Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
Art for Vaega




Chapter 21
Art for Vaega

Machines that humans cannot trust are ultimately abandoned. Designing for ubiquity requires focusing on absolute control of machines by humans.

—Ma Yeoh, founder, YEOH Industrial Conglomerate, in his seminal book: The End of AI.

Yigars screamed just before dawn. He sat up in bed, shaking, eyes wide, jaw clenched.

Vaega woke up with a start at the noise and realized she was in his bed. She did not remember leaving hers and coming to his, only that there were a series of random dreams in which she had no food, no water, and searched frantically, only to find soft, delicious skin, and biting and suckling on the flesh, in some ritualized feeding frenzy.

She rolled out of Yigars’ bed and stood, palm on forehead.

Agra was up too, standing at the end of Yigars’ bed, looking at him. On the skin of his neck were large bite marks, the kind that lovers sometimes make during passion. Yigars closed his eyes, remembering details of the night. He turned to Vaega. “I am sorry.”

She turned to him. “For what? It’s me who should apologize.”

“I could not sleep alone, so I asked you to come to be with me and you did.”

“I did?”

“I think you were sleeping the whole time.”

“I don’t remember being awake; I had the strangest dreams.”

“They were not dreams for me.”

Vaega touched her neckline. There was soreness. The flesh was tender and swollen. She pointed at Yigars’ neck. “Did I do that?”

“You did.”

At first emotionless, her features slowly revealed some inner revulsion, some deep regret. Without speaking, she turned and left the cabin.

Agra did not move. When Vaega was gone, the door closed behind her, the faint glow of morning shut out, she sat next to Yigars and took his hands in hers. “What happened will haunt us for many days and nights. We don’t need to talk about it, but we must try to get past it, and live as though it has never happened.”

Yigars squeezed her hands. He tried to smile, but the memories left his lips askew, bent to the side as though still grimacing from the effort of pulling the donkey. “I cannot forget what happened.” He searched her eyes, perhaps for forgiveness, for absolution, but she was no priest. “Never mind. We will go on as before.”

Agra squeezed his hands back, then let them go. “I will go hunt.”

She stood, grabbed her bag and spear, and followed in Vaega’s footsteps.

In the darkness of the cabin, Trion’s eyes were staring at the ceiling. Was there a hidden meaning in what Agra had said? He stood and left the cabin without a word.

Alone, Yigars put his head down to sleep some more. Perhaps this time there would be no nightmares.

The days passed without incident. Agra hunted and studied. Yigars tamed the donkey, Trion built and repaired, making improvements here and there, and Vaega busied herself, waiting for the crops to grow. She barely spoke to the others, keeping to herself, staying in the cabin alone when the afternoon was long, sometimes under furs on the bed, sometimes pacing across the planks.

That afternoon, Trion resolved to find out more. As soon as Vaega had gone to the cabin, he followed her in. It was just after noon, but already the room was dark, and only her eyes and nose were visible of the mass of furs she had buried herself under. She watched him approach silently. He sat on Agra’s bed, facing her.

“Do you want to talk about how you feel?”

Vaega blinked, but did not speak.

Trion’s right hand came up to his right ear, and he gently pinched his lobe between his thumb and index. “I just came to tell you I will listen to you if you want to talk.”

Vaega still did not reply. Her eyes stared at him, and there seemed to him they was a great sadness within.

“I’ll leave you then.”

He stood and turned to go. At that moment, her arm shot out from under the furs and she grabbed his hand.

He stopped and looked down at her hand. The skin seemed more taunt over less flesh, and her natural color had deepened to an earthy taupe from the sun. His own hand too was darker from sunlight, the shade of clay mixed with dried leaves.

“Are you eating enough?”


“You can eat more if you feel hungry.”

“We must keep food for winter.”

“We will have food for winter. You should eat enough to be strong, to feel well, to have reserves.”

Vaega’s hand softened her grip on Trion’s.

“Do you really think we can escape this planet and return to our lives before? I miss the ship, my research.”

Trion sat down again, still holding her hand.

“I am confident Agra can build a ship, at least enough to get into orbit and hail a tow crew. She may even build a dacadan slip-streamer, but I don’t know if there is fuel for it.”

“But how long will it take?” Vaega’s voice betrayed frustration and impatience.

Trion caressed her hand gently in his. “It can’t be helped. Now we must be patient and give her what she needs. We must be safe, and we must be healthy while she does her research.”

Vaega’s voice was heavy and slow. “I feel I am becoming someone else. Someone I don’t like. How could I be so weak to seek comfort with Yigars? How could I be so off-kilter that I can no longer take care of myself?”

She withdrew her hand and hid it again within the pile of furs.

Trion sat on the floor next to her. His face was level with hers, and he looked past her eyes as he spoke. “I too miss the ship, and the comfort of knowing we are safe. Here the future is so uncertain, and there are dangers everywhere.” He ran his right hand through his hair. “We must do what we must to survive. It’s fine to seek comforts. Find happiness where you can.”

He saw her eyes glistening in the dark. He knew if he kept speaking, he too would have tears in his eyes. He stood again, tidied the furs around her face, and walked to the door of the cabin. “See you at dinner. I will cook if you don’t want to.”

From within the pile of furs, Vaega chuckled. “I will cook!”

Trion smiled and opened the door to leave. From within, Vaega said, “thank you.”

That afternoon Trion stood in his workshop and wondered to himself if he could use some pieces he had collected and make some sort of sculpture, some assemblage that would please Vaega. Settling on an idea, he set to work.

Next chapter: Their Herd

Subscribe to the mailing list to get alerts when new episodes are added.