Lighthouse: A Lesson in Natural History

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Seb told Xirra about my maternal longings, and next thing I knew, both she and Teko wanted to talk with me.

“Sure,” I said to Sept, when he delivered Xirra’s message. “Let’s have them over for supper soon! I’m always happy to spend time with Xirra, and I’d love to meet November’s mom .”

“That’s not what they have in mind,” Sept said. ‘They want you to visit them, on the ship.”

To be able to explain to me what I needed to know, they had to use the advanced technology that Teko had aboard her expedition ship.

“You can say no,” Sept said. “You don’t have to go with them.”

But I wanted to. I was excited, scared, and thrilled. Wasn’t this what every adventurous person wanted? To travel on a spaceship… Think of all the mysteries it would solve, and all the mysteries it would pose!

I had so many questions for Sept, but he hadn’t been on a ship since the one that crashed, and I didn’t get a chance to ask Seb, for they came that night.

The light shone in the yard, and I stepped out to look at it.

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Sanghi daspaliyu,” Santi said.

“I’ll be back soon–I think?” I replied.

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I expected the ship to land somehow, and that Xirra and Teko would step off to greet me. Maybe they’d even come in for a cup of tea before we took off, and I’d be able to ask them some of my questions.

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But a beam of light shone down, and I found myself being lifted up.

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My heart beat so fast, and my legs were trembling. Relax, relax, I told myself.

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I remembered to breathe and the trembling stopped. The forest looked peaceful below me. I tried to still my thoughts so that I could experience all of this–I didn’t want my chattering mind to get in the way.

What I recall most is the feeling of peace.

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The ship pulsed, as if it was alive, which, I found out later, it was! Technicians build these models out of a type of plasma that can assume all the properties of living tissue, including intelligence that passes through a series of synapses, and so the spacecraft become living, breathing, pulsing organisms–and once created, they assume consciousness.

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I was greeted by Xirra and Teko. They led me into a warm, comfortable space, humming softly in overtones.

“The ship runs on the frequency of music,” Xirra explained.

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We stood before a clear membrane, as we sped past the moon. The ship hovered, and I looked down at the blue earth.

Incredible love coursed through me.

“She’ll be all right, won’t she?” I asked. It seemed as if our planet breathed.

“Yes,” said Teko, resting her hand on my shoulder. “This planet will be fine. The residents? Not so much. But the planet will survive, biodiversity will return, and a time of thriving will, one day, be established again.”

I blinked away the tears.

“Now,” said Xirra, “we have so much to show you!”

They brought me to an interior space, filled with holographic displays of double helices.

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Sept said that after I left, Santi stood at the edge of the yard, looking up into the sky.

“She kept asking when you’d be back,” he said. It wasn’t until he told her that I was with Xirra and Novy’s mom that she relaxed.

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She said that it would be OK, then, and that she knew I’d have a good time and be back safely.

He was able to persuade her to come inside, and he read her some of Baxin’ivre’s poems before tucking her in for the night.

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I felt overwhelmed when I returned a few hours later. They’d given me an astringent tea, made from the first purple buds of the biju tree from Pu!Re, to help my concentration and processing capacities, so that I’d be able to take in everything they wanted to impart. But the tea also delivered me to a state of heightened consciousness, which I couldn’t sustain once I landed back on this planet.

While I recall having felt focused in the ship, back in this heavy atmosphere, climbing the porch steps, I could remember nothing I’d heard after staring into the spinning models of helices. I looked down at the earth, I saw the helices, I drank the tea, and then, nothing. Or rather, so much of everything, but it lay beyond where my conscious mind could reach.

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I washed my face.

Something about our genes.

Twin helices flashed before me, alike in every strand, save for one base of adenine and thymine.

“We are the same species!” That’s what they had wanted to tell me.

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We weren’t different species, we were subspecies, and I knew from my natural history studies that subspecies could interbreed. The little willow flycatcher and the southwestern willow flycatcher, while possessing significant genetic differences detectable through mitochondrial DNA analysis, can, when ranges overlap, interbreed to have fertile offspring.

I ran upstairs.

“Sept!” I said. “I’m back. Wake up!”

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“How was it?” he asked, in a sleepy voice. “How’s Xirra? Do you like Teko?”

“Xirra’s great, and yes, I like Teko a lot.” I smiled as he got out of bed.

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“But here’s the big news,” I said. “We’re subspecies! You and me! We’re not different species! We’re subspecies!”

“Aw, yeah!” he said. “Now you’re talking my language!”

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“You know what this means, right, Sept?” He felt so good in my arms, and for once, his warmth didn’t feel like a foreign heat to me. It felt like it came from the same source that I did.

I whispered to him, “It means we can make a baby.”

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Byu,” he said, “Mallory. I would feel completion to create a child with you.”

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We were up all night, for when we finished our dance with the source of life, we went out to lie beneath the immense sky.

“I was up there,” I said, “beyond the moon!” Slowly, slowly, as the effects of the tea wore off, the details of the experience returned to me.

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“Was it beautiful?” Sept asked.

“Very,” I said. “Do you remember?”

“I remember Situ holding me to look out a clear spot in the walls of a warm room that hummed in a high frequency. It sounded like the songs that Santi plays. And I looked out as we passed a line of green planets. ‘Naa vre,’ Sintu said. All gifts.”

“That’s what we should name our child,” I replied, for I felt sure, already, that I was pregnant. “Naavre.”

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