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Empire of Time series

= The Mid-Afternoon of a Procyon Coral =

a science fiction short story by John Argo


The Mid-Afternoon of a Procyon Coral by John ArgoWhenever the alien peninsula clouded over like this, and the gray sky got a mother-of-pearl tinge like dead clams on the beach, on such days Suzen became depressed and wished she had not married or had children or come to this too-perfectly terraformed world in a finger of the Home Arm.

The City sat on the tip of the peninsula pounded on three sides by an alien sea, just as the World hovered among the stars in a tip of the Milky Way. The City lights made nebulas in fog over the alien sea.

Suzen had two children who were in school and a husband who drove farm machines. They were paid well and were supposed to be happy. Getting worried lumifexes from her parents didn't help, for she could not say she was unhappy. She would not exactly fex back a lie, for when the sun shone she was better. Her husband and children were healthy, and they did things together as a family, even playing hall-ball with the neighbors, which had been the custom back in the ancient L-5 colonies.

Truth was, it was hard to come from the colonies and just adapt to a fresh, raw world. The streets here were too wide; why would anyone need so much space? You just felt lost in them, a couple souls waving their arms in the foreign sunset as the ball bounced too high and too far. Gone was the coziness of colony life, where every cubic centimeter had a thousand uses and every little thing mattered very much. Why did anyone need such a big sky? A little air to breathe was all you needed. It was one thing to walk among the exact plants with whom you shared the O2-CO2 cycle, because you and they were symbiotes who shared the same DNA, and opposite ends of the same life cycle. It was another thing to stand in the doorway nervously hugging yourself and to look into the empty sky and wonder where your next breath was coming from, over the alien sea, the distant wheat fields where the threshers racketed all day and night and the lights shone like beacons, lonely signals, stars never reached.

On this foggy dreary day came the seller, Donaldo Jay Boomfani, to Cygniberger's home office, where Suzen clerked. Being inside the huge Cygniberger Building actually made Suzen happy; she entertained a fantasy of coming to live there. Maybe one day it would be like this if others thought like she did, for she was not very important at all, but if others thought it then maybe they would build tight, cozy, strictured rooms and corridors just like the L-5 colonies here under the wheat fields, safe from the empty atmosphere, away from the pounding sea.

When she heard that Donaldo Jay Boomfani had traveled from the Earthplex with his shipload of goods, Suzen had arranged with a friend from Incoming to swap for the day so she could be near a man who had just been so near her parents on L-5. She could still picture their smiling, sad faces as they waved goodbye. They had said Edddi was a good boy, but why should they travel so far away. Never was a long time, her daddy had said. We will bring the universe and lay it at your feet, they, young, had said. Then they had arrived on the peninsula and the kids had been born. Suzen often spent evenings, even when you couldn't see through the fog, staring across the arm of the sea toward the launchport, thinking of home. She sometimes mentioned it to Edddi: "Your parents—my parents—won't live another hundred years. What's a hundred years, a thousand years, with all these stars that live billions? If we don't decide soon, we'll be here forever. We'll never see them again. Do you want that?" To which Edddi always seemed to say: "Hold on, Suze. Just another year. The pay here is too good. We'll save every senny and let's talk about it next year."

That had started 17 terrayears ago. Today, the lumifex had arrived—Edddi's father had died. So he would never see his grandchildren. Tears streamed down Suzen's face as she sat in Jamalandra's clerking cubicle in Incoming and read the lumifex.

That evening, as she opened the door, there was Edddi, home early, on the sofa playing with Florio and Fawna. The kids smiled and waved but stayed with him momentarily because he worked such long hours and they saw him so little. "You look strange," he said half-humorously, half-seriously. "Were you crying?" He was used to her mood-lows, especially when the sky was mousy clay and the cloud-walled sea echoed with ships' horns. Still holding the lumifex, she shrugged and, unable to speak, went into the kitchen.

"Honey!" he called after her. "I'm sorry. Are you unhappy again? Of course you are. How about we all go out to eat? I heard about a place where the seafood is just nebular."

She remembered about Donaldo Jay Boomfani, and wondered if today was the day to tell Edddi she wanted to go home, and he must come with her and the kids.

"Honey!" he called out. Hearing the urgency in his voice, his hunger for her, she wiped a tear. Still holding the lumifex, she ran a wool sleeve over her eyes. As she turned and started to walk into the living room, she wondered if she should tell him beforehand about the seller and his coral, or after Edddi read the lumifex about his father.

"Honey!" his voice implored.

"I'm coming!" she said, and went to join him.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.