Koloa stepped out from the trees. The plaza before her was lighted by dozens of flickering torches. Several small groups of people stood engaged in conversation in the late summer air, while a few individuals and couples ambled leisurely away towards darkened streets beyond. She walked briskly across the plaza and headed for the wide stairs to her left. Torchlight glistened off her long, dark pony tail, and several people glanced casually as she passed them. At the base of the stairs she paused and stared for a moment at the facing wall of the fortress. Torchlight created a flickering effect on the wall’s surface. She blinked, and, in her mind’s eye saw a mound of broken rubble. One day, she mused, these walls will be no more.
Nisha reached down and lifted the steak from where it had landed in the dirt, ignoring Paul’s apology. He whacked it a couple of times against the side of his pants, and brought it to his mouth. Keeping his eyes on Paul, Nisha pulled off a mouthful of the meat, chewed it noisily, and swallowed.
“That’s the problem with your kind,” he said in an even voice before pulling off his next bite. He chewed, swallowed again. “You base your lives on fear. You think that protection from germs is going to make you live longer. You take only the safe risks.”
He brought his gaze to the fire, and continued to chew the meat from the bone.
Paul, too, continued to eat. He had a camping plate, fork and knife, and he cut the steak into bite-size pieces. Flustered, he couldn’t decide what to say in response to Nisha’s criticism.
Nisha finished off his steak first, pulling the last bits of meat from the bone with his teeth. Then he threw his bone into the fire.
Nisha wiped his hands on his pants legs. Then he stood, keeping his gaze fixed on the fire, where the bone crackled and smoked.
“Know this, Paul. All risks are the same. All lives are the same.”
He turned away from the campfire and climbed into his tent, leaving Paul to finish his meal alone.
When Andy got home he kicked off his shoes and padded into the kitchen. He knew the cupboards were bare, so he opened the door to the broom closet. Aside from two brooms, a sponge mop and a dustpan, the floor of the closet was cluttered with an array of cleansers in various bottles and jars. It was dark in there.
Andy got down on one knee and reached inside with his right hand. It should still be there. Finally, his fingers made contact with the old jar in the back right corner. He jiggled it. It was filled with money.
Romina announced to the assembled crowd, “Next in our Open Mic, Tom will speak to us.”
Tom looked out at the faces. “We often forget that we share—”
“—MIC CHECK!” somebody called out. Tom took a breath. He would have to raise his voice over the din of the traffic driving past the park. He started over with greater vigor.
“We often forget that we share this world with a zillion other species. It's not just about the welfare of humans. We're on our way to 9 billion individuals, and it's the well-being of the biosphere that is at stake.”
He stopped and swept his arm about him, indicating the trees in the park.
“Nature speaks, but not in a human voice. We must learn nature's language and speak for nature. This goes far beyond appreciating nature's beauty. It's science and ecology, folks. It's limits to growth. It's computer models to anticipate the future effects of what we've been doing for the last 100 years.
“Ultimately, it's knowing ourselves, not just as ‘cultured humans’, but as a pieces of a complex, coexisting wholeness.”
Concluding, he shook his head sadly, then remembered to raise his volume. “People aren't dumb. They just don't know. Learn now, or learn later.”
Floyd’s power pack was half-full of charge. Using a thought-command he diverted all of the power to the toroidal energy lifters and leaned forward slightly. Immediately he felt the familiar rush of air against his face as he skimmed along at 30 meters per second, half a meter off the ground. He breathed a sigh of relief. He would be back in the city in less than a quarter of an hour.
Butterfly fluttered among the garden plants. Her antennae sought a particular chemical marker, and presently the signal was detected. Since she had two antennae, she could locate the source by angling her body back and forth and tracing out a complicated three-dimensional path through the air. Her muscles responded automatically to the different strengths of the chemical signal reported by each antenna. Now she was headed straight toward it. Only by landing would she know for sure.
She braked with her wings, and the stickers at the ends of her six legs wrapped around the twig-like branch. She unfurled her proboscis and whipped it through the leafy tendrils. Now she was sure. Milkweed.
Her body sagged with exhaustion. Her abdomen was full with semen. Very soon she would begin to deposit her eggs. Then would come her final sleep…