The Burden of Fire
Hayden Trenholm's story "The Burden of Fire," has been nominated for an Aurora Award in the category "Best English Short Story." If you wish to read and consider voting for this story, it is available in issue 19 of "Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine," as well as being presented here for your convenience. The Aurora Awards are a "people's choice" award for science fiction and fantasy. Voting for the Auroras can be done on line at: www.prix-aurora-awards.ca. Nominations and voting can be done by Canadian citizens (not necessarily living in Canada) and permanent residents.
This is Hayden's fourth story in Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine.
Illustration by Karl Johanson, which includes a copy of Hayden's novel "Steel Whispers."
The Burden of Fire
To lose one parent is a tragedy. To lose both is a complete cock-up. It’s not that I don’t know where my parents are. I do. I just don’t know when they are.
Stop rolling your eyes, mate. I’m not drunk. Not yet, at least. Though I’ve got a bottle of 20-year old The Macallan in front of me and nothing between me and tomorrow but time.
Time. Now that’s a funny one.
Okay. Everybody knows about the Intervention, right? You have heard of it? You do still remember it? I’ll take your silence for consent.
The Intervention. The bloody news-readers make it sound like the aliens were social workers on a mission.
Oh, the Chinglisn are benevolent enough if it comes to that. Turns out you don’t survive long enough to get star drive if you haven’t resolved your anger issues.
But social workers, they are not. More like Law Lords, if you remember them. They watched us for about a thousand years. Would have novaed our sun in a blink if we had set foot past the orbit of Saturn before they judged us ready. Fortunately the Great Peace of 2118 lasted and proved sufficient.
So when we did get to Saturn about twenty years later, there they were, ready to welcome us to the Galactic confederacy instead of oblivion.
Of course, I’m supposing you never heard that part before. It’s only the biggest feckin’ secret in the universe. And if you breathe a word of it, I’ll slip back before the Peace and put a knife in your Granddad and you won’t be here to hear me tell it. Or me here to tell it to you.
That’s right. I’m talking time travel. So here’s the deal...
Chase Atterton made a final adjustment to the course and looked up from the controls. He swivelled in his seat and gazed at his wife. Iris was staring at the readouts from the external sensors. Her brow was furrowed and she was chewing her lower lip. The green light from the panel gave her skin a sickly cast and did nothing to hide the stains on the grubby pink and white sweat suit she had been wearing for the last three days.
She’s never looked more beautiful, he thought, for the tenth time that shift. Then he thought, I can’t believe I’m going to be a father.
Iris turned to face him.
“You’ve got the goofiest look on your face,” she said.
“Nice thing to say to the man who loves you madly.”
“You’re just chuffed because you knocked me up.” Iris smiled.
“How exactly did that happen?”
“You were there. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“You know what I mean,” said Chase. “I thought we agreed to wait until after Saturn.”
“The implant must have failed. We can sue our doctor when we get home.”
“We’d have to have a complaint. We don’t, do we?” asked Chase.
Iris leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the mouth. “I don’t if you don’t,” she said.
Chase kissed her back, a little more firmly. “Not a chance.” He kissed her again, until she laughed and pushed him away.
“Day shift is due in fifteen minutes. I don’t think Captain Mikelson would be amused to see us using his control room for a bedroom.”
“Especially when we can be in our own bedroom in twenty minutes,” Chase smirked.
“You never get enough, do you?” Iris gestured to the sensor panel. “Take a look at these readings. They’ll get your mind out of the gutter. For a few minutes at least.”
Chase shifted his chair along the track so he could get a better look at the sensors. He frowned and checked the calibration. He looked back at the readings and shook his head. He slid back to his own station. Damn! The course was off. He checked his log. He had made all the scheduled corrections. But the orbit was off by a few hundredths of a degree. Not much but significant. There was no immediate danger but Saturn was big. Its gravity well would soon make a small error into a fatal one.
“Are those readings telling me what I think they are?” he asked.
“As long as you’re thinking there’s an unrecorded massive object half the size of Titan, lurking on the far side of Saturn.”
“An undiscovered moon?” Chase was grasping at straws now.
“I think Voyager would have spotted it,” said Iris, “let alone the sixty or so probes we’ve sent since.”
“Artificial,” Iris grinned at him. “I don’t think man had anything to do with it.”
“Bloody hell. It’s first contact.”
Iris beat him to the radio.
“Shouldn’t we call the Captain?” asked Chase.
“Screw that. Let him find his own alien spaceship.” Iris toggled the radio on. “This is United Earth Saturn II calling alien ship. Please respond.”
The speaker crackled, then cleared. “Hello, Iris.”
Well, of course you know all that. It’s feckin’ immortal, isn’t it? The Chinglisn sitting out there in their star ship waiting for us and then calling me mum by her first name. Yeah, that’s right, me bleeding mum. I’m Prometheus Atterton, the star child.
It means something, don’t it? If you could only remember what. Now that would be a tale to tell.
Heartache and confusion and a man too young to tell this crazy tale and with a name that makes no sense at all.
Suck it up. It’s part of the feckin’ deal. Now pass the bottle back and I’ll tell you the piece that isn’t immortal.
Iris watched her son and husband through the observation port. They were playing Quadros and Prom was winning. Easily. He seemed to sense Chase’s every move before he made it and countered almost instantaneously. There was a thin sheen of sweat on Chase’s forehead. He was worried, too.
If Prometheus noticed his father’s discomfort, he gave no sign. He laughed and bounced in his chair with every path he blocked and every piece he captured.
To Prom it was just a game, but to the dozen or so eyes watching him, it was so much more.
The Chinglisn standing too close to her hummed and shivered. Iris could never get used to the aliens’ lack of personal space or to the faint sweet smell, like rotting lavender flowers, they exuded. It took a continuous effort of will not to move away.
Not that Kanatoos would have been offended. The Chinglisn seemed incapable of taking offence, even when it was offered. But then, their species had been at peace for nearly thirty thousand years, not the thirty that Earth had so tentatively managed. It was second nature to them now. Or perhaps even first.
“Your son is scoring very well,” said Kanatoos, gesturing to the readout with his long slender fingers. “I’ve never seen one so young with such talent for the game.”
Iris nodded hesitantly. She wasn’t sure whether Kanatoos thought Prom’s precocious playing was a good thing or not. “Chase is not the most challenging opponent.” Iris felt a pang at her disloyalty to her husband.
“He is quite accomplished for an ordinary,” said Kanatoos, “I’ve played him myself a number of times. He was... never completely out of the game.”
Kanatoos cocked his head as he listened to a private message.
Iris watched as Prometheus began his endgame. The look on his face was savage, almost feral. He always looked that way when he knew victory was at hand.
Iris glanced sideways at Kanatoos. Could the Chinglisn read humans well enough to see the naked aggression in Prom’s expression? Kanatoos pressed himself against her arm, a signal that he was taking his leave. His skin was cool and dry against hers, like that of a snake.
“What do we do now?” asked Iris.
“No action on your part is required,” said Kanatoos. “The boy is clearly a natural. As per the terms of your agreement, he will become a pilot. Though...” Kanatoos hesitated and touched her face, a gesture he had not used before. His head swivelled to take in the other Chinglsin in the room.
“What is it?” The other Chinglisn were drifting away.
“I was part of the collective that approved your planet’s...” Kanatoos paused again.
“Entry into the Confederacy?” said Iris, helpfully.
“Yes,” Kanatoos blinked. “That was the result. We have been criticized by other collectives, and other collectivities, for being... too hasty.”
Other collectivities – the Chinglisn term for the unseen alien races who were their partners in the Confederacy.
“Will they revoke Earth’s membership?” Iris wasn’t even sure how that could be done. Schrödinger’s cat was out of the bag – Earth knew how faster-than-light travel operated and when she, Chase and, most importantly, Prometheus, returned from their assignment, they would have the pilots to make it work.
The Chinglisn skin rippled across his chest, a sign of distress as near as Iris had been able to determine. “To do so,” he said, “would be regrettable. For all of us.”
He brushed against her again. And this time he did take his leave.
Iris looked back at her husband and son through the viewport. Prom had won the game and was doing a little victory dance around his chair, whooping and laughing like the little warrior he was. Iris shivered. All of Earth’s hopes and dreams now rested on one little boy.
Oh, it was a grand deal they got for us alright. Free access to the galactic civilization and the many benefits it brought. All in exchange for a few dozen pilots to operate the great star ships that held it all together.
Do you recall hearing how it all works? Or has that started to slip away like everything else?
It’s all about quantum entanglement and collapsing probability waves in response to a qualified observer. But it turns out that intelligence and self-awareness was only good for entry-level positions. Ordinary pilots could do the standard runs – the well-defined lanes between the collectivities – but only naturals could go someplace new. And the Chinglisn desperately needed to go someplace new. That’s what made them so hasty.
Ordinary pilots are one in ten million but naturals are less than one in a billion. And only naturals count against the galactic membership quota – another dirty little secret that both the Chinglisn and our own governments kept from the world. There’s a lot out there in the big wide universe that’s been kept from the human race.
But the best part? One in a billion of us is a natural but that’s a hundred times better than the Chinglisn themselves. And the other, older, races? They didn’t produce naturals at all.
Not any more, at least.
Iris was slumped on the sofa, her eyes covered by the back of one hand, when Prometheus arrived for supper. She sat up and watched as her son walked down the hall. His long lanky form had begun to fill out as he approached his twentieth birthday and he looked more like his father every day, from the dark curls that fell across his forehead to his slightly crooked grin. Even the way he walked was like Chase.
Iris glanced at the data pad on the table beside her. The Chinglisn who delivered it had said nothing and had departed without the ritual farewell touch. She had not needed to read the message to know the news was bad. The only question was how bad.
Not as bad as it could have been. Chase had not vanished into a black hole or steered his ship into the heart of a sun. No, Chase was not dead. Merely lost.
Prom had stopped at the foot of the sofa, the smile slowly fading from his face. He looked from her to the data pad and back again.
“Is it Dad?” His voice was heavy with emotion.
“Your father is... delayed.”
“Not dead, you mean.” Prom glared at her and sat down heavily in the armchair opposite the sofa.
The loss of fourteen pilots was supposed to be a secret but Prom had a way of figuring things out – reaching conclusions from the barest hint of rumour. When he presented them to Iris as fact, she had trouble denying them.
Fourteen dead pilots from ten thousand or so “ordinaries” the Chinglism had found on Earth was not a huge number. But added to the several hundred who had gotten lost and taken years to find their way back to base, it was a worrisome number. A number too big to keep entirely secret.
“Will they let you go get him?” asked Prom.
“I’m meeting with Kanatoos later this afternoon,” said Iris. “The collectivity is in full session. A decision on...”
“Yeah, I’m sure. He’ll be back before they make up their minds.” Prom had grown increasingly impatient with the Chinglisn. He had graduated at the top of his class, nearly two years before, and the collectivity had still not seen fit to certify him for active duty. In fact, only Iris and two other naturals had been certified – and all three had been experienced pilots when the Chinglisn had first contacted Earth.
“The situation has changed. The Chinglisn have lost all contact with the Pogk.” She let that sink in for a minute. The Pogk were one of the oldest races in the Confederacy but had recently withdrawn from all active part in its deliberations. Now they had disappeared altogether. All attempts to reach them had been met with silence.
“So my dad has to drift in space while you go looking for their lost friends? Well, it’s not acceptable.” Prom slammed his hand down on the coffee table, flipping the data pad onto the floor. He leapt to his feet and stomped on it. When it refused to break he kicked it across the room.
Iris sighed. Where does all that anger come from?, she wondered.
“I could find him,” Prom’s voice was so low, Iris could barely hear him.
“Prom, I know you think...”
“I could find him!” This time he yelled.
“You’ve never been out past Base perimeter...”
“I’ve never been allowed. But it doesn’t matter. I know where he is.” Prom stopped and stood swaying with his eyes closed. Fearing he would fall, Iris rose from the couch. Prom suddenly spun and pointed down and toward the far wall. His arm trembled and then steadied.
“There!” His tone was almost accusatory. “He’s right there. One hundred and forty two light years.” He paused as if shocked at his own words then continued in a whisper. “One hundred forty two point seven three two to be exact.”
Prom slumped back into his chair as if exhausted. It couldn’t be right. He couldn’t know, could he? Yet the certainty in his voice and face left no doubt that he thought he knew.
“I’ll tell Kanatoos,” said Iris.
She retrieved the data pad. Prom’s head had fallen forward and his breathing was steady. She guided him from his chair onto the couch. His eyes barely opened as she laid his head on the pillow and brushed the unruly hair from his face.
She was almost to the door before he spoke again.
“And the Pogk no longer exist.”
If you’re not thirsty, then pass the bottle over here. Of all the things I’m gonna miss, single malt may be the one I’ll miss the most. Or did miss, depending on your point of view.
Once I showed the way, the others picked up on it. Not the ordinaries, of course, but the naturals, especially the young ones who weren’t already set in their ways.
But none of them ever figured out what it really meant. And none of them could see the future. They weren’t as unlucky as me.
Am I losing you? I guess that’s to be expected. It all must sound pretty mad to a people who’ve never roamed the stars.
Yeah, yeah, I know you did, mate. All the way to Saturn. You’re bloody famous for it.
Losing things is the biggest part of growing older — eventually you lose everything — your hair, your teeth, your mind.
But you start with your parents. That happens as soon as you’re old enough to hold your own opinions.
“Be reasonable, son.” Chase watched as his son paced angrily up and down their living room. He’s like me, he thought, he needs to move when he’s angry. Chase himself felt no anger, just weary resignation at an argument too often repeated and never resolved.
Prom looked like him and even paced the floor like him but in most respects he was more his mother’s son. He had Iris’s fierce loyalties and her quick inquisitive mind. Most of all he had her talent.
Chase had always known his wife was the stronger half in their marriage. Even in the days before contact, she was the one who took the chances and made the big discoveries while he had plodded along doing the detail work, filling in the blanks as she skipped ahead.
Still, he had always thought he was the better pilot. Contact with the Chinglisn had changed all that. Iris and, especially, Prom were the pros; he was but a gifted amateur.
But to be rescued by his son, not once but three times now, was hard to take.
Prom stopped in front of his father and glared down at him. Chase remained sitting and concentrated on keeping his face and voice calm. Yelling got you nowhere with Prom.
“How long, Dad, how long?” Prom repeated the question that had started the current confrontation.
“You tell me,” said Chase. “You’re the self-professed expert in Confederacy intrigues.”
“When’s mom coming home?” Prom slumped a little and brushed his hand through his long hair.
The sudden shift in direction caught Chase off guard. Like most things these days. I must be getting old.
Not that he felt or looked old. Relativistic effects and Chinglisn longevity treatments had combined to keep him looking and feeling much as he had on the day of first contact. How long ago was that, he wondered, twenty, thirty years. He really didn’t know anymore. Prom could probably tell him to the day but he wasn’t about to feed his son’s already considerable sense of superiority.
“She’s...” Chase paused. Kanatoos had said the mission was secret.
“... looking for the D’thin? I can sense her, Dad. The direction and distance she’s gone – it has to be the D’thin.”
Like the Pogk before them the D’thin had recently stopped participating in Confederacy deliberations and asked, quite bluntly, ‘to be left alone.’ It was a measure of how worried the Chinglisn were that they were willing to defy a direct request from one of the Founders.
Chase got up and crossed to the bar. He poured two fingers of malt whiskey and then added another two for good measure. This was Prom’s usual game, posing questions to which he already knew the answers.
“What’s your point, Prom?”
His son joined him at the bar and splashed some scotch in a tumbler with ice. Chase repressed a shudder.
“Thirty-seven, dad. That’s how many years have passed on earth since contact. If they’d left us alone, I’d already be middle aged.”
Chase winced. He thought he was middle-aged.
“Thirty seven years and we still haven’t made our quota,” said Prom. “The Chinglisn dribble out a few goodies every decade or so to keep the folks back home happy. In the meantime, the people of Earth are kept virtual prisoners in their own system...”
“The people of Earth had no plans to leave their own system – nor the means to get there until the Confederacy showed up.” Despite himself, Chase felt himself being drawn into the old argument.
“That is beside the point. We had a deal. Pilots for the keys to the galaxy.”
“As soon as we meet our quota...”
“We’re never going to meet our quota – not if the Chinglisn have anything to do with it. Their recruitment is a joke, the school’s too small and when pilots do qualify they’re kept hanging around the base until they pass some secret test only the Chinglisn know about!”
“There is no secret test, Prom. We have to know pilots are ready. Uncharted space is dangerous...”
“I know. I’ve been there. Remember.”
Chase felt the blood rise in his face. He took a hard swallow of whiskey, letting the fire in his throat and belly burn away his anger.
Too late. Prom sensed weakness and as he always did he came in for the kill.
“The Chinglisn are fighting a delaying action, Dad. They’ve got their human pilots but they don’t like us. We’re too in love with taking risks and winning victories. We’re too competitive and they think that means we’re still too violent.”
“Everyone knows they have to go slow. The Founders are wary and...”
The Founders are too busy disappearing up their own holes to care about Earth. The Chinglisn are the senior partners now and they don’t like upstarts.” Prom was in full flow now, nostrils flaring, hair and hands flying. He wouldn’t even hear Chase until he’d had his say. He leaned against the bar and sipped his whiskey.
“They feed Earth tidbits and keep the good stuff to themselves. In the meantime they do everything they can to make us just like them. Calm. Peaceful. Safe. They don’t want human beings in their galaxy. Not as we are. They take pilots because they’re desperate for them but regular humans? No way. Not until they’ve been properly neutered.”
Prom thrust his face into his father’s, as if daring him to raise objections. Chase put his hands on his son’s shoulders and gently pushed him away. It was always like this, the anger, the indignation and after the storm, the collapse. He guided Prom to a chair and eased him into it. He pulled another chair close and sat next to his son, quiet, letting calm return.
After a minute, Chase rested his hand on his son’s knee and said, “Prometheus, son, I know you’re impatient, I know it seems like the future never comes. I know, I understand...”
Prom pushed to his feet and moved away. He stood with his back to his father. His voice was low but Chase heard every word.
“I don’t blame you, dad, nor mom neither. When the Chinglisn made the offer it must have seemed like a miracle. You bought into it. And then you sold out.”
Chase rocked back in his chair as if he’d been slapped. Prom had never gone this far before.
“But I’m not taking it. I’m getting a better deal.” Prom walked slowly to the hall closet and took out his coat and the travel bag he always kept packed for unexpected missions.
“Where are you going?” asked Chase, carefully, afraid to let any emotion enter his voice.
“I’ll call you when your mother gets home. We’ll...”
“Don’t bother.” Prom looked back at his father from the open door, his eyes as dark and cold as space. “I don’t associate with traitors.”
It’s easy to be hard when you’re young. Twenty-two knows what fifty forgets.
I was a mighty hard man then and I’m a mighty hard one now, too, I suppose, given what I’ve done or will do. It’s hard to keep track of the order of things in a quantum universe. Am I the cause or the effect?
No, I’m not drunk. Not yet, and I’m not mad, either. No madder than I have to be.
My name? I guess it would be hard to keep it in your head, considering.
Prometheus Atterton. Yeah. It is, ain’ it? Quite a feckin’ coincidence.
But I was right, you see. About the Chinglisn.
Hold on, hold on. Let me finish and then I’ll go and leave you in peace.
Let me finish.
Please. For my sake if not for yours.
Prom leaned his face into the quantum flux and thought of his destination. The ship responded as if it were part of him, as, in a way, it was – just as he was part of it.
Slicing through the lattice of dark matter and energy that connected every point in space-time to every other, the ship moved from one impossible place to the next, each one becoming real as Prom conceived it.
Taking the ship from the Chinglisn had been exactly like taking candy from a baby. There had been a considerable amount of crying and stamping of feet but in the end their resistance had been less than futile. Like most great proponents of order and justice, they were more than capable of destroying in the abstract and from a distance but quailed at the thought of actually getting their hands dirty.
Prom had simply pushed his way past the Chinglisn keepers and expelled them from the ship. Every other Terran was conveniently away from the docks. Not that any of them would have dared to interfere with Prom’s plans – none except his parents and Prom had made certain they didn’t know them.
“Prom?” His mother’s voice. He didn’t answer.
“Prom, we know you can hear us.” His father chimed in. “Bring the ship back. The Chinglisn have promised there will be no repercussions.”
“They’re feckin’ liars you know,” he said. It had occurred to Prom that being Irish would be a joke that only his English parents would get. “There are always repercussions.”
His parents were silent for a long time. If time on a ship had any meaning at all.
Prom turned his eyes outward. Distant stars were hard points of light amid faintly glowing swirls of trailing gases. The quantum lattice glittered and twisted in improbable ways, only solidifying when his thoughts brushed across it. The universe was a beautiful place. It would not be any less beautiful if he changed it.
“Prom,” his mother’s voice sounded strained, tired. “You have to come back.”
“It’s your father. He’s missing again.”
Prom sighed. There were a dozen naturals now who could trace his father.
“That’s lame, mother, he’s...” Prom’s guts clenched. He had no feeling for his father’s location.
“He was on a mission to the D’thin world with a Chinglisn delegation when...” Iris broke off.
“... the D’thin ceased to exist.” finished Prom. “Taking the delegation with them.”
“Kanatoos is sure they’re trapped in the lattice. You could find them, Prom. If you try.”
To lose one parent is a tragedy, thought Prom, but if I go back I’ll lose them both. Not now but forever. Kanatoos had played his final card. He couldn’t hurt Prom’s parents – he didn’t have it in him – but he could put them in harm’s way.
The Chinglisn were growing desperate.
Prom stretched out his mind and made the next leap.
He wasn’t at the edge of the universe but he could see it from here. Space was thin, even the lattice looked stretched and brittle. Particles that had ceased to exist in the core danced and fluttered around the insubstantial ship like curious puppies. Nothing was real and everything was possible.
“They’re sending us back to Earth.” Iris sounded old, her voice as cracked and broken as the beginning of time. “All the founders are gone. The Pogk, the D’thin, the Vr^l, all gone. Kanatoos won’t speak to me anymore. I miss your father.”
Silence. Prom wanted to reach out to his mother. But it was too late for that.
“And I miss you Prom.”
“I miss you, Mom. Go back to Earth. I’ll find you. I’ll find both of you.”
Prom let the thought he had kept buried, hidden even from himself, rise slowly into his conscious mind. If he did this thing, it would all be different. For him, for his parents, for earth. For the universe.
The stars seethed with life and everywhere death was encroaching. The third law said entropy always wins. But the third law could be broken at the quantum level by a knowing and aggressive observer.
The Confederacy was a dead end. Without conflict there was nowhere to go so the founding races finally went nowhere. Into the nothing from which they sprang. Soon, on a cosmic scale, the Chinglisn would follow. And Earth, remade in the image of the Confederacy, would follow them.
Perhaps sooner was better than later.
Prom thought his thought and found himself at the end of time – which, of course, is no different than the beginning.
In the first three billion years after the big bang, life appeared a billion billion times. It grew to sentience on more worlds that you or I could count. But only three races among all those countless worlds mastered the quantum flux and the lattice that holds time and space together.
The Pogk, the D’thin, and the Vr^l.
They weren’t peaceful then. Far from it. They fried ten million worlds, imploded a hundred thousand suns in their shared quest for dominance. And after a million years of war they made peace and founded the Confederacy.
They bred peace in themselves and determined that no race would be allowed to leave its system until they too found peace.
They built a universe spanning civilization and let entropy win.
And all their bloody efforts got them me — a mad feckin’ Irish wannabe with a talent for destruction.
“So that’s that then,” said Prom. “The story of life, the universe and all that. All brought back to a London pub and a bottle of single malt.”
Prom lifted the bottle of scotch to his lips and took a long pull, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve.
“I think you’ve had enough, son,” said the man sitting across the table, glancing nervously at his wife and daughter.
“Oh, aye,” said Prom. “I’ve had more than feckin’ enough.” He took another pull from the bottle and slammed it down on the table. “Haven’t you heard what I’ve said?”
The man brushed his long hair away from his face in an achingly familiar gesture and smiled his lop-sided smile at his wife. “Well, I’ve certainly heard you talking but frankly it all sounds like a lot of foolishness.”
“You’d say so,” snarled Prom. “You always thought so.” He started to stand — the old anger rising unbidden.
A hand clapped on Prom’s shoulder, holding him in his seat. “Is this young fellow bothering you, Mr. and Mrs. Atterton?”
“No, Jack,” said Iris, “It’s all right.”
“Well, he’s bothering me though I guess that comes with being a famous astronaut,” said Chase, “But I think Pandora finds him cute.”
Chase Atterton winked affectionately at his only child, the gift Iris had given him after his long lonely mission to Jupiter.
“I was just leaving,” said Prom.
“That might be best,” said Iris.
Prom nodded and rose unsteadily to his feet. The landlord kept his grip, guiding Prom to the door.
The air was cold and stars stared down hard and merciless. Prom looked up at them and wondered if any held life looking down at him. Only if I’m not as good as I think I am, he thought bitterly.
I’ve given the universe to the human race and no one even knows I existed. Even when they discover the clues I’ve left scattered for them — to the flux and to the lattice — others will get the credit.
He looked through the pub window at his parents and the girl who was and was not his sister.
The girl laughed and his parents joined her. They had already forgotten him and his story.
To lose one parent is a tragedy. But to lose two is sometimes a necessity.