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Heather of the Joviat
By Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
Heather of the Joviat, a short story by Chester Burton Cheeseburger Brown; illustration by Matthew Hemming

Heather stands in the heather. Overhead heaven careens.

Father clears his throat. "Word came," he reports. Heather turns to look at him. He tastes something bitter in his mouth but feels his features flash an involuntary smile anyway. It's a nervous tic that hijacks his solemnity. He says, "They'll take you."

She squeals. She makes a series of baffling exclamations particular to her generation. She throws up her arms and dances.

Father looks up at the dome.

She reads him and sobers. She comes closer and takes his big hand. "This is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me. I can't believe it. I'm actually going."

Father looks away, his eyes drawn back into the flimsy plastic notice in his hand. He rotates his wrist in an effort to uncurl it. "It doesn't sound like a walk in the park. Applying might've been the easiest part. You've got some intense fitness training ahead of you."

Heather knows he thinks she's too fat. "I'm not afraid of that," she says. "I'm not afraid of it being hard."

"They want you in a centrifuge at least three times a week, so your bones don't snap the moment the yacht accelerates. There's a cost attached to that, naturally."

She looks down. "I know," she says.

Crickets chirp. Father shifts his weight. "Heather, you're going to have to explain to me the value in this again. I know you want it bad, but I need to understand the good." He pauses. "You might die for it."

"History has to be witnessed, Father. Wet eyes and light beams -- a human being on the spot. We can't rely on accounts. It's a momentous time."

"You imagine so?"

"It's the end of something precious."

Father raises a brow. "The life we lead on this moon would seem to contradict you. Civilization is evidently independent of specific globes. Worlds, child, are common."

"Not like this. The genesis world is our shared heritage, with a unique place in history: at the start of it."

Father snorts. "Listen to yourself -- 'genesis world'? I fear sometimes you've fallen prey to romance. Call it what it is: Dirt."

"That's a politically motivated translation and you know it."

He slaps her.

The crickets pause in their chirping, then resume. The eastern rim of the dome flashes and glows as the dawn lighting system stutters to life. To the north of the grassy hill morning chores begin at the monastery. From the south the nunnery's bell clangs and hums, the sound's reflections from the dome above echoing back a slow moment after.

Father is breathing hard. He pushes his hands together and squeezes his eyes shut and mumbles a prayer. It is not always easy to remain true to an order that obligates one to physically strike blasphemers, regardless of relation or consequence. But vows are vows. Without looking at her he says, "My parents died saving me from the Scuttling. You trivialize that loss when you accord those monsters a respect they don't deserve." He turns to her and says with an air of sad confession, "I rejoiced when doom found that place."


"Our overlords fell, and our nation was intact."

"Clinging to rocks in space," she appended coldly. "If you equate this squat for a world...I fear you've fallen prey to romance. The Joviat we know and love is a state founded on desperation, and the original cause of that desperation was not the genesis world but Imperial Mars!"

He raises hand to slap her again but she catches it in the air. "I won't listen when you swear," he hisses at her. She releases him. He rubs his wrist. "Ares acted for the greater good, Dirt acted only for its own -- as it ever has."

"Worlds don't act. People do. Worlds aren't to blame, either. Societies are. And sometimes their churches."

He flushes. "You should remember my rank, child."

She punches him in the gut. He folds. She kneels down and hugs him while he fights to regain his breath. "Remember all the rules we've broken together," she whispers. "Your rank is rank with sin. Don't play pious with me. I'm your secret girlfriend for crying out loud."

He presses his lips together grimly, then allows another small hint of a smile. "You are untamable and awful. Mother Maxima sends you to space to keep her cloister sane."

Heather nods, then laughs. "That's probably true."

She offers a hand to help straighten him. He stands and fussily brushes the dust off his robes. "I'll never forgive you if you die," he grunts. "I'll erase your contemplations from the archive, and make sure nobody ever waters your trees."

"I won't care," she says carelessly. "I'll be dead."

He frowns. "That's no excuse. Right is still right."

"And it's right for me to go. It's right that the archive carries first person impressions for future generations to subscribe to. Within thirty months the genesis world will be uninhabitable, and living things may never feel its weather again. I will be the last of our order to be there. The survivors need charity. I will minister as I will, and help where I can."

Father says, "You're very brave and I hate you."

Heather grins. He hands her the notice. His sweat is beaded on the slick surface. She steps forward and kisses him. He embraces her.

The seven o'clock breeze rolls in from the north, the heads of the heather bowing in turn. Daylight comes on row by row until the valley shines, from the checkerboard swaths of cricket farms in the west to the rusted anti-aircraft cannons looming high in the east.

Through the glass above, Jupiter rises.


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