Monday, September 22, 2014

Jahun: A Conversation

Though Liam is my son, it is awkward with him here.

Earlier I said he was twenty. He is nigh on thirty. I knew him last as an eleven-year-old and, on that last night, was brusque with him:

“You need to go to sleep now. You’ve got school in the morning. You can’t go tired.”

“I know. But I can’t go to sleep.”

I rolled my eyes. “Why not, son? Why can’t you go to sleep?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t.”

I order him to bed, but, feeling guilty, follow, and in softer tones inquire: “Maybe you could listen to some music; that helps me sleep.”

“I’ve got Alvin and the Chipmunks in,” he said, pointing to his CD player. “But I can’t sleep through them.”

“No wonder. I couldn’t either. Wait here. I’ll find you something.”

Downstairs to the CDs. Back upstairs with one. Guitars or something. “Okay, open it up,” I say, pointing to the player. I’ve never been able to run it, seeing it only in the dark. Typically when he’s asleep and I want to shut it off, I pull the plug rather than fuss with buttons.

The CD plays. I stomp out of the room. I do not hear from him again. So hopefully it worked.

Then I am gone. Gone to the spaceport, sneaking aboard a milk runner. Not feeling guilty about our last encounter.

Yet he comes. With rose-colored glasses, he comes. Of course, I am not always that brutish with him. We often had fun together, even as a family, wandering the caves out in the lava fields not far from home, climbing the extinct volcanoes, swimming in the cold lakes.

We drew cartoons together. His is the better talent for drawing, and the better talent for ideas, though he condescended to re-draw some of my better jokes because he took a fancy to them. He continued to send them to me, of course, showing little bitterness that I’d left him behind, though in the pictures he drew of us walking the surface of Iapetus, he was always far behind, huffing and puffing, trying to keep up with his long-striding father.

“There are squirrels here,” I tell him the next morning as we eat and look out over the landscape through the windows I carved into the side of this Tortelosa Mont.


“I didn’t see them at first. First, I saw flickers of movement just in the corners of my eyes. I thought it was tumbling rocks, tricks of light or shadow. But as time passed, the movement became more frequent. I think they were shy of my at first. But after several months, they would perch in my hand to stare up at my face. They’re gentle enough.”


“Yes. I looked for them this morning, but they seem to be hiding again. Probably because they know there’s a stranger here. They’ll come out before too long. You’ll see them.”

He stared out the window at the rock-strewn slope.

“Okay, Dad. Hey, let’s talk about something else.”

Something else is a daily routine, now shot to hell because there are two of us here. He sees little utility in my daily staring into space for several hours – those from the warmer parts of the solar system are always so busy – but he’ll soon learn why I do so: There’s nothing else to do here.

“I’m not really staring into space. I’m actually actively avoiding going to Jahun.”

“Jahun. That’s your biggest refuge, right? Where you’ve got your manufacturing and fabrication ability? We need to go there. We’ve got stuff to make.”

“No,” I said, practically screaming. “Not this time of year. Not this time of year. Too stormy. Too stormy.”

“Stormy? There’s basically no atmosphere here. How can it be stormy?”

It’s the Sun’s fault, of course. Even on distant Makemake, the sun can warm the surface enough to volatize the crust; Makemake has a spotty, tenuous methane atmosphere when conditions are right. Iapetus has a spotty atmosphere too – which I point out through the window. To the northeast, toward Jahun, there is a mist clinging to the ground.

“Okay. I see the cloud. What makes it so bad?”

“Almonds and pepper. It smells of almond and pepper.”

“And that’s bad? It smells like sulphur and fart here!”

“Yes. But there are fewer squirrels. Where the air is thick with almond and pepper, there are more squirrels.”

Now it is his turn to stare blankly – albeit at me, rather than at the wall. But maybe, indeed, I can get him used to life with the Hermit of Iapetus.

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