Mira

MIRA
by Keith B. Phillips
Omicron (ο) Cetus, Mira (related to the words “miraculous”, and “ad-mire”, from Latin mirus, “wonderful”), is described as a deep garnet colored star located in the neck of the Whale or Sea-Monster. — The Constellation of Words

She was late, but he didn’t mind. It was pleasant to bask in the heat of the sun on the beach, listen to the waves crashing, and feel the light breeze whisk the occasional particle of sand across his face. The gulls honked overhead like a misdirected orchestra of bicycle horns, and all the while the surf crashed and hissed over the sand. Crashing and hissing, crashing and hissing, with the hissing being as though he could hear all the grains of sand colliding with each other as the sheets of foam and water withdrew, dragging themselves across the beach, and sliding seductively back into the vast sea beyond, as if beckoning him to follow.
Jason was tired, and this was a like salve to him. It soaked into his soul and healed him. Healed him from the steel of the city, from the sterilized and manufactured world that imprisoned him each day, from the chaos and noise. But here, there was only the crash and hiss. He breathed to the rhythm, and it lent strength to him. He felt restored by the sea, and Mira was right, the ocean had power that went beyond the physical.
“Hello.” A female voice, as if called into existence by his mere thought, sounded out.
He opened his eyes and squinted against the sun. She stood before him, catching some of those rays as they glowed through the thin flower-print dress that she wore, showing her curved and beautiful form as a cool shadow inside of a forge of glory. He stood up, admiring her long brown hair, which gleamed in the sun and cascaded over her shoulders. Her light hazel eyes sparkled brightly from the reflections on the waves about them. She was a vision; a beauty that took his breath away; a force of nature.
“Hi.” He breathed this nervously, not sure of himself, and treading into uncharted territory. He didn’t want to screw this up, and knew that he could do so very easily. She was a delicate sensible creature, and he felt like a clumsy giant with club limbs. “How are you?” He said lamely.
“I’m okay. Isn’t this wonderful? What an incredible place you live in. Everything is so bright and full of sounds.”
He nodded. “I was just thinking that myself. It’s a beautiful day.”

She approached and circled around him, looking him in the eyes as she crossed around front. He’d gotten used to this familiar greeting and asked, “How’s your mother?”
“She’s still very ill. My…family is concerned, but say that it will pass.” Mira’s sunshine face fell into shadow.
“I’m sorry. Does anyone know what’s wrong with her?” She had slowed to stand before him and he now followed her customary greeting and circled around her.
“We’ve asked your doctor to take a look. He said that he will a bring a team tomorrow.”
“That’s good. I’m glad of that.” Jason smiled hoping to lift her spirits. “I’m sure they will find a way to help.”
“I’m not sure. The older ones in my family don’t trust them.”
Jason nodded. “That’s understandable. I wish it wasn’t like that.”
An awkward silence passed between them for a few heartbeats, and then Mira spoke. “It takes a long time to heal some things.”
“I’d like to think that we’re doing that—I mean, you and I.” He reached out and put a gentle hand on her bare shoulder. She startled at the touch, but then relaxed and smiled at him.
“Let’s sit and let the sun soak into us,” she suggested, and then sat down on the sand, taking his hand and pulling him down next to her. They sat there looking out into the waves. Far from the shore the spout of a whale blasted a white mist into the air. It surfaced and rolled its back in the water, breaching and plunging back down into the depths.
“Beautiful.” Jason breathed in wonder.
“Do you really think so?” Mira asked.
“More beautiful than anything that I’ve seen.” He said, turning and looking into her eyes.
“It feels really weird.” Mira averted her eyes from his. “What do you mean?”

“This extra space. It’s like someone opened a passage to another valley in my mind. I can think things that I’ve never thought before.”
“It’s the way that the implant works. You’ll get used to it. I’ve had mine for a over a five years now. I don’t even notice it anymore unless I think about it.”
“It’s all I ever think about now.”
“It makes you more like us.” Jason said.
“I know, and sometimes that scares me.”
“Why?”
“Because of what happened. Because of what you used to do to us.”
“And you’re worried that you might become like that?”
“Maybe.”
Jason shook his head. “No, that won’t happen.” He smiled. “You’re wiser than we are.”
The sound of running feet approached, and sand went dashing over them both. A young boy of about seven came skidding to a stop next to them, and jumped up and down.
“Mira! Mira!” He said bouncing around them.
“Ralph! Knock it off, you’re getting sand all over us.” Jason grumbled.
“But the sand is everywhere. Let’s run. Let’s all run in it,” Ralf said, never ceasing to dance about them.
Mira laughed at Ralph’s antics, and Jason said, “In a little bit. We’re talking. Go run, and we’ll join you.”
Ralph took off down the beach dashing through the occasional wave that reached out over the sand.
“How smart will he get?” Mira asked.

“Not much more, I don’t think. He’s had the implant for about a year. The last time I increased his memory chip, he didn’t use it fully. I think he’s gone as far he can.”
“I like him the way he is.” she said.
“I like him too.” He brushed sand from his shorts. “Most of the time.” She laughed. He liked the way her mouth curled around the sound.
The surf continued to crash and hiss around them and they watched silently while the whale rolled and spouted in the distance.
“How much further do you think I will go?” She asked with a kind of anxious look.
“You, my dear, are as unlimited as the stars above.” Jason smiled, then added, “Truthfully, we don’t know how far. We both have spindle neurons. And your brain mass is about five times greater than ours, a lot of which is used for sound processing.”
“So what? I can think about sounds better than you. What good is that out here?”
“Ah, but you see that can be re-purposed. Some of our smartest men thought by using pictures in their minds. Einstein, Tesla, Hawking. These men changed everything we know about the universe using the visual cortex of their brains. We think that you can do the same, but using sound processing.”
She nodded.
“Do you think anyone else will volunteer?” Jason asked.
“I don’t know. I can see the advantage, but then I can think thoughts with the implant that they just can’t. And, while there is good will toward you, there is also much mistrust.”
“That was another age, and another time. A terrible one, to be sure, but we’ve both evolved. We want to move on and bring you with us, try to make up for the past.”
Silence between them again as the world went on, the gulls crying, the surf pounding and sizzling, and distant barking.
“I’m here.” She said softly. “I’m here to take a chance on you. I can’t speak for the others, but this is a start. I wouldn’t expect much at first. Let’s see how this goes.”
Jason nodded. “You’re right, of course. I just get excited about the possibilities.”

Mira smiled. “I do too. Tell me more about the stars.” She shifted to lean against him and he felt her strange heat.
“You have used them to navigate by, and so have we for thousands of years. Each one of those points of light is a sun just like the one that warms our oceans. And recently we’ve found planets that circle them, some of which could even support life.”
“I still don’t understand how I can help. It is a hard…” She reached for a word. “…concept.”
Jason laughed. “It’s a hard concept for anyone. The math is incomprehensible to me, it’s not really my area. I just work on the systems integration, but our physicists have found a way that we can open a hole in the spaces between the stars and travel through it. The problem is we don’t have a computer powerful enough to handle the kind of calculations such a trip would require.”
“And I can be your computer. I don’t understand how that works.” She frowned slightly and her eyebrows furrowed in concentrated thought.
“Our computers are very fast, but they aren’t smart. They can’t learn like biologicals can. To make the trip to other stars, we need a brain that can learn and make very fast decisions. The place the hole in space leads to is a realm we call hyperspace, and it’s very complex. It’s a place where time and distance change in various parts of itself. It has eddies and currents, and it would be very easy to get lost inside there. Several of our unmanned probe ships never returned.”
“It’s a dangerous journey.” Mira pondered.
“I won’t tell you any different. Yes, it’s a risk, and if you don’t want to take it, no one would think bad of you—least of all, me.”
“You are going, though?”
Jason nodded. “Yes.”
“I’m not afraid to go into the currents of space.” Mira said, pursing her lips.
“I know. I just want you to be aware of the risks.” Jason put his hand out to give her arm a reassuring squeeze, but his hand passed right through her. Damn glitches, he thought, and withdrew his touch.
“Come on. That silly dog is still waiting for us to chase him through the surf.” He grinned.

Mira laughed and got to her feet gracefully. He took her hand, and they raced over the sand, down to where the image of a boy skipped through the surf, shouting at the waves.

*

“How is she?” Jason burst through the doors, his heart pounding from running.
Mira knelt by the edge of the mirror-glass pool of water which contained an unmoving sperm whale. She looked up as he entered, but she didn’t respond. Didn’t need to respond. The tears were dripping down her face.
Dr. Franklin, the marine biologist in charge, came up and spoke in low tones to Jason. “It’s not good, Jason. She’s taken a turn for the worse. We’ve identified red-tide toxin and oxygen deprivation. She was out there a long time. We have her on oh-two,” he pointed to a tube running into the blowhole of the whale. “But it may be too late. As for the toxins, we’re doing what we can, but she’s a big animal. It will take some time and we may not have enough.”
Jason nodded. His face felt cold, and his heart wrenched for Mira who now started a low sob that was more like a keening moan. He moved to kneel beside her and put a hand on her very warm shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” he said woodenly. “They’re doing everything they can Mira.” He knew that wasn’t enough. Was not going to fix it. It was not going to console her, but what could? Only a miracle, and the miracle maker had just told him that chances were slim.
“The oceans are sick, Jason.” She said bitterly.
“I know. Even when we started to realize the damage we were doing, we just kept doing it.”
She stood and squeezed her eyes shut in pain. Tears slipped out between the lids and fell. He put his arms around her and held her close, let the heat grow until he couldn’t stand it anymore, and then released her. When he did, he gasped for cool air. Holographic imagery capable of physical contact required a lot of energy, and that energy had to go somewhere.
“I’m sorry.” He said, both for having to let her go, and for what his race had done. “She wants me to ask you a favor.” Mira said.

“Anything.” Jason’s voice broke. He sat down by the edge of the pool and looked at the large eye on the side of the whale’s head. It was closed tightly and the grey flesh of the whale wrinkled up at its edges.
“She wants you to take me to a new world that has a clean ocean.”
He rested his chin on his knees, and tears of his own flowed now. “I’ll do my best,” he whispered to the eye. For a moment the eye flickered to life, and opened a tiny crack. A window to the soul of the whale beside him opened, and then closed forever.

*

“We’re ready to breach hyperspace.” Mira’s voice reached him from his place at the OPS station. Jason’s stomach was a tightly clenched knot of rope. Two years had passed since the death of Mira’s mother. Now Mira was the heart and soul of the first “occupied” interstellar ship. The phrase, “manned ship” no longer applied, as there was a non-human crew-member with them. He looked to his left as she concentrated at the control panel. Her human holographic form standing there was beautiful. But her real body—the body of a large female sperm whale—was enclosed in the special cargo hold below, submerged in water, with a layer of air at the top for breathing.
“Brace for emergence.” Captain Gelder announced from mid-deck of the bridge. The ship shuddered mildly. Jason felt simultaneously stretched and nauseated. Then there was nothing but calm, and the view screens revealed stars once more instead of the energy charged plasma clouds of hyperspace.
“Where are we?” Jason held his breath. There was no guarantee that they had made it to the planet of their destination. And if not, they could have just taken a ride to a long and drawn out death. If they had popped out of hyperspace in an unknown region of the Milky Way, there was no way they could get home again. And finding a place where they could survive would be near impossible if the navigation theories of traversing hyperspace had failed.
“One moment.” Mira’s voice spoke again from the console. She was so immersed in the data processors that her voice was almost robotic. There was a long pause, and then, “We made it!”
Jason jumped to his feet and crossed the short distance between them. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her tenderly. He didn’t care what the rest of the bridge crew thought. It was Mira’s moment. A moment they had both worked hard for. She had brought them to this new world.
“Sir! I’ve got a visual on the planet.” The astrographer said suddenly.

“Put it on screen, Mr. Williams.” The captain said calmly.
Jason turned to face the view screen as the live image of a giant blue world was displayed. Wisps of white clouds swirled around an ocean of blue, and not one continent could be seen.
“It’s beautiful.” Mira said.
“A new home for both our people.” Jason said. “And a new home for our children.”
Within the cargo hold were frozen whale embryo’s ready to be thawed and implanted. Mira would soon be a mother to a whole new world of her kind. There was much to do. They still had to make sure this planet would be safe for them. What kind of life inhabited the seas? What challenges lay ahead? Jason didn’t know, but he was excited about the possibilities. There weren’t any guarantees, but in life there never were any. They would take this opportunity and make everything they could from it.
Mira looked down on the blue of the ocean with the electron eyes of the ship. She probed the seas with her radar, analyzed the the spectral properties of the light.
“Mother, I’ve come home.” Mira whispered.

The Dead Bones

You kill your trees and live in their dead bones. That’s what she’d said to me as I left the forest last time. I’d looked back at her with wet eyes and could not deny it. I could’t tell her that she was mistaken, that I’d not been part of it, because I hadn’t questioned what we did. I hadn’t thought to stand up and resist, or to speak against it. In the end, I’d gone back to my dead-bone house. Sat in my soft skin chair that once belonged to a living creature. Then I reached over and I drank from a bottle. I drank the blood of the earth, and I tossed the cheap, cheap plastic into the garbage. Finally, I switched on the TV, powered by generators that burned the earth and pumped black soot into the sky.

She was right, and we were wrong, but we couldn’t change. No, that wasn’t it. We wouldn’t change because we were afraid of what might happen. We were afraid that we’d lose our wealth, or our conveniences, or that we’d somehow have to work harder for what we had. And this fear overrode the knowledge that we were actively destroying our world.

That night I went to sleep on my soft warm bed and dreamed that the world had turned to dust. Nothing green grew and nothing alive crept across the ground. I walked to the ocean shore and saw a field of plastic bags and detritus that stretched to the horizon and wrapped around the earth. I sat down in the trash and I cried, and I screamed out against the people of the world—at myself. I wanted someone to answer my question.

“Why?” I beat the ground, and yelled at the sky, but there was no one to hear me. “Why did this happen?!” And the answer came back as loud as anything I’d ever heard.

Silence.

Blackhole Grind

 

Nobody thinks about how it’s done anymore. I’m out on the line for twelve hours. I’m tired, I’m beat. I’m in The Suit, and it’s charged up and buzzing in my ears. I can feel the energy crawling on every inch of my skin. Like a bunch angry ants pouring out of a nest that some kid kicked over for fun. I’m about to kick over my own nest by firing an Xray laser into the cookie.

The cookie. That’s what we call the atomic cocktail that the orbital factory spits out about once a month. Let me tell you, it’s big. It’s a roundish blob about three kilometers in diameter. That’s the target.

I’m in the suit, so every thing is harder to do. I’m nervous as hell working with enough energy to destroy a planet. That’s why they have us so far out in space. The sweat is mingling with the ants, and it’s just amplifying the effect. I’m twitchier than normal this time, and my hands don’t feel secure on the controls. I triple blink my eyes. The helmet fan comes on and I get some relief from the sweat dripping into my eyes. I can feel it evaporating away.

I concentrate on the controls and watch the power levels on the laser. I’m in the specially shielded part of the ship, in my suit, got it blaring full power, and hoping to God that it’s enough to keep the radiation from frying me up. It hasn’t yet, but sometimes the reaction isn’t as accurate as the math. There’s still some unknown variable, but that doesn’t stop the line. The holes still have to be made for the ships because that’s what makes them go. That’s what takes humans out to the stars.

The power levels look good. The distance is locked; the ship’s retros have stabilized us exactly eight kilometers away. The “safe” distance. It never feels safe, because I know too much. It was better when I was stupid.

When they first figured out they could make molecular sized black holes with a laser, it went completely unnoticed by the media. It was just a scientific curiosity, lasting only thirty femtoseconds – millionths of a billionth of a second. That was because after it stripped all the electrons from every neighboring atom in the targeted molecule, it didn’t have anything else to feed it. But given the right fuel and conditions, it could grow into a tiny hungry monster. The three kilometer ball in front of me would shrink into an invisible sphere the diameter of a human hair, and keep on sucking in everything around it.

I flip up the safety cover on the firing switch, wait a second, check the vitals, and then turn the switch. The ship vibrates with the released energy. Then there’s a bright spot on the cookie. The tiny molecular sized hole has been made in the middle of that blob. The focal point of the laser is set for the center of the mass. It takes a bit for the beam to burn through, but when it does, the hole gets made right in the center of the cookie. That’s the only way it works, and why everything has to be so precise.

The coral started it all. Those little sea organisms that became living reefs visible from space. In our technological race to learn and grow we’d heated the oceans just enough to kill them all off. That had created a cascading die-off of other lifeforms, up to, and including humans. As food sources from the sea became scarcer, and the ecology collapsed from climate change and pollution, it became critical that we find another earth. Some way to insure that our species would survive and not become a casualty of the damage we’d caused.

It happens fast, like an explosion in reverse, as the cookie collapses in on itself. A flash goes outward like a blast. All that energy has to go somewhere. It smacks me in the face, washing over my ship, and overloading everything. A split second before it hits, my ship goes dark, protecting itself by turning everything off, grounding every circuit together to prevent burnouts. The only thing left running is the tiny nuclear power plant in my suit. It keeps the angry ants crawling over me, the electomagnetic shield and the water in the thick walls of the room I’m in are the only things keeping me alive right now. The only things keeping my cells from being torn apart by subatomic particles.

I give it the standard delay, as the glow dissipates out there where the cookie used to be. By the time five minutes is up, the glow is gone and it’s pitch black. Then the ship comes back to life. The lights and instruments boot up, and I turn off The Suit. The crawling ceases, and it feels great. I take off the helmet and head for the bridge.

The bridge is just like I left it, four seats for crew members are empty and I take the one for the pilot. I fire up the thrusters and guide the ship toward something I can’t see on the cameras. The only thing that’s guiding me is the highly tuned gravity sensors. A three dimensional map of the space being warped in front of the ship. There’s a tiny black hole punching a dent in spacetime only eight kilometers away. I move forward slowly and the distance shrinks until it’s just meters. Then I fire up the fields and guide the ship so that the big magnetic hand slips right around the hole and closes it in. The fields bring it into the core of the ship, or rather drag us so that we’re centered on it. The ship’s mass is dwarfed by the little monster.

I activate the parabolic reflector in the core and it slips around the front half of the hole. The hawking radiation gets bounced out toward the rear of the ship and we start to move. Slowly at first, then rapidly accelerating toward the docks. Another starship is born.

Loss For Words

Dad was always muttering under his breath. At first I thought he might be cursing. I would get up close to him, put my little hands around his neck and hold my face up next to his wiry whiskers. He’d laugh and ask me what I was up to.
“I’m listening to your other voice,” I would say. He laughed and tousled my long blond hair sending the bangs into my eyes. “Silly girl, that’s my secret language. Would you like to learn it?” 
I gave an enthusiastic yes to this, and over a period of years from the time I was five to the age of ten we would sit down in the evenings and converse in the secret language.
At first I learned the words for all of the objects that were around in the living room, but that was only the first couple of weeks. After that I learned all of the action words and the adjectives, and even some words that didn’t have english parallels. It was a deep language and corresponding words like “squareness”, “stupidity” and “violence” were in a category of their own. Not nouns but something different. This secret language had higher dimensions to it. It was more complete, and when we spoke in it—only between ourselves, and never around anyone else—I felt like I could fully explain myself and grew more and more to see my native language as lacking. 
There were many times when feeling overwhelmed at the sight of immense beauty or intense horror that I was left speechless and without words. But in the back of my mind, in the secret language the words would form complete and coherent sentences fully describing how I felt and decrypting the unspeakable.
There came that awful day, when my father got the bad news. I was sixteen when he sat me down in the living room. He spoke in the secret language. He told me that he was going to have to go away soon, but that he would not really be gone. 
Oh, even now since you do not know the higher language, I cannot explain it to you correctly in these words. He was going to have to leave and not leave, because his body was failing and not failing. It was succeeding in ways that people don’t understand. He was fulfilling his destiny and going on to do what he was born to do. 
I was sad and I was excited. I was both of these things and there is one word for that as well. And that day came that my Dad became the very thing that we spoke of. That was the day he died and was born, the day that I cried and was overjoyed. And my life went on but with great anticipation.
The day I turned eighteen I was driving out to see my boyfriend in the city, and my mind suddenly felt on fire with electricity. I pulled over to the side of the road and sat as the cars swooshed by so fast that they rocked the car side to side. And then I felt my Dad, he was there, all around me like a static charge. 
“Hello, daughter. I’ve come to give you a very special birthday gift.”
“What gift, Dad?”
“The secret language that you learned is much more than for describing things and talking to me. Words have sounds, and these sounds have forms. These forms are energy and power to change the world around you in all the secret ways that I’ve taught you. Now’s the time to start using it.”
“How do I use it, Dad?” But he was gone and not gone again. 
I thought a lot about what my dad had told me. Since he had changed, I only spoke the secret language in my head. It was helpful for soothing my mind when I was weary of the world, but I had not thought to speak it aloud. Now I began to speak.