The Zookeeper's Wife
Has many lovely and moving moments but fails to capture the many layers of this unique story, relying instead on plainly-stated metaphors.
Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi. This is one of four endings we're posting this week. Vote on this week's endings here.
Sid P writes:
"If you have been listening to Titan for as long as I have…" Mason drew some breath. He knew exactly what Claire meant. It was the recognition that made him impatient with what she had said. He found that he had to remind himself to be nice, to pause and rephrase.
"What I'm trying to say is that the romance of this 'great celestial symphony' lasts about two months," he said. " Everything inevitably just turns into yet another pattern. Believe me. It's just beeps, squiggles, primary colors and noise…."
"Don't say 'noise,'" said Claire. "It's called sound. Open your ears and listen to the sound."
She cupped her cheeks in both her palms. Her fingers pushed the earphones deeper into her ears with a gentle pressure. She closed her eyes and Mason could swear he made out her consciousness taking a dive from the tip of her nose into deep inside her. The lines of her face smoothed out into calm. Her face was doing yoga, he thought but somehow didn't find it in him to say it aloud. Not at that moment.
Claire spoke. "It's got beeps and sweeps and crashes and scratches and swoops… It's got the sounds of mountains and valleys. It's got lakes and seas… It's got rain and storm… Not like the ones we got here on planet number 3. This is one is more animal. It's got a bit of a scream in it."
She swayed gently as she whispered her words. Mason looked around. Regan and Alex were engrossed.
She continued, "But there's also a silence. Just like how we know it on our planet. Quiet, still, natural, even apprehensive… and… and… and I feel in this music a great depth which you fall into. It takes you deeper and deeper. The sound gives way and starts turning to color. The world around seems to get bigger while you get smaller. You are falling faster and you close your eyes. Your nerves feel electric. You think you are getting there. You think you will finally see the origin of the sound. You stop falling. You open your eyes."
Claire opened her eyes.
"…And through the blur, you see yet another pattern."
It was one those moments. Time stood still. Not a sound on campus. Just the gossamer feeling of a trip past its peak and on its way down. Regan was the first to laugh.
"For a second I thought we had lost you forever, cadets," she said.
"Couldn't be more impressive, Claire," Mason said. "You certainly have a flair for this sort of thing."
"I love it when you talk like Goa trance," said Alex. He looked up into the sky and took a swig off his can."My turn."
"Thinking molecules singing siren songs on Titan," he began. "Intrepid scientists reading the alien signals. Trying to understand life unlike any they have seen before. Once and for all, connecting their fate and the fate of this alien moon. Creating not just a science but culture and myth. Shining a light not just into the past and the future. The thinking molecules will collapse the past and the future. They will renew your ideas of space, time and consciousness. Just the idea of the Thinking Molecules of Titan proposes a new pattern for the existence of the human race."
Mason stared at Alex. He knew that Alex liked to walk the Twilight Zone talk from time to time. Especially with beer inside of him.
"I wonder if the signals from the molecules are messing with our brainwaves," Mason shrugged. He stretched his hands and a soothing feeling went down his spine from the tip of his fingers. He lay with his back on the ground and looked into the sky. It was going to be dusk soon. The sky looked ready to go tangerine. It would make the trees go crazy with birdsong. He felt Regan's warm body slide in next to him. He could smell the beer on his own lips. Bittersweet, he thought. His eyelids felt heavy. He slid down a spiral into night.
After a brief darkness, he found himself standing in front of the Alma Mater as she embraced him. He felt his face draw closer to her stomach and he laid his ear against her cold belly. Inside of her he could hear an ocean on a stormy night. It was the magma ocean of Titan and he was in a yellow space suit.
He was running. The thinking Molecule, a purplish green glob, was chasing him across the rugged Titanian landscape.
The molecules remained right behind him, darkening his footfalls with their shadow. They were about to pounce on him and then he figured out that he could out-think them. He realized then that it was not a battle of speed but of thought. The landscape—mountains and valleys—they were not just physical but were inside the mind.
In chases of thought you don't run straight. That's a bad idea. Circles are preferable It was an intense chase but Mason kept his lead. He was gaining on the monster. There came a moment when he realized that he had escaped so far ahead on the circular path that now the molecules were running in front of him. And then, before he knew it, he had started chasing them.
They ran all night. Time had melted and turned elastic. Brief moments seemed to stretched into eternity. Two tiny shadows traced spiral patterns across the sprawling land beneath a dark endless sky, forging ahead in the volcanic storm. Two tiny beeps ensconced in a scream.
The race between the two had alternated and turned from competition to play to aggression to love to fear to despair. In the space of the same moment, both the molecule and Mason realized that they couldn't stop. Not now. The two forms of life continued to race, trying to make sense of each other even as they couldn't recognize the world around them anymore.
"Where am I?" wondered the Thinking Molecule. "Am I dreaming of the moon or is the moon dreaming of me?"
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...