Gracefully folded into her hamok, Quiver says: “Mic. I am overcome with longing. I am longing for a sky that never stops moving. I am longing for cumulous clouds; I am longing for a buttermilk sky.
I am longing for a clamor of children. Lamplight in a cabin by a river on a fall evening. To pick oranges from a tree. I am longing to see a freshly laid egg. A river of fresh water enter a salty ocean. The animals of Africa. Above all: a tiger! But also bees! Pollinating flowers! A beetle making its way across a bank of moss.
I am longing for a small planet, a green planet, a blue planet. I could use some city congestion. I could use a cantaloupe, an artichoke, a microscope! If we had a microscope, we could, at the very least, watch things moving about!”
“I move about!” Mic says it defensively. “I may not ‘be alive’—but I am as alive as I was intended to be; I do my best, and—”
Admirably, Quiver unfolds, leisurely steps down from her hamok, languidly moves toward Mic and, seductively, in human fashion, and gently caressing what stands in for the top of his head, says: “Dearest Micosan. We have been through this a thousand times. You know how much I appreciate your bountiful—bountiful! Mic!—capacities. I am stir-crazy is all. I am needing to move about. I am not fed up with your company, but my own.”
“Ah,” says Mic, filling the sounds of Home Free with Habib Koité. “You need this.”
Together, they gaze up at the Plonk Sidereal Atlas. An abundant number of significant destinations litter the path forward. Far dexter a planet appears blinking. “What is it?” Quiver asks just as the Atlas pings, clears its soundbox, and speaks:
“You are swiftly approaching AM Locus, the jewel of a magnificent helical galaxy, the breathing shrapnel, lava and rock of First Beginnings.”
“Oh, for MAGA’s sake,” sighs Quiver.
“AM Locus,” the Atlas continues, “is the very planet where the first seeds of extraterrestrial multigenesis—conceived and elaborated by Rosalind Von Pfeffertitz, were made manifest!”
“Von Pfeffertitz!” Quiver mumbles. “I have heard of her!”
“Who has not heard of Von Pfeffertitz!” the Atlas continues. “Her unprecedented collection of genetic variants survived terrestrial collapse. It is here, on AM Locus, that the process of multigenesis was not only perfected, but accelerated by Von Pfeffertitz’s brain after her demise!
Quiver winces. “Am I the only one in the universe who finds this drivel aggravating?” she asks Mic. “And look—see the date there? This drivel was imbedded ages ago—so, who knows what’s ahead of us!” She gasps as the Atlas’ Space Eye is, in its entirety, overtaken by a virtual brain as wrinkled as the skin of what was once called a Shar-Pei—not that they could know it.
“This,” says Quiver decisively, “is not an option.” Mic, too, is not eager to get any closer. He, too, is stretched to his limits and out of sorts. His ferroelectric transducer barely glows, and he notices an alarming surge in the oxygen vacancy, a sudden decline in the Wobble’s dialectic permittivity.
“All systems are faltering!” Quiver shouts as, despite their best efforts, they are irresistibly drawn to AM Locus, its unwanted mysteries and dubious artifact—Von Pfeffertitz’s brain.
The Atlas’ high resolution spectroradiometer compounds their frustration, for now they see every knurl, pock, cyst, and gyre of that troubled terrain, and the grim towers of a campus built of extemporaneous and biologically modified (and they could not be uglier or more cheesy) printed potluck pavers, tiles, and bricks. So powerful is the planet’s magnetic attraction, Quiver’s face—cheeks, lips, and the lids of her eyes—swell so badly that for a quik or two she looks like a fish (Mic). As for Mic, he is harassed by corporeal statik, his basal zipper perilously hot. All this settles down, however, as they approach the designated landing strip. A shiver, a shudder, a thump—and they come to a stop. Once hydrated, oiled, and suited, they step out into a manageable frost.
AM Locus has a fabricated atmosphere, humid and breathable, unexpectedly dense in the organic compounds of living things once there in profusion, but now long gone. Of the landscape, all that remains are deep creases and ridges gyring in all directions, with barely a trace of biological activity. They note what appears to be wormholes, the dens of small mammals, the sorrowful collapse of any number of greenhouses, an artificial lake in need of water, an array of what might well have been the mounds of disorderly—if innovative—termites.
Mic and Quiver now come to a dusty path that takes them to the abandoned campus directly—a pretentious edifice built of the detestable potluck (Mic)—its grand front gates askew—and enter a lounge illumed by skylights and furnished with faded sofas, the upholstery overrun by the creatures of Von Pfeffertitz’s imagining—all hopelessly coneco (Mic)—bushy tailed and smiling. The walls surge with sporadically functioning surface Lights all manifesting clusters of enriched transcriptomic motifs: flossy, fleecy, and google-eyed enough to trigger a hyperglycemic crisis.
A large virtual head now appears suspended in their path, sputtering in fits and starts before managing to cohere. It is the head of Von Pfiffertitz: florid, rosy cheeked, and round as a beach ball. Welcome it says in any number of languages, known and unknown, imminent, inevitable, likely and unlikely. The welcome is apparently endless, and as they have examined the Lights and the furniture, they move on avoiding bloated descriptions of terrains and creatures that for a brief moment flitted and soared, swam and surged, google-eyed, bushy tailed, and smiling on AM Locus.
“Enjoy your stay!” the head calls after them. “Levitating,” says Quiver, “like a forking blimp.”
“[§€]^~££§§§¥€|!>] Be sure to explore the greater org of Rosenblatt and WeiWeiSing—named after my two husbands, yes! The very husbands who invented and perfected pseudotemporal myeloids! And be sure not to miss the small chamber, its green door—to the dexter as you are leaving—for everything you are about to see began there.”
Like a silent and old-timey terrestrial firework display, the head appears to explode and then it is gone. It does not take much poking about before they locate the green door. At their approach, it opens.
In the middle of a surprisingly generous space that smells—as does everything on AM Locus—of rotting potluck, they see a little table made of illuminated surgical crystal and its crystal balloon. Stashed within the balloon is Von Pfeffertitz’s brain. Its bathwater is foggy and the balloon’s nicatonium diodes are tarnished.
“There it is,” says Mic, “suspended in its spoiled soup, disembarassed of all significant events.”
Quiver responds to this little speech by heaving into a virtual aquarium, further compromising the carpet.
Retracing their steps, they find themselves once more in a world expired.
“I suppose,” Quiver says sadly, “collapse was inevitable. After all, everything she and her husbands experimented with were isolated from their realms, their tribes, and from themselves. Everything they touched was made singular, was made lonely, without roots or context. Just as I—”
“Are you weeping?” Mic asks, revolving around her like a little planet as is his wont. “Oh! Quiver! Oh! Dear Quiv!” As he revolves, Mic gathers speed, warming the two of them. This warming is beneficial, and although they both imagine Mic’s tendency to revolve when Quiver is down is the outcome of a profoundly united and spontaneous gesture, he is, according to the experts, in fact, wired to behave this way. In any case, the gesture reestablishes the bond between them. It activates her adrenals and his top rotors.
Quiver’s Longing (AM Locus)
An Excerpt from Trafik
“AM Locus” is excerpted by permission from Trafik, forthcoming from Coffee House Press in 2021.