Image by kind permission of J R Biddulph (copyright)
The Lighthouse Wives
There are three phases of twilight: Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical. Nautical is vital. In clear weather, the horizon is faintly visible and the brightest stars can be seen. I use their position to navigate. I am now an old sea-dog, sailing coastlines and islands, alone. Night is risky. Sometimes I have company - the aurora’s Merry Dancers or a full moon that works both for and against.
I remain tough and strong enough to make my living, overcoming naked young women dancing on beaches at dusk; tethering them to the deck as I sail toward distant flashes of light on dark seas. They cry for their seal-skins left behind on the shore, and refuse nourishment. They will adapt. Lighthouse keepers are happy to relinquish bachelorhood and don’t haggle over money; without their skins the wives are land-locked. I re-visit every light. Children are born, and loved, but lighthouse wives yearn to return to the sea. Some die young, broken-hearted. Good for business.
Lighthouses are numerous around treacherous coasts. I map them, discovering a remote islet with a towering light. Ever hopeful, slithering up rocks to the doorway, I’m disappointed to be met by a slender, wiry woman. Her man is dead, but she keeps the light. Her dark eyes laugh at my discomfort when she says she wants to buy a husband.
Snatching girls from groups of enchanted dancers is one thing, but the males look muscular and strong. I think of the money, selecting a slim laddie who has strayed from his kin. My fist smashes his face. He is surprisingly compliant when I haul him aboard. How wifey manages him is her problem. After two days we make land, barely visible through the sea-haar. The woman, dressed in her dead man’s clothes, pulls me up onto the jetty. I fall screaming as she snaps my arm. Her boot smacks my head like a mains’l boom.
He sails before dawn to reclaim his skin. A selkie with soft liquid eyes bobs beside the boat. The sun is 12° below the horizon, slowly peeling the lightening sky from the sea.
“Live Long and Prosper”
The Governance said it would make us filthy rich. Filthy as the planet’s tiny, pock-marked moons; misshapen asteroid chips where we mined Uranalite before processing it on this rusty, freezing wilderness. The Collectors never hung around. They loaded the Metamaterials, and disappeared faster than ice-caps. No pilot wanted to discover a stowaway on their ship, and have to jettison them.
We worked our asses off, vented frustrations on sex-bots and retired to habitation tunnels away from radiation, stashing forbidden stimulants grown in the bio-domes. On HiRISE cameras, a blue planet with its moon was visible, if desired. Hal was cool with this place – he was born here. The first. His mother died almost immediately afterwards. Hal had never left, smiling enigmatically when some-one called him an alien. Truth was, we were all aliens, reliant on supplies and medicines from “home”. Hal never got sick, even when accidentally exposed to raw Uranalite.
I fretted. What was this job doing to me? My body, my reproductive system? I still had my period. The night of the dust-storm I invited Hal over and sealed my door. His body was human perfection.
Almost ten months later, birthing was as painless as this century could make it. Medics formed a silent army. I screamed. The baby was long, slimy, with skin like grey-green lichen; the colour of Uranalite. I pulled Hal close to me.
“Kill it” I gasped
© June Palmer
Author - June Palmer