You do not know me yet, my love, but I can hear you in my future. You are there from the beginning–at first just a few stray notes, but your presence quickly grows into a beautiful refrain. I wish you could hear time as I do, my love, but this song was never meant to be heard. The future should be chronobviated, gathered up in feathery pink fronds with delicate threads that waver in and out of alternate timelines. The past should be memographed, absorbed into a sturdy gray tail that stretches back to the beginning of the universe. We humans have neither fronds nor tails, but when the Eternals wanted to talk to us, they found a way to work around that.
Harmonies of Time
by Caroline M. Yoachim
You do not know me yet, my love, but I can hear you in my
future. You are there from the beginning–at first just a few stray
notes, but your presence quickly grows into a beautiful refrain. I
wish you could hear time as I do, my love, but this song was never
meant to be heard. The future should be chronobviated, gathered up in
feathery pink fronds with delicate threads that waver in and out of
alternate timelines. The past should be memographed, absorbed into a
sturdy gray tail that stretches back to the beginning of the universe.
We humans have neither fronds nor tails, but when the Eternals wanted
to talk to us, they found a way to work around that.
The melody of my past is simple.
When I was ten years old, I heard my mother’s voice for
the first time. The doctors worried that I might be too old to adapt
to the change. They told me that the sensation might be
overwhelming. They explained that sound wouldn’t be the same for me
as for a child born with hearing. But none of that mattered. As a
ten-year-old child, I saw the procedure as a way to be normal, just
like all the other kids, and I jumped at the chance.
When the doctors turned my cochlear implant on for the
first time, I was in a quiet room. My mother gave me a moment to
adjust to the hum of the lights, and then she spoke to me. She told
me that she loved me, signing as she said the words. When I heard her
voice, I cried.
I never dreamed that in my lifetime I would gain another
sense, but when the Eternals made first contact, they did not ask for
politicians or for scientists. They asked for people like me. I had
already learned a new sense, and I already had external sensors wired
into my nervous system. With my permission, the Eternals altered my
cochlear implant, and what they sense as time I hear as music. So
much of what they wanted to say to us was contained in the harmonies
of the future; they felt they couldn’t communicate with us any other
It was disorienting at first, far worse than when my
cochlear implant had been turned on. That had simply been a cacophony
of sound, and the doctors had kept the room quiet to ease my
transition. My new sense was a cacophony of time, and not even the
Eternals could silence it. Every possible future of the universe
echoed in my brain, and it nearly drove me mad. It was you that saved
me, my love, even though we have not met. The possibility of you gave
me something to hold on to. Something human, something simple,
In the harmonies of my future, we meet today and tomorrow
and next year and never. It is impossible to say for sure, but you
sound closer now, so I suspect the time is near. I joke and you
laugh. This is important, because in the strands of harmony where
this doesn’t happen, I tend to lose you. We date for weeks and months
and years and not at all. I have the advantage of knowing which
harmonies end well, so I will take you on the zip line tour that you
will love, and avoid that disastrous trip to France.
I propose and you propose and we never speak of marriage.
We have a beautiful ceremony in a church and on a beach and at the
county courthouse. All our friends come to celebrate with us, or we
elope and celebrate alone. We honeymoon in Mexico and Spain and
Alaska and sometimes not at all because we can’t afford the trip. We
buy a house and live with your parents and rent a one bedroom
apartment on the twenty-fourth floor of a high-rise.
Sometimes we have children and sometimes not. Either way
is fine with me, love, but there are things I can’t control, even with
everything I know. We have two girls and one boy and no children even
though we try. We lose children before they are born and from
sickness I can not prevent and as a soldiers in a foreign war. There
are strands in the harmony where you resent me for failing to stop
these things. There are strands where I hate myself. But there are
other strands with so much joy. Yes, either way is fine with me. The
happiness is worth the risk.
We grow old together and alone, but the aging is
inevitable — avoided only by death. We get glasses and you get a
hearing aid, and the harmonies of time start to slip away from me. I
prefer the strands where you are at my side when I die, but sometimes
you pass first and I am there with you.
The Eternals warned us of a catastrophe that will and
won’t happen, two million years from now. They believed their message
was urgent. They failed to comprehend the timescale of our lives,
even after we explained. Once they had given their warning, they left
in search of others who could not foresee the coming danger.
I kept my implant, even after the Eternals moved on. I am
changed forever by this sense of what has been and what may someday
be. Even when the song threatens to overwhelm me, I must listen. I
would not cut out my eyes because light is too bright; I would not cut
out my tongue after tasting something bitter. I cling to the song of
time even though it makes me doubt my connection to humanity. I am
different, yes. But I still cry when I think of my mother’s voice,
cracking with emotion as she tells me that she loves me, the first
time I ever heard her. The memory helps me remember who I am, no
matter how disconnected I may feel. That memory is the next best
thing to having you.
The harmonies of when we meet collapse into a single note,
and we are meeting now. I tell a joke, and wait for you to laugh.
Oh, I hope you laugh. Please, please laugh. It would be so hard to
lose you, now that you are here.
For an agonizing moment I wait, and the harmonies of our
future waver. Then you laugh, a sound as sweet as the first time I
heard my mother’s voice. A sound that bodes well for our future.
In ninety-eight percent of all the harmonies I hear, I love you.
A Crown of Woven Nails
By Caroline M. Yoachim
My best friend growing up was a Splitter named Cobalt.
She was nicer than the human kids — they called me Stump because my
left hand has no fingers, or Puddle-lover because I spent so much time
with Cobalt. Splitters are shape-shifters, but they come from a world
with low gravity, so on Earth they get squashed flat to the ground,
like puddles. Cobalt got her name because no matter what color the
rest of her was, her edges were always blue. She was embarrassed
about it, but I thought the blue was pretty.
I remember the last time I played with Cobalt. We were
hanging out in the debris from a collapsed building. I collected
nails and dropped them into her puddle, and she stretched them into
thin strands and wove them together to make a crown. We were going to
play at being royalty, but my mother called me in for dinner. Cobalt
let me take the crown. I wore it to bed that night, and dreamed I was
While I slept, soldiers rounded up all the Splitters and
put them into camps.
Everyone assumed the camps were temporary, but weeks
stretched into months, and months stretched into years. I made
friends with human kids, and eventually they stopped teasing me about
my hand. We talked about Splitters sometimes, and I was surprised at
how many kids thought they were dangerous and actually belonged in
camps. I thought it was wrong to keep them locked up, especially
after all they’d done for us.
The Splitters came to Earth after the Last Atomic War, and
with their help we avoided an apocalypse and suffered only a momentary
lapse in civilization. They could manipulate all types of matter as
easily as we sculpt clay, and they absorbed the radioactive material
left over from the war and made it inert.
We should have been grateful, but instead we were
frightened by their abilities. We locked them away in camps, deep
pits with high walls. It was a stupid thing to do, since nothing
humans have ever built could hold a Splitter, but they didn’t get
angry. When we declared them dangerous, the Splitters simply waited
in the camps for us to change our minds.
I tried to find Cobalt once, a few years after the
soldiers had taken her away. I figured she’d be in the closest camp,
and I snuck out of the house one night and walked over to the highway.
My plan was to hitchhike. It was a terrible plan. Most of the
vehicles on the road were military trucks, and the very first one
picked me up and took me straight back home.
In retrospect, it was a lucky trip. I hadn’t gotten close
enough to the camp to get into any real trouble, and — five years
later — I married one of the soldiers I’d met while riding home. We
had a baby girl and adopted a stray dog and mostly I was content. But
I kept the crown that Cobalt made, and sometimes I would trace the
woven metal with my fingers, and wonder what had happened to my
We call the aliens Splitters because at adolescence they
split in half. Then each half combines with a mate, and they split
off blobby little children.
When the pits were finally opened, half of Cobalt came
back to our neighborhood. I wondered if she was still my friend, now
that she was mixed with another Splitter. I tucked our crown into my
backpack and went to visit her. Her edges were tinged with cobalt
blue, just as I remembered, but she’d changed her name to Shimmer.
She was teaching her children how to deconstruct water.
One of them separated a droplet into hydrogen and oxygen, and the
other one recombined the molecules to make water again. I stayed well
back from the tiny explosions.
I looped the straps of my backpack over my left arm and
started to pull out the crown, but I was startled by the loud pop of
an explosion, and the backpack slipped off and fell to the floor.
Shimmer turned her full attention to me for the first time since I’d
arrived, and she told me she could teach my hand to grow new fingers.
She meant well, but I was so unprepared for her offer that all I could
say was that I would think about it. It had never occurred to Cobalt
that I was broken, but it was the only thing Shimmer noticed about me.
Eager to change the subject, I mentioned the crown we’d
made, and Shimmer replied that children play such silly games. I felt
foolish for bringing the crown with me, and relieved that I hadn’t
pulled it out of my backpack. I’m not sure what I’d thought would
happen — I certainly didn’t expect to wear the crown and become a
queen, we were too old to play at such things — but her dismissal of
the memory stung.
When I got home, I gave the crown to my daughter. She
squealed with excitement, put it on, and ran outside to play. I
complained to my husband that the friend I remembered was gone, but he
just shrugged and told me I was different, too. After all these
years, what did I expect?
At dusk, I went out looking for my daughter. I found her
playing in the abandoned lot down the street. She was perched upon a
concrete block with the crown of nails gleaming on her head. On the
ground beside her was one of Shimmer’s children, who had shaped
herself as royalty, with a purple gown and a crown that matched the
one my daughter wore. They were arguing over which one of them was
the queen and which one was the princess.
It was time for dinner, but instead I let them play.
Cobalt was gone, but I could hear the echo of our friendship in the
laughter of our children.
Episode Art: Christine Dennett