Thursday, July 20, 2017

7/20/17

Across the Rolling Waters
By Robert Walton


Its hoops and arches shining, the starship Billie Holiday eased away from Rings Station. Within the ship’s fantastical silver frame rode a cerulean jewel, the globe of water, which served as both inner system reaction-mass and radiation shield for passengers and crew. Rubies glowed on half a dozen out-rigged pods as atomic engines kicked in. Billie Holiday became an ornament, a pendant, a spark.
Watchman 2nd class Julian Parks sighed.
“Love leaps and is the leap,” a voice murmured at his shoulder.
Startled, Julian whirled in his chair.
Watch Commander Ellspeth Bouquet peered at the now empty screen.
Julian swallowed. “What do you mean, Watch Commander?”
Bouquet looked directly into his eyes. “I mean that though your beloved has just sailed to Antares on the Billie Holiday your shared love need not be over.”
Julian looked down. “If you say so.”
“I do. Do you know Shenandoah?”
“The starship, sir?”
“The old folk song?”
“No, sir.”
“Pity.”
Julian studied Commander Bouquet. She stood straight and poised, possessed of both powerful presence and the pure beauty of a long-used hand tool. Beneath silver hair, translucent skin around her eyes and at her temples revealed that she was old, more than two hundred years old. Regeneration treatments had preserved her health and extended her life, but not forever. Dissolution, sudden and final, would take her – perhaps soon.
“Have you loved, Watch Commander?”
“I love now.” She smiled. “Do you care to observe Billie Holiday build her interstellar shield from Titania’s ocean?”
Julian shook his head. “No, thank-you.” He paused. “Do you have a soul-holo of your beloved?"
“No, there is no need. He is the station mind."
“Your partner is Max?”
“Max, yes.”
“You’ve known him long?”
“Almost two hundred years.”
“You’ve been together for all of that time?”
“Not always together, in fact, rarely together. We met here on Rings Station and explored Saturn’s moons together. Later, we both went to the stars, he to the Eridani worlds and I to Gliese 581. ”
“Max helped discover the Dani?”
“Oh, yes. He was the first to speak with the cloud-beings. He and two others developed the lightning sequences that became the current trade language. We perceive only a fraction of the spectrum that they use to see and communicate, so their full language is forever closed to us.”
Julian shook his head. “Those were great journeys, great accomplishments. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you manage the separations?”
“We managed to spend some years serving together here and some on the moon. We even have two children.”
“A standard parenting contract?”
“More than that. Love’s nova bloomed for us.”
“Love’s nova?”
“Shared light that does not dim.” Bouquet chuckled. “You’ll know it if it happens for you.” She glanced at his downcast eyes. “Perhaps it already has.”
Chimes sounded softly as if from a distance, as if pealed from a church at vespers across a blue valley in the Dordogne.
Commander Bouquet turned. “We have work to do.”
“Wait! Please, sir – what will you do? Transition? Become a ship’s mind or a station’s? It’s just that I’ve heard that it’s dangerous.”
Bouquet nodded. “Abandoning one’s body can be dangerous, but the alternative is dissolution. Max is allowed supporting partners. I will become his first after I’ve finished this contract.”
“In a few years?”
“In a few years – the med team here should keep me going that long."
Justin looked at her, his face reflecting the doubt of a person with a very young body.
Bouquet laughed. “Fear not, among my many implants I have sensitive systems monitors. The first whiff of trouble will set off strident alarms.”
“Yes, sir.”
‘You know, Max is allowed to choose six partners altogether. We may embrace others that we’ve loved.”
She smiled
“And we may not.”


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I am an experienced writer. My novel Dawn Drums was awarded first place in the 2014 Arizona Authors Association’s literary contest and also won the 2014 Tony Hillerman Best Fiction Award. Barry Malzburg and I wrote “The Man Who Murdered Mozart”, published by Fantasy & SF in 2011.Most recently, my “Kill the Coffee Boilers” was included in Hyperpowers (Third Flatiron Anthologies) ( Volume 16).


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