Kis pulls the shiniest bauble from the Christmas tree and cups it in her hands. It looks like a see-through planet plucked from her porthole, and, valued at 1000 e-bits, it’s the most expensive decoration on the fake fir. Even before Kis had it priced, she knew this instinctively – this crystal sphere is the only thing she’s ever seen that is filled with clear water.
Kis switches her gaze from the bauble to the pale honey-colored liquid that she’s been sipping. The glass on her desk is simultaneously half-full and half-empty, even in artificial gravity. She tries to imagine again what Earth water would taste like, how rain would feel on her skin. But Earth is millions of miles away, smaller in her telescope than the decorations on the tree. So small that, if Kis could pick the Earth out of the sky, it would make a perfect necklace bead.
When she was younger and healthier, Kis’ great-great-great-grandma used to joke that, from this distance, her home planet was the size of an Earth cherry. Then Granchy would describe this cherry in luscious detail – sweeter than Saturn honey, redder than Mars, the color of pure, fully oxygenated blood, the last rare forbidden fruit. Kis’ mouth waters at the thought of this wonderful thing that she’ll never get to taste. Only one such tree left in the solar system, its precise location lost.
Still, at least Kis has this aluminum tinsel tree. If Granchy could see her now, she’d joke that Kis was eyeing up the decorations as Earth women used to drool over displays in jewelers’ windows, picking out the rings with the biggest sparkling rocks.
Kis finds it hard to imagine getting excited about hard stone. Metal and mineral are everywhere. Her fascinations are different. Yes, almost everything about the baubles is artificial, but not quite. She’s had them tested. Her oldest pieces carry traces of Earth elements, of land dust, even water and once-living matter. Their light and shine too is crafted by hand and imagination in memory of the old ways, in honor of life.
Kis’ favorite decorations are the transparent spheres dating from just before the exodus, with scenes depicted inside like mythic hanging snow globes or old-fashioned crystal balls into the future. Granchy used to stare at them for hours before finally pronouncing her predictions.
Granchy’s last insight though had been little more than a babbling of random words: “Honey-river-stone-hail-red-petals-glaze-falling.”
“Falling.” Granchy had repeated the word again before falling back against her pillow in the spaceship sick bay.
Every time Kis visited, she’d look round the small dorm with sinking despair. It was full of patients like Granchy – after centuries of anemic life, their hearts petal-thin and their minds finally running out of space for more memories.
No point dwelling on this, Kis drags her thoughts back to the fir. She can feel Granchy with her, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, plucking another glass ball from the green branches, then telling Kis to look inside if she wants to divine the future.
But the sphere in Kis’ hands is black as a starless night. There are beautiful chiming bells inside but they only sound when shaken. Kis pushes the swinging bauble harder and harder until…the black ribbon snaps and it falls from the tree.
Perhaps Granchy isn’t with her after all. Granchy would never choose such a dark future. Kis’ hand hovers above a globe with a frozen lake. Brightly scarved skaters dance across the surface to a swirl of beautiful soft yet joyful choral music, its song composed entirely from snatches of different people’s laughter. She longs to cradle it in her hands, but she fears this choice. It’s as if the Ghost of Other People’s Promises is beguiling her with sham dreams.
She touches the next sphere gently – it’s entirely filled with flurries of plastic snow – a gift of Christmas Present. The white flakes will not settle long enough for there to be anything but blizzard. Like the cosmic debris constantly pelting the spaceship.
Kis picks up the original bauble again. Granchy called this ‘The Rain Globe’, saying it reminded her of her last days on Earth. As Kis’ other plans seem to have failed, she wonders if she should get Granchy’s poem about it framed for Christmas. She flicks through Granchy’s e-note until she finds the words.
The Rain Globe
Imagine the Earth sealed in curved glass,
our world as a rain dome. The wet
more frightening than drops of light
glistening towards dice houses.
Hold this sphere in your palm,
turn it upside down and it’s the sky
that drowns. Foundations cling
to the thin land above.
Imagine we’re tiny people,
speaking through bubbles,
all of us now divers
thrown in water flight,
But suppose this Christmas is Granchy’s last? It isn’t the most cheerful gift to give her, even if Granchy’s mind has gone too far to understand the sadness.
Ting! Kis’ electroscreen flashes with a new message.
“Your merchandise has been located. Your order is in g-flight!”
Kis senses her heart pumping redder and faster as she reads. She’d not really expected her search to work. But now this message from Galaxis. What if this is it? Finally.
Of course, Kis tries to slow her breathing, it could be a fake – black-world sellers are notoriously unreliable. But as past-dealers go, Galaxis’ reputation is legendary on the contraband scene. If it really is a cherry from that last tree? If the rumors are correct, one sniff may be all it takes to save Granchy.
And the price? Kis wills herself not to think about that, as she packages up The Rain Globe in stellarwrap. So long as this works, it will be worth it. It’s not the first heirloom they’ve had to sacrifice, and she still has Granchy’s poems.
Kis hears her own nails tapping the desk in time with her heartbeat, as she waits for her exchange to process. The noise reminds her of Granchy’s recordings of an old analogue clock ticking, only faster, more arrhythmic, hollower.
To occupy her fingers and thoughts, Kis turns to one of the brighter entries from Granchy’s journal and forces herself to concentrate on the lines.
In our new place / the fish
that pour from the common tap
rise a little faster \ bubble bigger
Away from town streets / the water
tastes clearer / easier to swallow
unthickened by twists of pipe
through terraces submerged
in the flood \ of their own debris
At sea in this new world
we are strangers to ourselves
Oceans teach us to dive deeper
to find strength we never knew
If…when dry land returns
we will welcome free-walking
but guard tails and fins in case
We made this house of gills
layered with synthetic scales
now \ we swim with it
Although, it’s the hundredth time Kis has read the poem, this still seems worlds away from her own life. No water, no individual homes on the Interstar, only an infinity of space outside and the increasingly more cramped crampedness of near-communal living inside. But the title and Granchy’s determination…survival Kis gets. Survival is the one essential that they’ve all been fed and watered on. Survival and hope.
Ting! “Your g-pod has landed!” The electromassage flashes a brighter blue neon than the lights on the Christmas tree, its chime louder than any bells Kis would ever wish for her frozen-lake skaters.
Although Kis is trying to stay realistic, she can’t help feeling expectation rise inside her as the small pod arrives in her cubicle-chute.
She prizes the pod apart and takes out a tiny box.
It looks the right size. She imagines the weight is right. But she’s scared now to open it. She’s never seen a real cherry, so how can she even tell if it’s genuine? There’s only one person Kis knows who will know for sure. The same person that Kis needs it for.
Shoving the box in her pocket, Kis grabs the next zip-express and hurries though the shafts towards the sick bay.
It’s hard to distinguish Granchy’s dark curls from the shadows on her pillow. Except the shadows are dancing and Granchy’s hair and head are still. Granchy’s breathing is slower and shallower even since Kis’ last visit.
“Granchy,” Kis whispers. “It’s me.”
Kis sees Granchy’s eyelids flutter and bends over to kiss her great-great-great-grandma’s moon-pale cheek.
“Look, I’ve brought you something.”
Opening the box, Kis lifts out the waxy fruit by its stalk. This thin wiriness bends with the weight of the shiny soft bead that she’s been promised is real cherry. It looks real, feels it too. She wishes Granchy’s eyes would open, and stay open long enough to look, check and reassure Kis.
Steadying the fruit with her gloved palm, Kis uses a scalpel to nick its surface, then slides a tiny sliver of reddish flesh into her specimen dish. If this is what it should be – and if it does what it should do – there’s enough cells for her to sample and re-synthesize.
Then, clasping the rest of the small bead gently between two fingers, Kis holds what she believes is the last red cherry to Granchy’s lips…and hopes.
S.A. LEAVESLEY is an award-winning journalist, fiction writer and poet. Author of two novellas, her short fiction publications include Jellyfish Review, The Nottingham Review, Ellipsis Zine, Oxford Today and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. Nominated for Best Small Fictions, she also runs V. Press poetry and flash imprint.
Image: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay