Reading Time: 4 minutes
“Hello girl,” Chisholm greeted the Arken’s transom. “I missed you.”
“Don’t get too flirty,” Meredith shot sideways, popping the ship’s hatch. “She’s my baby now.”
Chisholm gave her a black glare. “Perhaps a hand of cards later?”
Meredith’s eyebrows raised in mock surprise. “Do you have anything left to lose, Chisholm?”
He flashed a disgruntled smile, then sighed, surveying the area. “Looks like Davis took off with more than just my bedroll, but I’ll gladly wager the tug if we can track it down. He can’t have flown far.”
“That ship isn’t worth the scrap.” Meredith retorted.
“Well, how about that bug I found in the cave.” Chisholm suggested, nodding toward Azi who carried the female Solar Locust, frozen in amber.
Meredith’s face went hard. “I’ve grown fond of the Arken.” She turned, crossing her arms. “Let’s discuss the fare for hauling you off this rock.”
Azi stood back, observing the banter between the two Earthspawn. Meredith and Chisholm played at rivals, draping a translucent slip of antagonism over barely concealed curves of attraction. Azi understood the man’s draw – his smooth, dark skin and chiseled form radiated an objective beauty akin to a finely wrought sculpture – but it was more difficult understanding his attraction to their master. Small and annoyingly frenetic, Meredith always seemed ready to burst from her own skin. Strong, without doubt, of body and mind, but impatient with energy and drive.
“What are you doing here, Chisholm?” Meredith asked, gesturing for Chisholm and Azi to board the ship.
“Davis and I bolted during the locust swarm on Celine and this is as far as we got in that rickety can you left me.”
“Celine?” Meredith replied in confusion. “How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know, a few hours?” He ducked his head as he stepped through the hatch.
Azi followed Chisholm into the Arken. A male locust, locked in a glass specimen cube, lost all composure when Azi entered with the ambered female. The box rattled on the countertop as his antics grew more fervent with the proximity of his potential mate. The dull brown beast quickly speckled with red and green from smashing himself against the walls of his small glass prison.
Azi wondered at the strange evolutionary kinks that sliced apart the genders and distinguished male from female in much of the galaxy. Even though the Nazarai were the only hermaphrodites of the three known humanoid races, the logic of gendering seemed flawed and archaic, a regressive trait. Nazaraik mythology told of the progenitors of their pantheon, a gendered pair, endlessly battling between themselves. Finally, while wrestling in their ultimate showdown, blades to each other’s throats, the titan’s passions flipped and violence transformed to ardor. The resulting conjugation spawned the seven hermaphrodite gods of Nazarai and, through them, all life and magic in the cosmos. Azi sniffed as Meredith stepped in, closing the hatch. No gods will be born of you two, but I wish you’d just end the charade and get on with it.
“Celine was destroyed almost six months ago.” Meredith said.
“Six months?! By whose orbit?” Chisholm exclaimed. “Even with the needling, we can’t have moved more than a few weeks.”
“We’ve had almost 200 sleep cycles since the locusts destroyed Celine.”
Chisholm’s jaw dropped.
“I get that everything is relative.” Chisholm spoke after a pause. “Your time is different than mine, but unless I traveled at the speed of light as I strolled through that cave, by Einstein’s dice, there is no way that five months passed me by.”
“Don’t you have other Gods than Einstein, Chisholm?” Azi interjected. “Darwin? Turing?”
“We do,” Meredith answered. “And, for the record, Einstein’s apostle, Heisenberg, actually rolled the dice. His snake eyes slew Einstein, who then resurrected because, however unlikely, the improbable MUST be real for the cosmic equation to balance.”
“And Einstein was both alive and dead until Schrodinger opened the crypt.” Chisholm added, wryly. “Earth religion is riddled with paradox, always has been.”
“Perhaps that’s a lesson in itself.” Meredith stated. Azi had heard this before: paradox was a fundamental universal constant, a meta-lesson of Earth’s religious teachings.
“Meredith,” Azi interrupted urgently. “The stone is softening.” It was melting in their hands.
Their master quickly lifted a bench seat and brought out a second transparent box. She popped the lid and Azi placed the now jelly-like Locust stone inside. Meredith sealed the small cell and set it on the counter next to the other. The male thrashed maniacally, hurling itself against the sides of its cage until it finally fell, battered and broken, oozing insides on the floor of the cube.
“Fascinating.” Meredith whispered.
Azi recoiled at their master’s cruelty. They averted their eyes from the dying male and observed the female, slowly emerging from her liquid bedding. They turned back to Chisholm.
“There are more ways to bend time than with speed.” Azi spoke slowly, sometimes they felt surrounded by children. “The Nazarai call it knotting. I suspect the female Solar Locust hibernates in just such a knot. Slowing time to preserve herself until a mate arrives.”
“And I got caught in that when I found the thing in the cave?”
“Perhaps,” Azi continued, “when you picked up the Locust Stone you entered the time sink. Later, the female began unknotting when we arrived with the male.”
“Five months later, it appears.” Meredith added.
Chisholm took a deep breath then nodded. “That would explain why Davis didn’t wait around.”
“Time is tricky,” Meredith continued. “It doesn’t always flow the way we think. According to the Duneer, this conversation has already been inscribed in a book in their library, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening.”
“Yeah yeah, and the only way I know I exist is if I take a selfie and check to see if it’s really me.” Chisholm quipped, clearly uninterested in further review of the galaxy’s ancient mythologies. “Can we just get off this rock?” He peered over at the female Locust, its wings spread and vibrating. “And will you kill that thing. It makes my skin squirm.”
“No,” Meredith replied coldly. “She’s our bait.”