It was a snowy day and the sky was the colour of blood spread across the horizon. I walked away from the small Smyrnian tramway that had carried me from the Tsiolkovski spaceport and disappeared in the bustling street, followed by the small djinn drone that carried my luggage. I felt cold despite my q-augs' best efforts to keep me warm. The sun that hung in the sky looked ill. I could feel its nauseating gaze pulse against my cheeks. I stared back at it for a moment. It was an undead star, a red dwarf that could keep living for billions of years even after the death of the old Sun, that would keep battering the icy world of Smyrnia for aeons to come. This wasn't something I was used to. Unrelenting weakness...the stars back home weren't like this. They were the crowned queens of the Pleiades, young and powerful suns engulfing their systems in burning sapphire, glittering on my skin as I slept in the coral forests of Phi Clio Station. But I was now seven thousand lightyears away from the Pleiades, lost in the heart of the Smyrnian region, walking in waist-high snow that the locals did not even bother to sweep away anymore. What was the point? Snow would come back anyway. Vast geostorms sweeping across the continents, burying the planet in the ghost fragments of a long-frozen ocean.
I was a xenobiologist, a geologist and a geometry drive specialist trained on the elusive world of Azur, a young Irenian having already spent too much time in universities -- so, what was I even doing here? On Smyrnian there was only one city, the valley-sized bunker of Bismarck. And in Bismarck, there was only one notable building, the horrendous black cube of the Tsiolkovski Institute of Xenobiology Studies. How had that thing been snuck into local urban planning was a fascinating but slightly depressing question. Perhaps it was irrelevant. Perhaps the Tsiolkovski Institute was the entirety of Smyrnia's urban planning.
I don't know. It towered above the city, a simple basalt cube slammed inside a mountain as if it had translated right within the snow-covered rock. Its pitch-black surface made me shiver. It didn't even look human. It had no visible windows, no surface access points, no landing pads, it was blind and deaf. Surely, someone had designed this thing, but I couldn't help thinking it had just been conjured into thin air. It was definitely intentional. "In order to study aliens, you must become inhuman yourself," said this building. I did not agree. I don't think the building cared in any way. It kept staring at me with utter disdain. My deep blue skin, reflected in the snow by the star above, made me feel incredibly out of place. Out of context.
That's when I saw him. He sat on a bench under a sycamore tree that shielded him from the biting wind, reading a book with his wide-eyed drone friend. Several years later I would ask him what was that book. He did not remember, which is very much like him. I don't think anything happened when he exchanged our first glance at each other. He looked like yet another Smyrnian, yet another person for which I was (and legitimately so) almost an alien creature. Then, as I passed by him, he did something rather unexpected for a Smyrnian.
He talked to me.
"Watch out, there's a snow octopus nesting in the big snowbank by the tramway over there."
"Oh. Does it bite?"
"I hate this planet."
"My name's Talasea. Irenian. I come from the Pleiades."
"Isaac. Earthling. Mostly for the worst."
I asked if I could sit on the bench for a while. He agreed, I sat next to him and didn't say a thing for a good hour. I don't feel like there was anything to say and he didn't feel like there were any questions to ask. It was great, not having anything to say. Years later, the two of us would be known for talking a lot. We'd fill the emptiness of deep space journeys by whispering ancient tales to each other or weaving new stories altogether. I had no idea that we'd end up telling a story to a shambling Sequence horror, and live to tell the tale. I was just happy to have found a pleasant person on a hostile planet.
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