by Lavie Tidhar
There are four Three-times-Three Sisters in the House of Mirth, and five in the House of Heaven and Hell, and two in the House of Shelter. Four plus five plus two Three-by-Threes, and they represent one faction of the city.
You may have heard tales of the city of Polyphemus Port, on Titan, that moon of raging storms. First city on that lunar landscape, second oldest foothold of the Outer System, or so it is said, though who can tell, with the profusion of habitats in those faraway places of the solar system? A dome covers the city, but Polyport spreads underground – vertical development they called it, the old architects. And its tunnels reach far into the distance, linking to other settlements, small desolate towns on that wind-swept world, where majestic Saturn rises in the murky skies.
There are two Five-times-Six Sisters in the House of Forgetting, and five Eight-by-Eights in the House of Domicile. We who are a ones, and will one day be zeros, we cannot hope to understand the way of the Sisterhoods of Polyphemus Port, on Titan.
Understanding, as Ogko once said, is forgiveness.
Shereen was a cleaner in the House of Mirth in the day, and in the evening in the House of Domicile. It was a good, steady job. On Polyport all jobs connect to trade, to cargo. A thousand cults across space arise and fall around cargo. In the islands of the solar system cargo achieves mythical overtones, the ebb and flow of commerce across the inner and outer systems, of wild hagiratech from Jettisoned, best-grade hydroponics marijuana and raw materials from the belt, argumentative robots from the Galilean Republics, pop culture from Mars, weapons from Earth, anything and everything. Polyphemus Port services the cluster of habitats that circle Saturn, and links to the Galilean Republics on the four major moons of Jupiter. It links the inner system with the wild outposts of Pluto – with Dragon’s World on Hydra and Jettisoned on Charon, and the small but persistent human settlements beyond Saturn, in the dark echoey space that lies in between Uranus and Neptune.
People are strange in the Outer System, and the few Others, too, who make their homes there. Some say the Others, those digital intelligences bred long ago by St. Cohen in Earth’s first, primitive Breeding Grounds, have relocated en masse to the cold moons of the outer system, installing new Cores away from human habitation, but whether it is true or not, who can tell? Whatever the truth of all this is, it suffices to say that all jobs on Polyport, directly or indirectly, are linked with the business and worship of cargo, and that some jobs are always in demand.
Shereen apprenticed as a cleaner in the landing port beyond the city, a vast dust-bowl plane where RLVs like busy methane-breathing bees rise and fall from the surface to orbit, there to meet the incoming and outgoing space-going vessels to ferry people and cargo back and forth. She was seconded to Customs inspections slash Quarantine, scouring ships’ holds for unwanted passengers, the rodents and bacteria, fungus and von Neumann machines; from there she moved dome-side, abandoning her public sector job in favour of the private. She cleaned houses both above- and under-ground, until at last she settled on the dual work for the House of Mirth and the House of Domicile, a work associated, after all, with cargo and religion both.