Heatsinker / Chris Kornman

A grain of seed approaches absolute zero, flung carelessly from a sailing drifter.

Bereft of credits and personal protective equipment -- the mask and gloves veteran adventurers stockpile for such environs -- she drifts.

Yet luck has not abandoned her. The precious grain, so carelessly discarded into the void, is but one of millions heaped into the canoe. Her cache of the heatsinker dips the bow under the gray-green waves lapping at the cusp. The granules hold the waves at bay, deterring their eagerness to wrap the derelict wanderer in their so-much-colder-than-icy embrace.

A swill housed in the crudest-of-glass carafes, just warm enough to consume without the threat of inner-freeze yet chilled to the point of near-fatal temperatures is her other comfort, her companion. She drinks, deeply. Her eyes, deepest indigo orbs in the absence of radiant light, begin to glow with the same deep and murky mustard hues of the libation.

Her lungs fill for the first time in hours, ballooning with greed at the sudden rush of oxygen. Her eyes droop, intoxicated with the languid waves of violet above and olive below, and she crumples in a pile into the heatsinker.

It's better than freezing, she gasps. Better than dying in the beforetime.


Sediz, her seedbearer calls out to the ripe velvet evening. Turquoise tremors have already begun to appear on the horizon. There is no wind at these temperatures; the air is still. If not for the layers of down, Bhel could have heard a footstep ten miles away.

The other bearer takes a fistful of seed, cupped with both gloved palms, and loads it into the churn. Pálalam coughs into his sleeve as he lifts the brass pestle, as tall as the doorframe, and tenderly lowers it to the bowl. His atrophied biceps tremble under the strain of the arcane instrument, and he grits his teeth in defiance.

A dwindling flock of piguins flutter and coo under Bhel's boots as she strides to the edge of the commune. Once marked by an outcropping of windbreaking acacia, a desolate distance now yawns between each feeble tree, each dearly reaching out to the warm seed at their root tips as their buds wither in the everwinter.

Bhel strains her sight, resisting the temptation to tip her goggles off the bridge of her nose. After far too long, a glow like a lightning bug drifts, skirting the open desert and resting at length under each sprig of flagging foliage.

A sigh, and then a long breath, and Sediz swings the rusted gate open and shut with an onerous creak. Bhel blinks and Sediz backpedals, wiping her mask with the hem of her down jacket collar.

She tosses two radiant turmeric-stained biogloves into the trough at the entry way and stuffs her hands into the folds of her coat. The feed bin heaps with detritus -- much of the same, simple, and disposable, yet somehow permanent, waste of daily living. The absence of the boreherd is acute, disturbingly quiet. At least in the cold the stench of rot is less pungent.

Got a grip of seeded weed, Sediz whispers, offering the promise from her satchel -- glowing yellow-green sprigs of spindly, fibrous brassica.

Keep it.

I brought it for you, and for Pálalam.

You'll need it, in the nearafter.

You need it in the herenow.

The herenow is all we have, and it is already obsolete. Pálalam and I, we've decided. We won't pass over. There's nothing nearafter can give us that we haven't already enjoyed to the fullest. Besides, the Psidim have spoken. 'Nowseed for the growing weed.' Our time is past. It's the cure. It's for you.

There's no proof! These imbeciles, these, these--

It's too late. Our nearafter is written, but yours...

Bhel's words trail off into a cascade of labored, guttural breaths descending into a sustained dry croup. Sediz offers her handkerchief as Pálalam appears from the barn, dragging a massive tote that kicks up dust behind him.

It's a few months' worth, at least, he wheezes.

Wait. No, I understand what's...

Sediz, look around, Bhel coughs. It's over. This vision they sold us of independence; there's no one left here. This is no way to live, cut off and isolated...

Turquoise turns to lavender on the horizon.

This seed is enough for you to start again, Pálalam rasps.

I will not leave you!

We've already left, Bhel confesses. We've abstained from the heatsinker for weeks. You must take it now.

You must, Pálalam sighs. Nowseed for the growing weed.

Sidez hangs her head low, lower than seems possible, with only her azure eyes gaping up at her seedbearers.

It's better than freezing in the herenow, she sighs, resigned.


Pushing the canoe from the shore, Bhel and Pálalam shove with all the force their upper bodies can muster. The semi-translucent shallows hold their knees hostage. Sediz forces the paddle down and back once, thrusting forward with each ounce of strength she can muster.

The rod responds sluggishly, cemented to the tide, but the canoe drifts away. A grip of seed in her hand, she exhales with the faint hope that a stray grain might spark a speck of warmth in her receding seedbearers.

Bhel and Pálalam, locked in step in the shallows, icily gaze at each other. Sediz can't tell if they've stopped breathing yet.  

Adrift now, she lowers the carafe it a trained motion into and out of the subfreezing waves and sprinkles a few crushed seeds into the slurry. And then she takes a long draft as she watches her frozen ancestors, crystalline green receding on the horizon, bereft of the nearafter. Whatever that may hold, at least she has seed.