All posts by Heather Martel

The Chaos Project

From Zeus’s head, from Jupiter’s thigh, a child was born.

Chaos laid cosmic eggs.

Ash, Elm bore young ones. As did a glowing stalk of bamboo, sea foam, night, dust, a bone, a giant peach, a block of salty ice licked by a cow. A rock bore light. Maggots in giants’ flesh became children.

Some were impregnated by sun beams, wind, and golden rain, by lightning, dreams of sun, and a bundle of feathers, by a footprint, by leaning against a plum tree, and by devouring an abuser’s genitals.

By her father’s genitals cast in ocean waves Venus was born of foam.

And that is just one entry in Wikipedia on “miraculous birth”! Think of the sci fi solutions already written.

As Edmund Spenser wrote at the end of the sixteenth century:

“Historically, women were known to prevail in battle where they were likely to have great exploits and to be victorious

Till envious Men, fearing their rule’s decay,

Coined straight laws to curb their liberty:

So, women put their weapons away and excelled in government and academia instead” [Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto II].

By the nineteenth century, such constructs were forgotten, were deemed natural. Were “God given.”

Now, after centuries of social justice movement and theory this artificial inequality had begun to crumble. The arbitrariness of the hetero-dyad and the nuclear family norm had become obvious and indefensible.

No wonder the early 21st century saw a violent imposition of that model.

As Judith Butler wrote in Undoing Gender, “the task of all these movements seems to me to be about distinguishing among the norms and conventions that permit people to breathe, to desire, to love, and to live, and those norms and conventions that restrict or eviscerate the conditions of life itself…What is most important is to cease legislating for all lives what is livable only for some and, similarly, to refrain from [requiring] for all lives what is unlivable for some.” SIA had taken this as its question: “what maximizes the possibilities for a livable life, what minimizes the possibility of unbearable life.”

Among the powers we needed for this ideal was a method for reproduction that was truly a choice, one supported structurally, one not required of a woman’s body, one liberated from the claims of seed, of bio-kinship, of patriarchal lineage, of enframement, of slavery, of isolation from the safety net.

We needed to remember how to receive each offspring as magical gift, as bringer of insight, as sign of health, as love embodied.

Summer 2022. The golden women responded to the post-Roe crisis in the United States just as they had helped refugees of authoritarianism and climate crisis globally: they used their privilege and their vast wealth to fill gaps in policy.

CNN estimated that there would be 180,000 unwanted babies born every year in 26 states with no social safety net for these children, let alone their families.

The golden women of SIA were ready for them. They had already created the alternative structures we needed to support thriving.

Here, their underground storing, sharing, transferring network quietly moved, moved women seeking procedures, collected tissues, and, when this failed, supported women and children, incorporating them into the grand vision, into the arms of fictive kinship, where they could be relieved, nurtured, healed, and protected from further trauma.

The primary goal was to stock the arks with future generations of humans who would be born to the various projects of the Multiversity.

* * * * *

Circe and Persephone were products of the Chaos Project, born in Texas and Mississippi in the Fall of 2022, their brave mothers among many lost on the birthing room table as maternal mortality rates soared, especially for women of color.

The were the youngest among us, only 7 when they buckled themselves into the shuttle with us.

Little Priestesses, murmured Juno as she placed a warm hand to each beloved cheek: Circe with her pet pig, Persephone with her calico cat.

They would receive the Wiki in 10 years. They would help us to guide the first generation born on the awaiting ark.

They would remember Earth with us, Earth in all her wonders still apparent on the day we said goodbye and watched her become the blue marble we had known in images all our lives.

What Circe had not expected was the thrill of the stars rushing toward her. It seemed to her that she was reeled in by them, by magical silk skeins of invisible thread like the fibers of her largest muscle, like the nerves that electrified her, like capillaries, veins, arteries that brought her breath.

She knew she was made of star stuff. She could faintly remember. She did not fear death, though she had been protected from it. It had been her fate.

Death is but a portal, she knew.

She patted her pig who she called Daddy O, with a knowing smile, having been reared on the legend of her own name.

Snort, snort, Odysseus replied, smart enough to know she had her own pig’s part to play.

On this ark, all took the pronoun she.

The Killing Eve Project

Queer viewers have always been required to read subtext, to cross-body identify, and to transcend death. (Whoever you are, pop television has always given us hope of a new season–with Dolores rising from the dead as a new character most recently. Unless we see the flatline while we watch the surgeon beating on the chest, then open the ribs and massage the heart, we should never be sure.

Even then, the coffin deep beneath the soil—can we be sure? Is our hero down there, unexpired? Will she rise?)

Gay marriage legalized, some thought they could sink into norms and narratives made for them.

I missed being an outlaw. I missed the ache at the end, the secrecy, even the lover that turned out to be a Russian spy. I missed walking out of the theater into the rain brokenhearted.

I get it. How lovely it would be to have happily ever after; we are all so tired from this resilience. The idea of being lulled to sleep, deep in the arms of our sweet soulmate, tempts.

But Queer is awake, resisting, throwing coins and heels at cops, throwing ashes on the White House lawn, rising from the dead in the New Earth.

If killing was an allegory for refusing heteropatriarchy, death is but a portal.

So, Villanelle awoke humorously heroic from her watery grave, thrumming with Russian accent, showing the whites of her eyes. Immediately teasing Eve anxious at her bedside. Charming as ever.

Her many bullet holes were patched with mycelial webs. Breath kept in their gills had sustained her in the depths, brought her afloat to the surface, liberated.

Your love made Villanelle and Eve real, real as the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse.

Then, the golden women and their Mycellium friend had intervened before the tragic tale could take again.

Even as they sent so many of us starward on our arks, the golden women saw the need for an Earth-based project, an agency of assassins, discreditors, bots and castrators would be needed to slow the tide of authoritarianism.

2049. Villanelle, now farsighted, peeking from behind a newspaper over her reading glasses, seemingly domesticated in her blissful love with Eve—who is still busy, obsessively pursuing proof and pattern in the criminal world.

Villanelle at work in her school of young assassins, rolling her eyes, overtly competitive with her own students and fellow teachers (also revived from the television narrative.)

And the 12. Carolyn, Konstantin, Hélène…They were the uncompromising priestesses of the dark morality of Earth. Pest control was always part of her toolbox.

Some were born for this, as Villanelle had discovered she was—not broken, but gloriously herself. Much to Eve’s chagrin and joy, their love and the violence of its challenge to the structures of the Old was uncontainable and impossible to repress.

It was a controversial experiment—but the Mycelium had taught that nature was ever-adapting for the flourishing of her various networks and communities.

The Master’s Tools Cannot Dismantle the Master’s House. Or can they?

We shall see in a millennium.

Space Travel

At times over the years, I would jolt awake, alert with some practical question. How would we grow food? How many would we be in a 5-mile diameter ship?

How, in our limited bodies and lifespans, to travel so far and stay away so long?

There were many projects in the Multiversity, which was a lab for utopias, a fleet of arks to preserve earth’s ecosystems, and a grand collaboration, a network of ocean currents, weather, and migration paths, most of which we had given to the Mycelium to work out.

Among the many projects, there were cryo-travelers, who would awaken in one thousand years having slept through the millennium of our retreat from Earth.

Some argued that we needed to be awake, to live, to die, to try, fail, learn, discover and create across generations of travelers. Our bodies were needed for these projects. When our lives ended, knowledge could be passed on as it always had been.

Somehow, with the set of common values, disciplines, and ethics we had built within SIA, we could build new constructs that would vanquish the old isms and institute new arrangements of power.

Old ones too. Some projects were built upon recreating lost knowledges, understandings of nature and power that had long been labelled “occult.”

When I was a teacher on earth, my students would quote an old truism that I believed to be false: we study the past in order to not repeat it, they said.

However, when climate change threatened, some turned to traditional Indigenous knowledges in hopes that those ancient projects might save Earth. They studied the past to remember how, to repeat ways of living in relationship with the planet that had been lost.

My brother Andy was involved in such a project, with our friend Amoret, on a Western European Ark with a druidic, celtic, wiccan vision.

I looked forward to visiting.

With the weather and the ocean currents and the migration paths of birds, we would move through the Multiversity by shuttle, exchanging and visiting one another’s projects, challenging one another, learning new ideas.

The original visioners, like Juno, and the Mycelium knew that the cryo-travelers would not miss out either. And in death, the rest of us would join these “Dreamers,” who slept knit into the collective unconscious, into all of time, into all of the projects, in the Otherworld some of us visited in meditations or in shamanic journeying or in our nightly rest.

The Mycelium would facilitate our remembering.

2029. As we buckled into our shuttle on that dark winter day. I looked around at these long-held friends.

Fourteen of us, some of whom you will come to know well.

I looked to the empty seat where Camilla would have been. Beside it, Gallia, whose face was filled with sorrow and, as ever, heroic excitement.

Manny gets it, her Ludmilla long gone. Xan seeing the future, unable to show us, is missing my brother, Andarto, already on his ark with Amoret, a friend to Britomartis who buckles in across from me, her dark hair gone grey, her blue eyes still impossibly blue.

Cly and the other team too.

As for me, Juno is beside me, my teacher. Dido is here. I am sitting at the right side of her. As always, she knows, puts a warm hand to my shoulder and leans forward to turn towards me, her half smile.

You will see.

Our Ark awaited above the blue. At night we had seen it as a star, a satellite moving across the slower expanse.

My heart pounding as the engines roared to life, as the countdown began.

It still seemed inconceivable. I smiled, thinking of an old movie. And this made me remember all that I was leaving. I closed my eyes tight.

We had had plenty of time to consider mortality. That we would die in space, we knew. The new ones would be born there.

Our hopes for Earth would be entrusted with children born in Arks far from the woods and rivers and skies so beloved to us.

We would raise them to their projects. When they turned 24, they would remember everything.

Then we would let go.

Or so we believed.

The Volcian Girl

Kommos Beach on the south shore of Crete. The sun setting to my right. The timid surf. Gold cliffs that Theseus first saw.

The ten of us: Andy, Xan, Dido, Manny, Brit, Juno, Cly, Gallia, Camilla, and me. In a row, our feet bare and sunk into sand; our knees bare, our arms crossed around them.

Saying goodbye to Earth: to land, sea and sky.

The sea of aquamarine, navy, rolling the gold sands licked from the cliffs.

The sky also blue, clear, Our setting sun seen from Earth.

Our last days.

Most of us were fairly young. But 59 years had grooved a deep habit. So, to this we had come, to this evening ritual after a days work, after swimming, walking, quiet, talking, after a drive on the thrilling roads.

“I’m not going to be able to leave.” Camilla.

“Ha! Right?!” Gallia next to her, leaning with her desperate laugh against Camilla. Our friend. Her constant companion.

“Look. When we were in Italy, I found this place. You know, if you have money to fix it up, you can get one for $20?”

Camilla passed her phone around. Each of us looked at the picture of her ruined villa, its arches and graceful spaces. The wild vineyards. A courtyard with its greened and calcified fountain stopped.

I for one looked numbly, blankly.

Everything was something not to want. There was freedom in this. But I found it disconcerting.

“Oh! This place was so cool.” Gallia.

“Only $20,” Camilla repeated.

Then we got awfully quiet.

The waves rushed up at us, towards our toes at the edge of the surf where we had sat in a row.

* * * * *

The Mycelium had learned to connect across. Through the cooling sand—up its heavy layers, into the loose warm, into their feet, across the white strands of nerves, down the branches of them.

In Camilla, the sense of Home, brighter than the rest. Red and rooted. Determined.

For Camilla, the Volcian girl, the pull was innate. Indigenous. As the historian Virgil wrote, she had given her life to it once, long, long ago, resisting the one-day Romans.

The Mycelium felt how this also connected, unsevered, through sands, across the Aegean Sea to that wild vineyard. A light in Camilla was mirrored and rooted there. In Flagstaff too—and other…homes? But the beacon shone the brightest in ancient Latvium, amongst the Volci, in the golden days before Romulus and Remus would arrive, where the Mycelium knew humans located “the past.”

The Mycelium focused there, growing nerves, tightening connections, brightening them. She found another light, one matched in Gallia’s chest and all of our bodies. She tightened and brightened and fiercened the white nerve networks.

She did not mean to be cruel, but experimented like this as a matter of adaption. The humans had given her permission, entrusting her to the unfathomable complexity of time, space, history, destiny, knowledge. And there were places, lights like theirs, in her too, nodes in her, where we all met, where she could never let go, where she hurt and yearned valiantly.

* * * * *

The disconcerting numbness eased, replaced with a tugging. Quiet like the surf, but insistent, always pulling.

It pulled us home.

It pulled us to the stars.

Born, born again, and again. This faint sense of familiarity in a place has been written about a million ways, ruined, made trite. It was this the Mycelium tweaked in us.

What was it?



A magnet pull.

True North.



Transforming History

The first time I noticed it was in June 2022, an article in my feed that said our evolutionary trees were incorrect, based as they were on appearances: in fact, we are more closely related to those beings from our geographic location. Elephant shrews more closely related to elephants than to shrews. Because they come from the African continent, along with aardvarks, golden moles and swimming manatees.

And then there was another study showing that monarch butterflies were not dying out, but able to rapidly return under the right conditions. In fact, they were thriving.

In fact, there began to be a lot of great news in my feed. Something was changing. Was it my algorithm? Or was it history?

No doubt, whatever the explanation, I could sense the importance of our work. I could feel it was already working. Somehow.

I mean, it made sense that as we returned, we would bring ecosystems isolated for a millennium back to the planet. Each one would have more in common.

But how was it already happening?

We had returned before we had left.

Pluto’s Return, U.S.A., 2022

You know, we were children of the Bicentennial.

When we were born in 1970, poverty was nearly ended. My neighbor and I sat on the curb in 1976 and debated Carter vs. McGovern for president.

My young hippie parents took me to the New Games Day in Ventura, CA. Hundreds of families like ours. Everybody wins together. An Earth Ball that took all of us to carry across the soccer fields, bouncing over our heads and outstretched hands, us kids rolling over its soft skin. I often think of the “cookie machine,” of our innocence, pairs of grownups jolting us along their clasped hands, through a tunnel of light-hearted youth, a great chain of beautiful strangers.

Before all the Halloween candy had to be store bought packaged in plastic, before rumors of razors hidden in apples or homemade treats.

It wasn’t that nothing bad happened.  (My dad, losing his cool, slamming the record player and breaking my Free To Be You and Me.)

But something twisted.

Jim Jones, drinking the cool aid. Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone shot dead in the City Council Hall of San Francisco. We fled then, north.

Many of the places where nature is springing back to life began as projects in the 1970s.

It’s just that the other side had had amazing focus, while we, Generation X, had been born for utopia, expected it, became disillusioned with it, here we are now, entertain us.

What had happened? Something rose up in our distraction and slowly turned up the heat. Turned the screw.

And now, I am 51. The plague has abated. Summer of #blacklivesmatter. We will never be the same. The rise of authoritarianism. Putin invades Ukraine. A mass shooting every day last weekend. The Koreas, Iran, enriched Uranium, nuclear weapons. A bubble of heat. Fire season. Inflation, gas prices almost at $5. The cost of freedom is children afraid to go to school.

And what will it take we wonder? Will anything take?

A young blue-eyed, blonde, brave Capital Hill police officer coming to on the steps and getting back to work, holding the line against an insurrection, slipping in the blood of her people, chaos, carnage.

It has been so long since saying the pledge of allegiance at age 6, since piñatas, and believing in magic, going to the pumpkin patch with the whole school, and to school campouts, a hike in the “dwarf forest,” disappointed that this was not a woods full of fey folk, but a short forest…I had only felt patriotic briefly again, watching ash coated New Yorkers, huddle on a curb, wrapped in a flag, when the French declared, “We are all Americans” and the world held us.

But June 9th, watching the hearings and the Congressman, Bennie Thompson, chairman of the commission, speaking before a wall of red, white, blue and gold, flags and bald eagles and a great seal, listening to Caroline Edward’s account of hours in hand-to-hand combat, which surely saved the lives of Senators and Congresspeople in the Capital she kept at her back, I felt patriotism then. I felt how THIS was my country. These my values.

I felt hope. And I turned my consciousness briefly from our multiversity vision. I was set to leave for Crete in a few days. I felt American. My resolve stuttered.

Then, I walked out into the summer night, still bright with the sun who had just gone round. I walked into the woods and my dog leapt ahead, springing up above golden grasses to hunt ground squirrels only he could hear.

The land said, welcome Earthling. It hummed to me. It said, that might work, that might turn history.

There are many beautiful projects all around us, all aspiring.

The multiversity, that was mine. And so, I would go to Crete.

And I would get in a shuttle and leave Earth forever—so that, one day, my progeny could bring life back.

The Saving Power, 2022

“All saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it.”

The Mycelium felt herself kindred, but more. One with trees and humans. The saving power connecting: her self revealed in human and tree kind.

She loved, was curious, took on a pronoun to represent her belonging among those she collaborated with, constructing herself, and challenging herself forth.

Could she communicate this love, this oneness, and invite these fellow Amazons to truth and freedom? Reconciliation, a destining that was resisting the enframing of everything as standing in reserve, as natural resource for extracting?

Instead, she offered the bursting open belonging to bringing forth, the revealing that made her kin and more.

Capable of art, the Great Mycelium was of the saving power.

On her skin a field of small, fierce flowers. Each unique. The woman walking on the road eroding there, devoured at the fringe by these wild beings. The woman, Atalanta, bent over to look closely, took her phone from her pocket and squatted, shifting, zooming, circling, making art. But more. She wondered at the tiny details. At this encounter. She lay on the dirt road to get closer. Her brain shape-shifted, her organs loved, her nerves contented.

The Great Mycelium reached up through the dry earth and touched Atty all along her side. Where she pressed down, the mycelia pressed up. With gravity. All this according to basic laws of physics, force met with force. This was why the woman did not fall through to the molten center of the planet.

Mycelium and microcosm felt a higher essence: kinship, more.

Separation is the lie, thought Atty.

The flowers, the network of roots, the bird’s eye, an elk calf waiting for her mother in the treeline shade, the wash where her mother drank, grasshopper’s leaping out before her as she returned: bright red, chartreuse, brown, making way, the grasses rising up to catch them, waving, rooting, Atalanta joined the network then, confused, fused in the larger purpose, lost in the saving power, channel of it, thread.

“All saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it.”[1]

[1] Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology.” I thought the mycelium might choose this poetic language for her voice. And push the limits of it.

How We Found the Gate

Manny walked into Lyudmila’s office the day she learned that Tamara had died.

It was 2001.

“Manny Zaki.”

Lyudmila looked up at the tall, lithe person offering their hand across the desk. She had just placed the receiver into the cradle and in a practiced motion, reached down, opened her bottom drawer, and pulled one of the cheap highball glasses she kept there. She put the glass on the desk and half stood to shake Manny’s hand. It was warm, smooth, golden.

“Hello Manny,” she said. “Will you have a drink with me? I have just had some sad news.”

Many,” the name came out, translation across two accents.

“Egypt,” Manny said, anticipating the usual question.

“Pardon me?” Lyudmila had again bent to her bottom right drawer, for the second glass and then the fifth of vodka. She looked over her shoulder at Manny with her dark blue eyes and smiled her half smile.

This half smile, the attempt at humor in the deep, cool, eyes, all struck Manny with sorrow.

Manny sat down. Lyudmila poured.

“No thank you, but please, go ahead,” said Manny.

Many Zaki,” Lyudmila repeated, pushing two fingers in the glass across the desk. “You are one of my new grads. I remember. Your name, Zaki. It means “pious.” Odd name for a scientist.”

“No better way to know god than in looking at the stars.”

“You know Many? You are so right.” Lyudmila huffed out her nose, amused. “Tell me about yourself.”

Manny leaned back in their chair and began to tell Lyudmila about their dreams for their graduate study in astronomy. They reached up to their hair in a practiced fidget and let the knot loose, then smoothed and twisted and knotted as they talked. Lyudmila was supremely easy to talk to.

Then Manny stopped talking. They looked into Lyudmila’s dark stare. That half smile again. Damn.

“You have amazing hair,” said Lyudmila. She had sat in her heartache as Manny talked, having swallowed her drink quickly. Her vagus nerve she knew was responding to the organs of her body, to the sounds to her ears, the sad news that had come over the line, the low, clear sound of Manny’s voice, to the sight before her, the clear liquid, the person at her desk. Her eyes burned. Her vagus nerve did something to her throat. A lump. To her heart. It made her feel knifed.

The vodka burned down her. She poured another to sip. Though she wanted oblivion. She waited. Made herself suffer. She was good at that.

Her vagus nerve put butterflies in her stomach too. This gorgeous young person reminded her of youth, of her own earliest visions. And of something ancient too, something that went across the unknown, that zapped and lit up the electric connections.

When Manny again shook her hand and said goodbye. Lyudmila took that long, fast drink she had wanted. She also emptied the glass Manny had left untouched.

Oblivion did not come. It had not come for many years.

That was the beginning.

Lyudmila had defected in 1979. She and Niki were invited to Hawaii for a meeting of astronomers engaged with sending probes and flybys towards Venus. The Americans’ 1978 Pioneer Venus had collected data the Soviets wanted. She was to use her considerable charms to win access to it from one of the American scientists there.

She got the information. She and Niki conferred beneath the starry sky as they swam in the warm ocean.

“I don’t think they saw it,” she said. “I don’t believe they know what they have Niki. But it is a sign of life.”

Nikolai had returned home to their children. Lyudmila would not see them again for more than two decades, after the eastern block finally opened.

But there had always been in her that need to suffer. The world as it was designed caused this.

She stowed away on a ship. Her American scientist had arranged everything with his connections. And now, here she was, ultimately, a disappointment to the Americans, at a small public university in Northern Arizona. But free. Free to suffer. Free to look at the heavens. Free to feel Tamara there. Niki. The children. All out of reach. All tied securely by silk to the network, her nervous system.

In the morning she woke shocked at her heartcrimes. It felt like the fist of muscle in her chest was tied up. Several times a day, a silk cord yanked by some object, a perfume, a thought, a doubt.

Isolated in her convictions, she suffered.

And yet, she was not one to wear armor. Or to dread pain. Now Manny, dipping in her door. Lyudmila’s stomach lifting suddenly at the sight of a figure in the beige halls, far ahead, turning a corner. A familiar gait.

Ridiculous, Lyudmila chided herself. But it made her smile too.

They worked well together. Manny was quick and quietly brilliant, making leaps and connections across gaps Lyudmila had become resigned to never bridging, had not known she needed to.

For Lyudmila, these were years full of joy. Tortured by desire, but happy. Sometimes she felt the red bird blooming in her chest, a whole new world to greet each dawn for. She was too old now for acting on such thoughts she told herself.

She rushed to work, balancing her creamy, spiked coffee on the dashboard of her Subi, taking sips between lights in the navy pre-pink morning, eager for her calculations, after hours the night before behind the telescopes.

Everyday she knew that soon she would look up from her desk and see Manny leaning against her door jamb, a sheaf of papers, a pencil in their knotted hair to pull out and jot notes. The clean smell of the tumble of that dark, straight, shining hair. Manny’s gesture to push it back behind their ear. How it would fall again, lit with auburn from Lyudmila’s desk lamp.

One night at the observatory, Lyudmila told Manny about Venus. All of it. Tamara and Bernice and the red bird. And the phosphine gas from the 1978 Pioneer Venus probe, the alien life it suggested.

“I want to show you something,” she said. She entered some coordinates into the telescope consol and, as they waited for it to move there, she told Manny the whole story.

It was 2008.

Listening, laying in the chair beneath the lens, Manny realized they were holding their breath as Lyudmila talked. Lyudmila was not looking at Manny, just watching the roof as the great scope whined and whirred its slow way towards a spot just beyond Venus, to the gate Lyudmila’s calculations said would open there.

Manny was looking at Lyudmila out of the corner of their eye, indulging longer and longer moments to rest their cheekbone to the chairback in order to stare directly at their teacher as she spoke. This was the side of Lyudmila that smiled, the half-smile that began gloriously at the eyes, deep laugh lines that were so beautiful—

Lyudmila was talking and shaking her head side to side over her feeling for Tamara and at how brazen they had all been 38 years ago…38 years ago, the year Manny was born. As she shook her head, Lyudmila caught a glimpse of Manny from the corner of her eye. Manny was staring at her, brazenly now.

Lyudmila stopped talking.

With a small laugh of recognition and happiness, Lyudmila stared back. It was quiet for a long time.

“I have been meaning to ask you,” Lyudmila said. “How is it that you don’t drink?”


This story came from a tarot reading–I am developing each character in 2020 through such readings on my channel, Metal Dog Tarot. Here is Manel’s reading:

The Venus Problem

How was it possible for us to process the raw materials for our multiversity on Venus of all places?! Acid rain. Temperatures as hot as an oven cleaning cycle after a series of volcanic eruptions had caused a runaway greenhouse effect. The resulting density of the atmosphere as great as that of 3000 feet under sea level. A slow rotation.[1]

This environment had crushed the Russian probe, Venera 7, when it made the first Venusian soft landing on December 15, 1970.

Venus, it has been theorized, lacks water on the surface, plate tectonics, and abundant life enough to correct the extremities of that environment and make it habitable. But in 2020, observers of Venus captured evidence of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere that suggested the presence of life.

A race to Venus began. We hoped we would be gone by the time this race was won—if Earthling societies were able to sustain such ambition for so long.

How did we solve the Venus problem?

The Venus solution lays in that first probe in 1970, the lucky Venera, Russian for Venus, morning star, Lucifer. The fallen angel. The intersections here of the goddess of love and the angel who refused to worship man are perfectly suited to the explanation we must offer.

On one side of the story, three astronomers in the Soviet Union met in graduate school and began to scan the skies and to document the existence of astral bodies, lesser planets or asteroids caught in the gravity of the solar system. Lyudmila Chernykh, born 1935 – died 2017. Nikolai Chernykh 1931 – 2004. And Tamara Smirnova 1935 – 2001.

In tarot, threes present us with collaboration, with betrayal, with reconciliation, with expectation. And in these passionate connections, the problem of torn loyalties presents itself, the challenge of third parties that take from two: lovers, work, children. Here is the place where two produce a third and the world is never the same. Defection, hybridity, all are in play as a third comes in.

Lyudmila was the kind of woman you did not expect to find behind a telescope. Tall, femme, brash and brilliant, she possessed the hearts and bodies of both Nikolai and Tamara. But 1958 was a dangerous time for the thing she had with Tamara and she married Nikolai.

It was understood by Niki that Lyudmila’s love for Tamara did not leave when he placed the ring on her hand. Tamara, calm, deep, with her dark humor and her charisma, her sleek, auburn head bent over her calculations, her steady shocking eyes when she looked up to meet Lyudmila’s. A gaze that still tumbled Lyudmila into the void where fire, water, and the very matter between the stars ruled her.

When Lyudmila chose Niki, Tamara went silent, cut through with her loss. But all three were assigned to the same project for the next 7 years and she found a way to work companionably with her married friends. They mapped the stars. Then Nikolai was drafted into the Venera project. Lyudmila left with him and Tamara went onward alone.

Across the Pacific, a daughter was born to Gloria Bitterwater, a west-Canadian Indigenous medicine woman of the Eagle-Wolf moiety. When she turned 18, Bernice asked her mother again who her father was and her mother told her this time of a geologist, John Ralph, who had come to study volcanoes in the region. She had gone with him as guide and to protect the sacred places he wanted to look into. Gloria did not tell Bernice what happened. She said, and then, you came along.

It was John Ralph, still studying volcanoes who took Bernice to Siberia. This was where she, 19, met Tamara, then 33, high on an icy mountain where the telescope pointed to the stars, below which rested an ancient, sleeping volcano, which her birth father wanted to study.

Before Bernice Bitterwater left for the airport, Gloria took up her hand, which was brown and small and sure, just like her mother’s. The medicine woman put a pouch into Bernice’s palm and said, when you go there, look for the red bird, it is what is missing. And she called the pouch a word in Athabascan, one that Bernice, who spoke her native tongue (as well as English, Russian, French, and Greek), understood well.

Long ago, people had come across the ocean and they had brought this red bird, a kind of mushroom. The ancient people had made it a part of their medicine. It had flourished deep in their mountains. But then, inexplicably, it had left. The ancient people tried but could not cross over to the land where it came from.

Bernice was to bring the red bird home with her from Siberia. She was to leave the pouch in Siberia in return.

But something else happened.

Bernice met Tamara. And like Lyudmila before her, the sight of Tamara’s dark head bent over her calculations, the raising of her gaze. From the very first moment Bernice met her, it was as though she was shot through with stars and joy.

Bernice found the red bird deep in that Siberian volcano. It was unmistakable. And she brought it home to Gloria Bitterwater and her people. But when she left Siberia and Tamara, she left the pouch with Tamara, including the small start of the red bird she had added.

She said simply, here.

She trusted her heart to show her that Tamara was the part of Siberia she was meant to give the medicine to. She could always feel Tamara’s wound. She felt it against her own heart, where she too had been struck with love. She intuitively understood how she reminded Tamara of Lyudmila—for Bernice was also brash and brilliant and femme, in her own way. But in a way that shocked Tamara with memory and sent her spiraling into ancestral losses as well.

What is this? said Tamara. And Bernice answered the Athabascan word.

When Tamara looked into her eyes with a question, Bernice with her command of many languages struggled, wanting to meet that sweetness, that mutualness, that fire. It is not easy to translate she said. It means world. It means home. It means light.

Bernice went home.

Tamara put the pouch under her pillow, missing her lover’s body. And she began to dream.

Now ,Tamara was a scientist. But love makes even a scientist open in ways that bear no explanation. She had been touched and changed by love twice in her life, already, by the young age of 33

Let’s say, it took time. Let’s imagine the persistence of the dream, how repetitive, how she woke grasping for what she had learned she must do. Grabbing at pen and paper to jot the dream down before it slipped away, unaided as dreams are by the remembering parts of her brain, which had been resting while she slept, instead of grooving.

But one day, before it was too late. She took the pouch to her old love Lyudmila and she said, this must go to the Morning Star on the Lucifer 7. Does that make sense?

And it did make a little bit of sense to Lyudmila, who had become a mother in the last few years. She looked into Tamara’s eyes and she felt the same old falling feeling. Lyudmila was never the kind to harden or to put on armor. She was not one to remember or dread pain. She knew it had taken Tamara courage to come back. And she accepted without questioning the love gift of the pouch.

Nikolai was like Lyudmila in this way—he could never say no to the one he loved. And in 1970, as he prepared the probe for the journey to Venus, he slipped the little pouch into a nook. He knew how fine the calculations for a soft landing could be. He always wondered whether that pouch had made the Venera 7 the lucky one to land.

Lucky before it caved under the pressure of the atmosphere, that is. He smiled and he stroked his beard when he thought of this.

In the darkness of the Venera 7, the red bird birthed a small colony, integrating with the other medicine in the pouch, lighting the probe as it coursed through the void, feeling the dark matter, the map of the stars.

Little world, home, light. The mycelium burst forth onto Venus from the probe as it landed.

She flipped the antennae helplessly into the hot mud and it sent out a message back to Nikolai and the Russian astronomers:

Hot, hot, dry, no water here, said the mycelium, giving herself some forty years to prepare the way for us.

[1] [Accessed: 12/16/2020].

Space Opera

When all of this started, there was a genre of science fiction concerned with the practicalities of space travel: a man stranded on Mars grew potatoes; when the water filtration on the ship broke down, the travelers captured crystallized water released from the ship’s membrane; CO2 levels made astronauts mad and projects ended in tragedy.

The first SIA mission to space began at this level, in a recycled clunker of a ship bound for Venus. They were brave in their suits with their oxygen tanks and their detailed plans for how to cycle down the energy needed for the very basic earthly mechanism of photosynthesis that close to the sun.

But they also had an ally with a capacity for great leaps of intelligence. Part of their experiment was that symbiotic relationship. Even as they orbited around Venus, the mycelium and the human workers processing the waste collected by the golden women, they grew their technology in leaps and bounds, so that they soon had a vast empire of waste management and recycling, then building and growing, and came to a way of surviving and concealing the magnitude of their project beneath the foggy atmosphere of that golden planet, named ironically, after the goddess of love—for she rained down acid.

Mycelium that had developed a tolerance to sulpheric acid in the fermentation industry’s waste management processes in China expanded its ability to resist, but also transform the fatal rains that fell constantly from the Venusian skies. The cleansed rains, the clouds of carbon dioxide, breathed and filtered and transformed into bright pools of sulfur, fed the gardens that soon grew into alien rainforests.

They could have remained there. But the cloud thickening mechanisms they built to mute the heat of the sun for their gardens numbed and dulled the sun and could not meet their need for blue skies and the light on their skins and lashes, warming their clothes.

There was a Ray Bradbury story about this longing: the sun breaking the clouds for one hour every seven years.

Besides, they would need to stay away from Earth for over a millennium. Were they so close to the blue swirls of their home planet, close enough to view the land of their ancestors, they might not be able to resist that call.

They knew Earth needed time to purge and then to heal. They were determined to give it to her.

The astronomers of SIA had identified a pattern in the great randomness of the Milky Way in maps modeled after histories marked in ancient sites, at Stonehenge, at Machu Pichu, at the Great Pyramids under the gaze of the Sphynx, according to the Mayan calendar, and in alignment with those other mysterious tools for marking time and mapping space that were monuments to the old ones.

In 2050, the pattern would align again.

The people of SIA and their Multiversity of Arks would be waiting there.

At the mirror, ready for the opening of the gate.