The Sky-Blue Gene
by Philip Berry
Zach spins his postal shuttle down onto the Immigration & Naturalisation department’s immense roof. Here, ten thousand functionaries dedicate whole careers to determining the status of the Archipelago’s thirty billion inhabitants. The Archipelago is an elongated smudge of star systems, bright seeds thrown across a corner of the galaxy by Chaos himself. Zach has been waiting fifteen years for this appointment. Perhaps, he wonders, I’ve delivered my last message as a Guest. Perhaps today, I’ll become a citizen.
Ruth, the examiner, levels her eyes at him and asks, “Before we start, do you have anything to say in support of your application?”
“My family and I have lived on the outskirts of the Archipelago for fifteen years now. Ever since we arrived, I have worked, I have contributed. As a postman, I haven’t seen my children for over a year.”
“Well, we all make choices, and postal service jobs are highly sought after. Information cannot be thrown into the ether, for anyone to steal or fake, can it? Where did you obtain your flying skills?”
“Born with them, I guess. My ancestors.”
“Where were your ancestors?”
“Old Earth. Country of England, south-eastern quadrant, Kent County. They called it the Garden of England. That’s where my ancestor landed after the First Flight, eight-hundred years ago. She crossed the Mediterranean, arrived at Lampedusa, hopped camps through Europe, tucked herself into a freezer van full of meat, and came through the tunnel. Her heart was beating ten per minute when they found her, and she lost four fingers but she survived. For a hundred-years my family worked and grew … until the Second Flight.”
“Well, that might be in your favour,” Ruth mutters as she writes, Ancestors part of First Flight (subject alleges).
Zach brightens. “Really? How many points?”
“Seventeen. But you have no proof, so it’s not Category A evidence. Now, if you carried the sky-blue gene, we could wrap this up quickly. Eighty points. But I see that you don’t.”
Ruth refers to the band of blue pigment tattooed into the fingertips of those who carry the sky-blue gene. The gene proves direct descendance from the pioneers who founded the Archipelago, and confers automatic citizenship.
“Well, let’s see if we can’t get you through this with something in category C or D. General knowledge. Myths! Tell me, which Hero became trapped on the bone-strewn beach of Zawiya on his way back from Troy?”
Zach looks at her in disbelief.
“What? No-one. Zawiya was a smuggling hub in Libya. In the early 21st century, 74 bodies were washed up there from a capsized boat. There were no bones.”
“Incorrect. It was Menelaus, circa 4000 AD. He battled the skeletons but was thrown back by vicious tides off North Africa. He reported a country where ewes give birth three times a year, a plentiful land. You must know this Zach. Libya was the conduit for many in the First Flight.”
“Next. Tell me the name of the boy-God cradled back to life by the Hero of Bodrum?”
“Bodrum? He was not brought to life. He was called Alan Kurdi. A toddler. The images led to the #KiyiyaVuranInsa movement – ‘Humanity Washed Ashore’. The doors opened in Europe but were quickly closed … after the atrocities. Religious zealots, dishonouring the many. But these are not myths. There was no miracle. Alan Kurdi died.”
“No, Zach. He was reborn, in us. In our ascension to this place of safety, this glorious Archipelago, while those who clung to what they knew slowly perished in the rising tides and the killing heat.”
“Then the myths are confused.”
“You wish to end this interview?”
“If these are the … the lies I have to accept …”
Ruth is distracted by an orange light on her desk. The door behind her opens. Ruth leaves. An older man takes her seat.
“Hello, Zach. I am Robert, the supervisor. You seem to know your history. Come, walk with me.”
They follow the curve of a corridor. Zach becomes aware that windows to one side look out over an internal space, a high atrium. They reach a door that leads onto a gantry, far above the floor of the atrium. A hundred metres below a lens-shaped object lies in an artificially created mist. Despite the distance, Zach identifies it is an upturned boat. The hull is bright blue. Sky-blue. Robert smiles.
“Zach, you have drawn a line back through history … to this boat, or one just like it.”
He holds up his hands. Zach sees feint blue marks on his fingertips.
“Do you know why some of us display these marks? What they mean?”
Zach shakes his head.
“They are splinters. Flakes of blue paint that lodged in the fingertips of those who tried to scramble back onto the boats after they capsized. An artificial but necessary badge.”
“Why tell me this? I failed.”
“You carry it, Zach. You carry the gene. You qualify. While Ruth questioned you, we checked the extant records salvaged from Old Earth. Your story checks out. Now, you must decide … do you accept our society?”
“But those myths. They are artificial … like those marks …”
“That is the price, Zach. Humanity survived because refugees, people who had already left their homeland once in the face of adversity, made the same decision again. When the waters rose and the hot winds began to desiccate the soil of the northern latitudes, only they, accustomed to a rootless life, were able to disconnect themselves from their adoptive homes. They came forward when the call came to man the transports. Thus, the Second Flight was made possible. They founded this Archipelago, and their ability to adapt, to survive, to build, was passed on. Then they returned, to rescue those who had chosen to remain on Old Earth. But still they were not trusted. So the pioneers did as the Romans did … they merged their myths, their religions. They created a common culture. A culture you must accept Zach, even though you know it to be untrue. Just as you will tattoo your fingertips, as a symbol. You can stop travelling now, Zach. Welcome home.”
Philip’s stories have appeared in The Corona Book of Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, Nebula Rift, and Headspace. Bonewhite Light, a collection of 30 previously published stories, was released in 2018.