a date with destiny
All they can talk about is the Eclipse Party.
Who’s going with who? Sheila asks, her perfectly plucked brows gracefully arched, even as her own gaze wanders to the broad back of the school jock, seven servbot aisles away.
What are you wearing? is what Rachel of the bountiful curls would like to know, her head tilting this way and that, always just narrowly avoiding the whizzing monidrones.
Isn’t it exciting? But curvaceous Donna isn’t really expecting a reply, only waiting for an opportunity to squeal and giggle at the same time.
The boys are uncharacteristically interested in the topic as well. Thin-boned Jared thinks the Eclipse Party will spell his demise: how can anyone fathom that an asthmatic-diabetic would survive outside a biosphere? Lucas the Brash believes the adventure is worth a thousand deaths, and says so in a tone that irks Jared; the resulting argument inevitably draws the attention of a monidrone.
Brix–with-the-unsettling-eyes eventually intervenes and calms the two before a third warning is issued, but then betrays you by saying he’s looking forward to hearing a certain kind of quiet, one untainted by the whir of generator engines.
You of the bushy brows and untameable hair; you, the one everyone refers to as ‘the new girl’ even though you’ve been enrolled in Bio72’s school system for the past year; you don’t want to talk about the Eclipse Party, because doing so will mean dealing with the elaborate tale your Papa spun about birthrights and birthduties and shitty artifacts and fucked-up moon-threatening monsters. And until Brix actually spoke out, you hadn’t thought he’d want to talk about it either. The two of you had shared eye-rolls, subtle sighs, and discreet shoulder shrugs since you’d been coopted into their clique. In your mind, you’d begun thinking of him as an ally, a comrade, even perhaps as a friend. But here he is, keeping the Eclipse Party conversation alive by offering insights (looking at you), speaking as if he’d always been interested in parties (looking at you), then going about smiling awkwardly and expecting a response (looking at you).
You suddenly feel the weight of everyone’s attention.
(Papa always said that the right moment would inevitably find you. It would chase and track you, hound and haunt you, pursue you to the ends of the universe and seek you out from the safety of darkness until you were exposed to the fates as either a coward or a hero. Papa also said that your family descended from aliens tasked to protect this world from a mooneater. It was hard to take Papa seriously.)
You nod because you foolishly think this is the safest option, given the circumstances. Donna squeals then giggles; Jared and Lucas get into a pushing match that finally earns them a visit to the Overseers; Rachel tosses her head back while Sheila lowers her raised eyebrow. You’re still trying to figure out what happened when Brix says—as though it were the most natural thing in the world—that he’ll pick you up at seven.
As the world moves on—as Jared and Lucas are escorted by a drone and two bots out of the cafeteria, as Sheila and Donna and Rachel’s shallow chatter resumes—Brix casually puts an arm around your chair. You notice it but you’re too shocked to lean back, and too shocked to lean away. Instead, you sit still, wondering how in all of biosphere you got yourself a date on the same night that you’re supposed to fight Bal’un of the Void.
a voicechip of Papa’s Bullshit
T’kish-bila had fifteen moons; fifteen beautiful moons for the fifteen luminescent queens, for the fifteen long months, for the fifteen intersecting fortunes held in perfect harmony.
But from the vast emptiness came the mooneaters, the Rdaskanas. Longer and larger than drukanh’i, more terrifying and fearsome than orgkli-hian, they are led by the mightiest of them, Bal’un of the Void. The Rdaskanas are creatures of hunger and madness driven only to consume the stars and the moons, and when they came, they brought with them the promise of infinite darkness.
The warriors marched, the wizards chanted, the people prayed and the queens sang, but still the Rdaskanas swallowed fourteen moons and killed the fourteen divinities that defended them. It was not until the last queen, in the last month, holding on to the last remaining fortune, discovered the secret symphony embedded in her bones that T’kish-bila found salvation. And so it was that she who was the youngest, she who remained, she who still stood, obliterated the armies of mooneaters with the song in her bones.
But mighty Bal’un of the Void could not be destroyed as easily. With all that was left of her, the lone luminescent queen produced a melody of mourning and triumph by splashing her blood and bone against the wind, against the ground where her sisters died, against the skin of the greatest of devourers, against everything that was lost and everything that can yet still be, until the sound of prayer and hope and fury and desperation resonated with such force that it pushed Bal’un of the Void to the vast blackness, diminished, defeated, wounded but not dead, exiled to worlds that have no music in their queens.
a rebellion of sorts
Mama is asking you the usual things in her usual slurred manner: How are you today? What did you do in school? Are you ready to fight Bal’un of the Void?
You mumble something vague which only draws more questions: Shouldn’t you be practicing with the artifact? Are you sure you remember what your Papa taught you? What about your back-up plans, have you even made them like I told you to?
Mama, like the bulky household monidrone, is old. She was old when she had you; older still when Papa died. Now, she spends her days sitting in an antique rocking chair, her fine, silver hair up in a bun, flesh-colored nodes attached to her pulse points continuously monitoring her vitals. She usually stores enough energy to stand and shift seats when you come home—an act of strength purely for your benefit. You usually pretend not to see the periodic tremors that torment her—an act of defiance against the inevitable that you put on for both your sakes.
Despite her debilitating illness, it was Mama who insisted to push through with Papa’s plan of transferring to Bio72, one of the few technically capable biospheres that allow its citizenry monitored fieldtrips in unenveloped environs. This was the year of the mooneater—at least according to arcane calculations that your Papa made which you never understood—and the original plan was for Papa to accompany you to the Eclipse Party and deal with the hidden threat to the world as he has purportedly done once before, as his family has purportedly done in all previous generations.
But then, Papa died.
Mama says you don’t understand how important this is. You’re the one born with the ability to save the world. You’re the one who can operate the artifact. You’re the one tasked and gifted. Only you—
It’s at this moment that you finally snap.
(Papa always said you were special. He said that on the night you were born, the heavens echoed the joyful harmonies of luminescent queens of a distant galaxy. When you were six, and then again when you were eight, and then lastly when you were twelve, you would get into fights with people who bullied smaller people, odd people, people like you. And you would lose. And your Papa would say you’re special, don’t doubt it, hush, don’t cry, be brave, hush, you will be strong someday, you will save the world, hush, have faith. For too long a time, you believed.)
Only me? you say. But what you really want to say is that you’re not special, just a girl who wants to hold on to something real for once, and to move on, and damn the artifact because that’s not yours, and it’s not you, and you don’t want any part of it, because there’s nothing special about you, no music, no symphony, no magic hidden in your blood or in your bones.
But all that comes out as a growl, not unlike the growls Papa used to make when he played make believe with you, when you were much younger.
You repeat, only me? and when you can’t get any other words out, you blurt: I have a date, and who gives a shit about Bal’un. And you tell yourself that you don’t care, you don’t fucking care you mentioned Bal’un’s name so clearly in the presence of a monidorone, and that it sounds crazy and irrelevant and stupid if, in fact, your Papa’s stories are true, because everything he said is fiction, every goddamn thing he made you believe is a lie.
You stomp to your room and slam the door. You hear the monirdone outside drop to the floor followed by a rare silence. Eventually, the monidrone picks itself up, coughs itself to a start, then grumbles to a roar. Only then do you cry.
a hologram’s welcoming words of wisdom
Welcome adventurers and explorers. The annual tour of the unenveloped environs by the graduating students and their companions has long been the highlight of Bio72’s founding festivities. This is a particularly special year as the expedition coincides with a rare lunar eclipse, usually unviewable within biosphere grounds. To celebrate, the Overseers are hosting an Eclipse Viewing Party where, under protective surveillance, you will be allowed to view the heavenly alignment and partake of a special meal especially crafted for this occasion.
Bio72 is only one of 12 biospheres equipped with state of the art monidrone technology that then permits people to safely explore the Red Glade, the Viridian Forest and the Arch. But while we take your well-being seriously, we cannot guarantee your protection from the elements unless you follow these protocols:
- Do not leave the touring party. Please make sure that your tour leader and botguides are in your line of vision at all times.
- Do not touch or retrieve items from the grounds. Reasonably priced souvenir items – especially sanitized for the purpose of bringing back into a biosphere – are available at the viewing deck at the end of the tour.
- Do not interact with the animals. Animals can be carriers of diseases or bacteria which can not only infect you, but other citizens as well.
- Always keep your locator nodes activated. Aside from serving as a mapping and tracking system, these will also provide periodic updates of your vitals to our capable health technicians.
As our partners, we expect you to strictly comply with all of these protocols in addition to any other directions your tour leader may provide. Violations will be punished accordingly.
Thank you for trusting us. We know you will have a wonderful time.
an unexpected surprise
Brix is holding your hand. He has been holding your hand ever since he picked you up at exactly seven. He kept on holding your hand even as your mother silently shot him disapproving looks as he valiantly attempted polite conversation. He didn’t let go of your hand despite the teasing the two of you endured when you met up with the rest of the gang. And he’s still holding your hand now, even though you’re both gloved and you can barely feel the heat of his palm.
It’s not unpleasant.
The tour leader along with the botguides have been busy pointing out interesting things in the Red Glade (named after the scarlet flowers that grow abundantly close to the ground, which curly Rachel stole from), the Viridian Forests (the unimaginative appellation for the vibrantly green cluster of trees in which Sheila and her jock were found ‘accidentally’ wandering off), and continue to do so as your batch makes your way to the Arch (the purported city center in a time gone by where you suspect Lucas and Jared will get their third and final violation for disturbing the peace). You only pay enough attention to follow the instructions. Your mind is distracted by Brix whose eyes are darker without all the manmade light, and the artifact in your pouch which miraculously got through the detectors.
Mama said just before you left that she believes you will do the right thing. Mama’s immense faith in you is such a stark contrast to the dizzying depth of your doubts. You don’t know if you have it in you to believe, much less do anything. All you know is that there’s boy beside you, and it seems like he likes you though you don’t know why, and he’s solid and normal and real.
You wonder if he thinks the same about you.
You wonder what the hell has gotten into him when, just a few minutes before the lunar eclipse, he suddenly pulls you to the side, takes quick steps diagonally to the left, and then a sharp turn.
You no longer have the tour leader in sight. You can hear an odd rustling in the bushes behind you. When you think it can’t get any worse, Brix switches off the locator node on your wrist.
(Papa always said that the artifact would activate when it needed to, not a moment before. He first said this to you after your expression revealed your disappointment at being shown a long bone-shaped piece of metal. At the ripe old age of five, you had expected it to be glittery. At the very least, it should have gleamed. But Papa said what he did and over time you were convinced that, when you really needed it, it would be as magical and as wonderful as a piece of bone and left over blood from a luminescent queen should be. Papa was good with words like that.)
You try to pull away but Brix only tightens his grasp.
No, it’s nothing like that—oh fuck, this isn’t coming out the way it should, isn’t it? Brix asks and you nod, because you don’t know how it should come out, only that you’re in some place where you shouldn’t be. You turn to the side to try and catch a glimpse of the tour guide through the thick of the trees, but you see nothing, just foliage and shadow. Brix is still spouting words, looking earnest except for his even darker eyes, but the only thing you catch is: this is supposed to be romantic.
You laugh at that. It’s a spontaneous laugh, and it’s a little hysterical to your ears, but Brix laughs with you, and suddenly, you’re not as afraid anymore. When Brix leans forward, still smiling, you don’t step back.
That’s when you notice the shadows swirling, dripping, taking shape behind him as the ground begins to tremble. With no time to scream, no time to run away, only enough time to take a gigantic leap of faith, you take the artifact out of your pouch.
a video clip of Papa’s confession
All the stories I told you, daughter—aliens, symphonies, bloodlines and duties—are lies. They are products of my imagination. Any threat to a biosphere can be capably handled by the Overseers. Any threat to any biosphere can be resolved by use of current technology.
Don’t believe me.
Instead, believe in yourself. I’m sorry but you’ll have to do things on your own now. You’ll have to learn what to trust and when. All these things a father should have taught you, I can only tell you in words now.
Remember these words. I love you. Always.
a return to the familiar
A heartbeat later, the shadows are screaming. The artifact in your hands pulses blinding light as it thrums a familiar song. In the distance, you hear your name being called, and Brix’s name, and shouts to stay calm, and an army of monidrones whizzing through the forest, all while the earthquake gains in intensity, all while Bal’un of the Void roars in anger and loneliness and hunger.
You are calm and, perhaps strangest of all, you’re smiling. Above you, in the gaps between the trees, you see the curve of a pale moon. You know its secret now. You can hear the moon sing its tale in the symphony that emanates from the artifact. You know the names of the moon’s dead sisters. You can hear the moon’s voice resound in your bones.
When you turn toward Brix’s direction, you are not afraid. Brix is all but gone now, swallowed by the shadows except for his eyes that to you, seem to gleam. You take a step forward, and another, and another until you are surrounded by darkness, until you can no longer hear the persistent buzz of drones, until you are in the very heart of a monster.
Don’t worry, you say to Bal’un of the Void, knowing in this instance, if only in this one instance, your words have weight, I’m here. And then as if you’ve always know what to do, you put the artifact to your lips. And blow.
Kate Osias believes that love, chocolate and the right kind of madness can save the world. She has won five Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Gig Book Contest, Canvas Story Writing Contest, the 10th Romeo Forbes Children’s Storywriting Competition, and the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. Her work has been cited by Publisher’s Weekly and the Year’s Best Fantasy and Science Fiction. She has been published locally, online and abroad, and has co-edited the sixth, seventh and eleventh volumes of Philippine Speculative Fiction. Her first collection, Heroes, Villains and Other Women, is a finalist in the National Book Awards (2019) and is available via Ateneo de Manila University Press.