Escape Pod 668: The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi
The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi
by Wole Talabi
The spindly, sleek ship hurtled forward at hyperliminal speed, blurring its own intricately patterned design in six dimensions and wrecking the fabric of space–time in its wake. Its captain adjusted the dial on the control panel, accelerating the ship three thousand lightspeed units faster in Planck time. Reality shifted.
The sphere that was chasing the ship matched their maneuver and kept the distance—if it could still be called that—between them, unchanged. The sphere suddenly added an extra-dimensional rotation to its motion and burst ahead with a surge of energy that set off a singularity event behind it. It slammed itself against the ship finally, throwing off gigantic streams of pure energy, and latched on to it with long, spiny hydra-like tendrils that branched into manifold others.
The sphere began to consume the ship in a dazzling display of fractured light and twisted gravity, tendrils reaching into it like the fingers of some monstrous creature seeking sustenance. The ship’s captain, in a panic, condensed every aspect of themself into one place for the first time since they’d first gained super-sentience. They could not let the ship be taken. If the object it carried fell into the hands of the beings that controlled the sphere, every conscious aspect of the universe could become a weapon in their hands. It was better if all was lost; destroyed forever. The object pulsed a thought in agreement with them. They resonated with resolve. This would be the final act of the Great War. It had to be done.
The captain pushed a gray dot above the main control panel and the universe stood still for the most minuscule of moments before a bright azure stream of pure plasma tore its way through the core of the ship, expanding at imperceivable speeds. In a flash, it obliterated the ship, the sphere, and everything within a five-hundred-galaxy radius before finally pausing to allow something like an explosion occur. Time and space became shrapnel. Pressure and temperature became meaningless abstractions in a bubble of broken reality. The universe trembled.
. . .
Her mother was in the kitchen. She could tell because once she stopped reading and allowed her senses re-engage with her environment, she could smell the unique crayfish, atariko, rigije spice, and beletete leaf combination that told her mother was preparing banga soup. Other dishes, too, perhaps. And that meant her mother probably needed help.
“Come and help me take these tomatoes to grind in Aunty Imoke’s house!”
Ejiro tossed her copy of The Passport of Mallam Ilia onto the bed and sighed. “I’m coming, Mummy!”
She hated being interrupted when she was fully immersed in a book, especially one as fascinating as Mallam Ilia, but mothers could not be ignored by their preteen daughters. Life in Nigeria simply did not work that way. Especially not in Warri, oil company family camp or not. The price for any sort of perceived misbehavior or disrespect would be paid in vicious slaps and caustic insults, perhaps even, if her mother felt sufficiently offended, in lashes of the dreaded water cane: Doctor-Do-Good.
She rose, threw a faded okrika Tina Turner concert T-shirt over her red and yellow wrapper-clad body, slid her feet into her brown sandals, and ambled her way from her room to the kitchen where her mother was waiting with a ladle in her right hand, a bowl of half-made eba in her left, and a frown on her face. Her hair was matted to her forehead and sweat rolled down her rosy cheeks in little rills.
“Ejiro, since when did I call you?”
“Sorry, Mummy, I was wearing my shirt.”
“Ehn! Your shirt,” her mother parroted, the frown on her face adjusting to allow some skepticism to be seen. “Your shirt. Five minutes just to wear shirt. Hmm.”
Ejiro tensed and said, “Sorry, Mummy,” then waited for something to happen, but no slaps or rebukes came.
“Okay oh. I have heard. Take these tomatoes to grind,” her mother said, pointing at a green plastic bucket filled with plump tomatoes and onions and chili peppers. Ejiro released the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. The fear she’d developed for her mother, who’d become more and more of a disciplinarian as she’d approached puberty, had driven a wedge between them so large that she often wasn’t sure if her mother still loved her or was merely tolerating her out of a sense of duty. But this had been the state of things for so long now that it rarely saddened her anymore.
The tomatoes made up at least seventy percent of the bucketload her mother was directing her attention to. It looked heavy. Ejiro sucked back an involuntary sigh that tried to escape her and lifted the bucket, simultaneously reaching for the cover and a piece of cloth on the floor beside it.
“Are Daddy’s friends coming again tonight?” Ejiro asked. Her father had been receiving guests every day for the last week, which usually meant that there was some trouble between the local community and the management of his former employers and he was planning to do something about it. He’d retired early from a career in oil and gas law after his first novel became a surprise international bestseller, but he’d refused to move out of the company camp, opting instead for the simple life and continued service to his hometown. He’d paid out the employee house loan he took from the company and become an activist and informal community organizer and liaison, much to his former employers’ chagrin.
“How is it your business, Ejiro? Are you a busybody now?”
Her mother was clearly agitated and not in the mood for answering questions for some reason, so Ejiro muttered, “Sorry, Mummy,” again and made for the front door.
“Make sure Aunty Imoke puts it inside the grinder three times oh. Let it be smooth,” her mother called out just before the door shut behind her.
Ejiro carried her burden into the scorching heat of Warri in July. It was evening already but it still felt like God himself was trying to bake the entire city and had been trying to do so for a couple of months. If the heat kept up, perhaps they’d be fully cooked by September. The asphalt road shimmered in places where it had begun to liquefy.
Ejiro stood in front of the house for a while, contemplating her route; searching her mind for the path of least resistance. Aunty Imoke’s house was only twenty minutes away walking along the main road—not very far—but Ejiro wanted to return to her book as soon as possible and so she was considering the old shortcut she and Femi Ladipo—her neighbor and current best friend—had used often when they were still in primary school. It was a crude path that ran through the bushes in front of their houses, past the small stream and the backyard of Aunty Imoke’s house, to the football field beside their primary school and linked to the main estate road that went all the way to the company offices like a sort of secret yellow brick road. Ejiro estimated that it would only take about five minutes on that path to reach Aunty Imoke’s house.
She made her decision swiftly and headed for the spot where she remembered the entrance to the shortcut to be—behind the hedges two houses from the end of their cul-de-sac. She found it nearly invisible; nature, in its patient, unfailing way, had begun to reclaim what belonged to it after they stopped using it. Placing the bucket full of tomatoes, peppers, and onions on her head, a small pad of folded cloth between her crown and the base of the bucket, Ejiro ignored the overgrowth and the tall grass and started walking along what was left of the shortcut.
She had only gone a few hundred yards into the bush when she heard a whirr. At first she assumed it to be one of the susurrations of the bush choir—that strange mélange of bush baby cries, cricket chirrs, and other assorted animal noises. But after a few seconds, she realized it was no natural sound. It had the characteristic modulation of something heavy spinning violently and off-center. And it seemed to be getting louder. Ejiro stopped moving. She waited, and looked around her, over the surrounding grass, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound. It seemed to be coming from above. She looked up, scanning the pale-blue, cloudless sky. And then she saw it.
Actually, she did not see it, per se. What she saw was the trail of condensing water vapor that followed it, a geometrically precise tail riding the air.
The spinning object crashed into the bush only a few yards away from the path ahead of Ejiro and threw up a ten-foot-tall plume of sand, dust, grass, and water vapor, leaving a small crater where all these things had been. Ejiro gasped and stood rooted to the spot, transfixed by what she had just witnessed, wondering if she had imagined it or if an object had truly fallen from the sky.
When shock finally let go of her mind, she crouched, took the bucket off her head, and placed it on the path beside her. For a second, she was sure she would turn and run back home, but something powerful drew her to the place where the object had fallen, like she was caught in an intense magnetic field, or lost in the plot of a particularly compelling story.
Adjusting her wrapper, she approached the site of the crash slowly, cautiously, trampling over grass that bowed away from the crater. When she reached the center of the small crater, she saw the object. It was a small, bluish metal item, rectangular, with smooth edges. About the size of a Sony Walkman but flat, like plywood. Intricate patterns were carved onto it—strange, ornate designs unlike any Ejiro had ever seen, read about, or even heard of. She thought it looked like it was meant to fit into something else, something larger. Perhaps it was a controller for equipment from the oil processing plant or a component of some aircraft’s fuselage or . . . something else.
It didn’t give off any steam and there were no streams of condensing vapor around it anymore. Somehow it called to her, soundlessly but insistently, little pulses in her mind that made her want to take it into her hands. Compelled, Ejiro reached out to touch it.
The moment her thin fingers made contact with the object, a wave of something electric went through her and the world around her suddenly exploded into a hazy, woolly, and indistinct womb of pseudo-reality, as if space and time around her had become fluid. Ejiro gasped.
She felt diaphanous, as if her body were constantly melting into and out of her environment in some kind of unnatural equilibrium. It was the most bizarre feeling Ejiro had ever experienced in her life and it produced a sensation so anomalous that her mind, desperate to anchor itself, reached out for something familiar. She found herself thinking of home, of being back in her room, of reading her book.
And then, just like that, she was there, lying on her bed, her book held in front of her and the smell of degraded paper, adhesive and ink in her nose as her eyes consumed the words of Mallam Ilia’s final contender for the hand of Zara, the daughter of the Prince of Tuaregs: Your knife can do nothing to me. I have swallowed the medicine against steel.
But Ejiro was still in the bush, too.
She could see the injured grass and soil surrounding the object in her hands superimposed over the words of the book, could still smell the distress chemicals released by the damaged grass as well as the comforting scent of the old paper. It was no illusion. All her senses were aware of what was happening in both places. She was in both places at the same time. Her head spun with the realization. It was impossible, but it was happening. She was basking in inconceivability. She was experiencing a multiplicity of self. She was in two places at the same time. She was in two places at the same time!
When she sensed something like approval from the object in her mind, the strangeness of it made her pull hand away. Regular reality re-crystallized around her. She was herself again, just herself. In the bush. Only in the bush. Ejiro’s mouth hung open like one of the roasted fishes on a spike that she saw at Effurun Market.
Ejiro ruminated on the moment that had just gone by, within the embrace of which she had achieved what felt like some measure of omnipresence. And even though the object seemed to have a sort of life of its own and she had no idea what it had just done to her, she knew she liked it. She liked it a lot. And she knew the first person she just had to tell about it . . . as soon as she finished grinding the tomatoes and peppers for her mother.
Night had fallen and Ejiro was sitting on the floor in the narrow corridor just outside the living room of their three-bedroom bungalow, anxiously waiting for her father’s meeting to end so that she could tell him about the strange object she’d picked up on the way to Aunty Imoke’s house. He was the only one who would believe her story. He always listened to her. Her mother, if she told her about the object, would think either she was insane or that the object belonged to an evil spirit and she was in need of prayers and deliverance at the hands of their local pastor. The object, now wrapped in the piece of old Ankara cloth that she’d used as a pad between her head the bucket, was under her bed. She could almost feel its presence pulsing against her mind, calling her back to it, asking for contact again.
Her father’s meeting had been going on for almost two hours and her mother had already served the eba and banga soup as well as white rice and chicken stew for those who preferred it almost forty-five minutes ago. The guests had eaten without pausing their discussions. Ejiro put her book down for the umpteenth time and peered into the living room through the partly closed door.
Most of the people in the room were men with afros and beards, holding large, brown bottles of Gulder beer. They were clustered in a sort of circle around her father who pointed at a piece of paper on a stool in front of him.
“We can block the entrance here,” her father said, calmly. Ejiro knew her father well enough to see how hard he was working to keep his hands from shaking as they roved over the paper. He was not as confident as he wanted to appear. “If we get our people to block the main road here, just after the junction between the estate and town, there is no other way for the state administrator to reach the office. He will miss the opening ceremony, they won’t be able to ignore us anymore, and the journalists coming for the event will have an opportunity to capture the whole protest. That will get the message across.”
Everyone nodded except for one woman, the only woman among them, who had straight black hair and skin like polished wood.
“And how can we be sure the administrator’s men won’t just beat us or use tear gas or, god forbid, open fire?” she asked. “This is a military government, not a bunch of professional politicians, remember? And we don’t have a demonstration permit.”
Ejiro’s father replied, “I know, but just look at the results of the last forty-two analyses we’ve done on Warri River. Things are desperate. In fact, just go near the riverbank and look at your reflection. Oil. Heavy metals. Our people are dying slowly and they don’t even know it. We have to make a stand. Now.”
“Tabuno, I know all that but that is not a plan, oh!” the woman retorted. “We all understand the situation, we want clean water, too, and we will show up with our people tomorrow to demand it, but we cannot come and go and die. What do we do if they open fire?”
He sighed. “True. It’s a risk but I’ve considered it. It’s not likely. Abacha is trying to get the American government to support his upcoming elections and his supposedly peaceful transition now. Brigadier Asiru in Benin already told me all soldiers have been told to calm down and minimize negative press. Abacha really doesn’t want it to look like the military is being aggressive again. The company security administrator knows this. This is our best chance. We have to take it.”
Ejiro turned back to her book. They argued on for another half-hour before the meeting was finally over.
Even then, none of them was in a hurry to leave. They finished their beers, complimented her mother’s cooking, made small talk. Then they made their way out in small, sober groups. Ejiro was annoyed that they were taking so long. The woman with the straight hair and the polished-wood skin was the last to leave.
When all the guests had finally gone, her mother asked her to help clear up the used dishes. She grumbled, but she did it anyway, sneaking a swig of some leftover beer from one of the guests’ bottles as she loaded the tray. The taste was vile but she relished the way it made her feel: like an adult, like someone who could and should have important discussions with her father, someone who was capable of handling great, profound powers.
After depositing the last tray of dishes in the kitchen, she went over to her father, who was still in the living room, and stretched out her hand to offer him a half-eaten packet of Okin biscuits she’d taken from the kitchen. He usually smiled when she did things like that.
He didn’t smile this time.
“Ejiro, what do you want?” he asked, frowning. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping your mother wash plates in the kitchen?”
The silent call of the object thrummed against her mind.
“Yes, Daddy, I will wash the plates. But I wanted to tell you something first—it’s really important.”
He stared into her earnest eyes for a moment, then reached out and took the packet of pale brown biscuits from her, holding it up to the yellowed bulb as if he were inspecting it. The wrapper was transparent, with blue and red patterns on it. The biscuits themselves were plain and circular but had small holes through them. He took one out and ate it before forcing a smile.
“Tell me quick-quick then,” he said, pulling her toward him gently so she could place her elbows on his shoulders.
“I found something today,” Ejiro said, almost whispering, “something that fell from the sky. It’s special. When I touched it, I was in more than one place at the same time. It was like the magic in one of your books. The one with the spirit boy in Lagos.”
Her father took a deep breath and then laughed. He laughed until he started to cough, choking on the biscuit. He kept laughing until the coughs stopped and then he stood up.
“Ejiro, my dear, you have a wonderful imagination. Do you want to help me write my next novel? Or even, you know what? Write your own, be famous, like Flora Nwapa!” He laughed. “But you can tell me more about this thing you found tomorrow, okay? I have to go to my room now.”
Ejiro’s face flushed with frustration. “Daddy. I’m serious. It’s real. I can show you the magic thing. It is under my bed. I can—”
“Please, Ejiro.” Her father had already started walking toward the door. “Just show me tomorrow evening. I need to sleep now. I am tired and I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”
Ejiro’s heart thumped in her chest. She had to say something to make him listen to her. The call of the object to her mind was building. Building.
“Daddy, please listen. I was like a spirit, I could—”
“That’s enough, Ejiro!” There was an edge to his voice now. “I said tomorrow. Finish washing the plates and go to bed.”
She shut her eyes and bit her trembling lower lip.
Her father paused at the door and the light from the sodium bulb in the corridor poured around him, turning him into a framed silhouette as he called out to her mother in the kitchen.
“I’m going to rest, I have a headache.” His hand hung by his side. It was shaking.
“Okay, dear! I’m coming,” her mother responded.
He disappeared into the corridor, into the light.
Ejiro stood in the living room and tried not to let the thoughts that were forming in her head take root as the mental vibration slowly evened out to a dull throb. Why did her father not want to listen to her? He always listened to her. Was her story really so ridiculous, so unbelievable? Or was it just the thing he and his friends were going to do tomorrow, the thing they had discussed at the meeting, that unnerved him so much he couldn’t pay attention to her? It had to be. That was the only narrative she could string together that made sense. Still, the object that had fallen from the sky was important. She had to tell him. He would know what to do with it. But if he wouldn’t listen now, then she had no choice. She would have to tell Femi tomorrow.
The next morning, she was in Femi’s house. Her mother had dropped her off there before going to work since it was a school holiday and her father had left home before dawn to organize “the big rally” as she’d called it just before kissing him goodbye and begging him to please be careful.
Ejiro held the cup of iced Bournvita Femi’s mother had made for her a quarter of an hour ago close to her face, allowing the streams of condensing air around it to cool her cheeks. Femi’s mother was seated at the head of the dining table behind the main couch where she and Femi sat. Ejiro could feel the now familiar pulsing in the back of her mind. Outside, the sun was a bright, beautiful orb high in the sky; inside, the television was a bright, beautiful distraction set in a woodgrain frame. Femi had put in a VHS copy of The Princess Bride when she arrived and they were pretending to watch it even though they’d both seen it over a dozen times already. Ejiro took another sip of her Bournvita. Eventually, just as the elaborate forced wedding of Princess Buttercup to Prince Humperdinck began onscreen, Femi’s mother got up and went into the kitchen. Ejiro and Femi looked back at the table and then at each other.
“Now!” Femi cried, his voice almost breaking with effort to keep low. “Show me.”
Ejiro reached into her backpack and pulled out the bulky wad of cloth within which the strange object that had fallen from the sky was enwombed. She set it on the small stretch of brown felt couch between them and unwrapped it slowly to reveal the rectangular object with the unfamiliar ornate patterns. It sat between them, pulsing against Ejiro’s mind like an unanswered question.
Looking Femi in the eye, Ejiro noticed that something about his demeanor changed when he saw it. His joyful excitement had been replaced with puzzlement and something approximating apprehension.
“That’s it?” he asked.
“Yes,” Ejiro said, eager. “It’s like magic. Just touch it. With your bare hand.” The object pulsed agreement directly into her brain.
“I thought it would have light around it. Like power or a force field, or something.”
Ejiro pointed at it, jabbing her finger in its direction. “Just touch it. You’ll see.”
“Okay.” Femi started to reach for the object then paused. “You said it will make me be in two places at once?” he whispered.
“But which other place will I go to?”
“I don’t know, wherever you think about.”
“Even places I haven’t been to before?”
“I don’t know,” Ejiro said. “Just think of a place you’ve been to before and wish you were there again or something.”
Femi’s apprehension appeared to be sublimating into fear.
“Just hold it before your mum comes back, Femi—you’ll see,” Ejiro said, annoyed at his hesitation. “You’ll see what I mean.”
Femi drew back his hand a little bit. “But what if something bad happens?”
“Just touch it, Femi!” she hissed. She grabbed the object from its place between them, feeling the pulse in her mind surge and fluidize her as she did so, and pressed it onto the soft, dark skin of Femi’s outstretched hand.
Ejiro’s mind had lost its form again, but this time, it was not as it had been the first time. Now, even more than having her very essence in flux, she felt . . . projected. Her mind, her memory, and her thoughts flowed out of her like a river that was separate from her but to which she still had access. She looked at Femi and saw herself as she never had before. Her face was smooth; dark and smooth and beautiful. Her eyes, bright as stars. Her braided hair was lovely. She felt a primal attraction to herself that made no sense and in that moment she knew. She knew she was seeing herself as he did. She was him. He was her.
Femi and her; her and Femi. They had blurred.
What is happening? they asked themself silently. Their voice was no longer a vocalization; there was no manipulation of the vibration of air. It was telepathic, the perception of their own thoughts.
I don’t know. This is new.
They looked at each other, the sensation like that of being on both sides of a mirror. It was unsettling and they felt fear burble through them from the Femi aspect of themself.
The Ejiro aspect of them tightened her hand around the Femi aspect, and he calmed down instantly.
Think of a place. Any place. Any place but here.
The Femi aspect thought of his father’s office where his father had taken him after school last week, given him ice cream, and allowed him to watch Yo! Raps on MTV. They gasped together at the suddenness of the bifurcation of perception that occurred then, the sensation of them being in the Femi aspect’s father’s office, sitting on the black leather office chair, staring at the turned-off television screen, a black mirror that reflected nothing.
In both the office and the living room of Femi’s house, they smiled.
It works! they exclaimed joyously to themself. It works. Two places at the same time!
Hearing a loud, steady noise coming from outside the office, they projected themself up from the office chair and walked toward the window. Staring down, they saw a crowd of people carrying placards and cardboard signs, chanting in unison. In front of them, a group of about forty menacing soldiers stood beside a fleet of white Isuzu Tiger pickup trucks, behind which was a long queue of cars and pedestrians—the oil plant workers and the government officials trying to get to the office, to the opening ceremony of their new office wing. The soldiers glared at the protesters while a small distance away, on a road just off the main thoroughfare, a group of journalists had made their way into the space between the workers and the soldiers and were taking photographs. At the front, only a foot ahead of the main bulk of protesters, the Ejiro aspect of them saw her father pumping his fists in time to the chants, apparently orchestrating.
They were then seized by a shared vision.
They saw themself standing at the front of the line of protesters with the Ejiro aspect’s father, and they were aflame. They stood, burning, yet they were not consumed. The fire seemed to pulse, as if it were breathing. The Ejiro aspect saw herself weep tears of bright orange flame that fell from her eyes in sync with the pulsing; the Femi aspect saw himself exhale breathfuls of thick black smoke.
And then, as suddenly as it came, the vision was gone and they could see the protesters again.
The suddenness of the transition and the sensory overload it induced shocked the Femi aspect so much that he let go of the object and they disengaged. The separation occurred suddenly, a confounding compression to center, each consciousness falling into its owner like a collapsing star.
Ejiro felt momentarily disoriented, pushed too quickly back into her own self but still in both places at once.
Femi’s face in front of her was frozen in a rictus of shock superimposed over the image of her father and the protesters. She let go of the object and it fell to the couch with a soft bump.
Onscreen, the movie was still playing, having just reached the part where Westley had finally rescued Princess Buttercup and was telling Inigo Montoya that he thought he would make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts.
“Wow!” Femi whispered, his face not moving much.
Ejiro did not say anything. Just a moment prior, they had shared one consciousness and the object had revealed something profound but mysterious to them, so she already knew what Femi was thinking and he already knew what she was thinking, too. They shared the pulse now, the sensation of something like a wave breaking on the shore of their minds. They did not need any more words but they used them anyway, out of habit, to confirm their thoughts to each other.
“We can get there if we take the shortcut,” Femi muttered.
“Aren’t you scared anymore?” Ejiro asked, remembering the sensation that had washed over her when they were joined.
“I don’t know. But you felt it. You saw it. You know what we are going to do.”
“Thank you,” Ejiro said, expressing a calmness that she knew came not truly from within her but from the object, and a new sort of knowing. A knowing of the thing it was using her to accomplish. Using them to accomplish.
Femi nodded and smiled. “Let’s go.”
The two children ran like they would die if they stopped. They bounded through the bush path, each falling step synchronized with, or perhaps by, the pulsing of the object that bounced around in Ejiro’s backpack, no longer touching them but still driving them. They sped past the small crater the object had created when it first arrived without even taking notice. By the time they reached the end of the road on the right of the football field where the shortcut ended, they could see that the protest had mutated from the mildly agitated standoff they’d experienced from the window of Femi’s father’s office into something more frenzied. The soldiers were pacing, rifles in hand. Ejiro and Femi ducked behind a hedge of rough hibiscus at the border of the bush, behind a large gutter.
“It will be hard to get near,” Femi said, his eyes scanning the area for a path they could take to the front of the crowd without being seen instantly. Of course, there wasn’t one. Ejiro’s father had chosen this road wisely. Wide, with a block of offices on one side and thick bush on the other.
“What do we . . .” Ejiro started, but the pulsing in her mind connected her to Femi’s and she stopped.
Then, together, “We wait.”
They watched the crowd in the distance grow more agitated, heard the chanting get louder. A soldier with a pistol in one hand and a megaphone in the other who appeared to be in command put the megaphone to his mouth, pointed at Ejiro’s father, and shouted, “Oya, enough! All of you clear away from here now. Now, I said. Clear out!”
The protesters reduced the volume of their chants.
He repeated the command.
No one moved.
The commanding solider dropped the megaphone to the floor, unlatched a koboko from his belt, waved it at his brigade, and stepped forward into the space between the two opposing sides. At the flick of his whip, the soldiers hastily resolved themselves into three rows of about a dozen each. Some of the protesters stepped back, but Ejiro’s father did not move. The advancing commander stopped about three feet from Ejiro’s father.
Her father did not back down but his hand was now visibly shaking.
“Tell your people to move before we move you,” the commander said, snarling.
“Oga, I don’t want trouble, but government must stop allowing these people to poison our water. No cleanup, no oil.”
The crowd took up the chant again, louder now, inspired by their leader.
“No cleanup, no oil.”
The soldier’s face calcified at the defiant disobedience. It was obvious that he wasn’t used to having his commands ignored. The heat of his anger radiated out, threatening to consume the tense crowd of protesters.
“Boys,” he hissed, waving the whip forward. “Clear these bloody civilians away from my sight.”
The first row of soldiers marched toward the protesters and one of them hit Ejiro’s father in the belly with the butt of his rifle. The protesters began shouting. The soldiers hit others in the front, lashing at them with kobokos and rifle butts. A few of the protesters started to retreat, falling over those behind them. The journalists scrambled forward, their bulky cameras snapping away.
Ejiro and Femi felt the pulsing in their minds amplify, the pressure of their thoughts concentrated into a single word.
They broke out from behind the bushes, running for the crowd of protesters from which a few people had begun to flee. One man in a short-sleeved white button-up shirt ran past them, turning his head in surprise and tripping over his own feet. Another man with a moustache stopped short when the children passed him, disbelief seizing his face.
A woman’s voice ahead of them yelled, “Get those children out of here!” But her cry was indistinguishable from the cacophony of other desperate, angered, and defiant shouts being taken up around them. Everyone was screaming something different, like the builders at Babel confounded by an irate God, except in this case they were not unable, just unwilling, to understand each other.
No cleanup, no oil!
Move out! Get out!
We no go gree!
The children pressed through the dense crowd, aiming for Ejiro’s father, their minds united in purpose by the pulsing, the persistent and powerful pulsing that was like an echo of the merging and omnipresence induced by the alien object that Ejiro was now reaching into her bag for.
Ahead of them, through the mass of bodies, Ejiro saw her father being pulled by a group of soldiers, their rough hands around his neck and arms, while his friends, including the woman with the polished-wood skin and straight hair, held on to his waist and thighs.
Her heart pounded louder in time with the object’s increased pulsing and Femi’s heavy breathing, like two musicians practicing strange music to the beat of an otherworldly metronome. She finally extracted the ornate blue object from her bag and immediately joined hands with Femi.
The last thing Ejiro saw as herself was the widening of her father’s eyes when he noticed her weaving through the protesters, sprinting toward him.
Ejiro’s and Femi’s consciousnesses pressed together as their hands did, fusing. The object’s pulse amplitude modulated itself low, to something like a silence of minds, an absolute absence of selves.
And then, an explosion of new being. They entered the indistinct womb of fluidized reality where they were both themselves and more. This time, it was not shocking or surprising to them, but comforting, like returning home.
Holding hands, they flung themself into the mass of people struggling over her father.
As flesh touched flesh, they were struck with an awareness of the Ejiro aspect’s father and what he was doing here with a soldier’s arm around his neck and his people’s hands around his waist, people for whom he was willing to risk everything because of the call of blood, the contract of kin, the bond of belonging to each other in some profoundly elemental way and trying to help one another. They accepted her father as a new aspect, widening to accommodate him.
And once they did, the flood began.
They were aware of everyone touching her father. The soldiers, the protesters, all of them. Human minds evolved so long for rigid independence and separateness became liquid and ran together. Panic and care and love and fear and joy and violence and hope and hate and confusion and everything, everything flowed into place, feeding a new thing, the new them.
Super-sentience ignited like fire through the Ejiro aspect of the new and growing them. Then it spread through all that were in contact through skin, moving through brains, writhing around minds, twisting past perceptions, reaching out for everyone, compelling all aspects to reach out and touch more, connect with more. Their consciousnesses were like oxygen feeding a fire, allowing it burn brighter, brighter.
Many of the spectators and journalists ran away once they saw the struggling people stop and touch one another without saying a word. A few stood around, confused.
At the center of the new and wonderful them, mind white-hot with new knowledge, new being, and new understanding, the core aspect that was Ejiro Anaborhi pulsed, calming the other new aspects of themself. And through perfect resonance with her, they felt it. They knew what they were. And what they would become. They thought of all the places they had ever been and they were there, in an instant, all of them, at the same time. The dusty streets of Katsina city, the rooftops of Bamako, the crowded markets of Rumuokoro Market, the pale mirror surface of Lagos Lagoon. More. So much more. They saw what their fellow humans were doing to one another and it offended them, the disunity. The disappointment with discord and the need to unify that the object radiated was amplified as it flowed from the core Ejiro aspect and into them all. The drive moved through them like breath, an inhalation of disapproval at dissonance, an exhalation of desire for more unification.
They saw what they had to do, how they had to spread themselves until the day the sun would rise over a new Earth, a unified humanity, a world completely changed.
In that perfect resonance, the Ejiro aspect smiled. She closed her eyes as the ornate alien object that had fallen like an angel from the sky physically melded into her, unraveling itself like bad knitting before wrapping around and weaving back into the flesh of her forearm. Her fingers trembled as trepidation and anticipation waltzed gracefully with one another in her heart. As it became one with her, she knew then that its ornate patterns were a palimpsest, the superimposed personal markings, like fingerprints, of all the previous core aspects of what she was becoming, her ancient and alien predecessors also tasked with a great and singular duty: unify.
When the object was fully, physically one with the Ejiro aspect, they all let go of each other, no longer needing physical contact. The critical mind mass had been reached and they were linked forever, unique aspects of a new creature. Some of the aspects were unsure what had happened exactly, but they all knew, as clearly as the Ejiro aspect pulsed it to them, that nothing would be the same again.
And with that knowledge, they resonated.
About the Author
WOLE TALABI is a full-time engineer, part-time writer and some-time editor from Nigeria. His stories have appeared in F&SF, AfroSFv3, Lightspeed, Omenana, Terraform and a few other places. His fiction has been nominated for several awards including the Nommo Awards and the Caine Prize. He likes scuba diving, elegant equations and oddly-shaped things. He currently lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
About the Narrator
Maxine is a creative who has worked in a variety of fields, including video, radio, photography and now, voice acting! She can often be found watching movies, drinking tea, traveling, or enjoying a good book. She lives with her husband & son in the Washington D.C. area.