The Anatomy of Miracles
by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko
For half a song every evening, the sunsets reminded the miracle worker of home. The hills were reddish-brown in daylight, but when the two suns, one after the other, slipped below the horizon, they came alive with purple highlights. He could almost pretend the hills were blue, instead, that the sea in the distance was true water and not liquid methane. On those occasions, he leaned back on his rear limb-pairs and, from a great distance, heard the timekeepers singing time.
He didn’t know what the window was made of. He couldn’t have said there was a window there at all, but for the fact he didn’t suffocate. He understood why his masters always sent him to inhospitable planets. His work was imprecise. It was safer that way. But this was the first planet that had been beautiful, the first that had brought the old songs ringing back. It was different. He felt it in his bones.
By first dawn, the hills were red again, and he was merely an old man who had not seen home in a long, long time.
It hadn’t been called show-and-tell since she was twelve. Sometimes Lucy wondered if the school really thought they were stupid enough not to notice that removing the “show” didn’t fundamentally change the exercise. It was still awkward, as was any occasion on which a student had to stand alone before their peers. Other times, it made sense to her. Kids needed something tangible to focus the “tell”. Teenagers—sixteen-year-olds especially—were the opposite. It was hard enough to get them to admit to being interested in anything in the abstract.
Get us, she amended. She could have chosen something real. She could have talked about calligraphy and everything it meant to her. But what was the point? Fifteen kids in a class in Seattle, and probably half of them had ever picked up an ink-pen. She’d have been lucky to hold the attention of any of her peers. Easier to play it safe; easier to do what she’d done every August, every start of the school year, since she was eight.
“My parents are scientists,” Lucy said. There were a few rolled eyes in the front row, people who’d heard this spiel before, but Joel was smiling at her from the back, and she forged ahead. “I spend half the year here in Seattle, and half in Japan, back and forth every month. I’ve probably flown the Seattle-Tokyo route more than anyone else. My mother works here. Dad has a lab in Tokyo. They run the Pacific Institute for Transdimensional Physics.” She surveyed the reactions. The first time she’d made the speech—the year the institute had been established—a whole class of third-graders had hung on her every word. That had been the heyday of trans-d, but nearly a decade of postponed promises and inconclusive results had turned those wide-eyed stares bored. “And one day they’re going to see the stars.”
It had been a longer speech, once, but that was how it always ended. It was something Lucy’s mother said the first time she’d explained her new job, and the words stuck. Later, Lucy would discover that trans-d was no more related to interstellar travel than half a dozen other promising branches of physics, but by then it would be too late. The two became inextricably linked in her mind.
There was a message from his masters.
In his youth, when his masters were just another civilisation chafing at the restraints of their home system, the miracle worker had tried to identify the route they were mapping from ambition to its realisation. He had abandoned the effort after the first few decades. He found it almost poetic that of all the alien minds he spoke to, it was his masters and his masters alone he never learnt to understand.
The message read: Border insurrection Q12-17/R. Militant choice made on consensus quorum. Elements 1-1:17, 3-5:12, 7-8:9 to flashpoint.
The miracle worker made an effort to comprehend written communication. He understood, in broad terms, that his masters were threatened and wished to move their resources from one place to another. The details, however—the precise “what” and “where”—eluded him, and he would have been none the wiser as to his masters’ wishes had they not included a second set of instructions, delivered as a pair of live video feeds. One showed a swarm of tiny lights, hanging as if suspended from dark cloth, and he knew that these were objects his masters wished moved; the other showed the anonymous planet that was their destination. In a different world, that information would have been centuries in transit, but his masters had asked him, long ago, for the miracle of instantaneous transmission.
Once the images had communicated what they could, he turned away from the screen. If his masters knew enough to send the images, why did they include the written message, too? It was that duality, as if they both knew and did not know him, that had foiled him as a young man, striving to understand his orders. Perhaps they could not bear to omit the last part of the message, which was always the same and which he never bothered to read: Remember your homeworld. They meant it as a threat, and it was, but not in the way they imagined.
The miracle worker paced on myriad feet and considered how the thing might be done.
Lucy sat at one of the workbenches just outside her father’s Tokyo office, pretending to do homework. The door was half open.
“The second law of thermodynamics, right?” He was using his talking-to-laypeople voice, all jovial encouragement. “Entropy increases in an isolated system.” A beat as he listened to the person on the other end of the line. “That’s just the thing. We need to stop thinking of our universe as an isolated system.”
Lucy’s attention wandered, briefly caught on the open kanji workbook in front of her, then made a bid for freedom. It was a nice day: early autumn in all its brilliance. She could see the gingko trees outside, their leaves speckled gold in the breeze. A walk, maybe. There was a stand down by the Meguro River that did roast yams. She was ambivalent about yams, but a destination would be nice.
“Sorry, honey.” The door slid open the rest of the way. Lucy turned away from the window and examined her father for hints of how the rest of the phone call had gone, but there was nothing. A bad sign. He hid frustration much better than he did excitement. “Got held up by a couple phone calls.”
The clock on the wall read ten past five. An hour late wasn’t too bad. “Investors?”
“Journalists.” He frowned over her shoulder at the open workbooks. “Shouldn’t you be working on those?”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Dad, if there’s one thing I don’t have to worry about at school, it’s kanji. Trust me.” She understood where he was coming from, she really did: David Hasegawa had grown up like she had, between two countries, but before his work brought him back to Tokyo, he’d chosen the United States over Japan. That didn’t make it any less annoying when he assumed she’d make the same mistake. “Entropy scares the journalists,” she added, in Japanese. “You should try the conservation stuff. Everyone knows about mass and energy.”
“Yeah,” she said, switching back to English. Japanese made him awkward, sometimes. “‘The majority of so-called miracles could be achieved by simply breaking conservation of energy,’” she quoted. “What happened to that line?”
“People hear ‘simply’ and want to know why I haven’t done it yet.” He frowned again, and Lucy could practically see the moment he realised it and put on a smile instead. “You really pay attention in the lab, huh?”
She snorted. “If there’s two things I don’t have to worry about at school, it’s kanji and physics.”
The miracle worker lived in a machine mountain.
He had designed the machines himself. They were vast. They folded back on themselves, functions within functions within functions, feeding on the heat deep within the mountain, endlessly cogitating. Their construction had sapped his masters’ resources for years. When he walked, he could feel their thrum through all his limb-pairs.
The machines did very little.
The place the miracle worker worked his miracles was a small room as close to the mountain’s peak as he could get. The surfaces were littered with equipment, but it wasn’t a laboratory. He wasn’t sure what to call it. A studio, perhaps. There was no window.
His joints perceived the faint vibrations made by a machine in one corner. Its purpose was to do what his masters thought it took an entire mountain to do. It opened the door; his purpose was to transmit his desires—his masters’ desires—through that door and see who answered. His people communicated in memories, and “remembering” was the shorthand he used to describe his work, but he did much more than that. He listened to alien voices. He read alien words. He smelled alien fears. He communicated in as many ways as he knew how, and every day he worried that there were yet others missing, ways of communicating he could not even conceptualise.
The miracle worker remembered the contents of the video feeds and searched beyond that door for some other to communicate his memories to. His masters often demanded translocations. That did not make them easy. Every miracle was different. Every miracle required a new approach. It was not always easy to tell, at the outset of communication, whether the conversation would be the right one. All he knew was that the being at the other end—linked through shared words yet so distant it could not really be said to be anywhere at all—desired something, as he desired something, and if he chose right, the desires would reflect one another, and he and the other being would smooth out the folds, bit by bit, taking tiny steps towards understanding one another until, for one barest instance, they knew everything there was to know. Then the miracles would happen, one in his reality and one in the other.
He knew the science that underpinned his work. He’d invented it in his youth. If he wanted, he could describe what was happening in scientific terms. He wished to make something impossible happen in his world, but “impossible” was relative: expand one’s reference frame to include a whole alternate universe, and the rules changed. “Impossible” in one world might be “trivial” in another. It was a matter of finding the right world, the right impossible task to pair with his, the right weights to balance. His masters thought he was someone who measured and designed and built. That was how they made things happen, and what things they were, that could bend a universe to their will! Great, terrible, powerful things—but not miracles. Science could only take him so far. It could not tell him which doors to open. Which alien minds to listen to. If his masters knew how he truly did what he did, it would frighten them.
He knew this as he knew nothing else about them.
He was not a scientist. He was a mediator, an interlocutor, a listener and a speaker. Above all, he was a translator.
“Do you ever, like, ask?” Lucy said, the third time her parents descended into gloomy silence.
She focused on the cheesy Halloween decorations strung up around the conference room. Then her mother said: “Ask what, honey?” Lucy could tell she was pushing down annoyance at the interruption, and she supposed that ought to make her feel annoyed, too, but really it was the opposite. Her parents tried not to take their frustrations out on her, and she appreciated that.
“You know, whoever’s on the other side.”
“The other side?” Her father’s voice was tinny through the speaker, distorted by the night that separated Tokyo from early Seattle morning.
The thought had made such sense in Lucy’s head, it was proving difficult to elaborate. She started with the basics. “You’re trying to break conservation of energy by sticking some other dimension with the bill, right?”
Her mother, ever the stickler, interrupted: “Well, that’s a very crude way of putting it—”
Lucy’s friends often asked her why she spent so much time in her parents’ labs. She asked herself, sometimes, when she miscalculated, and she was stuck with them hours longer than she expected, until every source of entertainment was exhausted and she wanted nothing more than a way home. But—the warm amusement in her father’s voice when he spoke her mother’s name—that was the answer. It was worth a little boredom to lighten their load.
“Sorry, honey. Go on.”
“I’m just saying, what if there are people in that other dimension, too? Shouldn’t you ask them before you do… whatever it is you wanna do?”
There was another long silence. “Even if we do manage to do what we’re trying to do, only a small area would be affected,” her father said. “Think of our universe. It’s huge. Odds are most of it is empty. For all we know, people have been doing the same thing to our dimension for millions of years!”
Her father said people when he could have said aliens. She liked that about him. “But maybe that’s why it isn’t working. Maybe we need permission.”
Lucy could all but hear him not being convinced. “How are you coming up with this?”
She shrugged, then remembered only her mother could see. “I don’t know,” she repeated. “Just seems like the polite thing to do, is all.”
Across the table, her mother was smiling. “Why don’t we leave it there, David? You should get some sleep.” Later, goodbyes said and conference call disconnected, she turned to Lucy: “How would you go about asking, then?”
Lucy pursed her lips. “You’d want something universal. Something that—not words, I guess, but feelings? Like art.”
“You think art is universal? Or feelings?”
Her mother didn’t mean to be combative, but it was always obvious when she disagreed with someone. “Some art,” Lucy said stubbornly. “Some feelings.”
“Fair enough. Should you be getting to school?”
Lucy checked her phone. The walk was long, and she didn’t want to be hurried. “Probably. Tell Dad I’ll be his alien communication liaison, if he wants.”
People had preconceptions about Seattle. You looked out the window, they thought, and you saw the Space Needle silhouetted against Mt. Rainier. Lucy lived out north, though, and it took some doing for the endless grid of identical streets to seem beautiful. But in the early winter morning, sound muffled by chill mist and foggy breath, they just about pulled it off, and Lucy pulled the beauty of her home around her like a coat against the breeze.
In the end, stillness was the key.
The miracle worker was used to communicating in terms of problems to be solved—that was how his masters thought, and it was how many of his correspondents thought, too. He paced his study from end to end, listening-reading-dreaming to a hundred alien problems, searching for the one that would align with his task. Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes there was a direct exchange, a translocation for a translocation: a desire communicated in the mathematics of astronomy, of moving objects through space, and he would wonder that it was ever hard. This was not one of those times. He paced for weeks and there was nothing.
Then he stopped, and for an instant there was a gap in the buzz of his equipment, a moment where all the channels closed. No—all the channels but one. He heard it then, in the spaces between words: the stillness. In younger days, he might have found it earlier, but he had grown old and even his work was suspect to an invasion of routine. He had spent weeks listening for problems. He had not thought to listen for solutions.
He did not recognise the channel. That meant nothing—the miracle worker was old. He did not remember every conversation he had ever had. Now that he had it, his task unfolded before him like the tree-polyps of his homeworld opening to greet the rain. His masters desired movement. The other mind, whoever they were, desired stillness. What problem that stillness was intended to solve, he did not know. No matter. It made a deep, instinctual sense: movement for stillness, stillness for movement, as fair a trade as had ever been made. He made himself comfortable, turned to his equipment, and prepared to say hello in a language he did not yet speak.
In a far corner of his mind, someone sung the midnight song.
Come November there was a new machine in her father’s lab.
“What’s this do?” Lucy asked.
“Don’t touch it.”
“I’m not touching it, I’m asking what it does.”
She was occupying her usual space at the workbench, a space that had been nearly halved with the arrival of the squat grey box that sat, humming to itself, by the wall. Her father was making coffee in the other corner and, she figured, had no business being irritated by an interruption.
“Newest prototype. It should open a bridge to another dimension.”
Lucy tapped a finger against her upper lip. “I thought you were already doing that.”
“Well, we think it’s actually true this time. Awfully hard to verify that sort of thing.”
“So… that’s good, right?”
He took a sip of his coffee, made a face, reached for the cream. “It’s good.”
“How’s it work? Can I talk into it?”
His laugh sounded genuine. “Ask your mother. I think she’s more receptive to your theories of transdimensional communication, and she has one of these, too.”
Lucy stuck her tongue out at him. Then her phone chimed, and she held up one hand. “Hang on, I think they’ve announced the kanji of the year.”
“Oh?” he said, in the careful tone of a parent taking an interest in his daughter’s activities.
“It better be more interesting than last year, is all I’m saying—oh, that’s not so bad.”
“Anything I’d know?”
“‘Home’,” she said, scanning the press release. “To commemorate the year of the affordable housing project.”
“That’s more interesting than last year?”
Lucy gestured distractedly. “One year back at, like, the start of the century, they went with ‘tax’, so it could always be worse. But I meant interesting to write. Calligraphy’ll be nothing but variations on this theme for weeks.”
“Speaking of home,” he said, and Lucy recognised the sign of a conversation winding down, “I’m not keeping you, am I?”
“Nah. I’m not meeting Yukiko for another hour. They’re turning the Omotesando lights on today, did you know? Perfect date. It’ll be just the two of us, plus half the couples in Tokyo.”
“Well,” he said, “that’s good. You know your mother and I worry, right? That you spend too much time with us?”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “I know. Don’t worry.” She waved her phone at him. “Besides, Joel’s been keeping me company.” Her father’s face acquired the pained look it had whenever he was reminded she was dating people on both sides of the Pacific. “Oh, don’t be so old-fashioned, Dad.” She hopped off her stool, shrugged on her coat, and slung her bag over her shoulder. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll head off. Could use a hot drink before the crowds get really bad. Good luck talking to aliens!”
One day a window appeared in the miracle worker’s studio.
It was as tangible as the other window, the window through which he watched the sunsets, was not. The frame was of driftwood, eleven separate pieces cobbled together into a rough circle, and the pane was a heavy thing, uneven and irregularly shaped. It was a window he had never seen before, but the design was achingly close to his heart. He grew up in a small coastal village, and every structure there was built out of driftwood: cheaper, easier, kinder. He sat now at his morning work, staring at a landscape he knew could not be there, capped by the glorious evening clouds of his childhood.
He knew exactly what had happened, but not how, and the ignorance ate at him. It was a miracle: that was clear. The fabric of his world had rearranged itself, quietly, in ways he had brought about countless times in the past, but which he had never turned to his own benefit. Looking out over the impossible view, he wondered: why not?
The question was vast. He calmed himself, stilled fidgeting limbs, and considered the other question instead, the how. Had there been something else in his last communication? Had some other desire passed between him and his interlocutor, so subtly he had not noticed? His masters had not complained—their war machines had been moved as they’d wanted—but perhaps his interlocutor had detected his homesickness, had assumed it was part of the task.
He had recognised the yearning inside him weeks ago, the soft, silent nostalgia for a world he could never see again. He had thought it under control, but like a creature sick of captivity, it had found a way out. It was his third century on this particular planet. Four other worlds had come before it, and four others had cracked and broken before his masters’ will. He did not keep especial track of his assignments, but those four stood out, four hard kernels of guilt shining in the darkness. They had been uninhabited. That was his mantra. But they had been beautiful, each of them, even if he had not appreciated as much: and he had offered them up as payment, a weight to balance the scales, when some miracle had proven intractable. It was a heavy thing, the life of a planet. He did not know what those four lives had bought. Something worthy of their beauty, he hoped.
This planet was different. He would not break it. The miracle worker turned away from the past and returned to his work.
“Is it all right if we stop by the lab on the way? I need to pick up a few things.”
“Mom, it’s New Year’s Eve.”
Lucy’s mother shot her a quick smile from the driver’s seat. “Yeah, I know. But it’s only two o’clock. No one’s arriving until at least seven. Dad can hold down the fort until then. Besides, we’ll be in and out.”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “All right.”
The lab was a low-slung building, all glass and solar panels, and in sunlight it still possessed some of the glory of its youth. The day was overcast, though, and the better part of a decade was enough to rob it of its sharpness. Under grey skies, it looked drab and flat.
“Wait for me in the conference room? Won’t be a minute.”
“Sure.” The workbench in her father’s lab and the conference table in her mother’s: surfaces as familiar to her as the desks in her two rooms. Lucy tossed her bag with a practiced motion. It slid along the table and stopped just shy of the edge.
Then she paused. “Mom?” she called. “Why’s your magic box in here?”
Her mother reappeared, attention split between her tablet and her phone. “What?”
Lucy gestured at the grey box in the corner. It was the twin of the one she’d seen the previous month in her father’s lab, humming quietly but otherwise quite ordinary.
“Oh. It’s temporary. There were no good spots in the lab, so we put it in here until we can get some things moved around.”
“Isn’t that a bit… pointless?”
“Like I said. Temporary.” She glanced back at the screens in her hands. “Listen…”
“We are out of here by four,” Lucy said. “No exceptions.”
Lucy’s mother smiled weakly. “Thanks, honey. I just need to run a few calculations. There were some odd readings over the weekend, and—”
“Clock’s ticking, Mom.”
Once she was alone, Lucy pulled out her calligraphy supplies and returned to her endless refrain: Home. Home. Home.
The snow began to fall at three.
One morning the miracle worker received a message.
That was not unusual, but everything else about it was. It was not from his masters. It contained no orders. It was not delivered by ansible but by an archaic light-speed-limited communications array, housed in an ancient satellite he wasn’t even aware existed.
All day he pondered the message. Who other than his masters knew where he was? Who would wish to write to him? The LSL array shouldn’t have been limited to text, and yet the message consisted of only five words, as if the sender themselves had been constrained. Whatever metadata it might once have possessed had been stripped, or hadn’t existed in the first place.
Too many things in his life had ceased making sense. He took himself downstairs, to his observation chamber, and sat by the window–the old window, the non-window–to watch the suns set.
And then he knew.
The very first miracle he had ever performed had been an act of translocation. He had moved himself from his home to the palace of his masters, there to offer up his services. It had been an act of youth: he had vowed to leave his world behind and succeeded beyond imagining.
That was nine hundred and seventy-three years ago. Trembling with certainty but needing, still, the cold, hard numbers on a screen, he accessed a computer terminal, pulled up a catalogue of navigational charts, and began calculating distances. Five times he had moved since that first translocation, to each of the successive planets he’d called home, and each time he’d crossed hundreds of light years in the gap between moments.
A message, though. A message could not follow him down those paths—his masters guarded the gift of instant communication too well. Anyone else would have had to rely on the old LSL channels, and he could imagine all too well his masters’ infrastructure working across the centuries, faithfully forwarding those five words ever onwards, from one broken planet to another, and how far would they have come? The computer churned, plotted, traced lines on a screen—
Nine hundred and seventy-three light years separated him from his home. For nine hundred and seventy-three years the message had been following him. Five times it had reached its destination—first the planet of his masters, then his four previous homes—and five times he had already moved on to the next world. But three centuries was a long time, longer than he’d spent on any other planet and it had finally caught up to him.
The message read: Come home. Please, come home.
For no reason at all, he was sure that it had been sent later the very same day he’d left. For most of a millennium he’d been winning a race he didn’t even know he was running. He wondered who had written it: one of his nestmates, perhaps, who had loved him despite everything—
The thought broke something inside him.
By four, the windows were veiled in white. Lucy knocked on one of them. The vibration dislodged a small chunk of snow.
“Hmm,” was her mother’s assessment. “I don’t think we ought to be driving in that. We’ll have to wait it out.”
“I can drive,” Lucy said, and tried not to wince at the withering look she got by way of response. “Or not.”
She relayed the news to the group chat she shared with Joel and Yukiko. Don’t worry, she concluded. I’ll be home by seven, come hell or high water.
Preferably hell, Yukiko wrote back. High water might just make it worse.
Lucy grinned. The phone heated fingers that were beginning to go numb.
Half an hour later, the battery ran out.
For the first time in centuries, the miracle worker stopped working.
Messages from his masters piled up. Three tasks, first, as if nothing was wrong. Then, as the weeks passed and nothing happened, reminders became faux concern became threats. Remember your homeworld was the refrain; I do remember, he wanted to respond. I do remember, and that’s the problem.
He did not respond. He sat in his studio. The chatter of a million alien voices washed over him as it always did, but he did nothing. He could go months without sustenance, and so he sat perfectly still, listening, as if somewhere in the interdimensional traffic, there might, impossibly, be another missive from home.
It had never really struck him before, how much his masters relied on him. He had committed himself to their service centuries ago and every passing decade hardened the decision. But what could they do, if that conviction began to crumble? If he was willing to swallow the sunken costs of centuries of service? He was hundreds of light years away. Without him they were bound by the tyranny of lightspeed. Their only recourse was the same threat, over and over. He almost felt sorry for them.
Then, suddenly: something in the nothing, a flash of familiarity, as if some other him sat in some other place thinking not-other thoughts. The connection was faint, like a child making its first foray into communication in a room full of shouting adults—
The miracle worker sat upright, and listened, and remembered.
“I don’t think it’s getting better,” Lucy said.
Her mother looked up from her desk. “Oh. Well, we still have time.”
Lucy squinted at her. “Only an hour. Why do I get the feeling you’re glad this is happening?”
“I don’t want to miss the party any more than you do, honey, but if we’re stuck here I might as well make the most of it, don’t you think?”
“Maybe the power will go out,” Lucy muttered. “That’d show you.”
“Sorry! I’m just bored.” It wasn’t the whole truth. The whole truth was wrapped in memories of Yukiko’s hands keeping hers warm and Joel’s quiet encouragement when her enthusiasm for a minor point of Japanese orthography got away from her. “I want to go home.”
“Can’t you work on your calligraphy…?”
“Ran out of ink.”
“Battery’s dead, and I left the charger at home.”
Her mother sighed. “If it doesn’t get any worse by six thirty, we’ll chance it, all right?”
Every time the miracle worker caught the trace of that other, the yearning inside him burned a little hotter. It was like two waves intersecting, constructing, building something ever bigger, a positive feedback loop whose end he could not identify.
To his people, vocal communication was secondary to visual communication in all respects but one. All thoughts, all emotions, were communicated in flashes of memory, images of then and now—all emotions but one.
For the first time in aeons, the miracle worker opened his tube-lungs and keened his grief. The sound filled the room, vibrating, resonating, drowning out all else but the tether to his kindred soul, that other mind in another world also dreaming of home.
It got worse.
“You realise my boyfriend is about to meet my girlfriend for the first time,” Lucy said, “and the only person currently at home is Dad?”
Her mother frowned. “Maybe Joel won’t be able to make it either—”
“He lives two streets away! He can walk there in five minutes, snow or no snow!”
“Well, I’m sure David is up to the task.”
“Yeah,” Lucy said darkly, “except I still think he expects them to fight to the death over me.”
Her mother raised her eyebrows in her classic this-isn’t-helping way, and Lucy was forced to admit she was right. Retreating back to the conference room, she gave the machine in the corner a baleful look. “This is all your fault, you know. The one time I actually really, really want to be at home and I’m stuck here with you. What are you even good for?” She walked up to the machine and kicked it, experimentally. Nothing happened. All at once she felt guilty. The machine was the first real breakthrough her parents had seen in years. It wasn’t at fault. “Ugh. This is dumb. I just want to—”
Words became images.
The miracle worker remembered:
Blue water rushing over his spiracles as his muscles contracted one segment at a time, propelling him out to sea—
—the iridescent green of his brood-mother’s exoskeleton as she danced a story—
—the fresh pink of his nestmate’s blood as he soothed away some childhood injury—
—the dark brown of his home, worn wood against worn wood—
—the grey of the machine he had built, the righteous anger after one last argument, and—
—the white, white, blindingly white corridors of his masters’ palaces.
And there was only one thing he knew:
He wanted to—
Sand was coarse beneath his feet. A sense memory crashed into him, and the miracle worker let his limbs fold beneath him and tipped over, sand scraping against his exoskeleton, scouring clean the points where plates overlapped.
He opened his eyes. The water was cerulean blue, the hills that deeper purple-blue he had seen nowhere else in the universe. Further up the beach he could see the silhouettes of half a dozen structures, as long-lived as their creators. He did not know what had happened. A miracle, but a miracle like the window—unconscious, unprecedented, unplanned.
The air was perfectly still.
The miracle worker did not perform miracles for his own benefit. Here was the reason: once, as a young man, he had done so. He had given himself the ability to see across the universe. He had not seen his family. He had not seen any of his people. He had seen his home, untouched and beautiful and empty.
Remember your homeworld. An empty threat because it had already been carried out—within years of his departure, if he was any judge. His masters did not tolerate any challenge to their mastery, and his homeworld had, in him, already produced one such potential challenger. He never learnt what had happened to his people. It hadn’t seemed relevant. They were gone, and if he blamed himself, he covered the blame with anger.
But he was an old man now, his grief run out, his rage directed at a more deserving target—
—and somewhere in those structures was his prototype, a machine that would send vibrations through his limbs when he switched it on—
—and he knew how to work miracles.
On December 31st, 2083, Lucy Hasegawa-Smith became the first human to achieve a transdimensional event. She vanished from her mother’s laboratory in Northeast Seattle at precisely four minutes to seven and in the same instant appeared, five miles away, in her family home.
It took ten minutes for Emily Smith to notice her daughter’s absence, another five to confirm she was safely at home, and a further two to realise this should have been impossible.
In those seventeen minutes before she became the most famous person on Earth, Lucy went downstairs, fended off her father’s questions, and was ready just in time to introduce her two favourite people.
Years later, when she had her own lab and her own office, a framed picture hung behind her desk. It was a piece of calligraphy, the kanji for home rendered in bold if childish strokes, and beneath it the words:
Some art. Some feelings.
by Tina Connolly
About this story, Filip says:
“This story is very close to my heart. It was my first short story – I wrote it for my sister’s birthday in 2018 after she suggested I do something with the idea of translation as magic. Later, it was the story I applied to Clarion West with. Without it, I don’t know if I’d be taking writing seriously, and I’m so happy to share it with the world!”
And about this story, I say:
There are so many things I like about this story but one of them is that each time I read it the ending affects me profoundly even though I cannot exactly pinpoint in a factual way all the things that happen in this piece. It is called the ANATOMY of miracles, as if you can dissect and explain a miracle, but you cannot, a miracle is by its very nature ineffable and so are all the movements of the story. The alien stays alien; his actions are indelibly described as miracles, even though his equally but differently alien employers in fact do want those miracles to be real and practical and explicable.
Now, here are a couple of the real and practical and effable details I like about this story.
– Lucy might walk to the stand with the roast yams. She is ambivalent about yams, but a destination would be nice. I feel you on every part of this idea, Lucy. Especially when you’re supposed to be doing something else, and especially especially when you are in quarantine. I also am very ambivalent about roast yams but I would walk anywhere for some random roast yams right now.
– The miracle worker worrying every day that there are ways of communicating that he has not figured out how to conceptualize, despite communicating every single day in every single way he has already discovered. I understand the dedication that keeps you going on a problem while you also simultaneously worry that you have not stepped back outside the problem in enough new ways. Surely, if you just looked at it from yet another different angle, your understanding would break apart and explode.
– Some art. Some feelings. And a boldly rendered kanji for home.
Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc, and is brought to you with a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. Don’t change it. Don’t sell it. Please, go forth and share it.
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Our opening and closing music is by daikaiju at daikaiju.org.
And our closing quotation this week is from Gregory Maguire in Out of Oz, who said “But so often, before words can rise to the mind to imply the ineffable, the ineffable has effed off.”
Thanks for listening! And have fun.
About the Author
Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko is a Slovenian-born writer and translator. He grew up in Slovenia, Ireland, Australia, and the UK, and currently resides just outside Portland, Maine. He understands that his name is a bit confusing, and would like you to know that “Drnovšek Zorko” is the surname. He attended Clarion West in 2019 and his work has previously appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine. You can find him online at www.filiphdz.com or on twitter at @filiphdz.
About the Narrators
David D. Levine is the Hugo- and Nebula-winning author of three novels, including the Andre Norton Award winner Arabella of Mars, and over fifty short stories. If you enjoy his reading of this story, his short story collection Space Magic, read by the author, is available on Audible.com.
Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She enjoys subverting expectations and breaking stereotypes whenever she can. Her novella ‘Runtime,’ was a Nebula Award finalist, and her short stories have been published at various magazines including Uncanny, Apex, and Tor.com.
She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, and she worked for twenty years as an electrical engineer before becoming an author.