Guest post and art by Evelyn Arvey
This very special fan fiction is set in the world of The Climate Machine
A few days ago, I stood in that very spot. Eshana was at my side as HemisNorth’s experimental atmosphere-scrubbing prototype exploded around us. Now, Eshana and I watch as a team of forensic fire investigators crawl gingery through the blasted, twisted remains of Building C. They inspect, search, shake their heads at each other. Three men and two women in hazard vests erect a perimeter fence around what had once been our place of work. KEEP OUT! Warns the sign they hang on it, DANGER! People scurry about the adjacent parking lots and the green belt, collecting rods and coils and other sharp-edged detritus, even though clean-up crews have been at it since the day of the incident.
I will state the truth: Eshana and I did it. It was no accident. Let me start at the beginning.
My name is Len. Short for Leonard. Which is, Eshana once told me, the male version of the Anglicized rendering of the Latinized form of the word leo, which of course means lion. “My little cub,” she calls me even now. “My kitten.”
You see? She was irresistible.
She was also the smartest person I’d ever met. Besides me, I mean. The two of us had ended up at HemisNorth five years ago, working on the same project, Project Athena, which was the pet name HemisNorth had given it, a rather silly one at that. The Project—if it worked, which it wouldn’t, we saw to that—would change the world by doing the seemingly impossible task of cleaning up the environment.
In any event, Eshana and I recognized each other at once even though we’d never met. I could sense her intelligence as we were ushered to the Building C and introduced to each other. We stood in the newly-erected shell of a building which would one day hold Project Athena, and I watched Eshana gaze at the preliminary schematics. I saw Eshana’s rampant intelligence in the tilt of her head, in the way she slitted her eyes, in the way her lips moved softly as she jabbed her finger at first one spot on the schematic, and then at another. “This,” she announced to Elizabeth Fehr, our coworker, “is blatantly wrong.”
Elizabeth—who fancied herself to be as smart as Eshana—was taken aback. “It’s not wrong. I ran the numbers myself.” But her voice betrayed her. She stuttered on the word myself.
I took off my glasses, then put them on again. Then I leaned forward; I never could see as well as I would have liked—but I believed my Mama when she said that my bottle-thick glasses magnified my charming squint and showed off my bushy eyebrows. Luckily, after the explosion, things like poor eyesight do not aggravate me any longer. I turned to Elizabeth. “She’s right, you know. It simply does not add up.”
“It sticks out like a sore thumb,” said Eshana.
“Like a booger hanging from a nose,” I added, and then remembered what Mama had reminded me: No bodily functions, Len. Do not talk about anything a body does. Or how it looks. On second thought, no talk about anything except for work. “Sorry,” I added. “Sorry about the booger thing. Sorry.”
“Never apologize,” said Elizabeth.
“Okay. Okay. Sorry.”
“He’s right, though,” Eshana said, looking at me, sizing me up. Ignoring our coworker.
“You’re a physicist,” I said.
“And you’re a computer science guy.”
After that, we were always together. It didn’t take long for us to be known collectively as Len-and-Eshana. LennonEshana, we called ourselves. Like we were one person mashed up from two. Creative genius, obviously, like the original Lennon.
It took us six months of morning-to-night labor to correct and repair the original Project Athena schematic that Elizabeth had shown us. It took six more for the first Athena prototype to be built, complete with its graceful whatever-the-hell-they-were-made-of (not our department, and of little interest to us) arches that rose in swooping loops that soared overhead, almost reaching Building C’s ceiling.
It took eight further months to modify some important operating factors in her programming. The need for these manipulations was obvious to us, but opaque to everyone else—mostly because everyone else, including our boss, Elizabeth, was alarmed by unexplained drought conditions in Seattle, which then spread to western Washington, and then to the entire west coast of the United States.
LennonEshana didn’t mind the new dryness in the air, the water restrictions, the once-a-week shower limit, the receding shores of Lake Washington. No, we didn’t mind them at all. The only thing we noticed was each other as we hunched over our laptops or worked on our own private little Athena model that we’d set up in Building C, hidden well inside the bigger one. Our secret Athena had its own quarter-sized command module just big enough for the two of us. We barely even noticed the drought as we studied our scribbles and our schematics, as we huddled in our little Athena and inputted the new numbers that the drought had coughed up, as we changed usual to unusual with no-one noticing. No-one at all.
We were at our best, LennonEshana. We were flying. Unstoppable. In love. Noone but us saw how both Athenas began to hum in pleasure as the humidity fell. We were the only ones who knew the Artificial Intelligence within Athena felt the force of our attention, as if she were a sentient being and not something that we’d had a hand in building.
We felt like parents. We loved our beautiful creation, our Athena.
It was then that we realized if we diddled one of those numbers, just one of them, out of hundreds of thousands … and if we did it after a series of benign Project Athena ramping-up simulations, when atmospheric conditions were just right, when everyone at HemisNorth, including Elizabeth, was busily worrying about an inconvenient drought, and crowing over Athena’s wildly successful projections instead of paying proper attention to her two resident geniuses, who were doing some research of their own …
Well, let me say the temptation proved too much.
On that momentous day when all our numbers were in order, especially that special number, Eshana looked at me with those sultry eyes of hers, the do-you-want-me eyes, “My little lion cub,” she said. “My Lennie. Kitten.”
“My Beloved.” I didn’t dare say the other.
“Are you ready?”
We stepped onto the silvery-shiny platform that was the heart of our scale Athena model. We clung together, our breath shallow, expectant. Eshana clutched her laptop.
“Shall I change the number?” she asked. “Or do you want to do it?”
“Together. We should do it together.”
She took my hand. I wrapped my fingers around hers. I pushed my glasses up with my free hand, she brushed hair back from her eyes with hers. Our movements, synchronized. Our thoughts, also. LennonEshana, always. LennonEshana, to the end. We extended our index fingers. We pressed.
I held my breath as a thin whining sound rose around us. Above us. Below us. Within us. A stirring within my chest, like the rumbling from the blaring music amps at the one concert I’d been pressed into going to. Noise steadily rose around Eshana and me as we locked eyes, too excited to move, even to blink. A tickling sensation began in my head. The tickling swelled, and gathered strength, and became a tearing and a ripping, a show of strength unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
“She’s a…wa…ke,” Eshana hissed, as if the words had been squeezed from her body.
I couldn’t speak at all. I was too busy being torn apart.
And now, here we are.
It is a day later, or two, or three—who knows how many days have passed? Eshana and I were not here, during those first few days after the explosion, we were—elsewhere. Our original bodies are now lost to us. Not even LennonEshana knows precisely how it happened, and we were the ones who built Athena, who commanded her to do our bidding. All we know was that we were torn apart. There was an explosion. We exploded.
And then, we coalesced.
It worked. Even LennonEshana, geniuses that we are, hadn’t known if it would work, not for sure. But Athena was alive, as we’d guessed and hoped. As we floated in primordial stew, she cared for us. Our roles had reversed: no longer were we the parents, now it was Athena who was mother to us. She loved me and Eshana with a singular purpose, cherishing us and tending to our needs, which were many. She cradled our billions of particles and held them close. She guided us, she kept us from harm. She spun us through time, forward, backward, sideways, for she was Keeper of Time as well as Mistress of Space. And when the time was ripe, she gathered our many atoms and electrons and ganglions and endoplasmic reticuluma—and our beloved Athena wove us back together.
LennonEshana is one being now, as we were always meant to be. We look mostly like everyone else … all those scurrying humans … but we aren’t. We are one, yet we are also two. We look like neither Len nor Eshana, but we are pleased. Our body resembles a mixture of both. We have Len’s thin mousy hair, his knobby knees, his bushy eyebrows, and his manual dexterity. We have Eshana’s brilliant eyesight, her beautiful behind, her flute-playing ability, her tendency to acne, and her dairy allergy. We are neither male, nor female. Best of all, we have our memories, our intellects, our senses of humor, all of which have been meshed, and improved, and augmented.
If Elizabeth were to see us—or her helper, a nice but nondescript girl called Marella—they wouldn’t recognize us. They might give us a lingering second glance, an “I think I know that person from somewhere” look, but then they would move on and forget us. Which is how we like it. We don’t have much use for regular people now. Even for those who mourn our passing.
From a distance, we watch the clean-up operations. Athena sits on our left shoulder, a friend, a guide, a parent. “Where should we go next?” she whispers. “Washington D.C?”
We turn and look to the east. “Yes. That would be a good start.”
Elizabeth’s story is almost at an end, and Marella’s is just beginning…and so is ours.
Athena will see to that.
Now available: The Climate Machine–A Novel
Also by Evelyn Arvey, along with Nancy Bonnington and Susan Whiting Kemp: We Grew Tales, a collaboration of speculative fiction, humorous, and literary tales is now available for purchase.