And One Day Soon Your Many Worlds

A.J. is a writer and English teacher from Chicago. He specialized in the study of speculative fiction while pursuing his M.A.. Now he writes SFF criticism and his own short fiction. Find his work at: theymightbewindmills.com. "And One Day Soon Your Many Worlds" is in Short Circuit #13, Short Édition's quarterly review.

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The Mine was due to rise in thirty minutes, and Regge wanted to grab a bowl of ramen planetside before his shift started. He biked through the smoke and stirring bodies and boss-bots buzzing around the port and headed for Gatt's Salvage Shop on the outskirts of town. He wasn't bound for the shop itself, but for the little ramen stand hunkered in its shadow. You could get tak from just about anywhere in the port, but that stand was the only place for a million ticks in any direction capable of converting the stuff into something worth eating.

A circle of hoverbikes was already waiting when Regge reached the shop at the start of the salt dunes. They were slurping from steaming bowls and playing at marbles, all of them that is except for Gatt, who was banned for the unfair advantage afforded by his cilia. The rest of them knuckled down around the circle on claws and tentacles, fingers and flagella and each, to a one, decked out in blue company overalls—one size fits all.

Sidelined with the bikes, Gatt dug his clever digits into an old radio, twitching and fiddling the internal workings of the corrugated hunk of lead-glance and alum in hopes of catching the core worlds.

Regge's bike sputtered and clicked to a halt beside the others; he was met with several frequencies of greeting and the sharp clack of one marble knocking another out the circle into the salt. He lit a company cigarette and squatted to see better what was going on with Gatt's radio.

"Hey Gatt," said Regge.
"Hey."

One of the wires sticking out of the radio sparked and the whole vibrating mass screamed to life: "BZZT-RSSSTT-fleet has been forty-eight hours in orbit. Southern Cross Command expected to formally surrender at-RKCLKCLKCLK-in addition to the Palace of Magistrates, the Zannit demanded access to every chartered company headquarter—RKCLKCLKCLK."

The radio died out again.

"Damn." Gatt pulled his cilia loose from the radio to flick away the perspiration dotting his skin.
"Hmmm." Regge looked over to the horizon and could see the pale chartreuse glow of the Mine coming through stronger. Only about twenty minutes now. "Hey, how's about you leave off the politics for tonight and try to catch us some music instead? I'll shout you a bowl if you can net us something lively from Cyg-7."
"This is important," Gatt said.
Regge took a drag off the cigarette and watched Gatt coax his digits back deep into the radio. Regge could never understand why his friend took such interest in the shortwave of faraway worlds that had rejected them both. Rejected their great-great-however-many-great-grandparents, rather. It took ages for anything to reach this far out, and by the time the broadcasts made their way to this little corner of nowhere, they were already old news, practically history.

"Suit yourself." Regge flicked his cigarette, stretched and tried to straighten his Mine-busted gladius as best he could, and went for his dinner.
    
Regge found a couple of old timers sitting at the stand and enjoying their eats, whiskers swaying a bit in the steam rising off their bowls. The backs of their necks were dotted with the semi-transparent tumors that all chordates got after enough time on the Mine; little globules of pus floated serenely behind the skin, disturbed only by the tidal out and in pull of pulse. Behind the counter was Xephq, the old two-armed chef. He was busy chiseling away at a brown block of tak and depositing the shards into a bubbling pot.

"Hey, Xephq," Regge said.
"How many?" Xephq asked.
"Just the one. Seafood Gumbo, if you please."

Regge gave Xephq his company card to punch and was ladled a bowl. Calling it "Seafood Gumbo" wasn't strictly accurate, of course. Xephq used a number of creative titles to help go with the seasoning, adding word-spice to make up for what was wanting in the bowl. "Wild Mushroom" was the name for ramen tossed with fungus from the radiator out back. "Chicken and Sausage" was really rat and other-kind-of-rat. "Seafood Gumbo" was the term of art for ramen seasoned with minerals taken from the salt flats, which the company geologists said had been an ocean a few millions of years ago.

Regge took his bowl and breathed deep the steam rising up into the new night, imagining graceful, myriad forms of creatures that once loved to swim.

When Regge returned to the circle of bikes with his ramen, he found everyone had abandoned the marbles to gather around Gatt. He had his radio stationed upright, and everyone was listening.

"Got it working again?" Regge asked.
"Shh."

Regge leaned back against his bike and slurped noodles from his bowl while the radio sang its tinny song across the lightyears:

"Article 7: Eudaimonia being the nature proper to mind-form, all sentients are hereby safe-vowed the right to pursue their own flourishing as far as they are able. Any attempt to shackle the flourishing proper to mind-form or to alienate it from its life-labor shall be met by severest penalty of law.
"Article 8: Cooperation being recognized as means paramount to meeting the myriad needs of mind-form, the right of mind-form to sublimate into cooperative assemblages shall heretofore be recognized and protected. This right shall be enforced by the might of the Zannit until a sovereign and stable ComInGal government be established."

A horned head peeked up from the circle huddled around the radio to find Regge, leaning up against his bike and behind the rim of his ramen.

"Hey, Regge, aren't you one of those?"
"A Communist?"
"Nah. Aren't you one of them Zannit?"
"Hell if I know."

For the next ten minutes or so, the radio continued to recite a baffling litany of rights and provisions in a sharp, clear voice. Regge didn't understand much of it, but the sign-off made clear enough:

"To all your beleaguered, tired masses scattered across the wide swinging arms of the galaxy, know that the revolution comes for you. The injustice of your stolen labor shall be corrected in the long sweep of history, and your oppressors cursed across its pages. Today we liberate your capital world and, one day soon, your many worlds!"

The broadcast cut out again, this time not because the radio had died, but because there was no broadcast left. There was not a sound save for the whisper of static from the radio and the wind blowing across the salt flats.

Regge slurping up the last of the noodles from his Seafood Gumbo, smacking his gums. It was good ramen.

"Whelp, time for work," said Regge. "You all coming? Transports won't wait."

The many glittering eyes of his fellow miners watched as he went about gathering up their empty bowls.

"Weren't you listening?" Gatt asked. "Those Zannit just overthrew the government."
"They overthrew it a couple years ago. Hasn't made a difference yet now, has it? Come on: company wants its quota."
"Company? Probably no company left," said Gatt.
"On the core worlds, maybe. Here the bosses have their programming, and that programming says, ‘Work the Mine until there's nothing left to mine.' Now come on, everyone. Boss is ticking."

Slowly, the other miners got up and went to gather their scattered marbles. Regge took the dishes back to Xephq's stand, thanked him again for the meal, and went to his bike. Most of the others had hitched up and taken off for the short-range transports by the time Regge got back. The only one left was Gatt, still sitting there with his radio humming static, cilia twitching now that they had nothing to occupy them.

"You heard the broadcast. The revolution is coming. They probably already sent ships."
"The revolution will take about a hundred years to catch up with their own shortwaves," said Regge. "By then, you and me will both be in the salt. That's the only thing we've ever had coming to us, friend. That and a hot bowl, maybe. Be seeing you."

Regge got on his bike and took off toward the transports. As he rode back into town, the gibbous shape of the Mine peaked up over the horizon, its pale green light set his shadow trailing like a long, dark ribbon behind him.

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