Painting by Numbers

“First are the golds.” Jaylah squeezed paint from the tube. She mixed her colors with meditative patience and focus.

She’d spent the week working ahead at a feverish pace. Traffic was cleared; packets were outbound; scrubbers and filters and purifiers were fresh. Islet N114S7-12 was unburdened for the day.

So there was no need to rush.

“Second are the browns. The soil. And your hair; your eyes.” She said it like a sacred prayer.

There were millions of Islets. Tens of millions, strung out along the Orion Spur like lighthouses across an archipelago, guiding the way. The ships all moved in the same direction. A caravan as endless as the stars. Whether they were coming or going was a matter of perspective.

“Next are the greens. The sunflower stalks.” Jaylah stared off; for how long, she wasn’t sure. “Your favorite color,” she whispered, choking on the words. She applied brush to canvas with great care. She didn’t feel that her hand slowed so much as time accelerated.

She’d been selected as an Islet Keeper. Necessary for the Exogenesis. A hard and solitary life. But no harder than the alternative.

“Blues. The lake. And your shirt that day.” Jaylah smiled. “And the sky,” she said, remembering. “Sky blue.”

Dylan was selected too. He’d been selected first, actually. Fewer than one in a thousand were chosen, so the fact that they could go together—share an Islet—was exceedingly rare.

Today would have been his birthday.

She looked at her painting. It never did justice to the memory. But the process, the act of making it physical, helped to keep the memory vibrant.

“And white,” she said, “so that I may see you again…” Jaylah slathered the canvas in white paint, letting it run and drip until her painting was covered over.

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