I am a writer. Which, for me, means that I look at and try to reflect the world I live in. Sometimes historically, sometimes on a contemporary tip, but also, sometimes, in the dream state. I don’t just make up shit (and, by the way, “shit” is a precise metaphor because all writing is an after the fact exercise, something we literally leave behind). I also imagine what could be under other circumstances.
Of course, I want to develop an audience. I want people to read what I write. And from time to time I receive validation from unexpected quarters, different corners of my environment, different places in the world.
Back in 1974, when I was attending the Sixth Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I received a shocking albeit delightful surprise. Late one evening I and another brother were offered the opportunity to meet people at a small party. We were told to wait on a highway one night and someone would pick us up. We did. They did.
A van already full of people stopped and most of the passengers got out. We were told to get in. People literally sat on each other’s laps. Of course, we introduced ourselves and a young brother from Zanzibar asked me to repeat my name. I did. Then the amazing moment.
“Kalamu ya Salaam from the United States?”
“I was just reading you the other day. My brother gave me a book and you were in it. He was in our revolution and read a lot. He told me to read you.”
Imagine the world knows you. Watches you. Reads you. Not everyone. But enough do, even if it’s only one other person that you don’t have any idea is checking you out. Learning from you life.
Decades later a literary group in Denmark contacts me and they are interested in “Trance”, a sci-fi story I wrote. I reply. About a year or so later I receive an anthology in the mail: Tidstrance. Science fiction from the African diaspora.
As we used to joke about being included in a select group, “I was shitting in high cotton.” Here is the line up selected by Lise Andreasen & Niels Dalgaard of their Science Fiction Cirklen.
Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Linda D. Addison, W.E. B. DuBois, Tananarive Due, Nisi Shawl, evie shockley, Kalamu ya Salaam, Jelani Wilson, Samuel R. Delany.
All the authors were translated into Danish.
You just never know who’s watching whom. It’s literally true. The whole world is watching.
Juno listened intently, his lean body hunched forward and tightly coiled as though he was preparing to leap into the screen. Bashe paced back and forth across the back wall of the control center, her head down but obviously attentive; she would pause every time a salient point was made. The debate was winding down and it was almost time for the vote of the extraordinary session. We all knew the decision could go either way.
“Don’t be so stupid as to think that only tomorrow counts,” Juno snapped as one anti-project elder spoke, citing the meagerness of our resources and a need for more defense development. “What better defense than completely knowing our history?”
A decision to discontinue the time travel, history-recovery project had never been this close before, but then again, we had never before been so besieged. Most people on the planet had either been overwhelmed by or had voluntarily accepted merger into the OnePlanet scheme, and only a few pockets of Diversity proponents were still active.
For me it was simple, no matter how mixed my history, I wanted Blackness to always exist. Everybody turning beige just didn’t appeal to me. But then, Juno always said, the only color that counts in OnePlanet is the color of money. Social values and a way of life is where the real difference is and that’s what we are fighting to preserve and develop.
I couldn’t take it anymore, I got up and started to walk back to quarters. Sometimes I just get so frustrated. Why couldn’t we just be left alone. We were already reduced to tiny outposts, strategically located across the southern zones of the Americas, Africa and the Pacific Isles. We were barely twenty million strong. We just wanted to be ourselves, we…
“Sheba, don’t leave,” Bashe didn’t even look up as she said that while continuing her slow strides. Her intonation told me her injunction wasn’t a request.
“This is so stupid,” I muttered to no one in particular as I sat back down.
Just then Muta entered control. “Have they voted yet?” he asked flopping down into the console seat next to me.
“I think they will as soon as this asshole…”
“Sheba,” Bashe got on my case again.
“Sorry, but this is getting on my last nerve. And all we can do is sit here and wait while these guys decide our fate. And you know half of them are…”
“Quiet. They are about to vote.” I looked over at Juno who held up his left hand, palm out, as he gave his full attention to the screen. Muta and I moved over to Juno’s console to look over his shoulder.
The tally was almost instantaneous: 19 green, 10 red, 1 yellow. “Oh, shit. What do they do now. How do you count a yellow?” I asked, turning around to stare at Bashe. We needed at least 20 votes.
She looked up unsmiling. “If it’s a vote to maintain an existing policy, yellow is counted as a green and if it’s a vote to initiate a new policy, yellow is counted as a red.”
I looked around, neither Juno nor Muta seemed pleased. “So why is everybody looking so glum?”
“Because the yellow vote came from my father,” Bashe said as she moved to the center of our module.
I knew his enthusiasm had cooled on our project after we lost Celine on that last jump, but I thought Bashe would be able to persuade him to continue his support.
“Listen up.” All eyes fastened on Bashe as she started running down the game plan, “We just got a reprieve, but it’s only temporary. My father is going to vote to cancel our program in the next session if we don’t retrieve Celine.”
“That means we’re through.”
“Juno, don’t say that. We’ve got two more months before the next council session, and…” Juno never even looked up as I babbled on trying to paint the most positive picture I could, “…once the new scanner is calibrated, we should be able to find her.”
“Sheba, I’m not so sure of that. It takes two of us to safely operate the scanner and the transport system.” As much as I would be glad when the project was over, I didn’t want it to end unsuccessfully. As Bashe spoke, my mind started to drift. “And the council won’t authorize us to accept any more jumpers this cycle. Which means we have at the most a total of three more jump opps.”
“Bashe, technically, I could do two more jump operations.” I finally spoke up, but not very loudly and not very confidently.
Muta shook his head and delivered the bad news in a slow monotone as though he had no emotional investment, even though we all knew how much he wanted to retrieve Celine. “The real problem is if we go searching for Celine we won’t be able to gather critical history to complete this phase of the project and…”
“If we don’t find Celine, there won’t be support to continue our project.”
“You’re exactly right, Sheba. But—and you know I want to find Celine—we do have a chance to finish the project without finding Celine. If we go searching for Celine, we won’t have enough jumps left to finish the project, especially if we loose another jumper.”
Muta’s assessment hung heavily in the artificial air of the module. When we started almost ten moons ago we were a team of twelve plus Bashe as commander. We were now down to four.
“I’m not feeling searching for Celine.” Juno looked over at Muta, then slowly swiveled his head to take in each one of us. “Look, realistically, the technicalities don’t matter. We only have two jump opps left and what’s been our return ratio? The average is only one of every three jumpers makes it back. Celine had the best record out of all of us. We’ve got jumpers out there who never made it back from their first jump.”
It got awfully quiet. Finally, Bashe attempted to bring closure, “Ok, ok. If Juno’s assessment is correct, then it’s either finish the project or try to find Celine—we don’t have the resources to do both.”
“I vote we finish the project,” Muta spoke up.
I could tell Muta wasn’t speaking his heart, but instead was just saying what he thought a good trooper was supposed to say. “Well, I vote we search for Celine.”
“Who the hell said this was a democracy,” Juno hissed as though Muta and I had no right to speak. “We knew this was a goddamn suicide mission when we signed up. But we all thought salvaging our history was worth all the risks. Besides, what’s so special about Celine. We’ve got eight other jumpers out there. I don’t hear anybody talking about searching for them to bring them in.” Juno stood up slowly. “The fact of the matter is, we’ve got two jumps left, maybe three…”
“What do you mean, maybe three. You just said…”
Juno cut me off before I could finish, “I know what I said. Two jumps to finish the mission and one jump to find Celine. Bashe you’ve got to stay. Sheba and Muta, in that order, should jump to complete the mission and, after the mission is complete, I’ll take the third jump to try and find Celine.” I looked over at Bashe to see what her reactions were. As the team leader she was going to have the last word.
“Juno, we can’t afford to loose you. You’re the only one of us left who really understands the technology.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t jump until the project was complete and then… well, if I didn’t make it back, we still would have a completed project.”
“That’s true, but there are other considerations. Eventually…” Bashe looked up at the module ceiling. We knew everything we did was recorded. “Look, there is some classified info I can’t say, but Juno you’re going to be needed. I’ll take the last jump.”
“Permission to enter space.” At the sound of Elder Hodari’s voice code, all of us except Juno jumped to switch our console screens on.
“Screen on,” Bashe gave an immediate command.
Elder Hodari’s handsome image flickered and quickly stabilized into a sparkling picture. He looked stressed. “I assume you all saw the vote.”
Bashe answered for all of us, “we did.”
“Commander Bashe, I’m sorry. I know how much this project means to you, but it’s basically over. I was able to negotiate a stall period, but there are other pressing priorities.” He let that hang for a moment. We looked at each other but said nothing. “Bashe, did you mention the FutureBlack project to your crew?”
“No. It’s classified and not everyone here is cleared for that level.”
Muta stood up and moved away from the line of vision of his console screen, looked over to me and silently mouthed, “What’s FutureBlack?” I hunched my shoulders in response and looked over to Juno. Juno just shook his head no. Meanwhile, Elder Hodari continued talking. “Bashe, hit me back on a secure line.”
“Forty.” Our screens blanked out as Bashe started pushing code. The lights dimmed, we were switching power and frequencies. “Everybody go to helmets,” Bashe ordered and we each plugged into the black box console. We had direct contact with each other in the module and encrypted, relay-delayed contact with the outside.
“Standby.” Bashe punched in some more code. An old identity shot of Elder Hodari filled the patches on our goggles as he came online. I hated these things. Every time someone talked they just showed an image of who was talking, an old ID shot. “Elder, the team is online.”
“I’ll make this brief. FutureBlack is a classified project. The official clearances will come down shortly, but commander Bashe your whole crew is going to be switched off the history project and on to FutureBlack. The Creoles knocked out another module early this morning. We have had to make the decision to accelerate our escape program. Our immediate future depends on finding a future. Some of us are betting on you guys to find that future for us.”
Nobody said anything. We were trained to listen when a ranking officer was speaking. Whatever questions we had would be discussed later.
“We’re bringing you guys in. The gang over at R-D have constructed working, time-forward transports and we have to do some quick forward probes to find a suitable space where we can community. We have no idea how far future we will have to go, nor do we have any idea of what we will find. They’ve been sending out box probes but…” he hesitated.
Juno spoke up. “They come back empty.”
“How did you know that, officer Juno?”
“The same thing happened when we first started our jumps. I thought those guys in R-D would understand that by now. Time warps can’t transport unprocessed matter. That’s why the jumps are so hard. When we get there all we can bring back is what we remember… if we can get back at all.”
“The R-D guys told us they could design a transport to jump as many as twenty people at a time.”
“Yes, elder. We can transport any number of people, we just can’t guarantee retrieval nor can we bring anything concrete back. Plus, there’s the problem of pinpointing where we send people. Our calibrations are just not that good. About ten minutes is max before we lose reference signals. What you need are jumpers to act as scouts. The problem is ten minutes is not enough time to reconnoiter whether a spot is safe. But then again, I imagine the new scanner might give us a bit more time.”
“Between 24 and 30 hours, officer Juno.”
Juno let out a long, low whistle. “How did they do that?”
“I really don’t understand all the technical stuff like you do, officer Juno. Anyway, commander Bashe, your crew has the most experience with time jumps and we have had to accelerate our escape plan. The new scanner calibration will be complete on this end within a couple of hours. It works exactly like the previous model except it has a finer calibration. The council has decided that the FutureBlack project is critical to our survival and for the time being we will put on hold all history retrieval probes except for one more ju…”
“You want us to find Celine?”
“Officer Juno, I want you to test the new scanner. Now if you happen to find Celine during the test run, then so be it. After the test run, we will start immediately on the FutureBlack project. Copy?”
We all answered “forty” near simultaneously.
“Commander Bashe, download your new assignment. Oh, and one more thing. You’re running silent from here on in. There will be no further direct contact until you file a mission report. Good luck, brothers and sisters. Commander Bashe?”
“Daughter, I love you.”
“Love Black back at ‘cha.”
“A luta continua.”
We all answered the salute and then the screen went blank. As I pulled off my helmet, I saw a faint smile on Muta’s face. Maybe he and Celine would be reunited after all.
Jump center is eerie—we’ve got nine bodies laid out on slabs, surrounded by translucent tubes. Each of them looks like they are sleeping… or dead, and they are neither. They are suspended, their minds are gone. No, not their minds. Juno always tells me, it’s not the mind we send out but the spirit, the life force. Their minds are still functioning, er functionable. If they had the lifeforce they could get up and move and think and respond. I don’t understand all of it, no matter how often Juno tries to explain.
Muta is, of course, looking at Celine, I mean, looking at Celine’s body.
“Muta, I’ve got a good feeling that Juno is going to find Celine.”
Muta doesn’t respond to me. He touches the pyrex shell with the tips of his fingers on his right hand. “Sheba, I appreciate your gesture, but…”
“No buts, Muta.” I move pass Ishmael’s tube, stand beside Muta, and place my palm next to his hand. “If any of us can make it back, Celine will. She was… is our best jumper. She knows what she’s doing. And Juno… you know Juno can work that scanner. He’s going to find her and they’ll make it back.”
“We couldn’t retrieve any of the others.” He steps away from me and slowly looks around at our comatose comrades. I look directly in front of me to the unnerving sight of Harriett with her huge, unblinking, dark brown eyes popped wide open like she’s playing a game of holding her breath, except her body metabolism is slowed so much she is technically alive but practically a vegetable.
Unfortunately, Muta was right. It really didn’t look too good for Celine. Even though we had gotten pretty good at retrieval and we had had four successful jumps before we loss Celine—and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. We loss her one day before yesterday’s council meeting. Buzzard luck.
“Muta, I know how you feel.”
“No, you don’t. You know how youfeel. You only thinkyou know how I feel.” An undercurrent of bitterness thickened the quiet wisp of Muta’s normally massive voice. He stares at me and then looks away. After a short moment that seemed like an eternity, Muta returns to his post at the head of Celine’s pod.
This was why command was always discouraging intimate relations among team members, but here we were. Living in close quarters with each other for over a year at a time in this spherical module that was only about 4500 meters in diameter; no human contact except among ourselves. Buried deep into the side of a mountain in what used to be Suriname. What else were we going to do but grow closer or get on each other’s last little nerve, or both?
Muta leaned over and kissed the shield right above Celine’s face. And then he embraced the tube like he was going to physically lift it, but instead lay the side of his face on the coolness of the covering. I went to him and bent to hug him. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I didn’t say anything, I just hummed an improvised song hoping the vibrations would make Muta feel better, and, more than that, would make me feel better.
The intercom crackled with the unmistakable double whistle calling us to the control center.
I reluctantly peeled myself from Muta and started slowly out of the jump center. While the computer read my palm print before disengaging the automatic lock on the door, I turned to look at Muta, who was still looking at Celine. Even though my eyes and grown accustomed to the blue dimness of the jump center, at the distance of only 10 meters or so, the whole scene was like I was in the audience watching a science fiction movie. It was hard to believe that nine comrades in suspension and one comrade near immobilized by grief was real.
“We’ve got a problem, yall?” Juno was talking into his fist, which he was bouncing back and forth against his lips.
“The scanner’s not ready?”
“No, Sheba, it’s up and running fine. All systems go.”
“So what’s the problem?” I asked as I looked back and forth between Bashe and Juno. I could tell they had been talking before Muta and I arrived. Bashe had her arms folded and was peering at me like she was trying to look through me. I know she doesn’t like me, and I know why she doesn’t like me. I turned away from the nearly palpable distaste of her unblinking gaze. I flopped down to my console and as I looked around at the twelve empty consoles, I suddenly felt very, very weary. When I looked up Bashe was still staring at me. I glanced briefly at Muta who appeared to be deep in thought, then I peeped at Juno, who had his head down—as though the answer to whatever the shitty problem was was down between his boots—and then I closed my eyes.
“The new scanner only goes forward.”
My head snapped up as I processed in shocked disbelief the meaning of what Juno had just calmly uttered. Juno avoided my eyes and turned towards Bashe. I followed his lead and clearly saw her nod an almost imperceptible but unmistakable signal to Juno. It was like everything had already been decided and nobody had told me or Muta any goddamn thing.
“So, we’re just going to abandon Celine?” I blurted out louder and with more of an accusatory edge to my voice than I actually meant.
“So, so what’s the problem?” Muta folded his arms across his chest and locked stares with Juno. For almost a full minute nobody said anything.
“Fuck! Why doesn’t somebody say something?”
“Take it easy, Sheba.”
Before I could spit my disagreement at Juno for even suggesting that I should be cool about the problem, Bashe interrupted our exchange, just like she had interrupted us when I was in Juno’s pad.
Bashe gave me that same damn look, that same timbre in her voice. “Oh” was all she had said. Just “oh.” Like as if one little silly syllable could explain everything. Could explain what I was doing sitting on Juno’s bunk, and explain what she was doing visiting Juno’s pad when her quarters were on the other side of the module. Oh!
“That’s not the realproblem.”
I glared at her. What wasn’t the real problem? The scanner? The fact that both of us were trying to get next to Juno? What?
“Not being able to go back and search for Celine seems like a realproblem to me,” I icily responded.
Juno got up and walked towards me. “We’ve got a solution for that, Sheba. The problem is the new scanner only goes forward and network central is only going to bring us topside for one more launch before they retool our module.”
I knew we had to be on the surface to make a jump and being exposed to satellite surveillance was a big risk that our position might be discovered or our security compromised, but Juno seemed to be suggesting something else. “So, I don’t understand.”
Bashe cut in quietly, “If we’re going to search for Celine we have to do it on this next jump.”
“But I thought he said the damn thing only went forward.” I waved my hand with my thumb extended in Juno’s direction without taking my eyes of off Bashe. “We can’t find Celine by going forward.”
“We’re going to do a double jump.”
“A what?” I blurted out incredulously.
“A double jump, Sheba.” Juno said quietly as though he was talking about running a routine module check.
“The problem is I don’t know how to use the scanner. I mean, theoretically I know, but I don’t have any experience at it and neither do you.” Bashe actually gave me warm body language as she spoke. First she pointed to herself and then as she said “neither do you” she placed her hand lightly on my shoulder.
It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. “Wait a minute, if we do a double jump and we use the old scanner and the new scanner, we’re going to need an operator at each one, who’s going to operate the transports?”
“I can handle the transport but I…” Muta stopped and we all silently filled in the rest, each of us remembering the day before yesterday when Muta had fumbled with the codes on what was supposed to be a routine jump. I was working the transport. Juno had been standing next to Muta assuring him that he could handle the scanner when something went terribly wrong and within the short space of a few seconds we lost contact with Celine and by the time Juno took corrective measures her signal was fading fast.
Bashe walked over to Muta and stood directly in front of him. “Trooper Muta, you and officer Juno will operate the scanners andthe transports while officer Sheba and I make the jumps. You cando this. You haveto do this.”
Muta visibly flinched as Bashe issued her instructions.
“But the old scanner. Is. In a different area. From the new. Scanner,” the words leaked out of Muta’s mouth in awkward clumps. “Suppose. Something. Goes wrong?”
“Nothing is going to go wrong.” Bashe firmly grasped Muta by the shoulders, “And if something does go wrong, you will just have to deal with it. We will all have to deal with it.” Starting with Juno, Bashe slowly surveyed our tiny crew.
“Muta is going to operate the old scanner and Juno is going to operate the new scanner.” Bashe paused as the full impact of her words penetrated each of us. She turned to face me, “I will inject you and then I will inject myself. We will preset the transports and hope for the best.”
“But you know that sometimes you have to adjust the levels on the transport. The risk is…”
Bashe cut off Muta’s objections, “We have one shot, and one shot only at retrieving Celine. We have lost nine other jumpers. We can’t afford to loose Celine.”
“I don’t understand.” Everybody looked at me like I was suggesting a mutiny or something. “You know I want to find Celine, but I don’t understand taking the risk that we will loose Commander Bashe—I mean I’m not even worried about me.” I hesitated to say what I was really thinking because I didn’t want Muta to think I was being callous, but like Juno had said, what was so special about Celine other than that she had made eight successful jumps before we lost her? Of course, that was amazing, considering that nobody else had done more than three successful jumps.
“I don’t believe we lost the other eight.”
“Juno, what did you say?” This was tripping me out. Juno slumped down further in his console.
“I said I don’t believe we lost the other eight. I believe something happened, I don’t know what, but I know it wasn’t pilot error…”
“So you’re saying I lost Celine but all those other eight people just disappeared?” Muta took a few steps in Juno’s direction. I could see that Muta was really roiled. “You were at the controls for six of those other eight. What happened if it wasn’t pilot error?”
“I don’t know what happened, trooper, but I do know it wasn’t pilot error.” Juno had such a fierce expression on his face when he looked up at Muta that Muta actually backed up two steps.
“Muta, we reviewed the logs. I personally inspected each entry, looked at the video of the procedures, poured over all the printouts, there was no indication of pilot error and…”
“Except for when I lost Celine.”
“Except for when welost Celine.” Bashe moved next to Juno. “We lost Celine on Juno’s watch, Muta. I have never held you responsible. Besides, the question now is how to carry out our mission.”
“That’s simple,” I replied, “We do a forward jump. Gather the required information, file it with control central and that’s all she wrote as far as fulfilling our mission.”
Bashe shook her head from side to side. “Officer Sheba, we have multiple missions. One is to do a forward jump and the other is to retrieve trooper Celine. And I intend for us to accomplish both. Understood?”
Bashe took turns silently assessing each of us. No one moved or said anything, finally, I broke the silence. “So, when is jump time?”
I checked my console. It was 22:48 hours. “Well, I guess I ought to go get some sleep. Or is there another problem we need to solve before jump time?”
“You and I just have to decide who’s jumping forward and who’s jumping backwards,” Bashe said just as I was about to shove off.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you just surprise me in the morning,” I said sarcastically and started walking toward quarters.
Bashe reached out and touched me gently, not to stop me but to physically share her feelings, “Sheba, you know me. You know I hate surprises and bes…”
“Oh,” I interrupted Bashe’s comments. “Well, surprises don’t bother me. I’m a jumper. I’ve been there and back three times before. Since this will be your first time…” I looked Bashe dead in the eyes and as I brushed past her, I cavalierly tossed my decision over my shoulder without breaking stride, “…you make the call. Make it easy on yourself.”
I kept expecting Bashe to order me to stop but the only sound I heard was the slap of my sandals thudding against the double-thick synthetic, hard rubber flooring.
I don’t handle rejection well and that’s why I’m careful about what I ask for. I don’t even know why I am sitting here. I know Juno doesn’t have any deep feelings for me and…
“Unless I’m really misreading the situation, you’re going to have to search for Celine and Muta is going to have to be your operator. He’s not comfortable enough at the scanner controls to work the new scanner and the old scanner doesn’t go forward, and…”
He just stopped talking. I looked up at him as I leaned back against the wall. All of the compartments were the same tiny size: a six foot bunk, a small desk with a hutch, a cabinet and that was it. Everything looked just like my compartment. Juno was staring at me. He sat down on the bunk on the opposite end from where I was hunched into the corner.
“What?” I gathered myself for whatever Juno was about to say.
“Sheba, I know you didn’t come over here to talk about the jump tomorrow.”
I hate it when people want to make you beg for what you want. One part of me was pissed. Pissed that I was here. Pissed that I even thought about coming here. And another part of me was so damn needy. I knew, tomorrow I could be dead or worse–who knows what happens to your spirit when you get lost out there. Your body vegetates here in jump control and your spirit… fuck it. I start to get up but don’t. When I look up, Juno is not even looking at me.
“Why do you think I came?”
“Sheba, I’m not going to play that game.”
“I’m not playing.”
He looked away, silently took a deep breath and then looked at me. Without sounding like I was some kind of freak, how could I explain to him that I didn’t want to die horny. Sacrifice is one thing, but if liberation doesn’t include love-making than how liberated are we? Was it my fault that there were only four of us left? Muta is thinking about Celine. And Bashe is our leader.
The intercom buzzed interrupting my scheming on how to make a move on Juno without looking like I was just throwing myself at him. I knew it was Bashe, maybe I had conjured her up by thinking about her at that moment.
Juno responded, “Yes.”
“Juno, can we talk?” It was like she knew I was there and was choosing her words carefully.
“Affirmative. I’ll be over in five.”
Juno looked at me as he stood up. “This shouldn’t take long.”
“Does that mean you want me to wait here for you to come back?”
Juno hesitated. “Sheba…”
“Tell you what. I’ll be in my compartment if you want to stop by when you finish talking with Bashe.”
“No, Sheba, let’s not play those games. I’m not going to stop by and I…”
“And you don’t want me to wait here.”
Juno didn’t say anything. I put my head down on my knees. When I looked up he was still standing in the doorway. “Sheba, I’ll see you tomorrow morning, 06:30.”
I got up and started toward the doorway, squeezing between the desk and the bunk. Juno stepped into the corridor. He grabbed my arm as I brushed past him. “It would be worse if I let you stay.”
I looked him full in the eyes. He let go of my arm and then turned away. “Don’t forget to secure your quarters,” I said. Juno kept walking away, not even acknowledging what I had just said. Then I heard his door automatically slide shut and lock. I headed in the opposite direction back to my compartment.
After I rounded the first corner I stopped and sat down on the floor. I didn’t want to go back to my little lonely space. I didn’t want to be alone… I know it sounded so undisciplined not to be able to face the severity of our situation. But sometimes you get tired of being strong, alone. Sometimes it would be nice to be held by someone before you made a leap into the unknown.
Suddenly all I heard was the hum of our module; all the equipment doing whatever it did: the computers, the air supply, the power generators. I put my hand down on the floor and could feel vibrations. I knew I was just going stir crazy. Except for the jumps, I had not been topside in the natural world for almost a year. And the last time I had made love was with Harriett and that was over six months ago. And… I threw my head back and intentionally bumped it on the wall. Two, three, four times. I never saw people get horny in none of the space movies—there might be a romance, but… I jumped up. I must have been sitting there feeling pitiful for at least ten minutes. Although I tried not to think about it, I knew I was going to do what I usually did when I felt this way: masturbate, fall asleep, and forget about it.
When I turned the last corner and saw Bashe, her bald head bowed, eyes closed, sitting in a lotus position, meditating beside my compartment door I was shocked. I thought she and Juno would be going at it by now. I stopped but she must have sensed my presence because she calmly looked up at me and smiled. I saluted her as she stood up. She returned the salute and then opened her arms to embrace me. I just stood still. Bashe stepped forward and hugged the rigidity of my body to her.
“Sheba, I’m not your enemy. In about seven or so hours we are going to face a very tough situation.” Bashe relaxed her arms and stepped back. “I came here to talk with you because… well, because I need, no, because I wantour team to be a team. We are down to four people and after tomorrow… well, who knows. This situation has been very tough on all of us. I admire the way you have held up. I wish I had your spunk.”
Bashe was trying to use textbook psych on me. I looked her in the eyes briefly. What I saw there frightened me. She was totally in control of herself. I was shaking inside. I turned to face my door.
“Sheba, I am 37 years old. Juno is 34. You are 26. I know…”
“Don’t forget about Muta.”
“Muta is not part of this triangle.”
I refused to look at her. I started to say, what triangle, but I knew I wasn’t prepared for whatever might be Bashe’s response.
“I have prepared myself for years to be able to do whatever needed to be done and to control my emotions. I believe I can face anything. Right now, I have questions. Make no mistake, I am going to go forward with our mission, but at the same time I am questioning. Questioning everything.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There is something happening out there and we don’t know what it is. We don’t know what happened to our crew. There is a great unknown, but I am prepared to face it and I think you are too. But the unknowns outside are not my major concern at this moment. What concerns me is our inability to face the problems we know about.”
She paused. I looked over at her briefly. Bashe’s unblinking stare was fixed on me. “I don’t understand,” I pretended.
“You want to be with Juno and I want to be with Juno. Neither one of us is going to get our wish. We don’t need to carry this baggage with us when we do our jumps tomorrow. Juno is committed to celibacy during the course of this mission. I know because we’ve talked about it. And because he practices…” Bashe paused. She was still staring at me. She was still not blinking. “It is my responsibility to monitor everything that happens on this unit.”
I can not return Bashe’s unblinking focus so instead I look at a spot in the middle of her forehead just above her eyes, the place where the mystics say the third eye is located, the place where Hindu women wear a red dot. I hate it when I loose a battle of wills but Bashe is by far the most intense person I have ever encountered. I have never been able to stare her down. Never. At the same time I am trying not to succumb to her hypnotic force, I reactively wonder how much was “everything”. Did she really mean everything–bathroom, bed? Did she mean there is never a time when someone isn’t watching us?
Bashe firmly but softly repeated herself, “Everything.”
“That’s a lot.” Did they lie to us about not having cameras in our compartments, about allowing us that small bit of privacy? Had Bashe watched me touching myself?
“Sheba, I came here to thank you for not attacking me and to let you know that I do not stand between you and Juno.” Then she reached out and embraced me again.
I actually shuddered. I couldn’t help myself. Bashe scared the shit out of me.
“Good luck on your jump tomorrow.”
I mumbled something in reply, but I don’t know what. Probably, yeah, and good luck to you too. Her hug was both a shelter and a trap. As she stepped back after holding me all I could think to do was snap off a salute.
“Comrade sister Sheba, every little thing is going to be alright.” Bashe didn’t return my salute, instead she kissed my right cheek, smiled at me, turned slowly and seemed to float down the corridor back toward her quarters. I found out just how much I was shaking when I pressed my trembling palm to the cool screen to i-d open my door.
There is no time. Time is an illusion. Everything is now. The past. The future. It’s all now. All going on at the same time. And no matter how random or chaotic. It’s always the same. Changing but the same. And I have no fear because I don’t need to be me. In order to exist. I could ride the wind as a leaf, hug the earth as a tree.
Juno is so clever. He tried to explain to me that every death is a birth because to die is to be born on another plane since we can neither add to nor subtract from existence only transform in terms of what plane we exist on.
I guess if I could have children I might feel differently. I jump so well because it really doesn’t matter if I come back. I have no fear. No anxiety.
I am trying to describe the color I see when I close my eyes. To myself. I’m trying to explain me to me. Inhale nostrils. Exhale mouth. Suppose I am not coming back but going to. Suppose. Suppose. Suppose.
I tried to talk to Celine about jumping. But her experience was so different from mine. I think she wanted to be conscious. I just let myself be.
Bashe was who I last saw. She had injected me. And was leaning over me. And squeezed my hand gently. And I felt loved.
Now it’s that pulsing dark, that warm brown that you get when you hold your face toward the sun with your eyes tightly closed.
I always go to sleep, just totally relax and drift. Usually I think about colors. Yellow-cream. The feel of warm water. The sound of my own breath: in through my nostrils, out through my mouth, in, out, nostrils, mouth. Butter. I’ve only tasted it once. It was soft, soft. Had been laying in a shallow dish on a counter all morning. Soft to the touch. I tasted it on my finger tip. Looked over the ridge and there was the soft sun rising, yellow. Yellow as the butter.
I have the feeling that I have been someone else.
This is strange. Because I know this neighborhood. I know these sidewalks. The houses. What goes on behind closed doors. The people. I recognize almost everyone I see. Foots is standing on the corner. I lower the driver’s side window and stick my fist up in the air.
“Give thanks, Foots. How you be?” He crosses the street toward me, I ease my foot down on the clutch and ease the shift into first but keep the clutch to the floor.
“Man, I’m just getting ready for Jazzfest. I got some designs to lay on them.”
Foots, sibling of Billy Paul, he’s got some heavy new jewelry to sell. He pushes his hand into my open window and shakes. The car is rocking, I have Incognito turned up so loud. I like to ride with the windows up and the music up higher than the windows, which are all the way up. Foots smiles at me, bopping his head to that beat. I ease up on the clutch and swing on round the corner.
I’m 54 years old and sometimes I feel weary, but then I get a spurt of energy. I don’t know where from. Actually, I believe all my extra energy comes from either one, or maybe both of the major life forces other than the one I was born with. They are: one, the here and now; two, the been here and gone; and three, the soon come to be. The been here and the soon come, offer a reason to keep going, cause if it were left to me in the present, I could just check out at this point. My work is relatively complete. I have done my do. Fought the good fight. Reared—actually, to be honest and correct about it, helpedto rear some slamming young people, those biologically from me as well as a number of others whom I have touched. And, well, what else is left, but a little bit more of the same.
I think about my parents. My mother dead of cancer at 57, and my father dying suddenly some years later. There are days when I dream about one or the other of them, usually my father—and when they were both alive, I always thought I was closer to my mother, but life is it’s own reality, not what we think, or wish, or hope for, but what it is and the truth, the real is sometimes something other than we are ready to admit.
There is something in me that will not let me stop and yet, I don’t believe in god. I don’t disbelieve. I just have no opinion on that issue. Once I left the church as a teenager, no organized form of religion has ever appealed to me. Spirituality, well, I studied stuff but anything organize around a specific system was just, well, was beyond where I was willing to go, or maybe not as far out as where I am. So when I say I believe in the ancestors and the unborn, I don’t mean it in any concrete way except to say that there is something inside me I can’t explain. Except I know it’s there.
It’s almost noon and I have not eaten anything at all yet today. But the music has me feeling upful. After unfolding myself from the driver’s seat, I stand beside the car a moment. The weather is warm. Sun in March.
When I get inside I call Lynn and we talk about workshop next week. I will be out of town and she will lead workshop and choose the study piece. Immediately I jump online and spend the next couple of hours doing email. Fortunately, I don’t have to teach school today and then as is always happening in Treme, I hear a brass band in the distance, sounding like it is coming this way. I jump up.
Sometimes I ignore the bands, but other times I go see what’s going on. As I step down to the sidewalk, the procession is rounding the corner and there is this little girl, maybe six or seven years old, prancing beside the lead trumpet. At times she looks up at the horn player, at other times she is dancing so intently her eyes get that far away stare like you see when people catch the spirit. Her little limbs jerk lithly, but not like a puppet on a string, rather like there is something inside her bucking to get out. Her knobby little knees wobble from side to side. She can’t weight no more than a matchstick but she’s flowing like a willow tree rocking in the breeze. I am transfixed by her; there is something about the way she dances that is older than she is. Something familiar. But I don’t know her, have not seen her in the neighborhood before. I feel like I should know her. She has that Dionne Warwick kind of face, triangular with almond-shaped eyes that sit at a slight upward angle on her dark face. She is not smiling. She is so serious about this dancing. I just look at her. When she jumps, turns around, squats, hands on knees and backs it up, I fall out. A whole procession of people passes, but all I see is this young girl. Dancing. Dancing. Dancing down the street.
“We’re locked on. We got her!”
At first I didn’t know what Muta was talking about. I’m leaning against the transport table for support. I always feel weak after a jump, like I want to sleep.
I look around the launch area for something yellow. There is nothing. Why am I looking for something yellow? And then I look up and directly above me is a yellow light on the ceiling connected to the transport control. I smile. I knew I wasn’t crazy…
“Sheba, did you hear me? Power up Celine’s transport. We got her.”
Celine? Transport? Power up…?
“Sheba, hurry. We’re going to loose her if the transport is not functioning.”
I try to move quickly, but I stumble. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It takes so much effort to take one step. What am I doing? I have that lost feeling, like someone waking me in the middle of a deep sleep and asking me to solve calculus problems.
“Fifty-eight ticks and counting.”
Celine looks so perfect. It’s funny, she could be dead… damn, what am I saying. She is dead. For all practical purposes. She is dead. But she doesn’t really look dead, or is it that I don’t want her to be dead, or to look dead. Her skin is healthy looking, there is blood circulating through her although at a very, very slow rate, sort of intermittent rather than continuous.
I remember us playing around once. Wrestling. She had me around the waist trying to flip me and I was holding her neck for leverage; she couldn’t flip me without me falling on top of her. And our heads were close together. I remember the wonderful sweetness of her breath. Not an artificial sweetness, but real sweetness. Deep inside of her she is sweet. And I know she shits like everybody else does, but her intestines, or at least her stomach, has got to be the healthiest in the world. Soft and cool. That was the thing. We were wrestling but her breath was still coming out soft and cool. And sweet. But her body was tough. I mean mostly muscle and bone, no fat, no padding. She must have had muscles all up in her breasts. Her neck was like a steel cord. And I could feel her fingers gripping me in a dead man’s grip…
“SHEBA! Code Black. Fourteen clicks and counting. Set the switches, Sheba.”
Eight-zero-niner. Enter. The switches run through the colors. Starting at red, burn through to amber. And then one by one. Green. Green. Green. Power up.
I look over at Muta. “Power up.”
Muta is lost in the gyrations of multitasking. Keeping the beat, easying back on the transport accelerator. Tapping in code with his right hand. Holding the frequency attenuator with his left hand and bumping it up at appropriate moments. His left foot tapping a beat for the vibration resonator. And his right foot dropping harmonics—Juno always said, the harmonics is the key to making everything work. Watching Muta from the rear he looks just like a jazz drummer playing keyboards and drums at the same time.
This was Juno’s innovation. Instead of using a gyroscope to set and lock the rhythm, the operator had to establish the flow. Juno said, flow allowed for maximum variation. The jumper could go wherever, experience whatever, change, flip in and out of time zones, in and out of hosts and it was no problem, except if the operator couldn’t keep up. The old way with the fixed rhythm never yielded great results because we would so seldom find somebody functioning at whatever vibrational frequency we were locked on, but this way, we could change to fit the conditions…
“Celine!” Muta pushed me aside, like I was a fly buzzing his face. He was lifting the cover on Celine’s transport before I fully understood what was happening.
I looked down at Celine’s body. It wasn’t moving. But the gauges on the transport control panel indicated that she was alive. She was back.
“Celine.” Muta was almost crying. Celine was not moving. He started checking for her pulse, and then he shook her gently. “Come on, baby. Wake up. Wake up.”
There was no sense in telling him to stop. He felt for her pulse by the big vein in the side of the neck. And he smiled his huge smile, the one that made him so attractive.
“Her heart is beating.”
I leaned over to put my ear next to her nose and I smelled her breath. “She’s back,” I whispered. “Celine is back.”
Muta broke down at that point. Sort of like made a choking sound and let his head keel over onto Celine’s chest. He was crying, softly at first. Then loudly enough that I knew he was not embarrassed about it and was just letting it go. Happy crying. He was hugging her, his face buried into her bosom. Hugging her and crying. And calling her name, between sobs. Over and over.
Then Celine’s hand rose up, the gesture was so slow and so graceful it looked like something you see in a dream. Her hand moved. Up and then out like she was reaching for something, and then her fingers spread apart, wide apart. And just as slowly she brought her hand to rest on Muta’s head and stroked his head over and over, like what I imagine a mother does to a baby suckling her breast.
Now I had to turn away. This was too intimate for me to witness. Muta was still crying when I heard Celine’s voice drawl like she had been drugged: “Muuuu-taaaaa. Whyyyy. Youuuuu. Cryingggggg?”
None of our palm prints would open the module. We had not been coded in, but we could see through the glass. Juno was thrashing away, his fingers flying, rocking back and forth, his knees pumping furiously—I had never seen him so animated at the controls. Something must have gone wrong.
“Dag, I didn’t know we had two scanners,” Celine says out loud although not directly to either Muta or myself.
“It’s brand new. This is the first tim…” I said.
“Whose jumping—not Bashe?”
Muta answered quietly, “there’s no one else left to jump.”
“How far back are they going?”
“Celine,” I reach out and touch her elbow, “it’s a future jump.”
“A future jump?” her eyes grow wide as though she dare not believe me. “When did all this happen?”
“You’ve been gone a long time…”
“Sheba, I thought you said it was only three days, some hours.”
“Yeah, well three days is a long, long time around here.”
“Damn, something is wrong.” We both turned and stared at Muta as he quietly sized up the situation and confirmed my suspicion.
“How can you tell?” I asked.
“Because look at the rhythm he’s using with his left foot and see how rapidly he’s stopping and going with his right foot, that’s not normal, that’s an extremely high level of activity. Plus he keeps swinging the antenuator to extremes in both directions. Damn.”
“It’s beautiful. Beautiful the way he’s working those scanner controls. How can he move that fast and not loose it, but look, he hasn’t dropped a beat.” Muta had his hands up beside his face like he was cutting off glare, or like a kid staring into a movie-scope. “But I still think something is wrong.”
Now all three of us had our faces pressed to the transparent wall separating us from the control module.
“This is weird. I feel like we should be in there.”
“Doing what, Celine?”
“Muta, you know there is always something we can do. Didn’t you just say it looks like something is wrong?”
I suck my teeth. “If they wanted us in there, they would have included our palm prints in the access codes.”
“Maybe they didn’t think about it. But on the other hand, even if they don’t want us, maybe they needus.”
“Celine, you’re always so positive.”
“That wasn’t a complement,” I half joke.
“No, you were just telling the truth and it’s good to know that I am appreciated,” Celine chuckled. It was good to hear her laughter again.
For a couple of long minutes no one says anything. Juno has been working like a man possessed. Suddenly I notice that Juno is wearing a helmet—Muta only wore earphones. “Muta, why is Juno on helmet.”
“Cause he’s flying blind.”
“Flying blind? What does that mean?”
“It means he’s blocking out everything around him and only seeing the scanner codes and getting aural feedback through the ear phones,” Celine answered me matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, but the helmet does funny things to your hand and foot coordination, you can’t hear yourself operating the controls and there’s almost no tactile feedback.”
“Yeah, you get more control of the input but you get less feedback in terms of what you’re doing. Juno tried to show me how to use the helmet but I preferred the earphones.”
I glanced over at Celine, not only was she our best jumper, she also was pretty good at operating the scanner controls.
“Look, you see how fast he’s doing code with his right hand and how smooth he’s manuvering with his left hand at the same time. I believe he’s bringing Bashe back now.”
I couldn’t see any difference in what Juno was doing.
“Damn, when I grow up, I want to be able to control a scanner like Juno,” Muta muttered softly, shaking his head in admiration.
“If you put the time in, you can do it. But even if you don’t get any better, you can transport me anytime.” Celine said, and then those two fools smiled at each other like they were both the first and the last people on earth to fall in love.
“Oh, no. Bashe!” Muta pounded on the window trying to get Juno’s attention. Bashe was back alright, but her body was thrashing from the waist down, her head spastically jumping like she was convulsing. Juno finally looked up, tore his helmet off and tossed it aside in one quick motion while bounding over to Bashe still strapped in the transport, her arms flailing frantically.
Juno threw himself atop Bashe’s body and locked restraints on her wrists and then he gripped her head with both hands.
Celine figured it out immediately, “she’s epileptic. That jump could have killed her. Secure her tongue, Juno, so she doesn’t choke on it. Give her an injection and then hope she pulls through ok.”
Juno moved as though he heard everything Celine said, right down to an injection. That went too smoothly. It was like Juno was prepared for the seizure to happen. And then it hit me. “I bet you that’s why they locked us out; they knew.”
“No,” Celine said, “it’s not that simple. They know I’ve got the most medical training, they would want me in there.”
“Yeah, but you just got back, and nobody knew where you were or if you wanted to come back” I joked, even though it wasn’t funny.
“I hear that, Sheba. But damn, Juno looked like he was prepared…”
“Celine, that’s just what I was thinking.”
Bashe was completely still now. Juno finally stopped to look around and noticed us standing there. He went to the console and opened the door.
We rushed in, nobody saying anything, everybody looking at Bashe. Juno eventually came over and hugged Celine, “Welcome home, trooper Celine.” And then Juno dapped up Muta, “Good job, trooper Muta.”
We all smiled briefly.
“Celine, please run a check on commander Bashe. Officer Sheba, have you done a full debriefing yet?”
“No. We came straight over here to see if you all needed some help.”
“Trooper Muta, do a full debriefing with officer Sheba. After you and officer Sheba have recorded the debrief, return to this module. Celine and I will see to commander Bashe.”
Both Muta and I snapped off salutes. Juno was not hesitating in taking charge. He was clear and direct in his orders and unhesitating about what had to be done, but I could see the concern swimming in his eyes, which were glazed over with moisture that I assume was tears or stress, or both.
As we were leaving, I heard Juno said something about Bashe predicted this might happen. How do you get up the nerve to volunteer for a jump if you know you’re an epileptic?
* * *
After everything was over, we all received promotions, except for Bashe who was already a commander. The ceremony, as such, was scheduled to take place within another two weeks when our small crew was to be brought topside. Meanwhile, here we are receiving final orders from Bashe.
Bashe looked at each one of us before saying a word, and then she looked down before finally raising her head proudly.
“Please stop me if I go too fast. I’m going to skip the official rigmarole. The deal is a truce has been declared and we are all being disbanded. Of course, it is not going to be announced like that, but the end result will be, the war is over.”
“Bashe, wait, you said, disbanded?”
“Yes, Muta. Disbanded. CC is being absorbed into…”
“I don’t want to hear it,” I blurted out my immediate reaction. “The jumps, the units…”
“Sheba, we were the only unit to survive. All the others either failed to complete their assignments or they were captured or destroyed. The elders decided the cost was too high and…”
“What about ‘no surrender, no compromise’?” I asked.
“Sheba, the truth is I don’t know.” There was a long silence while we waited for Bashe to continue. “I don’t think any of us know. This movement has been our lives. I grew up this way. My father was in this movement before I was born.” Bashe fell silent. Her head was angled slightly upward and to the side. If you watched her eyes you saw them shifting back and forth like she was reading something.
“This can’t be it. Not like this!”
“Sheba, calm down.”
“Not with a bang, but with a whimper.”
I looked over at Juno. Leave it to him to suddenly quote poetry at a moment like this. “Who said that?”
Bashe didn’t even look in my direction when she answered my question, “T.S. Eliot.”
“Damn, Juno, at least you could quote a Black poet.” I retorted quietly.
“Is there some kind of amnesty program or something? You know some of us…”
“I know, Muta. Some of us are wanted. From what I understand there is some kind of table of responsibilities and consequences, and depending on what you’re wanted for, they’ve worked out… Look, all of you are cool. Any of you who wants to go back can do so without prejudice. I’ve checked on your cases.”
“Bashe, what are the options? I mean suppose we don’t want to go back. Where else can we go?”
“Celine, as far as I know there is no other place to go. OnePlanet is everywhere.”
“Well, I’m not going back. I’ll stay here, if I have to,” I looked at Bashe who was listening to me and sending out support-vibes. “When I said, no surrender, no compromise. I meant it. I meant every word of it.”
Juno spoke up suddenly, “Bashe, what about you? Can you go back?”
“No, you can’t or no, you won’t?”
“Sheba, I can’t and I won’t.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I tell you what, wherever you decide to go, count me in, cause I don’t want to go back.”
“I’m with Juno on that,” I said.
Before Bashe could respond, Celine spoke up. “Muta and I really, really have to talk this over. You know…” Celine paused. “My first inclination is to stay here with Bashe…”
“Yall, there is no here to stay at. Don’t you understand? This is the last module and tomorrow it will be turned over…”
“I mean, Bashe, I understand. But what I was saying is that my first inclination is to go wherever you go and…”
“I thank all of you for your support and for the confidence you have in me, but right now you are being confronted with a reality you probably never imagined. You don’t need to make any rash decisions. You need to think about your future. You understand? Think about what it is you want for the rest of your life. Sheba you are still very young, you could literally start over. Celine and Muta, you two have each other. Go start a family. If you register you can have a child.” Bashe looked deep into my eyes and then deep into Celine’s eyes and Muta’s eyes. Her look was saying much more than her words.
“What about Juno?” I asked even though I knew the answer already, or at least I thought I knew the answer. Juno wasn’t going back.
“What about, Juno?” Bashe never even glanced his way, but instead bore into me with those searching eyes.
“No, I was just saying, you gave advice to me and to Muta and Celine, but you didn’t say anything to Juno.”
Bashe smiled. “Are you asking me if Juno and I are getting together?”
It got quiet. Real quiet. I looked away. It was still quiet. I peeked over at Juno. He never even looked up.
“Well, Sheba, is that what you want to know?”
“Ah, I was just, ah, I mean Juno did say he was going to go wherever you go.”
“I repeat, are you asking me if Juno and I are getting together?”
“What the fuck, it doesn’t make any difference, does it? Just like that, it’s over. The Community Council has cut some kind of deal and some people will get taken care of and the majority of us will become some little cog in some urban center. And shit. Who cares, fuck it. I guess it was nice while it lasted but the fun is over and it’s back to the goddamn real world.”
“Sheba, you’re hurt and confused at the moment. Don’t say anymore… but then again, maybe you should. Maybe you should get all of that out of your system.” Bashe walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “The truth is CC negotiated a deal for the whole community. Most of you will be acquired as normal citizens, and all of us, rank commander and above, will be sent to a restricted zone for an indefinite time.”
Her touch felt so light and yet so strong.
“Sheba, do you want to be exiled on a restricted zone with me?” Of course I did not answer her. I could not lie and say I was ready for a life that was closer to death. Those zones were everything we were fighting against.
“I didn’t think so. I don’t think any of you wants to go through that. Right?” Bashe looked at each of us in turn. None of us spoke up to say we wanted to join her in such a harsh and pitiful place. “CC offered us the option of remaining underground, but we would probably never get back to the world again. I wouldn’t even bring that up to you all, confused as you are right now, we might have elected to do something irreversible that we would surely come to regret.”
Bashe was right. I really couldn’t see myself living the rest of my life on this module. I could easily see myself dying in battle, but living like this, I just never foresaw anything like this as being our future.
“Our movement ebbs and flows. There are no guarantees except that we must struggle. Sometimes we will have to withdraw and lie dormant, other times we must throw ourselves against impossible odds. Muta, Celine, Sheba, Juno I love each of you. Fiercely. I do. I know your hearts are strong. I know your minds are clear. Your beliefs are with our people. I know this like my blood knows my body.”
Bashe looked at me last. I didn’t realize I was crying until Bashe stepped to me and wiped a tear off my cheek with her bare hand. Bashe hugged me and then drew back.
“You know how in our studies we found out that different groups of our ancestors had different ways of dealing with slavery? Some of us adapted and some us committed suicide. Some of us resisted and most of us just kind of did whatever we had to do to survive.”
At first nobody answered Bashe. We all just waited for her to continue. And then Juno spoke up, “Bashe, we know the story. You’re going to walk into the sea, aren’t you?”
Bashe stepped away from me and continued talking to all of us, “I guess I just don’t have it. I don’t have that something inside that enables a person to put up with bullshit. You know I used to wonder what did our ancestors do when a slave revolt failed. The ones who were still alive but who had been part of the rebellion. What did they do? Well, we’re about to find out, aren’t we?”
“Bashe, you are the bravest person I know,” Celine was speaking very, very softly. “You took that jump knowing that it could have killed you… and you did it so that there would be a chance, just a chance that I could be brought back. I owe you my life, I know that.”
“Celine, you know what you owe me?” Bashe walked over to Celine and embraced her and then embraced Muta. “You owe me the two of yall having a child together. I chose not to have a child. Maybe if I…” Bashe didn’t finish her thought.
“I tell you what crew, this is a lot to think about. Let’s reassemble in the morning. Why don’t we all just sleep on what we want to do. Juno, Sheba, Celine and Muta, each of you have the option of going anywhere in the world you want to go. You will receive full global citizenship, a grade-omega passport, and a choice of service or research jobs. The details of the deal are being finalize as we… I’m terrible at giving speeches. Meet back here 09:00. That’s all. Dismissed. Oh, there is one more thing: CC is bringing us topside in the morning. Tonight will be our last night aboard this module. That’s all. Dismissed.”
We started to snap off a salute, but the words wouldn’t come. “We can’t even say ‘a luta continua’ anymore,” I said to no one in particular.
“Sheba, we can still say it,” Bashe looks at me with a tenderness I hadn’t recognized before. “It’s just that the struggle will now have to take a different form.”
* * *
The jerk of the module docking topside woke me up early, a little after six. Our compartments are soundproof, someone could have been shouting outside our door and we would not be able to hear them, but we could feel the motion of the module, which was always moving this way and that through a maze of tunnels. To evade detection, our module was never still for more than five or six hours except when we docked topside for a jump and that usually took no longer than two hours.
Before I even realized what I was doing I had finished packing and placed the bundle on my bunk. When I got tired of standing up looking down at my gear, I flopped on the bed and kicked at the backpack. The kick felt so good, I let go with a second and stronger kick. The pack thudded against the wall at the foot of my bunk. I kicked it again. And then another kick.
All my possessions were in that pack and I doubt if it weighed fifty pounds. None of us really owned anything much, we didn’t need much, not even clothes in this controlled environment.
I wondered what Juno was doing; what Bashe was doing; whether they were doing whatever they were doing together? I looked over at the computer screen. It was just a little after seven. I couldn’t just sit anymore.
Out in the hall, I just started walking. I didn’t have any particular destination. I was avoiding Juno’s compartment, that’s one place I wasn’t going.
Where was I going to go?
I decided to go say goodbye to all the jumpers who never made it back. When I got to the jump room, the room was completely dark, not even the usual night lights were on. And the door was open. We never left this door open. Even before I keyed up the lights, I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea how wrong. An involuntary gasp jumped out of my mouth when I saw that the room was empty. For almost a minute, I couldn’t believe it. All the pods were empty. Empty!
Things were moving too fast. How could all this have happened so quickly? I had no choice. I had to go see Bashe.
Her compartment was empty. The door was open. I ran to the control center. Sprinted. No one was there. Everybody couldn’t have left me. At control center I turned on the security monitors and started searching for Bashe, Juno, Muta and Celine. Anybody. Everybo… and there was Juno operating the new scanner. But who was jumping? I ran down the hall.
When I got to the new scanner room, Juno was standing in the open doorway, just like he was waiting for me. He started talking without looking up at me, “She’s gone. Jumped somewhere into the future and she’s not coming back.”
I looked into the room and there Bashe’s body was, laid out, perfectly still and unplugged. I glanced over at the scanner, it was off. None of the transport lights were on.
I kept trying to get a grip on my mind, but I couldn’t think a straight thought.
She left us. I looked over at Juno and when he finally looked up at me, I was stunned. His eyes were troubled, reddish. He wearily rubbed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets.
“Bashe woke me up early this morning and asked me to send her on a jump and to disconnect her after she was out there.”
“You could have said no.”
Juno just sadly shook his head in response. “If you had asked me, I wouldn’t have told you no. Why should I tell Bashe no?”
I didn’t know what to say. This was all too much for me to process. I just sort of shut down. Turned away from Juno and looked at Bashe’s body.
“I used to believe in karma,” Juno said, “at the same time that I believe in evolution. I mean all the scientific evidence supports some form of evolution. But then I could never get with white people ruling the world, being the dominant branch of the species. Dominance and karma just don’t go together. In fact, dominance seems to be what evolution is about and… well, there are so many people who didn’t survive, who are now extinct. That was evolution, but was there any justice in that?”
I only half heard what Juno said. It was like he was babbling, more talking to himself than talking to me.
“Juno, I don’t understand. Everything is breaking down and you’re talking about karma and evolution, and… and, well, this doesn’t make sense. None of this, I mean all of this… it’s like chaos, just plain chaos.”
“Exactly. Like I said, I used to believe in karma and evolution.”
“And so what do you believe now?”
“Sheba, I believe shit happens. It just happens. Some of it be sweet, some of it be bitter. We endure the bitter and enjoy the sweet. I mean some of us. Some of us endure, some of us enjoy. But there’s no rhyme, no reason.”
I must have been looking at him like he was crazy, because he laughed, a hard and almost cynical laugh.
“You think I’ve lost it, don’t you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything. What do I know?”
I turned to look at Bashe for the last time. Her face was calm. Her eyes were closed. At least she was at peace with her decision. Impulsively I bent over and kissed her. Her lips were already cool.
“I said, do you want to jump too? If you do, we have to do it now, we’re almost out of time?”
“What…?” I was totally disoriented. “Juno, I don’t know. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to be one of the ones who stay on the shore.”
“What? Juno, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about how some of us walked into the sea and most of us stayed on the shore.”
A chill went through me. I knew I was going to stay on the shore too, even though I had made four back-jumps, right now I just wanted to… to what? What did I really want? Before I realized what was happening, words were tumbling out of my mouth, “Juno, can we… I mean since I don’t know and you don’t know, can we kind of don’t know together?”
Juno smiled a half smile.
“Can I take that smile as a yes?”
“Yes, you can take it as a yes, but that’s not why I was smiling.”
“Come on,” Juno grabbed my hand. “I was smiling because the last thing Bashe said was if you stay, stay together. Don’t try to face down OnePlanet by yourself.”
Suddenly the main lights went out. The module automatically switched to backup power. Juno, hardly reacted except to murmur, “They’re here.” He was still holding my hand.