Novels, Science, SFF

The August Birds: 20 August, 1977

august birds cover jpgSo. I’ve recently published my first novel, The August Birds. Because it takes place over the month of August, with each day corresponding to a chapter, I’ll be uploading it piecemeal over the next few weeks. If this is your first stop, the story starts here.

AUGUST 20, 1977


The ravens had brought him to a space centre, and August sat, huddled in his blanket, one small boy in a crowd of excited people who didn’t see him, who were all looking away and outward. Muninn sat with him.

“Why is called number two if it went first?” said August. “You’d think it would be Voyager 1.”

“Voyager 1 is the faster,” said Muninn. “It will pass Voyager 2, in time. But this Voyager will go out among the stars, out where no probe has been, and it will see Jupiter and Saturn. It will see Uranus and Neptune… and because of it we will see them as well.”

“Even me,” said August, who had seen the photos, who had been born after their transmission and who would see no more. He wanted to be excited even so, but he was nearly always cold now, even on summer days, and his seat was hard. It made his bones ache.

“You have seen many things that others have not seen,” Muninn acknowledged.

“So don’t be greedy, is that what you’re saying?” said August, with a thin little smile, and Muninn settled her feathers primly and said nothing.

The people around them had brought popcorn, some of them, and sandwiches and apple juice. One family was eating hot dogs, and August eyed them as if with the memory of hunger. He had liked hot dogs, once. And candy apples, and popcorn. Popcorn with lots of butter and salt, and plain popcorn for making strings at Christmas. Mostly he liked to hear the sound of it bursting in the pan, and the warm scent of caramelised sugar that April would sometimes mix into hers. It had smelled wonderful then, and it smelled wonderful now, but the smell was all he could appreciate. Eating seemed too much trouble, somehow, and he was never hungry anymore, but he could sit and breathe in the wonderful smells and the excitement that was beginning to be infectious, and he could watch the rocket being made ready before him, about to go up into space and beyond what anyone knew.

“It’s the sparrow again,” he said suddenly, thinking of Caroline in her garden, thinking of the telescope and of Huginn croaking out the name of a man dead for a thousand years and more. Thinking of the story that Muninn had told him, of the sparrow flying through a bright hall and back out into darkness.

“Except this time the hall is all dark,” he said.

“Not completely,” said Muninn. “There are stars in that hall, billions of them. Voyager–both Voyagers–will travel alongside those lights.”

“But space is very big,” said August. “And the lights are very little. Maybe the only time Voyager will always be in the light again is if someone finds it and takes it home.”

“It will be a different home than the place where it began,” said Muninn. “It will be going out to strangers and strange places. There may be nothing familiar to it–no road maps, no friendly hands.”

“What if it never finds anyone?” said August. “What if it flies forever? What if the dark hall goes on and on?”

“Then we may never know it,” said Muninn. “But that is not the important thing. What’s important is that the attempt is made–that you have tried, all of you, to reach out, to want to meet something more than yourselves, to talk with them and be friendly.”

“That’s why the record’s with it,” said August, remembering the gold plated disc sent out with the probe, sent out to find other life and to tell about Earth’s own.

“Yes,” said Muninn. “The Golden Record. Would you like to see it?”

“I’d rather stay and watch, if that’s alright,” said August, huddled into his blanket. “I always wanted to see a rocket go up. I thought, once, that one day I might be on one. I thought it might be fun to be an astronaut. To travel through space.”

“You have travelled through space,” said Muninn. “The planet you walk upon travels, and you travel with it. And on your travels you look for others who can understand you, for others who could be friends.”

August laughed, picturing himself with antennae for arms, with a satellite dish for a face, zooming back and forth and taking photographs of everyone around him. “She dressed me up like one, once,” he said. “April, I mean. I don’t remember it. There was a costume party when I was little, for her birthday. I’ve seen the photos. She was an astronaut, wrapped about with tin foil and with Mum’s old motorcycle helmet on. But I was too small to wear a helmet so she dressed me up as a probe so that she could take me with her. I looked so stupid. But I wasn’t Voyager.”

“You could have been. You have a Record too, you know,” said Muninn. “To go with the celebration and the exploration. You are also sending out your Record, uncertain.”

August frowned. There had been experimental treatments, clinical trials. His DNA had been sequenced. None of it had cured him. None of it had made him better. “I don’t want to think about it,” he said. This was supposed to be a happy time, he didn’t say, wanting more than anything to let himself forget for a moment, to be caught up in the excitement of the people around him, to share this moment in their lives.

But Muninn was iron, and she could not forget. “Those results mean something,” she said. “Not to you, perhaps. But one day to someone else. They will learn from them and learn from you, and perhaps you will make a friend of them, though the space between you is long and dark.”

“I’d rather know,” said August. “If the doctors learn anything from me that can help someone else one day, I’m glad. But I’d rather see the helping.”

“The scientists who worked on Voyager might rather see the finding,” said Muninn. “They do not know if it will ever happen. They just hope that it will.”

“And that’s enough for them?” said August.

Muninn flicked her wings, tossed her head at the launch pad. “Does that look like not-enough to you?” she said.

“No,” said August, smiling, and for a moment he imagined himself as one of the scientists, imagined himself with them, and hopeful. It made him feel warm inside.

“Look,” said Muninn. “They are about to begin. Do you see it, August?”

All attention was focused upon the launch pad. The crowd around him was silent, straining with anticipation, and August held his breath. He was excited, and a little frightened. Strange, he thought, to be so. He knew this mission was successful, knew it from his place in the future, and yet…

An explosion of burning cloud engulfed the launch vehicle, until only its nose was visible, and then the great machine began to move. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster it lifted off the Earth and streaked into the sky, streaked out into the solar system and possibility.

Huginn flew with it, a dark, distant shape obscured at first by the billows on the launch pad. But as the rocket rose through the air, August could make out Huginn racing up beside it, the sun glinting off his iron wings–and then he was too high to see, and gone.

“How far up will he go?” said August, but he had to repeat himself because the crowd around him was cheering then in celebration–calling and applauding and so loud he nearly had to put his thin little hands over his ears. He wanted to jump up himself, to whoop and cheer with them, but it was hard to move quickly now, and it took too much breath to shout.

“You don’t need to worry about him,” said Muninn. “He’ll come down when he’s ready. There’s no people up there, and no ideas to draw him on–he’s bound to the Earth, and the people on it. I wonder, sometimes, what will happen when you humans move out to the stars. Perhaps Huginn will go with you then. Perhaps I will.”

“But not now?”

“No,” said Muninn. “Not now.”

“You’ve got things to do, still,” said August, and it wasn’t a question.

“I am still making my own Record,” said Muninn.


Tune in tomorrow for the next chapter, wherein August is taken back in time to see Galileo show off his telescope to the leaders of Venice!

If you’d like a copy for yourself,  The August Birds is available for free in a variety of formats at Smashwords. Thanks for reading!

© Octavia Cade