James Revels, composer:
http://theevolutionofeloquence.wordpress.com/tag/james/ is an exceptionally talented individual. Recently he released a new track for his current Album Karo Tosen (Summer heater, Winter fan) called “Right as Rain”. http://jamesrevelsiii.bandcamp.com/track/right-as-rain-dedicated-to-dahni-hayden I’d really recommend taking a couple of minutes out of your day to give it a listen, it’s pretty great stuff. http://audiosexxx.com/
In fact it’s so good that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head for the past week. I did the only thing I know how to do about things that refuse to leave my mind alone, and I wrote a story about it.
Here it is:
For James Revels
There used to be cities here. It was a colony world, see, and most colonists love the sophistication of city life. Jumpship conditions to get all the way out here are hard, so we tend to indulge in elegance and privacy after we arrive.
They were beautiful cities. We used the world’s character, see, as our point of departure, and designed the cities off the tips and arms of the deep, stone gullies and ravines. They flowered out of those tapering points, the cities, like spring blossoms on the branches of Terran trees.
I come to the edge of one of the ravines and look south, to where Wing Town used to be. I can still see it in my mind’s eye, shining spires impossibly curved against the thin sky. Think Le Corbusier’s Radiant City meets Ecological Determinism. It was called Wing Town because they used to make the liftsuits there. I am wearing one now. The last one. Stretching my arms above my head I sun my body, activating the solar-weave. Then I dive out into the air, letting the suit eat my weight until I can float above the ravine and cross the gulf in quick, twisting movements.
I suppose that flowering trees were an odd visual template to use on this planet. The xenopaleologists told us that there have never been trees here.
That’s always what I like about it, though. See, design is supposed to be a dialogue, not merely a rephrasing of what is.
Some people said that they never saw the cities as blossoms at all. For them the ravines were currents and eddies and the cities small bursts of wave foam on an ocean surface. Personally I think that that’s rubbish and they only said it because of the sand here. It’s blue, see. There are deep cobalt dunes and drifts. The first time the surface-probe returned a visual, despite everything the chem-scanner said, the operator was convinced that the planet was covered in water.
It makes good glass, this ocean-blue sand. It vitrifies easily and, with the right treatment, bonds strong. Not just blue glass either, with the right technique you can get pretty much any colour you can imagine. We spent decades learning to work with it, when we first arrived. We experimented slowly, getting this finish, that hue, making it opaque, transparent, making it trap heat or bounce light or turn the stars gold. Only then did we build the cities. It just fit somehow, glass in the desert. This harsh place full of these things that should be so fragile and weren’t. It was a good metaphor for what we were then.
I land on the far edge of the ravine. Blue dust puffs up over my boots. Not even ruins remain of the cities. Not even one. There’s nothing left.
Above me, the sky is starting to darken and I pick up my pace. I do not want to miss this.
It was the glass bonding agent, see. It got out into the atmosphere. It was odourless, colourless, non-toxic, but it changed things. It was so subtle; this world was so delicately balanced. It was five hundred years before we realised.
The Rose hill is on the horizon. That is where I am going now.
Years ago, after the cities were just newly completed; we began to search the rest of the planet. We searched for centuries, exploring out from our glass wonders. There were xenogeologists and xenopaleologists and one, lonely, xenobiologist. We weren’t actually looking for anything, I don’t think. Just travelling to feel motion, to experience change and to try and learn the languages of the landscape. We found the Rose anyway.
Above me, a storm is building as I start to climb the hill. Calling it a rose is a pitiful reduction. I don’t even think it is a plant, see, not as we have known plants. Two metres of leathery leaves (scales? fingers? wings?) clasp and twist together in a spire that towers over me now, as I come to the hill crest. It’s brown and still, wrinkled and pitted but alive. I know from the tests I ran. So long ago now.
It was the only living thing on the planet then, except for us. It is the only living thing on the planet now, except for me. I sit below it, enjoying its shadow, before the clouds swallow enough light that there aren’t any shadows. I only knew that it was alive from the laboratory tests I ran, so long ago now, but when I learned that, I learned another thing also. The Rose hadn’t always been this way.
It’s very clearly not a rose, but we called it that, for another rose from another planet, in a story. It only opens in the rain. It’s built to open. I’m not sure why but all of its tissue, all of its cells, are programmed to untwist and unfurl and it needs rain to do that.
It hasn’t rained here since the Jumpship arrived. We found only the thin sky and the desert wind. It was nearly five hundred years before we realised that it hadn’t always been like this.
Occasional storms, the xenopaleologist said, from studying the paleo-climatic projections. Occasional storms that the atmosphere prepares for very, very slowly and only break every hundred or so years.
We hadn’t had rain for half a millennium.
It was the bonding agent from the glass, see. It got out into the atmosphere and, with the carbon we breathed out and the oxygen we used up, shifted that delicate, delicate balance. The rain stopped and the Rose was forced to wait.
Cumulus clouds congregate and a roar of thunder rolls out over the dessert. One hundred years ago we sat down and calculated. We tested and measured and ran simulations. Then we discussed, we held meetings and we made a decision. The whole planet, all two million of us, every one of the colonists on the Jumpship. We talked about how our world and our cities would mean that this one, ancient desert plant would never bloom.
The first rain falls. I have never felt rain like it. Each drop feels soft and slow, landing on my face or hair or liftsuit. The drops are warm. Earth rain never felt like this.
The Jumpships left, all of the wayfaring adults, the star-seekers, in flesh bodies that nanites and science have made immortal. It would be a shame, they said, if cities, even clean, sustainable, spun-glass ones would prevent such a plant blooming. They would find another planet to call home. It was a good decision.
Now that we are free from the scarcity economy, from disease and hunger and poverty and death, now that we have enough time to think, we are free to make good decisions.
We calculated, before we left, to see if, just maybe, one would be able to stay to see it. One who would remain and wait in the still, blue desert for the rain to open the Rose.
The stems (arms? Spines? Flagella?) are creaking now, shifting. Things are creaking and shifting within me too, because, after the rain and the Rose, I will be able to take my small Flareship home.
Slowly, slowly, unbending and unwinding in this softly falling rain, writer’s rain that feels like it is written that rain feels in stories, slow and sweet and warm.
A hundred years of solitude, culminating in this, stretching, unfolding moment.
A hundred years on a planet, abandoned by two million people because it would be a pity to stop a single desert flower from blooming.
With a great, creaking sigh the Rose splits wide.
I think this is a good symbol for what we are now.
My God, it is beautiful.