When we left the Alliance, we left together.
Just the two of us. We chased an echo of Earth through the sky, followed it to a warm, western coast rising from the waves like an archipelago with an ocean before it and an ocean behind. Aluminum, steel, the windows of sunken skyscrapers rising from that central valley sea, all those shining teeth of industry only reflecting the heat of endless solar thermonuclear ignition. No one on the world but us now. No one’s cruised either of these twin seas for a long time.
Second day on shore, we burned out our neural nodes together, fused the silicon connections that made flying the Isomere possible. It’s junk now, would rust if it weren’t made from sterner stuff than stainless. Astride the spine of the twin seas, it makes a good sun-shade, keeps the rain off us at night. The wings are frictionless and silver sails that glow to brassy gypsum in the dusky sunsets, stretch out to either side of us, fade into the waves of the seas. Smoke from campfire-cooked fish roils over the shining curves, doesn’t stick. The Isomere– she’ll outlast us, both of us. She’ll stay silver and gold for a thousand years, maybe more.
No one’s coming for us. No reason anyone would. The Isomere is one of a thousand throwaway masterpieces. Infinitely complex but easy to print, easily marked as lost when one goes missing. Room for two, some bags, just enough punch in the drive to carry us to our Earth-echo. What happens after is up to us. Nothing but the seas and sky remain to move us in the days that follow.
One week of rains, of sunshine and the fire of dawn on twin seas is enough to sterilize our minds of partisan arguments, of points of political ire and failure. We’re close, of the same mind so often that all the bile burning in our guts is expelled in a sudden storm, thrown up on the shore until there is no more, until the mind is left empty, heaving dry. Gone then are the points and pressures, the selective rhetoric of those who spit regurgitated words from lying ministers, wait for the bomb big enough to heal the whole world, the starry sky, the galaxies suspended in endless black. Other subjects rise to spend themselves in the vacuum, last longer, never linger long enough to ruin the mood set by the seas and sun. In a month, all we talk about is the weather, the rhythm of the moon and tide, the skyscrapers that scrape sandy seafloor now instead of clouds.
Sand on chafing skin. Cool water lifting lake-like to lap at toes. The rattle of rain on outstretched wings. No news more insistent then the hour, and even that is something we track only distantly. When we’re hungry, we eat. When we’re tired, we nap. Winter comes, winter goes. We watch the brown rise green, turn gold, then lay down again, become sod for the flowering spring. Rosemary, ground cherries and fish pulled from the sea. Cool water from the night before splashing across lips and hands. Once, I make a comment that comes on a memory of the taste of cold beer, lick my lips and wish. Nothing. It’s the only time I feel trapped here. That and when I miss music, but that passes when we start to make our own, because to us, to me, it sounds better.
At some point, I notice the lines in the water. Not waves or wriggles in the sand, but lines, creases where smooth skin once shined. We both have them, the marks that come with age. We both wear them openly, notice them only in freeze-frame moments that seem to come with years between them. Silent, empty, serene, we sleep and smile, track the stars through the decades, hold each other on the shore, hands tucked in arms, eyes full of salty hair, heels dug in against age.
And then comes the day when it ends, when one of us is simply gone. A single stone is set in the sand, chosen for its weight in the hand, the striations of mica vining through white and slate blue. The hole left in the heart and mind is larger than the vacuum six feet beneath the sand, but the stone helps hold the wound against the weeping that comes inevitably amidst the darkness of the lengthening nights, the days that pass slower and slower, as if time itself were mourning. No one will bury the one who remains. No one will bury the Isomere. In a thousand years, our tent will be as weathered and wrinkled as the faces that once passed nights beneath its canvas. The Earth-echo will spin on through the stars, through the light and day, through the dark and the cold and the winters and the rise and fall of the tides that weather away at the sunken skyscrapers of the inland sea. In the end, nothing will remain. Not even the Earth-echo. Not even the Isomere.
But for one priceless moment in the whole history of man, I can say that we lived. I can say honestly that we were safe, serene. I can say that we were whole, that we were, both of us, truly one. We scoured our bodies, our brains of the impurities of the swarm, of the mesh-mind spread wide through the heavens beyond the sky. We lived as we wished to live, didn’t let the wills of others push us or color our perceptions to shades divisive or untrue to who were are, who we were. We lived free, simply were, and nothing, not the slow-grinding teeth of time, not the tides of the seas above or the tides of the seas below, can take that moment away from us. Suspended in time, in mind, it is eternal.
Erased, forgotten, but never truly gone.
E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books in print and the chief editor of seven online fiction journals. Visit his website at www.eswynn.com