No matter how long Huang stayed above the waves, he could not get used to the sharpness of everything. Below, the infinite blue blanketed the smooth, living edges of every surface. Even debris that came from above quickly had its sharpness coated with comforting moss and rounding lichen.
Up here, it was all angles and hardness: concrete upon glass upon jagged metal forged into squares and boxes. They stacked them and lined them in rows, lacking any serenity of open space or collective clustering. Huang kept his eyes down in the city. He’d asked for this life, begged the whalelord to grant his wish. If only he’d anticipated how grotesque he would find the deliberate order these air-breathers insisted upon.
The reflective cliffs looming over the street crowded him. The sun burned his flesh. He missed the colors of his kin, even the dull grays of slick-skinned murkers would be preferable to the ceaseless shades of brown and pink, masked by skins from other creatures, draped by plants processed into more order and shapes.
It was repulsive and Huang lived in regret. He tried to fight another shudder, and turned his eyes down, dreaming again of the sea.
She was eleven years old and read books college professors found taxing, but she had never spoken a word. She looked out the window.
A gleaming metropolis, edged by a sprawl of neat lanes with freshly planted trees, each lined with a customized, uniform house. Beyond are smaller townships and people with affectations of rural life: practiced drawls and feigned luddism. Further still, a few genuine farms run by overall-strap corporations and straw hat multinationals. A patch of genuine wilderness. Fences around rock formations.
The machine works on assumptions. Belief powers the cogs and the cogs automate the daily grind. Assume the sun won’t click off. Believe the ground won’t fall away. Predicate existence on the low-sample-size status quo. Talk about short-sighted as if the long view ten year forecast were not mathematically indistinguishable.
Devastation is measured by the consumer. Tolerance for extinction is dependent upon public relations, and the girl saw it all. More than data, she saw connections and referential interactions folded back on themselves.
She placed a hand on the window and felt the warmth of the day.
“Here it comes,” she said. It was momentous. No one heard. She began to hum.
Anny’s teardrops hold a single sun each, reflecting the steel sky and the ice-crusted landscape. The cheek the salty drops traverse before falling in slow motion are cherub smooth and dark, soft the way nothing in the world save young skin can be. On the way down, one drop in particular wobbles in and out of perfect spherical roundness, taking on the details of a blue calico dress, a brown and pink parka, a pair of white tights dirty only at the knees, puffy boots.
The splash of liquid on frosted concrete curb is, to a particularly attuned ear, audible in a light blip. Touching on the thin wafer of snow, the warm tear burns through to the drab half-foot wall beneath as if it were molten. It can’t darken the already damp surface of the curb, so instead it shimmers there, a sparkle reminiscent of the evening star.
A crystal city erupts from the pit formed by the falling saltwater meteor, spires of ice and glass, slick roadways of frozen sorrow winding up and around each minute, elaborate library or factory or tenement. A glisten of cold starlight glares across the tiny landscape and from this golden glow emerges a silken horse with wings of silver fire, soaring upward. The boy on the bare back of the beast clings to a smoky mane, his tightly curled hair ruffling in the frigid air, a loose tunic snapping behind him. He flies the horse in a looping arc upward, spiraling to the highest peak of the city, glimmering hooves moving in long leaping strides as though sprinting on an invisible path. The horse strains as it rises, diamond flecks of foam sparkling against translucent hide.
The mist is thick in the pre-dawn gloom, and the commuters on the platform at the train station are huddled into overcoats and thick hats, wishing it were still Christmas. The depth of winter has yet to arrive; by the standards of the month to come today’s chill is moderate. But by the standards of the long Indian summer recently past, it is frigid and the workforce waiting for their diesel powered railcar avoid each other’s gaze, each locked in introspective longing for the warmth of their homes and beds.
Within these clusters of non-interacting, space-sharing humans, there is a peculiar silence that permeates gathering locations with shared purpose but no shared engagement. It is a silence typified by a buzz of accepted background noise: Car tires rumbling over the tracks at the edge of the station; hollow chatter from ticket machines stamping dates and times onto counterfeit-proof sheets of pre-paid cardboard; indignant wails from ravens engaged in a dangerous dance with stray cats over a discarded bag of fast food scraps. But there are few conversations, few droopy-eyed attendants who wish to unwrap the scarves from their mouths to exchange pleasantries with strangers.
The cry that escapes the suburbanite-approved pseudo-silence commands immediate attention. Through the bluish fog that obscures the tracks as they curve away from the line of sight, a repeated phrase echoes: