Quicksliver — Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Johanna Sook took the grey lenses from her face and felt the twin lines of tears marking the tan-lotion. They’d surprised her, those tears, for as often as she’d needed to deal with the fact of death she’d always doubted that its occurrence would bother her, in any guise. The tears evaporated quickly, flung aside by the physics of the place and time, physics trumping all, always.

The dawn was gone, but she’d not thought to catch it, the morning fogs being what they were. Even she would be hard put to drive in such, and the strain of the news had kept her driving conservative, for now.

She strode rapidly toward the sounds of surf and sea, the hiss of dissolving sea-foam to her right nearly masked by the wind ruffling against her ears and hair. Her care was in foot placement, not in pace: she’d knew this spot and might walk it under any or all of the three moons at nearly this pace as long as she saw the dimples she’d named as a child – there Traveny, there Flister, there – well, all named after the dozens of mushrooms talking silly-talk in a book she’d read as a child, when she believed in such. The mushrooms each had their own depression in the book, of course, and here where they weren’t they still called to her.

Passing the sandy hummocks and hillocks, the sea faced her here all at once, a distant brave misty fog holding the line against the bursty shore-side air, hiding the surf snuggling against rock spires that became, eventually, a rising shattered presence of stone in the sea and a fierce fence of sand-catching brilliance on the shore.

The white quartz outcropping was about as solid a spine of rock as you might find on Demain, and it arched in a sharp meter- wide blade through the fine sandy soil toward the roiling sea, slender tendrils of obsidian casing the land-side.

The color of the spine varied as if the quartz aged or rusted as it approached the sea – in some areas it was near burnt-orange and in others looked to be the finest rose. The central vein of it, though, was brilliant and flecked with bursts of color that was gold and perhaps platinum, here where once the world had split when the impactor they called Theia had struck the other hemisphere.

It was, of course, the historians and the scientists and the people who called the impactor Theia; the planet’s native mosses, fishes, and birds had no words that clear to human ears or Thren, though they all had vestigial genetic recall of heat, fire, darkness and cold, of atmosphere crushed and changed and new smelling, of the time before Demain’s moon’s had settled, of the time Demain itself had been a satellite of a gas giant.

Some of this knowledge, of course, was simple science. Some was courtesy of careful dreamers, trained in arcane arts and brought here to live, prosper, study, and listen. Thus had come hints of the past, and now the Combined Missions tracked the history of this world more carefully than any other for Demain, then, had been a uniquity among all the clouds of space.

Demain, Demain now, was at the lower end of the stable O-world ranks, slightly denser than many oxygen rich planets, and near enough the yellow-orange primary that humans taking advantage of its numerous seas to swim in found it best to add a topical sun-shield. Even with such a shield most humans regularly basking in the glow of Friitag’s Star found their skin darkened, and carried lenses meant to deflect the otherwise benign rays of the very calm stellar surface. The three moons – Anda, Banda, and Zon – added up to nearly two percent of the mass of Demain, making the tides a complex affair and the world’s networks of streams, rivers, lakes and seas a must visit for those enthralled by liquid waters.

Eyes open, Johanna Sook stared into the mists, as immensely distant from the instant of Theia’s happening as she was from the simpler, if current, happenings at Mount Scartheia, where ordinary things went on. At Scartheia’s base ships came and left from seaport as well as spaceport. At Scartheia‘s base people slept, lived, made love, made money, died …

And that was why she was here. Her mother was dead.

Sliver. Gone.

By now the cremation was done, the respects of the Guilds noted, the necessities done, all but this one.

The rings on her hand had been Sliver’s, of a time. To the Thren, rings were a sign of fealty to another … or of special connection. The scientists admitted the possibility that consciousness was a state of matter, the dreamers said and the scientists admitted that some dreamers dreamed – close.

And here was the place that Sliver spoke of, when in the long aftermath she’d mentioned dreams to her daughter – this spike into the sea, this place where gold flaked into sand and where Sliver and her daughter had retreated when her partners had died.

Six days they’d spent at the camp-cabin. Sliver had stood hours in the water at the edge of the rock staring at the inevitable wall of mist, walked the hard sand until her feet were rough and wrinkled.

Johanna was barely beyond child and surely not woman in those days, and until the time here had thought to study on the dreams and the dreamers, to be one of the searchers for connection, to be –

“Have you heard them?”

Johanna had been standing deeper in the water than her mother, letting the morning’s wavelets bounce off her hands, twirl between her fingers, and return to the sea. Her mother’s hands were on her shoulders, almost pushing her down into the grit, almost pushing her deeper into the sea.

“Flyers, and some of ‘brellas.”

Her mother has laughed a little, a sound she hadn’t made since the firefight that had killed her partners.

“I forget – you’re young enough to hear them chatter, aren’t you?”

He mother had tousled her hair, and gone on, with a long sad sigh becoming a sentence.

“But, no, not the ‘brellas, ‘hanna. I meant Thad and Mimsey. Have you heard them?”

Caught by total surprise, she’d shaken her head, somehow on the verge of unbidden tears.

Ears that heard birds and umbrella fish strained to hear over the sea, to hear the fog, to hear –

“No, Momma, I haven’t. They aren’t here!”

She’d waved at the sea, waved at the rocks, at the barely visible envelopes that were umbrella fish floating in the splash zone….

A bigger sigh, then, and resignation.

“Maybe later, Johanna, maybe later you’ll be a dreamer. Sometimes it happens later than sooner.”

“But they aren’t here!”

Her mother had turned her around them and guided her to the vehicle.

“They’re here, Little Miss Sliver, they are. I heard them, really, I heard them. And I know what they said, too.”

Johanna Sook, called Quicksliver, stood on the beach listening, deep into the night. When the third moon rose the night-side ‘brellas moved offshore; then the tide bounced heavier waves until they came up to her thighs.

Waves, splash, and hiss.

Quicksliver turned and walked past the might-be mushrooms, across the face of the gold-flecked rock, and headed back toward Mount Scarthia, and the people who didn’t hear.


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copyright 2014, Steve Miller


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