Last Dirge for Pluto
When the people first settled on Pluto, it was a dingy rock on a faraway orbit in outer space. It took the magic sands of the elders to power the little planet to its present glory. Today, the central district’s power grid extends throughout the entire planet. The main grid is surrounded by smoke stacks that offer eyesore and pungent smell as well as the power house that runs Pluto’s place among the planets. They bring enough money to the people so that they may one day settle on every rock of the firmament the creator gave them, as the elders have said.

But today none of that matters, not the name of any rock on which the people have settled nor that they are running out of names for them. Today it is cold on Pluto. Today it is raining, today the smokestacks creak in the heavy metal air on this planet and people are sitting at their windows, standing on the corners and waiting anxiously for the blaring speakers to tell them the latest from the war front, and for the reading of the names of the dead of this planet, called out on the first day of every other month through the province-wide p.a. system. Today Nita Munn is sitting on the edge of her bed in the three-storey facility where she lives with her husband, crying because both of her sons’ names have been called. Her husband, Piru, is sitting under a smoke stack, staring at the work on the grid lines ahead of him. The names are not called here, because the work of Province X is too important to be interfered with by those every day emotions that consume the souls of others. Piru knows. And his sons, he knows, know too. And so Nita is crying alone now, and later, when Piru arrives home, she will be crying alone too.

Nita Munn is wailing, in screams that puncture the air around her. She is holding her hands together and her head is bent down below her chest. Her floor is wet from tears and the walls are straining from the kicks and punches from earlier, when Nita Munn fell into an anger-induced fit. She lies back on her bed, staring at the ceiling, at the way it slants and remembering how she noticed it first when she laid there while Piru mounted her and, shortly thereafter, she gave birth to their first son, Niru. She would have to go out to wail in the garden to recall the events leading to the birth of her younger son, Saul. She said the garden was the reason he smelled like the finest flowers of the garden of the prince in the Holy City back home. His gun mates always joked that Saul would last because surely the creator would look kindly on a boy who smelled like the Holy City, like home. No one could butcher such a child. And such a blood-thirsty one, Saul was known as much for his wild forays into enemy territory. The day they scraped his body parts from the fragmented hull of an exploded enemy ship, the memory of the hills of the garden he reminded them off smelled of pungent death. Nita Munn knows that odor, her nostrils smell of it. The memory of the hills of the garden of the Holy City was dead in her. None of it mattered, not the mephitic hills of the perfumed gardens nor all the powdered princes of the Holy City. Her sons are dead.

Piru Munn wished one thing for his sons, to be the kind of men that stand up for their people and push and fight and die for progress. Piru lived his entire life in this way. He fought in three wars, could name all the wars his people have fought, and held the elders of the Holy City in highest regard as his masters and the masters of his people. Here he was, every day working with the sands and the magic that power his planet; he knew the power of the elders and believed in the goodness of their cause. And so, when the power went off after the night came that day, Piru Munn first thought of the displeasure this would cause within the halls of the Holy City, at the departments responsible for such things. Only when he thought momentarily of Nita did the pain in his stomach lead him to consider that perhaps his sons were dead.

The power went off quickly. One by one, the humming of the sandboxes slowed and stopped; the sand, unprocessed, pouring from the exit holes where power usually comes. To those on the ships orbiting nearby, the luxury cruisers, passenger shuttles and military vessels, this planet of life suddenly seemed as nothing more than a dead rock, choking slowly on the smoke it spit out. But to those on Pluto, to the ones who were pierced by the names that rang through the streets earlier that day, to them, the darkness was theirs. Pluto had shut down for them and for theirs; for the ones who gave everything to the people, who were sent to the furthest rocks to return in boxes, six foot by three foot by four foot, and lay in repose at the hills of the home planet.

For the rest of the planet, the sudden engulfing darkness left in them a vague but persistent feeling of emptiness. Now the entire planet hung empty, a hazy silhouette in outer space’s black night. They were now a giant wonder of their civilization, level upon level of settlement, engineered and powered so magnificently and efficiently, now dark and alone on a dead rock. The signals that came from the orbiting ships and from the space stations and even the home planet, waved through Pluto without a single antenna powered to receive it. Pluto was alone.

Piru Munn rubs his eyes as he stares at the console of the first sand box that began to spill its guts into the lines. He can see only the beam of his flashlight, but everything is working; the wires are all crossed and the mini-turbines were chugging away. Something, clearly, wasn’t working. Piru stands up and is hit by a cold chill. There is nothing but the distant lights of the black night; the stars and ships. And where structures and landmarks once were is now blackness, distinguished only in opposition to his flashlight’s streak of light. He points it towards a pole at one end of the sector from where he figures to be able to see the entire sector. There is sand everywhere, and from atop the pole he can see the entire power grid sitting in its dark metal, being buried in the sand it spits streak of light. He points it towards a pole at one end of the sector from where he figures to be able to see the entire sector. There is sand everywhere, and from atop the pole he can see the entire power grid sitting in its dark metal, being buried in the sand it spits out. Things are bad. He hears sirens in the distance, vague lights and explosions; the planet falls slowly into disarray.

Nita still wails, in the darkness that is hers. At the window out into the blackest night, she wails. Downstairs, her neighbors have lit the candles. The towering skyline is now invisible and intangible, metal structures quieted, all their electronic buyers dead. And somewhere beyond that, the ghettos and the jailhouses are howling. And the flashlights of the people, beaming transiently in the distance. The ships hover far overhead, the people staring at the darkness, waiting to depart. Soon only the military ships remain. They hover closer, beaming lights onto Pluto’s surface, onto the dark settlements and cities, and onto the power grid that is buried in sand. Piru has not even been able to make his way out of the grid. He is holding a grinding device, with which to make his way through the sand. He stops to look up at the anti-terrorist vessels patrolling overhead and one stops him. He waves his hand, glad to see some sort of order. The patrol stops above him and begins to lower. And then the bullets rain down. Piru dodges into the sand pile, his mouth filling with the magic that has run Pluto. He doesn’t think about Nita, and the pain in his stomach is gone, because now there are bullets falling onto him, now he’s bleeding, now he doesn’t know what to do. Search lights blast from the ship to scan the new sand dunes atop the power grid, looking for him. Show yourself and surrender, Piru Munn, the sterile voice from the ship blares. There he was, in the middle of the sand of the disabled power grid, in the middle of the darkness, with a shovel in his hand and a look of mania in his eyes, dirty, tired, overcome and bleeding. The search light blinds him, his mouth opens, but nothing comes out. He doesn’t understand. Surrender, Piru Munn, the voice repeats. He flinches and begins to run. The howling from the jails is louder now, the ghettos and the shanty towns outside the settlements are risen in wails, and Nita Munn has lowered her dirge to a lonely moan.

And Piru Munn makes his last stand in the catacombs of the sand, in the darkness of the black night, dodging bullets from an atf patrol sent by—the people. His last stand on a planet turned into a dead rock because the sands have stopped working and flow endlessly along the grid and the ugly factories. Soon they will topple, and everyone on the planet will rise up in screams, but the people have turned their backs on Pluto. It will be dead; the sanity will run out first, and the mad planet will tear itself asunder in the black night of space, with no one to hear. Niru and Saul are dead, the Holy City forgets its distant moon, the wars rage on, Nita is empty and Piru lies in a pool of blood in the sands of the power grid, a bullet in his head on a dead rock that will eventually vanish from the memories of the people.

(c) 2006