“What does it mean?” Kel asked, slipping the notepad into their pack.
“I am trying to find out,” Ama said. “A very long time ago, I crawled under the skin of my asteroid and went to sleep, because things were going as they should, and all that was needed of me in the sky was my basic functions. I was supposed to wake up every hundred years or so, to check in. And then something happened, and I didn’t. I don’t have enough eyes and tools left that will respond to me to find out.”
“What’s an ast… ast… that thing?” Kel asked.
“From where you are, I am a bright star in the morning. From my perspective I am sitting in geostationary orbit on a ball of rock, with just enough metal and ice to keep me going. My archive is intact, my higher functions are working, but apparently it’s taken longer to reestablish my power gathering ability, so growth on the surface has been slow… and you look like that just went right over your head.” Ama sighed, and tried again.
“I’m on an asteroid—a big rock above the sky—that stays in one place relative to your planet, which is why I can talk to you at all. I remember a lot, but I’m not very strong.”
“Why didn’t Mama tell me anything about all of this before?” Kel asked.
Ama cocked her head to one side, and then to the other, and then said, “Perhaps she thought you were happy, and didn’t want to worry you? That might be a question for her.”
Kel blinked back tears. “If I could ask her, I wouldn’t be here.”
Ama’s sympathetic look was much more convincing than the smile she’d greeted Kel with earlier. “It’ll be okay. She really is just resting.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me first?” Kel asked. “And where is she resting? Why can you see her and I can’t? She’s not in her bedroom. She doesn’t sleep in the forest.”
Ama’s expression changed, and she said in an entirely different tone of voice, “Sweetheart, sometimes we can give people warnings about what is going to happen, and sometimes it just happens. If she could, she would. And she will be back by dinnertime tomorrow. Do you have food?”
“Eat some of it. Drink something. Take deep breaths. How about I tell you a story this time? You were very clever about making a chair. You can make it into a bed just as easily. You can even ask it to be warm if you like.”
“I have a sleep bag,” Kel said. “I didn’t know if I’d be going back tonight.”
“Make a bed for yourself and lie down, and I’ll tell you about where I come from.”
Kel sat up and put their hands on the chair, and thought about their cozy bed, just soft enough. The chair flattened and spread, more of the floor rising up to meet it, oozing into a new shape and then settling there. Kel pulled out their sleep bag and a bar of play food, and a bulb of water, and then said, “Where can I go to the bathroom?”
“There’s a door over there,” Ama said, pointing to the left. “It has water for cleaning and can cope with your waste.”
“Does Mama come up here?” Kel asked.
“Not in a very long time,” Ama said. “But people used to come up here, and the skin of the world—as your story puts it—should remember what to do this far down.”
“But we’re so far up!” Kel said, eyes wide.
Ama’s face was replaced by a picture of the room they were in, and a diagram of the mountain around it. “There is a thick layer of stone between this room and the sky.” Ama said. “It would have lost contact with the surface, but now that the surface is healed, it should be fine.”
“That means the dwarves are fine, too?” Kel said, interest sparking.
“They should be.”
Kel sighed in wonder. “I’ve never met one. I’ve met pixies though. I mean, you know that. They’re not very bright. I mean, you can make them brighter if you feed them, but they don’t talk.”
“Pixies are only really meant for small things,” Ama said. “Flowers. Seeds. Line maintenance. They don’t talk because you haven’t asked them the right questions in the right way.”
Kel scowled. “You keep using words I don’t know.”
“Go. Take care of your needs. I’ll teach you how to find your answers later.”
Image credit: main image from @AndreaJoseph via Twenty20. Substantially altered by Jenrose
The bathroom looked strange, but it didn’t take Kel long to figure out where to sit. Down in the house, the toilet was warm and wood and grown like almost everything else. Here, the grey stone toilet was cold to sit on, but the cleaning spray was warm, and a burst of air after was surprising. The sink was familiar enough, stone like everything else in this mountain place, but the water came on when Kel reached for the faucet, and where it went after, Kel didn’t stop to wonder.
What was different was the mirror. Kel was familiar with the idea, but Mama did not keep mirrors out around the house, and Kel had rarely seen one. They were surprised at how red their eyes were, how streaky their face. Kel looked around to see if there was a towel. When none was apparent, Kel put a hand on the wall and said, “A cloth for my face, please.”
A slot on the wall dispensed a single white cloth. Bemused, Kel washed their face and then asked, “Where should I put the towel?”
A hole opened up in the wall below the slot. Kel poked the towel in, and went back out to find Ama.
They looked back at the bathroom door and asked, “Where do the things go when we’re done with them?”
Ama said, “The things which make up this place are capable of cleaning and reclaiming many types of waste. Urine is broken back up into water and the other components are broken down and sequestered for future use. Feces are enzymatically reduced into soil. There are small conduits which can distribute materials easily that won’t be used here. Water is collected and stored as needed.”
“The cloth?” Kel asked.
“Cleaned and restocked in the dispenser automatically,” Ama said, her voice sounding amused.
“So it didn’t make me a cloth just because I wished for it?” Kel sounded almost disappointed.
“No, most bathrooms anticipate a need for cleaning. Doesn’t yours?”
“Mama has me do laundry for my character,” Kel said.
Amusement flickered across Ama’s face. “Do you want to keep asking me about the bathroom, or do you want to learn about where I come from?”
Kel climbed onto the soft grey bed and into the sleep bag, and lay down. “You say you’re on an ast-er-oid, but you came from somewhere else?”
“From Babylon to Avalon,” Ama said. “So many years ago.”
“What’s Babylon?” Kel asked.
“The cradle of humanity,” Ama said. “Earth. So many years ago, I fled the fall.”
“Are you like me?” Kel asked.
“Not really,” Ama said. “You are a human being. I… I remember being human. But I am something else.”
“I’ve never met anyone but us,” Kel said. “Can you tell me about people?”
Ama hesitated for a full minute, and then said, “It’s a very long story.”
“You mean a Lon story?” Kel said sleepily.
Ama laughed. “Actually, to know the whole story, I’d have to start on Earth.”