Humanity retreats North, beset by climate change. Mallory reaches for permanence and finds that something different awaits. This story was written to belong to anyone, so I humbly submit it this pride month.

I adapted the following story from an early draft of the story “Mallory and Gaelyn” found in Fake News & Solitude. The adaptation is for a contest that seemed fun to enter and is basically tragicomic sci fi horror (although I fear the comic part was sacrificed to the word count gods).

I study the silver heart on my desk. Its smooth surface is etched by a long scratch, like a Cupid’s arrow. I pinch its cool tip between my thumb and forefinger.

“Lub-dub, lub-dub,” it thumps, projecting Gaelyn’s apparition to deliver a final message.

I am in no mood to read it – not now. I scroll back, far back, to the day that I first met Gaelyn. Ha! As if I could forget my grandfather’s kind eyes, the kisses of my wet-tongued pup, that Mallory is my name, or that day!

The panoramic holo shows shadowy sea-oats shooting up from dunes entwined in railroad vines and morning glory. Dawn reveals charcoal clouds split by a flaming bolt that consumes the sky beneath them, air that assembles electric green, and a sea the eye believes is like dark wine through a thick bottle. Foaming surf withdraws to reveal sand, shimmering red. Sunlight sirens from a clearing: “sail out – I am just overhead!”

My holo does not, of course, remember my unkempt hair, mist – sulfur in my nose and humid on my skin, my feet sinking into night-chilled sand that caved under the retreating surf, or the meek scent whispered from yellow-throated flowers as I stood alone on the contours of my fallen Florida. These are secrets, told only in person.

With a flick of the hand, I scroll on. The dunes were hurricane-shorn, strewn with turtle-eggs crushed like ping-pong balls, blackened in the afternoon sun. Gulls cried; coyotes yowled. I felt the shadows of vultures as I waited to be extracted, like a rotten tooth. The drone network had been completed – my home’s demise would be memorialized without further need of a human touch.

I sit at my desk, reminisce. Had there been nothing left but the kindness of that living wake?

I scroll to my bunker, by the helipad. Gaelyn found me nearby. I don’t know what I was thinking. Succumb to the September heat? Exile myself in Fort Pierce? No matter. Under the rotor blast, the tepid lagoon churned away my indecision. I waded to shore and accepted Gaelyn’s outstretched hand.

I must have passed Gaelyn the locket for a moment, because there’s an image of me staring dumbly from the bay door as my home faded. A hyperchopper’s speed eclipses – eclipsed – the sunrise, so we reached the Pacific shrouded in night.

I stare blankly out the window over my desk, into a field of wildflowers. I slip into a parallel of that day – just as I did on that day, I sit at a desk, I scroll to the beginning, reach the first image. Grandfather – young and stocky, a wide grin. Rabe, the mutt – soft-eared, happy, too fat for the climate. Me – gangly, wild-haired.

I’d found the locket, not yet scathed, in a mansion I’d raided for supplies. Grandfather had reset it for me, taught me how to chronicle my moments.

I reach an image of a dayflower, deep blue, taken before all the days became too hot. I remember the scrub rosemary scent on our walks through pine savannas. Grandfather and Rabe rest there under a bed of sky-blue lupine. My heart rests there! How could I leave?

That’s what I had asked myself the day that I met Gaelyn. I scowled at my quarters, which had copied my bunker exactly, and began to rearrange, frantically. That’s how Gaelyn found me. The bell rang. I pushed open the door and stood with my rampage naked behind me.

“Can’t go home again?”

“Nope.” It had felt as though someone had stuffed poor Rabe as a memento.

Satisfied, Gaelyn nodded, turned, and led me on a tour – just the gist of things. Sleep, food, work, and play. I knew where to find the first; Gaelyn showed me the rest.

There, on Moresby Island, the outdoors was still comfortable. I breathed the forest. It had been so long!

“We’re far North – the weather shouldn’t kill you,” Gaelyn noted as we stood in a clearing around a solar stone. “People meet here to unwind. Nights are cool enough for the solar campfire – but no open flame.”

The Northwest is – was – sodden. Gaelyn’s concern about fire had seemed undue, left me wondering. It took me years to learn the truth, though there were clues along the way.

I scroll to a holo of Gaelyn taken a few days after my arrival at my new station. I compare it to my own – my face, smooth like an upside-down egg, like a thrush’s or sparrow’s. You could wipe away my brown, nose, and lips and scarcely notice – still an egg! Not so with Gaelyn’s squarish heart of a face and deep-set brown eyes. I reach for Gaelyn’s holo and sigh as my fingers meet only air.

Our differences had not stopped with appearance. On Gaelyn’s shoulder, Earth inscribed in an olive wreath, and below it, a Captain’s bars, signified command. I was a lone scientist without influence to remain in my beloved Florida.

I remember my disappointment. It’s not that my work on Moresby Island was dull. We did important work on the island – genetic edits to help ecosystems withstand changes in temperature, salinity, and so forth. Drone IT technician had been well below my qualifications. But my thoughts dwelled on home.

I flip forward to a video holo of our lab. Our resident cephalopod floats tranquilly, the tracks of its clandestine excursion to the feeder fish tank drying under the full spectrum lighting. Nothing odd about that – but our subject had deposited several fish into a maze tank and now observed, rapt. That was odd.

As commander, Gaelyn refereed the lofty scientific debate held over rations in our compound kitchen. I kept my locket’s record. Kadin and Zhi believed that the creature must be destroyed – we were to preserve ecologies, not to change their fundamental natures. Emene argued passionately that it was wrong to destroy a unique intelligence. Kentucky was reluctant to destroy something new.

I find it difficult to recall my thoughts. No matter – we broke to calm ourselves, and during our recess, discovered that our captive had escaped.

I remember my feelings – and Gaelyn’s – about that. “Nothing should be alone in the Universe,” I said. Gaelyn simply nodded.

I recall that I was sex-starved. A hermit’s life in a desolated bunker will do that. As luck would have it, so was Gaelyn. It was a price of command, I suppose. We were suited for each other. At the next campfire, we escaped the ring of light and nestled down behind the underbrush. Gaelyn was good in the sack, and I was the only game in town.

I remember – ha! Again! – Gaelyn’s calloused hands against my thighs, caressing my jaw, our fingers intertwined, my chest against Gaelyn’s hardened back…as we dressed in the mottled light of that first morning, I could see that back, horribly scarred. I scroll to my locket’s image and study the burns.

At the time, I had not made the deduction. I had simply been amazed I had not felt the marks by night. Gaelyn wouldn’t tell me about them – the question itself seemed painful.

But at the campfire, everyone told stories, sooner or later. Real or imagined, they were all true. I recorded Gaelyn, pensive, shadow-faced, seated on a wind-felled trunk we’d dragged to the clearing to serve as a bench.

“I joined Conservation Security when I hit eighteen. I’d never considered another option. I loved Ma and Pa’s work in Papua New Guinea – there were thousands of languages and cultures to study. The jungles and mountains isolated the tribes. We probed, and they probed back, wary after the smugglers and mining conglomerates. I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

“They were my people, those crazy-ass tatted-up motherfuckers, although they regularly tried to kill me. Ma and Pa still cry for the lost knowledge – their term for our people. They only speak artifact.”

“The end was inevitable. We lived with that, like death. On the tail of a long dry season, the underbrush went up like tinder. It was hotter than the sun; the cinders were thicker than night. I passed out from exhaustion, woke up weeks later, burns all over my back.”

“It’s a gift, really, to go down fighting. I’ve got no memory of our world burnt, my world having done it.”

I close my eyes, trusting my memory. The locket doesn’t capture everything.

I recall how Gaelyn avoided discussing Mount Hagen again. That over the years, comfort began to elude our island. Nights became muggy, afternoons dangerous. It was a harbinger of flight, and we all became restless.

“I suppose we won’t witness the demise of our island,” moped Gaelyn, handing me a communique.

I studied it. Our team could be relocated Northward, but there was another option. The U.N. had developed suspended animation for our colony ships, and we could use that technology to wait out the surging climate and reseed Earth. It was a chance to go home.

“Life is a process of loss,” I sighed to Gaelyn. “Childhood treasures become a contempt to adolescent pride, but they don’t let go. Forsake them, and they’ll rake fingers of regret through your mind.”

Gaelyn scoffed. “Life is loss? Who knew scientists were so clever?”

The words had hurt. The feeling was personal, inescapable.

“I’m sorry,” Gaelyn offered, sitting by me.

I turned away.

Gaelyn leaned into my back and spoke over my shoulder. “They say love is a survival instinct. It lives on, past loss, without permission. We’re all refugees from pasts we can’t stop loving.”

I sigh, open my eyes, scroll to my locket’s last image of Moresby Island. Except for Gaelyn’s message, it’s the locket’s final entry. I haven’t brought myself to add another.

All of us stood under the canopy of spruce, cedar, pine, and hemlock. We’d agreed to take a chance on home. We flew Southeast, slept under the Rockies, near the energy farms of the squalling, sun-scorched interior.

In the room where I now reminisce, I awoke, craving the warm pressure of Rabe or Gaelyn against my back, as I still do each night. I scooped up my locket from the desk, opened the dresser to retrieve rudimentary clothing, and ventured outside. My heart leapt – the air was wet and cool! Overhead, familiar starts burst forth. Their placement felt unusual, but I am no astronomer. I pressed my bare toes into the soil.

I watched the sun rise over a vast field of wildflowers. People emerged from the shadows. I marched off to greet them, eager to reunite with Gaelyn.

I was among hundreds of strangers, adults and children. I found Emene and Kentucky.

“We made it!” I blurted.

Emene’s eyes fell.

“In a manner of speaking,” granted Kentucky, resigned.

In that moment, I noticed how a rainbow tailed the sun. We were under a dome! Near us rose an immense translucent tube, brimming with water. My knees shook as a tangle of pink arms floated into view, gesticulating, surrounded by a school of tiny tentacled creatures that rushed to press against the glass.

A monstrous cephalopod emerged to behold us with one all-seeing eye.

I screamed and hurled the locket at the tube. Sobbing, I hunted for it on my hands and knees. I found it, scarred. It’s a constant reminder of that day. The blemish smudges every holo, blurs Gaelyn’s last message:

Mallory, dearest, I have awakened, as planned. The world will not be “home,” but I will make do. It’s hard, but I will honor your wishes. You told me life is loss. Now I believe you. Excuse my shitty prose, but I will embrace all joys and abandon permanence. That’s my answer to this thing I can’t change. I hope you awaken to do the same. Please don’t think that your loss is greater than mine or that I don’t wish I could stay to comfort you.