Margelle lay encrusted in the nerves and muscles—she was warm and held firmly by pink and red tendons, safe and enfolded in layer and layer of impenetrable muscle. Only a few thousand feet separated her from empty space, from death and the emptiness that spat ships out and swallowed them up into. She was whole here, knowing her place in the worlds, moving from one to the next. She loved the feeling of moving, of never being anyplace, of knowing herself as a cell in this larger love of hers, this creature wrapping the space-time around her to grasp the underside of this star-blanket and bring it up under her chin.
She was so joined with the creature around her that they were of one mind and one purpose. There was no Margelle, and no Zuzu; both knew where they wanted to go and how to get there. Margelle did not need to run over the thousands of years of her own memories one at a time, as all small bodies had to run through every day; here, in the big body, she could see everything all at once. As she sliced through the nothing, there was no distinction to be made between her mother of ten thousand years ago and her daughter of tomorrow; for she knew a daughter would come to her within the year. She knew because time enfolded is no longer time; the landscape was set out before her, except that she couldn’t make anything of it, because she was a big brain now, not a little brain trying to separate everything. When she separated, she’d come down, and all the particulars would flood in, but not now.
Where was she going? Hollany, that great colony of equality, or so they said. That place where swamps coated the shell of the world, and land and sea were never separated. Never enough water to make oceans, never enough soil to create continents. Water and Earth combined over the whole of the shell to create a bog thousands and thousands of miles in circumference. But there grew the apex of all food, that vegetable of the Goddess, the plant that made all sentient beings question their order in the evolutionary chain. It made Margelle wish that her own people had never come up out of the oceans, that they had all stayed floating, swaying in the salty sea, instead of ever grasping for more, and coming up out of the salty brine with its mega-predators and ever so lack of fish to come up into the shallows, to find the schools of minnows there, and the place where no-one would eat you. Why not set roots there, instead of signing on with these space-flying fish?
Because this was a joining that no ocean could ever replicate; this was an enormity that could not be matched by cubic acres of salt water, sensing waves from all sides, not physical waves, but waves of the Underbelly, waves of meaning. Margelle could feel, in this place, the change coming. She felt along her skin, and in her muscles, and eyeballs, and bones, that some change was coming, as it had come before and would come again, but some change that would cover the whole, instead of this or that part. She knew the coming wave would sweep her along with it, and she had enough memory to know that she wouldn’t survive it. Her daughter would do just fine, and in this state of traveling between, she was fine with a daughter living beyond, taking her memories and name. When she separated, she would no longer think of a daughter taking on a mantle, but only of that coming wave, coming to sweep her along and disperse her into the empty sky.
Zuzu moaned her mournful, thoughtful song, bred of millennia between the stars. Margelle responded with her own hormonal-chemical song; they were ready to enter this Hollany system. It was owned, Zuzu sang, knowing Margelle was high as fuck, and needing some grounding as the small people did, by Tsen, that planet of planets, where the small green men told the rest of the worlds how to govern their selves. Owned, yes, Margelle responded, to show, if nothing else, that she still had her mind, it wasn’t lost yet. This planet had a charter to form its own governments, so long as regular reports were sent; it was an authorized experimental planet, to keep up the illusion that Tsen ran under science, that testing and experiment, that positivism ran reigning among the bulb-eared aristocrats. Each faction could test its own society, and give back report.
Reports were then turned into propaganda, of course. The free Tsen system allows alternative economical models to run their course, but only insofar as it doesn’t affect the freedom of those who choose the Prime Model. And when the inferior models fail, inevitably sinking into the mire of the resource-scarce bogs of Hollany, that can only demonstrate more fully the perfection of the Golden Prime Mean. Hollany was no backwater; its citizens were monitored as freely as anyone else, under strict contract. One didn’t have to sign, of course, but without a signature, who would share their land? Unequal rights mean unequal fights, as the saying went.
Margelle felt again that she was letting her mind wander more than was good for it, or Zuzu, or the shipping orbits they were steadily and easily coasting into. Round and around the sun they went, at an orbit of several standard gas giants out, easing themselves back into reality from the undertow. As they emerged out, Margelle felt a fleeting panic, knowing that Zuzu could easily wrench through any system with the mass of a black hole, possibly tearing herself to pieces in the process, but more likely throwing planetary orbits into drift, shutting off suns, breaking up moons, and wreaking havoc with the laws of physics. She felt, somewhere in the back of Zuzu’s mind, somewhere near the beginning of her childhood, that there may have been civilizations that looked up into the sky in horror and in fear of Zuzu’s people, and who wrote dark poems and told stories of the evil gods who came from the skies to tear seams out of the fabric of everything.
The feeling eased, and Margelle was just herself, united with Zuzu only in the guidance systems and knowledge of their surroundings. Now they were on the slow cruise into the system, where the ice melts and the radio waves hit hard and clear, spreading the music and talk of a world out for all to hear. There was a tear, too, in Margelle, a memory of something essential missing now, only to be regained in another trip between that gap in space.
This one had taken less than a second in real time, but was so tricky, and had required so many calculations spread between their brains, perfectly modeled in Zuzu’s vast, mutli-dimensional quantum biology, and approximated in Margelle’s (also vast, also quantumy) nervous system, that Margelle was exhausted, as if she had slept while swimming for weeks.
In her this-ness-physicality, Zuzu manifested jets and ignited them with her own body’s heat to propel them in a wide arc toward the planet. Margelle kept a watchful radio and quantum ear out for regular transport between the various populated planets, moons, asteroids, and free-floating colonies in the system; Hollany was, like most planets, spread through its system, every habitable inch of land spread over thin and thick with mutli-celled mammals (and others). The bulk were Zone One Planet folk, of course, the marsh-people. It wouldn’t do to accidentally absorb one of them into Zuzu; they might enjoy it for a moment, but once they were reconstituted, they didn’t work very well anymore.
Zuzu spoke in the sweet singing vibrations that rocked her whole body and spread to any sensitive, eventually, in range. “Why are we here, dear love?” she asked Margelle.
“Don’t you remember, baby?” Margelle sang back.
“Sure,” Zuzu lied.
She wasn’t losing her mind, Margelle prayed, not yet, not yet. She was always forgetful after a trip. “We’re getting you something to eat, sweetie. And Margie’s going to meet a friend.”
“A very old friend.” Hopefully still a friend. Probably just another old hanger-on who wanted a favor. But this one was a very, very old one of her own race, and she was bound by whatever vague sense of sisterhood her people still managed to dredge from their hearts these days.
Zuzu hummed that she had especially enjoyed this trip, and she hoped that they would be able to take many, many more before it was all done. She was tired, though, and thought she might like to rest and eat something. She would like to manifest gils, and dive deep under the water and take great mouthfuls of algae into her until she was so full she thought she might crack her gorge and birth a new planet full of people.
It was all a bit rambling, as the whole trip had been, and Margelle wiggled her body in the way her people had that meant smiling gently. She needed to rest, too. She was very, very old after all, and it seemed that everything around her was changing. This was the worst place in the galaxy to come for stability, with so many free civilizations rising and falling all the time, but her own home hardly felt like home with so many young people coming out of their shells and diving into the water with no knowledge of Zuzu, and the other great Nakh, and the great empire that once spanned all the way to…
To that place she heard now in her radio ear, the place whose name she hadn’t heard spoken in so many…
“…planning to finally settle the great question of our time:
“What should we do about Earth?”