The silence and darkness of this planet are almost unbearable. I’m sure I’m not the only one strangely homesick for the often intrusive 24-hour a day noises and lights of Earth. When I lived at Home some of my most memorable vacations were hikes in the deep woods, where the only sound was nature, and even nature turned the volume down overnight, and the only light was from a persistent moon. There was blackness and the silence of trees. Yet I longed for activity, lights, sounds.
Here on Beta Omega (no, we still haven’t agreed on a new name; we are so taken up with other duties of, well, colonizing a new planet) the 20-hour sun cycle grants us eight hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness. Ten in the evening is our midnight. The children are asleep well before midnight, and that accounts for a lot of the dark tranquility.
This imbalance, small as it may seem, has had a profound influence on me. And after the Crisis, the silence was as loud as an old SLS.
When she slept in for a few mornings, none of us were surprised. She has always been an active child, and trying to keep pace with her young half-brother (my son Radical) assured she was even more wildly busy during play times. And she is a growing child. Growing can be exhausting; we’ve all transversed growth spurts and strain on our organs and muscles. Angel, as perfect as she was, was no different.
When she collapsed, drained of color, it was not while playing Twistrun with Radical but while reading a book called The Blue Rabbit. Panicked and confused, I scooped her into my arms. Radical was using his quiet time to play a game on his tablet. I roughly grabbed his hand and rushed out of the library, stabbing the emergency button with my forehead on the way out.
Everyone, all of us, appeared in the corridors except for Rosa, who as first medical officer, made her way so swiftly to the lab that she awaited me as I carried Angel through the door, trailed by Radical and then the six others.
Rosa slammed on the quarantine doors. Only Radical and I were allowed to remain, since we’d already been exposed to whatever had felled our darling Angel.
Radical was strangely obedient, not moving from his chair when told to stay put. I helped Rosa as best I could— gently got Angel out of her play clothes and into the bed, held her while she was given the injection, and lifted limbs and hair while Rosa hooked the child up to a web of beeping and blinking monitors.
Then blood and tissue samples were taken. All the while Angel lay as if dead— pale, absolutely still, not even a fluttering of delicate eyelids. Naturally she looked tiny in the full-sized bed, dwarfed by billowing white pillows and sheets.
“What is it, Rosa?”
“I don’t know,” she said, starring at the station monitor. Results of tests cascaded down the screen. “Diagnosis is unclear, there is something like a measles virus apparent.”
“Which is impossible,” I said.
“Correct,” said Rosa. She conferred with Ed regarding the test results, sent him the data. He was a stymied as Rosa and the computer. She looked up from the computer. “You broke protocol. You shouldn’t have moved her.”
“I’m sorry, I panicked,” I said. Rosa turned to the monitor and frowned.
Radical was up and moving about the room. I went to him and led him back to the chairs. I gave him a pair of thin vinyl gloves to play with. He looked at them and then at me as if to say, “Really?”
What he did say was, “What about Angel?”
“Don’t know yet, honey,” I said. I crouched and gave him a hug. He smelled, inexplicably, like sage. He was as stiff and bony as ever— not the most huggable child I’d ever encountered, but he was mine. And Christopher’s. Christopher and Sara must be frantic. They would, I suspected, sacrifice anything to be here in this room with Angel, instead of me.
Rosa gave Radical and I both an injection; Radical didn’t cry. She jabbed herself, despite my offer.
Because of Angel’s high temperature, after a few hours Rosa and Ed decided to induce a coma, and so the child now had a precautionary oxygen mask over her nose and mouth as she lay there. I longed to hold her, console her, somehow send her a message of courage and hope, but she wouldn’t have heard me. She was in a personal battle that was as far from me and those who loved her as Earth was.
Radical went to her bedside, and kissed her upper arm near her elbow, since he couldn’t reach her forehead. “Don’t die, Angel,” he said. “I need you.”
It was a strange thing for a child to say, and I thought about it. I couldn’t sleep, anyway. I sat up with Angel overnight. The room was dimly lit, and the lights and graphs on the monitors streamed and blinked. There were humming noises, and separate, constant beeps. Radical was asleep on the cot, softly snoring as he often did.
I longed for the unbearable silence of an ordinary alien night.