You lunar gardens, dominions of forlorn dreams,
Receive her with a good heart, who comes
From the world where all of living beauty grows.

–Czesław Miłosz, "The Gates of the Arsenal"


Sofia was awakened from strange dreams by a sort of feathery tickling against her mind. The sensation was soft, gentle, and somehow indefinably possessive – the touch of one who has waited a long time to possess something, and is glad that he finally does.

She smiled sleepily and brushed a strand of blond hair out of her eyes. "Morning, Tsilla'ak," she murmured.

"Good morning, Sofia," said the telepathic voice of her unseen guardian. "Did you sleep well?"

Sofia shrugged. "I guess so," she said vaguely. Somehow she didn't want to tell Tsilla'ak about the queer dream that had come to her that night; she was already a little embarrassed at how deeply it had affected her, and talking about it to the bodiless presence that was master of I'erigo Outpost would, she felt sure, only make matters worse.

"Good," said Tsilla'ak. "Your breakfast is in the kitchen, although, according to Vi'auw, you won't be able to eat it; she has become convinced that she mistransmuted some of the elements in the stone, and that your porridge will cause your hair to fall out if you so much as approach it." This was said in a rather wry tone, and Sofia failed to suppress a smile; she and Tsilla'ak were continually making jokes between themselves about the talent for worrying that Tsilla'ak's colleague possessed.

"Well, I guess I'll have to risk it," she said. "Better possible radiation poisoning than certain starvation, right?"

"Not being susceptible to either, I am not in a position to judge," said Tsilla'ak, "but I will happily take your word for it."

"That's very generous of you, Tsilla'ak," said Sofia. "Tell Vi'auw that I'll be down as soon as I've dressed."

"Gladly, Sofia," said the unseen Lunarite.

And the next moment, although there was no sound or movement to indicate his departure, Sofia knew that her guardian was no longer present. With a sigh, she rose from her bed, walked over to her closet, and pulled out a long, white gown, utterly plain except for a sinuous design stitched in green thread across the shoulders.

It was the same gown that Sofia had worn every day for the past three years (the fabric from which Tsilla'ak and Vi'auw had made it was not the sort to get torn or dirty), but now, as she looked down at it lying in her hands, that woven sinusoid of green commanded her attention as though she had never seen it before. Willy-nilly, the strange dream that had troubled her sleep that morning now returned to her in perfect detail.

She had been standing in the middle of a great expanse, with no hills or rises in any direction for as far as she could see. This in itself was strange enough to Sofia, who had never in her life been out of sight of the great ridges that defined the limits of I'erigo Crater, but stranger still was the stunning range of color that had met her eyes. The sky had been a radiant blue, with strange white shapes floating through it (not grey-white like the Lunar stones, but the startlingly pure white of Sofia's own teeth), and at her feet the ground had been covered with small, green outcroppings, so soft and tender that she could have reached down and pulled one off the ground.

She didn't, though. She wasn't sure why, but she knew that it was very important not to disturb those oddly delicate structures. They were the whole reason she was there: she had to learn the secret from them, so that she could bring it back to I'erigo and… and…

She stamped her foot in frustration. Why couldn't she remember? This was the most important part of the whole dream; there was something hidden in those strange green blades that Bailly – or maybe the whole Moon – desperately needed, and she was the only person who could take it there. What it was, she didn't know, but she knew somehow that she could know, if only…

"Cut it out, Sofia," she told herself firmly. "You're not forty years old anymore; you ought to know better than to get all bent out of shape over a silly dream. And that's all it is; it's not real, it's just a dream. You don't really think there's a valley somewhere where little green blades are sitting under a blue sky, waiting for you to come along and learn a secret from them, do you?"

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted having spoken them. The truth of the matter was that, although she didn't think that the dream was true, a part of her wished it had been. There was something about that warm, green valley that had felt simply right to her, the way that food feels right after a day of fasting. It was as though, all her life, there had been a longing inside her that she hadn't even known existed, and the sight of that valley had at once awakened that longing and begun (in a miniscule but tantalizing way) to satisfy it.

It was fortunate, she thought, that she had been raised in an environment that put such stress on mental discipline. She had had cause, before now, to lament the fate that had placed her in Tsilla'ak and Vi'auw's charge (the care of disembodied minds, however solicitous, must of necessity be often unsatisfactory to a child of flesh and blood), but now she clung to their ancient Lunar wisdom as to a life-raft. "My mind is a beam of purest light," she recited aloud. "My heart is a window that admits it without impedance. Never shall I allow any emotion, however strong, to beguile me into forsaking that which my reason accepts as truth."

Yes, she thought, that was easy enough to say – and no doubt it was easy to do, if you were someone like Tsilla'ak or Vi'auw who was nothing but mind anyway. But what did you do if you were Sofia Zemlyevna, and your mind was tethered to a body that could drown out the most elegant chains of logic with a mere fluctuation of its humors? Was she doomed to be forever a child, barred from the realm of full maturity simply because she had a bloodstream?

She felt tears swelling in her eyes, and wiped them away with a savage gesture. What was stupider than crying over your propensity to cry? Any real Lunarite would find it simply an amusing paradox; it would never occur to him that a rational being could actually do it. Why did she have to be – what she was?

With an effort, she regained control over herself, put on the gown, and performed the few tasks of morning hygiene that were necessary on her soil-less world; then, with a deep breath, she opened her door and stepped out of her bedroom, into the main body of the great pumice edifice that was I'erigo Outpost.