“And so it was in the eld-days,” the bard spoke on the stage, “when you could walk for days without seeing another village on the horizon.” Rak was never sure if the bard’s stories were truth, fiction or somewhere in between. What he said, though, did make sense. As more babies were being born, there would be more people in the world.
Eventually, even if, as was common, every couple had only two children, the population would increase indefinitely. Rak shrugged. It would get taken care of, of course, it was too big to be allowed to be handled by people. He felt Pom’s hand in his, caressing his fingers. He brought up Pom’s hand to his lips, and kissed it. Pom turned to him, and Rak nodded.
“I’m tired too,” Rak said, knowing Pom was not much of a night person. The couple walked back, hand in hand, to the youth dormitory. Rak could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rising, as he felt Pom’s hand caress his ass, then drop teasingly. “Come on,” said Pom, “let’s go to bed.” Rak nodded.
In a post-coital bliss, Pom and Rak lay next to each other, hand in hand, staring at the ceiling. Pom hoped it would be a time of silent contemplation, but he knew his boyfriend too well. Rak wasn’t good with silence.
“So what do you think about the story?” said Rak. “Not much,” said Pom, “it was just a cliched love story, as far as I could tell.” “No!” said Rak emphatically, “it wasn’t about the plot, it was about the setting. The eld times, when the villages were not so crowded together.” Pom shrugged. Rak was like that, he knew. “It’s just a story,” Pom said, “of the eld times.”
He wasn’t really sure what Rak was getting at, but he knew how to get the story out of Rak. Play it cool, and just a little bit dumb, and Rak would explode in a big rant, and it would be all over — the sooner the better. Pom really did need his beauty sleep. He smiled, as Rak launched into the rant —
“Not only are all stories of eld times consistent about this, it’s also inevitable. If people are born, there will be more people. More people means more villages, since villages cannot have more than fifty people.
Eventually, the earth will be covered with villages,” he stopped for a quick breath and continued, “and it’s *already happening*. What does that mean for the future? Where will people go? Where will our kids go?”
Pom winced. He knew Rak was much more serious about this relationship than he was. He *thought* he was in love with Rak, but he wanted to take things slow. Whenever Rak talked about kids, or a future, Pom felt a little uneasy.
True, he was fifteen, and it was time to think about a committed relationship, but he wanted more time to think, to get in touch with his feelings, to really make sure.
Pom shrugged. “You do realize we do not live in prehistoric times, right?” he said, “it is not up to us.” Pom looked up, a gesture meant to symbolize looking at O, though ve was omnipresent. Pom felt like that should have been the end of the debate. O would take care of them, as ve always has, since the dawn of history.
He could hear Rak drawing in a breath, preparing a clever retort, and decided to forestall it. He turned to Rak, and pressed his lips Rak’s. Argument over.
The next morning Rak woke up early, and knew what he needed to do. He walked outside, across the paved path, and into the woods. He breathed deep breaths, in and out, to get himself into the right state of mind. Communing with O needed a certain inner calm, and Rak knew O would not appear until he was calm enough. Rak reached the tree he thought of as “the O tree”. O did reside everywhere, but humans needed a place to associate with O. Rak stood in front of the tree, and intoned the ritual phrase. “O, I want to speak to you.”
In the tree, a face appeared. O, looking every bit as majestic and powerful as Rak remembered him, was the face in the tree. “Tell me your problem, child.” Rak assumed O already knew, but wanted Rak to phrase it himself.
“The population is growing. Soon, there will be no more room for new villages.”
“Did you think I did not know?”
“I’m sure you know. But I wish to know your plan.”
“Humanity will be going outside.”
“Outside of what?”
Rak stared at O, comprehension slowly dawning. “You mean,” he said, “we’re going into space?”
“Some of you, at least.”
Rak understood now the reason he was talking to O.
“I want to go.”
“As I knew you would. But you cannot go alone. You are almost of age, Rak, and only couples will go.”
Rak understood. Everyone knew that was best — to live life with another, to share joys and sorrows. He would need to marry Pom, and convince him to go with him. It would not be easy — Pom did not like big changes. But, after all, relationships cannot always be easy.
Pom nodded. He still felt uneasy, but he could see how much Rak wanted this, and he loved Rak. He forced himself into a smile, and said, “Sure, Rak! Let’s get married and go to space!” Pom enjoyed seeing the happiness on Rak’s face. They kissed, and Rak melted into his arms. This, thought Pom, was bliss.
The bliss only lasted a week, only to be replaced by pure horror. Kids? Never seeing anyone they knew, ever again? Pom was having nightmares about the vacuum of space sucking out all his joy, as a throng of kids was clamoring for attention. He evaded Rak’s gaze more and more, and started to find excuses to avoid Rak’s company. In the end, there was only one thing he could do.
“Dear Rak,” read the note that Rak noticed on the kitchen table. He had a feeling he knew what was coming — declarations of love, together with heart-breaking explanations for why they could not be together. He needed neither. He crumpled the note, and through it in out. It disintegrated in mid-air, and Rak was happy to see it go. It didn’t change what happened, of course. He had lost the love of his life, and nothing will ever be OK again.
“You have to come!” insisted San. Rak shrugged at her. “Come on! It’s going to be a beautiful ballet, and you know you love the ballet!” Rak nodded, still not convinced. San added, gently, “If you too were meant to be, you would be together. O willing, you’ll find someone. You’re a great guy.” Rak’s eyes teared, and San hugged him. He took a deep breath. “OK,” he said, let’s go.
The ballet was as beautiful as promised. The village dancing troupe was amazing, as Rak expected. He enjoyed looking at the fluid motions, the seemingly effortless flights through the air. He couldn’t avert his eyes. Pom was not much for the ballet, so they have not gone in a while. He forgot how much fun it was. When the dance was over, Rak was the first one to clap, the first to stand up, the last to stop clapping. San smiled at him, and said “lets’s go congratulate the dancers.” Rak knew some people did it, but he never mustered the courage, not until now.
“Amazing performance,” said Rak, as they went backstage. The head of the troupe, Jom, smiled at them. “Thank you! I think I know your names — Rak and San?” They nodded quickly. “I always host the dancers for a snack at my place,” he said, “would you like to join us?”
“I grow the apples myself,” Jom said, as Rak bit into a juicy one. He knew, of course, where the cookies and milk came from. Tag’s milk, doubtless, and Kop’s excellent chocolate chip cookies. Rak mused of the days long ago, when goods from far away places were exchanged. It was so much simpler to have the village grow all of its needs, freely shared. “Rak?” said Jom, and Rak realized he was day dreaming. “Wonderful apples,” Rak said, and meant every word. The apples were just sweet enough, just hard enough — he almost felt guilty destroying such perfection.
He noticed one of the dancers watching in amusement as he enjoyed the apple. “I’m Nal,” the dancer introduced himself to Rak, “I’ve rarely seen someone enjoy an apple that much.” Rak nodded. “I guess I…haven’t had one in a while. I forgot how much I like them. I’m Rak.”
Rak went outside, and started carving. Wooden utensils, he long knew, was to be his life-job. He was always drawn to the feeling of the wood, the subtleties that lay beneath the simple block. His hands were running the knife over the wood, as his thoughts were running around themselves. “Hi!” a voice interrupted his reverie, almost causing him to cut himself. He looked up. “Mom!” he said.
“I’ve heard about you and Pom,” she said. “I thought you would be interested to know that it’s not until I was 17 that I met your father.” Rak wasn’t sure if he was. It was…his mother, after all. “I was with my previous boyfriend for three years, and we were sure we were going to get married. But your father came along and..well…”
“Mom!” said Rak. “I have a point,” she said, “I’m not just enjoying you squirming there.” Rak fidgeted. “The right person always comes along. O gives us the opportunities. We just have to notice them. I know it feels like the end of the world right now…but things will get better.” She hugged him. “I promise.”
“We’re ready, O,” said Nal, a few weeks later, holding Rak’s hand. “Take us to space.” They would be, Nal and Rak knew, among the first of the colonists. As they stepped onto the space elevator, hand in hand, they were amazed at the speed O had built it. Pre-singularity humanity, they knew, thought of space elevators as complicated, expensive project. O (or to use the full name, SysOp) had finished it in weeks.
The day when Rak died started out like any other day. The colony was humming along, fifty people alone in space. The trouble started when the alarms blared. Rak looked up. “Pressure warning,” he said, surprised, “and just my luck to be on emergency duty.” Rak grabbed his gear and ran to the location indicated in the map. It was probably a false alarm, he thought to himself, but he was the one who was supposed to confirm it.
His eyes darkened as he saw the problem. Someone has been careless, apparently. The crack had to be there for a while, but someone taped over the crack sensor. There has been an earlier warning, probably, about a crack. Now a whole plate was gone, and patching that will be a pain. The air was whooshing out, past Rak’s ears, but he had plenty of time. The first thing to do was to report it. The only problem with sending a report was that the nearest comm unit was near the missing plate.
Rak pulled himself along the wall, carefully. A few more feet, and he will get to the comm unit, he thought. He would have, if another plate has not gotten loose. As he rolled into space, he remembered safety procedure was to wear a space suit first. He flew into the vacuum of space, hanging on by a thread. He opened his mouth, avoiding explosion. He calmly counted down the seconds until suffocation, and then it was all over.
The next thing Rak knew was looking into Nal’s eyes. O, of course, brought him back. Nal would have to nurse him back to health. That, of course, was as it should be.