Aphelion Issue 291, Volume 28
February 2024
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The Colony

by John McKevitt

Final Evaluation Report submitted by First Officer Harold T. Kline

Project Name: Operation Terra-form SP-00219

Location: Star System Sirius - fifth planet

Evaluation: All of the technical problems reported in the projects leading up to this have been solved (reference reports on SP-00215 and SP-00216.) The key technical personnel are in place and I am confident they can handle any minor problems that might arise. As demonstrated by our previous projects, the Terra-form technology is sound.

Since this is the first time we've actually attempted to colonize a Terra-formed environment, there are several unknowns on that end. My greatest concern is how the colonists will adapt to the simulated agrarian environment we've created. Of course it will be years before we can truly evaluate this. I recommend that we re-evaluate this project every twenty years. That is, if the Terra-form Division is still around twenty years from now.

I. Festival

The sky denied its death. Entropy
allowed a hundred years to pass
without birds.

A woman's hands clotted with clay;
spreads, smoothes over the curved surface.
She stirs the ochre and scarlet soils
dampened by moisture from
forgotten machinery.

Each bird is regaled with the colors of land,
with a needle beak which reaches to a living sky.

His wife's work is good. The family mask is
hardened by constant heat; not brittle.
He will proudly wear the mask tonight.
She tends to the soup of algae and cheese.
Later, he walks to the fire ground,
clay under arm -
children throwing white stones
at the white sky.

Friends in the yellow fields
are now encased in crusts that blaze
away from themselves. The circle around
the flames moves to the known rhythm. A step -
another - turn - the needles click - and again.
The steps quicken as the fire heats the clay
faces. Step - step - the needles click. A thrust
into the flame - the birds flash their color. Out -
the flame shrieks upward, as if to lift the needle
beaks and puncture the firmament.
Shooting cinders dot the dark. Step - step -
turn - the needles click - quicker.

Clay touches clay.
Clay touches flesh.
The dark cracks like flint, he bleeds.
He bled once before.
When just a stone-throwing boy,
he tumbled on the exposed sharpness
of the machines. Now he bleeds again
and the dance stops.

II. Arena

And entropy allowed another hundred years to pass
without birds.

He regards through fleshy lids
the ashen hued vizard
studded by primitive spit and solder
with picked bits and chips
of silent machines -
the rapier rod pinched
upon this mettle above the eye-slit,
unlike any bird that ever lived.

Old unguents
will soothe his open sores
Yet there is no revival.
He draws on food his father never knew.
The cotton fruit brings him no strength.

Lowering his head he listens
to the machine scraps clash.
He reaches for the mask,
his rigid joints telling him
he will not survive the day.

III. Prayer

The sky denied its death. Entropy...

A woman dances on buried chrome.

Come birds,
spear the sky
and rain down
on hard clay.
That we may see
what sort of thing we are.

© 2005, 2007 John McKevitt

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