Art by Melissa Mead
by Stephen V. Ramey
On Centuri Primus, it's said one has only to set foot onto the planet to feel God's embrace. Ask a question, get His answer, think of a friend you once knew and you're talking to, feeling, their presence. Other planets have different protocols, but each has been linked into the Wholeness. Except Earth. The universe is alight with God's glow, yet we remain in a darkness of our own stubborn design.
I live in the shantytown surrounding the space elevator warehouse complex, a hundred thousand people fighting tooth and nail for day labor, shelter, food, and water. Nearly all of us want to leave. You can see the longing in our eyes when a car ascends through the elevator tower. You can hear it in the sudden hush.
Today I'm standing in a crowd of men waiting for the cargo company to select workers when a commotion starts. A woman has left the elevator compound. We're kept out of the Blue Zone, but sometimes visitors come to us. For them, it must be a return to the primitive, a safari vacation from the world of technomagic.
Toothless women wave handcrafted rugs and bowls and dolls. "Only twenty dollars," one screams. "Ten," another offers. Soon they've talked themselves below the cost of their materials for the chance to say they sold something to a visitor. Men offer to porter bags, children beg for crumbs. Everyone hangs on the visitor's every word, longing for stories of heaven.
"You," she says, pointing. Why she singles me out, I do not know; maybe because I'm relatively new here, less disheveled than most of these men. I feel the jealous hatred of others pour over me.
"Well?" she says. "Are you going to invite me into your home, or not?"
Intensely embarrassed, I lead her to the slant-roof shanty I claimed last week from a mummified man. I patched the roof with tarpaper and bricked one open side. I plan to sleep here until someone stronger comes along.
The visitor nods approval; the coarseness of this place resonates with some repressed part of her, I suppose. It's easier to visit Hell than to live here. Her name is Engjella and she's from Ganus Colony, wherever that might be. I admire her flowing brown hair, hazel eyes flecked with gold.
She comes inside. I drop the sheet that serves as my door.
"What does it feel like?" I ask. "To talk to God?"
She blinks. "God?" She touches her scalp. I see the glint of her halo, a circle of silver metal embedded into the skull crown beneath that lush hair. "It's like communion, I suppose, like being connected to everyone who is or was since the Wholeness began. I forget you cannot access it." She touches my arm. "If it's any consolation, sometimes the sensation is more than we want. We travel into deep space, visit a moon, or maybe come here to get away from that immensity for a time."
I hold back tears. "I would give anything to experience it."
She smiles. "Think of me as your opportunity. I'll carry this experience--you--within me when I leave." She laughs lightly. "Shall we make it memorable?"