Authors: Serdar Yegulalp
Flight of the Vajra
Flight of the Vajra
© 2013 Serdar Yegulalp. All rights reserved.
Excluding brief portions excerpted in a review, no portion of this publication
may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the
express written permission of the copyright holders.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual
people or organizations, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The use of
company, product or fictional character names does not constitute official
endorsement or disparagement, is not intended as an attempt to infringe on
trademarks or copyrights thereof, and is wholly for literary effect.
Cover design by Serdar Yegulalp.
Nebula image courtesy NASA/Hubble Telescope.
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Nature likes those who give in to her,
but she loves those who do not
I went dancing with my wife
My wife, my daughter, and my best friend; they’d
all been with me that night in the main ballroom of my luxury liner, the
That ship wasn’t supposed to have been their
coffin, but since it had been theirs it ought to have been mine as well.
I’ve got any number of pictures of my wife Biann—a
chemical contact-print portrait made by an old uncle who dabbled in the art; a
drawing in happy, shaky lines my daughter made when she was three; a whole mess
of optical data dumps straight from my cortical link. None are like what I see when
I close my eyes and remember Biann dancing
back and forth in time to my own movements across the ballroom floor. She, like
me, was from an Old Way world—we both had CLs, but not much beyond that. Not
much selective engineering in her family or on her world (or mine), so her long
legs and high forehead and wide grey eyes were all the prettier because no one
had made them that way.
She had on a high-collared, close-fitting dress
with a cape that flared and ballooned with each snap of her body, a third of
which she hid behind that giant fur-and-feather trimmed fan whose colors
reminded me of a whole day’s worth of sky. Her dress was protomic, and so she
changed it in mid-dance between that high-collar outfit to something like a
flamenco skirt and back again. The fan had been handmade out of silk and didn’t
change into anything else, but that was magic enough by itself. Doubly so when
it was in Biann’s hand.
When you’re Old Way, you work that much more to
set aside space in your life for such miracles.
I’m a lot less Old Way now than I was then. And for
a long time, to my ears,
was just a nicer word for
My six-year-old daughter, Yezmé, didn’t join us at
first. She’d spent most of her time during that cruise with her face pressed to
one window or another, staring out at whatever gas cloud or high-orbit view
there was to be seen. Sometimes even if there was nothing to see at all, she’d
take up a post next to the window and stare out anyway. If I tried to get her
attention she’d put her finger to her lips and “Sh!” at me. I think I did that
to her once when I was hard at work on that ship, plowing through a pile of
hull fluid-dynamics tests, and she’d since picked up on it herself and ran with
it. It’s what grownups do when they’re being
, and every kid in
his heart wants to be taken oh so seriously. Then the kid grows up and wonders
what she was in such a rush to get rid of.
“May I have this dance?” I asked her.
She was oh so serious as she faced me, stood up,
and took my hand. Her own little dress was protomic as well, and she re-patterned
it after whatever her mother was wearing after a few sulky seconds. Even that
sulking, I loved.
, I felt more than safe; I
felt lordly. It was, after all,
. My name,
Henré Sim, on the builder’s plate, followed closely by my co-designer’s, Cavafy
Enno. We’d spent three years building the first iteration of the
and its eleven sister luxury liners for Exoluft, with me plotting every curve
and tracing every morphic variation I or Cavafy or any of the other designers
could anticipate a need for. On the water, it was a luxury liner; then, after dismantling
and reassembling itself, it was a series of train cars for any planet’s
elevator; then dismantled and reassembled in space once more, it was another
and entirely different luxury liner. And that had been only the beginning of
what Cavafy and I had planned for Exoluft’s future line of luxury vessels—that
is, before disaster and disgrace and self-exile came along.
Cavafy had been there that night himself, a fresh
drink always in his stubby, squared-off fingers. Sandy brown hair covered the
backs of his hands; along his upper arms and shoulders, it was clay-red. He was
Old Way all the way, at least as far as his pleasures went: he could put away
an entire bottle of whatever real drink you had in your cellar and he wouldn’t
even get a blush going on. He waved me over, right as Yezmé decided her mother
was getting too much attention from some stranger and cut in.
“Aren’t you glad I asked you to give me the keys
for the night?” Cavafy said. “I imagined your wife would be happy about it,
“Hey. You, of all people, know what a control
fiend I am. But you’re also the only other person I’d trust with the
for any measurable length of time.”
“You need to do that more often, Henré.”
“What, entrust my latest pride and joy to the
hands of friends?”
“Let other people you trust take the reins so you
“Taking the reins
how I live, remember?
I’m only letting you do this because it’s one night, and because Biann’s about
to twist my head off for wanting to hang out more in the control space than be
with her on the dancefloor.” My just-kidding smile wasn’t fooling him, and I
doubt it ever had.
He put a hand on my shoulder and steered me over
to the window where Yezmé had stood not all that long before. “To be honest,”
he said, “the way you put this together—the way you put
together—I didn’t think a body needed to be in the control space at all. But I
knew there would be at least one by default, and it would be yours. And given
all the time
you’ve barely slept
making sure all this would work as planned, I’d not be much of a friend if I
didn’t at least offer to let you kick back for one night.”
“And now you’re discovering there’s nothing for
you to do in the first place.”
“Marveling at your handiwork doesn’t count?”
didn’t exactly sit around and blow bubbles at the ceiling.”
“No. But there’s nothing here you can’t sign your
name to in some form. And I will never pretend otherwise.” He raised his glass.
“Here’s to the most brilliant protomic designer I know.”
I raised mine. “And here’s to someone with
excellent taste in friends.”
“Oh, thank you.”
“I meant me, too.”
My drink was still burning on my gums when Cavafy closed
his hand around mine. In my palm I could feel the tiny, biting edges of something.
It wasn’t a real object—it was my CL’s somatic feedback system telling me he’d
used the initiation of physical contact between us to send me a piece of data. That
was one of the nice things about direct cortical linking, social restrictions
or moral condemnations of it aside: it gave you an unprecedented way to be
“What’s this?” I said. “I thought you were trying
to get me to think
I inspected what he’d sent me for a moment, two
moments, and only when I realized what it was did I not only let go but stepped
back a pace.
“This is the key to the summer house,” I said. “
summer house. What’s up? It’s not like you don’t have any way to have the place
looked after.” It was the best kind of jocularity I could summon up in that
moment, just when I’d been seized so suddenly with unease.
“The house itself is only half the gift,” he said.
“There’s an old wedding present I’ve been promising you for entirely too long
“You know, you keep teasing me about this—”
“This time, it’s for real.”
“That’s beautiful, but why all the skullduggery?
You could have just brought it here and rolled it out onto the floor with the ‘Happy
Belated Anniversary’ cake or something.”
“This isn’t just a place for you and Biann to enjoy
some sunshine up on the roof.” He wasn’t looking at me; what with all that
astral glory outside to distract him, I almost didn’t blame him. “Do you
remember once I talked about a certain something special I was hanging onto for
I did. I felt foolish for not having picked up
sooner on all his hints. “You told me you were looking for the best possible
candidate to receive it,” I said. “Of which I was only one of several
“Of which you are, and always have been, first on
the list. It’s high time I quit second-guessing myself and let it change hands
to someone who’s earned it. Let’s face it—even if I knew someone more skilled
than you, they still wouldn’t deserve this. Because they wouldn’t be
“What do you want me to do with it?” I’d asked him
that question before, but now it was a good deal less hypothetical.
“Ah, the conditions of the gift.” He smiled as if
he’d been reminded of an old public peccadillo. “Those haven’t changed. All I
ask is that you use it to create something . . . new. Truly new. Not even
as an end in itself, but a means towards something bigger. That something
bigger, whatever it might be, that I know you’ve been wanting to find.”
I remembered this all too well. Apart from Biann,
Cavafy was the only other person in all of creation who was close enough to
know about such things. Even as I’d come aboard the
every self-aligning bulkhead, every cabin that melded on demand with the
adjoining cabin to become a luxury stateroom—and, more importantly, admired the
admired those things—I’d asked myself the same
question that had always surfaced in the face of such alleged success:
It was the nagging feeling that somewhere out there waited
something far better, more ambitious, more
for me to be doing—a
feeling that surfaced, suffocated me from the inside for a little while, and
then was slowly pushed below under the weight of my friends’ reassurances and
the promise of another, bigger project that might well turn out to be
everything I was looking for. Not that it ever did.
“But I know you,” Cavafy went on. “You’ll figure
something out. You always do. That’s the one advantage you’ve always had over
I was still sorting through the logjam of words
and thoughts that had piled up inside me when I felt Biann’s arm crook itself
around mine. “You know, I can’t turn my back on you for
yanked me away from the window and back towards the dancefloor. “—without you
and Cavafy shacking up somewhere and talking shop! Besides, isn’t he supposed
to be taking the helm tonight?”
I was glad she was drunk. It meant I was under no
obligation to explain anything to her. I turned, took her hand, and did my best
to make sure we didn’t step on each other’s feet. I even smiled, but inside I
was dizzy: had Cavafy been expecting more of an answer from me? And why tell me
about all this to my face, orally, instead of in an even-more-private direct CL
connection with me?
It was right when one of the all-too-flimsy
shoulder joins on Biann’s dress came loose—and she, laughing, grabbed at it to
meld it back together—that the meaning of Cavafy’s behavior sunk in. It was an
Old Way thing, something I’d also missed due to all my outward giddiness and
inward unease. When you speak of the things that change a life, or two lives,
that’s news you deliver to someone’s face. That’s something reserved for a real
voice and real ears. Not for a CL link.
“Did you yank on that earlier?” Biann pulled her
dress shoulder back up. “You wicked kid, you. There’s no way that would come
loose on its own. —Oh, watch out! Don’t go stepping on my daughter now!”
I’d taken a step back to give her room and almost
augured right into Yezmé. To spare the girl any further harm, I scooped her up
and let her ride on my shoulder. “Oh,” I said, “so she’s
when I’m almost stepping on her? Here, let’s take
daughter for a
Somehow I knew no amount of clowning around with
my family would lift the weight of Cavafy’s words off me. But I had to do it
anyway, for all our sakes. I owed Cavafy—and Biann, and Yezmé—that much.
I don’t remember how long Yezmé rode around on top
of me, but at some point I was on the other side of the dancefloor, looking
back at them—my daughter once again riding on my wife’s shoulders, the two of
them cavorting with the director of Exoluft’s product-management team. She, the
director, looked just as giddy as the other two did. None of them seemed aware
I had stepped away. I stood and waited for them to notice me, making a kind of
a bet with myself: If they see me, I’ll go back to them; if not, I’ll step away
for a bit longer and think a bit more about Cavafy’s offer. The view at the
window was perfect for such things: nighttime side of the planet below, nebula
above, a moon here, a moon there.
In one moment, their backs were to me; in the
next, they were obscured as another wave of people took to the floor. I turned
and wandered into the interstitial corridor flanking the ballroom, with its
panoramic wall and windowed floor (and crisscrossing opaque walkways, for those
whose heart stopped at the idea of stepping out over empty space). Idly, I patched
into the ship’s sensory surfaces through CL and asked the ship to show me where
Cavafy was; it indicated he was about a hundred meters off near one of the
interstitial compartments—one of the many spaces that manifested between
bulkheads depending on what configuration the ship was in. No idea what he was
doing, though. While CL could give you the freedom to work with anything else CL-connected
by simply thinking at it (and let it directly connect back to your mind in
return), that only made some things harder, not easier.
The view outside inspired less in me than I
thought it would. I’d imagined myself standing in the middle of all this,
dreaming up the one great answer to Cavafy’s question, and then returning to
him in a haze of pride:
I know now what I’m going to build with your gift.
And you, sir, are going to love it.
But minutes went by, with stars
flickering all around and the occasional echoing footfall of couples and trios
passing along somewhere far behind me, and no answer came.