AntipodeanSF Issue 308

By Lee Hana

WAVES SURGE through the narrow gap. White spray is flung high before the furious water is sucked back out. Food remains, caught up on ridges carved in exposed reef. The fastest of the pickers run forward whooping, to catch wriggling crabs and small fish before the next wave. Gulls scream. The older ones cheer and point from the cliffs above. Some throw offal into the churning water. Blood brings fish, sometimes a shark, sometimes a ray, sometimes an octopus. The rocks anger the water, makes it churn white. Sometimes a wave catches a picker by surprise. If unlucky, they are dragged out and smashed to offal by the waves and the rocks. Then all are sad. Old One has told them how to be sad. ‘Make a doll of wood, place it under a stone, remember...’

OLD ONE has taught them so much. He told them how to make a family, how to make a fire, how to catch fish. Today Old One just sits on his chair on the cliff and watches the pickers run for food. The day is calm but the sea is not. Before the sun sleeps they carry Old One along the trail back to the Homes. They take embers from the shell and make the fires. Old One’s place is near the fire where they cook the fish. He likes the smell. These days he sleeps when all are still awake. If he sleeps they all become quiet. It is good to make Old One happy. If he is happy then they will be happy. He talks and they listen and life is better. He told them: ‘When a child is born, plant a tree. Measure time with a tree.’

BUT SOMETIMES Old One is sad. Does he not like to eat? Does he not like laughing? Does he not like the sun that follows dark night? Many times he speaks in strange words they cannot know. Old One knows the true names of old things. He points at the shiny black skin of the Homes and says things like ‘solar substrate’ and ‘self-regulating’ and ‘energy independence’. Old One shouted in the voice of Law: ‘Do not smash!’ He is right. If the skin is smashed, homes stop breathing. They become cold and bad and no water comes from the pipes. Most of the time Old One is quiet. They clean him and rub fish oil on his dry skin. They keep the small ones and the loud ones away from him. Everybody quarrels a lot. But nobody may fight near Old One or they will be sent away forever. That is Law... But now Old One makes everyone uneasy. Sometimes he is so angry. Does the world not make him happy? Does he not love them? He says, ‘Never expected to last so long…’

THE GREAT SUN awakes every morning. When it is warm they carry Old One to the fruit trees. They gently place Old One’s chair in the shade. The wind runs fingers through the trees. Smell the sea and oranges. Old One likes to feel the air on skin that’s like dry cracked earth. He likes to laugh with them. Old One showed them how seed becomes tree, how tree needs cutting, how fruit needs sun for colour, how fruit can be dried for later. Old One can remember the first green shoots. Now he sits under tall trees. Everyone sits in the shade to eat fruit and talk... But today they are uneasy. Old One is angry again. They stop grooming each other. Who is he angry at? Old One is talking to someone not seen. He is using strange words that are not for them. He says ‘optimised environment’ and ‘no more selection’ and ‘rapid epigenetic cascade in just two generations!’ and ‘vestigial cortex.’ He looks at them all as if he does not know them. Then he speaks the voice of Law: ‘You’re free to be happy! The pleasures of an undifferentiated world are yours!’

TODAY IT IS RAINING. Everyone stays in their Homes. Inside, the air is dry and warm. The one who looks after Old One asks: who do you speak with? Old One smiles, but then speaks in words she cannot know. ‘I speak with my old professor. He has been dead a long, long time.’ What is professor? ‘Someone who kills things to know them.’ Why? Old One sighs. ‘We used to name everything. To name things is to cut them from something else. Pieces can be understood. Pieces can be sold...’ She collects his words for the others. They try to keep all of Old One’s words. Maybe one day they will understand. Sometimes they get frightened. They know Old One will die soon. He is older than all and white as the sea spray. His body is weak. His body shakes. Maybe his mind shakes too. They have all seen sickness. Sometimes they see death. It is like the night. Nobody comes back from that sad night. The wooden doll won’t help. Don’t go, Old One! They know it is memories that make him sad and make him angry. They know these memories are people long dead. These people come closer every day. Night follows the sun. They need to collect more words from Old One before he goes into the night. It is like collecting fish: ‘You must leave some to smoke and dry!’ said Old One in the voice of Law.

NOW OLD ONE opens his eyes. He wonders why everyone gathers around his chair under the shade of the tree in the smell of oranges. ‘What do you think about?’ they ask. All eyes are on him, wanting him to say something. So he speaks. They will try to remember. Old One says: ‘I was thinking of inheritance. That is something you give to your children.’ They all stir and mutter. Old One does not speak in their words. Does he not love them? Gulls scream, waves come and go. They draw closer. Now Old One whispers, like the wind in long, long grass... ‘The professor was very old himself when he died and much to my surprise he left me his whole library. A whole world of books! How could I resist? Well, it took me most of a day to get all those boxes down to my tiny office. The books took up an entire wall and the shelves were straining under the weight. Then, suddenly, the top shelf collapsed, taking everything below with it and leaving a blank wall.’

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 About the Author

LEE HANA grew up in Fremantle on a heavy diet of Metal Hurlant, Blade Runner, JG Ballard and Akira.

Soon enough, Lee left the flatlands for an Asian megalopolis.

Issue Contributors

The AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50Our weekly podcast features the stories from recently published issues, often narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

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Meet the Narrators

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  • Sarah Pratt

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  • Michelle Walker

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  • Tim Borella

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  • Geraldine Borella

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  • Ed Errington

    ed erringtonEd lives with his wife plus a magical assortment of native animals in tropical North Queensland.

    His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

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  • Juliette Cavendish

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  • Emma Gill

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  • Mark English

    mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

    All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his

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  • Marg Essex

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