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News & Features » May 2020 » “Last Waltz on Titan” by Michael S. Diamond

“Last Waltz on Titan” by Michael S. Diamond

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, scientists on Titan go exploring . . .

Last Waltz on Titan
by Michael S. Diamond
Titan (Saturn’s Largest Moon), 22nd Century

The hexagonal plate, the needle and the rosette. Shades of yellow varying from near colorless to a turbid brown. They might be beautiful if they weren’t so damn painful when they struck. Little shuriken tossed at us by some hidden malevolent ninja. The geo-science officer tells me they’re formed from the deterioration of celestial nucleic acids, and from the pulverization of tiny tree snails high up in the stratospheric canopy. The damnable floating rainforests of Titan, lost in an organonitrogen haze. Rhea Dinwiddy was her name, the geo-science officer. She loved to watch the gilded crystals dance and clatter off the surface of the frozen methane ocean that covered the bulk of the surface of this godforsaken moon of Saturn. She called them ghoudt, which she claimed was from proto-Arabic meaning “that which glistens like gold.” I think she made it up.

I was picked for the mission to be the paleobiologist, find evidence of biomass in the tricky broth that cooks beneath the icy surface. Miller and Urey eat your hearts out. I’ve got a whole frickin’ planetoid to find the spark of life in Titan’s ocean. The tree snails were utterly unexpected. I was running an army of probes over the ice froth to drill down and bring back sample after sample of methane slurry. I planned to figure out just how life had begun on Titan. It was frustrating that we had no way to snag a handful of those tree snails that we had spotted on the way down to the landing pad. So wild. The techies had only given us machines that dig down, nothing that flies up. Maybe the dude in planetary engineering could rig something up. Jeff Cassini was probably “on the spectrum” as they say, more comfortable with machines than living breathing beings of his own species. He could fix or rig up just about any kind of contraption.

Rhea was almost as good a techie as Jeff, but she was definitely warmblooded. Let’s just say we had our moments. In fact it was during one of our moments that we got the lame idea that we could suit up and get a close look at that spectacular crystal rain. Some kind of Gene Kelly fantasy, I guess. There we were, like two goofy kids getting pelted by a rain of crystals glinting in the pale Titan sunrise. If Jeff were watching us from one of the observation portholes he would be shaking his head and wondering what the hell project we were working on. That’s when I got hit. Rhea dragged me inside, got me outta my suit and yanked a humongous yellow needle out of my left big toe. But the damage had already been done. The attack of the ghoudt left me permanently banished from the dance floor. The last waltz on Titan.


DR. MICHAEL S. DIAMOND is a writer in the DC area where he practices psychiatry and medical qigong. He has published verse, creative nonfiction, fiction and translation in Cybercorpse, Shirim (courtesy of Dryad Press), Akashic Books, New Mexico Review, and JAMA. He lives in the burbs with his wife, a practitioner of the ancient art of manuscript illumination, their dog, two cats, a cockatiel named Peaches and a tankful of hyperactive fish.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: May 29, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,