Ryos went outside and looked up. He wondered what it would be like to look up and see nothing but stars. Indeed, when he looked up he saw a star, the sun, but beyond that and around it he saw other lands, the far side of the world. As he walked to school, he wondered what a horizon looked like. Even the word was strange to him, and he kept repeating it over and over in his mind. Ryos knew that many trillions of people lived on planets, tiny balls of rock that circled distant suns; he knew that all those people saw horizons, saw their sun rise and set. In his world, though, many trillions of people did not see horizons; the sun was always in the same place. Ryos was bored with this. His friends thought he was crazy. There was more to see in this world than one person could in a lifetime; why go to other worlds? Why go to planets? His friends looked down on planets. Planets were for primitive people. Ryos knew that civilisation was born on planets.
As he climbed the front steps to the school, he was greeted by his friend Firok.
“Why do you always walk? Hell, I wouldn’t even walk up the stairs if the bastards would let me use the transporter in school.”
“I like to walk,” Ryos said. “It gives me time to think.”
“What’s to think about? You’re going to school; school sucks. The End,” Firok said. “I suppose you’re dreaming about your planet.” He laughed. “Give it up; nobody lives on planets anymore.”
“I will,” said Ryos, and he walked in the door.
Ryos listened attentively in History class. The teacher was talking about the last war in human history, Galactic War VIII. Ryos marvelled that there was anyone left. Five hundred billion people had died, a quarter of the population of the galaxy at the time. But in the two hundred thousand years since, the population had grown to twenty-four quintillion people, living on six thousand planets and in ten Dyson spheres.
The last battle of Galactic War VIII was the Battle of Earth.
“Why the hell did they fight over a lousy planet?” Firok whispered.
“Planets were all they had back then; the first sphere wasn’t built until 4576295, only ten thousand years ago.” Ryos whispered back.
“Earth is thought to be the planet on which humans originated,” the teacher was saying, “as that was where the oldest artefacts were found, though it can’t be confirmed, because Earth was almost totally destroyed in the battle. All that remains is a cold ball of rock about a hundred miles in diameter.”
“How old were the artefacts?” A girl asked.
“Now, they would be more than 4.6 million years old,” the teacher said.
“What sorts of things were they?” The same girl asked.
“There was quite a lot of refuse, containers made of a primitive sort of plastic, bits of glass and ceramics, many things made of a metal alloy they called stainless steel, another alloy called brass, lots of aluminium, tiny discs made of various metals with impressions stamped on them, and rings of gold and platinum with various stones on them—”
“What were the rings for?” The girl interrupted.
“Mostly people wore them on their fingers for decoration, though it is thought that people also wore them to show they were married.”
“But wasn’t it weird having chunks of metal on your fingers?” The girl asked.
“Maybe you’d get used to it,” the teacher said. “Primitive people on some planets still wear rings.”
By this time, Firok had gotten bored and was rubbing Ryos’s thigh under the table. Ryos, though, was fascinated, and ignored Firok, even when he whispered dirty things into Ryos’s ear. Ryos thought it would be nice to be married and wear a ring. He didn’t think Firok would marry him, but he didn’t want to marry Firok anyway. He had never met anyone with whom he’d really connected; Firok was his friend, and his sexual partner, but he couldn’t love Firok. He didn’t think he could love anyone, though he longed to every day of his life.
After school, Ryos convinced Firok to walk home with him, but as they walked, Firok talked about yesterday’s football match, and Ryos wasn’t listening.
“ . . . so Melkes did the corner kick, and it was going straight across the box to the left side, but Emre headed it back towards the right side, and Leswo jumped all the way across the goal and caught it. It was amazing.”
“Oh, yeah?” Ryos said as they approached his house.
“You’re not listening, are you?”
“Yes, I was; Melkre and Emwo. I was listening.” He went inside.
Firok laughed and followed him. “What are you thinking about?”
“What about it?”
“I would have liked to see it.”
Firok took off his shirt. “Do you want to see this?”
Ryos turned to him and ran his hand over Firok’s smooth, naked chest. “You are beautiful,” he said. He kissed Firok, and Firok started to unbutton Ryos’s pants. “No,” Ryos said, “not now.”
Firok put his hands under Ryos’s shirt and hugged him close. “All right,” he said.
Ryos put his head on Firok’s shoulder and stood holding him for a long, silent moment.
“Would you go with me to a planet?” Ryos asked.
Firok looked into Ryos’s eyes, which were soft grey and sad. “I couldn’t,” he said.
“I’m happy here; I have a life here. I don’t know why you can’t be happy.”
“I don’t know either.”
Ryos lay alone in bed that night and slept. He dreamt that he was walking through a glen between two high hillsides. In the distance was a spinney of young beech trees, and under it sat a fair skinned boy with red hair. The boy leaned against a tree and watched a flock of sheep grazing on the hillside. Ryos went to the boy and sat in the grass next to him. The boy took Ryos’s hands in his, and looked deep into his eyes. The boy was beautiful. He leaned close to Ryos, as if to whisper something to him, and then Ryos awoke.
He looked at the clock and saw that it was still night. He tried to go back to sleep, to get back to the boy in the glen, but it was in vain. The beautiful boy was gone. He got up and went into the bathroom. He looked into the mirror: his features were coarse, and his eyes a dull grey. His naked torso was smooth and pale; his body lacked definition. He closed his eyes and saw himself in the glen, looking into his reflection in a pool. He saw himself idealised; his features were his, but finer; his body was hard and muscular; his eyes were brilliant shining blue. With his eyes still closed, he turned away from the mirror and walked back to his room. He opened them again and sat upon his bed. The air was cool, and goose bumps covered his arms and chest. He rubbed his hands up and down his arms quickly before getting back under the covers. When he closed his eyes again and he saw his reflection in the pool with the boy standing next to him, his perfect, beautiful body glistening with perspiration, as if he had just run a long way. Ryos drifted back into sleep, but he didn’t dream. He awoke to the sounds of birds outside and the smells of breakfast.
His parents were sitting at the table, and didn’t look up when he walked by. He went outside and saw Firok waiting for him in the road. He went to Firok and took his hand, and they walked together in silence. As they passed the transport station, Ryos stopped.
“What is it?” Firok asked.
“I’m going,” Ryos said.
“Are you sure?” Firok looked into his eyes.
Ryos kissed him softly, then turned and walked into the station. He transported himself to the spaceport. The spaceport was situated around the space orifice, the opening that allowed people to leave the world. Ryos brought nothing with him as he went in. He looked at the galactic map that was on the wall; it showed the locations of all the known inhabitable planets in the galaxy. He decided not to go too far from home, in case he would ever want to come back. He didn’t think he would; nobody he knew would still be around if he came back, but he might just the same. He picked a planet a hundred light-years distant. The travel time was five weeks perceived. To the perception of everyone at home it would take him more than one hundred years; this was the beauty and the horror of near light speed travel.
All of the interstellar space ships were mainly cargo vessels, as not too many people wanted to take centuries long trips across the galaxy, but they had a few accommodations for passengers. Ryos found the ship that was going to his chosen planet and sought permission to go aboard. It was granted and he walked slowly up the gangplank, taking one last look at the world that had been his home for the past twenty years. He took another step, and his world was gone, replaced by shiny metal walls and dull grey-carpeted floors. He found his way to his cabin easily and sat upon the bunk; he wondered finally at the enormity of what he was doing. Three weeks into his voyage, and his parents would be dead. A week more, and all the people he knew would be dead. Ryos considered this, and was bothered by how little it bothered him.
His journey was uneventful; he tried to socialise with the crew and the few other passengers, but he could not relate to them; they seemed almost artificial. Is this, he thought, what people become when they live in an artificial world? Will I seem like that to the people of this planet? Suddenly Ryos was afraid, and when the space ship landed on the planet, he did not want to disembark. Reluctantly he went to the gangplank. Looking down it, he saw the concrete landing pad, grey and boring as the ship. He stepped down, and down, and down, and then he paused; with his next step he would, for the first time, see a horizon. He closed his eyes, so as not to spoil it, and continued blindly down the gangplank. When he felt his feet hit the concrete, he took a few more steps. He opened his eyes.
The world was green and bright. The land stretched away flat and wide, and in the distance, great hills rose up, and above them, the sky was blue, spotted here and there with clouds, and in the east, a pair of moons hung over the horizon.
“It’s a binary moon. They orbit each other.”
Ryos turned to see where the voice came from. The boy had fair skin and light brown hair; his features were fine and beautiful; he wore no shirt, and his perfect, beautiful body glistened with perspiration, as if he had just run a long way. His eyes were blue as the sky and shone like the moons. Ryos stared into those eyes, transfixed, until the boy spoke again.
“My name is Evoren.”
Ryos stood silent and studied Evoren’s face.
“What’s your name?” Evoren asked him. His accent was strange.
Ryos told Evoren his name, and they walked away together, towards the hills. Ryos looked down at Evoren’s bare feet as he strode through the ankle-high grass. He took off his own shoes and threw them away. The grass was damp on his feet. After a long time, they reached the hills, and they went down into a glen. It was not the glen from Ryos’s dream; there was no spinney, no sheep, but down in the midst of it was a little hut, made of stone and thatched with straw, and smoke rose from the centre of the roof. Ryos and Evoren walked toward the hut, but Ryos stopped halfway there. He took off his shirt and lay down in the cool grass. The sun shone hotly on him. Evoren lay beside him.
“Do you like my planet?” Evoren said.