By Gary Cuba
Artwork by Jose Baetas.
Them? Oh, that's Sean and Kitty. They've
always been in love with each other.
If you'll permit an acute observation, you look a tad pale and shaken for having seen them. And I can well understand why: they indeed are grotesque, with respect to our normal human sensibilities. But you did ask me about those two disparate, monstrous forms sitting at the corner table near the fireplace, and I can only oblige you with what I know of their story, the facts of the matter. You're new to our town, and you deserve no less. Let me top up your glass, show you some of the hospitality that our little burg is renowned for, and I'll get straight to it. Settle your nerves now, friend.
The starting place of their story lies under this very dome, the one covering our fine city of New Dublin on this peaceful asteroid we call Patroclus, drifting lazily at Jupiter's lagging Lagrangian point in the company of its many Trojan sisters. And our starting time is three hundred years ago.
I see your raised eyebrows and I hear your surprised grunt. Those . . . people are indeed that old--and their love has grown stronger every single day and in every imaginable way over the course of those three centuries. Sean and Kitty both started out as you and I, born of man and woman--though you wouldn't guess that by their present visage.
They were together as infants; their mums drove their prams through Founder's Park in the center of New Dublin every day, chatting about the mundane events that marked normal life then in our fair capital: the latest political embarrassments, the fashions of the moment, the best ways to raise children. Come to think about it, you can hear those exact same conversations today, in the very same park.
Later, when the infants became toddlers, they continued to be inseparable; they spent each day playing together by the artificial stream that ran by their community, near the edge of the dome. I can imagine them exchanging tiny secrets, mutually speculating in their innocent, naive way about what the universe was really like and what life might bring to each of them.
And then they became grown, in a seeming instant. And somewhere inside of that instant, their love for each other blossomed.
Over the millennia, people much more learned and sophisticated than I have tried to describe what love is. In respect of that, I cannot with ample justice explain what Sean and Kitty's burgeoning love was like. Yes, I can talk feebly and coarsely about the more mundane sort of love, the kind that you and I know about from our own personal experiences: the pheromone-filled, hormone-juiced pang of attraction that makes the belly roil, the head spin, and causes one body to crave another's all the time. And yet, that is nothing more than a paramecium's viewpoint on the example that sits there in front of us now.
I can merely summarize it with the simple, humble statement that Sean and Kitty's love for each other was not of the type we know about.
It was of a deeper sort--but not one without passion. Their passion burned like embers in a coal fire. Within my most immodest internal figments, I can see their lovemaking being manifested more as a novel than a short story; I see them explore each other's body's tales as if there were many chapters and sequels to come--and the truly astute reader must not skip pages, after all! They had known each other for so long, and yet there was much that they still didn't know, and needed to find out. And to be sure, I remain convinced that their questing has not ended yet, even to this day.
But I wax too poetic, I fear. And I do so from a zone of distinct discomfort. It is one flavored by my own jealousy for what they have together, and that is not the thing I wish to be savored here. We all desire to hear the details of this truer, finer sort of love, but I must move on to the other aspects of my tale.
And they ring more tragic. This was back during the time when the Central Belt began to contest the Trojan Alliance's rights to important commercial trade routes. Our freighters suffered isolated atrocities at the hands of privateers operating under the Centrals' sanction, and when the harassment escalated into a full embargo, the Alliance had no choice but to declare war to preserve itself. All able-bodied Trojan men were conscripted, and Sean was tasked to do his civic duty. Kitty was devastated.
"They'll not be takin' you, Sean," she proclaimed, clinging to him. "There's nothin' can take you from me. No power of God nor man."
"Kit, luv," Sean said. "I have to do this. We have to think about our future. What would it be like, to be put under the Centrals' foul boot? Better that we die instead."
"I don't care about that, Sean. Not about them, nor what they'll do. I only care about you."
She stormed out of their flat, bound for the Government House. She marched into the conscription office there and exercised her full free-speech rights as a Trojan citizen. The shrill tenor of her ranting soon brought the security guards to the scene, and Kitty found herself deposited on the curb outside the entrance of the building. She sat there and wailed.
And was wailing when Sean came to collect her and carry her back to their flat. And soon Sean too was wailing, and all the inhabitants of their apartment building began wailing, just as a bell will vibrate in sympathy with one that is struck nearby it. In time, all the residents of the entire East End of New Dublin were wailing, from the tailor across the street to the publican down on the far corner, each person rendering their grief in their own unique timbre and key. Then the main dome began to develop ominous cracks from the sonic onslaught of the common ululation, and police and firemen equipped with earplugs were hurriedly dispatched, going from door to door to convince everyone that enough was enough with the wailing, already--else they'd all soon be doing it in a vacuum.
This was the origin of what we now celebrate every year in the East End as "Wailing Night." It'll be coming up again in a few weeks' time, and you'll be in for a special treat then, for sure.
The day for duty soon came, and Sean was shipped off to the war--which at that time was being prosecuted near Vesta in the main asteroid belt. He served well there, and the Alliance clung to a precarious, ever-shifting front. But they held. Five long years passed before Sean was allowed to go home on a short furlough.
Sean pushed slowly along the disembarkation line at the New Dublin terminal. He spotted Kitty's flaming red hair in the crowd and yelled, "Kit! Glory, you're a sight for sore eyes!"
She shoved through the crowd and reached him, and they embraced. Tightly and long.
"Jeez, Sean. You've got yourself a new set of peepers, haven't you?" Kitty said.
Sean held her at arm's length while he replied. "Laser-hardened. That's the first thing they make you do out there. Hope you don't mind 'em."
"Oh, no. I like 'em fine. Your baby blues are just . . . baby pinks, now." She buried her head in his chest and giggled and hugged him again.
She looked down at Sean's legs, which seemed a bit odd to her. "Looks like you got some enhancements down below, too."
"True enough, Kit. Solid titanium--and you wouldn't be believin' the hydraulic power behind 'em! They surely do help when loadin' bombs into the Scrammers."
"They didn't . . . take away your manhood with 'em, now, did they?"
Sean blushed. "I got to admit to you, luv, I'm not quite the same down there as I used to be. But what I am now is a marvel of modern engineerin'. Think of a locomotive versus a kiddie's trike."
"Oh, you're always the cheeky one, yes you are," Kitty said breathlessly. "Let's be off to home then, and see if you're tellin' a lie--right away!" She pulled him by the hand toward the exit of the terminal.
The asteroid wars raged on. Back on Patroclus, Kitty continued to work long, difficult hours in the biological parts factory in support of the war effort. The years passed, grinding her down, taking a hard physical toll on her tiny, frail body, and she began to worry that she wouldn't last long enough to see Sean again.
But she was fortunate in one respect: she had access to all the product castoffs, mainly bio-implant batches that went wrong and experimental replacement prototypes that failed--yet which still had some measure of functional utility, for all their organic strangeness. She took advantage of them, using her biomedical perquisites with the company to do so. Picked them out and absorbed them, replacing old, worn-out parts of herself, one by one, inside and out. Enhancing all her rapidly expiring natural embodiments with more durable ones that would hold up for the distance, for the day when Sean would eventually return. She had to survive, for his sake! Her fellow workers and friends were aghast at what she was doing. But as far as she was concerned, it was the only viable option open to her.
And return Sean did, this time forty years later, on another furlough. The war had not been going well for the Trojan Alliance at that point.
"Kit, you're lookin' like a miracle to me!"
They hugged, but that is the weakest of expressions for what they really did. They devoured each other. They joined together in a unitary mass that was the epitome of long-lost lovers come back together at last. They became once again the thing that was the single universe of Sean and Kitty. I try, but I cannot describe their reunion in its fuller glory; I trust that you will forgive me, and imagine correctly in your mind what I cannot explain in words.
"Sean, you're here, you're you," Kitty said.
"Aye, such as I am."
"I see a lot more metal on you, luv." She looked him over. "In fact, I see nothin' else but. It sets me all aquiver."
"Ah, and I see lots of . . . interestin' organic implants on you, luv. In fact, it's only your beautiful, wild red hair that I recognize from the old Kitty. You make me quiver too."
"Have they taken away your brain stuff, Sean? Do you still love me?" Kitty asked.
"My noggin is replaced, true enough. With a silicon-germanium version inside this case-hardened steel." He knocked his metal knuckles against his forehead, ringing out a perfect b-flat. "There's only one thing left inside me that I started with--and that's my feelin' for you, my darlin' Kitty."
Kitty wrapped her several tentacles around Sean, and pulled herself tight against his massive metal form. "And I love you, Sean," she said. "I always will."
You know the rest. The Alliance finally did win the war, although it took them another two centuries to do it. Sean came home for good after that, and he and Kitty have been inseparable since then--and still live in their old flat in East End, right down the lane from here. They come into this tavern every day and sit at that table holding appendages, gazing at each other for hours. Sometimes they'll even exchange a word or two.
There is not a single atom left in either of 'em that they started with. And yet their love burns just as fiercely as it ever did. So I wrap up my tale with this conundrum: From whence does love come? Where does it live in the body? Can true love ever be lost? I'm not keen enough to cut through that Gordian knot. But the awesome sight of it should make us all feel pretty damned good--or so I reckon it.
But I must excuse myself now. I enjoyed relating my tale to you, and I do appreciate your patience as I fumbled through it. I'm off to join Sean and Kitty at their table, have another pint there and chat with them for a while.
Ah, but where is my mind? I neglected to tell you one part of their story. Not a crucial piece of it, to be sure, but perhaps it will be of side interest to you: Just before Sean left for the war, he and Kitty produced a son. And that son had another--and the wondrous wheel of nature spun out the balance of that exquisite equation, down to its present solution, which is me.
Be well, my new friend, until we meet again. In the interim, think on the meaning of true love above all else. As will I.
Note from Kasma's Editor: This story was originally published in Flagship #6, July 2011.