Thursday, August 22, 2019

8/22/19

Nowt
By Artyv K


The sky rumbled with his stomach.

Nascent lay spreadeagled on the roof of what had once been a radio tower, surrounded by pots of exotic mushrooms and a half circle of fire ants that wound their way around him: crawling, skittering, only to disappear into a crevice in the wall. He didn’t really mind the critters; for there was very little that Nascent minded (moldy sandwiches being a sound exception in the scheme, which explained why his stomach kept rumbling to the tune of hunger).

Nascent’s needs of the moment were simple— he wanted to hightail it out of the planet. Because this one, yes, this little speck of blue didn’t quite feel like home. And he wasn’t certain when and why he began feeling this way.

Bringing a hand up to his head, the boy scratched his nape and squinted at the cloud-ridden sky above him.

Grey.

Grey as far as the eyes could see. Grey as the bottom of the abyss. But Nascent saw something more to the deception. And he kept waiting for that something more. He counted down the seconds in his head for the passing of Nowt90X, a satellite bound to go over Tetron. Three years ago, the privately-owned satellite had shot to fame for being the only junk orbital in history to pull away from its tethers and slip into a course of its own making. No one had ever heard of a machine acting up. No one (save for fear mongers, doomsday enthusiasts and science fiction roonies) had ever considered the possibility that a machine could even act up. So, what motivated this rebellion against its makers? What plot conspired in its cheap quantum cells? Why did it reject every maneuver for reset? Most importantly, where was it heading and why?

When Nowt’s malfunction hit headlines and baffled engineers across the world— Nascent went to work on his own. He went to his room, pulled the scrap papers out and started the math to keep up with the renegade. When he wasn’t scavenging his drowned city, he charted Nowt’s course, penned down limericks, and remained intrigued by the mystery that was Nowt’s trajectory. When he finally managed to map out its coordinates on the wall-sized world map of his and realized what the shores the satellite was up to, the boy had a revelation. He’d solved the mystery, he decided, and cackled like a seagull at his success. Thus, began his strange ritual of visiting the roof of the radio tower every fortnight, all on the lookout for his wonderful alumina god.

The limerick stuck too.

In and out of sight, the Gods drift

Stars doing the blues and red shift

When nowt is all you can do,

What can you do,

But wait for the sink.



Nascent stared into the sky of Tetron, aware of the ants soldiering on around him. Ants, which exhibited more determination and pragmatism than he ever could. He suspected the critters were a far more nuanced specie than his; concerned wholly about food and sustenance, they didn’t chase celestial objects like humankind did. The boy looked up and scanned the heavens again. When nowt is all you can do, what can you do, he wondered, reciting the limerick a second time under his breath. The sky rumbled behind its thick cover of storm clouds; his shoulders slumped in defeat.

He knew it was no good. There was no way he’d catch a glimpse of Nowt in this rotten weather. Yet, he made no effort to move. Nascent kept waiting. Because it was the human thing to do, to be a stick in the mud and to keep believing.

And so, his watch beeped anyway; he looked up at the sky anyway, and the world kept turning anyway. Nowt90X arrived right on time. It drifted into his corner of the world for exactly ten heartbeats. Hello, his stray god whispered to him.

‘Hello,’ he greeted it back like that old Adele song.

And Nowt kept drifting.

When it was finally gone and his watch finished ringing the last of those beeps, the roof of the radio tower fell silent.

Though it had been a disappointing day, though he caught sight of nothing more than the wings of a passing gull, though he felt the intolerable vacuity of the universe in that simple moment, Nascent let a smile unfurl on his lips.

Because, in the end, wasn’t it also human to lose and to keep losing?

He raised a gloved hand and waved his goodbye to the wanderer, his face turning from triumph into one of melancholy.

“Something’s happening somewhere,” he said aloud. “And I’m not there,” the philosopher rued into the silence. “I’m not there at all.”


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Artyv K is a writer of speculative prose from Chennai. Her works have been published in Strange Horizons, NILVX, Luna Station Quarterly and others.


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