I miss the feeling of the landslide
Shaking the dust off of my skin
What chokes the breath that makes my heart sigh
And now I feel at home again
On a dark desert plain, head tilted back in rigid curiosity, a great eye pierced the heavens. Above Perceva, the radio telescope struck the same pose.
"The Pleiades," she said, "are shaped like a question mark."
"What do you think the question is?" At the door to the control room, Crafton Veer had his keys out and was tickling the lock.
"A symbol created by chance does not imply referents to that symbol."
"I don't think this door's going to open."
"Unless," she said, "the shape of the seminal question mark was imitating the Pleiades. In that case, whoever chose it must have seen a question in the sky."
He sat down beside her. "I look at the sky and see nothing but questions."
"It just moved!" She pointed. "One of the stars."
"You're supposed to say that's impossible."
"I'm not that guy."
"But it is impossible."
"Do you trust your eyes?"
She sat in the dirt and covered her eyes with her hands. "I think it's in my brain."
"If your brain is unreliable, then how can you trust that thought?"
"Shut up." She elbowed him. "I think your star song has tangled my neural net."
"But your net just caught something it's never caught before."
She sighed. Like raising a weight, she lifted her eyes to the pinspecked void. "Shit. They're still moving."
Crafton squinted. "Did Alcyone just move to the right?"
"You see it too!" She almost hugged him. "I'm not crazy."
"Or we both are."
She jabbed her finger at the bottomless sky. "Something is distorting the light. It could be a pocket of warm air, or the gravity of an asteroid field."
Where Alcyone's gesture had pointed, Merope drifted and shot to one side. Curving, she traced a perfect circle around her sisters and fell back into place.
"Fuck me! It is aliens."
"I think it's fairies."
"Seriously, what could do that? We can rule out the actual star moving. So it's either a very precise distortion up there, or..." she pointed to her head, "in here."
From a pocket over his heart he drew a matchbox-sized music player, coiled in earbud wires, suddenly squeaking with the unhinging dirge. He offered it to her small prominent ears. "Listen."
"I should arrest you for breaking quarantine of a neuroweapon."
"My weapon is aimed only at you." Still the black buds tinnily shrilled. "As an oracle in your quest."
She yanked the player from his hand and threw it into the night.
He said, "You play the righteous chevalier, but you're a wild horse."
"My ears." She strummed the protruding cartilage. "I don't trust them. With the eye, things come clearer in the center. With the ear there's no way to focus."
"There might be." From a pocket in his pants he drew a glass pipe in the shape of a fat acrobat, and a packet of Kali Mist.
"It's cold," she said. "Let's do it in the car."
Perceva, in the driver's seat, leaned back and loosened her hair.
Crafton coughed smoke. "If this is a prison world, what do you think you did?"
"Nothing. I'm obviously a guard."
"Sometimes I think I'm the most degenerate person in the universe, and this entire planet is for my rehabilitation."
"Cannabis-induced paranoia gilded by narcissism."
"And then I think, what if it's that way for everyone? Through some extra dimension of causality, each person is at the very center."
"You're a solipsist who can only simulate compassion through intellect." She took off her shoes.
"It's like this world is a big game, where our souls are taken from us and we try to get them back."
"You were right the first time. It's just you."
"And the song is like the cheat code. But I don't feel like I deserve it."
"Deserve. What does that even mean?"
"Maybe we deserve something, not by what we did to get it, but what we do after we have it."
She held out her hand. "I'm ready."
Through the body of the glass trampolinist, Perceva drew the fiery soma.
"Stop," Crafton said. "Now take it out and suck deep." A gibbous moon had risen and in its light she coughed a faint cloud.
"Does it hurt?"
"Pack my bowl again."
Dribbling spent bud on the floor, Crafton crammed a pinch in the carnival hussy's midsection and lit it, and Perceva kissed the little glass mouth.
Holding it in, she bore down and then released the pearly cloud.
"What did you just do?"
"I was raising my diaphragm to pressurize my lungs."
He reached for the pipe. "Let me try."
"We'll do an experiment," she said. "You be the control."
"That's not how it works. You have to be the control of yourself."
"No I don't."