Cater is sixth generation. The first messages took six months. It is now two hours. They are close. All droning work was finished, the machinery locked away in the preservation bay. The maintenance schedule has its own pace, a litany of processes now closer to manual control. The most interesting event is the daily air reading, closer to life than ever. Not that she has been outside.
The library dome has been completely restored. It was fractured in generation three, before the atmosphere was thick enough to absorb the debris of the outer ring. Cater too has absorbed it all, the writings and stories of her once world. Her ancestors are shuffled in the dock behind, a keepsake for when the arrival occurs. Everything known, will be known again.
She is the last of the keepers. It is knowledge which neither scares or excites. It is the way, and the generations have worked their time, unpacking the first modules, the reappraisal of various sites, the preparation of each location, construction and repair. In decreasing numbers, each century reached the target stages, mapped and terra formed, built cities and gardens. They prepared basins for oceans, raised mountains, and seeded landscapes.
Now oxygen is outside as well as within. She is sometimes drawn to the labyrinth.
Stacked in the honeycomb are the first and the last of before. The hexagons rise and spread in an inverted pyramid of captured moments. Within each carapace a slow beat is monitored, measured, charged, regulated while decades irresistibly pass.
It is one second to alarm. The two suns have nuanced shades. The fleet hang glides through the final year, propulsion and speed handed over to a calculated gravity. The geometry of descent marked through each intercession and passing through of pulsing circumferences.
Cater is unsurprised to see herself and feel her hand salute itself in the upper forearm grip. Except for the smile, which repeats on her face as well.
You are Cater, the Caretaker.
You are Ari, the Arrival.
Cater is neither scared or excited. She is the preparation and the waiting.
Ari is neither scared or excited. She is the journey and the beginning.
Bio: James Walton was a librarian, a farm labourer, a cattle breeder, and mostly a public sector union official. He is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He has been shortlisted for the ACU National Literature Prize, the MPU International Prize, and the James Tate Prize.
His poetry collections include The Leviathan’s Apprentice, Walking Through Fences, and Unstill Mosaics (forthcoming). He is now old enough to be almost invisible. He lives in the old coal mining town of Wonthaggi, Australia.