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Chapter 1

There is beauty in space.  As long as we are human we will see beauty, even in the vacuum of space.

I grew up in a space station.  Long rows of houses, bubbles trimmed and primed to resemble the various gardens and architectural trends of Earth, each with its own spaceport.  I enjoyed short spacewalks, drifting through the void, occasionally avoiding passing rockets. 

I often looked longingly at the planet below.  With each season it would change, green in the winter and golden brown in the summer.  If possible, after school or on vacation, my friends and I would descend to the earth and spend long days walking on lush grassy hills or under groves of oak and bay.  We filled the quiet valleys with imaginary tales of what life was like for the people who once lived there.  Ironically, although I lived high in the association of bubbles of the space station, it was by the creeks and groves of the planet below that my dreams really took flight.

Children have the fantastic ability of filling any place with life.  For me, that planet, Dumbe, and the space station of Agarom were places that I loved and filled with life.  This space lifestyle is not richer or poorer than living in any other way, although I didn't know how different it was either.  It would be a long time before I realized what it might have been like to actually have lived on the planet below, or what it really means to live in space.

At age 18 I flew away to a far away station for college.  Still a creature of space, I hardly understood the implications of such a long journey. Indeed, I greatly enjoyed it.  On this new planet, Machiit, and it's stations, the people were of a little different hue and the buildings were of a bit different design.  But, for the most part it was the same.  Indeed, this planet, like Dumbe of my youth, is in the intergalactic Empire.  The people of the Empire come in different shades, and the buildings occasionally are of different design, but almost all the residents of the Empire speak the same language and eat fairly similar foods.  These foods are produced by vast factories, managed from the skies for utmost efficiency.  They stretch, at times, across whole planets- rows and rows of manicured fruit trees and corn, or vast warehouses of quarantined meat and milk producing machines.

As for people on the planets themselves, there are some survivors still living on the surface; some old old people eeking away an existence surrounded by the ghosts of the dead.  Occasionally, the relatives of these old people come and visit, spend time on the surface, learn some of the old ways and perhaps enjoy some of the ancient pleasures and foods, totally unique in taste and procurement.  Yet, the weight of death usually weighs too heavy for these visitors and they return to the skies and space stations.  Going to the surface to live is a very serious move.  Who wants to be constantly surrounded by ghosts of timeless generations, or constantly moved by the stench of life and death?

When I was 19 I met some surface dwellers of the planet Machiit.  I was taken to a feast by a guide, Mary, who eventually became a good friend.  The people were celebrating the arrival of relatives, the Tital tital people.  Coming together we sang and ate and danced.  I quickly realized the uniqueness of my experience,  although I also saw that these people were living in a bricolage of space debris.  Yet the joy and sadness in the songs and stories at that feast features much more prominently in my memories than the arrangement of fallen satellite parts on the front lawn.

Before I was 23 I knew the planet of Machiit well, its beauty and its pain.  Slowly, I had found the key to travel to and from the planet.  I had discovered the means by which to enter that world.  It was not by calculation or by mission, but instead by means of an open mind and an open heart.   By being silent and by listening, I realized that I could leave space and approach the threshold of the world below, now hidden.  I met the peoples of this world many times, each time learning new facets of their cultures and language.  It was in this way that I met S. Pillier.

S. Pillier is an old man, if you can call him a man.  He is a shape changer.  A member of an ancient species, almost entirely extinct.   He is a priest of sorts, frozen in graphite many years ago, just before the intergalactic war, along with his relatives, in an attempt to preserve their potential benefit to the planet of Machiit.  Indeed, without the shape changers, Machiit will slowly and entirely be converted to massive rows of food factories like so many other planets.

S. Piller explained to me the great problem that the galaxy is facing.  For a long time people have been trying to enforce their will on others, but after the intergalactic war two generations ago, seduced by the power they had briefly seen during the war, flying rockets and jets across space, people bought their own civilian jets and rockets and left the surface of the planets all together. 

I have a picture of my own grandfather from that time.  A young man with brilliant thick red hair, he holds my swadled baby mother while standing in front of his green rocket ship.  They were still on their planet at that time, the same planet his people had always lived on.  Yet, he, my grandmother, and my mother were about to leave the surface for a brilliant adventure in the skies.  They would visit many worlds, but never would they really return to that old planet.  Indeed, once you leave on a rocket ship, it is hard to come back to and live on the surface for long.

Most people stopped being born into life on the planets.  Those people living there simply aged and aged.  Now, S. Pillier explains, as these old people, keepers of the old ways, pass away, the hope of unfreezing the shape changers and healing the planet of Machiit, and every other planet like it, passes with them. 

For this reason, S. Pillier was thawed and brought back to life.  The surviving old ones sung him out of graphite and, with song and the beating of medicine sticks, they sewed back together his life and spirit.  I was witness to this happening, there in the darkness, on the surface of Machiit, in a house surrounded by ancient spirits.