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METEOR MAGS: A DISTANT LIGHT

© 2020 by Matthew Howard. All Rights Reserved.

Episode 27 of The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

While working on the next two episodes this summer, I realized a short vignette needs to come between them. It concerns the space monkeys who first appeared in The Lost Crew of the Volya IX and have since joined with Alonso and the telepathic octopuses to become the interspecies band Small Flowers. At 800 words, it’s the shortest episode yet, but I felt it said what needed to be said.

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The Matriarch was dying. She doubled over in agony, gritted her teeth, and straightened herself to her full height. She rested her weight against a cane. It was time.

She summoned a few of the younger females to her side. Speaking in her native Russian, she told them to gather the rest of the tribe. Then she made her way to the jagged depression in the heart of the asteroid Svoboda 9 where the octopuses had been born.

More than a hundred swam there. Outside the entrance to the cavern, where her comrades had held many drum circles since their arrival eight months prior, she rested her back against a giant coal-colored stone and sank to ground. She landed on her haunches and brought her knees to her chest.

Macaques have a shorter life expectancy than humans. In captivity, some live more than thirty years, and few had matched her longevity at forty. It was, she decided, a good life. She had led her tribe through decades of isolation and accompanied them on their recent adventures since meeting Meteor Mags. They discovered social and musical wonders they never knew existed and, as members of the band Small Flowers, shared those discoveries with others.

Karpov arrived first. He sat beside her and took her hand. “Mother.”

She caressed his cheek. She stroked the fur on his face and peered into his dark eyes.

He said, “The others are on their way. They will be here soon.”

“I can feel them. Karpov?”

“Yes?”

“Will you make sure they do not mourn? I couldn’t bear to see them sad after all this time.”

In their life before Svoboda, when the space-born macaques were more severely split along gender lines, Karpov led the males, and his previous ideas of what best suited the tribe rarely aligned with hers. “Of course,” he said. “We will not mourn. We will celebrate.”

“That,” she said, “sounds perfect.”

“Here they come now.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “You will always be with us.”

She smiled. “I know. The octopuses told me.”

A riotous noise filled the cavern, and the macaques who had exalted her for decades arrived. One by one, they approached to lay their hands on her and kiss her goodbye.

But one of the attendees was not simian at all. Alonso knelt beside the Matriarch and pet her head. “Mama,” he said. “Mags called. She needs me to drive. We’re about to bring free energy to Earth.”

“Go make it a better place,” said the Matriarch. “Her mission can’t wait for me.”

Alonso bowed his head. “I’ll do whatever it takes, madre de mi corazon.”

The Matriarch wiped a tear from his hairless face. “Don’t be sad. I’ll be here when you get back. The octopuses will see to that.”

Alonso kissed her cheek. “Vaya con Dios. You’ll always be with me.” He pressed her hand to his chest then hugged her wordlessly for a long minute. On his way out, he paused to salute Karpov with a raised fist. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

In his wake, the monkeys gathered around their queen, each with a percussive instrument, each as silent as the space between stars, each awaiting a signal from Karpov to begin one final jam.

Karpov picked up a djembe and raised one fur-covered hand to the sky. Then he brought it down. His palms and fingertips connected with the drum and established a rhythm. The macaques in the cavern joined him.

The Matriarch sank against the stone at her back. All around her, the children she had raised alone in space for decades created something new and beautiful for her, a song no one had ever heard before.

Undulating and changing colors in their subterranean lake, the octopuses helped. They touched the Matriarch’s mind and all the gathered minds. They reached into her and recorded all she had ever known, every thought and feeling, every experience, every moment of love and regret, each failure and triumph, every isolation and connection, and all her hopes for her tribe.

In a sonorous cacophony of drums, she let go of her life.

She was no longer with her children, but neither was she separate from them. The telepathic bond with the octopuses assured that. Her consciousness joined the group mind swirling in the asteroid cavern, and it was nothing short of heaven.

Some time later, after the drum circle died down, her comrades carried her body to the Svobodan surface. They dug a hole in the iron-rich rock and covered it with a cairn of stones. Above the gathering shone a million stars. In the sky glowed a distant light, faintly colored blue. It was Earth, the planet of her birth, and as far away as it was that night, her tribe knew it shone for her.

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