By Kim Seong Joong
Translated by Victoria Caudle
Of the twelve lab animals launched to Mars, I am the only one left alive.
We were thrust into the future, frozen in minus two-hundred and seventy-degree liquid helium.
Even while my comrades’ trajectories changed from dreaming to death, I was faithfully beaming my vital signs. It was my mission to hibernate in this frozen body, my heart having lost its beat. As we sliced through space, Mars danced in my dreams first as a ruby beetle, then as crimson clothes, then as a red cloud. I was a vessel of ice and only my dreams remained unfrozen. Some few centuries passed like a long nap.
I was found lying down. That is, I found myself.
I felt the planet slowly pulsating in time with my own veins.
How long had I been lying there? When had the ship landed? Am I truly alive, or am I dead? Is this Mars, or the afterlife?
Questions sweep in all at once; my brain sends a command. I close my eyes and open them again. I blink. Good. Nothing has changed. It doesn’t seem like I am seeing things. I shut my eyes and open them again. I blink. The hundreds of years tangled between my lashes shriek as they fall away. My gaze locks on to the spaceship’s black eye. I remember the Earth growing smaller beyond that circle of glass.
Memories cut through time and dock with the present me. Plentiful food and fresh fruit. Sweet meat dripping with juice. We are the research center’s most prized possession. We were treated with the utmost hospitality up till the day we left, like sacrificial lambs being ostentatiously plied with offerings. Countless lab animals had perished, and we were the clones created with their data. We are humanity’s dream.
However, humanity was our dream. My language and intelligence, the way I speak and think, and most of all, the way I long for the Earth is entirely human. I can’t tell where this longing comes from, if it is something born naturally or if it is something transplanted. Being the product born of a variety of disparate experiments, I don’t even know what sort of being I am.
I was too busy being examined and mastering my training before take-off, so I never said my proper goodbyes to the Earth. Only a few images of it remain, like postage stamps. Well-wishers waving. The vibration at take-off. Pressure on my heart and in my ears. The heat of the turbines, so hot I wondered if the spaceship had caught fire. Cables swimming through the vacuum.
Ants slowly spinning in the glass circle
If it has all worked out, this won’t be Earth.
If it has all worked out, this will be somewhere on Mars.
If it has all worked out perfectly, this will be the future. The timer was set for five-hundred years.
I twist my body; the seatbelt has a stranglehold on me from all directions. Then I remember that I was tightly bound. Being ‘hermetically sealed’ was the best protection from the shock of takeoff and landing.
My training comes back to me automatically. I was trained on movement in free-fall and in the vacuum and on how to take care of urine and feces. And also how to find the belt release button.
Button, button, where’s the button—
Before I can even finish the thought, the tips of my fingers catch something.
Hibernation does not mean a rebirth. I am released, but I don’t have the courage to get up. My body may not be as sound as my mind. In the process of being frozen and thawed, some part of me may be rotten or damaged, and it’s possible that my deadened nerves may not be revived. Gravity may have weakened my heart valves and my eyesight might not be as it was before. Like a frozen fish that has thawed, I must move slowly. It will be best if I examine everything cautiously, part by part. For I am the only one here who can carry out this task.
Right arm. Moves.
Left arm. Moves.
Both legs and knees. They all move.
Sight, hearing, and touch were already switched on.
Now there is nothing left but to get up and go outside. Even though I know this must be done, I just keep staring up at the ceiling of the spaceship.
Woof woof woof woof
I hear a dog barking somewhere. It goes on too long to be a hallucination. A dog is barking. Clearly, rhythmically. It doesn’t seem to be several dogs, just one. Has one of the hatches opened?
I can’t just lie here now that the ship might have been breached. I stand up quickly, anemia causing spots to hover in front of my eyes. Darkness, however, is my specialty.
I drink in air and see the pain spreading inside me drawn out before my eyes. The black fog slowly begins to clear as neurons and synapses alert my body of its resurrection.
When I open my eyes, a Siberian husky stands before me, tail wagging.
The dog calmly opened its mouth and introduced itself. It spoke in a foreign language and when I didn’t respond, it barked once and switched to English. Nice to meet you. My name is Laika. She spoke in heavily accented English.
I couldn’t complete my sentence and pointed at the locked door behind her. It was hard to tell which was more surprising, that the dog could talk or that she had come in through a locked door.
“Are you asking if I opened the door to get in?”
Laika nonchalantly completed my question for me, saying, “There is no door that won’t open for me.” She passed through the wall. She passed through gravity, passed through the galaxy, and passed through all of the red and white planets. Laika was dead.
“When my ship exploded, my body disintegrated and was sprinkled through the air like holy water, blessing the Earth. I’ve been wandering ever since. Damn. Since I’m dead, as you can clearly see, I’ve discovered there is no God and no Heaven either. I have nowhere to go.”
Something about her was familiar. An image on a monitor. I “knew” Laika. She was one of us, the original lab animals. On the fourth of October, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2 with Laika on board. She was the first living being, before even humans, to go to space.
“I was born three hundred years after that,” I say, “so, I guess that makes me your descendant.”
“Where are you from?”
“Arizona. United States.”
“If you’re talking about Americans, I’ve seen quite a few. Was it when I passed a shipwreck near Venus? I saw a white-haired old man through the window. He had gone completely round the bend and was licking the walls. When I asked him why, he said that, in truth, he was afraid of the moon. He had once heard that if you go to the moon, you become a lunatic, and wouldn’t you know it, the moment he landed the thought popped into his mind. And after that…blast! The machines never once malfunctioned. On the contrary, it was the engineer who blew up.”
“What an interesting story.”
We stood in silence for a moment.
“There is a certain context. The lunatic spaceman. A lab animal floating around after death, a frozen mammal resurrected in the future.”
The last bit was referring to me. I knelt down, looking Laika straight in the eyes, and asked, “Tell me, Laika, am I a machine?”
“No, not at all.”
“Then do I look human?”
“You talk like one. And you walk on two feet. But you’re not a human.”
“Am I dead? Forgive me, but you’re dead, you know. Don’t you think the fact that I’m talking with you is the surest evidence that I’m dead too? Where is this? Is it space, the afterlife?”
“Asking where we are is just like asking who we are.”
Laika stretched out and deliberately feigned ignorance.
“Would you like to see my pet fleas?”
There were plump fleas happily springing around on Laika’s back. Perhaps because of the lower gravity, the fleas’ jumps were high and slow. There were four fleas in all, and Laika said she named them after Apollo astronauts; Collins, Irwin, Schweickart, and Aldren.
“You were once the pet of humans, but now you have your own pet fleas.”
“Do you know what two things you must have to become a lab animal?”
Laika put the fleas back on her body. Hungrily, they sucked her blood.
“You must be healthy and clever and have no owner. I was a puppy wandering the streets of Moscow. When I was taken into the Research Center, I ate till my belly was fit to burst and thought myself lucky. Once I came to my senses, I was flying into space strapped down with electrodes all over my body. Damn, now that’s rock-n’-roll.”
She winked and hummed David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” I didn’t know about rock-n’-roll and couldn’t understand why this was a reason to raise fleas, and most importantly I didn’t know David Bowie. Even still, I nodded. Maybe because it was ridiculous. Fleas on a spirit. Does that mean that when Laika was vaporized, those fleas were blown apart as well and clustered together like space particles to happily suck her blood?
“We don’t know where we are. It may be called Mars, but we don’t know what dimension of Mars it is. Just don’t think about it too much.”
I laughed and Laika looked down at her dancing fleas with understanding eyes.
It was her turn to ask a question now. She was curious about the latest news from Earth. I say the latest, but the news was already several hundred years old. Even still, I knew more than she did.
For example, she didn’t know that the research center had disappeared. All of the scientists who sent her to space had died. All of the animal lovers around the world who had protested the unethical treatment of lab animals had also died. Her friend, Albina, who had been drafted as a lab animal beside her but had fallen short at the final examination, had died as well. The Soviet Union had died.
“The Soviet Union was dissolved?”
Laika looked like a political exile in shock as I recounted the tragedy of her former country. She carried a lingering nostalgia for the dissipated USSR. The cosmonauts of the Cold War had fought a war by proxy, and she, Laika, had been sent to space by their hands. Her existence had, for quite some time, symbolized victory for the Soviets.
“I had a stamp with my face on it, once upon a time…”
Laika was dispirited. No, perhaps she had only spirit left.
With the intention of lightening the mood, I asked how she had gotten to Mars from the Moon.
“It’s pretty easy when you’re dead. I just walked here on my own four feet. With all the astronauts, dead and alive, swarming around the Moon, I just couldn’t get a moment’s peace. When I first came to Mars, it was a perfect nduja with not a single footprint stamped on its surface. So, I thought of this place as neither heaven nor hell, but as purgatory.”
“Oh my word, have you not read Dante?”
The dog stuck out her tongue and tsk-ed at me.
You are my only concern in the whole universe, Sweetie. All the stars are your mothers and we are not cold.
This Siberian husky that only comes up to my knees is outrageously acerbic and smart. She even possesses an arrogance that showed itself when proving her own intelligence by showing surprise at another’s ignorance.
“Well, you certainly are the most peculiar looking animal I’ve ever seen. You’re not a human, but you’re dumb like one… ah, sorry,” Laika said, with an expression that said she wasn’t sorry at all. I am really starting to dislike this dog that has as many faces as words in her vocabulary.
“But, are you okay being in this stink?”
Sniffing, Laika was suddenly serious. She pointed her snout at the capsule which held eleven corpses and growled.
“You have to make allowances for the fact that I’m a dog. What I mean is, to someone like me with such a remarkable nose, the scent of rotting bodies is pure torture. It’s disrespectful to your dead colleagues to just leave them like this. If we’re going to stick together, we’ll have to create a more pleasant environment.”
I have no idea when we became a “we,” or when we had decided to stay together, but I nodded anyway. As time passed I realized that Laika was good at giving orders and I was good at taking them.
When I opened the capsule, I saw clones who looked exactly like me, all in varying states of decay. It seems that there was a problem and the freezing temperature had not been maintained. It wasn’t a pretty sight because my face was displayed in multitudes of death.
The ones with only bones left were somewhat easier, but when I placed my hands on the corpses still soft and dripping with sticky fluids, I shuddered. As I worked, it became more manageable, and I cleaned every nook and cranny of the ship’s interior. Cleaning the ship felt as if I were reconciling the past three hundred years. As soon as my body got moving, normal sensation seemed to return.
Outside the window, the orange-colored air was thickening. I opened the hatch, intent on burying the bodies before it got dark.
At last, I set foot on Mars. It didn’t look too different from the wastelands of Earth. Sharp-edged rocks, completely contoured boulders, apricot sky with not a jot of cloud. Is this place really Mars? Due to the lack of clouds, the sky felt like an expressionless face. The face of an unfathomable person.
I picked up the shovel and dug. The sand, its particles finer than that on Earth, floated in the air before slowly settling down. I put all the corpses into the wide yet shallow hole in one go and covered them with dirt. I cut up an airbag that unfurled during landing and covered the pile with it. I picked up a heavy stone, which looked like peridot, and as soon as I placed it at the corner, the burial was complete. My comrades, eleven clones, had traveled the stars just to be buried on Mars.
The two anemic moons, Phobos and Deimos, had risen high in the sky.
Upon returning to the spaceship, I found Laika had claimed a spot underneath the cockpit and had fallen asleep.
I, myself, crawled into my capsule and lay down. The capsule remained a good bed. When put into sleep mode, the soft cloth sack inflated and swaddled the body, but the scientists who designed this function didn’t realize that there was a coincidental added benefit. It consoles you when you are bereft of touch. The air tubes covered in cloth gently press your body and it feels like an invisible someone is holding you close.
In such a lonely place as space, it really is quite useful. I want to share this feeling with Laika too, but she is such a proud dog that she can’t stand hands being laid on her body.
I held Laika for the first time the day I met Deimos. It was the day that Laika had shown me “Eden.”
“It’s the most beautiful wave desert on Mars. ‘Eden’ is the name I gave it.”
After walking for a quarter of the day, scalloped fans began appearing on the ground. The geometric pattern seemed to have been intricately sculpted and could be seen on the top of a small hill. The rocks embedded here and there glittered black, blue and gold.
“It really is gorgeous!”
I touched the red sand and was spellbound. The orange sand, devoid of moisture, slipped slowly between the webs of my toes.
Laika clicked her tongue in pity. “What use was it for them to give you webbed feet if they were sending you to a waterless planet, humph.”
It was then. From far away a wind whirled and wound towards us. What I thought of as “far away” was crossed in just a moment, and when I snapped to attention, the sand storm had already arrived.
“Dust Devil!” Laika shouted as the winds surrounded us. Terrified, I grabbed Laika, pulled her into my arms, and crouched down, then waited for the storm to pass.
Perhaps because of the weaker gravity, the power of the dust storm did not translate to force. Although my whole body was covered in a thick coat of dirt, I had barely any injury. When I came to my senses, Laika was shouting in my arms, “Next time get my consent before putting your hands on me!”
“Well, whaddya know!”
As she jumped from my arms, Laika suddenly stalled and sighed.
“What’s the matter?”
“You, you’re pregnant. So, you’re female! Humans really are the worst. How could they shoot a pregnant animal into space?”
My mind whites out. White spots of light converge and morph into an examination room lamp. People in gowns looking down at me in the light, Doctor Lichnowsky, the needle in his hand. As soon as I remember, resistance wells up within me and the information, my memories, cut off. But, I still comprehend what had happened. I had conceived without ever copulating.
“What sort of experiments did they do on you?”
Graphs on a monitor, Madame Cecilia crying as she ties me down, and after…
The images after are missing. Seeing that I was unable to connect my thoughts, Laika reacted as if this was what she expected.
“It’s called ‘brainwashing’. To put it simply, you’ve had your memories wiped.”
It must be so; there was nothing Laika didn’t know. She also knew how to console. “It’s better to go on living without those memories,” she said with a sorrowful expression.
“Look at me. I remember it all. Everything, not a single second forgotten. From when I was a stray, to when I was adopted, to the moment I was chased out, my true name and the iron cage in the corner of the laboratory; when I barked, pleading for them to set me free and being ignored because I was a beast incapable of speech—have you ever seen anyone as eloquent as me? The pressure of the moment when I was hooked up to all the heavy equipment, the fear that struck me when I saw the spaceship catch fire. I burned to death! My god, not five hours after liftoff, I became dust and was scattered in the heavens. It would be more humane if my mind was a blank sheet of paper than to be left with these horrible memories.”
Laika growled, drunk on her tragedy. Hearing her voice dripping with resentment, I wrapped my arms around my belly instinctively. There was no movement. How strange will it be if I become a mother in this state, not knowing if I am animal or human?
“I was female, too. My descendants will still be walking the earth.”
Then, a strange object flashed.
The dust storm had brought something to the surface. At first glance, it looked to be a washing machine with hoses attached. As I walked closer, Laika lowered her voice and gave the signal to hurry up and dig it out.
Without the aid of any tools, it took a long time, but when I pulled it out, I found that it was a rover, half my height and twice as wide. It was built with hi-tech materials, so it wasn’t very heavy, but one corner had crumpled and a rail had fallen off the wheels. It was completely out of power. I said it looked broken, but Laika shook her head and gestured towards the other side of the robot.
“Wipe that off.”
The spot she pointed at was a solar panel, coated in thick dust.
We took the rover and set it up in a sunny spot. And, after a while, forgot about it. Just like how you forget a withered flower pot.
One day Mahler’s 3rd Symphony (I know because Laika told me) filled the spaceship and when I opened my eyes the rover’s lights were on.
“Please excuse my late introductions.”
A polite and deferential mechanical noise. The words and intonation were natural, and the front part you could call a “face” was full of light. It had no mouth, but it expressed emotions with neon eyes that grew larger or smaller as if drawing an emoticon.
“My name is Deimos. From the moon’s name, of course.”
“I suppose there is also a Phobos?”
Laika cut her introduction off and the rover’s eyes turned the color of tungsten and became long and thin. After a moment, it responded saying that Phobos had fallen into a ravine, and its signal had been lost long ago. And Deimos’s life had continued.
The twin rovers were pioneers, as well as laboratories and photographers who had traveled the red earth together wandering as far as the horizon went. Because they were a pair, when one was in danger, the other came to its rescue. They surpassed the lifespan estimated for them on Earth five times over, and in the course of their work, they developed a strong camaraderie and, little by little, their intelligence had increased. The structure of the ravines, the appearance of the Elysium Planitia, the mound of earth that is the Valles Marineris, searching for traces of water and busily taking photos of everything including their own track prints to send to Earth.
After sending all their photos, they listened to the playback of the sounds picked up in space. It pleased them greatly whenever they happened to catch snatches of communications from spaceships. The twin rovers clung to an affection for the blue star to which they were transmitting. They knew the word affection and they knew the word longing. It was the endless one-way transmission of data.
The photos taken by the twin rovers were filed neatly away in the scientists’ “drawer” and would someday become helmets, gloves, and boots perfect for use on Mars. The inventory will increase and, somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico, there are plans to build a model of Mars. Humanity will rehearse for coming here. They’ll put on their boots and be whipped around acclimating their bodies in the facsimile gravity, all the while using the equipment and products created on the basis of the data sent by Phobos and Deimos.
The twin rovers never tired of talking about the model Mars, like people who had prepared their home on a far-off Earth. Their plans included their retirement and symbolic status upon returning to Earth, being worshiped and spending their twilight years in the comfortable model home that they had pioneered and built. And—
“A stamp made in your honor.”
Laika suddenly cut in. Her sharp mocking tone shattering Deimos’s fantasy.
“There’ll be none of that. See here, humans can’t even live a hundred years. Did you think they’d be able to carry out colonizing Mars in just a couple centuries? Human dreams only last with the first generation. Whether it is boarding a ship in search of religious freedom or going to a new land in search of gold. In the end, they make settlements and their sons inherit. In fertile lands, you are bound to prosper. Their sons, or their sons’ sons, will be intoxicated with negligence and grow weak. To humans, success has the effect of a reduction in gravity. If they live in one-fifth normal gravity, their height increases, but their bones grow weak. So they don’t go anywhere. All the while, they squander what they’ve created and start wars amongst themselves. Then it only takes a moment for the Earth to become a desert wasteland like here on Mars. Now, what do you think your role is in this story? You were born of the desires of the first generation, so the second generation worked hard to transmit the messages. Around the third generation, they start to forget. If there was some sort of Mars funding, it has probably already been used up to cover the cost of war. The radio waves you send have probably remained collected somewhere on Earth. Because there is no-one there to receive them.
“This is the truth. Now, you can break free from your pointless work. Don’t waste your power setting up your high-powered antenna, it would be better spent clearing some of these Martian rocks. Don’t wander any longer and stay here with us.”
“…But, wandering is what I do,” Deimos said in a small voice, bamboozled by Laika’s verbose persuasion.
“You both are so strange, imitating humans like this! Are words like ‘habits’ or ‘wandering’ even applicable to a robot? If you like plowing down piles of rocks, do that, but there is someone pregnant here. Do you happen to have any medical functions?”
“I have bio-programming to be used if a lifeform has been discovered. It is called ‘Doctor’.”
“Good. Give her a checkup.”
Laika pushed me forward. I hesitated, not knowing what to do. Deimos’s hose-like arm snaked forward and a hand like a pair of tongs pulled me closer.
“I just need one drop.”
A burning prick, and my blood was collected. I heard the sound of a fan whirring inside the rover.
“Twelve weeks. Growing well. You will probably give birth seven months from now.”
“That’s wonderful! We have nothing, but we have birth.”
“Avoid the lower region as much as possible. There is radiation coming from there. I saw vapor, it means that internal ice is being superheated.”
“Vapor? Ice? Are you saying that there is water on Mars?”
“There is a seventy-eight percent possibility.”
The last command Phobos and Deimos had received was to search for water. Now Laika gave Deimos a new command.
“See here, Deimos. You’ve just told me something extremely important. If there is water, it means that this place may one day become like the Earth. That isn’t a great thing…..but that is a problem for the distant future, and right now I am a spirit and you are a machine, so it doesn’t matter to us, but that’s not the case for her. She has a body that needs to be provided with food and drink. And if she gives birth…dear lord, what a headache. Anyways, when I am not around, you must take care of her. You are quick and don’t complain; you’ll make the perfect nurse. And, is there anything else you know how to do?”
Hearing what Laika said made me feel strange.
After discovering my pregnant state, Laika had exhaustively catered to my every need, but apart from her also being female, I have no idea why she does it. Laika looked after me as if I was her own daughter. She had been a dog as inscrutable as the Martian sky, but when I think about how overly affectionate she became after finding out, I’m starting to wonder if she had been sent to me by someone.
After Deimos informed me I was twelve weeks along, my body started to change. I had alternating spurts of deep sleep and insomnia, and the time I spend swaddled in my capsule increased. I watched my belly swell little by little, and it looked like the moon waxing larger with light.
I took several naps a day in the hammock my friends had strung up for me beneath the ship. When I rocked in the hammock, the child inside me expressed its joy with a pleasant vibration filling my body in warm concentric circles. As the waves flowed out of my body, a smile spread on my lips. It was drawing a new map on my face. But that too was temporary as I often burst into tears. When I think about the befuddling speed at which my mood swings, I can’t tell if it is the fault of the experiments, or if it is just a natural consequence of being a mother with child. This is the truth, with no matter why, I thought. I clearly said that for my own benefit, an unknowable life thrust into this unknowable world. This feeling is Truth.
It is mine, my innate Truth.
One day Deimos lets me hear the fetal heartbeat. There is nothing its arm can’t do. It has no off-switch, so it has a half-eternal life and is programmed for perpetual labor. Now, it’s using all its functions to look after us and has let me listen to the child’s heartbeat. My child’s heartbeat raced towards us like a tiny spaceship at full speed.
“I’ve never heard a sound louder than this.”
Laika expressed her emotions poetically.
She and Deimos had completed the “well” and, for the past four days, took turns going down and fetching ten liters of water and started filling the tank. The results of Deimos’s tests said that the water was safe, but Laika hasn’t let me drink it yet. She looked after me nervously. My due date is still far off, but she went so far as to remove her precious pet fleas and put them into a jar.
“I can’t throw out my friends, but you might be harmful to mama and baby, so you’ve got to stay here for the time being. I’ll let you suck a little blood later, so don’t get all pouty. We have to get ready for the baby.”
The fact that she no-longer seemed coldhearted is because we had built the rhythms of our life together.
I had drifted off in the shade underneath the spaceship.
On the surface, I was still conscious, but internally I was cycling through many dreams. Voices seeped in from both sides, conscious and dreaming. In my dream, I saw clouds, but they were full and downy, a type unseen in the skies of Mars. As I looked up at them, I heard my friends’ voices from beside me.
“I know. How many on board?”
“Are they coming down now?”
The clouds changed shape into spaceships; in the porthole, astronauts wearing internal pulse monitors were preparing to descend. The clouds continued to change shape according to the conversation. It was usually Laika questioning and Deimos answering.
“Affirmative, humans. One, two, three, four… I would estimate about seventy in all.”
Humans are coming. About seventy of them, on three ships, are about to land on Mars. Living humans are frightening. The iron cage comes to mind. What will they do to me if they discover I am a lab animal? Something inside me pounds, thump thump, it could be my heart racing or the child in my belly kicking out.
“What’ll we do about the well?”
A long tire track sets into the dust. A mark in the dirt from the rail rises up and transforms into a whip, then into Deimos’ robotic arm. Then, I am opened. Deimos cuts the umbilical cord. “We’ll boil it for sterilization.” But I’m so out of it from giving birth I can’t feel any pain.
We are at the beach, a place where a deafening bang, like the sound of a gunshot, rings out when as glacier crumbles and falls. The glacier, whose body had swollen for hundreds of years, goes into the water and the child comes out of me. The newborn is red, wet with blood. Laika jumps up with joy and licks the baby.
“Unto us a child is born!”
“What’re you talking about?”
“It’s the most glorious and simple of gospels. Haven’t you read Hannah Arendt?” Laika said, snobbishly.
We go down to the waterfront. We will bathe the child in the sea where glaciers crumble. The baby cries out as soon as it touches the icy water and buries itself in my arms. I look at the tiny hands and see the pale curtains of webbing between the fingers, then suddenly, I go into the water, lay the baby on my belly, and wash off my blood. The fish are dancing. The newborn swims like a fish. I know this is all a dream, but I don’t want to end it and close my eyes tighter.
A low voice drifts in from reality.
“What’ll happen if they find out about the well?”
Let’s go back one more time, back into the dream. Back to a world without humans.
White wrinkles are caught in the sea. The wrinkles push forward in my direction, and I keep climbing over them. “Waves.” “What?” “The sea wrinkles, they are called waves. You silly thing.” Suddenly my conversation with Laika continues. This is somewhere else, my dream. A dream that the other me is dreaming. Two dreams are overlapping.
“If this is really Mars, you would be hopping around like a kangaroo. Your eyesight should also be weaker. And how could you live at negative sixty-two degrees Celsius! This place is like Mars. So if anything bad happens, it isn’t real.”
This is yet another Laika speaking. A different space, a different Laika. . . As the various dimensions overlap, time and space are warping, dreams and the after-life are mixing in the stars. In the end, the me right before the split could do nothing but be pushed from sleep into awakening.
I open my eyes and Laika and Deimos are still at my side.
“I was dreaming. I dreamt I gave birth.”
As my incoherent babbling about the dream went on longer, Deimos noted that even if a thousand years passed, it would be difficult for an ocean to form on Mars. Then, did I dream the future?
“And the spaceship? You said that seventy astronauts on three ships were landing.”
“Are you still sleep talking? Don’t worry. There’s no one here but us.”
Hearing that, I let out a sigh of relief as if I was being held in my capsule.
I pick up a pretty ultramarine-colored stone and examine it on my palm. From somewhere I hear something that sounds like a black plastic bag taking flight. Beyond the spaceship, I can see the hazy little silhouette of a volcano. With this scenery, the familiar images and friends that make up my nest and I feel safe. You are the font of my words. I want to draw out my warmest words to give to you.
“You are my only concern in the whole universe, Sweetie. All the stars are your mothers and we are not cold.”
A child will be born. Apart from me, there are two more aunties, so there is nothing to fear. As I rub my heavily pregnant belly, I chant these words and Deimos asks if it is female. Laika flicks up her ears as if to wink.
As if in response, my belly ripples.
Originally published in Hyunnam Oppa-ege [Dear Hyunnam]. November 2017
〈화성의 아이〉–《현남 오빠에게》 中
Kim Seong Joong [김성중] was born in Seoul in 1975. She debuted when she received the 2008 Joongang New Writers Literary Award for her short story “Please Return My Chair.” Since then, she has published short story collections Comedian and Borderland Market. In 2017, she won Hyundae Literary Award with “Inheritance,” and she is a three-time recipient of Munhakdongne’s Young Writers Award.