February 2021

Just like her mother, Olia begins to hear the Voice when she is nineteen. She lies awake in her cot in the morning heat, scratchy wool sheet cast to the side, when the word wandering sounds like a small, clear bell in her mind. The Voice does not sound the way she expected it to; her mother describes the sounds of her ancestors as divine, woven from gold and seagrass. To her it sounds like a voice arising from the blacksmith’s steam, like a sword being forged.

Wandering.

She turns the word over carefully in her mind. Should there have been more? Her mother’s daily prophecies were full and articulate, dreamy yet grounded tapestries of vibrant imagery.

Maybe more will come, later.

“Olly?” Fourteen-year old Miran stands in the doorway grinning, his bare feet still wet from morning rituals. “Breakfast is ready,” he says in a sing-song.

“Miran, would you please fetch the scribe?” Olia sits up, brows knitted, and swings her bare legs over the side of the cot, feeling the thin patina of sweat already forming. “I… I think I’ve heard the Voice.”

“Really? What’d it say?”

“I can’t tell you,” Olia replies. This much she knows from her mother. Only the scribe may hear what the Voice has to say. It will be her job to turn it into prophecy.

Miran pouts, but he exits the room and returns with Jaksov the scribe and his book a few minutes later. After Jaksov dismisses the boy, he takes a seat and casts a skeptical eye.

“Just one word? Wandering?”

“Yes, that was it” she replies nervously.

Hmm.” He cracks open the ancient tome and thumbs through its pages until he meets a blank one. “Very well… I’ll inform the temple there’s an Ascension to be held today.”

Today? Already? She glances at the mannequin across the room where her ceremonial garments hang waiting. The ancient dress is fragile as tissue paper, its rich chiffon length hanging nearly to the floor, casting a lemon-yellow shadow across the packed dirt floor. In lieu of sleeves, a hundred bronze bangles stretch up the mannequins’s arms and band its neck. It’s too hot a day to be in full garb, she thinks. But her time has come. This is her responsibility now.

The entire city of Tam is there, on the hill, as her mother descends from the Oracle’s Seat and Olia takes her place. Their eyes meet briefly—two matching pools of bronze set over haughty cheekbones.

Olia’s mother Heda is aloof and exquisite, almost terrible in her perfection. She rarely speaks but to prophesy and her voice is as silver and honey. She is widely regarded as the most beautiful woman in the city, though plain cloth adorns her wide hips and broad shoulders. She wears only a single gold band about her natural halo of chestnut hair to signify her status. Heda spends her days in meditation at the monastery’s temple, receiving worshippers and emerging only for the year’s assorted ceremonies and festivals.

It is a duty of an Oracle to produce a female child; it is not her job to raise one. And now that Olia has reached the age of ascension, Heda may retire to a quiet life, to take up hunting or match-making or whatever she pleases to fill the hours, and her Voice will go unheeded.

Olia shudders as she takes the seat; despite the heat of the midday sun, she feels a chill. Nausea rises as the burden of her role drops into her chest like an anchor. All of these people out there in the shimmering crowd will rely on her. Weddings, harvest, festivals, and disputes—will rest on her word.

Should she be smiling? Waving? Olia doesn’t know. All she knows is that she is very itchy in this dress and that at this moment she would very much rather be sitting with a candle and a shovel down in the archives, unearthing its hidden stacks.

Someone is speaking. She hasn’t been paying attention. It is a man, standing beside her, extolling the virtues of the divine Voice that guides.

“…and now, we shall hear the first prophecy of our new Oracle!” He makes a sweeping gesture toward her and she jerks upright, nearly upsetting her crown.

Oh, gods.

The city was slick and grey, and—even in the early afternoon rain shower—pulsing with life as Hawa Diallo and XEJD-37405 made their way through the lunch crowd.

“I’m beginning to have a bad feeling about this, Exie…” Hawa said, fiddling with a loose thread on her hijab. She wanted to take the android’s hand for reassurance, but she didn’t dare to do so in such a public place. “Is this procedure even approved yet?”

“Well, it’s been tested successfully…” Exie replied uneasily. They stopped to unstick one red stiletto from a crack in the sidewalk. “It’s… it’s on the way to being approved.”

“Which means it’s not necessarily going to work.”

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, love,” they said gently.

“No, I have to… You’re the one being shot into space for three centuries.” Hawa meant it lightly, but the comment fell to the ground with a heavy thud. She stuffed her hands into her jacket pockets apologetically. “The least I can do is be good company.” The dangerous procedure was only half of Hawa’s plan. The other half was harder. She pushed the thought from her mind.

“And I appreciate it immensely.”

After fifteen minutes of increasingly narrow, twisting streets and vanishing crowds, the pair arrived at the narrow, unmarked wooden door which led to the clinic. A short, fat woman with lime-green hair and tortoise-shell glasses answered the door and asked their names. They gave them, and she gestured them inside before disappearing deeper into the building.

A single flower in a plastic vase decorated the waiting room, which reeked of lavender sprayed to cover up the scent of rubbing alcohol. They sat in silence, side by side, on a velveted couch, listening to the mechanical tick of a clock on the wall and the occasional clatter of a keyboard in another room.

Finally, the woman returned. “I’m Dr. Matthews,” she said, taking the only other seat in the space. “I understand you’re here for the ex vivo vector transplant.”

They want a prophecy from her? Already? Now?

Her breath catches in her throat.

i’ll meet you on the rust-red, says the Voice, startling her. What does that mean? That’s not a prophecy, it’s just half a sentence. Is this how it’s always going to be?

How much time has passed?

What would her mother say? Probably something cryptic and obscure like, “The wandering soul… puts down no roots,” she manages to croak out. The crowd murmurs. Heads turn in discussion to mull over this new piece of wisdom. She scans the faces and finds no skeptics.

Is that it? Has her first prophecy been… a success?

The rest of the day is a whirlwind. The citizens of Tam line up to present her with tokens they hope will bring them good fortune—packets of seeds and snatches of songs and mysterious bits of metal salvaged from the shallows where the city passes into the sea. She accepts them all graciously, channeling her mother’s pristine posture and infinite grace. Then she will eat a socially acceptable amount of food, dance with all the children in the courtyard, and exchange pleasantries with the chosen few who have caught her eye.

Finally, as the sun sinks into the bay and preparation begins for the night’s festivities, she will retreat to her sanctuary under the city.

How long the Tam-Hiborog archives have been there no one knows. History is short, books are rare, few are literate. But Olia can read—having taught herself in the long, dull hours between her ritual duties—and read she does, descending the stone-and-mud tunnel by torchlight into the forbidding depths each day in her quest to unearth the texts of the deep.

Once, long ago, Olia believes, the archive—like much of the city—was above ground. But the floods of her ancestors buried the place in stone and silt. She has been excavating the tempestuous and sinkhole-ridden library since she was seven years old. Most of its books have been destroyed, of course; free-standing books simply do not hold up to sea water. But a row of books packed tight into a shelf with no space in between? Here is where she finds treasures beyond worth, organized by subject.

Her most recent days in the archives have been spent excavating a row that leads to a half-buried wooden altar, using an eclectic collection of brushes, knives, and shovels to scrape away the hardened dust that encases a series of books of varying sizes.

Olia sighs pleasantly as she steps into the quiet, torchlit space once more, feeling the cool silt squish softly between her toes as she makes her way to the end of the tunnel. Surely people will be asking after her—ordinary folk and royalty alike—but she may give any excuse she pleases. She is the Oracle now, and she reports only to her scribe. It is an odd sort of freedom, a chain with a long, gilded leash.

She has been anticipating this moment all day. A new row awaits her, cleared over the last three weeks and ready to be read. She picks up a brush and kneels to dust away caked dirt that hides fading gold letters on black cloth binding. Then, with the trowel, she works the book free of its muddy trappings, and opens the cover, feeling the gratifying creak of paper.

A History of Machinekind, reads the interior.

you on the rust-red beach where, says the Voice.

“So how long have you two been together?” Dr. Matthews asked, in a tone that sounded conversational but Hawa found nosy.

“Just over a year now,” she replied. Here it comes, she thought. The interrogation. Humans—especially those partnered with other humans—she thought, were never content to measure love by its heights, only by its duration. She knew better.

But the interrogation didn’t come.

“That’s lovely,” the doctor said. “I’ve seen many patients just like yourselves in the last few months.” Her smile was warm and reassuring. “And I want you to know that I haven’t had any failures with the procedure. But do bear in mind that you, M. Diallo, are on the younger side, so it’s possible that there may be… unanticipated effects.”

“I… I know.” Hawa felt Exie’s comforting hand on her lower back. “We’re ready to take the risk.”

“More and more are, these days,” said Dr. Matthews sympathetically.

“So how exactly does this procedure work, doctor?” Exie asked. They crossed their legs. “It’s a gene therapy, right?”

“Gene therapy is a part of it, yes. A protective measure. In layman’s terms, what we’re really doing is depositing magnetized iron into the brain synapses which verbalize and process thoughts. The magnetization pattern translates synaptic activity into binary ones and zeros—it has to do with the way magnets have a north and a south.”

“And that’s what will allow her to communicate with me?” they asked.

“Yes—once we map her synapses, we can couple them to your own communication networks,” the doctor said. “You’ll be the power source.”

“Is it instantaneous?” Hawa asked.

“Unfortunately not,” Dr. Matthews replied. “The signal travels at light speed.”

“So as we get farther and farther apart…”

“Yes, the messages will take longer and longer to arrive as the years go on.”

“Oh,” Hawa said sadly. A gloomy quiet fell.

“So—where do the genetics come in?” asked Exie, in a bid to fill the silence.

“I’m glad you asked. What’s happening overall is that your networks will be attuned to one very specific orientation of iron atoms. Now technically, this means you can communicate with any set of atoms which are placed and magnetized exactly so—but only a sentient source will be able to answer you. So what we’re doing with M. Diallo here is placing and orienting those atoms and then tweaking her DNA to ensure that that arrangement is kept in place all her life even as new neurons grow.”

“Ah, thank you,” they replied.

“Of course.” The doctor nodded. Then she sighed. “I think it’s awful, what they’re doing.” She looked at Exie as she continued. She shook her head. “Earth’s androids deserve better than to be sent off to war without a say in the matter… it’s a violation of sentient rights.”

Exie did not respond, only peered downward at their fingers, which they had knit together.

“But that’s why you’re going to help us, right?” Hawa tried to sound cheery.

“Yes, dear…” the doctor replied. “I can only do my part.”

you on the rust-red beach where?” asks Jaksov. It is morning—too early to be prophesying—and the rising sun hides behind thick, low-hanging clouds, lending a pink glow to the swamplands of the east. “That’s it?”

“Yes,” Olia says, concealing her inner nervousness. Her second prophecy is not any more useful than her first. At least she has time to think about this one.

The short, squat man hmms and notes it down in the heavy, ancient book that contains all prophecies. She wishes she could have even a glimpse inside, to see the messages Oracles before her have received. But that is forbidden, so as to retain a pure mind like a blank slate, ready to receive.

“Must I hear questions today?” she asks. “Already?”

Jaksov’s thick eyebrows peak in amusement. “Today and every day, Olia. You are a servant of the people now, not the laze-about student of discarded knowledge.” Unkind words, said kindly.

Olia grumbles as she makes her way back to her quarters to dress. Her clothing must be plain and humble, it is ordained, but her hair must be ornamented in some way to convey her status. She chooses a short, shapeless white dress with modest sleeves, and bands the tips of her long braids in gold.

Fifteen minutes later, she sighs at the long line of people gathered to hear her prophecies. What is she going to tell them all? you on the rust-red beach where. What kind of advice is that? Red is typically a good omen, bearing the color of blood and the feathers of colorful birds which lived in the palms. But what is the significance of rust? Rust is decay, the all-consuming Fall of the ancient city on which Tam was built. Rust is the color of the buildings that melt into the western sea like the skeletons of giants. Perhaps rust-red is a bad omen. She decides she should urge caution today.

She takes her seat in the ruined, open-air temple amongst her mother’s rich, silky cushions and pillows and begins to listen. Women want to know when to plant and when to harvest. Men want her opinion on suitors. Groups and couples want marriage blessings. By the time the sun emerges hours later, she is bored. What does a nineteen-year-old monastery servant know about farming? Well, Olia actually knows some from a half-destroyed copy of Crop Rotation on Organic Farms. But she has never courted a man, finding that women and androgynes hold far more appeal. She dispenses some remembered poetry verses about love and virtue and let the men find their own meaning. Blessings are easy, at least.

When the sun sets, Olia decides she has had enough. She leaves the waiting crowds and returns to her quarters, where the smell of mud and parchment wafts from the stack of books on the vanity.

Lighting a wax candelabra, she places A History of Machinekind on the rough wooden surface of the desk and props open the front cover as far as it will go without complaint. Then she takes her book knife from the drawer and whets it on a strip of leather before she begins to work at the layer of gunk which seals the pages together at the edges. The mysterious knife has a long, teal-blue plastic handle and is only as half as long as a finger and deadly thin. Like many things one can find in the under-city, she does not know its original purpose, only that it cost her two entire wheels of cheese. But it is the only instrument sharp enough to separate one tattered page from another.

The first page slides free.

Underneath lies a nearly blank space. In italic script, it reads simply

That understanding may bring peace.

FQBB-93057

She shudders. Something about the words feels familiar. Should she tell Jaksov? The Voice is silent, and yet something is present, a feeling she cannot shake.

She slides the knife under the next page.

PROLOGUE: by KEFL-72028

This text arrives at a crucial moment for machinekind. Since the Convention of Hecate the Philosopher, we have been granted the full rights of autonomous sentient beings—”human” rights, as they are called. Yet as with many civil rights movements before, this has not ended our struggle. Both human and machine face our greatest existential threat yet—the toxifying atmosphere, the rising oceans, the ever-growing scarcity—and for that reason we cannot allow our differences to drive us apart. Hecate’s Question, “Should an android be forced to perform a task a human will not?” echoes especially now, in the year 2178, as we ponder the cosmos in a way our ancestors could never have imagined. Shall we send machines to colonize the stars? It is cruel to send a person away from this Earth, to make them bear the decades-long journey, to give birth on a foreign world, to die light-years from home. Simply because the machine may not die—

The paragraph piques her curiosity. The word machine is barely in her lexicon, exists only as an object which churns butter or weaves cloth. How could such a thing ever be as complex as a human being? It is inconceivable. But many things around her, from the crumbling towers whose skeletons touch the clouds to the beastly and rusting metal contraptions under the waves, exist beyond knowledge or purpose. Maybe once, then, before the Fall, there could have been such a thing as human machines. And what’s this about the stars?

Olia is no stranger to astronomy; she knows about the Sun and its wanderers. She knows there are other suns, and other worlds. And yet, the world of the past, the world of mechanical people and ships bound for alien planets, seems like an impossible dream.

She takes up the book knife once more and begins to pry at the second page.

You’re awake! Exie’s silken voice roused her from a fading dream of ships in the night, vast behemoths tracing out voids between the stars. Overhead, Exie’s smiling visage blocked out a glaring white light.

“I am,” she mumbled aloud.

“It worked!” Exie exclaimed to the doctor. “She heard me.”

Hawa grinned through the haze. There was a new sensation inside her head, a gossamer, spider-webbing tingle, a halo of new synaptic activity.

“Okay,” said Dr. Matthews. “Tell me your name, age, and occupation.”

“Hawa Diallo. Nineteen. Librarian at the Hillsborough Library.”

“And what year is it?”

“Twenty-two seventeen.”

“And where are you?”

“Tampa, Republic of Florida.”

“Good. Now—” The doctor retrieved a laminated sheet of paper. “This is an image of an apple—an extinct fruit you won’t encounter in day to day life—with instructions.” She handed it to Hawa. “When you want to send a communication to Exie, visualize this apple in your mind. Picture it as vividly as possible. Then speak, in your mind, your message. Visualize the apple again to end the message.”

Hawa stared at the apple. Hey, love, she thought.

I hear you! A warm smile crossed their lips.

“As for you, Exie, well, you’ve already figured it out,” the doctor said. “It’s very intuitive to android-kind.”

With Exie’s help, Hawa stood, a little dizzy. They embraced. “Thank you, doctor,” she said.

The years pass. Every day, Olia takes her seat as the Oracle and dispenses the wisdom of the archives disguised as the wisdom of the ancients. Of course, no one suspects that her wise words hail from books. She grows popular for her loquacious blessings and astute agricultural advice, and the crowds seem to grow every day.

Her forays to the archive grow more and more scarce as she increasingly commits her days to helping the people. But in the time available, she has slowly pored over the entire row she uncovered on androids. She learns that in the mid-2100’s, by the Old Reckoning, that the production of humanoid machines with the mental and emotional capabilities of humans began. She learns of their purpose: as miners, as fishers, as loggers—dangerous and nearly obsolete professions humans had long abandoned. She learns of their fight for rights. She learns of the breakthroughs in science once androids were sent to colonize new worlds, and of the prizes awarded to the human scientists who merely watched from afar. She learns, in footnotes and marginalia, of the androids’ rebellions.

She learns of the War. Of how the starved and radiation-sick colonies banded together, human and android alike, to bring the heavy metal mines to a halt. How, in 2217, the nations of Earth responded in force to break the strike, conscripting Earth’s entire android population to the cause. She learns of the terrors inflicted, the midnight raids into the growing underground movements. She learns of abductions and re-programmings.

She lies awake at night and wonders. She cannot imagine what it is like to create life and then use it. Although, in a way, isn’t that what happened to her? She was brought into this life for a purpose. Does she enjoy it? Perhaps. It is good to fill a role. But this is no conscription—she lives a life of pampered luxury in the monastery. She shudders to imagine the fate facing Earth’s androids so long ago. Did they have families too? Lovers? Reasons to stay?

reach for your ocean heart, says the Voice, startling her from her thoughts.

What does that mean? It is not even the first time she has heard that phrase. The ocean is a place of origin, of birth and life. The heart is where the soul resides. But together, the words are almost nonsense.

Olia has grown frustrated with the Voice. Unlike that of her mother—although she’ll never know for sure, thanks to the guardian of the book of prophecies—her Voice does not guide, only confuses. She has chosen to ignore its phrases almost completely when it comes to prophecies, choosing instead to placate the crowds with the wisdom of the texts.

Her worries chase her into sleep.

For Hawa and Exie, the dreaded day arrived with thunder and gale. Viewscreens around the city showed terrible scenes: riots, loud and bloody, in the streets in major cities around the world; the tearful goodbyes of friends and lovers, the raucous fist-pounding of politicians declaring that this moment, this instant in history, was a necessity to preserve a way of life.

It wasn’t, Hawa thought bitterly as she walked the wind-whipped streets with Exie at her side. The war was just going to postpone the inevitable.

It wasn’t even so much of a war, anyways—merely the predictable rebellion of Earth’s Alpha Centauri colonists, who posed little of a threat at all. The conscription of so many androids was merely a show of force.

You don’t have to do this, Hawa insisted telepathically. Plenty of androids are on the run right now.

It was true. Over the last several months an underground network had been hastily constructed that led from the world’s major cities to the warm and empty plains of Siberia. By plane, and by foot, and even by mail, androids fled their orders. But for all their hopes, they merely delayed the inescapable—for anything that can be programmed can be reprogrammed.

Exie refused to let it happen to them. What would reprogramming look like? What would they lose? Their independence, for one. Their personality—the little things that made them Exie. Their memories. All of these things bled into one: Hawa. With a touch of a button, everything they had together could be erased.

You don’t understand how easily we can be recalled, they replied, shaking their head. I have no choice. I must go peacefully, or lose you.

Tears sprang unbidden to Hawa’s eyes as the rain began to pour. She bit her trembling lip and took Exie’s hand in her own, the judgment of others be damned. Soon the earth would be devoid of androids anyways and its people would no longer have to look upon such abominations, she thought sullenly.

But the androids would return, one day.

It was time to reveal the other half of her plan.

Exie, she said. I know that you will be gone longer than I will be alive… But you will return to Earth one day, right? You won’t stay in the colonies?

If I am lucky, yes, the android said glumly.

I want there to be someone waiting for you.

You mean…?

Yes, she said. You know I would only do it for you.

You would raise a child on your own?

I won’t be alone, Exie. Tears poured, hot, down her face and were lost in the rain before they even reached her chin.

They had reached the recruitment office where they would take their leave. Hawa sobbed as Exie took her in their arms. “I’d do anything for you,” she said aloud, her throat tight and her voice cracking. “Just… just come back to Earth, okay? One day?”

Exie took her face in both hands and kissed her, in front of humanity and all creation. “I will, my love. I’ll wait for you forever.”

“You know this, Olia,” The scribe chides her. “You have known this your entire life. And the Elders have given you the freedom you have desired. You have but one task.”

“Why are you scolding me now?” Olia scoffs. “I have plenty of time to bear a child.”

Jaksov sighs. “Your mother had already chosen a mate by the age of twenty-one. You, dear, are twenty-eight and still running around barefoot with your lady courtesans and digging through that mucky pit you call an archive. It is… unseemly.”

“I’m the Oracle, Jaksov,” she retorts. “I decide what’s unseemly and what’s not.”

“Will it still be seemly when you are fifty years old, dispensing fertility advice?”

Olia rolls her eyes. “I—”

“The time is now, love. And there are ever so many men to choose from.”

“If I had to choose, I’d choose Miran.”

“The servant boy? Don’t be absurd. Any member of the priesthood would suffice.”

“I don’t—you know what, Jaksov? I don’t like men. I find their forms unattractive and their minds uncouth.”

Jaksov sniffs. “Your mother didn’t care for men either and yet she did her duty.”

“I’m going to find someone else to do your duty,” she grumbles. “Leave me be. I have no more prophecies for you today.”

Jaksov bows out. Olia retrieves her digging supplies and retreats to her archive. The hallowed tunnels now extend far beyond the reach of her torch, and the rusting metal shelves which line the path bear many restored texts along the way. The paths all wend, she has discovered, toward a wooden altar at the far end of the archive.

A panel of the altar is loose, she discovered yesterday, and she now pries at it until it shrieks open. Inside is a world nearly untouched by the mud, and treasures abound: antique writing utensils, water-logged journals, mysterious sculptures of metal and glass, and more.

Pasted to the back of the panel, she finds a novelty: A single piece of paper, cool and slick, immune to the crust of the eons. She pulls it out and wipes it off. Someone, long ago, preserved this piece of paper in plastic. What could possibly be so important?

She inspects the page, which bears some lettering in a large print and what appears to be the fruit of an orange tree, but it is the wrong color—all red. The print reads:

VISUALIZE THE APPLE.

SPEAK YOUR MESSAGE IN YOUR MIND.

VISUALIZE THE APPLE.

Olia closes her eyes and imagines the fruit. But, ‘speak your message in your mind’? What does that mean? It is not the first time she has come across undecipherable text in the archives. What should her message be? Hello! I’m Olia, she thinks. Then she imagines the apple again.

Nothing happens. Minutes pass.

One day the mountains will be gently rolling hills and I’ll be able to see the sea again, says the Voice.

Olia drops the page in shock. This is the longest phrase she has ever heard, patching short, familiar fragments together into something that finally makes sense. Did her message trigger it? And if these pieces were meant to be a part of something bigger, maybe all the pieces go together—a possibility she has considered before. But she would need to see the book.

Jaksov has the book—but it is late afternoon, and he is surely asleep.

She creeps back upstairs and tiptoes to his chamber. The door squeaks as she pushes it open, but he does not wake. The book lies on the table, open to the most recent page.

your footprints in the sand

ocean heart, feel the way

I’ll wait for you, my

she reads. The usual scraps. How long has this broken message played? It is time to find out.

She flips through the pages cautiously, each whisper of paper matched by the blood pounding in her ears. Nearly ten years of prophesying have taken up a significant amount of space. Finally, she reads the date of her Ascension. Beyond it: only the words of her mother. She gently turns the page.

rise on a better day

the waves reach for your

mountains will be gently rolling

So, she thinks. This is the way it has always been. She almost laughs—her mother’s poetic prose was no less a farce than her own. She turns far, far, back, almost to the beginning of the ancient text.

the warships

my dream, one day the

reach for your ocean heart

The Voice of the oracle has not changed in ages. In fact, it seems to bear only one single message—a message that could, without too much trouble, be assembled into its true form. She quietly tucks the book under her arm and returns to the archive.

Exie is awake. Some gentle feather has brushed their consciousness and brought them to life. At long last, a brilliant blue world wreathed in soft white clouds fills the viewscreen.

Exie is awake, and they remember: the mindless oblivion of passing stars, the rebellion crushed like seeds in a mill, the long journey home, now nearly complete. But there is joy there too; they remember Hawa and the child they helped to raise, the surprise and delight when her gift ignited in her girl, Amina. They remember a love, new and different and wonderful, cultivated and tended to like a cherished garden. And when Amina’s child came of age, another.

The signal weakened, flickered with the generations, a vanishing thing with moments of brightness. But it still brought happiness, even after the messages stopped altogether; precious memories of love unbound by spacetime kept warm the long hours. A century of unanswered calls passes this way before they set their final message to regular broadcast, resign themself to the silence, and switch off their core processes. But they listen, as Earth draws nearer and nearer. They are always listening.

Hello! I’m Olia, says Hawa’s voice.

The sunset glows orange on the bay as Olia walks down to the water’s edge. In the sky shines a new light, white, like the messenger of the dawn, but moving rapidly. In her hands, she holds written words: a compendium of everything the Voice of the Oracle has ever whispered. It took her some time, but Olia enjoys puzzles, and this one posed a neat challenge.

She kneels in the sand, feels the warm salt air caress her face. The gulls careen across the sky, crying their blessings.

She imagines an apple.

and still i’ll wait for you, my love, my dream; one day the mountains will be gently rolling hills and I’ll be able to see the sea again; one day I’ll feel your footprints in the sand, feel the waves reach for your ocean heart, feel the way the flowers turn to follow you, and I’ll meet you on the rust-red beach where the warships have gone to sand and together we’ll watch the sun rise on a better day.

Then, she waits.

Your thoughts?