Friday, January 29, 2010

The Hermit of Iapetus, Part XI

Read the past installations starting here.

As the Bubble carrying Liam from the Mars-Saturn Shuttle caught the planet's sunglow and glinted like a star, I watched him fall.

Did I look like that, a meteor, a snowflake, Glinda, Good Witch of the North, falling from the pitch black of the sky, falling from the stars as the rings of Saturn and that enormous yellow planet hung at a crazy angle over the dark horizon? A native of Iapetus might have looked at that moving object, perhaps thinking it was yet another visitor from the debris-strewn space around its mother planet. In its life, the native has seen dozens of objects fall from the sky. This one looks to be on the big side, but not necessarily out of the ordinary. Another wandering bauble that becomes a smear and then a streak and then an explosion of rock and ice on a hillside or plain nearby; dust that flies into the sky and wanders into the stars, perhaps taking bits of the original object with it.

But this object is different. As it moves across the stars, tiny flashes of light emerge from its leading edge. At it approaches, it does not continue to accelerate. It gets slower and slower. Its shape changes from a point of light into a slowly growing orb, Saturnlight glinting off the edges and also off the object in the center, a wad surrounded by a clear sphere of ice.

Closer still, it's clear the object inside the sphere is moving. Appendages stroke the inside of the sphere, clearly hollow. The lights on its leading edge transform into jets of gas, spurting out of the sphere, slowing its descent. The object -- it has to be a being -- inside the sphere braces appendages against the sphere, as other appendages stroke its side, seemingly activating the jets, keeping its lower appendages oriented towards the moon's surface.

The being inside the sphere is clearly Liam. He's grown a beard, but I recognize the nose, the eyes, the dirty brown hair, the toothy grin. He sees me below. I'm sure he looks puzzled. How did I know where he would be descending, how would I know to be there watching, watching as he descends from the sky to the surface of a moonlet that has grown over the past several hours from a point of light to a sphere to a world. It looms.

How did I know? I got lucky. I saw the star descending and guessed where it would fall. I hoped to be near enough to see him -- and have him see me -- before he landed. It's a lonely place to land, as I know from experience. I could not, I laughed, let the squirrels be the only welcome he received.

For the last few hours, I've tried to figure out what I'll say to him when he emerges from the Bubble. "About time you got here," I think, or "Let me show you around." They seem pedestrian. Boring. But fitting.

Three or four minutes now.

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