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art by Melissa Mead

Three Weddings and an Objection

M. M. Domaille lives less than a mile south of an old tungsten mine in a small mountain town overrun by foxes. She blogs at elephantontheroof.wordpress.com.
I. Sam and Aga
We called the drone the Objection because it had the timing of a spurned lover, descending on our weddings just as the music swelled and tears flowed and hearts fluttered like stranded fish.
On the day of Sam and Aga's wedding, we dearly beloved hauled in the last glassfin catch, spread it out to freeze on the bank, and rode up through the ice shaft to the inflatable surface pavilion we called the Holy Balloon.
Nauja raised an eyebrow at the sight of me. "I thought I told you to put on something nice."
"This is the nicest thing I own." I scraped a glimmer of slime off my wetsuit.
"That's just willfully stupid," she said, but her frown quivered with caged laughter.
Sam and Aga marched up the aisle to where No-Nose Bill--unelected mayor, unlicensed medic, unordained priest--loomed over the altar in a homemade sacerdotal parka that lent him the look of a heavily tattooed stingray. No sooner did Bill coax out declarations of love and, with a bit more effort, promises of fidelity than a discordant hum curdled the air.
I searched the skies for a landing offworld ferry but saw only an odd crease in the darkness, an optical illusion without the illusion. Resonance shook the Holy Balloon as the darkness unfolded. With the synchronized dread of prey animals, we stared into the glare of a drone's headshield. First there was stillness, as we connected the images we'd seen on the omnicast with the sight now before us. Then we flung ourselves at the elevator like water crashing toward a drain. As the first pile of souls plunged toward the buried ocean, the rest of us crouched on the leeward side of the pews, not knowing that there is no leeward side when it comes to drones.
Our ears rang. The Holy Balloon flexed like blown glass, thinning, thinning, until the alien breath of our homeland rushed in.
Had the elevator not returned when it did, I wouldn't be telling this story. It was two seconds too late to spare me the name Gutless Pete.
II. Strong Arm and Big Leg
I imagine a drone isn't all that different from a fish. Trawling the underground ocean is almost too easy: we chum with color, illuminating sights the glassfins have glimpsed only in the muted glow of their own fluorescence. They chase stark lines and bright shapes straight into our nets, and we heave them into the hatch to die. To a drone hunting hunkered-down rebels on a backwater moon, the bustle of a civilian wedding must shine like a floodlight.
For two years after Sam and Aga's wedding, the whole fish mine played dead. The Holy Balloon lay deflated as an old sigh as we trudged through underground ceremonies that felt like funerals. Only when the war coverage on the omnicast dwindled to flickers of violence and the slow, rusty gears of the mundane groaned back into motion did we work up the courage to return to the surface.
Nauja and I rode up to the refurbished Holy Balloon for the nuptials of Strong Arm and Big Leg, whose names told the tale of their meet-tough romance. Only the grooms' close friends attended; we pretended it was a coincidence that the whole party could fit in the elevator at once. Back in the mines, volunteers monitored the surface scopes for uninvited guests.
Sure enough, just as the Limbs sealed their love with an embrace, a warning came from below. We scuttled back under the ice, and I hurried to a scope. For hours I watched the Objection hover beside the wedding site like a snubbed relative, its sectioned eyes scanning and rescanning the empty pews.
III. Nauja and Gutless Pete
We waited until the war's end before attempting another surface wedding. I'd rather have stayed below, but Nauja insisted.
"I won't have a coward for a husband," she said.
"Then don't marry a man named Gutless Pete."
Nauja had outlived two husbands and a wife, so I figured she knew a thing or two about surviving. It didn't dawn on me until later that she'd have buried fewer mates if they'd been cowards.
No one came to our wedding but No-Nose Bill, who officiated like an auctioneer: "Do I hear an 'I do'? Going once. Going twice." At "Dearlybeloved," Nauja's cheek began to twitch. By "DoyouNauja," she looked furious. My reconstructed gut twisted as I waited for her answer. I wasn't sure which I feared more: her refusal or the Objection.
They arrived together.
"Not like this," Nauja said.
As she spoke, the darkness shivered. A whine like scoured glass deepened into a familiar hum. I started to run, but Nauja grabbed my hand. "I won't marry a coward." She raised her chin, and because I'm the marrying type, I raised mine, too. The drone hung in the air like a wayward moon, tracking us with its fractured gaze. Nauja tracked it back, tight-lipped, until a trace of a smile broke through. "Keep going, Bill."
"Are you nuts?"
"No more than usual. Go on."
His voice shook. "Nauja, do you--"
"I do."
"And you, Pete?"
"Naturally."
"Then hurry up and kiss."
We obeyed. As Nauja led me down the aisle, I looked back to see the drone drift across the scarred ice with the slow, satisfied sway of a tipsy guest.
Now the drone comes to every wedding and forever holds its peace, even when something truly objectionable happens, like Broke Jenny settling for Eel-Jawed Erik. No one can explain it, but Nauja loves to try.
"Some kind of AI problem," she says as we step into the elevator. "If it's drawn that strongly to life, it can't keep on killing things. Only a human can handle that deep a contradiction."
No matter what she says, I believe her every time.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013


One of the great things about science fiction is that it lets you touch hot-button issues with a ten-light-year pole.

- M. M. Domaille

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