By Naomi Foyle, UK
Story so far: 87 years after complete climate catastrophe and global nuclear war have devastated the planet and human civilisation, the world is slowly regenerating. Astra Ordott, the teenage daughter of a murdered dissident, has been banished from her homeland, the eco-fascist state of Is-Land. Now living in Kadingir, a toxic refugee camp inhabited by the so-called ‘Non-Landers’ – in fact, the original occupants of Is-Land – she has been given shelter by global governing body the Council of New Continents (CONC) and is struggling to adjust to her new life.
Twilight was falling. The heat had lost its searing edge, the first star had punctured the dusky blue dome of the evening and the pale wafer of a full moon was floating in the sky. As she lifted her face to bathe in its soft white gleam, the raucous cheers of the officers fell away, and a voice from the past floated back to her. Hokma’s voice, telling fairy tales on Wise House veranda. The moon is a tarnished mirror, Hokma had told her; long ago it shone pure and still as a frozen lake on which no feather ever fell, and people looked in it every night to see their inner selves. But then a vain, rash young man, not liking the truth it told him, tore the moon from the sky and flung it aside, shattering its calm. Now the moon is a collection of broken shards, drawn together once a month by the tides. Yes, she remembered, sorrow rising in her like water, the moon had been broken, like she had been, in ways no one in this courtyard would ever understand.
Like the grey skin of boiled alt-milk, a cloud crept over the moon. She shivered. But why? She wasn’t afraid of blindness; her Year Eight biology teacher had been blind, and Hokma had been half-blind. Again, Hokma’s voice stirred in the deep well of her sorrow and fear. ‘All your eyes can do is look, Astra,’ Hokma had once said. ‘Seeing might be believing, but it isn’t knowing. To know the truth, you have to perceive it with your mind and behold it in your heart. That’s what a Gaia vision is.’
A Gaia vision. The thought was like a rope dangling in the well, just out of reach. In a Gaia vision you sat still and observed the marvel of life, perceiving its patterns and beholding one’s purpose within them. Vaguely, she remembered the feeling of certainty flowing through her, sensation making sense of the world. Here, although she was still drinking in the immense, deepening, glimmering blue, all she felt, suddenly, was extremely conscious of the two small orbs of jelly in her head. Eyes.
Then her biology teacher, Mr Groveson, was floating there too, in the sky, in her head – she didn’t know which. Millions of years ago, Mr Groveson had said, trilobites, little exoskeletal marine animals, had viewed the world through eyes made of calcite crystals. The eyes were hard as armour, unable to change focus, but stacked like turrets on the creatures’ heads they could perceive three hundred and sixty degrees of danger or food. Human eyes were more vulnerable sentries: they too watched out for predators and prey, but they had also evolved into complex portals to light’s magnificent, infinite interplay of colour, detail and distance. The more complex something was, the more could go wrong with it, Mr Groveson had said. That had been the Imprint, she remembered, Damage is an inherent aspect of high function. But it was not the whole lesson.
Gaia Herself, the teacher had continued, is like an eye: our swirling blue-green planet, streaked with white clouds and white snow, a glowing orb spinning in the darkness of space, and a place – the only place we know of – where the universe reflects on itself. But this enormous blue-green eye is vulnerable too. Human beings, lacking foresight, had jabbed at Gaia with drills, fracked and pumped Her, forcing out fountains of burning black tears. Human beings had killed the bees, polluted the oceans, melted the ice caps, completely overwhelmed Gaia’s ability to self-regulate her complex, nurturing, life-sustaining processes. Human beings had nearly reduced Gaia to rock and dust and churning waves, a barren sphere inhabited only by extremophiles, creatures that could survive in charred deserts, boiling volcanoes, frigid ocean crevices, conscious – like trilobites, like oil junkies – only of their own immediate needs. Did this matter to Gaia? Mr Groveson had asked.
The class had thought yes! Yes! Gaia would be hurt, grief-stricken, furious at human beings for destroying Her. But the answer was no. Gaia would adapt to Her crone state, just like blind people and old people adapted to their new circumstances. Physical blindness, Mr Groveson had said, brandishing the wallscreen remote control, was just a different way of being, an inconvenience at worst. Moral blindness was a crime. With proper care and respect, Gaia could remain fertile until a meteor strike or the death of our sun, and for the sake of all Her creatures it was humanity’s responsibility to ensure that She did.
She was breathing calmly now. Around her the sound of laughter and beer bottles ringing on the tables returned to her as if from over a vast distance, muffled by veils of light, travelling on the deep humming echo of the birth of the universe. The rebirth of the earth. She might not like all the CONC officers, but she had to accept that the Council of New Contintents, as much as Is-Land, had saved Gaia. CONC had risen in the darkness and the chaos, overcome entrenched hostilities, communicated, organised, inspired. CONC had prohibited fossil fuels, war machines and war itself. CONC had created Is-Land, funded the Gaians to re-sow the seeds of agriculture in the Earth’s desiccated soil. And when Is-Land had turned against her, Astra, CONC had taken her in. She was safe here.
Still gazing at the moon, she wondered, was she having a Gaia vision? If the moon was an eye, she thought as it shed its thin grey veil, it saw things calmly, serenely, without distress. Here in the close embrace of evening warmth, the sparkling first star offering its benign direction, she didn’t need to know anything. She was immersed in a nebulous vision in which cloudy questions slowly sailed through her mind, briefly dimming the lamp of understanding, but also strangely illuminated by it. There was much that she didn’t know yet about this place on the borders, this toxic refugee camp, and site of rebellion, but that was okay. She could see this world with her eyes, she was starting to perceive in her mind how it worked, and one day soon she would behold in her heart its purpose, and her own.
‘Rook Song: Book 2 of The Gaia Chronicles‘ is available to purchase in ebook or print version.