Dark as land, pale as sky

There were two children. In the same reality, they might have been one, but an infinity separated them, and neither would ever know of the other’s existence. Each was a version of the other. Their lives were mutually exclusive.

Both were born in the starmelt, on a burned planet drifting in the plasma. One’s hair was as dark as land. The other’s was pale as sky. One was raised by a machine. The other, by monsters. Each was, as far as she knew, the last human alive.

The burned planet did not turn and had no orbit. Light had hardened into almost a solid. No days, no nights.

“You talk about time,” said dark-as-land. “I don’t understand.”

The machine pivoted around a rusting joint, bent a sensor. Its amplifier pushed waves into the air.

“Time is progress,” the machine said. “Time is change. What was became what is, and what is will become what will be.”

“But how do you measure it? What does it mean? How long have I been alive?”

The machine said, “You want to know your age.”


The machine said, “You have been alive for eleven billion, three hundred eighty six million, four hundred thirty two thousand, five hundred forty nine increments.”

“And what’s an increment? How long is that?”

The machine gave an exhausted rattle. It said, “Long enough.”

The long monster frowned.

Pale-as-sky said, “What’s wrong?” but the monster was already shaking its heads.

“I thought I heard my name.”

The short monster said, “I’m tired of this place,” and pale-as-sky said, “Agreed.” She lowered herself to the scorched ground, stretched and sighed.

“Tell me,” she said, “about what happened.”

Long said, “We’ve told you what we know.”

Short said, “We don’t know much.” It raised an appendage to its proboscis and wiped away a stream of thick liquid.

“I know. Tell me again.”

Long said, “Starmelt. We have heard the word. We’re not familiar with the details. Maybe that’s for the best.”

Short said, “It was an event. Now it’s a condition. We are in the starmelt.”

“What do you mean, in?”

Long said, “We don’t know.”