The Water Moon

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“Mamãe, can I take Alfredo?” Ivan Karlo Batista, in his pajamas, was holding Alfredo up by his floppy green arm.

“Of course, darling. We’re leaving Selenia and we’re going to travel to Brazil in a big ship. Isn’t that exciting?”

“What about Papãe?”

Papãe . . . is going to come later, but we have to leave tonight.”

Mamãe, you’ve hurt yourself.”

Maria looked down at the blood stain that had seeped through the bandage, through her t-shirt with the stencilled fist. The coarse stitching hadn’t held the wound closed.

“It’s nothing, darling, just a graze.”

Maria and her child reached Brazil safely. They settled in Rio de Janeiro, but Ivan’s father never came. Ivan grew up there, and when he started Middle School and his mother judged that he was old enough, she told him his father was a Selenian desaparecido, that he’d been taken by the military, tortured and murdered.

On the island they’d left behind, the Selenian elite learned how to play the game—they set up a cardboard democracy led by a papier-mâché president who was always re-elected, and rebranded the revolutionaries as terrorists.

Twenty years later Ivan returned to his homeland.

Able Seaman Ivan Batista stretched out on his bunk, closed his eyes, and let the gentle sway of the Atlantic Maru relax him. He imagined he was looking through the porthole in his cabin. He pictured the screws in the frame with the paint peeling off, and through the scratched glass, the dock at Assunção, with the red-and-white gantry cranes that looked like they were made of oversized Lego.

He opened his eyes and there he was—standing in front of the porthole looking out at the scene exactly as he’d pictured it. Behind him, the other Ivan, the original to his copy, was lying on the bunk in a deep sleep.

Ivan had studied bilocation at the São Bento College in Rio, where he was taught by Brother Matias. You’re very fast, Ivan, he’d said, I’ve never seen a student as fast as you. Brother Matias had applied his cane rod liberally about Ivan’s head whenever he thought Ivan wasn’t concentrating. The rod was the reason he was fast, and why sometimes he felt a ghost stinging in his ears when he bilocated.

The Selenian immigration official at the disembarkation point gave his passport a cursory glance, scanned the image, and tapped a couple of keys on his terminal. “Stand in front of the detector, please.”

Ivan moved in front of an opaque silicon lens mounted in a screen. The officer shook his head. “Copies are not permitted, senhor. By presidential decree, it is illegal to copy and paste anywhere in Selenia. It’s a crime prevention measure.”

Ivan smiled. “I’m sorry, senhor, I didn’t know.”

“You Brazilians are all the same, you never read the regulations before you come. Go back on board and come out as the original . . .” He read from the passport, “Ivan Karlo Batista, unless you want to spend your shore leave in your cabin.”

“Yes, senhor.” He ignored the laughter of his crewmates in the line and returned to the ship.

Ivan had known perfectly well that copies weren’t permitted in Selenia. What he hadn’t known was that they’d installed neutrino detectors at the docks. It was only a precaution, anyway. He felt safer as a copy, knowing that whatever happened in Assunção, the original Ivan was secure on board the Atlantic Maru.

Copies had been banned in Selenia for over two hundred years, ever since the lunar priests had declared it a mortal sin to make replicas. Calling the prohibition a crime prevention measure was just the secular government’s newest excuse.

At Selenian schools, there were no bilocation classes, the children weren’t taught how to access their doppelgängers. Instead, they learned that Selenia had come to Earth from the moon’s Grimaldi crater, they studied the lunar shards and their meaning, and found out who they really were.

The Tupi people had inhabited Selenia long before the Portuguese explorers arrived, and their talismans, statues, and stone tablets told the lunar creation story. At the beginning of Tupi history, when the world was covered by water, the moon mother, Ja Cy, gave up a part of herself, a great lunar mountain that she sent to splash into the ocean and form the island of Selenia.

Later, other land masses rose from the great Terran sea, and with help from the sun mother, Guara Cy, life flourished on Earth. Plants and animals, birds and fish, microorganisms and people, all came from the ancient moon, by way of Selenia.

The other Selenian relics, the shards, were clearly not the work of the Tupi. Beyond that there was some controversy, but if you asked any Selenian, they would assure you that the shards were not audacious fakes, nor were they left on the island long ago by sea voyagers. They’d come to Earth with the mountain that Ja Cy sent from the moon, and they were not made by human hands.

After the original Ivan disembarked, he spent the day strolling through the streets of Assunção’s old town, admiring the whitewashed weatherboard homesteads with gardens of hibiscus bushes in flower, and sightseeing in the parks with neatly mowed lawns and manicured palm trees. He visited the Cisne Negro Presídio, the ancient prison built from weathered basalt chopped out of the cliffs by slaves from Mozambique, and in the evening he drifted back to the blue light district near the docks, where the women lined up along the streets.

Iracema was part Tupi, with rosebud lips and widely spaced eyes, and he handed her a few brightly colored ten luare notes.

He’d tried to convince himself it would be something special, because prostitutes were copies in other countries, but he’d failed. In his heart, he knew it would be another empty commercial transaction like all the others, a reflection of himself—the emptiness that looked back from the mirror when he shaved in the morning.

In Rio, Ivan had watched his mother slowly fade away, give up all hope. She’d longed to return to her homeland, to Selenia, but she’d been exiled and never given amnesty, and she pined for his father, who was surely buried in an unmarked grave.

The wound that had come with her from Selenia never properly healed, an antibiotic-resistant infection spread through her body, and when she finally died, Ivan’s heart turned to ice.

Calor humano—the fire of the heart—couldn’t burn in the vacuum that was Able Seaman Batista. All that was left was his job, and making sure that no one could get close enough to see there was nothing left inside him that mattered.

“What do you think of our new neighbor?”

“The redhead who always wears low cut tops? . . . Haven’t noticed her.”

Alícia reached down and stroked Heitor’s testicles, then pinched a clump of pubic hair and pulled hard.

Merda!”

“What was that again?”

Amor, how could I possibly look at another woman with you beside me?”

“Liar. The other day in the elevator your eyes were on stalks, like a caracol.” She waggled a finger at each side of her head.

“I suppose I might have glanced at her.”

Alícia pushed Heitor over and sat on top of him. She doodled circles on his chest with her index finger. “I have to work today, meu bem.”

“Really? Saturday again?”

“The ministry wants me to survey the tourists at the Lunar Museum. Numbers have fallen off because of the Urso Branco attacks—the car bombs had a lot of international publicity. They want to know what to do about it.”

She saw the look on her husband’s face. “I’m sorry, darling. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Ivan had one more day in Assunção before his ship sailed to the Brazilian port of São Sebastião, and out of vague curiosity, he decided to visit the Lunar Museum. The red granite building on Assunção’s central square was busy, with foreign tourists reading multilingual guide books and groups of schoolchildren on excursions, walking in single file like ducklings led by their teachers.

He walked down aisles of stone statues, peered at Tupi jade amulets carved in the shapes of strange creatures, and wondered about unremarkable chalky stones labelled as moon rocks in display cases. The lunar shards in the central hall were the main attraction, and the centerpiece was a large vase that had been three quarters reconstructed from its scattered puzzle pieces. It showed hairless humanoids with pale skin and brown stripes, dressed in simple tunics. There were a dozen painted scenes that might have been important occasions in the life of a family, and Ivan circled the vase, studying each one.

In several scenes, the unknown artist had painted radial white lines around the figures, a stylized radiance. The plaque said that bioluminescence was one possible explanation, but Selenian lunar scholars were not in agreement.

Whether the academics agreed or not, Ivan knew that the common name for the humanoids was the luminosos, and his mother had never doubted that her people weren’t just the descendants of the luminosos, but their incarnations on Earth. When we Selenians die, my son, there is nothing to fear. We go back to our beautiful life on the moon.

Marx might have been disappointed in his mother’s spiritual opiate, but she’d been a communist for the good of Selenia, and a Selenian first. Ivan Karlo would have pleased his namesake in one way at least. He believed in nothing.

A foreign couple close by him were loudly browsing the displays.

“There’s never been any carbon dating, and anyway, there never was a lunar biosphere that could support life.”

The gringo‘s wife defended the Selenians. “They’re a primitive people, darling. They don’t know as much about science as you do.”

“But their beliefs are so childish, it’s like, ‘The Man in the Moon.'” He made derisory air quotation marks.

Apparently the gringos were arrogant enough to imagine that any ‘primitive people’ who happened to overhear them wouldn’t understand English, or their condescension and insults.

She had short dark hair, small teeth with prominent incisors, and a warm smile. Because of a momentary schoolboy infatuation, when he meant to say, Sorry, senhora, I don’t have time, it came out, Yes, I can help with the survey.

She read her clipboard and he read her nametag—’Sra. Alícia Nascimento, Ministry of Foreign Relations.’

“What is your nationality, senhor?”

“I’m Brazilian,” he replied with his soft carioca accent.

“Why did you decide to visit the Lunar Museum?”

Ivan suddenly felt uncomfortable next to Alícia, and the feeling was much stronger than his usual urge to hide himself from any real human contact. He reacted in the only way he knew, by pushing her away.

“The same reason that every foreigner comes—it’s amusing. Selenian beliefs are so childish.” He mimicked the obnoxious gringo. “It’s like, São Jorge slaying the dragon in the moon.”

She made some notes, continued in clipped tones. “Did the unrest in Assunção affect your travel plans?”

“Not at all. A few skirmishes, a few dead Selenians, but the Urso Branco aren’t interested in foreigners, are they?”

Her cellphone rang. She’d only filled in part way down the survey page, but she seemed keen to finish. “That’s all the questions. Thank you for your assistance, senhor.”

She answered her phone and Ivan went back to examining the ceramics. He overheard her conversation.

” . . .”

“Really? Tristão and Isolda. I’d love to go.”

” . . .”

“I’ll meet you here at six, then. Caio, amor.”

After he’d finished at the museum, Ivan decided to visit the artisanal market in the central square, to find a souvenir for the wall of his cabin. He strolled past stalls with dangling pendants and shining ornaments inset with semi-precious stones, designed to catch the eyes of magpie tourists, and came to an aisle with artwork that replicated the scenes on the lunar shards in brighter colors. He stopped at a booth with paintings depicting the luminosos out of their traditional settings.

“How much is that one, senhor?” Ivan indicated a hairless, striped version of La Danse that would have surprised Matisse.

The vendor, who, from the rainbow of paint on his torn t-shirt and the colored spots splashed through his straggling gray hair, was also the artist, put down his cigarette. “That one is on special. Fifteen reais, senhor.”

“It’s a bit expensive. Is that your best price?”

The old man stared at Ivan for a moment. “Sorry, amigo, I thought you were a tourist. It’s twenty-two luares.” The old man had switched to the local currency, and Ivan was astonished.

“You know I’m Selenian?”

The old man grinned. “When you’ve been around the square as long as I have, you learn to recognize a fellow countryman.”

There were introductions, Ivan bought the painting, then found himself telling Paulo he’d left Selenia many years before, and was curious about the luminosos.

“It’s your lucky day, compadre, I’m a luminoso expert. Why don’t we talk over at the Lua Cheia? It’s time for me to close up anyway.”

Ivan suspected Paulo was exaggerating his expertise. Although his bald Mona Lisa suggested they could smile mysteriously, his paintings didn’t betray any real knowledge of the luminosos. But the Lua Cheia Bar was just across the street, and Ivan accepted.

A row of empty shot glasses was lined up on the bar in front of Ivan, and the warmth of the alcohol had melted away some of his remoteness. “And why is copying prohibited for Selenians?”

Paulo was lighting yet another cigarette, and Rosinha, the bartender, answered for him. “Selenians are already a kind of copy, but not the simple bimorphisms that anyone can create when they know how to bilocate. We are incarnations from birth to death—”

Paulo interjected with her qualifications. “Rosinha has an honors degree in Translocation Studies.”

“And when I graduated I had a choice between working at a fast food outlet or a bar.” She grinned. “Our spirits belong on the ancient moon, as luminosos, and that’s where we return when we die. A replica here would be like . . . a copy of a copy. If you made a replica and it died for some reason, your spirit wouldn’t be able to return to your lunar body, and it couldn’t return to your body here on Earth either, because that’s already just a copy.”

“So what would happen to it?”

Paulo downed the rest of his cachaça. “No one knows, senhor. If you’re Selenian, the best idea is not to die as a copy.”

There was a commotion at the other end of the bar, where Lua Cheia patrons were pointing at a flat screen on the wall. Someone found the remote and turned the sound up.

There was a reporter with a microphone, and behind her, a row of police cars with flashing green lights, and behind them, the lunar museum. She said that an unknown number of Urso Branco freedom fighters had barricaded themselves inside, and they were threatening to kill their hostages and destroy the museum if their demands weren’t met. The reporter read from a list—their comrades-in-arms to be released from the Cisne Negro prison, the president to resign, free elections to be held, and so on. Images captured by the gunmen with mobile phones flashed on the screen—hostages, school children being comforted by adults, and smashed lunar artifacts.

“You know something, Ivan? You’re special. You’re not like Rosinha and me. You were taught how to bilocate, weren’t you?” Paulo had temporarily stopped smoking.

Ivan had sketched his life’s story for them, told them about his mother’s exile and growing up in Rio. He nodded, but he wasn’t sure what Paulo was getting at. “Yes, I can bilocate. But that doesn’t make me special. What do you mean?”

“I think you might be able to help the hostages in the museum.”

“I . . . No, why would I do that?”

Rosinha answered. “The military won’t take any risks. They’ll do nothing. The Ursos Brancos are going to slaughter the hostages, the school children, one by one. Don’t forget who you are, Ivan. You’re a Selenian, and you can do something other Selenians can’t. You can make a replica.”

Her words brought a painful memory back to Ivan. He saw himself sitting by his mother’s bedside in the Misericórdia Hospital. She’d wasted away, and her olive skin, stretched tightly across her cheekbones, had become pale and translucent. The suppurating wound on her ribs was mercifully hidden by the bed sheets.

It’s for the best, my love. You can go home now. Never forget that you are Selenian.

She’d died later that night.

“This violence without end, it doesn’t matter which side you choose, it’s just more killing, more suffering. It isn’t right. I want no part of it.”

Even as he said it, Ivan knew he didn’t mean it. Something had changed inside him. Perhaps it was the alcohol, or perhaps it was because of Rosinha and Paulo, who should have been strangers but weren’t, or perhaps it was because of one particular Selenian held hostage in the museum. Ivan didn’t know, but he did know he wasn’t going to be a bystander.

“No, it isn’t right.” Rosinha looked straight into his eyes. “But doing nothing when you can save innocent people isn’t right either.”

Ivan hesitated, waiting for second thoughts that didn’t come. “I’ll need a weapon.”

The petite Rosinha reached under the bar and pulled out a semi-automatic assault rifle. “Will this do?” She saw the look on Ivan’s face and shrugged. “Sometimes there are little problemas with customers. I don’t have to use it very often.”

Ivan moved from the bar stool to a seat at a table in a corner, with Rosinha and Paulo each side of him, to make sure no one would disturb his body while his soul was absent.

He closed his eyes and visualized the museum’s main hall, and felt a stinging sensation in his ears.

Ivan was shocked by the scene he found himself in, and for a moment he was disoriented. Bodies were scattered everywhere, and one of the freedom fighters was photographing a bloodied corpse with his phone, to broadcast it to the world and let the Selenian military know they were serious.

There was a murmuring among the hostages and someone pointed. Ivan delocated, returned to his resting body at the Lua Cheia.

He’d counted four freedom fighters and memorized the layout, and when he bilocated again, they were looking around. He shot one of them, and another fired at him and missed, but Ivan didn’t. He delocated, returned to a position in front of the hostages, and shot the third gunman in the back.

The fourth freedom fighter was running toward the back of the hall. He delocated, bilocated, took aim and fired, and then there were none.

Most of the hostages had left the museum, but Ivan had stayed. He stared at the marble floor, where the blood of the guilty flowed with the blood of the innocent.

The Urso Branco freedom fighters had wanted the best for Selenia, and this was the consequence. But Ivan knew that he shared in the responsibility for that blood. When all was said and done, violence was violence and murder was murder, and he was no better than they were.

Outside, the locals would be calling home, the tourists would be telling the military police what had happened in broken Portuguese, and shortly they would want to talk to him.

There were two other people in the hall. They came over, and Ivan recognized Alícia.

The man embraced him. “My wife told me you’re a Brazilian, yet you helped us, compadre. You saved our lives.”

“I have a Brazilian passport, friend, but I was born in Selenia.”

Ivan was thinking about the fourth freedom fighter, wondering why she’d fled.

“May I ask a question?” He pointed at the back of the hall. “What’s behind that door? Is there an exit?”

Alícia answered. “No, senhor. That’s just a storeroom.”

Ivan pictured the fourth freedom fighter—her red t-shirt with the Urso Branco stencil, her youthful face, and the calm conviction in her eyes. She’d been raising her weapon when Ivan had shot her dead.

She wasn’t fleeing. She hadn’t heard a sound and turned. She was coming back into the main hall.

Ivan was running toward the storeroom when the timer on the bomb reached zero.

Alícia opened her eyes and looked around. It was almost completely dark, but in the blue light filtering under the door, she could see a small room with a worn stone floor and walls made of basalt blocks.

She knew where she was. She was in the Cisne Negro, a prisoner of the military. Some sort of terrible mistake had been made—they thought she was one of the Urso Branco fighters.

After a moment she calmed down. After all, she worked for the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and she’d committed no crime. All she had to do was explain.

The Lua Cheia was empty except for Rosinha and Paulo, who’d stayed behind with Ivan’s soulless body. When they heard the explosion, they went outside, and saw a pillar of dust and smoke rising into the sky on the far side of the square.

“Paulo, we have to check Ivan.”

Paulo listened at his chest, held his palm in front of his mouth and nostrils, felt his neck for a pulse, while Rosinha looked on nervously. He shook his head.

“He’s gone, Rosinha. He must have been inside the museum when the bomb went off.”

Rosinha wiped her eyes, found a tissue and blew her nose. “What do you think has happened to him, Paulo?”

“I have no idea.” He went behind the bar and poured them both a drink.

She stood up, a little unsteady on her feet at first, and went to the door of her prison cell. The latch turned and the door opened. She wasn’t locked up at all.

From a window in the hallway, Anna saw the water moon hanging low on the horizon, and for no reason remembered Tristão’s words from Tristão and Isolda. ‘I was where I had been before I was and where I am destined to go, in the wide realm of the night of the world.’

Anna?

Now she remembered. She was Anna, and she was Alícia as well. The room wasn’t a cell, it was a stasis chamber where empty bodies were laid out until their owners returned.

Anna had come home to her world—the ancient moon, Alícia would have called it—and through the window, she could see the fields and vineyards of her beautiful Kierkegaard.

In the distance, the feldspar cliffs of the Indira Seafall sparkled in the blue light of the water moon. That was the name her people gave to Alícia’s planet, the Earth.

In the next room, her lover, named Heitor and Dellus, would be waking up.

The police had interviewed Rosinha, pieced the story together, and left, and she was alone in the bar. It was well after midnight by the time she’d collected the glasses, cleaned off the tables, put the chairs up, and swept the floor, all the time wondering what had happened to Ivan. When she’d finished, she set the alarm.

On the street outside, an odd looking bald man in baggy clothes was standing in the shadows. “Rosinha, it’s me. It’s Ivan.”

Through the night, and through the high night when the water moon had set below the horizon, Anna waited beside Dellus in his bed, but there was not a movement, not a sign. As the sun rose, she heard footsteps in the corridor, and her mother found her.

She squeezed her tight. “Anna, finally you’ve come back to us.”

Her mother stood back, and noticed her eyes. “You’ve been crying, darling. What’s wrong?”

“We died together, Mother, but Dellus hasn’t woken up.”

“Who? Who was it that died in Selenia?”

“Heitor, my husband. He died with me. There was an explosion in the museum.”

“Anna . . .” Her mother hesitated, closed her eyes for a moment. “Anna, there are so many of us, the chance that Dellus and Heitor were the same person is minute. In your Selenian life you probably never even crossed paths with the incarnation of Dellus. I know it happens in stories, but that’s not the way the real world works.”

She took her by the hand and led her from the chamber. “Come, we don’t want to keep your father, your brothers and sisters, waiting to know you’ve returned. It’s not a time for sadness, it’s a time for celebration.”

Anna managed half a smile. “Yes, Mother. Of course, you’re right.”

“Everyone comes back, Anna. All we have to do is wait.”

Ivan kept his alien physiology secret under a turban and long-sleeved shirts, covered the faint stripes on his face with makeup, and wore blue-tinted glasses. With a little help from Rosinha and Paulo, he arranged false documents and a clerical job at the docks.

Occasionally, someone at work noticed his yellow irises and told him he really needed to see a doctor about his liver. But apart from that, Ivan passed himself off as a human.

In a way, he was no more and no less human than he had been before the explosion at the museum.

For the luminosos, the time on the water moon was just a moment in the procession of the lunar seasons through their lives, and Anna knew that soon enough, Dellus would be returned to her. But she was still lonely, and in the evenings, she crouched beside his silent body and took refuge in memories of their time together.

Memories of winter, of snowflakes tossed by the wind against the windowpanes, and making love gently under thick layers of fleece. Memories of spring, of the fields at sunset, and making love carelessly, surrounded by clouds of insects attracted to their light.

In the darkness of the stone chamber, she ran her fingertips along his spiral stripes, traced her lover’s design, and thought of autumn, of making love at night under the water moon, with the whorl over his heart a Catherine wheel that burned so intensely she couldn’t help but fear she’d be lost forever, consumed in her tiger’s fire.

When all was almost said and done, Ivan was still Ivan. Sometimes on Saturday nights, when the music from the avenida kept him awake, he would lean on the windowsill of his fourth floor apartment and look out at the crowds below. He would sip vermouth and watch couples talking, dancing, and embracing, and think that perhaps his solitude was some kind of purgatory. But if it was, it was a purgatory he was accustomed to.

Now and then he went to the Lua Cheia and met up with Rosinha and Paulo, and occasionally his personal situation was a topic of discussion. Rosinha would take a napkin and draw the outlines of four bodies arranged in a square, with two cross-hatched as luminosos. She would connect them with arrows, and say something like, It’s perfectly obvious, Paulo. His spirit is in a bimorph, a copy of his lunar body. It was always the only possibility, and Paulo would say, But what about something or Haven’t you forgotten something else? And Ivan would have another cachaça and try to pay attention while they debated.

He’d visited Paulo’s studio a few times, after Paulo had insisted that he pose for a couple of paintings and he’d finally given in. The tourists want authenticity, Paulo had enthused, but Ivan had no idea how they’d know what was authentic even if it poked them in the eye.

He had season tickets to the opera, although he gave his ticket away whenever there was a performance of Tristão and Isolda, and he was a frequent visitor at the lunar museum, which was opening in stages as it was rebuilt, and the experts somehow pieced tiny fragments of the lunar shards back together for the displays.

When he was at home, and there was no need to wear makeup and a turban to disguise his appearance, Ivan still wore a shirt. There was a peculiar spiral pattern of stripes over his heart, and if he saw it, he was overwhelmed with an inexplicable sadness, and a craving so strong it tasted bitter in his mouth.

end article

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Steve Simpson

About Steve Simpson

Steve lives in Sydney, Australia mostly. He took up writing when the neighbors complained about the bagpipes, and his stories have appeared in various magazines and anthologies. His hobbies include experiments with time travel and negative light, and research on epileptic seizure detection.