Nanami set her fingers against the grand piano’s keys, and began to play. Hisaishi. ‘One Summer’s Day’. She was, for the first time in a long time, at peace. The surf came in and went out across the white sand. The horizon was pink with evening, fading into a deep sapphire blue above as the banded purple giant and its necklace of smaller moons sat ready for the nightwatch. The breeze rustled against the leathery leaves of the toadstool-trees. A few sailing-wing gulls circled above the little bay, calling out to each other with their chittery, chipping voices and dragging their little puff-ball tails behind them.
She was alone with the world, away from all the noise and bother, away from the plague of troubles that seemed to have been her long companion. She was where she belonged, and here all the pent-up anger and bitterness and rage could just flow out through her fingertips into the old piano, to create something beautiful. It had been too long since she had done that – if there had been a Nanami less bitter, she couldn’t remember it. But for a moment, she knew, she could afford to recapture that spark.
Everything was right in the world. She was alive. Right here, right at this point, she was alive, and so were her sisters, and so was Wizard, and they were all here together.
Let it last, she thought. Let it last forever.
“Hey, can you play ‘Owen Was Her’ next?”
Nanami slammed her hands down on the keys in a cacophonous peal and glared up her tabby-haired sister.
“God dammit, Hana!”
Hana just laughed, and Nanami then laughed with her. Anger had no holdings here.
“Just wanted to check and see how you were doing.” Hana rocked back and forth on her feet. “Have you been crying?”
It was a rhetorical question.
“I’m allowed.” Nanami put her fingers back on the keys. “But since you were kind enough to ask, got any requests that aren’t that damnable piece of shlock?”
“Hmm…Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major?”
“You got it.”
The notes sprung up under her fingers, and all was as it should be.
Hana let the sound of Nanami’s piano fill the background as she continued down the tideline. She had taken to walking up and down the beach of late, combing it for shells and stones and smooth bits of seaglass. She’d take these back to her room at the village guesthouse, and put them in a jar. When the jar was full, or when their time here was done, she’d take the jar out to the pier and dump it all back in the ocean.
It was a childish activity. She’d missed things like it.
Each little piece of glass was a mirror, showing the Hana of now and the Hana of then. Side by side and overlaid. Past and present hybridized into a possible future. It was a lot to deal with, that transition. Trying to patch together the ideal and the real. But she was doing it, and she hadn’t forgotten the value in childish things.
She bent down and picked up a wide, flat stone. Hefting it in her palm, she slung it out towards the point where the sun had set. One, two, three, four, five, six, plop. Six skips, for the six of them. That was fitting.
A great stone statue stuck out of the sand, buried up to its chest and continuing upwards for another twenty-twenty five feet. There were dozens of the things scattered about, and while Hana had no idea what they were, they were excellent waypoints. This one marked a decent turning around point. Nanami’s music had long faded out of hearing. Hana reached into the pocket of her dress, determined that the supply of little objects was both still there and to her liking, and began the walk back home. She passed by the piano again, and saw that it was empty of its player. The village came into view, with all its welcoming fires and the smell of dinner.
She passed between two of the cap-and-reed houses to see Momoko sitting on a pile of cushions by one of the communal firepits. She was flanked by a pair of brightly colored and rather attractive young men. One pinkish-red with tentacles ringing his face, the other one bright blue splashed with banana yellow and fins poking out of his silvery anemone hair. Around her feet was a rapt semicircle of brightly colored children, a good selection of their older siblings, and no small number of their parents and grandparents. Momoko’s jumped around with great animation and enthusiasm, and she was talking fast enough that the translator was probably stuttering something fierce.
“Enjoying yourself, Momoko?” Hana called out.
Momoko, without so much as a pause or hiccup in her story, grabbed Big Richard from her lap, twirled it around to aim at Hana and shouted “BANG!”
Hana clutched at her chest and fell to the sand. The crowd gasped, and just as the next breath was to be taken Hana jumped back up to her feet and took a bow. The gasp was replaced by cheers and laughter, Momoko’s foremost amongst them.
“Like I told you! Hana’s bulletproof!”
“Psssh.” Hana waved it off. “You couldn’t hit me.”
“Don’t tempt me.” Momoko stretched her arms out in front of her, yawned. “Excuse me, fellas, gotta hit the ladies’ room.” She stood up, grabbed Hana, and dumped her down on the pile of cushions.
“Here you go,” she said. “Tell stories, make friends, choose good decisions and name the bad ones after me.”
Momoko was satisfied with life. Utterly, absolutely satisfied. There was nothing more she needed, nothing more she desired. As had Buddha severed himself from worldly desires and reached enlightenment, so had Momoko.
If Buddha was a woman with cat ears and a tail who stood six foot seven inches tall, with a flame-patterned bikini and a beach towel bearing cute little clownfish tied around her waist, and a huge shank of barbequed…something in her hand, and a conceptualization of enlightenment based entirely upon enjoyment of earthly desires, because they were awesome.
The comparison had made sense at first, though Momoko admitted that it might have gotten away from her. Just call her Epicurus, then. She tore at the hunk of meat, wiped sauce off her face with her free hand, and wound the long way around back to her group. What was the rush? She’d won at life.
She’d found alien life. She’d made out with the alien life. She’d taught the alien life how to play basketball. Anything left to do in life was purely ornamental. Gravy.
On the note of gravy, hot damn this sauce was good. She’d have to snag the recipe before their vacation ended.
She rounded a building, and saw Tomi sitting on a rock, fiddling around with a tool kit. Obviously giving Sam and Harry a tune-up. Her head bobbed to unheard music. Momoko shot her a ping, and the bobbing stopped, though she didn’t look up from her work.
“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Momoko said around a mouthful of meat as she walked up beside Tomi. “We haven’t cleared out the armories on board the ship yet, but from what I’ve seen, they kinda put the old boys to shame.”
“Mmm. They do. Truce?”
“Yeah, I think it’s for the best.”
“The first and the best.” Tomi picked at her nose, as was her way.
“Going to kick your ass in Husbando War II, though.”
“Not on your fucking life, sister.”
“Shipboard weapons off limits sound fair?”
“I am disappointed, but also relieved. It’s fair.”
Momoko extended a sauce-smeared hand. Tomi shook it, and then began licking her palm.
“Get the recipe for this.”
“Already working on it.”
After Momoko had left, Tomi sat on her rock and worked on her guns.
When she was done with that, she holstered them, closed her toolkit, and then leaned back until she was sliding off the rock. She hit the ground gently, her legs propped up against the rock and pointing up towards the sky.
She watched the stars for a while, and then went to sleep.
Wizard sat on top of the bald, weather-worn head of one of the statues just outside the glow of the town. With the parent planet and sister moons in the sky, night here was an agreeable thing, never darker or gloomier than twilight.
He felt sick, all achy and tired. It was the best feeling in the world, because he knew that all that was the matter was his own body. Not Red, not any ancient posthuman spacegods, just the aches and pains of everyday life.
He had experienced something akin to infinity, a short observation of the expanse of time and space, and to be quite honest he failed to see the appeal. He couldn’t comprehend it anymore, now that he was safely tied back in his body, so the experience was nothing more than a dull, awkward affair of memory. Who needed that? He flexed his fingers. He didn’t. Didn’t need it at all. He was a man. A free man. That was all anyone needed.
There was a stirring behind him, someone walking up the worn stone stairs that curled around. He turned his head to see Boss crest the bald pate. She sat down next to him and wordlessly handed him a can of beer. Wizard pulled the tab, and took a long drink. Neither one said anything, for a while. They watched the sky. Boss leaned back, reclined on her elbows, crushed her can in her hand.
She lay back further, flat on her back, her hands under her head. Wizard pulled his knees up to his chin, wrapped his arms around his legs.
“♪ Never seen a bluer sky…” Boss murmured, her voice gentle. “♪ Yeah, I can feel it reaching out, and moving closer ♪ There's something about blue…♪”
“♪ Asked myself what it's all for.” His voice quavered at first, but then found its strength. “♪ You know the funny thing about it ♪ I couldn’t answer ♪No, I couldn’t answer… ♪”
Boss sat up, stood up. Her voice grew louder, heavier with soul. She grabbed Wizard’s hand, pulled him up to his feet.
“♪ Things have turned a deeper shade of blue ♪And images that might be real ♪ May be illusion ♪ Keep flashing off and on… ♪”
She took his hands in hers, and they danced.
“♪ Freeeeeeee! ♪” Boss’s voice rang out clear as the sky above.
“♪ Wanna be freeeeeeeeeeeeee! ♪” Wizard answered as best he could.
“♪ Gonna be freeeeeeeeeeeeee! ♪” Boss swung him around, kept herself positioned just so in case he should lose his balance.
“♪ And move among the stars…♪”
“♪ You know they really aren't so far! ♪”
“♪ Feels so freeeeeeeeeeee! ♪”
“♪ I'm so freeeeeeeeee! ♪”
“♪ No black and white in the blue…♪” Wizard’s voice trailed off, and the dance came to an end. Boss pulled him in and held him close.
“We did it, Wizard”, she said. “We goddamn did it.”