LAMED

Her limp was much less pronounced than it had been, but she’d had years of physiotherapy and learning to live with it to thank for that. Even still, a keen observer would be able the detect the slight dip in her hips whenever she took a step, and the way she favored her left leg whenever standing at rest.

The accident had shattered her pelvis, though describing it like that made it seem as though it had broken into a million pieces, like a ceramic plate tossed onto the kitchen floor in the heat of an argument. The bone had cracked and separated in three places, and the pain had been excruciating. Paralysing. Once her rescuers had peeled the remains of her subcompact car apart with their pneumatic jaws of life, she’d been removed from the wreck with as much care as humanly possible and strapped to an orange plastic backboard, the kind with fist-sized holes along its edges to allow for easy carrying. Rendered immobile, her lower body a universe of screaming pain, she’d been further strapped to a helicopter and airlifted to George Aphonse Memorial Hospital, where the finest bone surgeons in the state had attended to her horrific injuries. It had been the professional opinion of three of the four specialists who’d overseen her admission that she’d never walk again. It was the fourth doctor, Emil Merin, who’d rejected those opinions and recommended her for a controversial and experimental procedure that took advantage of the latest advancements in nanotechonolgy.

Tiny robots had been injected into her bloodstream, their preprogrammed routines propelling them to their destinations along the ragged edges of her destroyed pelvis, where they anchored themselves and began manufacturing the tools they’d need to re-knit her. The greatest objection raised had stemmed from a fear of a failure to contain the machines, both during their operation and after. Emil assured the family and insuring agents that the robots were only good for one thing, and that was the task they’d been assigned, and after they completed their work they became biologically inert and passed through the body like any other waste product.

Emil was a fantastic salesperson, and that made him an excellent liar.

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

“Mars,” he announced, his voice booming over the PA and filling the cavernous auditorium, “is a warning.” He let a silence follow the last echoes of his pronouncement, just long enough for unpretentious drama. “Venus,” he continued, “is a warning.”

“This fuckin’ guy,” Slack said, groaning. “I swear to God he wishes he’d been an actor instead of a college professor.”

Shelly elbowed him in the ribs. “Quiet.”

“We were not always the only life-bearing planet in this solar system. Once, there were three, with thriving civilizations filled with sentient minds who lived, dreamed, and died much as we do. They made the same mistakes we do, too, and this is what led to their eventual demise and the destruction of their worlds.

“I see many skeptical faces, and so it should be. Question what you are told! It is your inalienable right to think critically, and you should do so at every turn! Yet my job here is not to provide proof, only create reasonable doubt. In the trial of this solar system’s past, there is much evidence that can supply ample evidence to the dead histories of Mars and Venus.

“Do you know what a billion years looks like? Can any of us truly fathom the far-reaching effects of such a vast expanse of time? How much erosion would a billion years of wind cause? What would a billion years of tectonic movement do to the surface of a planet? How many mountain ranges would rise, and coastlines fall? And if we compounded these grinding, agonizingly slow natural processes with our own contributions, what then? What would a billion years of stripping the ozone layer look like? A billion years of oil spills, rising sea levels rising, melting ice caps, trash accrual, devastating warfare, overpopulation, overfarming, drought, famine… what would billions of years of these things do to a world?

“I’d only ask that you look to Mars, where we have evidence of water, and therefore the potential for life, but a thin atmosphere and nothing but dust. I ask you to envision that planet once sustaining an ecosystem as lush as ours has been, and then having thousands and thousands of years of sentient hands reshaping it. Harvesting it. Burning its resources and eroding its protections at rates unparalleled in nature. What would it look like then?

“And if it were to die in the process? If the minds of the populace couldn’t be swayed in time to find better ways to sustain their ways of life, and everything crumbled around them while the sky broke open and rained down deadly radiation that obliterated any hope of recovery? Where the protective shield of the atmosphere cracked and vanished, allowing planet-crushing asteroids to beat the surface with hammering fists more powerful than all of our own weapons combined? What would be left then but dust and ashes, to be blown across dead plains and eventually dispersed into nothing?

“Look to Mars as a warning,” the professor said, placing his old hands on the lectern, and leaning out over the audience. “We must change our ways, before it’s too late.”

Slack had fallen asleep. Shelly wanted to beat him up for his inattention, and she realized that he represented the majority of people who went about their daily business without any real concern for the things the professor was talking about. She wanted to weep.

SCENT

It’s hard to describe the smell as anything other than green. It’s not for lack of vocabulary, or fear of being unclear. It’s because that smell there in the corridor between the bog and the stand of trees is green.

Pine-scented? No. Mould? No. Growing grass? No. Green, goddamnit, green.

The green of that early spring morning in 1987, in the backyard of the old house, kneeling in the dewy lawn and staring at the stark contrast between the newness of the big plastic toy Millenium Falcon and the outside world. You ever notice that? When you take some brand-new, clean artifical thing into the outdoors and look at it, how alien it seems? How it stands out? That contrast, once more overwhelming my still-developing 12 year-old senses. And the smell. The smell of green.

A cold shadow draped the backyard that morning, cast by the seperate garage where my parents parked their Ranchero. That was a beautiful vehicle, even if the seats could burn the backs of your naked thighs in high summer, and woe unto you if a white-hot steel seatbelt clasp made contact with that sensitive flesh. It only seated 3 on its single bench seat, and whenever possible my brother rode bitch. It wasn’t because he was one, he just liked sitting in the middle. One rainy night a few years later we’d get rear-ended by a drunk driver. If we’d been hit with just a little more force we’d have been pushed into the busy intersection we were stopped at, likely causing serious injury or death. I remember mom shooting her arm across the two of us, an extra meat-belt that would’ve provided zero protection, but it was something she did on instinct. The Ranchero’d been a write-off, and I mourned that fact much later in life when I knew more about cars; the dead truck had been only a year away from becoming officially “classic”.

My bike tires crunch the gravel on the corridor floor and I’m through the cold air and into warmer, brighter atmosphere. The smell is gone, taking with it the vivid memories of an age long past, leaving me to focus on the overwhelming pressure of the present. I take a deep breath, and ride on.