5450 words, short story
The Visible Frontier
“That’s Ifenwa,” the captain said, pointing at a smear of light almost directly overhead. Inlesh repeated the name dutifully to himself. “That’s Ontok.” A pentagon of bright sparks halfway up the sky. “They’ve each got their own names, but you don’t need that for now. That’s Hiea.” A sullen orange glow in an otherwise unbroken patch of dark. “You can’t see it at twilight or dawn, so don’t rely on it for then, but it’s about the only star that ever shows in that direction, so it’s better than nothing.”
Inlesh nodded. “I heard,” he said, and stopped, because it sounded stupid, and then tried again, because he was supposed to ask questions in order to seem clever. “Is it true there are people there?”
The captain scratched at her jawline. “Well,” she said, “not at Hiea, likely. Used to be, they say. My grandfather was just a boy when it blazed up. Shone like the sun for a while, he told me, you could see it daytimes, and then burned down to what it is now. The maps show it looking a lot like Ifenwa before that.”
“There are maps?” Inlesh asked. This was a startling concept. “Star maps?”
“For records,” the captain cautioned. “Not for using. They’re not reliable. Stars shift, you know. That one there.” She pointed at a long silvery line, almost too thin to see, that split off at one end into a dozen tiny branches. “Omond Halaw. It moves a little bit every year, always down. Coming toward us, as it happens. If that star has people, they’ll get here in, oh, ten thousand years, something like that. Someone told me the exact number once, but I’ve forgotten.”
Inlesh repeated “ten thousand years” silently, along with the name. In the days since leaving their home port of Gwylleridge, the captain had told him quite a lot of things on which he had no idea whether he’d be tested or not, and quite a lot more things that he was fairly sure would never come up again, and a fair few things he was almost certain weren’t true, but the last thing he wanted was to be caught out.
“So you don’t trust sky maps for navigation, not by themselves,” the captain continued. “Shore maps can be good for a generation, and sea charts are good enough if you get them updated every year, but stars can change between one night and the next. And there’s no pattern to it; they can change by a lot, or by a little, which is worse. Memorize them, use them, but don’t rely on them unless you’ve got no choice.”
Questions, Inlesh thought, ask questions. He shuffled hurriedly through the bits of folk wisdom and tall tale and family history that had been most of his education. There hadn’t been much about stars, but after a moment he dredged up something his aunt Alchayr had said once. “Is it true that the sun is a kind of star?”
The captain gave him a disgusted look. “Of course not,” she said. “Don’t be stupid.”
They made port at Roal Hadda, a city on the curve of Haddachirn Bay, all glaring white stone and little shaded plazas and the famous temple dominating the landscape from the top of its high hill. It was the farthest from home Inlesh had ever been, and as soon as he could he fled the docks and the company of Aranthaw’s sailors, to wander alone through the twisting streets, marveling at the glorious strangeness of a place that wasn’t his own.
At length he found himself on a climbing road, and around a curve the temple loomed up before him. He made the pilgrim’s donation with the small advance on his wages the captain had doled out to the shore parties, and entered the great rotunda, to gaze openmouthed at the sleek lizard-headed statues and the mosaics that shone mysteriously with soft light.
“Do you wish a guide, young sir?” A priest appeared at his elbow, soft-slippered on the ancient floor. “Are you perhaps interested in learning more of God?”
“I’m just—” Words failed Inlesh, as embarrassment often made them do. He had only come in to look, but it suddenly seemed terribly rude to say so.
“Perhaps you would like to hear one of the Lessons,” the priest offered. “You may ponder them at your leisure, young sir, being, as I think you are, a sailor, with ample time to study the sky upon which God writes His missives.”
“The sky?” Inlesh repeated, still trying to think of a way out of the conversation.
The priest gave a bobbing nod. “As the sky changes, young sir, so are the Lessons revealed. But, of course, it changes in God’s time, not ours, and so we must watch for many generations to follow a single tale. Come, come outside, the sun’s nearly covered.”
It was indeed almost full dark. Down below in the city there were lights, torches, and electric bulbs and by the harbor the occasional more exotic speck of illumination, but all that ceased at the foot of the temple hill, so that they had nearly as fine a view of the sky from the front portico as Inlesh had ever seen at sea.
The priest gestured grandly at the glowing smudge the captain had named Ifenwa. “That is the Lesson of the Cloud,” he intoned. “For thirty generations it has kept its shape, growing steadily but so slowly that no one in his lifetime may notice the change. So are we enjoined to propagate the faith, not by dispersing our people throughout the world as some foreigners do, but by steady advancement among those nearest? As the Cloud grows, so do we, and so long as it continues to grow, we know that God is pleased with our increase.”
“How do you know that’s what it means?” Inlesh asked. Ifenwa didn’t look that much like a cloud, even, other than being vaguely round and in the sky.
“We must interpret God’s Lessons with our own limited understanding,” the priest said. “Therein lies the difficulty, and the need for contemplation and the slow acquisition of wisdom. Of course there are differences of interpretation, but—see there?” He indicated the thin branching lines of Omond Halaw. “Consider the Lesson of the River. It splits and changes, but remains one River, and the streams and tributaries of error eventually fade away, leaving only the main current of truth.”
“Do you make maps?” Inlesh asked. “To remember what the—what the Lessons said in the past?”
The priest nodded, a pleased expression on his face. “We do, young sir. They are, of course, for the priesthood only, but if you were to seek initiation—”
“I have to get back to my ship,” Inlesh said hurriedly.
“Of course, of course,” the priest said, not seeming at all dismayed. “Consider the sky as you travel, and if it brings you to feel God’s call to it, return to us. We will be here always.”
Always seemed like a very long time, and Inlesh, back at sea and on the late watch alone, regretfully concluded that people who casually threw around words like “always” probably weren’t to be relied on.
But he started drawing his own map that night, carefully marking out the fixed positions of the stars and their curious shapes with a charcoal stick on a piece of sailcloth, and beside them writing both the names the captain had had him memorize and the names the priest had given: Cloud, River, Ember, Wing.
There was more to the world than anyone at home knew, as Inlesh fervently believed: it was what had impelled him to leave Gwylleridge, to beg position on Aranthaw and seek a wider life. Now, having begun (he thought) to grow used to the great sea, he transferred his longing to the sky.
At Shemcorizan Island they took on fresh water and laying hens and innumerable barrels of pickles, in preparation for the long stretch of empty water they would have to cover before reaching the next scheduled port. The great sea, the captain said, in that tone that meant Inlesh had better be learning, was one hundred ninety-seven thousand six hundred twenty kilometers from one end to the other, and its shores bore stretches of jungle for a year’s journey on foot, and sheer cliffs one might sail past for twenty days without finding a good harbor, and cities of machines and cities of stone and cities of clockwork and cities in ruin. There was a sailing ship of legend, Taramura, that had circumnavigated the great sea and taken fifty years to do it, though almost none of her original crew were left when she returned, save the pilot and the assistant cook, and a pair of the ship’s ancient fighting-beetles. Of course, the airships of some of the machine peoples could make the journey in days, but where was the glory in that?
Aranthaw’s itinerary was much more modest, a circle from Haddachirn Bay out through the Misleading Islands and the Sardees, and then back inshore to strike land near Quern Head, and a stop at Treynou Bay, and home again. It took her a hundred days to ply the route, which she had done for longer than Inlesh had been alive. Some of Aranthaw’s people, the captain among them, had made scores of circuits; others were temporary hires who would move on when mood or chance took them. Inlesh listened wide-eyed to all their tales, even knowing they couldn’t all be true.
“Ah, but how can anyone know for sure?” the second helmsman, a burly one-eared man who answered to Teeth, asked jovially in response to a chorus of skepticism at the end of one of his stories. “The world is vast beyond all belief. There’s room for all manner of wonders. I saw a map in Atalmar once, the size of this ship, on which even the great sea itself was so small as to be almost invisible.”
“Maraut are liars,” the first helmsman snorted. “One of them told me once that they have jewels inside their skulls that make them live forever. And where would someone stand to draw a map like that, anyway?”
“On the sun,” one of the other sailors offered.
“On the night-shell!” Inlesh put in, eager to contribute.
“On your arse, more like!” said the first helmsman, to general laughter. “Anyway, I don’t believe it.”
Maps could be had in plenty in the markets of Shemcorizan, though none at such a scale, for the island was one of the main starting points for voyages amid the archipelago that stretched far out into this part of the great sea. Inlesh spent hours gaping at the goods from distant places laid out for sale, exotic foods and strange machinery and all manner of marvelous things. He was entranced by a mechanical bird that reproduced with perfect accuracy anything said to it, but fortunately its price was close to a year’s wages for a sailor, so that he couldn’t be tempted. The next stall over was selling books in a hundred languages; the merchant admitted xie couldn’t read any of them, but was nonetheless firm in xer conviction that they held the secrets of creation. One stall further on, massive white-furred cats lounged in cages, displaying startling fangs to passersby when they yawned. Inlesh shuddered at the thought of transporting those as cargo.
“Oh, we don’t carry them on ships, good fellow!” their keeper said with a startled laugh when Inlesh inquired. “No, no, certainly not. There’s an outpost of the Donn Enshau at the edge of the jungle where they live, and we pay a goodly amount—an exorbitant amount, let me tell you—for the use of their teleport. Ah, it’s a grand thing. I’ll be reborn as a Donn Enshai in the life after next, let me tell you.”
There was quite a lot in that statement that Inlesh needed explained, and he wouldn’t have bothered trying to unravel it had not the keeper casually mentioned that of course it wasn’t his next life he was talking about, as that one would take place in one of the stars.
“Well, naturally,” he said when Inlesh pressed him about that. “The stars are full of people, you know. The world is a great sphere, and the stars are on the other side of it. Wherever you die, your soul goes in a straight line through the sun, and you’re reborn at the point precisely opposite. One pays a geometer quite a fortune to calculate the opportune place to die, to be reborn in the best star.” He himself had done so, he continued, though he regretted he couldn’t point out his chosen star, it being early morning at the moment, the night-shell slowly opening its petals from around the sun.
That the stars might be cities, or nations, was a vertiginous thought, but one that it turned out many of the local people held as truth. Many were willing to expound at length on the glories of the star they had selected as their place of rebirth, though the one most often mentioned, Inentou-daralees, would not be visible at night from here, being, of course, directly overhead and therefore hidden by the night-shell. Nonetheless Inentou marked it carefully on the blank space in the center of his map, writing Inentou-daralees and beside it, city?
Out into the open sea Aranthaw went, and every island and strait and stretch of open water was a wonder of a different kind. There were clouds of leaping fish that darkened the sky, and tiny jeweled lizards that swarmed aboard ship from a red sand beach and fought fiercely with the rats in the bilge in titanic contests on which the sailors wagered. They met folk who lived their whole lives on great rafts without ever going ashore, whose singing could be heard for kilometers. They saw a fleet of airships like vast golden balls pass overhead on their way to one of the machine civilizations. Once, late at night, an explosion lit the darkness, and streaks arrowed downwards into the sea; all lamps were lit and the watch ordered to the rails in case anyone was in the water, but no trace of whatever had fallen was found.
Inlesh’s map grew, the star-names multiplying until some stars were fully surrounded by a thicket of letters. In a marketplace in the Sardees he found a kind of fine black paper that held the most precise markings when pressed with a particular kind of needle-thin stylus. It came, the merchant said, from Ontok-Belah, from a ship of strangers who had long ago visited from that star, the statement gave Inlesh a peculiar thrill even though he was fairly sure the merchant lied. He bought it, and endured the jeers of those sailors who’d spent their money more sensibly on exotic intoxicants, and during one of the calm watches he copied his cloth map onto this new medium.
As he did so, a skitter-craft ran along the top of the water, spindly legs churning, and was as quickly out of sight. Inlesh wondered how long it would take to reach the end of the great sea, and how long, if it kept going, until it made it to the other side of the world.
Fifteen days’ tacking across open sea with no land visible brought them around on the homeward leg of their journey, and at the sixteenth dawn as the segments of the night-shell folded back from the sun, they sighted Quern Head with its jade green tower.
“We should have come in at night,” the captain commented to Inlesh reflectively. They stood at the helm, where Inlesh was being allowed, with supervision, to steer. “That tower glows like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Who built it?” Inlesh asked.
The captain shrugged. “Machine people. Real ones, actually—people that are made out of metal. Don’t look at me like that, it’s true.”
“Boy should ask them about his star maps,” Teeth commented. He’d been hovering nearby throughout the watch, ready to seize back the helm should Inlesh make a mistake, though in open water with a steady light breeze on the aft quarter there was little he could have done to cause catastrophe.
“They don’t talk to outsiders,” the captain said. “The tower’s a border marker as well as a lighthouse. We go the other way along the coast here; they don’t like us in their waters.”
Inlesh didn’t protest, though he would indeed have dearly liked to hear what metal people had to say about the stars. Could they see them better? Did they live long enough to watch them change?
That the stars might be distant cities was an idea that came up over and over. He had a score of names for some, and tales to go with them, of visitors who arrived in strange ships or appeared out of air or cloud, naming Ifenwa (Igressel, Fennow, Axal-bright) or Tiersu (Jendirra, Wing, Morhallis) as their home. Whether they were people, or people reborn, or holy judges, or machines, or creatures without souls, seemed to be a question with no solid answer, though it was guaranteed to spark drunken arguments in any dockside bar among people who had never before given it ten minutes’ consideration altogether.
There was no proper town at Quern Head, but the fisherfolk who lived in the straggle of huts along the shore looked forward to Aranthaw’s seasonal arrival, and brought out copious amounts of this year’s fresh fruit in baskets and last year’s fermented fruit in barrels, and lit great driftwood bonfires on the beach. There was music for dancing, and as night closed in around them, Aranthaw’s lanterns sparkled on the black water like stars.
Inlesh, restless, wandered away from the festivities and up the winding path to the cliff-top. He came near the base of the green tower, whose glow was more like a mat of luminescent algae than like fire. There was an answering light of the same shade in the distance, from over a fold in the gently rolling landscape: the machine people’s city, he supposed. It nearly washed out the sullen orange spark of Hiea, alone in its dark patch of sky. He wondered if people there were looking down on this place, whatever its name might be. They’d never know there was someone looking back. It seemed so unutterably sad.
“Useless,” he muttered, amused at himself. This was what came of drinking alone, this sort of maudlin rambling. Better to go back to the fires, and the camaraderie of the crew.
“It was a waste,” someone said nearby, as though agreeing.
Inlesh spun, startled, and stumbled on the uneven ground, his shore legs betraying him. The person next to him caught his arm, holding him up with easy strength. They were short and broad and hairless, with eyes a solid green like the beacon tower, and skin like polished brass. Inlesh gaped. Don’t be rude, an inner voice that sounded like his aunt Alchayr scolded. “Ah—thank you,” he managed.
“I come out sometimes to look at it too,” they said with a shrug, giving his arm an absent pat and letting him go. “I didn’t know anyone there, not really, but we all remember how easily it fell. It could have been stopped, if people had just been a little more careful.” They tilted their head quizzically. “You’re from down there, aren’t you? The sailing ship?”
“Aranthaw,” Inlesh said. “Yes. And you’re from—here?” He waved at the tower.
“Hssni,” they agreed, or at least he assumed it was agreement. “I’d be working, but it’s a holiday while you’re here, so that we don’t scare you off.” They laughed. Their tongue and teeth were a darker shade of brass, their smile infectious, so that Inlesh found himself grinning too. “I don’t see that it matters, myself. You see enough strange things at sea, you’re not going to be scared away by a few flares from the tower. The locals have gotten used to them, after all.”
“Can people see your city from up there?” Inlesh asked, the drink and the weirdness of the night making him bold.
“From Hia’a? There’s no one left there to see. From elsewhere? With telescopes, probably, or when we signal.” They followed Inlesh’s gaze toward the glow of the city. “The greenhouses look bright from here, I know, but you’ve got to understand the distances involved. The places we can actually see are huge; Ifena’a is almost three lightseconds across. That’s more than a ship like yours could travel in—” They thought about it. “Actually, I have no idea. It’s huge, though. Imagine the sea, all lit up. They’d see that from Ifena’a, but as a spark.”
“The sea,” Inlesh repeated. “The whole sea?” It was a dizzying idea. He thought of the reflections of Aranthaw’s lanterns, of the glowing mats of algae or the blue night-blooming flowers he’d seen floating on the water, and tried to picture that light extended as far as they’d sailed, farther, as far as Taramura had gone, touching every port and every shore. The image was beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. And the people in the stars, looking down—
They nodded. “Even when we get the transit system running again, it’ll take hours to get from one side of Ifena’a to the other. And years to get there in the first place.”
This was more than Inlesh could take in. The person seemed to sense his confusion. “Come on,” they said kindly. “Let me take you back down to your ship.”
“No,” Inlesh said, shaking off their hand. “No, I’m all right. I want to know. I want to see. We don’t know anything, and we keep arguing about it, and you know all about the stars and we don’t ask—” Words failed him, and their uselessness was almost a physical pain. If he could just explain how much it mattered to him—
“There are rules,” the person said, a little sadly. “We’re not supposed to disturb you. I think it’s stupid too. We could have prevented Hia’a, if we’d been a little more willing to get involved.” They took a deep breath, with a slight hissing sound, and seemed to come to a decision. “All right. But you can’t go around just telling people. They probably won’t believe you, but promise anyway, all right?”
“I promise,” Inlesh said immediately. He’d have promised anything, at that point.
It was hard to read expression in the jade green eyes, but he thought the person looked relieved. “All right. Stars, then. The civilizations on the far side of the world, those aren’t stars. The sun is a star.”
“My aunt told me that!” Inlesh exclaimed. “The captain said it was stupid.”
“Some people remember,” the person said, “but they don’t remember properly. It’s been sixty generations for your kind since you came inside, and in all that time the sun is the only star you’ve seen, so how could you?”
“I don’t understand,” Inlesh admitted.
“I know,” they said. “I’m going to show you.”
The two of them walked across the ridge, down toward the glowing valley. The greenhouses were rows of crystal domes, shining with soft light. “We grow our fuels here,” the person said, “and some organic components of our bodies, and some food the locals can eat, so that we can trade it to them when there’s a drought. We make sure it’s not delicious, so that they don’t get dependent on us, but our rules at least don’t require us to watch them starve.” Their mouth twisted. “That was a result of Hia’a too.” Inlesh opened his mouth to ask, but was forestalled by the machine person coming to a sudden halt before what looked like a toolshed. “Here we are.” They slid the door open and pulled out a shining coverall with a helmet attached. “This is protective clothing. We won’t go far enough that you’ll actually need protection, but it’ll disguise you.”
Inlesh struggled into the clothing, which stretched to accommodate him, albeit barely; apparently machine people tended to be short. The person sealed the helmet and did something that tinted the world with a grayish haze. “No one can see you,” they assured him. “Breathe normally, it’s fine.” They patted his arm. “Really, it’s fine. Breathe. Don’t be afraid.”
Past the last of the identical greenhouses was a gentle slope, and then a further valley, silent and dark, full of unmoving machines. He recognized some of them for their function, if not their form: pumps labored to pull the water out of the dark valley, sending it down a long channel over the ridge. Digging machines bulked silent, equipped with great shovels and scoops, and at the center of the frozen tableau was a great excavated pit, stair-stepping down to some unguessable depth.
“You’re mining something?” Inlesh guessed. “This is what you wanted me to see? Why?”
“It’s the old transport system,” the person explained. “We knew there had to be one. We’ve spent centuries trying to find it. This is an exit port. Come on.”
Not understanding, Inlesh followed. The pair picked their way to the pit and settled themselves in a kind of soft-sided box perched on its edge. “Now don’t be afraid,” his guide said again, and then the box tipped forward and fell.
Inlesh didn’t scream; he might have been proud of that, but the truth was he was simply frozen, stiff with terror, his throat and lungs as much as the rest. The box seemed to be tumbling end over end, and yet somehow his body remained seated on its floor, and the person beside him seemed unperturbed.
“We’re passing through the gravity gradient,” they said, and patted his arm as they seemed to have a habit of doing. The words were meaningless to Inlesh, but somehow the fact that the dizzying not-tumble had a name was a little reassuring, so that he was able to take a breath, and another.
The walls of the box were a dimly glowing pink, like coral lit from below, and shadows seemed to move outside them. “This is the thinnest part of the hull,” the person said, and Inlesh realized with incongruous embarrassment that he’d never asked their name, and it was too far along in their conversation to politely ask now. “It takes a little while, even so. We’ll be outside—ah, there we are.” Nothing had discernibly changed to Inlesh’s eyes, and the falling, tumbling sensation continued, though he was still on the floor. “Now, this may be a bit startling, all right? Try to relax.”
The walls began to darken, and to change, and after a moment Inlesh realized they were growing transparent, and that it was dark outside. Instead of the sheer sides of some unfathomably deep pit, as he had half expected, there was a flat dark plain lit by occasional nearby spotlights, which cast sharp-edged shadows from the shapes of unmoving machines. And overhead—the box’s ceiling had gone invisible too—there were lights. Not the variously shaped stars he was familiar with, the cloud of Ifenwa and the river of Omond Halaw and the rest, but harsh points that burned with a steady light, some stronger or fainter, some more red or more blue, but all clearer than anything he had ever seen.
“Those are the stars,” the person said. “The real ones. Like the sun.”
“Are there—” Inlesh didn’t know how to ask the question, realizing dimly that anything he asked would reveal how little he understood. “Are there people there?” he managed plaintively.
“Oh, yes. Well, not on the stars. Circling them. On planets, or swarm habitats, or rings—you don’t know planets, of course, but they’re—well, different ways people can live, that’s all. Not very many stars are completely enclosed like ours, but you can put just as many people in a well-constructed swarm as we have in our shell. And of course there are other shells. They tend not to communicate much, though, after a few millennia. Well, you can imagine.”
Inlesh tried. Ifenwa, he thought, is the size of the great sea. And the world has—thousands of places the size of Ifenwa. Millions. And out there—
He fixed his eyes on one star, red and dim. That star, he tried to tell himself, could have a whole world, as huge and various and strange as his own, with seas and ships and jungles and books and cats yawning in cages and people trying to find God. And that one, next to it. And that one—
It was too much. He couldn’t encompass it. No wonder his ancestors had hidden them. No wonder they had turned away from that infinite openness and concealed its existence; no wonder they had buried the very words under new strata of language, calling the lights of the far cities within the world “stars” to obscure the truth.
“Take me home,” he managed. “Please. Take me home.”
The machine person looked at him, their flat green eyes showing nothing, and Inlesh felt the unbridgeable gap between them: that here was someone who could encompass it, for whom such numbers and distances had meaning. Here was someone who could use words like always.
“It’s all right,” they said, but Inlesh, knowing for the first time his own smallness and knowing even so that the perception he had of it could only be a shadow of the truth, had gone past speech now, and only stared mutely outward. After a while, the machine person made a sad little gesture. Had Inlesh been able to read it, he would have known the person to be admitting failure: perhaps it was best after all, they admitted, not to share this knowledge with the other peoples of the sphere. It was too much for them, who had been inside too long.
They communicated this, regretfully, to others, who had noted the activation of the transport module and wondered idly at its purpose. There was a certain amount of weary scolding, and Hia’a was mentioned several times, and the reasons for rules. There were apologies, and arguments, and consultations, all in the seconds during which a hand was raised to touch Inlesh’s shoulder.
At length, a decision was made. No one would know; memories need not be permanent. They would blur this one’s recollections so that he would take no permanent damage from his experience, and adjust him so that he would not follow the same path of inquiry again, and send him home.
Inlesh woke at the base of the tower. It was morning, the segments of the night-shell folded back to thin lines barely visible on the surface of the sun. He felt fuzzy-headed, and vague.
He remembered walking away from the revel, and climbing the ridge, and after that—dreams, he thought. Something dizzying and terrible, but he couldn’t catch hold of it. He felt strange, oddly incurious, as though he ought to be wondering about something but couldn’t be bothered to.
Aranthaw, he thought. I should get back. They would be leaving on the ebb tide for Treynou Bay, and then back to Gwylleridge, and then out on the circuit again. He’d planned, a hundred days ago, that once he had some ship experience he’d sign up for a different crew, a voyage further out. See the world in all its glorious strangeness. He’d wanted that, hadn’t he? Only now there didn’t seem much point.
He poked at the lack of curiosity as at a missing tooth, as he made his way back down the path toward the shore. Something had happened. He’d fallen asleep up there, maybe, and had a nightmare? He wasn’t usually so unsettled by dreams.
Anyway, Aranthaw and her circuit was enough. He didn’t need anything more. He was, the thought came strongly, as though imprinted in him like a mark in solidified wax, satisfied with what he knew and did not need to seek out anything more. Somehow he knew he would never go looking for anything again.
He rejoined the crew before all of them had even woken up. They assumed he’d gone off with some local, as no few of the sailors had, and he was chided for it, but with good humor. Aranthaw set out at midmorning, hugging the coastline, on the way to her next port of call. Inlesh worked his shift quietly, and anyone who noticed the change in him put it down to the sleepless night, and made the usual jokes, and thought nothing of it.
Later that night, he burned his maps.
Grace Seybold is an SF author and poet living in Kingston, Ontario, where she works as a copy editor and heroically resists the temptation to correct comma errors on public signage. Her work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Reckoning, Star*Line, and various other places.