A Xenothanatologist’s Guidebook to Death Practices Among the Sapient Species of the Outer Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy – P.G. Streeter

A Xenothanatologist’s Guidebook to Death Practices Among the Sapient Species of the Outer Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy – P.G. Streeter

October 2022

Miri, I’m on my way.

My stomach has settled from that initial lurch of low-g. I’ve acclimated to my small cabin, and to the prospect of a long, lingering isolation.

It’s quiet, and lonely, but I’ve nonetheless opted out of the long sleep of induced stasis. The cabin feels too much like a coffin as it is.

Here I am: alone, except for my precious few possessions, my thoughts—

—and you: the ghost I conjure from my deepest memories, a trick to keep myself sane.

Even though months will go by before this vessel approaches relativistic speeds, my sense of time’s passage is already blurring. Suddenly, I find myself back in those fields, abandoned and overgrown, that stretched out between our childhood homes.

Do you remember them? It was in those tall, tangled grasses that we first met, first got into mischief.

Along the southern edge of that field, there was a river—mild in most seasons, but ferocious after the rainstorms that came in early spring. There, we’d swim.

I can hear your voice now, calling to me, beckoning me to join you where the current was strongest.

But I’m still afraid of those waters. I did not, do not, want to be swept away.

So, I refuse to follow the memory further. I grasp this hardbound book. I read.

Of the billions of star systems observed in the Milky Way’s Outer Perseus Arm, human starfarers have thus far discovered 83 that contain life-bearing planets or moons. On 27 of these worlds, we have found species whose intelligence rises to levels we can comfortably categorize as sapient.

This distinction is not always a straightforward one to make. Even when communication can be established, it is hard to gauge intelligence, which frequently manifests in unexpected ways. Often, therefore, a vital factor in making such a determination has been the assessment made by the Terrestrial Guild of Xenothanatologists, whose members study alien species’ attitudes toward death, and their treatment of the dead.

After all, what could better inform us about species’ humanity than how they conceptualize their mortality?

This guidebook will present a survey of xenothanatologists’ initial findings in this region of the galaxy. These findings are not conclusive or all-encompassing, but the Company hopes they will give you, the budding xenothanatologist, a useful primer, here at the start of your promising career.

Do you insist on interrupting me, Miri?

Yes, I can hear your questions—or, rather, I feel them, like vibrations in the cabin’s stale air. If I squint, I can almost see your lips parting as you speak, even if it’s just a shimmer in my peripheral vision.

You wonder, of course, about the small marvel I’m clasping in my hands. Hmm. How can I explain the ways the world has changed since you’ve been gone?

When you left me, the world was on the cusp. I wonder if you anticipated the ways in which Renew would alter things—even as you refused its life-extending treatments.

Maybe you feared that the coming spike in population would outstrip the pace at which we built new habitats off-planet. Perhaps you worried about the gap—that rapidly widening gulf between those who had the means to receive the genetic therapy, and those who didn’t.

I wish you had confided more in me, in the end—and I wish I could say I would’ve listened.

But I think some of the ways the world changed might genuinely have surprised you. For instance: technologies of convenience, such as those digital interfaces we’d gotten so accustomed to reading from, have fallen entirely out of fashion. I think this fact would have surprised me, too, if someone had told it to me during the first century or so of my life!

Now, items like physical, bound books, which take so much time to manufacture and get a hold of, are favored commodities. The reason for this is simple, really: now that our lives extend so many centuries, we have the luxury of ‘taking it slow’. We relish those old technologies, precisely because they demand our time and patience. I think you would have liked that.

Of course, the Company would tell you that such things are ‘wonderful reminders of our victory over death’. This, I suspect, you would have scoffed at.

This particular book—the guidebook I’m holding now—was one of the first readings assigned in my course of xenothanatological study. I’ve read it countless times, and, even though I’ve taken my studies far beyond its pages in the years since, it’s still one of my favorites. It still reminds me of those first profound moments of inspiration it sparked in me—insights that I hope will lead me back to you.

If you read it with me, now, maybe you’ll understand what it is I seek.

Countless cultural groups among the species we’ve observed follow death practices familiar to Earth-born humans. A plurality of xenocultures inter their dead, and nearly as many employ techniques akin to cremation.

On planets where fire is not a practical solution, we have observed the use of corrosives, voracious parasites, nanotechnology, and even mechanical grinding tools as methods for reducing a body to its component particles. Although some of the methodologies described above are somewhat disquieting to the human observer, their goals are clear, even relatable.

Yet some alien cultures we have encountered maintain thanatological practices that might shock, offend, or perplex those born of Earth. For instance, members of the Crustweaver religious sect on 16 Ellander b have an inviolable taboo against touching the deceased, directly or indirectly. Crustweavers use the dexterity of their long, spindly limbs to step over and around their dead, who are invariably left, unperturbed, in the exact spot where they expired.

The atmospheric conditions on 16 Ellander b, along with the physical makeup of the species’ bodies, make for a slow decomposition process: it often takes the equivalent of 30-40 Earth years for a body to fully decompose. To compound the issue, this duration is roughly one-and-a-half times the length of the species’ average lifespan. As a result, a Crustweaver who died at the moment of another Crustweaver’s birth will likely not have fully decomposed by the time the latter deceases.

As can be imagined, the consequences of these practices are monumental. As Crustweaver communities continue to produce offspring faster than prior generations’ bodies biodegrade, new generations find themselves among a landscape increasingly littered with their forebears’ corpses.

The Crustweavers inhabit an isolated continent, as non-adherents to this sect’s faith have long since learned to stay far away. In the Crustweavers’ domain, the very shape of the world alters with each generation’s passing. Yet, these pious beings manage to sidestep and squeeze past the dead that are scattered about their streets and homes.

They do so without trepidation or fear. In fact, they do not seem in the least perturbed by the slowly rotting remains of strangers and loved ones alike that pervade their world. They simply live their lives in a state of casual reverence to the fallen. Even as the world around them becomes crowded with cadavers, their taboo remains absolute.

In such cases, we are left to wonder how cultural exchange might even be possible between our people and theirs. However, the intrepid xenothanatologist finds a way.

Do you see the beads of sweat forming on my brow?

Yes, I realize it’s quite cool in here. It’s not heat, but a swell of dread that’s causing me to perspire. The seed of a thought is sprouting in my mind. It’s familiar, and unwelcome.

No, I don’t wish to share it with you. Not now.

Besides, I can see it: the smirk on your face. Yes, Company texts such as this one love to make these sweeping statements. The intrepid xenothanatologist! I can see why you would find this amusing.

But don’t give me that look! I understand that this is dripping with propaganda. I hope you don’t assume I’m going into this endeavor with the naïve outlook of a younger man. After all, I’m decidedly not young. I haven’t been for quite a long time.

Hmm. I’m scrambling to justify my actions, it seems. Is that why I’ve called upon your memory? Why I, the lifelong rationalist, have let myself get drawn into this game of make-believe?

So be it. I want to explain my choices, so explain them I will.

Why, after all, have I devoted myself to this Company’s mission? Their job is to sell something, to spread Renew to other sapient species…at a cost. What does this act of commerce have to do with me?

It’s simple: they need me—someone who can come to grips with these alien creatures’ views on death. This is what I’ve spent the last several years studying for, after all. And I’ve studied hard.

When I reach that understanding, my further job is to ‘engender a dialogue’ on the Company’s behalf. I’m to build the cultural inroads needed to open up trade—and I’m sure I’ll do so admirably.

None of this is the reason my confidence wavers. This isn’t what’s making me sweat.

What? Do you have to needle me like this? I’d almost forgotten how insistent you could be. But fine, here. I’ll tell you what image has risen to my mind and made my heart start to beat so fast:

It’s your hospice room—and you’re no longer in it. They’ve just have wheeled you away. No—not you. The husk you left behind.

Do you see your belongings, scattered about the room? Piled clothes, half-unpacked bags, medical equipment that’s still flashing as tubes and cords dangle about, untethered? This is the topography of the world you left behind.

The thought of such a world spurs my actions—but it also fills me with dread.

So, when I think about my mission—my second mission, the one I won’t speak of out loud—I’m positively brimming with doubt. I’m afraid to talk about it even now—afraid even to whisper it to your ghost.

And although I’m still at the outset of my journey, visions of failure are already starting to cloud my thoughts. With each new world I visit, I’m afraid I’ll only find one more empty promise. What if the answers I’m searching for never come?

For you, Miri, I’m still going to try. All I ask is that you bear with me.

Although the rationales behind some species’ practices are opaque to our eyes, in many cases, attitudes surrounding death are easy to grasp. This is especially true when they are so clearly based on the biological necessities of the species’ lives. Take, for instance, the Spin-Gliders of 44 Olivar c. Not unlike certain Earth sharks, these sky-dwelling creatures are obligate ram ventilators. That is, they must remain in constant motion for their respiratory systems to function.

The flyers spend their waking lives swooping and diving along the gas giant’s hydrogen currents, and the species has even mastered a technique by which they can sleep for short stints while caught in a spiraling gust of hot air. It is astonishing that such beings have developed rich culture and technology while living a life constrained by the need for constant motion; yet, they have done so.

Of course, the only way to come to anything like a complete rest on a planet with no solid surface is to descend to the stratum of liquid hydrogen closer to the planet’s core.

The majority of the planet’s cultural groups therefore honor their dead in this fashion: they carry them to this liquid surface. Rather than simply allowing them to drop, they take great care to lay their dead upon buoyant, gyroscopically stabilized platforms. Here, no winds carry them, no waves buffet them about. So it is that a Spin-Glider comes to a state of rest only upon death.

If life is motion, then how better to acknowledge—and ultimately accept—its absence, than to create a condition of perfect stillness?

Is that what death is for you, Miri? Stillness?

I can close my eyes, clutch this book to my chest, concentrate on breathing, and know that this brief pause doesn’t mean the end.

But what’s your perspective on the matter? No flights of fancy, no phantoms created by my imagination, will ever give me access to that knowledge.

If only you could tell me! After all, you’ve read much of the same old literature that I have. How many times has that phrase appeared—reference to the ‘stillness of the grave’? We grew up in a world where that outcome was an inevitability. And, yet, in your final years, even you knew that it didn’t have to be. Not anymore.

For a long time, humanity either accepted the idea that one day all we’d come to rest—or hoped against hope that, in some invisible way, life kept going. Those seemed to be the only options.

But when Renew became a reality, things changed: we didn’t have to resign ourselves to nothingness or place our hopes in some unknown ‘hereafter’. We could continue to live, in the here and now! I saw this, saw the gift it offered us. So why couldn’t I persuade you to embrace that change as well?

It’s ironic, I suppose, that this act of persuasion—the sales pitch—is my job now. I study how people on faraway worlds conceptualize death, all so that the Company can sell them life.

You’d laugh, I think, to hear about the team I’m a part of. I swear, they stick the prefix xeno on any and every old job title, any time alien cultures are involved. There are xenoeconomists to negotiate the terms of the trade, and xenobiologists, who figure out how to adapt Renew’s life-extending biotech to other species’ physiology.

And then, there’s me: the one who is trusted, above all others, to discover the terms under which our product will be most desirable to our strange new friends.

Me, the person who failed so utterly to convince you that a long life was worth living.

Of course, it is not only the handling and disposal of physical corpses with which the xenothanatologist is concerned. She must ask, how do different xenocultures talk about their dead? How do they memorialize them?

Eulogies and obituaries are prevalent among virtually all literate species in this region of the galaxy. Many deliver short orations or produce written tributes after a loved one’s passing, much as Earth humans have historically done. However, many have practices that go much further.

Consider the denizens of 6 Aleska e. You have likely read about this species, for their body plan is famously far closer to Earth humans’ than any other extraterrestrial life yet discovered. That is, they have an ovoid head, a neck, torso, and limbs both fore and hind. Further, they walk on these hind legs and reserve the fore for tool use.

While these likenesses are truly extraordinary, it is here that their similarities to our kind end. They have no mouths, no visible organs of hearing or olfaction; their eyes, while prominent, do not resemble our own, but instead consist of a complex beehive of chromelike surfaces that stretch around their heads’ circumference.

They go about naked, their pale skin exposed at all times, and it is on this blank canvas that their method of communication emerges. Through a shifting set of luminescent cells just under their outer dermis, these Skinwriters communicate. Intricate images in vibrant colors shift across their bodies, allowing for a complex visual language.

When a Skinwriter dies, its flesh returns to neutral pale tones. It is then that the Artists of the Dead set to work: first, preserving the deceased’s body, then inscribing a series of fine tattoos over the entirety of their skin’s canvas.

Here is the Skinwriter’s epitaph: a pictogrammatic account of the deceased’s life, told from birth to death. The craftsmanship of this body art, along with the level of detail recollected in its lines and colors, becomes a permanent tribute to the deceased, displayed forever in a glass mausoleum. A hastily tattooed corpse, or one whose pictograms tell a vague or incomplete story, reveals a life unsatisfactorily lived. Yet, if one’s preserved corpse becomes a true work of art, such is the ultimate testament to that person’s life.

I was asked, of course, to speak at your funeral. I wrote your obituary—that was easy enough. There’s a formula there, one I didn’t need to stray from. Your life, your education, your accomplishments—all of it lined up into easy paragraphs! I let these simple, reductive facts flow onto the page, all the way to the last sentence, the one that lists the people you’ve left behind.

Of course, with no children, with your parents and brothers already gone, this left only me.

So, yes, I composed the necessary words—and several old friends even reached out to tell me how touching my tribute was.

But when they asked me to speak, there was only emptiness inside me, in those deep places where I’d expected to find inspiration.

Were you there, Miri? A true ghost, listening intently for the words I would utter in your honor? Were you ashamed, then, when all I could do was stand there and openly weep?

Do I see you turning your eyes away from me, even now?

Stay with me for a while, I’m begging you. We’re getting closer and closer to the questions that have led me to this ship—that have led me across the stars in search of you.

Two species should be further noted for the unique roles language takes in referring to the dead. The first, the insectiform Fim of 19 Magna k have a rich spoken language, a series of chirps and clicks that has led to a wealth of literary art. Yet, the language has a surprising gap: there are no names for the living, no way to refer to other Fim at all.

Their language allows for discussion of the self—of their natural world and their interactions with it, of their desires, and of their own past actions. It likewise has a version of the word you—a way to indicate the speaker’s direct audience. But, whether because of an evolutionary quirk of neurology or through a deeply ingrained social practice, a Fim cannot, when talking to a compatriot, refer to a third person and her actions.

That is, they cannot do so until a fellow Fim dies. At this point, her deeds are proclaimed loudly and often. The dead Fim is named immediately—and without deliberation—and that name is, by means of some mechanism we do not yet understand, immediately known to all.

In death, a Fim’s story, impossible to discuss during her life, becomes a legend widely told.

As improbable as it seems, 23 Argen c contains a population of beings, the aquatic Kell, whose sociolinguistic response to death is precisely the opposite of the Fims’: when a Kell dies, it is, to the remainder of this species, as if he never existed at all.

Upon death, the body begins to sink to the bottom of the planet’s highly acidic oceans. Though a living Kell’s body produces enzymes which protect him from the corrosive waters, this production stops at death. So, as the dead Kell’s body sinks, it quickly begins to disintegrate.

Simultaneously, all other Kell begin to act as if their friend or family member never existed. The requisite vocabulary is no longer available.

In the Company’s attempts to communicate about this phenomenon, references to the dead Kell by human translators led to consistently perplexed responses.

Do the Kell immediately forget their dead, or do they act out of strict custom? If the latter, what value system led to such a practice? If the former, then what are the implications for the Kell worldview? Though results are preliminary, our initial outreach group has hypothesized that the Kell are not aware of death’s existence at all. Those who live, live. That is all they know.

How can I make you understand how it was for me, Miri? Once you were gone, it was like the truth of your life had become utterly inarticulable.

How could I bring your name from my lips into the world, when the empty space you left was so vast? Any feeble vibrations I attempted to speak into that void would be meaningless, incomplete. They would not be you, which means they would be an insult to your memory.

It all sounds extreme, doesn’t it? But losing you was such an extreme thing to experience. You were there, a part of my life—and then you weren’t.

And it only got worse. I kept telling people that I wanted to ‘honor your memory’, but I soon found myself asking what memory was even worth. Every day that passed without you in it, I dissociated even further, to the point where I soon found myself disbelieving my own recollections.

In the wake of your loss, I was unmoored from reality. What was real, I wondered, and what was the fiction I’d created to soothe myself, to make the grief easier to bear? This is the spiral I was caught up in, the state of total panic that consumed me: one where memory was a lie, and every word I uttered was a failed attempt to bring you back.

I felt despair, but I never questioned my choice to embrace extended life. I couldn’t allow myself to be erased from the world the same way you had been.

Yet, where could I go from there?

The answer, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, began to take shape when I first read this book.

Do I sound obsessive? I suppose I must. I became fixated on the idea of finding some alien culture whose views on death might offer me reassurance. When presented, for instance, with the discovery of a species who forget their dead entirely, I found myself wondering if this was the solution. Could I abandon your memory, washing you clean from my thoughts so that I wouldn’t have to keep shouldering the burden of your loss?

Ultimately, I rejected this notion. It was unseemly, perverse even.

I also quickly discarded any answers rooted in superstition—all those traditions proclaiming a spiritual afterlife. These were untestable, unknowable. They were a sign of epistemic defeat, acts of faith I could never commit to.

Still, now that I had started along this path, I was determined to discover something out there: some creature in the far-flung cosmos who could offer me solace.

So, my choice was made: I would become a xenothanatologist. I would even sell myself to this Company if that’s what it took. I would become the human ambassador to the dead of other worlds.

And, perhaps, I started to realize, to worlds like ours: ones that had left death behind.

A society’s practices surrounding death will necessarily change when that society makes the concept of ‘natural death’ obsolete. Earth humans, of course, encountered this reality upon the invention of Renew. Unsurprisingly, other species in the cosmos have also discovered a measure of immortality, whether through natural or technological means.

Still, it’s rare to find a species that truly fits the description of biological immortality. On Earth, non-sapient species such as lobsters, whose production of the enzyme telomerase allows for unending cell regeneration, are close to achieving such a descriptor. In fact, Renew is itself partly inspired by such beings: one important component of the treatment is the prevention of telomere shortening as cells regenerate. However, it is worth noting that while such species do not die by aging, their lives, just as ours, might easily be cut short due to violent means.

On 8 Alma n, a sapient species appears to have achieved such biologically immortal status. The species—whom we call Stonediggers—have nigh-impenetrable rocklike exteriors. They do not require air to breathe, nor any form of sustenance other than exposure to sunlight. Further, they can store an excess of solar energy that lasts for weeks on end, so death due to solar deprivation is an unlikely outcome. In short, they are virtually unkillable. Like lobsters or Renew-enhanced humans, they do not age in any recognizable sense; the oldest among them, by Company reckoning, has been alive for nearly twelve million Earth years.

Elsewhere, technological means have extended other species’ lifespan greatly. One such example hails from 1 Hemnes d. There, the Bright Ones claim to have developed the means by which to preserve a dying person’s conscious mind and transfer it to a new, synthetic host body. The process, they claimed, might be repeated indefinitely, with perfect fidelity—nothing lost in the transfer.

While similar techniques had been attempted on Earth before Renew was perfected, humankind had concluded that the consciousness could not survive the transfer process.

Here, though, we found a fully functioning society of techno-organic beings. Upon first contact, Company representatives determined they would need to investigate further: could this technique supplement our existing life-extending biotechnology?

Can you see them, Miri—the thoughts that have begun to take shape in my mind? I picture you leaning in, listening more attentively than before.

These are the stories, you see, that tantalize me above all others, even if all they provide me with are false glimpses of hope. I really am enthusiastic—practically evangelical—about Renew and the extended life it offers, but the simple fact is that no matter how far we reach across the cosmos, there is one place we will never be able to spread this technology.

We can’t bring it to the past. We can’t offer it to those whose lives ended before it arrived, nor to those who stubbornly refused its miracle.

Again, you smirk. You’re shaking your head—yes, I can see it, no matter how subtle you think you are.

But hear me out, please. Ask, as I did, whether there is a solution here. Can the promise of recovering and transferring a conscious mind offer the missing piece? Not for those of us who already have Renew coursing through our veins, but for those who are already gone?

What would it take to retrieve a mind that was lost long ago? Could such a person’s consciousness be pulled from the ether, brought back into existence?

I imagine your eyes getting wide at this—but don’t get your hopes up just yet.

With such questions in mind, Company representatives sought to learn how the Bright Ones’ transfer process worked. For how long, post-expiry, might a consciousness be retrieved from the deceased’s brain? Does the process involve the transfer of brain tissue itself into the new host body, or are memories and perspectives translated to a new medium?

As it turns out, this purported transfer of consciousness was not what the Bright Ones initially advertised.

A look into the species’ past reveals the full story. The Bright Ones long ago developed infinitesimally small surveillance devices—quantum drones—that, produced on a massive scale, began to observe all life across their planet, at all times. All was known; no knowledge was kept secret.

Using the vast data gathered, the engineers of 1 Hemnes d were able to create intricately complex models of a deceased Bright One’s mind, informed by the full set of objective experiences encountered over a lifetime. The internal perspective was not retained—only inferred—but these inferences were made with a nuanced understanding of Bright One psychology, and were therefore arguably quite accurate.

Yet, it cannot be denied that the deceased person’s consciousness was not, in fact, preserved. When one of these biological persons died, their mind was merely recreated. No matter how accurate, it was but a replica. As such, the original beings that once inhabited this land slowly died off, only to be replaced by new, synthetic beings. At some point in the distant past, the last biological Bright One expired. All that remains are their algorithmic replacements, the computer-modeled copies of the deceased.

How could a species have allowed this to occur? Was it merely that, in their inability to cope with the absence of departed loved ones, the Bright Ones decided their simulated presence would suffice? Perhaps only a select few knew the process to be fraudulent, and the masses were merely fooled. We do not yet know the answer.

Although the Company has come to recognize artificial intelligence as true life, the fact remains, nonetheless, that these creatures are not genuine continuations of the lives that had come before.

In the meantime, subsequent visits to 8 Alma n revealed that their story, as well, is more complicated than initially perceived. For one, the appellation given—Stonediggers—in truth applies only to one faction of the species. It remains in use by Earth humans due to its widespread early adoption; however, the differences between the two main factions are worth exploring.

For example, when members of that first faction—the true Stonediggers—come of age, they are known to retreat to isolated places, where they build massive stone shelters and spend their endless lives making little contact with others. On rare occasions, Stonediggers seek partners for mating, but any pairings formed for this purpose last only until their offspring reach maturity.

Only when we met the second faction, called Sun-Sailors, did we learn an astonishing truth: the species, no matter the faction, are not solitary by disposition. In fact, many Stonediggers find the condition of isolation to be torturous. What circumstances, then, might have led these virtually invincible giants to take such extreme precautions against harm?

The Sun-Sailors offered us an explanation for their cousins’ behavior: since death is so rare, it is vastly more traumatic than it would be in a world where it is commonplace. Therefore, a segment of the species’ population began to take hyperbolic measures to prevent death’s occurrence.

Sun-Sailors eschew this philosophy. They live their lives freely, knowing that they will likely persist for millennia—or more—but that, against the backdrop of infinity, the mathematical odds of a tragic demise creep ever closer to 1.

The wisest of the Sun-Sailors insist that even those who persist for billions of years will do so only to one day meet their end as the universe collapses into itself.

Asked about their appellation, the Sun-Sailors revealed something even more astonishing: namely, that it is not uncommon, after several hundred millennia of life, for a Sun-Sailor to quietly walk away from their community and seek out the planet’s only functional spaceport. The small craft launched from this port are calibrated for a single destination: their system’s fiery yellow star.

For such a one, no funeral services are held, no songs sung. But those who perform this act are nonetheless spoken of with quiet respect: they have confronted the one thing in so long a life that remains unknown, that remains unknowable.

Miri, even though my body feels young—and I suppose it looks that way to you, too—I’ve never felt more aware of how old I truly am. In fact, I’m the oldest by far aboard this Company ship.

I’m the only one here who remembers a time when human death was something certain, a mundane occurrence.

To the others, it’s some improbable, tragic ‘maybe’ that can be escaped for centuries on end. They’re like the Sun-Sailors: death doesn’t weigh heavily on their hearts and minds. They don’t seek it out—but it also doesn’t dwell with them constantly, as it does with me.

They don’t whisper in the dark to someone lost to them long ago; they don’t play host to ghosts.

They don’t have you.

So, while they simply try to sell a product, I look into the cracks and crevices of every new society we find. I study their rituals, their stories, their technology, looking for the one thing we haven’t been able to create:

The way to bring someone back.

That’s why, until we make planetfall, I’m determined to pore over this book’s pages, again and again. I’m desperate to uncover something new.

What is it? Is that your hand I feel, resting on mine? It’s still a struggle to see you, to perceive your touch. But it feels like you’re guiding my hands, compelling me to riffle backward through these pages. Miri, what I have missed?

Here. Two pages stuck together. What will we find hidden between them?

Maybe we can discover it together.

A small number of social groups among the Spin-Gliders of 44 Olivar c take a different tack entirely.

Rather than allowing their dead a final stasis upon the hydrogen seas below, the citizens of these communities carry their lost loved ones to the globe-spanning windstreams found in the upper atmosphere. Released here, the body of a dead Spin-Glider will be pulled into motion perpetually.

Where there is motion, they argue, there is life.

Living Spin-Gliders cannot join their fallen among these winds: the gusts are violent and strong, and they would whip a living soul away from the world he knew in no time at all.

The second life they release their loved ones to is therefore necessarily a mystery to them; they cannot join until their own time comes. But they believe, with every ounce of their being, that it is real—that they have conquered death.

Is this what you would show me, Miri? A ‘second life’—a spiritual mystery?

You know me well enough to realize how hard a pill that is for me to swallow. I don’t do spirituality; I can’t wrap my mind around faith.

Please—don’t mock me. Yes, I know. Even now, I’m talking to your ghost. But I’m no fool: I know what you are. You’re a child’s fantasy, conjured from my memories, the product of my brokenness.

Even as I acknowledge this, you fade from me. Don’t go!

Stay with me, and remember, Miri. Remember our field, our river—how only you were strong enough to brave those currents.

I can picture it now: the day when, despite my cries and protests, you let it sweep you away, hollering gleefully as it carried you downstream. We both knew what awaited: a steep ledge overlooking a reservoir. You’d argued again and again that the waters were deep, that the waterfall would carry us safely over. The ten-foot freefall would be a momentary thrill, followed by a refreshing splash.

You were fully prepared to take that leap.

But you heard my shouts of protest—or perhaps caught a glimpse of my panicked face as I ran alongside the river after you—and you grabbed a tree root that jutted from the bank. You held on.

When I pulled you out, you said, between shivers, that you wouldn’t do it again—not if I wouldn’t go with you.

Decades later, though, you let time’s river pull you away, even though I refused to follow.

What’s worse, Miri, is that you didn’t need to. Yes, I know: Renew was still so new when you got sick—but I’d saved enough money for us both to begin the treatment. It was not too late.

Yet you just smiled and shook your head, refusing without spoken justification, even knowing that I’d already begun to let it rewrite my own genetics.

And then, you were gone.

Now, I swear I will find you again.

Rivers, skies, worlds of rock and sun and blustering gusts of hydrogen. I look for you in these places.

Deep down, I know my motivations are selfish. You’ve gone somewhere I don’t dare follow, and so, a coward to the end, I look for a way to bring you back to me.

Knowing all of this, I look out my vessel’s starboard window, awaiting the light of alien suns…

I’ll sail on past them. I’ll traverse this void as far as I must go—carried through the infinite cosmos as if caught in a river’s current.

Your thoughts?

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