My metallic earpiece vibrated, prompting me to wake. I had set it to alert me mid-sleep-session so that I wouldn’t be late for the Rising, the few moments of the year when the darkness of our planet is illuminated by the searing blue rays of our galaxy’s three suns. Our opportunity to see occurred only once per Cycle; If I didn’t start on my way early enough, I wouldn’t make it to my mother’s district in time to see the dancing lights illuminate her face.
Though we haven’t yet discovered technology that can manufacture light on this planet, our generation has adapted well to this place with its perpetual darkness and subtly changing seasons. With one sense lost, the evolution of our other senses has significantly advanced and, along with our carefully crafted gear, enables us to live quite well without our sight.
My heart fluttered as I imagined what it would be like to behold my mother’s face with my eyes. It had been an entire Cycle since I had last seen her. I had been with her, of course, many times. But to see her face! That was altogether different. What color was her skin, again? Has the hue of her hair changed since last Rising?
The Rising of the Suns is a cyclical holiday. I had spent last Rising with my mother, so this year was my father’s turn. It is a rule that separated parents must split holidays fifty-fifty. But I could not possibly wait another cycle for my mother to look upon me! When she holds me in her gaze, I feel that my blood glitters with life. Those 12.4 MicroMoments make the rest of the cycle’s light-deprived Segments bearable. I had no desire to hurt my father, but the thought of going another cycle without seeing my mother’s face was unacceptable.
No, I must see her.
Above my tattered sleeping mat was a shelf cluttered with sculptures, faces of my loved ones formed from clay I had collected from the shores. I reached up and carefully retrieved the replica of my mother. My fingers traced the crudely carved eyelids and then the soft swale of her elegant nose and high cheekbones. My mother was beautiful. That I did remember.
The sculpture made a faint scratching sound as I carefully set it down on the shelf. I slid to the end of my sleeping mat to sense the edge of my gear with my toes. The spatial perception of my legs is much better than that of my hands. The physician said this should even out by my thirteenth cycle, but Father is concerned that I will always be imbalanced. Mother tells him not to worry.
When I knock things over and feel defeated, Mother will caress my face and say she ‘loves me no matter what.’ And then I make my voice sound sweet and reply, “My mind is my fittest nature. I don’t need to be athletic. Feel my brains.” Then I grasp her calloused hands and place them firmly on my matted head. This always makes her laugh-not the telepathic kind, but the throaty voice kind. I recalled how the back of my neck would tingle at the sound, causing my soul senses to flicker with starlight.
I shook the memory from my mind as I slipped my toeless boots onto my feet, my gloves onto my hands, and a coarse shawl over the top of my sleep clothes. It was forecasted to be cool until all thirteen planets aligned, allowing the suns’ rays to enter the atmosphere.
Oh, the light entering the atmosphere! It is always the most thrilling time of the cycle. During the MicroMoments of the Rising, the Emperor would coordinate the District’s sirens to blast the national song, timed to last precisely as long as the Rising itself. The combination of both light and music is the most glorious experience. It sends the children dancing. And to see dancing! Good light, it is amazing the way the body can move when full of energy!
This cycle, I will not be dancing with the children. I am old enough now to realize the preciousness of the NanoMoment. No, this cycle, I want only to behold my mother and for her behold me.
When I told Mother of my desire to stay with her for the Rising this cycle, she said she longed for me to stay with her as well, but that ‘the rules were the rules.’ I had begged Father to allow an exception. He works for the magisterium and knows Law Keepers. He could surely make an allowance for me to stay with Mother this year. But when I asked, it only made his senses go heavy. I had felt the decrease in his oxygen level and heard the slowing of his heart rate.
Father doesn’t understand. He grew up with both parents living in the same burrow. He doesn’t have any idea what it’s like to grow up never feeling quite whole; each time I leave one home to go to another, I leave a piece of myself behind. I am always missing someone.
I know I’m not the only one that senses the expanding cavity in our family. My father’s energy has changed since he moved out of my mother’s home and into one of the Military District-issued burrows. My sister has noticed this change in Father as well. She is always ready with a cheery attitude when he returns from work.
Akeema is two years younger than me but always seems to manage change better. Maybe being younger when they separated was a blessing to her. She doesn’t even remember our parents being happy together. I guess you can’t miss what you never really had.
But I remember.
I remember when my parents still laughed in each other’s presence, although I can recall the thickness of the atmosphere when they would bicker as well. It’s been years since I’ve heard my father laugh aloud. He now pours his energy into his work. He’s probably sleeping so hard that he won’t even notice I’m not there as the ceremonies begin.
I resolutely settled my gaze on the sleeping room door and slung a lightly packed satchel over my head. Then I reached over to grab a fruit and winced as my armband nicked the metallic bowl, sending it rocking.
“Adira?” Akeema’s waking voice rasped.
I tip-toed towards the doorway.
“Is it time? Is it time for the Rising?”
Ignoring her, I continued inching my way forward.
“Where are you going?”
Her mat crinkled as she sat up. I sighed heavily and turned around. “Nowhere. Go back to sleep.”
“Adira, I can sense that you’re lying. Why are you wearing your gear? It’s the middle of sleep-session. Where are you going?”
I approached, gently nudging her back down to a sleeping position. “Don’t worry, Keem. I’ll be back soon.” She fought back, tangling her small hands in my shawl.
Akeema rose and stumbled to the doorway, blocking my way out. “You’re going to Mother’s, aren’t you?” She hadn’t even bothered to put on her gear; she was more skilled in perception than I and would often go barefoot outside, feeling utterly confident in her ability to navigate without the technological gear that invariably bound my limbs.
“Yes. I’m going to Mother’s. You know how I long to see her face. You must long too. Do you want to come with me?”
Akeema’s energy went bright with anxiety, her thought-speech rapid and slurred. “Good light, no! Do you remember what they’ll do to you if you’re caught out past curfew? Adira, your graduation will be delayed. And you know the Listeners are posted in every district. It’s reckless! Not to mention you’ll have to cross the Deep to get to Mother’s district, and the Kreekers feed during sleep-session.”
I pictured the scaled, slime-covered bulbous skin of the swimming creatures. I had never seen a Kreeker, but I had touched the figures adorning the walls of our School’s Bio Sci room, and they had haunted me ever since. The idea of a flesh-sensing monster engulfing me sent shivers down my spine. “My boots will keep my skin from contacting the hydro, Akeema. I will be fine.”
Akeema spoke her final pleading phrase with voice, “Adira, I can’t let you do this!”
I stepped toward my sister and held her in an embrace. Our senses melded in a harmonious vibration as I squeezed her tightly. Then I shoved her forward and pressed my palm to the door sensor, locking her into our sleeping room. I hastily typed into the keypad for a release time scheduled for the Rising. 16:006 NM. Then I pursed my lips to make a kiss noise, which I knew she would hear, and crept past my father’s sleeping room, pausing only for a NanoMoment to deactivate my tracker.
A harsh wind bit my cheek as I climbed through the hatch of our warm burrow and up onto the Surface.
I could hear the soil particles dispersing as I padded frantically across the soft ground towards the Deep. The brisk atmosphere enhanced my perception, and I could feel my Senses extend from my exposed toes like firecracker fingers reaching ahead of me for errant stones or mounds of soil. My gear released rapid clicks to my earpieces as I ran towards the shoreline, the rhythm tightening as I approached small obstacles.
At this time of cycle, our planet’s three moons cancel the gravitorial pressures in our region, resulting in a complete lack of tidal activity. So, due to the hydro being still this time of season, it wasn’t the sound of lapping waves that greeted my sensitive ears but only the edge of the water grazing gently against the fine sand. This meant that tonight the Deep would only move when acted upon. But once I began racing across the crystalline surface, my movements would cause a wake that would be heard for Kilons around.
I would need to be swift.
I crouched at the seam where the water met the sand and felt my pulse begin to race. It wasn’t only the fear of being caught out past curfew by a Listener that worried me. My hands shook as my mind flicked back to a memory of a boy from Second Cycle Studies. Dusu was his name. He was a joy-filled boy with a warm lilt to his voice that always made me smile. He had been playing along the Deep with his family when his gear failed. The Electricians speculated there had been a glitch in the gear programming, but no one knew for sure. They only knew that one moment Dusu was there…and the next, he had slipped entirely into the Deep.
“Lost forever,” I absentmindedly whispered aloud. I caught myself speaking in voice and hastened to alert, sensing if anyone might have heard.
I reached down to my boots, feeling for any defect or loose connection. My boots would not make contact with the hydro itself, but the pressure exerted from the negative magnetization would create ripples from the force of my moving feet and keep me above the hydro, in theory. The gear hummed under my touch, so I stepped hesitantly onto the hydro surface.
I began at a slow pace until my heart jumped at the thought of being too late. My chest heaved as I sprinted across the surface towards the Northern Shorelands, where my mother would soon be waking to begin her daily work in the fields. The harvests waited for no one, so Mother would not rest during the Rising festival, but she would watch the light enter the atmosphere from her place in the rows, hands deep in the soil.
I focused on this rather than the creeping anxiety growing in my chest as I navigated my way to a buoyed marker. It was a signal that indicated that leagues below lay the most active feeding ground of the terrible hydro-beasts known as the Kreekers. Typically bottom feeders rise to the surface only at times optimal for feeding, which was, unfortunately…now.
I clicked my earcuff to check the time. Tik, tik, tik-tik, tik, tik. The sound indicated it was 14:002 NM. Good. I still had time. Too late, and I would miss my moment with my mother. Too early, and I risked being caught by the Law-Keepers, who would undoubtedly check my records and return me to my father’s burrow, no questions asked.
I had to get the timing just right.
My finger Senses stretched ahead as I glided across the surface, feet moving to the rhythm of my racing heart. I took in the wide expanse of atmosphere reaching in every direction around me. I was now the furthest I’d ever been out onto the Deep on my own. Why did Father have to move across the Deep? Sometimes I wondered if he wanted us to feel the distance he had been living in for so long.
I could hear the waves I was causing lap against the nearing shores. Yes, I was getting closer.
Then I heard it—a fin break the surface.
My heart skipped a beat, and I tripped forward, bracing for impact as my elbows submerged in the hydro. My armbands hovered as I held myself in a plank position.
I had sat through Bio Sci Studies long enough to understand the consequences of my fatal action. The Kreekers would have smelled my flesh submerge below the surface. And they would come.
I stood and checked the time and my location. 15:116 NM. And only 1.2 Kilons from shore. I was now close enough to smell the growing plants in the fields and taste the sweetness of the air.
Gurgling sounds came from just below the surface. Then a splash of fins erupted only MicroKilons from my feet. I lurched forward, panting and lunging across the now undulating hydro. The beast’s oily scales grazed my leg as I inhaled his putrid breath. I let out a cry and leaped towards the shore, praying that I had calculated the distance correctly.
My face led my body in an uncoordinated crumple to the ground, feet following with a crack against a stray stone.
“No…no, no, no, noooooo!”
Metal and leather beneath my fingers no longer hummed with activity. I sat up and slapped my palm against my boots, hoping I was mistaken. I waited for the sensors to reboot and reactivate, but there was no response. The impact of the fall had damaged my gear beyond function.
I had made it across the Deep, but to what end? How was I to make it to Mother’s location now, without the click of my boot sensors to guide me?
I collapsed back onto the ground and felt my throat tighten. My eyes burned as they grew wet with tears. The scent of mud and plant matter filled my nose.
I eased my hands into the cool, damp soil, picturing Mother, hands-deep in the fields. I imagined Akeema running free across the shores.
Then I removed my gear, tucking it close to the stone that caused its fault, and I rose.
I stepped ahead, pushing the anticipation of pain, a collision with an obstacle or a fall, out of my mind. The Rising was coming. And I would not miss it. Time: 15:449 NM. The blue stars would illuminate our land in less than one MicroMoment.
Mother’s face flashed in my mind. A black and white image of her piercing eyes. Funny how color fades so quickly from our memories.
I had to make it.
I had to renew the image of Mother’s face before it faded even more.
The subtle shhhhh shhhhh of tools breaking the soil’s surface flooded my ears as I paced steadily forward. And then the jolly noise of women’s laughter. Mother’s laughter. The fields were close.
A blue ray pierced the sky.
It was beginning.
A low rumble of drums began in the far East district. Then, one by one, each district’s musicians joined in the joyful thumping with woodwind whispers growing to shouts.
My eyes grew wide as I began to see the silhouettes of mountains and the distant capital towers.
I was running now, stumbling towards the fields.
The light was expanding in color and intensity. The sky ignited with distant stars and galaxies.
I desperately wanted to lie down and take in the vast expanse of space now visible before me, but I kept my eyes trained forward on my desire: My mother.
I increased my pace and leaped over a small hedge as the chorus of song grew to its climax, infinite colors and light swirling in the sky. Facing away from me, the women of the field had stopped to stare up at the glorious sight.
Which one was she? I had only moments before the darkness would cloud over once more. I closed my eyes and remembered my hands in her hair. Braids. Many fine, woven braids of coarse hair. Beads. She wore braids back in a tail with beads on their ends.
I opened my eyes.
There. A woman my height, many fine braids strung in a tail, cascading down her pale back, golden beads gleaming at their ends.
The light was already beginning to dim. I held my breath and lunged forward.
“Mother,” I yelled. But the drum beats drown out my voice. The light was going purple now, lower in the sky.
I fell forward at the woman’s feet. She turned as the final spark of light fell.
“Mother,” I breathed.
Mother’s pale green, dazzling eyes reflected the vastness of the horizon as she whispered, “I see you, sweet girl. I see you.”