Sky River

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Theme of Absence, July 2017

“Today the ice would melt. And Brunaia had the honor of pushing the final button — big, round, and red.”

The blue sun of Lottie IV glinted off the watery world’s ice rings.  Rocky chunks of diamond gleamed with sapphire light, stretched in a crescent across the world’s pale sky.  Its inhabitants — a long-spined, thick-furred, water-breathing, lutrinae species — had stared at that crescent of glittering ice from Lottie’s oceans for generations.  Out of reach.  Unconquerable.

Today the rings would be conquered.

Rockets had seeded their sky with outposts and space stations.  Over the last six decades, less than a lifetime, the Lottians had schemed and plotted to claim their birthright in the ice that had taunted their ancestors’ dreams.

Today the ice would melt.

And Brunaia had the honor of pushing the final button — big, round, and red.  Everything it should be.  The stuff of legends, wired into a control panel on a space station, waiting for her to lower her paw.  Her claws brushed against the button’s smooth surface, and Brunaia’s fur prickled all down her long spine, to the very tip of her rudder-like tail, with anticipation and liminal excitement.

Voices buzzed over the space station’s comm-system:

“The heaters are ready,” reported the general in charge of the fleet of spaceships used to position heating coils at regular intervals around the ring.

“A sufficient surface area of the ice fragments have been sprayed with glu-factor,” reported the general in charge of the drone-ships for spraying glu-factor.

“Everything is ready,” Brunaia said, and her voice was carried to every Lottian in space around their world and most of the civilians planet-side.  “Meltation now!”  She pressed the button.

Heating coils buzzed to life and glowed a dull red, punctuating the arc of glittering diamonds that cut across the Lottian sky.  For long moments, nothing else seemed to happen as the heating coils worked their magic, cutting into the ice.  Frozen water boiled, molecules dancing away, captured by the vacuum of space.  Then the glu-factor began to mix in, calming and soothing the frantic molecules, pulling them together with massive surface tension.  Droplets held, clinging to the ice chunks like sweat, grabbing onto each other, until BLOOP.  The melted water hit a critical mass and glommed into a planet-wide ring.  A looping river in the sky.

Lottians cheered all over their world, splashing for joy, as they watched their arc of ice wobble into a flowing sickle of shimmery fluid.  Ice chunks still floated inside the sky-river, but they would melt soon.

“Install the water-locks,” Brunaia ordered, and the general in charge of the water-lock gates relayed the message to her teams.  Mechanical water-locks pierced the surface tension of the ever-flowing river, evenly spaced between the heating coils.  Lottians would be able to use them to enter the river.

Finally, Brunaia ordered, “Release the fish.”

From every water-lock, brightly colored fish spilled into their new home.  All the colors of the rainbow swam in a translucent arc across the sky.

Joy filled the Lottians’ hearts.

Brunaia took a deep breath and said, “I declare the Rainbow River open.”

The blue light of the sun shone through the river as Lottians launched from the water-locks, carrying armfuls of kelp that streamed out behind them like green pennants.

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