When we hit twenty-one, they send us to Ceres Major for the Diversion. They send us there because it has three moons, of course: Lang, Okami and Susi, each bigger than the last, each rotating in a swift and tilting orbit around its parent planet. Ceres Major’s outpost position from its home star means that it is always twilight there; and at any time at least one of these moons will be full. And when the three moons are fat in the sky together…well, I’m sure you know, if you watch the Diversion.
All those that are like us – those that Unfold - are sent, during the year following their twenty first birthday. Until then we’re kept in institutions, like this one. And there’s nothing so very wrong with it here. It’s comfortable. The staff respects our rights. I’m told that we’re lucky. My parents come in once a month and look guilty, and I watch my mum pretending to adjust her sleeve while she’s really checking her watch. I can’t blame them. They didn’t ask for me to be this way. I feel happy for them that they’ve got my brother at home. Normal.
Hydge is struggling with the concept. Who in their right mind wouldn’t be? She visits me in my room, sometimes, on the pretext of showing me one of her new drawings. They’re good, actually; none of the straining tendons and tearing cloth, like the outside world would expect. Hydge likes still life arrangements: bowls of fruit, mainly, though she strays into abstract plastic cutlery towers when her time’s nearing.
I feel sorry for her: she’s not a complete Unfolder, not that that’s brought her any special treatment in here. The world lumps her in with us just the same – no matter that, even in her second state, she wouldn’t be able to hunt down a small dog – and she’ll be on the list for Ceres Major in two weeks’ time. Just like me.
She edges into my room, and I look up from the book I’m reading.
“Are you busy?” Hydge asks. She pushes her glasses further up her nose. They slide straight back down.
I would really like to ask her to come back another time, but instead I toss the book onto my bunk and lean back in my chair.
“What have you got, Hydge?”
She smiles and enters the room, kicking the door closed behind her. Reverently, she places two sheets of paper on the desk. I get up and have a look. The first is a beautifully fragile rendering of a vase of poppies; the duty nurse’s pet hapnid is curled fluidly around the plastic base. I pick up the second, gently. It depicts, in tender pastel, a group of people folded, like the hapnid, around the boles of trees. Some have tails. Three moons ride the sky, a line of pearl marbles trailing wispy streaks of light.
“Is this what you think it’ll be like?” I ask, not looking at her. “On Ceres Major?”
Hydge makes a rude noise. “I’m not an idiot. But the moons. Do you think that’s what they’ll look like in the sky, in parallel orbit?”
I shrug. “Maybe.”
“But you don’t think we’ll survive long enough to see them.”
A pause. “We might,” I say, “if we keep to the plan.”
Hydge brightens. I outline, again, how we’ll leave the drop ship and head for the planet’s southern pole. We’ll have to separate, to prevent my tearing Hydge to pieces, and there will be no guarantee that we’ll have any ‘lucid’ moments at all with Lang, Okami and Susi forever present, but, if there is any weakening of their celestial holds, we will turn south and continue for as long as we can. Because, having studied some contraband maps and pilfered parchments that outline the overlay of the lunar orbits, I have discovered that there are two clear months of the Ceres Major year when, at the pole, none of its three moons will be full in the sky. And for that time, we will not Unfold.
The reality will be, quite evidently, that we’ll be injected with steroids, to counter the build up in our systems of the preventative drugs we’ve been stuffed with all these years, as the drop ship nears Ceres Major’s atmosphere. We’ll be released to the ground in a remotely controlled pod, and then the plethora of orbiting satellites will feed entertaining images home of the ensuing results. Back here, they on the outside will watch as, in the lunar glare, we Unfold and begin tearing at each other. The ratings respond, I am told, if survivors from previous drops join in the drama as animal pack allegiances form and the weaker are inevitably hunted down and killed. Like Hydge.
“And do you think,” Hydge says, beginning hesitantly, and building, “that if they could see us as, you know, not like that, but as You and Me, the people back home, then maybe the Diversion will be stopped. Because they’ll see that we’re not monsters, are we. And maybe we’ll be brought home. Do you think that?”
I turn my attention back to her drawings.
“Maybe so, Hydge. Who knows.”
Slowly, Hydge takes the sheets of paper from me. She turns her face, ducking inward and downward, seeking my eyes, fixing them, holding them tight.
“It’s alright,” she says.
Hydge abruptly straightens, turns, leaves, pulling the door quietly shut behind her.
Outside, a gibbous moon has risen. Later, I only vaguely feel the kiss of the injection the orderlies give me. Deep down, though, at my core, I feel it: the tug of physical urges pushing against a tight chemical crush. And I think of the bliss I will feel, in those moments of lucidity I may or may not be granted, when the sinew and muscle and blue-red nerves of my body are released from these synthetic bonds, and I dream of how I will howl into an alien night.
'The Unfolding' was first published by Outposts of Beyond in 2017.
My fiction has appeared, or is currently published in, Mythic magazine, Gallery of Curiosities and Dark Moon Digest, and my novella 'Severance' was published in 2017 by Fantasia Divinity.