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Coffins
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

I sat at the table in the little cafe, watching the rain dance on the pavement outside, beading the window and turning the tall grey buildings misty and indefinite. The clouds were so low overhead and so grey that the buildings vanished into them, and the effect was as though it was raining inside an immense grey hall. It made me glad to be indoors. I do not enjoy this weather.

I noticed the man at once, walking hunched over under an umbrella towards the cafe. He was the only pedestrian Iíd seen yet after Iíd left my vehicle and trotted to the cafe through the rain.

I watched him all the way, until he passed my window and went round towards the door. I sipped my drink, taking a quick look at him as he entered. By the time he had folded his umbrella and put it in the stand, Iíd turned back to the window, and watching him in the reflection on the pane.

He was probably not past forty-five, but he looked much older. There was a tired look about him which I sensed right across the cafe, and his shoulders were stooping. I watched him in the window as he looked at me, glanced away, and walked to the centre of the cafe, looking around. There were no other customers, and in the end he finally turned back to me. I sipped my drink as I watched him come up, in reflection, until he was standing on the other side of my table. Then I put down the glass and looked up at him in polite enquiry. "Yes?"

He cleared his throat and started to back away. "Iím sorry," he said. "I must have got the wrong person..."

"Probably not," I told him. "Youíre Mr..." I already knew his name, of course, but he needed to say it.

"Kangas," he told me. "Henri Kangas."

"Yes." I indicated the chair opposite. "Why donít you sit down, Mr Kangas?"

"Youíre the one whoís supposed to meet me?" He sounded incredulous. His deep-sunken eyes were scanning the cafe, as if hoping to see someone else who might be more like his idea of a spacer. But there was only me.

"Yes," I repeated. "Iím Jamileh Rezazadeh." He blinked at the name. I tried to see myself through his eyes: dark, square-jawed, with thick eyebrows and my big Iranian nose, my hair covered by the headscarf I never normally wore. Some perverted impulse had made me tie it over my hair today. "Iíve been expecting you," I said.

"So," he said, and sat down. His hands were big and hairy, and he began twisting them together on the table. "Iím not sure I want to do this."

"Nobody ever does, not completely," I said. "But itís your decision to make."

"Tell me again," he muttered, looking at me in flashes, glancing at my face and away again, quickly. "First, tell me if youíre an agent for the ship people. I thought I was to deal with them directly."

"No," I assured him, "Iím not an agent. In this business we donít use agents. Iím a ship person, Mr Kangas; to be more precise, I am the ship person, a fully qualified pilot."

"Then..." He didnít follow up on what he was about to say, but I knew what he was thinking: that even though I looked about thirty, I was old, probably much older than he was; and he was right. "Youíll be piloting the ship weíll be leaving on? If," he added hastily, "we agree to leave on it, of course."

I didnít answer him directly. "Dawn," I said. "Thatís what we call it, Dawn, though the official nameís something else. We call it Dawn because we think itís a new dawn for the human race. Do you know what Dawn is like, Mr Kangas? You probably have seen pictures and holograms, but you donít know what itís like. Unless youíve been there, you canít."

I let the memories wash over me as I began to speak. "You should see the sun come up on Dawn. Itís a red sun, huge and cooler than ours, but itís got billions of years to go before it burns out. And on Dawn, when it rises, it washes the sky with pinks and reds and oranges, like you canít imagine.

"I was once in a forest on Dawn at daybreak." I remembered the cool, drifting mist, the thick rubbery vegetation, the bracing air. "I wasnít lost, but I was pretending to be." It hadnít been hard, not then, because there was only the one town on Dawn, right next to Port Cosmos, not counting the satellite scientific stations. "I saw the sun come up from the top of a hill." I tried to put in words what it had been like, the roseate glow that suffused the atmosphere, and turned each drifting particle of mist into a tiny ruby. "And thatís when I fell in love with the place.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Short story
Rating:6.71 / 10
Rated By:50 users
Comments: 4 users
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