Cradle memoirs (fiction)

“Earth is the cradle of mankind”, Tsiolkovsky said; “but no man can stay in his cradle forever.”

On this anniversary of the cradle’s overturning, I would like to say a word or two.

Take the fact we celebrate an anniversary; a fixed number of years. But what are years to us? They were fixed in the cradle; they were the movement of that brightest ball over the blue nursery wall. What we call a year is subtly different: an astrogator’s year of exactly 365.25 days, each of 86,400 seconds. That is a mathematical unit; not an empirical one.

The word itself, anniversary, meant “the turning of a year”, or close enough. The wheel of seasons turned, the wheel of temperature and precipitation; the wheel that was the planet turned round the spoke of the sun; time turned, ever returning to the same place.

Such stagnation is not for us. It is the death of the mind; and the death of the mind is the death of the body.

Time goes forward: it does not loop back, and it does not come to a crashing halt. Time goes forward, forever: so we, too, must go forward with it, unless our cradle be overturned again, and we, too, be lost along with it.

On behalf of us all, I light this small candle in the darkness between stars, in memory of the larger one that illuminated us out of our cradle Earth.

I light this candle to the memory of all those who have gone before, and those lost to that dreadful light; because if we do not have memory, we will fall into legend, myth, superstition, madness, a spiral and a circle… and become children again, and perish.

I light this candle to reveal what is behind us… what choices are to the sides of us… what lies ahead of us.

Wild lands not fit for children, limitless skies, all of time and space.

(Remarks by Inf. G. Zhao of the Colony Third Million, on the occasion of the three thousandth anniversary (astgt.) of Betelgeuse Nova.)

* * *

(From the Autobiography of Cmdr. Ilja Vassalsky, Navy; pub. 52 a post E., 2948 years (astgt.) earlier.)

How do you shield yourself when one half of the sky decides to kill you?

The answer is, you don’t bother shielding yourself; you run for cover, or die. A largish moon, a planet, whether gas or rock, a star: anything will do that is solid enough to stand between you and that awful brilliance for the week the supernova glows. If you step into its light, you will be sterilized into a crisp, so better hide: but mind you, there’s no more than a week’s warning from that first hiccup to the coming of the wavefront. Those are the numbers: you have a week to run for cover; you have to stay there for a week: if you fail in one, you die.

I stayed behind Jupiter with Putan; we were as safe and snug as anyone can be when the end of the world is roaring past a few thousand kilometers away.

All the while, I was most worried about Io. There were three ships — Nikita, Leonid and Yuri — with seven hundred people, hiding behind Io; because of the angle of the nova, just in such a spot they could not get behind Jupiter itself. They were going around Jupiter in Io’s shadow, round us every forty-two hours; and we were sure they could not keep it up. We were so sure their engines would slip; their navigation would slip; Io itself would turn and, aggrieved, spit at them because they were huddled so close to its spiteful surface, trying to stay safe. But they survived, all of them.

Maybe I felt so strongly about Io because I knew they had a chance; because there were only seven hundred of them.

How am I supposed to feel about a planet with ten billion people on it, told that in a week one half of their skies will turn into searing flame, and they have nowhere to run?

That in a week, one half of the planet will feel the touch and wither, irradiated, burned, blasted, boiled into dust… and with each minute after that, the planet will continue its turning, bringing new countries and continents under those lethal skies?

That this will go on for seven rotations of the planet round its axis, so that at the end of it, everything will be dead to the depth of a kilometer, reduced to ash, slag and roiling lifeless mist?

That there were flying machines that stayed up on the dark side for a few days, before running out of fuel, or being caught by the winds from the temporarily cooling inferno below… and then there was nothing.

I thank the stars I was behind Jupiter. Not behind Earth, watching the lights go out, watching every scow attempt orbit and fail… or rise, and then drift towards the ring of light, without the fuel to stand in place. They would struggle, be buffeted by the debris and particles that streamed scoured off the sides of Earth’s face… and they would fly past the limb, and vanish in a scream and a flash of light.

I thank the stars I was not on the Moon as its light side became the dark side, the dusty horizon ringed by a lunar version of that awful light; I thank the stars I did not stand there to look upwards at an Earth bathed in that awful light, dying.

* * *

(From the private memoirs of Yod Vadsinghe, first Secretary of Space post E.; written c. 98 a post E.)

Like Maedhros of old legend, we lost an arm to our shackle, but flew free. Sometimes, when my sleeping hours come, as the lights dim and I look out into the void, there rises a cold, terrible voice from within that whispers: to be free of all our calcified territorial foolishness… nothing less would have done; ours was a good bargain.

Those nights I don’t sleep all that much.

Some days I smile, looking at our children play.

Then one of them turns, sees us few remaining old ones, and gets that querulous look, that unspoken question of why we don’t smile, what oppresses us, what makes us the wrecks we are… and I remember they have no memory of Earth except as history, no concept of its circular reality except as neat stories of a foreign, crazy land.

And then they again see that no reason at all can make an old one sob and shake.

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