By K. Garcia Ley
Anacaona Guey, First Born of the Esteemed and Great Conjurer Caonabo and Planet Lotti’s Supreme Leader – the prodigal child gifted to the Council to protect all the living planets in the Rui Galaxy – sits silently, blue hands folded in her lap, eyes rolling at the mundane talk of all the chatty men in the conference room who are eagerly listening to her father point out with a holopad the diseased planet called Earth. She props her head with a fist when the oohs, ahhs, and dreadful sighs circle around the conference room. And when the conversation turns to Anacaona and she is asked if she is prepared and committed to accept the mission to resurrect this decaying planet and revive it, she stands with ease from her mossy seat, straightens her black cloak set with the bright red and yellow guaníns of a professional conjurer, raises a palm, and bows the proper way Lottians accept a mission.
She straightens, looks at her manicured nails, swipes her knuckles on her crisp black shirt, and lets go the tiresome breath of someone who is bored. “It’s an easy job, of course I can do it.”
The council heads around the steel conference table smirk and glance her way. The whispers aren’t in this room alone though. People gossip she’s a brat, and perhaps she is, but she is good at what she does, and she knows this with a tightness in her heart, that conjuring up trees to natural habitats with a just a quick flick of her fingers is just her thing. So inexplicably part of her very being that this is what she is meant to do.
Caonabo, her father, swivels in his chair, fiddling with a stilo. “This would be your first mission as the leader, daughter. The planet Earth is high on the list that require assistance, but it’s their competence we worry about the most.”
Groans and agreements swirl in the air. The list is curated every two moon cycles from the Council, by the very people in this room. They observe every interstellar morsel of the Rui Galaxy to identify planets on the verge of environmental collapse. Earth has been on the list since before Anacaona’s birth, but other planets and moons took priority given their more amicable nature, more appreciative disposition.
But now Earth is next. It’s oceans frothy with plastic; mountains capped with ashes from frequent fires; redwood trees shrunken into brown skeletons from lack of mineral water; the animals spotted with what Lottians call the malas.
The annoying one, but a dear friend to Caonabo, Igmus, perks up from his chair, his overbearing perfume gripping the room. “You overstretch your confidence, young one.” He slaps both hands on the table causing even Anacaona to jerk back. Spittle gathers in the corner of his lips and she has the sudden but polite urge to hand him a napkin. “She is too proud, my friend, and thinks she can work alone. You know the magic works best with more than one. She couldn’t even work with me or Amil’s son. She can’t control herself or her powers.” Igmus’ eyes flit around the table with a pompous glance and he looks as if he is ready to collect the nods circling around the room. “I think it best we select another leader to lead the youngling team.”
Anacaona bristles and wants to knock off Igmus’ yellow teeth from his head. “You know, if it weren’t for your place on the Council, Igmus, I’d smother you with single leaf and –“
“Enough daughter,” her father’s voice booms from across the room. He stands, settling the voices clucking around the table. As for slick Amil, he had thought his new transport vehicle was the second coolest thing from the coming of the gods. She had touched Gui, a fellow conjurer, and used their magic to conjure up a thick vine, and slap Ami’s behind. He never showed off his goods again.
Her father quells the tension in the room, inhales a deep breath, and eases back into his chair.
“Can we all agree that Anacaona, at the very least, can reanimate life faster than we have ever seen since the Days of Isolation,” he says. At the mention of the Days of Isolation, the men around the room circle their foreheads, lamenting the days when their home planet almost deteriorated into contaminated soil, decayed plants, acid rain, and lack of air. But the blessed gods of Yocahú granted a small group of Lottians the ability to reanimate life and save their planet. Every one-hundred bi-moon cycles, a breed of magical conjurers are born – dark blue skin and gold tinted tattoos etched on their palms as bright as the three suns. They can resurrect whole environments to their once former glory.
But the magic always needs another.
It is said the gods favored the Gueys and blessed Anacaona with an abundance of magical potential. The magic passed down for three generations: from her great-grandfather, to her father, and now her, and she was deemed a miracle with the ability tripling down to her. She is now the only one on Lotti who can revive a whole planet within a few moon cycles as long as she connects with another Lottian – palms joined, spirits aligned. And then they shine.
The gods forbade them to use their newfound power on Lotti alone, though. The Lottians must use their power for other planets in their swirly galaxy, too.
Anacaona thought it undeserving. Why help other planets when they would go back to their ungratefulness and bad habits of polluting their planets again, or worse – think the Lottians as some sort of higher-being who arrived on their planet to distribute salvation like freshly cooked uri’ pastries. She smirks and smiles a bit, remembering that time on the extrasolar planet called Po when they commemorated a monolith in her honor and mistakenly worshipped it. It wasn’t her fault.
Her father, as if knowing what she is thinking, clears his throat and swerves his chair to face her, his back to a mirrored wall and the rest of the men in the room.
“I know what you did on Po. You cannot, for the second time child, pretend you are a god. I’m surprised the gods have not struck you down already for your blasphemic ways.”
Anacaona huffs, slumps in the chair, and crosses her arms.
“And do not pout when you are in Council,” he says, this time, an octave lower. He glares at her until she looks down at her shiny black boots and finds a sudden interest in a piece of moss stuck underneath her right heel.
“I was only having fun,” she says, soft enough that her father won’t hear, but loud enough to please herself. She tucks a plaited braid dialed with gold metal amulets behind her ear and doesn’t dare look at her father again. Even she knows her limits with him, and this is not the time to push.
He glances at the clock levitating in the middle of the table and retrieves his holopad. “Dear Council. It is time to end our meeting. Are we in agreement that Anacaona Guey, however entitled she may feel,” a round of chuckles reverberates in the room, “will lead twelve youngling conjurers to re-animate life on the Planet Earth at twelve hundred hours tomorrow. And”- he pauses, eyeing Anacaona, making sure she’s listening and not playing with her boot, “to teach the younglings the magic in a controlled and dignified manner respectful of our great gods.”
At Anacaona’s surprise, all the heads in the room nod, albeit hesitantly, except for Igmus. Damn Igmus.
“Anacaona Guey, as long as you can revive this desperate Earth in one of their Earth years, which I believe is,” he checks his holopad for Earth’s case file and calendar, “three bi-moons our time, then you have the Council’s agreement and the gods’ blessing to save their planet.”
Her father moves to stand as the three suns beg to set behind him, the rays reflecting off his gold sash crossed over his uniform and body. “And daughter, if you make one wrong move on Earth, you will be forced to retire. No longer will you lead teams and no longer will you set foot on another planet or moon with life. Your duties as conjurer will be halted and forbidden. Permanently. Take heed, Anacaona.” He nods to the room, and in unison they all at once remark the official goodbye, “Long live, Anacaona Guey!”
Without another word, Chief Caonabo bows to the Council and stomps out the room. A few minutes and whispers later, footsteps and gentle pats on the shoulder make their way to her and out the room, until the room is silent.
Anacaona doesn’t follow the usual protocols meant for a newly appointed leader of younglings on a first mission. A message is not sent to Earth announcing their arrival. The official tome is not sent. Why should she when the last time she went on mission, her leader didn’t need to send a tactful tome thousands of pages long explaining the exact minutia on how they revive planets. In fact, she remembered that Derna opened up their communications channel a mere hour before their landing on Po, and everything turned out as planned, peaceful, and perfect.
So instead, Anacaona conjures up her favorite Lottian flower. The bulb blooms in her palm, and as if awakening from a long slumber, their petals uncurl, the songri’ flower opening layer after layer of its silk-feather petals. She whispers to it and commands the songri’ toward Juni. Juni giggles, catches it on a finger, and kisses it. Anacaona longs to be the flower, close and near Juni’s lips, and not in an hour’s time, packing to leave her behind.
“Something’s on your mind, Ana,” Juni whispers, watching the songri’ disappear into the white forest behind them. Anacaona sits on the purple moss and pulls Juni to her. If she could take her on board the vessel, she would. She’s the one Lottian who understands Anacaona, the one who calms and quells her fears, the one who catches her bullshit like how the grek’ flower traps the natas with its luring bulbuous body. She nestles Juni’s neck and savors the warm spicy scent of her hair. If Anacaona believed, she would pray to the gods for any price of penance to be with Juni.
“Nothing.” Anacaona scatters gentle kisses on Juni’s neck, knowing full well that this trip to Earth is making her more nervous than she cares to admit.
“Hmm,” Juni purrs. “I know you too well.” She nudges Ana on the shoulder.
But Ana glances away, anywhere but at the one Lottian who could shatter her heart into tiny ribbons, or piece it back together with a mere touch. She shakes her head, her amulets tinkling, and unbuttons her cloak. “It’s nothing. Earth will be an easy job. Just because I made a little mistake with the last planet doesn’t mean I’ll mess this one up, too.”
Juni’s eyes spark. “What if you don’t go. What if you don’t accept the mission, Ana? You can stay here with me. The other conjurers retired. You could, too– let your magic go and channel it back to the god’s temple. Res did it in the last bi-moon cycle. He has a family, no more long trips to far off planets. He’s here.” Juni talks fast now. “Why you. Why does it always have to be you.” Juni pleads. “Let’s be us.” The three golden suns loom overhead and break into a three-time sunset leaning on the horizon.
Anacaona frowns. However excited Juni is, Anacaona can’t stay. She caresses Juni’s cheek and looks straight into her stone-grey eyes. “I am Earth’s last hope. Plus, someone has to show the younglings how to conjure.” She looks away in the distance, beyond the scope of the lush mountains, past the cemeteries on Oka Hill. “Even at twenty bi-moon cycles, they still consider us children. I want to do more, be more. This is my last chance to show them that I can be next in line.” She pauses, her voice caught in her throat. But the words come out, as hoarse as they may be. “I’m ready.”
Juni sighs and places her head on Anacaona’s chest. “You don’t always have to prove yourself. You don’t always have to compete, you know.”
Before she can manage a snide comment, Juni does what Juni does well: plants a soft kiss on her lips and silences her. “Promise me.” Juni folds her hands and places them over her heart, the Lottian promise of life or death. “You will return to me, no matter what.”
Unlike the Council’s meeting yesterday, Ana doesn’t fight her. Instead, she promises too, folds her own hands and places them on her heart. She seals the pact with one slow kiss on her lips. She places her fingers against the bottom of her lover’s neck and pulls her deeper in.
Giant leaves fall and cover their bodies as they lose themselves in each other’s moans. Juni is a retired conjurer, but magic always remembers, and so together, they conjure the songri’, the iridescent juio, the long strands of the uri’. Leaves intertwine amongst themselves and cover them like a cocoon while a green light pulses over their sweaty bodies. The wispy grass beneath them changes colors from blue to a neon purple, synchronizing with each movement, their bodies moving together in ceremony.
Tired, Anacona twirls a ringlet from Juni’s hair, both finished and yet unsatisfied, as they listen to the forest and the towering trees swaying in the breeze. For each trip she’s made, twelve to be exact, she loved returning to Lotti. The rich sweeping foliage covering their planet, the trees sky-high bearing large gold flowers the size of a transport vehicle, and even the neon blue liti mineral reservoirs in the planet’s core powering the energy to travel through space. Her planet is perfect, her love for Juni is perfect. So why leave? Why can’t she stay put? What or who is she proving? Ana contemplates the questions for a moment, holds Juni in her arms, and listens to their breaths turn to steady rhythms.
The three great suns finally set, leaving them in the forest as the myut hum their evening song. Eventually, hesitantly, they stand, readjust their clothes, and walk hand in hand towards Lottians’ main ship port.
Ana and Juni raise their palms in a goodbye and Ana onboards the vessel. When the two spaceships blast off from Lotti, Ana sees Juni amongst the crowd below. When they navigate the voids of space and towards the edge of their spiral galaxy, she sees Juni in the stars. The ship doors open upon their arrival to Earth, but all she sees is Juni.
She sees Juni in the smog of Washington D.C, in the military tanks swerving to meet their ship, in the shouts of Earth’s commander, demanding explanation on why they are here. It gets harder and harder to envision Juni when Anacaona shouts, attempting to explain they are here to conjure Earth’s dying plants, to revive the environment they had destroyed until the youngling named Turk is shot and falls to the ground, dead.
She holds on tight to the image of Juni when soldiers surround them, screaming and shooting bullets at their ships as the younglings walk down the ramp. When Anacaona yells at the younglings to return to the ship. In a desperate attempt to save them, she touches the nearest youngling and starts to conjure up any plant life to protect them. But when they shake their small heads because they have yet to learn how to conjure, one by one, they fall dead breaking the magic bond between them.
She imagines Juni and only sees Juni when soldiers rush toward them and separate her from the younglings, bind the surviving ones in cuffs, throw her in a vehicle, and shove her in a prison cell. Juni is there when Anacaona screams, yells, and pounds her fists against the concrete wall, begging her hands to conjure – anything – but all they do is spark into tiny flames.
When the soldiers interrogate her in a language she doesn’t understand; when the doctors with long tubes and strange machines come to prod and scope her naked body; when the youngling’s screams echo into her room; she falls asleep with Juni on her lips and her mind still in the forests of Lotti and the countless trainings that never prepared her for Earth.
“Can you please repeat your name one more time, ma’am.” A man named Lenny is hunched over a metal grey table. Anacaona sits across from him and stares back at him, simmering with the urge to strangle the man in front of her. He sports an overgrown beard, a crisp black suit, a distasteful red tie, and black-rimmed glasses too big for his already large forehead. They are in Anacaona’s prison cell. The walls are painted a dull grey, and the whiff of human urine stinks in the corner of the room.
This in fact, is the fifth time Anacaona has had to repeat her name in deliberate paces, refining and sometimes, deepening her pitch to match Earth’s strange language. Every day, for the past what seems like a hundred bi-moon cycles, Lenny has asked the same questions: about the magic, how the two ships work, why they are here. She asks back: where are the surviving younglings, why are you killing us, let us go.
She says her name more careful this time, as if speaking to a child, pronouncing the vowels that aren’t much different than the Lottian language. She understands a few English words now, but Lottians were always pretty good with other planetary prose.
“How about we call you Anita, you look like an Anita. Reminds me of my mother back in the 60s when she used to visit the old country club on 76th. Sassy old lady to the very end, that one.” The man chuckles and eyes the grey, dirty wall behind her, remembering this fond memory Anacaona doesn’t find amusing at all. He wipes his eyes with a handkerchief, slows his chuckle, and looks at her with pity, as if she, too, should relish in what is so funny. He flips around a pen and grips it, when she is suddenly hit with a memory of her father, and her heart wants to break in two.
She raises an eyebrow unamused. “I am not Anita,” she says. “I want to see the younglings.”
Lenny clears his throat and caresses his white-spotted beard. “Your people are strange, Anita. Now-“ he stands, scoots the chair out of the way, and buttons up his pristine jacket. He paces across the small prison room to and fro, and reaches inside his jacket for a small, sturdy book with words she can’t make out. “You know the drill. Tell us how your people’s magic works. Then I’ll consider an arrangement with the younglings.”
“Let me see them,” she yells, anger boiling her blood. “I told you already, you pathetic human. We came here to help.” A jumbled mix of the Lottain language and the little English she knows flow out of her mouth. She fights back the urge to throw the chair against the wall, or better yet, strangle him with an uri’ vine. She could, if she had another – she swears she could.
“Now now. Don’t get feisty.” He takes off his glasses. “Our own ways, our own methods, haven’t been as effective. That’s why we’re here again, aren’t we Anita?” He pauses and finally says, “Anyways, your – uh – well one of the younglings helped us out. Gave us more intel. Let’s see if you can be as helpful, too.”
She slams her tied fists against the table and leaves a round dented gap in its wake. Lenny jerks back but is unsurprised and undeterred. She glances down. She doesn’t realize she had stood and now, clenches her fists so hard her knuckles turn a sickly pale blue.
“What have you done to them,” she says.
“Nothing your kind wouldn’t have done to us, if it was the other way around. You aliens are still a threat to Earth.”
“The younglings are under my protection. If I can see them, I will show you how it works.”
“How stupid do you think I am, eh?”
“If you would just let me see them; we can show you how it works.” This time, Anacaona does something she hadn’t done ever before. She pleads. Green tears threaten to overflow across the now dented table.
“If you’re really here to help and if you really ‘possess magic’ why don’t you show me yourself. Right here. Right now.” He stares at Anacaona and waits. A pause, a breath, then a sigh. A draft from the ceiling vent seeps in. The Council was right. Earth is incompetent.
“That’s what I thought,” he says.
Her father will come to help, surely, she thinks as she stares at her hands. No matter how she explains to Lenny and to the other people on Earth, they simply don’t understand. She doesn’t have the words in Earth’s language to explain it. It takes more than one una to work – more than one soul tethered to the gods. But it’s pointless and she knows this and this is why she sits back down in the chair. No matter how she explains it, or when she presses her palms together or points to her vein threaded with gold, they shake their heads and mutter about being inhuman. Hundreds of times, between the screams, the torture, the hyperventilated breaths, she has pleaded and explained that they are here to help.
She bites her blue bottom lip as Lenny reads from the book titled “Chapter 13: a critical case of the “Lotti” alien anatomy – research in theoretical assumptions from evolutionism, acculturation psychology, separation, and potential integration” on the table. He talks and talks, licks his thumb, flips through the pages, pockets out a yellow highlighter and swipes it across page after page after page. Anacaona doesn’t say a word and instead stares at the white pages. They might as well grow like the white trees back home, where the shadows engulfed her and Juni as the three suns set. But here in the now, there is no Juni, no white tall trees, and no welcoming shadows to hide in.
She looks at the walls and wonders how long she can live on Earth.
Minutes later, a loud siren blares. It’s red and yellow lights scream in the room. An announcer comes on the speakers. It’s a prison break. A group of Lottians escaped. Danger, it blares overhead. Danger.
Anacaona Guey’s heart thumps along with the sirens. She’s still imprisoned in the prison cell with Lenny. He’s not paying any attention and talks fast on a communication device in his hand, yelling at it for back-up. She can’t tell if the sirens are a good or a bad thing.
The door to the cell rips open. Vines, leaves, and petals spill in. An uncontrolled rush of foliage forces Anacaona to the ground and her head slams against the gaudy tile on the floor. At first, she can’t see a thing from the foliage and pollen overwhelming and smothering the air in the tiny room. She welcomes it, though. This is death. This is deserved.
Then the room is quiet. Footsteps crunch on the leaves and grass on the ground until she feels two small hands on her shoulders. When she looks up, two younglings shake her awake. Blurry images and sharp lights pierce her vision. Memories fade in and out as she searches for a name or names of these younglings. Asha? Shetha?
They kneel and force her to stand. They both talk to her too fast for her dizzy brain to handle. There’s an exit. Our ship is here. The Council made contact. And then something about peace. Something about silence. But something about home. The pain in her head is still sharp. When she looks at the one she thinks is called Asha, Anacaona’s breath quickens. Asha’s belly is wrapped in long, gauze that was once white, but now, is stained with blood. Shetha is missing an eye.
How Asha found another youngling. How, even as inexperienced as they were, they conjured up the magic to escape and find her, leaves Anacaona mesmerized for a long, lingering moment.
Fury builds behind the pain and she looks for Lenny across the miniature jungle the younglings created in the room. He is on the floor covered in concrete slabs, his right arm twisted awkwardly, but he’s alive. She walks over to him, pulls him from the concrete dust and reaches her hand out.
“Osa, youngling,” she growls. One of them, she doesn’t know which, hesitates, but they step forward and connect palm to palm with her. A charged electrical pulse, a connection she hadn’t wielded since Juni, since Lotti, blooms within her, within them, and together they emit a soft gold glow. For a lingering moment, Anacaona is breathless as a gradual and familiar magic electrifies her fingers and her heart.
Slow, she grows a few grass blades underneath Lenny, and a couple of shrubs spring from under the tile. Still connected with the younglings, she commands a sea of purple moss along the checkered floor. Together, they manifest hundreds of garland vines and ru root trees that twist and merge their way into the room.
The magic empowers her, reaches, elongates, and re-finds the crevices they once called home in her body. She summons a world of green and purple with so much ferocity that plants and trees and bateys break through the walls in the room. Dirt, musky moss, and guineo shrubs bloom fast – a mixture of Lottian and Earthen foliage. The walls tumble and smash to the floor, flora erupting into waves until the roof reveals the suns’ weak rays and the wind from outside their prison. The roar of nature embodies the room: windless, absolute, and rigid.
The other youngling connects with her, too. The magic she thought buried forever actually never left. How silly. It simply waited for another.
Lenny is now awake, eyes wide at the growth swirling around him. Anacaona smiles. She wants him to witness his own death. She conjures up roots, and commands them to slip in his throat. He tries to cough them out and yanks at the roots with his good arm, but she commands the roots to push down further, deeper. The images and visions of Asha and Shetha power her as she enjoys the scene the roots are creating before her: crawling into Lenny’s throat down to his stomach until he struggles to breathe, struggles to find breaths between the gaps of green and air, until finally, the roots puncture his body from the inside out, and his body slumps on a patch of moss.
Now connected, now together, the conjurers stand at her command, and without a word, they walk out of the room.
The prodigal child conjures millions of the most toxic plants and releases them in and outside the room as they walk their way out. Plants roam and twist their way towards any absence of space, creeps underneath doors and windows, down and up the stairs, until the prison’s hallways, offices, windows — all of it — looks like a miniature woodland on Lotti. She commands the roots to crawl their way into the guard’s mouths and throats, too. They wrap and squeeze and crawl inside stomach after stomach after stomach until the prison is silent and no more screams dominate the halls. Whatever is left of the prison is nothing but a rich, purple and green foliage similar to a three-rut forest back home – emerging, bursting, living, breathing.
She turns to the younglings now and they look at Anacaona, wide-eyed and scared.
“Where is our ship,” she says.
They point to a narrow and dark hallway, and she follows them. When they reach a port, she spots the familiar grey cylinder of their ship, alone and patient, its ramp open, as if waiting for their arrival all along. She smiles for the first time since she arrived on this forsaken planet. She looks at the younglings and kneels to them.
“Get in. You know our coordinates. You know your training. Bring Chief Caonabo. Bring them all. Make them pay. Now go.”
“What about you,” Shetha says with the Lottian sign of respect across her nose and cheeks.
Anacaona raises an eyebrow and finally looks down at the ground. She forgot about herself, about the pain she endured, and the longing to return home. For the first time since she was named a conjurer, she looks at the younglings and at the future. As soldier’s footsteps echo across the port, she must act alone, and hopefully, the gods will answer their prayers even though she feels light years apart from them.
She tucks a loose strand of Shetha’s hair behind his ear and holds the youngling’s head in her palms.
“I will hold them off as long as I can. But I must find the others.” Lottians don’t hug, but here they connect one last time, palm to palm, gold vein to gold vein. She grabs as much magic as she can from them, if she can even do so. With one last look, they whisper, “Long live Anacaona Guey”, and shuffle into the ship. She crosses her nose and cheeks to the younglings and nudges them inside.
She raises a palm as the ramps whooshes to close them in. The other ship must not be too far. She will find the other Lottians if there are any still alive, and they will all go home.
The ship’s rockets burst and bury the last bit of concrete and stone from the prison. It bursts into the soot sky past the planet’s dust and smog and out to the stars. She notices, for the first time, this planet has a singular lone star, but the thought doesn’t stop her when she turns to face the thumps of boots and bullets aiming towards the now empty port. Alone, she straightens, back stiff as the uri’ vine, strong as the oka tree, and blue hair haloing around her tall frame.
A prayer is said to make contact with the gods. She prays they help her reach the other Lottians, and somehow, return to their home planet. She looks at the sky and sees Juni in the grey clouds, on the solitary sun and prays for a new beginning.
K. Garcia Ley identifies as Dominican Chinese with Taino (indigenous) ancestry. They are published in the Daily Science Fiction and Mermaids Monthly and are an alum of Voices of our Nation (VONA), and Hurston Wright Foundation/A World of Black Writers.