This story is also available in audio, which you may download as MP3, FLAC, or OGG, oration by Grognor.
Ananda decided that she wasn't going to tell anyone that the captain read her dramatic reentry-into-normal-space speech from notes taken on lace-bordered stationery.
"Today," Lata Kamdar intoned, aiming at the nearest audio pickup, "we reattain the stars. Today we reach our hands out to our neighbors, not to bid them goodbye before we scatter in a hundred directions, but to reconnect the broken graph of human colonization. Today we have carved a path from our home to our neighbors', and brought with us the tools to draw one back, so that before the month is out, it will be as easy to get from one planet to another as it is to travel between continents. Today we lay the foundation for a web of exploration and trade that will surpass all the glories of lost Earth."
"Today," muttered Hari, "if they're unfriendly we explode in orbit rather than let them find our families back home -"
"Shhh," said Ananda.
"Today," concluded the captain, "we begin to undo the Scatter." She switched off the microphone. "Randhawa, if you wrecked my recording with your commentary -"
"The mic didn't grab anything but you, Captain," promised Ananda.
"Good. We don't expect to have to explode in orbit. We expect to be greeted politely by people with even more incentive to form a friendly relationship than we have. We're the ones with the boats."
"Captain Kamdar," said Ananda, "we're getting radio spillover."
"Brilliant," replied Kamdar. "Let's eavesdrop. Did you send our greeting broadcast?"
"If they're listening, they'll get it; I sent several repetitions," confirmed Ananda. "We'll be within chatting distance in a few hours, and then we can say something more substantive than this is the crew of the Spindrift from the colony Satyameva Jayate on a peaceful contact-establishing mission in forty dialects." And she drummed her fingers on her control screen and the ship's computer selected a stream of radio to share.
Music sighed into the bridge. It began mid-phrase but resolved into an ecstasy of orchestral harmony and then careened into a choral section, and everyone caught their breath.
No crewmember moved or spoke or coughed until the piece was over. The radio went on, in barely recognizable colonial-bottlenecked Greek, for a sentence before Ananda switched it off.
"Put it back," breathed the translator. "Put it back, I think it said there was another song next -"
"Belay that, Mehta," the captain told Ananda. "We'll be here all day with our mouths hanging open. Can we find a station with something more informative than the colony's excellent musical taste?"
Ananda flipped through the radio band, listening to snippets in her headset until she found something without any tune to it, and let it fill the bridge audio channel.
"Pradha," Kamdar prompted the translator. And when that didn't get his attention: "Dev."
"Yes, Captain, sorry, Captain," said Dev, and he listened, and typed. His control panel was textured; it made a clicking sound against his nails when he reached for certain letters. Ananda got up to peer over his shoulder as he translated: celestial holiday (?) feast and sculpture festival (?) this concludes (?) cultural event news rain in (?) province this (span?) warming under less cloud cover (?)...
While Dev worked on that, and Jyoti went to fix everybody lunch, and Hari performed a nav check to make sure they'd approach the colony at the right angle, Ananda got the computer cataloguing the rest of the radio band as best as it could. She might want to listen to more of the local music later during her downtime.
The Spindrift swung within chatting distance of the colony. It had been designated with a number when it was settled during Scatter, but the crew had been trying to avoid using it, presuming that the colonists of this planet - like those of their own - would have renamed it in short order. Ananda prodded her control panel until she managed to raise somebody who'd talk back, then kicked them over to Dev, who'd been working on picking up the colonial Greek. Nobody shot at them. They were invited to land on the planet (which was named Muse). It was a good day, Ananda thought, the best possible reception they could have hoped for. Muse had not yet reattained spaceflight but was only too delighted to receive neighbors who had.
Dev shadowed the captain when they landed, muddling through Greek that had spent hundreds of years on Muse evolving away from the original and that he'd had to study from books that themselves had been translated a few times to keep up with Satyameva Jayate's own linguistic slide. He introduced the crew to the Muse colonists; Captain Kamdar shook hands with Muse's governor, and, through Dev, complimented the music they'd picked up. The governor said something about how if they liked that they should come to a live concert.
Ananda hung back, mostly; she wasn't a diplomat and her Greek was negligible. She'd gotten on this expedition for other skills, with some help from extensive networking. She'd taken the job to say she'd been there, to be listed fourth or fifth when someone wrote textbooks about Reestablishment or whatever they wound up calling colonies getting back in touch after Scatter.
But she was as excited as everyone else for the concert. Parvati, just waking up for her overnight shift, volunteered to stay behind on the ship, claiming not to like music. (Jyoti tried to convince her; she was unmoved by the statement that it was really good music.)
It was spectacular. If it made any sense to describe a concert as orgasmic, it was orgasmic. The natives in attendance seemed less impressed; Ananda, looking around during intermission, thought she had seen more enraptured ticketholders when she took her nephew to a children's theater production with last-minute props and primary-school-quality writing. The only thing that could distract her from the movements of the sound was the architecture. Everything was beautiful; the armrests of the chairs were carved, each one different, and the arches of the music hall swooped with achingly perfect curves, and there was statuary tucked everywhere with room. She'd closed her eyes when they'd boarded the train to go to the show, fearing motion sickness, but now regretted it - she must have missed dozens of buildings and maybe some of them were this beautiful.
She let herself get sick, when they went with the governor back to a local hotel to spend the local night (none of the Satyameva Jayate visitors were tired, but they were trying to adjust to daylight in the time zone where they'd landed). It looked like the entire planet was a museum, or at least the whole capital city. The colors alone threatened to seduce her into learning Greek and staying forever and having her wife sent after her. Tara would like the place, Ananda thought. Tara liked lovely things.
The hotel rooms had murals on the walls and dizzy beauty latch-hooked into the carpets and frosted flowers on the window glass and Ananda was afraid to touch anything.
She slept, eventually, embroidery scratching her skin.
The crew of the Spindrift were united in their fascination with the artistic output of Muse. Muse was keen on the gifts they'd brought, likewise; so the governor toted them to landmarks and galleries and gardens and ballets that brought Ananda at least to tears, and Dev did his best to translate the scientific papers on propulsion and other technical offerings for the governor's entourage of interested parties. Dev had brushed up particularly on his technical vocabulary for exactly this reason.
The members of the party who couldn't understand even half a conversation in Muse Greek could not participate. So they had to occupy themselves shuffling around looking at the art, moving hither and thither in tourist-mode, and this was no hardship. Every public place had music playing. Even the conversations of the passers-by were pretty; Dev's Greek halted and croaked slowly from his lips but the natives just about sang it, fluttering their hands, closing their eyes as though to more clearly see whatever it was they were trying to describe to one another. Nobody looked at the visitors for more than a moment; Ananda had expected space visitors to be very interesting, and instead there was unbroken politeness and personal space.
"I feel like I'm on a movie set," Ananda told Jyoti, when they were ahead of the rest of the party at a hall of sculptures. "Even just walking down the street. It's inorganically gorgeous."
"Have you noticed how abstract it is?" Jyoti asked. "I've seen a handful of portraits, landscapes, but mostly they seem to pull pretty out of thin air and skip turning it into a shape you'd recognize."
Ananda hadn't actually noticed that. "Now that you mention it. But they're all wearing makeup, they acknowledge beauty in the human form."
"Not all of them, some of them seem to do veils instead."
"I don't think Dev wants to waste his time asking how to say who does your eyeshadow in Muse Greek, though."
"Fair. I'm so glad they're a colony of friendly artists. I was scared they'd be armed to the teeth and mad about something and we'd have to blow ourselves up just to prevent them from taking the Spindrift and finding Satyameva Jayate. Instead we get to take pictures and - oh Ananda look at the shoes on that man -"
They admired his shoes until he'd gone by, and then Ananda picked up: "I wasn't worried, really. I knew it was in the mission parameters, but it's an edge case. I'd go on another one of these, even, when we come back crowing about our success and build another dozen ships to find more neighbors. If they don't come to us first."
"I hope nobody comes to us. Even odds they'd be invaders. I'd rather be in the middle of a lot of spokes we put down ourselves."
The party caught up, and Dev expressed that a museum docent had told him that they shouldn't talk over the music if they could possibly avoid it please, and they moved on to look at more of the marble and wood and glass.
It was a week into their visit before anyone thought it was worth making Dev figure out how to ask about the history of the colony. It was small, much less populated even after two centuries to establish itself than was Satyameva Jayate, and while they'd gotten infrastructure like trains and plumbing set up, they seemed to be so heavily focused on art that Captain Kamdar figured there had to be some cultural reason.
The Muse colonists - Ananda had yet to think of a better demonym than "Musicians", and this was not fair, since some of them were painters or landscapers or something else instead, in addition to it being an awful pun - had a very limited understanding of their own colonial history, it turned out.
Satyameva Jayate had had its own psychological problems when its colonists landed and it began to sink in that they could not get off their new rock, could not with current technology get in touch with anyone else. But on Muse...
"I can't decide if I'm depressed or inspired," Hari remarked later, when they were all crowded in the captain's hotel room with room service (prettily plated and garnished on patterned china).
"How do you get the colonial psych mix so wrong," said the captain, "that half the people who land commit suicide in the first six months? Dev, are you positive you got that right?"
"Positive," said Dev. "They don't know and neither do I how the colonists were picked - maybe people bribed their way on, maybe there were stowaways, nobody was trying to write historical primary sources when they had twice as much work as expected getting the farms going and building houses and burying the dead. Which couldn't have helped in itself, either."
"If half the people who'd landed on Satyameva Jayate had killed themselves," said Ananda, "I don't know that we'd have managed to establish a colony at all instead of - starving, handling the equipment wrong -"
"There was mishandled equipment - if everybody who knows how to use this or that terraforming item offs themselves, somebody has to try anyway, apparently a lot of people wound up blinding themselves or neglecting their hearing protection," said Dev. "The governor's aide was very awkward when she explained that." (Everyone glanced at Dev. Dev, of course, didn't notice.)
"But they've done beautifully," said Kamdar.
"Literally," said Jyoti, and that got a laugh.
"Maybe the survivors included a critical mass of artists, and now they're just really inbred," suggested Hari.
"It could be my Greek," said Dev, "but I don't get the impression that they think they're talented at all. Even the professional artists, let alone the hobbyists."
"The governor was doodling while we talked about what to name the supraspace path between here and Satyameva Jayate," said Kamdar, "and he was about to throw it away, and he laughed at me when I asked if I could keep it. He let me, though." She unrolled the drawing and showed it off.
"I guess we're going to be exporting strictly non-creative work," said Ananda.
"Don't let Parvati hear you calling tech stuff non-creative," advised Jyoti.
"What's the path going to be called? When it's carved in both ways?" asked Hari.
"Litha. Muse Greek for 'truth' - their language, our planet's name," Dev replied.
The Spindrift was expected to turn around after spending no more than three weeks at their destination, and Ananda missed Tara something fierce by the time Kamdar ordered them all to pack up to go. There would be more trips - for that matter, Muse now had the plans for a ship of their own in the same model, if they could divert enough attention to mining and manufacture. The next order of business was to get home, get plenty of Muse Greek into the hands of linguists other than Dev so they could parallelize, and report success.
The governor gave them all a little local spending money for souvenirs and Ananda bought a glass desk ornament, champagne-gold with ribbons of blue writhing inside it. She had the impression that the governor thought her choice (all their choices) tacky, but she didn't care, the desk ornament was just about the prettiest thing she'd seen that she could pick up unless she counted Tara.
The trip was going to take fifteen days in supranormal space, and except for Hari and Parvati making their regular round-the-clock checks of all the systems, there wasn't going to be much to do. Ananda fiddled with their recordings of Muse songs until she could get the formats to translate, and reasonable-quality versions floated through the cramped ship corridors and into their rooms. Parvati confessed that it was, indeed, lovely music, as music went.
Ananda didn't notice anything wrong until they'd been in supraspace for two days and she found the captain borrowing Dev's camera vest, with the grid of buzzers that let him "see" where obstacles were.
"It doesn't fit you," she told Kamdar.
"I know," the captain replied. "I'm just getting a feel for how long it'd take to get used to it. Dev doesn't mind, he's napping."
"Is there something wrong with your eyes...?"
"If your eye color was bothering you I'd think you'd get contacts or dye, not borrow Dev's vest."
"No, not that either. Not that mud brown is anything to be particularly pleased with," snorted Kamdar.
"Brown is a perfectly nice eye color, Captain. My wife's got brown eyes," Ananda said. "So have I. So have most people."
The captain shrugged and took off Dev's vest and put it back where he left it when he was sleeping.
And Ananda let it go.
She worked on Muse Greek, because they had the materials to make that feasible, and when she took a break, she looked at her desk ornament, following the ribbons of blue with her gaze.
There was a twist in one of them that she didn't like, on reflection. It had seemed perfect when she'd picked it out.
She went back to studying.
The next ship-morning, when she picked up her textbook again, she fiddled with the settings on her screen until she'd found a font that didn't make the Greek letters look like - like segments of bugs, scrabbling around in millipede-rows. There was one that was tolerable. She suspected it wouldn't have come up if she wasn't starting to see the letters as text more than arcane symbols. Probably a sign of progress.
Jyoti didn't have lunch ready when Ananda went to the ship kitchen. "Is Jyoti sick?" she asked Hari, who had brought his screen into the dining nook with him.
"Don't know," Hari said, distracted, around a mouthful of rice. "We haven't talked. There's extra from yesterday and some ready-made."
Ananda mounded rice and chicken and sauce on a white plate - who'd picked these dishes, she wondered, would it have killed them to put a design in the plastic? - and heated it up. "What are you doing?" she asked, peering at Hari's screen. "Is that a painting?"
Hari's hand twitched, leaving smears of ochre on the screen, and he gestured to undo the mistake. "Don't look. It's not done."
"I used to paint, in school, a little. I wasn't very good." He drew more careful ochre lines, then undid it again, went into the color picker, switched to a less saturated and browner shade. "Thought I'd try to get to 'decent'..."
Ananda's lunch was hot; she took it out. She rummaged in the spice rack - Jyoti would scold her, but Jyoti wasn't there - and found something, she didn't know enough about spices to say what exactly, that looked nice sprinkled on the pale orange sauce. She shook a little on, then poured some into her hand so she could pinch it into place more exactly. Almost symmetrical, not quite. She neglected to put the herb jar away and sat down where she could see Hari's screen and ate.
"I said don't look."
"What do you want me to look at? There's nothing to look at."
"It's not done! I'm crap at this, stop watching me!"
Dev came in - he had his vest on; Captain Kamdar wasn't still borrowing it. "What are you yelling at each other about? If you've got to shout can't you at least turn the music up, Ananda?"
"Oh, good idea," Ananda said. "I'll do that. One second." She bolted down her rice and flung the plate into the washer and went to fuss with the volume. The music swelled.
She didn't like this song as much as she'd liked the last one.
Let alone the first one.
But it was better than yelling; so she didn't bother Hari again. She was bored. There was something wrong with her Greek font.
She missed Tara. Tara she could stare at for hours, if Tara wouldn't giggle and push her face away.
Jyoti didn't fix dinner either. The captain went looking.
Jyoti was dead.
There was a note. Jyoti had found a calligraphy program buried in the screen software and left a note that almost didn't hurt to look at, until they actually read it.
There was something wrong something wrong something wrong, with the colors and that little burr in the high register of their audio and the bleak deserted expanse of space of the walls the floor the ceiling the air -
And Jyoti couldn't take it -
And realizing it didn't help.
"Parvati didn't get out of the ship," Ananda heard herself saying, and her voice was ugly, why hadn't she taken choir when she'd had the chance to smooth away the twang? But she couldn't find the calligraphy program and write it out pretty if she wanted Dev to know what she was saying.
"Go wake her up," murmured the captain.
"If it's an infection," said Hari.
"She's already exposed. She overlaps her dinner with our breakfast," said Kamdar, "but if it's something else, if it was in the food or - or something - then - Mehta, go wake her up."
Ananda went. She detoured to turn the music louder. Why didn't she bring any pictures of her wife -? She navigated to Parvati's room with her eyes closed and hated the half-visible sparks that clouded her vision as afterimages.
"Parvati." What a name. Who gave their child a name like that? It was so full of - of sounds.
Ananda hated her own name too. Ananda hated everybody's name. "Jyoti committed suicide," she forced herself to say.
Parvati opened the door. On Muse doors glided open silently. This door - did not. "What?"
"Don't make me repeat myself." Ananda's eyes were still scrunched shut.
"Jyoti is dead? Why the - is there a note?"
"Ananda, what's wrong?"
"We." Ananda swallowed. "We may have caught something, on the planet. Do you have it yet? Is there anything - anything beautiful, on this entire ship -?" The answer was no. There was nothing. Her desk ornament was probably as good as it got and Ananda kind of wanted to smash it.
"Math," said Parvati. "I was doing math when you interrupted me. Are you delirious?"
"No. No, it's only." It was too hard to explain out loud; raising her voice to be heard over the music was worse - and Dev wasn't there. "Let me borrow your screen."
Ananda had to open her eyes to do it, but she found the calligraphy software and when she typed the letters swooped into place, forming acceptable ligatures and decorated descenders. She had no talent for poetry; she did not make it rhyme.
We're all in a bad way. Everything's painfully ugly, that's why we have the imported music turned up so high, it drowns it out a little. Hari's trying to paint and I think the captain wants to put her eyes out and Jyoti's dead and I don't know what Dev's doing, yet, it might be that he's fine because he can't see to begin with, but I don't know that any of us are going to be much help with getting home.
"I can fly the ship myself if I have to," said Parvati. "The question is do we go home, if there's an infection aboard. We might have to quarantine ourselves."
"Oh stop talking," breathed Ananda.
"This is important," said Parvati. "Half the Muse colonists lived, right? Initial batch, no selction for resistance to the pathogen, half of them lived and established a civilization. A very, very arty civilization -"
"We could turn around," said Ananda suddenly. "We could turn around and we could stay there and everything's almost tolerable, there -"
"We need to finish carving the path so nobody thinks we met an army on the far end and panics," said Parvati. "And then we report in, or I do anyway -"
"You might have it."
"Oh," said Parvati ruefully, "I definitely have it. This puts all the math I've been doing in perspective. But I'm in the surviving half, all right? I'm - channeling it. And we tell them what happened from a safe distance, and then we can turn around and live in an art museum and tell them they're all infected so they don't let anyone else land."
"My wife," said Ananda.
"What about your wife?"
"I need to see her. She's beautiful and it feels like there's nothing beautiful and I need -"
"We can get some pictures or video or whatever you need bounced up without exposing her or anybody else to whatever the hell we've got," said Parvati.
"I can see the pixels, on the screens," breathed Ananda. "It's not going to be enough."
"You can't see the pixels, I promise you can't, not really. We will get you very high-resolution photos of your wife and in a few weeks you'll be back on Muse surrounded by acceptably pretty things, all right?"
"We thought they were artists," said Ananda. "They're - it's barely a coat of paint -"
"I know," murmured Parvati. "I have it too. I know."
Parvati steered Ananda back to her cabin and Ananda sat there, staring fixedly at her kitschy, pathetic desk ornament, until she managed to sleep.
On the eighth day the captain blinded herself.
It wasn't a surprise. She'd been going with a blindfold on, borrowing Dev's vest, teaching herself Braille at his control panel. Parvati had made a token attempt to supervise her and forestall the outcome but simply couldn't be everywhere at once. Parvati was barely getting the ship function checks done when she needed to be proving lemmas or whatever she was up to when she sought to satisfy the bottomless aesthetic need. Hari couldn't help her, he was completely wrapped up in trying to get his paintings to come out right.
On the ninth day Dev told Ananda to turn the music off.
"What - no - I can't - Dev the ship makes noises we're all breathing I can't I can't -"
"Turn the music off," Dev said, "or I'm going the way Jyoti did, I have a song, I have a good song, it's better, I can make it good, but I have to have quiet to work -"
"There's no way to get it totally quiet, the ship noises -"
"Stop talking!" screamed Dev. "Turn the music off and I'll make us better music than this rubbish -"
"No no no -"
Dev slapped her and Ananda fell to the ground, sobbing, feeling even more disgusting, like a suppurating abscess on the skin of the world. "Turn. It. Off. Give me an hour. I need to write my song."
"Do it yourself."
"Your screen's completely flat and my vest doesn't have the resolution to read it. Turn the music off."
"Make Parvati do it."
"I can't distract her. She's spread thin making sure we don't disintegrate into supraspace and I don't want to die unless you don't let me compose my song - I can almost taste it, Ananda, it's perfect, it's better than anything we heard on the planet, it's going to be beautiful, really, really, beautiful, but I need quiet. Turn the music off."
"Yes," said Dev, and there was an awful longing in his face, when Ananda could stand to look at him long enough to read his expression.
"An hour," she said, and she turned the music off, and took the screen into her room with her and locked the door so the captain wouldn't be able to override her. If Dev thought he could make something really, truly beautiful -
Kamdar beat at her door, howling, but while her captaincy would have let her bypass the lock, it would require more finesse at navigating blind than the captain had managed to pick up so far. Ananda stayed safely ensconced, earplugs in, trying not to listen to the pounding on the wall or the buzz of the ship, staring at her grotesque, twisted ornament. There was no beauty. There was nothing worth looking at but she couldn't help but see and she was too afraid of pain to take the captain's way out.
Thank goodness there wasn't a mirror in her cabin.
How did Tara stand to look at her? Could she do her wife the unkindness of making her look at her again? Maybe it would be better just to beg for the photos and a video letter and not try to do a two-way conference. Then Tara wouldn't have to look at her.
Ananda knew perfectly well that Tara didn't have whatever it was, would find Ananda probably about as pleasant to look at as she ever had. But with no music to set the pace of her thoughts she was descending into a spiral of revulsion and couldn't imagine that her wife would feel any differently. She looked at her hand. It was a mistake: she'd touched Tara with that hand and couldn't believe she'd performed such a blasphemous action. She could bite her nails off, if it weren't too disgusting to contemplate putting them in her mouth, but that would only make it worse. She didn't have anything in the room with her that would let her lop off offending parts sturdier than her nails: bad foresight. If she tried to leave before piping audio into the air again Kamdar would probably strangle her.
Her screen notified her that Dev had sent her something.
She opened up the file and flooded the ship with it.
It wasn't beautiful.
They were back on Muse-sourced music. Dev wouldn't come out of his room, but he'd kick the door if someone called for him; he wasn't dead. Yet.
Parvati was short on sleep. Ananda tried to help with a check but was driven to tears by the grotesque design of the diagnostic software and wound up costing more time than she'd saved. None of them were eating well. Ananda knew how to cook, and was ostensibly supposed to take over for Jyoti if Jyoti were indisposed. No one even bothered to ask her to try.
And then Ananda had the dream.
Dev must have had a dream like this, she thought. Dev must have dreamed music; Ananda dreamed stars. An architecture of exulting slow-motion supernovae, all placed just so with the precise vagueness of dreams. She swam among the points of sharp-prickled perfect-colored heat which traveled in languid smooth curves, slid bright blurs across deep black infinite backdrop. She dreamed that Tara was there and that Ananda had made all the stars to show her and Tara loved them and they were both beautiful too and the stars were right.
Ananda woke up dehydrated from crying. If she could paint it - well, not paint, it had to be three dimensions. If she could three dimensionally model it. If she could make it real, just like the dream, then the whole thing would be worth it. All the pain and frustration and the hour of aching quiet for Dev's technically lacking composition -
...Dev had thought he could make something beautiful, too.
Ananda was probably kidding herself.
She gulped water. She cried more. She asked Hari if she could look at his painting and he snapped at her. She tried sketching out the configuration of the stars and it just wouldn't come out right.
When Captain Kamdar was fumbling her way through a meal, Ananda snuck into her quarters and found the doodle that the governor of Muse had made. It was trivial and badly-made and his hand had shaken and it was the loveliest thing in the room, just like Ananda's glass ornament.
Ananda waited until Hari left his screen unattended and looked at his painting. It was like Dev's song. Inspired incompetence.
The people of Muse were artists so that they could self-medicate without frustrating themselves into self-mutilation. Ananda wondered in a moment of near-lucidity how many children there found ways to kill themselves when they couldn't hold a paintbrush steady in primary school and despaired.
The stars were so beautiful and she couldn't make them, she didn't know how.
Ananda looked at their Muse Greek books. They were illegible to her; this was not a problem. She needed the illustrations. Music wept its inability to express its underlying revelation into her ears, but at least it covered worse noises. Pictures crept along the margins and inset themselves into the paragraphs of the books. Decently-composed, respectably color-corrected photographs illustrated concepts she was not yet able to read about. The Musicians knew what they were doing to the very limits of human technical ability. If she could live through the next few weeks - and she thought she could, if only she could see her wife - then she'd be able to live there. It wouldn't be lovely. It'd be tolerable.
They got closer to Satyameva Jayate.
Dev demanded another hour of quiet to try again. Ananda gave it to him. At least he knew how to start with nothing and end with music; she couldn't even do that for her dreamed stars.
Her dreamed fractal jewels fraying light into ideally shattered color.
Her dreamed clouds of sunrise-pink smoke and flowers.
Her dreams, her dreams, her dreams.
Everyone slept more as the infection sank its teeth deeper into them. Parvati slept through checks, seeking infinite infinities and spectacular irrationals that promised to show her their ends; Ananda heard her muttering about them. The missed checks concealed no flaws. How fortunate.
They made it home.
By the time they got within chatting distance of their planet (had it always been that sick teal color? The desert on the continent Ananda had grown up on looked like a ragged scar - the clouds roiled in logicless eddies -) Hari was dead. He couldn't get the paintings to come out right. He was convinced he was never going to get the paintings to come out right. If the paintings could not come out right -
He didn't leave a note. Everyone knew what it felt like.
Ananda was in the best shape after Parvati. She still had her eyes and ears. She was alive. She could leave her room - she'd been leaving Dev plates of haphazardly assembled meals at irregular hours, outside his door. She could talk again, if she spoke softly, modulated her voice just so, it was hideous but not enough to make her want to rip out her own throat. (The Musicians had been so polite about their ugly, undecorated visitors and their scratchy despicable excuses for voices. Ananda wished they'd been rude.)
Parvati called in from orbit. She made their primary report. Ananda didn't even listen. She was only waiting for one thing.
Parvati waved her over.
And there was Tara, blinking at her from the screen.
It was Tara. Tara, worried, upset, confused.
There was no deficit in Ananda's ability to recognize faces, per se. It was Tara.
Ananda looked at her wife.
Ananda reached for her eyes.