ring. That's all there is. The planet is gone, leaving only the ring like a sandy-brown rainbow.

“I don't know.”

The Third Day

I dreamed about the planet of everlasting rainbows last night. I saw the brown rainbow in the sky. But there was something else too. Shining at the top of the arc of the rainbow was a star. It was so bright that I could see my own shadow behind me in the snow.

Someone was standing near me, holding my hand. Gently, he ran his fingers across my own fingers, caressed my palm and I felt his lips kissing my cheek. We were both walking together in some kind of pool. My ankles were freezing and the man, his voice shivering, said, “I've...lost...my innocence.”

The stars went out, beginning with the bright star at the edge of the rainbow. I could feel the man's hands trembling. “I'll leave a....part of me with you.”

I sat up abruptly in bed. The work room was bathed in a bright white light and when I looked down I saw the glowing pearl. Surrounding it were the bones of my hand, the flesh gone. I gasped and the pearl changed colour to a dark red. The light reflected off the skin of my hand and I figured the skeleton must have been just an illusion brought on by sleepiness. I closed my fingers around the pearl as though it were now a part of me, until the light was confined inside my fist and the room was dark again.

I'm sitting at Michele's desk. The postcard and the planet are side-by-side. The chasse lies empty as I roll the pearl between my fingers, unsure what to do next.

“Have you named it yet?”

I shake my head sheepishly.

“You will,” he says. “And with that I think it is time that I sent you on your way, Cher Jessica. And I hope you will speak well of our home, our Cher Noble.”

We ascend the metal staircase in silence. Michele seems pensive, resigned somehow. The metallic door opens to the howling wind and I can see the shuttlecraft. I have ninety seconds.

Ascension

It's been a week now since I met Michele and had the strange dream. I can't sleep again. Something about that pearl gnaws at me. I shouldn't have left it behind. But I couldn't come up with a name for it. So I figured I'd leave it with Michele so he could find someone else to solve that puzzle. Besides I don't want to wake up to skeletal hands again from dreams about creepy guys breathing on my neck.

The lobby's empty this time of night, save for the soft voice of the subspace news service.

“What was long-predicted by seismic experts has finally come true,” the holographic anchor announces. “Praxis, the Klingon defunct and resource-stripped moon, has finally collapsed under its own mass and exploded.”

The image of the exploding moon displays on the holo projector, somewhat obscured by the news anchor.

“Forgive me,” the artificial intelligence matrix briefly takes control of the suited avatar, who steps aside. I feel a cold tingling at my feet as the anchor eyes me for a moment. He looks as though he's about to say something he and I both know would best be left unsaid.

“This marks the end of an era in Klingon history. In other news, the Romulan Star Empire's recent military buildup along...”

He drones on and I walk away from the projector, glad that the moon, along with the pearl, is no more. Maybe it even took Michele with it. As I walk through the empty hall toward the door to the academic lot I picture the rainbow and the star. I think I know the name. I open the door and the star fades, leaving the last dwindling shimmer of the rainbow hanging in my memory. The pearl impels me to whisper its name, as though doing so will absolve me of whatever it was I did in that place.

“Hobus.”

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