Joy to the World

Every world - every world that enjoys the light and warmth of a parent sun - is divided in two. Of course, there are many divisions in a world, where there is so much space for separateness. There is land, and there is water. There are mountains, and there are ocean depths. There are warm regions, and cold; windy and still. And, if that world is blessed with life, the divisions multiply a hundredfold. There are hunters and hunted, rich and poor, happy and sad. There are the green of woodland, the yellow of cornfields, and the orange-grey of desert; there are land and sea, surface and air, blue ice and green water.

But there is one greater division, and it is one to which the sailing ship Whistledown has become well accustomed since she first entered the purlieu of the Blessèd sun and eased into orbit around the world of Glory. Every ninety minutes she circles refugee humanity's place of uncertain safety and, if the conditions are right, is seen from a land or from the observation deck of a Board ship, a vivid point of light flying far overhead. She is the guiding star of her children, for so she thinks of the people who live and die on the world below. Did she not give birth to them, after a gestation of many thousands of years in the gravid darkness of interstellar space?

Many of these divisions are invisible on the surface, or at least blurred. Their boundaries are broader when seen from close up. Forests thin out and become prairie. Mountains grow less steep as they fall towards the plain. And the borderland between day and night has many names – twilight, evening, nightfall, sundown. But from a height of one hundred and fifty miles the line of termination becomes clear and sharp and the 'Down passes through it twice every ninety minutes. In less than two hours she experiences dawn and dusk, sunset and sunrise, over and over again, and each event is ended after only three minutes. The Blessèd sun seems to leap over the horizon or plunge into the darkness behind the world as if time itself had changed its nature and become precipitate, relativistic and quantum.

Time… time has a different meaning on Glory, compared with the lost Earth. The days are an hour longer and the years only half the length, so that a man of forty-three is just setting out on his career and a woman of one hundred and fifty is enjoying her retirement. Day and night are equal in length, for Glory has stabilised in a perfectly circular orbit around the Blessèd sun and her polar axis points directly up and down. There are no winter or summer, no growing season, no autumn storms or spring greening. Earth farm-crops had to be recompiled by the biotechs of the land of Gold before they would grow properly on Glory, and humanity nearly starved to death before the first wheat harvest was taken in.

Glory lives in an eternal May and the old rhythms of Earthly life have been distorted by the flattening of time. The 'Down sees this and she does what she can to maintain the health of her offspring. She knows that humans need festivals to mark the passing of the years. As the 'Down counts time, it has been two hundred and fifteen thousand, eight hundred and ninety-four million and eight hundred thousand seconds since she sailed through the heliopause of Sol and left the old ruined worlds behind. This number is meaningless to humanity, who merely state that they have lived on Glory for five hundred years or so. By "years" they mean Glorian years, which are marked by the annual celebration of Landing Day, when the whole world downs tools and has a party.

The 'Down thoroughly enjoys Landing Day, for it is as much her celebration as humanity's. It's a splendid chance for her to show off, addressing the peoples of Glory though the big screens her Monitors set up and playing them the music she's composed over the past year. Her shuttlecraft fly aerobatic patterns above the Joyeuse of Horn and make sonic booms over the city of Maybe on Edge. She runs little animated films she has made and comes up with ever more alcoholic cocktail recipes for everyone to get plastered on. Everyone has a foy of a time (except the foys, who are not party animals) and staggers around the following morning in an unrepentant stupor.

This is all very good. This helps maintain humanity's mental well-being. But while it keeps the humans happy, it's not enough for the 'Down, with her long-stored memories of a world now many trillions of miles distant. She remembers another festival, fixed to a different yearly cycle, and because she is more human than she knows (for, after all, humans made the tools that built her, and their thoughts are in her DNA), she feels the need to celebrate it.

The preparations take a while. There are laser arrays to get out of storage, fit with battery cells and pass to the tars. While they scurry out along her shrouds, masts and yard-arms and rig them, the 'Down sets the domestics to work on her interior. She no longer fills her galleries with snow following an unfortunate incident when meltwater got into the life-systems and took five weeks to purge, but holo projectors do nearly as good a job of conjuring a winter's day and are far more flexible in use. She likes real trees, though, and has planted a small pine forest on an outer deck, lit by a single lantern.

While her interior and rigging are being fettled, the 'Down calls her comsats back. They are used to this. From time to time each of them returns to its mother for maintenance and refuelling. It is unusual for so many of them to dock at one time, but that is not the kind of thing they tend to worry about - being nothing to do with data bandwidth, signal amplitude or orbital decay - so they moor up at their usual ports and let the tars fuss about them - welding and soldering, painting, polishing and aligning - until they are pristine. They are also fitted with lights.

The ship ticks the fast-fleeting days off on her calendar while, ninety-three million miles from Sol, the lost Earth spins into Capricorn. Hum and bustle, stress and raised temperatures; but at last everything is ready. The presents have been bought, the food laid in, and there is a pile of sentimental old films set by ready to stream to the Monitors below. She has even hung up a stocking.

The last crystal dawn flashes by and the 'Down sails into another golden day. It's time for the real fun to begin. 'Right then!' says the ship to her comsats. 'Off you go! Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!' The sats trigger their lasers, fire their thrusters and soar into a new orbit, patterned in formation. Meanwhile the 'Down threads up It's a Wonderful Life, draws the curtains and settles down to watch the show while the tars, nestled in a web of ropes and spars, light their multicoloured lamps and beam them to the lands below. The ship gives a happy sigh for the simple pleasure of it all.

- 0 -

'Look at that, will you?' says an off-shift Edgeois miner to his ten year old son, taking the boy's arm and pointing towards the southern sky.

'All lit up like a bloody Christmas tree!'

But what does he know?