He sits back into the lawn chair, and the vibration of the ships causes the entire earth to tremble. The entire cluster of cities rising into the evening sky shakes Niqo’s very bones, his glasses, his balls, his teeth, his glass of scotch and the chair he sits upon as well as the numerous tiny, red, glass, figurines dropping one by one from the edge of the window sill inside his small dwelling—but he can’t hear them and even if he could he’d not turn and try to catch them, because none of it matters anymore.
The last time Niqo felt this rumbling it had been on a ship, not a planet. He had been nine the last time his people fled an Imurgic planet in a Leaving. He is 109, now. The Cuardaq typically live to around 300 years of age, and while still young, Niqo is well-respected, and not only because of his family line but for how he spends his time. Mostly tending Public Garden #3, where he sits this evening.
The rain falls hard on the silent man, as he sits in the downpour. His eyes are focused on the smokey, golden horizon, and if the pelting drops bother him, it doesn’t show. He has all the time in the world, in one sense. Or certainly no reason to rush around.
It was just in March that he had received news that he was to be honored in the groundbreaking ceremony on the new planet for his work in the community. Many said he was taking after his father. He mostly nodded and smiled to so much of that…he had plans none of them knew about, even then.
The rain seems gleeful to be alone with him now, falling with a velocity nearly hostile. It pounds into the stones and the soil and his forehead and the leaves of every plant in the Garden as if it is throwing itself a planet-claiming party. It’s all yours now, Mother, Niqo thinks, his dark brown, rain-slick skin shining in the setting sunlight. I’m just here to hand it off, if you don’t mind.
But the rain doesn’t answer, doesn’t listen, doesn’t slow. Today, nothing a man wants will matter. And how long the planet has waited.
Niqo lifts his glass of scotch, which is by now watered down considerably from the rain. The taste has grown sharp and sour. He swallows it in one gulp.
The last rites were observed last month, and everything since then has been preparation. A Joyful, tearful, whirlwind of ceremony, tears, speeches, parties, rituals, gifts, last grasps, last flings, last words, last looks…. Niqo’s experience of the Leaving is much different this time than it was when he was a boy. But he is a man now, and his life has been filled with many people and moments and lessons since then. He wonders if the years bring weight more than anything else. Weight upon your body that wears it down to dust. Weight upon the mind that brings a caution and regret.
Or maybe it’s just him. Niqo smiles at his morose turn of thought. It’s the rain, he thinks. The sky’s sorrow is filling my heart.
A planet in an Imurgic Spring becomes deadly to human beings, and in more ways than a human being can possibly prepare for. The water becomes a slow-acting depressant to the central nervous system, the plant life becomes caustic to the skin, the air gradually ceases to hold enough oxygen. The entire eco-system shapes itself deliberately fatal to human beings. There are competing scientific theories as well as endless philosophical discussions (and even college courses) dedicated to whether or not the Imurgic condition evolved as a means of cleansing the Cuardaq people from the Universe, a cosmic immunological condition to solve a particularly resistant strain of mammal. There are still no definitive answers to this, and the entire discussion ceases to interest Niqo mostly because whether or not it’s personal, Imurgic planets are deadly to him and people like him. And that’s all he needs to know.
Niqo has one last hand to play in the entire game, however.
The first time Niqo’s ancestors learned about the Imurga had been four hundred years before Niqo was born. Of course it remains a core lesson in Cuardaq history. After all, that lesson was what set them all in motion, was what culled 80% of them from the planet upon which they had begun, what had yanked those celebrated ancestors from the world of the living.
It was, by every account of the word, a massacre. Doctors mistook the various illnesses and environmental problems as separate conditions and events for far too long. Thousands upon thousands died before anyone began to think in new ways, ways that led to the very first understanding of the seemingly endless series of new diseases, new conditions, new hazards, new dangers….and tied them together as an apparently conscious effort by the planet to kill off human beings.
The Book, as the Cuardaq people call the history and lessons of their kind, is stocked with the classic gruesome images: The Green Morning, The WorldWide Scream, The Last Tangle, The Parting, The Escape…. Some complain, as time between the first Imurgic Morning goes by and fades somewhat in the collective memory, that the Cuardaq History texts used in school should be modernized a little, so that their history didn’t seem to have at its core a grisly horror story. The typical petitions for less shocking images, etc, are passed around. But each new phase of the Imurga on a new planet quickly quells or shrinks that margin of voices. Most of the Cuardaq are aware at all times that to forget this history is to fall into another Tangle, and from one they might not escape.
On the other side of the spectrum from those who want to shy away from the troublesome history the Cuardaq share are those who jump at the appearance of any new sprout that pokes its head from the soil each Spring. It is they who begin packing as early as January, when the ships aren’t to leave until June—still 3 months earlier than the dangerous phases of the Imurgic Spring appear. And it is they who often lapse into total anxiety the last month or so before the Leaving. Thankfully, their numbers are small.
Unfortunately, all manners of mental stressors and conditions worsen during this time. Ignoring this reality is what led, in time, to the Cuardaq initiating the Leaving three months earlier than historically observed.
But that’s a story for another day.
It’s not easy to move an entire civilization, even one as small as that of the Cuardaq people’s. But there is no arguing the phases that precede Imurgic Spring. The rapid disappearance of entire animal species. The temporal changes. The dangerously acid levels of water. Finally, the reversal of seasons.
The planet has entered the last stage that Imurgic planets host before they become inhospitable to humans. Though not yet dangerous, the appearance of small vines with blisters as green as lime-candies have begun to sprout forth from every tree, every lilypad, every patch of moss and they bring a bright note of alarm. Come winter, these blisters will begin breaking. After that, one must avoid contact with all plant life. This is harder than one might think.
This July marks the fourth time the Cuardaq have moved, and whether it is their luck in eco-systems or simply the universe growing more Imurgic over time, Niqo does not yet know. But as they are an adaptive People, they have come to think of this coming and going and watching the signs of nature so as to keep out of her way a manner of living, not something to fight, or overcome, or stop.
The Cuardaq learned long ago that a thorough education is paramount in banishing this kind of fear. Typically, by the time children are five they can identify Imurgic vegetation as well are recite the story of the First Leaving, complete with environmental cues in linear order.
Plants that resemble Imurgic strains in any way were long ago declared against the law to grow. There aren’t many, but nobody wants to have them lying about. It has proved easier to outlaw them, than to deal with the distraction.
Niqo’s hand lays folded out upon the ground. He had been reaching for the scotch. But now it rests on the wet grass, his knuckles grazing the flattened stalks. The skies are still again, the ships have gone, the bottle is forgotten, and the old man sits deep in thought. The sun is red, and her last rays envelope Niqo’s lined forehead with care. On this planet quickly growing malevolent, it seems a noble charity to give this last human clinging to her surface.
Niqo lifts his eyes, then, to the garden before him. He sits at the community center, Public Garden #3, now surreally empty. Dusk has moved on and in the darkness, his is the lone figure. But of course, all the streets and buildings and gardens are abandoned tonight.
The truth of it is, nobody knows that Niqo chose to stay on the planet’s surface. His choice to remain behind was communicated to only one person. And even then, not directly. And before she could respond, Niqo had gratefully accepted her embrace as a way of forgetting his confession, and then he had taken more from her. And as always, she was more than happy to give to him. And he had forgotten for the rest of the night, though now her face hangs before him no matter which way he turns his gaze.
But those whispered promises and unadorned admissions belong to stories Niqo will tell himself in his mind in the coming days, as he walks an empty city preparing for a sacrifice he has long felt was his to make.
For now, he sits drinking from a scotch glass as soon as the sky refills it, watching the communal gardens droop under the pre-Imurgic deluge. The dark water lays heavy on the bent leaves, dragging them down to the soil, shaping into barbs underneath. Gleaming blackly as the earth drinks up her own evening aperitif.