Last NaNoWriMo post, I promise.
Xenophilius Zelo was neither tall nor short, or fat, or thin. He was the sort of person whose features slipped your mind as soon as you turned away from him. His only distinguishing features were that he was bald and incredibly wealthy.
He’d made his money in waste management, procuring one waste company after another, until finally he owned not only every waste treatment center, garbage truck, dump, sewage plant, and recycling organization on Carth, but on 2A and 3A as well. Early on he’d bought a small planet and settled it in orbit around a nearby star, and since then he’d exploded and reformed the Waste Planet three times.
Xenophilius was not a rememberable man, but he’d made himself someone you couldn’t forget.
The words I’ll do it were unexpectedly the first words that Marie said to Alice that evening, even before the anticipated pour me a drink or even I really need to shower.
Alice blinked twice before recognition flared in her eyes.
“Really?” she asked.
Alice smiled – a rare, full face, eyes crinkling kind of smile.
“Thank you,” she said.
Marie shrugged. She had the strong urge to say something sarcastic, but nothing came to mind.
“I want my planet back,” she said lamely.
She retreated to the shower, passing a snoozing Milo – who was apparently old again – on her way out.
Over dinner that night – delicately cooked shrimp tacos with a spicy mango salsa – Marie felt relaxed. Perhaps it was a feeling carried over from her day at the beach, but she felt oddly at ease in a way that she hadn’t before. Her skin was starting to color from days of being in the sun, her sunburn was fading, and she’d finally come to some sort of terms with her presence on the island.
Galen had concocted some sort of refreshing, fruity cocktail, and she leaned back in her chair and sipped idly on it as the others chatted idly about what they’d been off doing all day. Hershel had apparently had an Encounter (their term for running into somebody who was not, technically speaking, supposed to be there), with a woman whom had long since moved to a different planet, and they’d passed a pleasant hour weeding the garden until she’d finally disappeared. Alice and Milo went on a walk. Elsy had gone shopping.
“Shopping?” Marie asked. “Where the hell do you go shopping around here?”
“There’s a town not far from here called Town 5F. I was out of oil, and I wanted to see if they had anything good that was fresh. Hence the shrimp.”
“I see,” Marie replied, tactfully ignoring the horrific town name.
“You’re going to have to go shopping too, in the near future,” Alice said. “You can’t exactly pull off wealthy Carthigian dressed in salvaged clothes.”
“I can take you tomorrow,” Elsy said. “They may have fabrics, but there’s almost certainly not going to be anything made.”
“That I can deal with on my own.”
“Yeah, it takes some getting used to.”
“You’re not from around here?” Marie asked, surprised.
Galen shook his head.
“I’m originally from Darth. I’ve done a good amount of planet hopping in my 31 years.”
“What’s Darth like?”
“You remember what Hershel was saying the other night? About all the planets looking the same, structurally, but ultimately being different?”
“Aarth, the First planet, is a planet that values wisdom over everything. They strive to know everything there is to know about the universe. Barth loves food. Carth is ruled by the incredibly wealthy. Earth is creative.”
“Darth loves war. And I do not.”
“Yeah. My husband and I were going to move out together, but things got complicated.”
“You were married?” Marie asked, looking for a ring, but his finger was empty. Galen turned and showed her his back. It was inscribed all in white with a design Marie couldn’t put a name to, made up of tiny dots and lines gently intersecting one another.
“That’s beautiful,” she said.
He smiled. “Arkon did it. That was my husband’s name.”
“What happened to him?”
“He died, in a battle on Darth.”
Marie gingerly put her hand on his shoulder.
Galen sighed and leaned back into the tree.
“It’s weird,” he said softly. “I came here trying to get away from what had happened. But when the time thing started to happen, he was the first person I ran into.”
Marie didn’t quite know how to respond.
“That must had been… weird,” she said finally, and Galen laughed.
“Yeah, it really was,” he admitted, “but nice, too.”
“If the time warp stopped happening, would you miss seeing him?” Marie asked seriously.
Galen was quiet for a long moment.
“I don’t know,” he responded. “I mean, yes, obviously. But it’d be a hell of a lot easier to move on if he would stop fucking showing up.”
Marie slowly took her hands down from her face and snuck a peek. Galen was floating in the water like a starfish, his eyes closed. Marie huffed through her nose, and he opened one eye and looked at her, unconcerned.
“You know, you’re kind of a Debbie Downer,” he said mildly. “You’ve basically done nothing but cry and whine since you got here. You might as well pull the stick out of your ass and live a little bit.”
Marie gritted her teeth.
“It’s funny,” she said dryly, “Alice gave me almost exactly the same speech two day ago.”
“Hmm,” Galen replied, in a tone that implied that he approved.
They were silent for a long moment; Galen floating effortlessly in his soggy boxers, Marie with her arms clasped firmly across her chest. She stared out across the perfectly formed crescent mouthed bay, watching the waves crash poetically against the sea cliffs far in the distance, and distantly, felt annoyed at the single trickle of sweat leaking from her neck down under her shirt to her lower back.
“Fuck it,” she said, ripping off the emerald green tank top she’d stolen from one of the empty houses. She was wearing a bra that had cost her nearly $300 back on Earth, but whatever, she was in a sea on a copy of a copy of a planet far from people who would care about that sort of thing.
“Atta girl,” Galen said. Marie tossed her linen pants aside and dove into the water. The sea felt like a caress after so many sweaty days in the sun, and despite the initial sting on her mild sunburn, Marie felt better than she had since arriving on Carth 3-A. She floated with Galen until her ears were waterlogged and her skin was pruning, and then they walked down the beach until they grew hot again and felt like taking another swim.
They stayed on the beach until their stomachs were growling and the sun was starting its descent. Galen had thoughtfully packed some mangos, which they devoured as they dried off in the sun, leaning their backs against a young palm tree. Staring off into the distance, Marie realized that what she thought was a mountain was actually just a group of trees. She pursed her lips.
“I still can’t get over this place,” she said.
Two days passed after Alice had initially asked Marie to spy on Xionsyes.
Two long, hot days.
After conferring with Elsy, Marie went into a few of the vacant houses to savage for clothing. The picking were slim, but she did find a few items that would work, as well as a crazily futuristic looking sewing machine – the first evidence of technology Marie had seen. Marie praised her fashion background for the first time in a long time and tailored some clothes that, if not perfect, actually fit her, including, mercifully, a few more pairs of underwear she made from scratch from a breathable, silky textured fabric she couldn’t name.
She went sunbathing for about an hour before discovering that the sun was extremely fierce, and spent the following hour trying to figure out whether or not Carth 3-A had aloe plants. They did not, but they had a distant cousin called verthra which, as Elsy showed her, secreted a milky sap.
Once, she thought she spotted young Elsy out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t try to track her down again, having had quite enough the first day, thank you.
They started walking down towards to end of the road, in the same direction Marie had been going originally. Talking to Elsy without looking at her turned out to feel a lot more normal, and Marie was able to calm down considerably, when she started to stop thinking about it at all. She pretended she was on a stroll with a friend’s child, or perhaps her niece, if she’d had a niece, and they were on the verge of one of those heartwarming conversations of the nature of life that always turned out so well in movies.
It turned out that Elsy as a child was considerably more talkative than adult Elsy, and also that a heartwarming conversation about life was not what she was intending to have. She had the charming grammatical style of someone who was just starting to figure out how to use a language with any level of fluency, and no apparent boundaries on what she would tell a strange woman with a dog. Marie wondered momentarily where the hell Elsy’s parents where, and how they’d managed to find a community so safe they didn’t have to warn their children about talking to people they didn’t know.
“That’s where Steve lives,” Elsy was saying, pointing out a blue Victorian with red shutters. “He’s got a mean older brother named Darden.”
Elsy gestured at the yellow house beside it.
“And that’s where Missus and Mister Darven live, although you have to be careful not to confuse them with, because they aren’t families with Darden even though they sound like they should be. They got a cat because they’re rich. But they don’t got any kids. And that’s where Hershel lives, too, but he’s on Carth 2-A right now at school, Mam said,” Elsy finished, a little sadly.
“Are you close friends with Hershel?” Marie asked.
The little girl nodded emphatically. “Hershel’s the smartest person I know,” she explained. “Hershel told me about the houses on Carth and how big they are and how they’re made out of trees.”
Elsy apparently thought that this concept was incredible.
“Elsy, do you know why all the houses are made out of plaster here, instead of trees?” Marie asked.
“Because they are,” Elsy replied enigmatically. “These trees are too big to cut down, Hershel says, because they’re so old. He said they’re almost two planet lives old. I guess on Carth, they grow trees special just to made stuff out of them, and if you want anything made out of a tree, it costs like a billion dollars even just for a little thing.”
“Hmm,” Marie said. “Don’t you use paper? Paper’s made out of trees.”
“Paper’s way too expensive,” she said.
Marie was dumbstruck.
They walked in silence for a little while, down to the end of the road, which just ended unceremoniously in jungle, and turned around. Elsy started telling Marie about all her friends in school – of which there were many), and what she was learning, and how she’d gotten top marks in computer programming and astronomy this quarter.
“Do you know anything about Earth?” Marie asked suddenly, latching on to the thing about astronomy. They were almost back to Elsy’s house, and Milo barked and raced ahead.
“Oh, that’s easy!” Elsy laughed, “I learned about the other planets in school. There’s nine of them, Aarth to Harth, from oldest to youngest, and they made them all so the rich people don’t have to live with the poor people anymore.”
“What do you mean, the rich don’t have to live with the poor?” Marie asked as they got to Elsy’s porch, looking down, but the young version of Elsy had disappeared into thin air.
Marie excused herself from the table shortly after that and went for a walk outside. It was finally cooling down a bit after the hot day, and the temperature outside was quite pleasant. Milo followed her outside, gamboling aimlessly around her legs as she walked.
The sun seemed to go down early here, possibly because the trees were impossibly tall, but the sky was still bright enough to go by. Marie headed down a side street on a whim and walked slowly, looking at all the plaster houses. There were a few styles of architecture she recognized from somewhere, and a lot she was unfamiliar with. She missed the different materials of the houses back home. God, there were certainly enough trees around to build a whole house out of wood.
Milo barked, and Marie turned her head to see what he was looking at. There was a little girl, maybe eight or nine, sitting alone on the steps of one of the houses, watching Marie from the safety of the gaudy green guardrails up the sides of the steps.
“Hello,” Marie called to her. “I didn’t know there was anyone else here.
The little girl held out her hands to Milo, who ran to her without hesitation. She was a skinny little thing, all elbows, with two long, thin braids framing her gaunt face.
“You have a dog?” she asked Marie. “You must be really rich.”
“It’s not my dog,” Marie explained. “I’m just talking him for a walk.”
The little girl nodded sagely.
“I want a dog, but Mam says we can’t have a dog because dogs cost too much money,” the little girl said. “What’s the dog’s name? Is it a girl dog or a boy dog?”
“His name is Milo,” Marie said. Milo thumped his tail enthusiastically against the ground a few tails.
“He’s funny,” the little girl replied.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“It’s Elsy,” the child responded, absentmindedly flicking one of her long braids behind her. Marie felt a chill run through her spine. The girl did look remarkably similar to the cook Elsy – dark hair and eyes, ember skin, a dainty nose on a large face.
“And how old are you, Elsy?” Marie said, trying to keep her voice steady. She like her heart was beating out of her chest again, and she wondered almost hyserically if there were any heart doctors in the vicinity.
“I’m seven, almost,” Elsy said proudly. She stood up off the steps, still clinging to Milo. She was barely as tall Marie’s shoulder.
“Can I walk with you a little ways?” the girl asked hopefully.
“Of course,” Marie said in her most convincingly cheerful voice