“Isn’t there anything to read on this damned old piece of ship?”
“Yin, you’ve read the back of every cereal box we have in here. Can’t you give it a rest? Go eat something or write your own book for Galaxia’s sake.”
Yin groaned, sprawled out on the sofa in their heat-scathed pearly-white shuttle - one of the oldest generations of space-faring crafts. She was a young novice Traveler, of Asian descent but through and through American in nature. Her deep black hair and eyes betrayed none of this, but her mouth was about as tamed as wild boar. Adrift in space for nearly a month, she was beginning to discover the pains of under-preparation for long flights. Boore, on the other hand, was an aged Traveler of English descent; he had began stocking up materials to enjoy six months in advance when he received his assignment. His faded sapphires gleaned slowly at his tablet, scrolling through one of the thousands of books he had purchased.
“Maybe I’ll just try memorizing things now. Hand me the mission report, won’t ya?” she beckoned, upside down on the couch.
Boore set down his novel sighing, and propelled himself a little bit into the gravity-free portion of the spacecraft. This was one of the few rooms in the Scientific Explorer Advanced-Reach Craft Hybrid-type (SEARCH) spacecraft that had no artificial gravity: the media room. It was called so because it held all of the crew’s media, from personal belongings like books and movies to scientific studies, encyclopedias, dictionaries, mathematical formulas, and other technical papers. He shuffled through the mess - it was like a tornado had hit here ever since Yin realized her mistake - and grabbed the red paper-bound scripts. ‘M-Mission 03’ it read in white, professional text. As he floated back, he wondered why this mission was specifically packed with hard-copies rather than digital copies of everything.
He threw it softly towards Yin, although once the book entered the gravity-enabled living room it tumbled violently into her face.
“What the hell?!”
“Sorry,” he chuckled, “I forgot about gravity.”
“Like hell you did,” she muttered, flipping open the packet. It was quite a heavy book, too. This might have been the wrong book to start memorizing. “I don’t think I can memori-”
Falling perfectly into his chair, Boore eyed the book. “You still have another two months, so you might as well start now.”
“Yeah, yeah… shut up.”
Yin was still reading when Boore set a can of pineapple fried rice on the coffee table in front of her. “It’s been an hour. How far have you gotten?”
“Damn far, I think. About one whole page of text.”
“Let’s hear some of it then.”
Yin dog-eared the page and tossed it onto the seat next to her. She took a big spoonful of the synthetic food before beginning her recital.
“Lead Traveler Boore, Novice Yin. You have been selected for the next M-Mission - this is an honorable mission and will be beneficial to the rest of humankind on completion.
“The M-Missions are the codename for a series of missions the Galactic Republic has determined that will attempt to contact one of the most unknown planetary systems in our galaxy. This planetary system is known to the locals, as far as we can tell, as ‘Mother-Arc Garden’. This will be the third mission in this series, following the first two failures which we’ve determined were due to unaccountable incidents on-board. We’ve taken every precaution, so please be at peace.
“Mother-Arc Garden is in fact a binary planetary system. We’re sure that both of you know that this means, but we reiterate: two planets of exactly the same size and mass orbit each other around a central origin point, which orbits a star like a normal planet. Due to this unique phenomenon, we’ve classified this system as a Intergalactic Conservatory. The term Intergalactic Conservatory is rarely used or assigned due to their innately crucial nature. Any system labeled as such contains certain traits that are considered extremely rare or completely unique. As such, bear caution about the accidental interchange of cultures, customs, or even biology.”
Boore nodded his head. “I don’t think I heard any mistakes there. Well done.”
Yin shrugged and continued her meal. It looked bland, but tasted like the real thing - she could almost feel the pineapple juice being crushed from chunks of the fruit, if not for the fact that all their meals were made from artificial flavoring and a soy-whey-whatever mixture guaranteed to provide all necessary nutrients. “I think I’m done for today. There’s about fifty more pages; one a day is more than enough for me.”
“If you say so.”
“Say, I’ve had this disgusting pineapple shit for a week now. Isn’t there anything else this place can make?”
“It’s the oldest craft in existence that still works. Be glad your sorry ass isn’t starving right now.”
“I’m sorry, okay?! I’m sorry!”
“Now’s not the time. Strap yourself in, this will get really rough very fast. … Ready?”
“Traveler Boore record and broadcast. We’re going in for a hot landing. Measurements begin. Throttle at a hundred and six percent, temperatures nominal, fuel use as expected.”
An immediate jerk could be felt as the craft fired all of its rockets retrograde to stop itself from impacting one of the two planets at ten-thousand miles per hour.
“Current rate leads to impact in twenty seconds at eight thousand mips!”
Boore muttered profanities one after another as he increased the throttle to a hundred and fifty percent of the engine’s rated maximum. “Yin!”
“Impact in eighteen at fifty-two-thirty!”
“Shit! Keep updating!”
“Fifteen at twenty-fourty! Twelve at nine-twenty! Ten at -!”
And everything stopped. The ship stalled in position, everything inside the media room smashed into the wall, and the two Travelers were pulled straight out of consciousness.
Yin came to first. She found herself hanging face down from her seat, which was suspended oddly above her. She felt the gravitational pull of the spaceship, as well as an odd sensation of waves of water that pushed her back. As she slowly recognized the situation, she began the standard procedure for working with an unfamiliar scenario. She flicked off the power source of the ship, quickly enveloping the two in darkness. The only light that came through was reflected by the furious red exteriors of Garden. She unbuckled Boore from his cockpit seat and allowed him to float freely, weightlessly…
Wait, weightlessly? They were right next to a planet, and not even in orbit as far as she could tell - gravity should do its work! “Boore, Boore! Wake up!”
The veteran blinked a few times. “Galaxia’s damned souls, I’ve never felt so dead and alive at the same time!”
Yin quickly debriefed Boore on the observed situation as he listened intently, staring out a small circular window at the accursed planets. They were indeed suspended above the center of orbit, but not in orbit. Some force was repelling them from descending any further, but none of the newtonian theories allowed that to happen! Either something had gone very wrong with the ship’s systems, or someone forgot to do their math during pre-mission preparation.
A sparkle in the distance was Boore’s first sign of extraterrestrial life. His trained eye knew that sort of reflection - it was a metallic ship, probably an envoy, or perhaps a battleship. In either case, the Travelers could not do anything until they fully understood the situation. The two Travelers waited patiently as the craft approached at snail’s pace. Whoever it was, they were probably assessing this alien monstrosity for danger.
“My humble greetings to the two sentient beings in this foreign mobility unit.”
Boore and Yin exchanged glances, one surprised and the other afraid. The voice had not been received by ear - in fact, there really was no voice at all. The thought just seemed to have settled inside their own minds, obtrusively enough to be noticed but not disorienting.
“Welcome to Mother-Arc Garden.”
Boore took the initiative and restarted the shuttle’s power core. As machinery roared silently back to life in the vacuum of space, the craft began to shudder - lightly at first, but the vibrations continued to escalate until it felt like the craft would tear itself into two. Yin slammed her hand on the emergency cutoff switch, instantly rendering the shuttle useless.
“Please, don’t turn on your mobility unit. I shall guide you down to my home.”
Again, the odd sensation of having a split personality was noticeable but not jarring. Someone in that craft was mindspeaking to them. Boore had experience with this. There were at least sixteen other planets that he’d visited where mindspeak was largely possible to varying degrees.
Boore’s recollection of his adventures with mindspeak was interrupted by Yin’s screaming. The ground rushed up to greet the ceramic heat plates, a thick layer of plasma enveloping the Galactic Republic’s oldest craft. Yet their sure-fire collision course stopped dead in its tracks just inches above the grassy, dirty surface of Garden. Surely inertia would carry the two humans straight into the cold, hard walls, but antigravity was somehow still in effect - they budged not an inch.
“Where the hell are we, Boore?” asked a shaken (quite literally) Yin.
“Look up,” he smiled, gesturing out the starboard window.
They had entered the area where the two planets, tidally locked, faced each other. The sky was filled with ground, but it was not possible to determine which of the twins they had landed on. The colors emanating from the ground of both planets pulsated, first a deep purple, then an envious green, but fading into a welcoming light blue and pink.
Boore peered at the many gauges and meters next to the ship’s main entrance. “The readouts look fairly acceptable for human life. Pressure, air content, gravity …” He continued to mumble to himself as he formed rough estimates about the climate outside and whether wearing a terrasuit would be worth it.
“Oh, to hell with checking it! It looks fine, so let’s go!” grumbled the impatient newbie. “I’ve been stuck in this hellhole for long enough, gimme some fresh air!”
“Yin, you’d be better off with a suit. Radiation levels are off the charts and there are traces of nuclear waste around here for some reason.”
Just as Boore prepared to attach his helmet to the Lightweight-TerraSuit Mark II, the alien whom had escorted the Earthlings onto Garden mindspoke once again. “The most intelligent minds of our species are prepared to greet you. Please, take your time. We also have many varieties of local nutrition for your enjoyment.”
It was Yin who finally realized what felt so odd about their method of mindspeak. Even though she had little experience, there was a very distinct sensation each time the voice spoke in their minds: she could never remember what had been said specifically - no words were formed, no sentences, no grammar, no pitches. She knew what had been said, but not how it had been said.
An old, almost physically dusty voice echoed back, “Understood. We’re almost ready to meet your planet.” These words stuck; they were left embedded like words on a page, recallable to the exact letter.
Boore smiled. “Surprised?”
The council sat upon the mighty thrones that were small gray boulders, their frail bodies bundled in a silky smooth cloth. Twenty-two pairs of half-blind eyes followed the two strange beings, clad in pale orange suits and tight-fitting helmets, observing and studying their tall, muscular figures.
Boore’s broadcast was a little more sharp and lively than before, though his vocabulary was rigid and choppy. “My humblest greetings towards the gifted inhabitants of Mother-Arc Garden. My calling word is Boore. Alongside myself is a trainee of whom I am tasked to teach and guide, who’s calling word is Yin.
“We are sent by my superior group, the Galactic Republic, as part of our research, to investigate your beautiful and unique planetary system. I beg the greatest pardons if I am unfamiliar with your customs. We shall be learning much from all of you for the next few weeks.”
One of the council members began to speak aloud, his small jaw and dry mouth creating sharp hissing sounds with precision and gusto. The envoy from before aided the translation through mindspeak.
“The speaking is known as Eou. He apologizes that he is no longer capable of speaking directly and must use more rudimentary forms of communication. He welcomes you, and asks that you join the rest of the council in our chambers to dine and exchange information.”
Yin glanced at Boore, slightly jealous that she had not ever been taught the skill of mindspeak. She had studied it thoroughly in training, as was required of all new recruits, but to be held back from what seemed like an easy method of communicating was slightly infuriating. She heard Boore again, with the same tangible wordiness: “It is our honor.”
As the group trudged slowly to the township approximately a kilometer away from their landing site, the envoy continued to make conversation. As Boore answered the many questions the creature had about the spacecraft, Yin instead analyzed their unfamiliar friends. The characteristics of the locals were similar in form to humans, as predicted many centuries ago; sustainable intelligence required opposable thumbs, visual and auditory senses, and a bipedal gait. However, they were very small in size - an adult (she guessed) was only about four feet tall, with a rib-less torso and extremely hunched back. Their movements were slow, almost mesmerizing, and almost always in synchronicity with the people around them. There was a methodical ticking that Yin could almost feel in her spine, and unconsciously she began to match that rhythm.
“Ah, we’ve arrived at the chambers. Please, you are welcome to stay here for as long as you may require. We have all the necessary facilities that we expected other organisms to need, but please inform us if you need anything else.”
A cart made of thatched grass and stone wheels was brought in, lined with various fruits, vegetables, and the local wheat and grains. Yin noted that almost everything was puny in comparison to Earth foods. She gracefully plucked what appeared to be a grape from the cart and sampled it - “Oh my Galaxia, Boore! You must taste these!”
Boore nodded absentmindedly. He was shuffling through his suit’s pockets to find a chemical analyzer, in order to determine the toxicity of the local cuisine to humans. As he began to scan various fruits, his brow furrowed. “What the fu- Yin, hand me yours. … The shit is this? The readings keep changing!”
He spun around furiously, scanning his own suit and the ground around them. “Galaxia, I’ll be damned. They don’t work.”
Yin saw a flashing light in her helmet. “Boore. The radioactivity of our surroundings just passed a million times the limit for human exposure for a minute.”
Boore whispered back, “It’s reading a zero for me.”
“Temperature. Ask them for a thermometer, Boore. Our data is completely wrong.”
Boore did, but the council seemed confused. Had he not been wearing a helmet, Boore would be tearing his hair out now. “They don’t know what a thermometer is. They don’t know what a thermometer is, but they sent a spacecraft capable of hyperspeed and hyperdeceleration that belies inertia, friction, and energy. They can’t measure dammed heat but they can effortlessly guide our billion-dollar craft safely onto a planet.”
The envoy finally spoke. “Traveler Boore, there is some information that I must share with you. Please do not be so alarmed. I am certain you know of the other two encounters we have had with your kind, no?”
Boore nodded, panting heavily and sweating profusely in his suit. None of this was supposed to happen, yet here he was. “The first and second trips both ended prematurely. We don’t know what happened to them.”
The envoy came a little closer, perhaps to show compassion or consolation. “The first encounter ended in a melting. You saw how your approach was suspended mid-way. The planets do not accept just any newcomers; they must be invited first. The first group were incinerated as they attempted to breach the barrier.
“The second group made the correct choice; they waited for us. However, we found that we were unable to control their ship in any meaningful way; we found only monotonous pulsations of energy throughout their craft, which we didn’t understand. Their craft descended too quickly and we could not stop them in time.
“When you attempted to mobilize your craft, it conflicted with my abilities to control it, so I am very glad you stopped it before I had to let you go and allowed you to hurl back into the stars. Our Mother works in incredible ways, not all understood but all accepted.”
It made sense now, at least to Boore. The old craft was given to them not because it was powerful enough, but because it was the last craft that utilized pistons, gears, and other control surfaces prior to the great electromagnetic revolution, so called for its non-physical abilities. The books were because digital devices would not work here, like their suit equipment.
Yin had long since stopped tasting the food. She stared blankly at the envoy, slowly processing the information that had just been dumped in front of her. No matter how hard she tried, there was one thought that lingered in the corner of her mind: Garden had the two Travelers hostage.
Yin found herself alone in the chambers the next morning. Her eyes drifted open, staring at the tall, pointed ceiling of thick slabs of wood slathered in some form of hard wax. The bed was not soft, but it was still comfortable. Her suit laid in a pile next to her, all but useless in a perfectly habitable environment. Boore had probably gone back to the ship to attempt communications back to home - but those messages, even with the dense network of quantum satellites, would take days if not weeks to arrive at Sol’s station.
Almost as soon as she had awoke, the envoy knocked on the door.
“Traveler Yin, may I approach?”
Yin replied out loud, “Come on in,” before realizing her mistake. She quickly opened the door, slightly embarrassed.
“Do not be ashamed, novice. Boore has informed me of your inability to mindspeak. He instructed me to teach you, and so here I am. It is simple.”
Yin nodded, hoping that he would understand the gesture as affirmative.
“Good. Imagine the taste of the fruit you enjoyed so much last evening.”
Yin focused on the sweetness, the tartness, and bitterness all together, like a blueberry but with a tinge of lemon and lime.
“Now shout that out loud as hard as you can.”
“Perrubuile!” came a voice, soft and hazy, but a voice nonetheless.
The envoy smiled. “Congratulations. The channel has been opened. Try.”
“Can you… hear me?”
“I can. Well done, Traveler Yin. You are now able to mindspeak - to us, at least.”
Before he could stand up to leave, Yin blurted, “Does my voice sound different to Boore’s?”
The envoy laughed. “So, you’ve noticed as well? It is an art, Yin, to speak without words. Boore seems to be unable to leave his old ways behind - so you’ll need to teach him.”
Yin grinned. The student teaching the teacher? That sounded fun enough. But she soon found herself playing with the new word she had learned. The fruit’s name was Perrubuile. It seemed like a mix of pear, berry, and soil, although whether that was coincidence or not she couldn’t tell.
Stepping outside, Yin attempted to do the same for every new organism she saw. Yellow-blue flowers were Geoapies, a rodent-like beetle was a Katchurk, and the planets each called themselves differently; the one they had landed on was called Gar, whereas the one opposite them was called Den. Yin spent a good three hours prancing through the tall Triss and running across wide Haileies learning new words and improving her mindspeak before settling down in a tall tree for a well-deserved break. As she stared into the horizon, she noticed two streaks of white that conjoined the two planets, almost like an hourglass.
Those were the Arcs - extended any further, and they would be the barrier that the envoy had mentioned the previous night. The arcs seemed to provide a shield for the inhabitants of Garden, hiding the creatures from the harsh radiation of their blue-supergiant sun. No wonder it was called Mother-Arc; the arcs were literally the protection of the babies that lived on the planetary system.
“Would you like for me to bring you to the Joining Point?”
Boore looked up from his tea, brewed with many herbs that Yin had discovered on her little journey and validated by Eou as non-toxic. “Joining Point?”
The envoy nodded, a gesture it had picked up from the two humans. “There is a passage between Gar and Den at the centerpoint of their faces. Would you like to visit Den?”
Boore shook his head. “I’m more than busy enough here. I have a lot to study here, and I still have to figure out the laws of physics that govern this place.” He tapped on his leatherbound notebook, filled to the brim with physical measurements and observations. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor of their chamber, papers sprawled out around him. “Math doesn’t do itself, you know.”
The novice pouted. There was so much to explore on this world, this Intergalactic Conservatory, and Boore was blind to it all. He had spent the better part of the week dropping stones of various sizes, measuring the time on his pocketwatch (which she had discovered in the media room, along with rulers, thermometers, and other means of physical measurement) and deriving equations from projectile trajectories. “I’ll go.”
The envoy nodded again, standing up and gesturing for Yin to follow. Boore handed her a handful of tools and a small pouch as she made her way out. “Don’t forget your job. Get some data for me.”
“Yin,” said the envoy with the slightest hint of impatience, “we must get going. The channel does not remain open for very long.”
The queer pair walked briskly through the little town as the envoy led the Traveler to the top of a hill some kilometers away. Although she had aced many physical exams prior to the trip, Yin was soon panting from the glare of the bright white sun. The envoy stopped periodically to let her rest before urging her to continue their trek, introducing her to more and more wildlife of Gar.
The animals of Gar, Yin noticed, were much different from those of Earth. Their features were deformed and their walks were more like wobbles. Natural selection must not apply here, she reasoned, for those animals would be easy targets for even a dachshund. Their furry coats glistened brightly, with deep undertones - like a jacket made of orchestral symphonies. Every creature was unique in its own way, some with six legs and others with three, some with four eyes and others with four ears. Evolution had stopped long ago for these archaic creatures - now, they survived simply out of might.
“Mother cares for them, you see,” explained the envoy. “She cares for everything in here, in the arcs. We don’t hunt, and they don’t hunt. Any food is given to us by Mother.”
The fruits were equally as weird as the animals. They all tended to be difficult to see and soft-shelled, yet there was fruit readily available whenever the Travelers were hungry. The envoy reached out and plucked a large, green fruit that Yin had not seen before. It was shrouded in dense leaves, as smooth as an apple but squishy like an orange. “This is a very rare fruit - it seems Mother enjoys your presence.”
As the sun disappeared into the shadow of Den, the travelling pair finally arrived at the Joining Point. It had been visible for some time - a tunnel of red light stretched from the ground of Gar to the surface of Den, the occasional stone or weed being pulled in and transferred slowly across the space chasm.
“Whoa,” whispered Yin. “That’s damned beautiful up close.”
“It is indeed. Would you like to traverse the channel?”
Without hesitation, Yin nodded vigorously. “Yes please.”
“Step in, and don’t move until I say so.”
She had half her leg in when the envoy jerked her back. She fell on the ground and tumbled a few feet before coming back to her senses. “What?!”
“Take off the bag.”
“Your pouch. There is something in it that Mother does not approve of. The channel turned blue the instant you stepped in.”
Yin quickly removed the pouch, too excited to argue. “Can I go now?”
This time, the channel remained glowing a cheery red. The envoy stepped in after her, and they slowly ascended into the heavens in the two-meter-wide tunnel.
“We have a lot of time before we arrive, so we may as well talk a bit.”
Yin shrugged. To be able to float mid-air was fun enough for her, not to mention the notion that she would soon be flying across space. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Your trip back home.”
“Mother and I know that you won’t be staying much longer. You, as a Traveler and agent of the Galactic Republic, have learned all there needs to be learned from Garden. Boore is old, and so are his ways and methods. He thinks old, he sees old. He will never get the answers he wants. You, you are young.” (She blushed a little.) “You look upon the world with innocent, young eyes. You see and hear what Boore cannot, you speak how Boore cannot.”
“We still need measurements, and data, to bring back to the Galactic Republic.”
“The way you threw away your bag tells me otherwise, Yin.”
They were beginning to enter the dark cloak of space, the stars slowly becoming visible as the sun disappeared into the horizon. “But we still have a whole second planet to explore. We can’t leave now!”
The envoy gave her a sad smile, his faded eyes filled with sorrow. “There is a reason, my friend, why I brought you here at the very end of your trip. There is a reason I told you to leave your belongings. There is a reason for everything, Yin, but one does not always know what it is until it is too late.”
They were now completely surrounded by the vacuum of space, a hundred miles above Gar. Den drifted menacingly above them, like a planet about to crush the two space-faring strangers. “Why did you bring me here now?”
“Yin. Look up at Den. It is night-time now, both on Gar and Den. Do you see the difference?”
At first Yin had no clue what the envoy had meant, but it became glaring obvious - literally. The area within the Arc on Den was flooded with lights, halogen and fluorescent and incandescent. The beautifully harsh rays of artificial light was both welcoming and repulsive at the same time, ugly and fake. “They use science!”
“Yes. And when we land, you will see why the channel is so rarely used, and why I hesitate to bring you to their civilization.”
About mid-way through the trip, the envoy had instructed Yin how to flip herself upside down to meet the ground with her feet instead of her face. The touchdown was soft, and the landing zone no different from that of Gar’s except for one major feature: there was a concrete building a hundred meters from the Joining Point.
“That’s the transport building. We can pick up transportation devices there.”
Yin noted the hint of exasperation in the envoy’s voice. “Let’s go, then.”
Their transportation device was extremely similar to a terravehicle of Earth from a few centuries ago. The rudimentary four wheels with rubber tires and noisy chassis sped on the roads at a measly eighty kilometers an hour, estimated roughly by Yin’s experience in blind-flight. The size was just barely fitting for Yin, and somewhat oversized for the envoy, so she took the wheel and it sat behind.
“The inhabitants of Den are much larger in size than we are, but they are still dwarfed next to you Travelers.”
“I see. Hey, is that the city?”
“Indeed. That is their greatest city, Elkuun.”
Yin continued the drive into the city gates, a large structure that monitored the entrance and exit of every vehicle from the city. She navigated into the lane the envoy expected to be for guests, and pulled up to the booth.
Yin, proud of her skills, took initiative and mindspoke. “Hello. My name is Yin, and I am a Traveler sent by the Galactic Republic. We’re here to sightsee.”
The envoy put his hand lightly on her shoulder. “They don’t mindspeak. They can’t hear it.” He stuck his head out the window, and shouted somewhat roughly, “Arghthas vlutemen kartthisde brillsthvas.”
The figure in the booth seemed to pause for a moment, before the gate lifted open for Yin to pass. She couldn’t help but wince. “Their language seems so… harsh compared to mine.”
“Your language is harsh to my ears as well, Yin.”
The city lights illuminated the tarmac, every street lined with tall skyscrapers reminiscent of New York City from three hundred years ago. “It’s quite an amazing city.”
“Perhaps in your wisdom, it is. But I have grown fond of my home, so this is horrendous to my eyes and ears.”
“Perhaps. Say, why can’t they mindspeak?”
“Let us find a place to dine. I shall tell you the history of Den, as quickly as possible. Then you shall understand everything.”
The diner was mostly empty, and the food was delicious. There was no fruit, but the bread and jam was absolutely delicious, and Yin was on her third serving. The envoy wasted no time in getting to the story.
“Den was originally just like Gar in appearance. They were governed by two different universal systems, as the popular saying goes, but somewhere in the line there was a split. Inhabitants of Den had an odd urge to find out how, and why everything was. They became obsessed with the future, the far future, beyond what they would ever achieve in three lifetimes.
“Gar did not. You heard Mother’s heartbeat before, right? The people of Den are deaf to it now. They refused to believe what they couldn’t explain. They cannot feel the rhythm of life, nor can they find the gifts that Mother gives to them.
“Mother is considered a fairytale to most on Den. Some children believe her to be real, and they try to talk to her, but they never succeed. They are a race who’ve lost the knowledge of how to mindspeak, how to feel, how to enjoy.
“Sometimes I wonder if they even live at all.”
“I guess we all have to make a choice at some point, Boore.”
The spacecraft was slowly being lifted by the envoy, carrying the shuttle back into space for the return journey home. It had been three months since their landing, and traces of moss could be found in crevices of the old ship. The engine and power core remained off, so the only light came from the faint glow of Den and the sun creeping up through Gar’s atmosphere. The only sound were their voices - their actual voices.
“I asked, whaddya mean?”
Yin laid her head back on the headrest of her copilot’s seat. “I was thinking about Den. They made a choice. They’re like Earth from forever ago now, but at least they’re like Earth. Gar made its own choice, and that’s made it different from everything else we’ve ever seen.”
“You’re right about that, by damned Galaxia. Nothing that I measured made any sense at all. I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything on that planet.”
Yin silently thought, But I’ve learned more about the world and all of its possibilities than you would ever know. If only you’d just relax once in a while.
The envoy spoke once again. “My two friends, we bid you farewell and safe journey. Please remember the time you’ve spent with us, for we will forever keep you in our hearts.”
A gruff voice replied, “It has been our honor to interact with beings as yourself.”
A melodic voice laughed. “Looks like I still have much to teach my teacher about the art of mindspeaking.”
The envoy could be heard chuckling. “It appears so. Now, please be on your way. May our paths cross once again by the will of Mother.”
Boore started up the engines, sighing a breath of relief as the readings returned to normal and the craft didn’t shake itself apart. “Looks like we’ll be on our way home now.”
“Wait,” blurted Yin. “One last thing.” She unbuckled herself from her seat and ran to the window where the envoy and its rudimentary craft (which, upon closer inspection, was not a craft at all but a bubble of arc-energy that Mother must’ve given it) stood. “My great friend, our envoy, Gar’s representative. We do not know your name yet.”
The envoy smiled. “You do not need to know it.”
“Please accept my final request. Tell me your name.”
Boore grumbled loudly at his seat. “What are you two talking about? Hurry it up!”
Yin kneeled at the window. “Please, tell me your name so that I may never forget you.”
Boore had started the engines, and began to turn the craft to face Earth once again. His irritation at his failed mission and the secret conversation the two were having had driven him to the limits of his patience. “This is Traveler Boore, with Novice Yin. We’re recording and broadcasting. We have successfully left the planetary mission M-3 and are about to engage in the journey back home to Earth.”
“My name is…”
The rockets fired at full throttle, filling the shuttle with an explosion of noise in the still-existent atmosphere of Garden. But its voice rang true in Yin’s mind, the word deeply ingrained in her mind forever: