My kid is ten years old now. He is strong and fine and makes me proud. Gomer, too, I think is proud. In my dreams he offers to go into Hepob again if I wish another child.
Not yet, I tell him. There is something first I must do.
This tower is cold. Colder than the other. Around me are many billies, one of whom, my kid. Across from us, on the Tower of our People, the other, older, billies have gathered.
The singing starts. The histories come. The young billies around me are scared. They snort and stamp the earth. This Tower is higher and lower than the one across from us. I am in the lead with my son. A column forms, like the root of a great Theisen, reaching out to us. My kid is afraid as we walk across.
I sit atop the Theisen and at the mouth of Denihé's cave, my cave, and watch the skies, waiting and listening for the gentle quaking of a Rumbler leaving a ship, hoping it will wake me if I sleep at night. They always land at night. I remember, when The Merrimack came here, waking at the sounds of the Rumbler being dispatched and going to my console, adjusting my Eye until the Rumbler's coal-black combustion flare arced past and made its way through the cold lights of space towards Aguirra.
That was long ago.
Now I aim the transmitter's beacon towards Canis. It is cold. I motion Tika's daughter, Keke, to throw some more of Hepob's blue-green berries into the fire along with some of the Wa'asis I'd left here to season. Keke forces a few berries into my mouth and I swallow without chewing. The berries in the fire ignite like Chinese Tallow, albeit more evenly, and burn white hot as their oxygen catches the flames. I wonder what the berries do to my gut.
"Look. I'm setting it on passive attract. It'll transmit everything in its core once a year. You'll be able to hear it when it transmits, so don't worry.
"But you have to remember to let it remain here, on top of the Tower, until another Journeyer comes."
Should the Pilgrimage council ever again corridor this world, I want someone to know what they'll find here. Which dream of trees they may destroy. Checking the transmitter's power supply, I pull my survival suit's flaps tighter around me. Most of my own clothes are long tattered and mostly fallen from me. There's not even enough left to provide some dignity if I were to meet another human. Still I wear them, partly out of habit and partly in case anyone else ever comes.
My eyes wander from the power supply readout to the fire. It had burned down again. I remember being in college, back on Earth, and going on an expedition up K2. I'd gone with the goal of climbing to the summit, being able to say I'd been there. At seven-point-five kilometers, with slightly more than another kilometer to the summit, the sherpas gently took me aside, sat me down, said no, told me I could go no further.
They pointed to my holometer and shook their heads.
"What? What'd'you mean? I've been taking pictures all the way up. I was just changing picture-paks."
Yes, they nodded. And it had taken me thirty-five minutes to change a picture-pak which, at base camp, I'd done in not even as many seconds.
The fire flickered again, almost out, and Keke grabs a fistful of Hepob's berries, brings them to my mouth and forces them in. I hope their oxygen finds its way into my blood before I pass out for good.
Blue-eyed Keke, Tika's daughter, is beside me without my noticing. Did I black out again? She selects specific pieces of Chigarro and places them on the fire, along with some of her great-grandmother's berries, blows gently and quickly the fire grows. Next she pulls skins of bear-cats I've killed tighter around me and lifts me closer to the flames, propping me by the fire so I squat the way all the males do.
Her hands on me cause me to snap my head up and I leave the Theisen, perhaps for good this time only to join them another. She knows I'm fully with her and I let her move me, her hands, with their two fingers and opposing thumbs, feel good on me. Their natural suppleness and strength massages my blood through me. She takes some berries and raises them over my head.
I'm back with the Theisen, resting comfortably on their tops, outside Ezekiel's machinery, watching Keke and a male of The People, broken horns and with cataracts, far below.
She's trying to feed him something. When he doesn't follow, she forces his chin up and opens his mouth. She massages his throat and he swallows quickly.
He doesn't fight her. He seems barely aware of her.
I feel time slow for him. I feel his life leave him.
He catches her out of the corner of his eye as the fire's flames first silhouette her then flicker to show her features and he wonders, when he can see her, who is this Satan in a snowsuit?
His hand comes up to her hand at his throat and he feels the fur there, so much like the coat Robin wore when he first met her in New York. Her fingers, even now, feel so warm and tender. He remembers his wife, Robin, and wonders, looking at Keke, why is Robin dressed so strange?
Keke, holding the berries over his open mouth, crushes them in one hand even as she holds his head up with the other. He starts to fight her, to struggle, and she increases the pressure, helping him swallow. The black juice from the berries oozes like pitch over her hands and into his mouth. Her fingers and palm sticky with the juice, she shoves her fingers under his tongue, wiping them under, over, and around his tongue and all along the inside of his mouth.
His struggles cease. His eyes clear and color leaves his cheeks. Her eyes tear. She releases her grip on his throat. She sings his song.
Another billy appears beside her as I fall from the trees. It's Jeremy, the dying Goatman's son. There are black streaks down his face, chest, hands, and sides.