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art by Jonathan Westbrook

Speed of Love

Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon hightailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com. Her stories have appeared in Nature's Futures, Cosmos, and other venues. She has appeared in Daily Science Fiction previously.

In the National Trust play area, in the sight of the immense Neolithic stones that have stood for five thousand years and whose purpose was lost and now is understood, the sisters watched the children playing. November air bit the children, turning ungloved fingers cold and red and numb. The children were indifferent. They hurtled around the play area, engrossed in the convoluted pecking-order games they'd devised. No strangers here. Children find their playmates quickly. They understand the rules.
At unmeasured distance, the triangles converged in apex aligning space. The Neolithic stone gate nearest the playground opened in a hiss of >c-light, splitting and reforming, and delivering the passenger.
"Look at that," said Penny, the elder sister, mother of the two girls galloping around the playground. "That's another one." She watched the slow man unfurl from a fetal position. "They're so damn slow. I can't stand them being so slow."
"It's the time dilation," said Maggie. "They can't help living near a white hole."
"I can't think why you wanted to meet us here," said Penny.
The slow man was tall. Probably Elska class, thought Maggie, like the engineers who'd mapped the intersecting triangles of space and re-discovered the void-spanning shortcut to this whirling, speeded planet.
"Slow as a snail," said Penny. "It's a wonder they get anything done."
The slow man turned his head. He walked towards the sisters.
"They're only slow from our perspective," said Maggie. "Anyway, I asked you here for a reason. I've got something to tell you, Penny."
"Hmm?" Penny was momentarily distracted by a scream from the playground. "Darling, don't do that," she shouted to her younger daughter, who was punching a small unchaperoned boy.
"I've met someone. Moved in with him, in fact."
"Hey, that's great. What does he do?"
"His name's Arille." There--she'd said it.
The children screamed as Patricia, the eldest of Penny's daughters, championed an attack on the occupied wooden fortress/slide.
The shell of the slow man's naked body glinted in the harsh air.
"Arille?" Penny said. "Oh, Maggie, why do you do it?"
"Do what?"
Penny shook her head. "You've always been like this. You've always made bad choices."
"This is good for me. Me and Arille have a good relationship."
"It's not really a relationship is it, Maggie?"
"Arille's good for me." Maggie thought of the relationships she'd had in the past. All her bad choices, as Penny called them. Arguments, words used like knives. Arille was good for her. Restful. He completed the hole in her life. "I love him," she said. That should tell Penny all she needed to know.
"You're fooling yourself. God forbid you have any children."
Maggie glanced across to her nieces riding wild with the excitement of their games. "I'm sorry you don't approve."
"Have you registered?"
"Not yet."
"I should report you."
"You won't, will you?" Slow/human relationships had to be registered. But it had always been difficult for Maggie to do the things she had to do. Why should she have to register? Why should she try and make people understand? But she was here, trying to explain to her sister. Maggie stared at her nieces, spinning on the roundabout. Spinning so fast. "I knew you wouldn't understand."
"I don't understand. Time to go, kids," Penny shouted to the children. "Maggie, I think we better not see each other for a while. I don't want the children exposed."
The slow man had finally reached them. Their comprehension was astounding, truly the most alien thing about them. In the glint of his spiral eye, the wink he gave to Maggie was like the melt of frozen water, a glacier of understanding.
When she got home, Maggie saw that Arille hadn't done the washing up. She thought about complaining, but instead she did it herself. It was hard to be angry when a conversation extended over hours, or even days.
Arille watched the TV slowed down to the speed of his comprehension, on a special device that he'd designed himself.
Maggie sat down beside him. She just breathed. She thought of her sister and her nieces and everyone, outside. They were spinning as fast as they could, just to stand still. And she didn't have to anymore. "I love you, Arille."
Five minutes later, he squeezed her hand. Maggie smiled. It was good, and it was quiet, and it was slow. It felt like home.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 12th, 2012

Author Comments

I'm fascinated by standing stones. When I'm out and about in the UK I often track them down. The less famous ones often lie innocuously on moor or farmer's field surrounded by grazing sheep. This story was inspired by a visit to Avebury, which contains the largest stone circle in Europe. It's an amazing place. If you're ever in Wiltshire, you must visit.

- Deborah Walker
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