Going Home, by Mathieu Debic
"The furniture and fixtures were designed to be mobile and collapsible, so their owners could pack their homes and take them along to their next resettlement area." Quincy pushed her tortoise shell glasses up her nose and slipped a grey lock behind her ear. "The middle of the twenty-first century was a tumultuous and chaotic time. The military-industrial order that had persisted from the end of World War II through the Cold War and the first North Korean thaw, broke down in the face of massive migrations, both voluntary and involuntary, due to a warming planet and political strife."
The students looked bored, and their parents and chaperones only slightly less so. The gallery attendant, a tall, wiry Gabonese with old eyes, caught her eye and shook his head. He adjusted his earpiece and shifted positions against the wall. They wouldn't understand. They couldn't. She returned her gaze to the piece currently failing to capture her audience's attention.
"This piece, Radiator, by the South Korean-American artist Do Ho Suh, was the prototype for the Portable Home that grew to dominate the refugee markets and led to the North Korean Red Freeze after 2083." She motioned toward the pink, translucent radiator and gave the tour group a moment to take it in. Her favourite part was the intricate designs "cast" into the gauzy fabric on the upright pipes of the heater. She had spent hours as a child tracing designs just like those with her fingers on the radiator at Home, although the radiator had been solid, then. Or at least seemed solid. Her parents hadn’t been able to afford the best perceptual overlays, so it never felt hot, exactly.
“It's based on a radiator, an archaic steam-powered heating unit, that occupied the ground floor corridor of the artist's apartment in New York City - on Earth, not Ganymede. This piece, along with a microwave oven, a fire extinguisher, and door fixtures from other residences the artist occupied, were in various public and private collections into the 21st century before the Free Market Singularity, which ended the concept of public goods until the Red Freeze. This Radiator was purchased by Tzeo Vivek, an art collector from Luna, and subsequently displayed privately for several decades before it was featured in an advertising hymn that introduced the MyHome."
She turned to the viewscreen and, with a flick of her fingers, filled it with a small room furnished with wireframe outlines of furniture and decorations. The kids always liked this part, but Quincy suspected it was only because of the animations.
"You may experience some confusion or perceptual discomfort as this footage was taken when meta-materials were in their infancy. Please follow the prompts while your perceptacles adjust to make the images resolve." Her glasses were pre-set to deal with the ancient viewer tech, so she watched the kids as the chaperones rubbed their eyes and squinted, waiting for the perceptions to catch up. The kids just stared at the image as their eyes flashed a dull grey. Must be nice to have the overlay built in, Quincy thought. She twisted a control ring on her finger, bringing the screen into full focus. The image resolved into a tastefully decorated studio in mid-century modern with "tribal" and "ethnic" accents. A radiator nearly identical to the one she was standing next to occupied a corner of the room, right next to the skeleton of a lounge chair.
"This MyHome room set was the property of one Salazar Kirchner, a refugee from the New Apartheid wars in what became the South African Union. When he left Western Cape, he was initially resettled by the UN in Kenya, then India, then the United States once the wall came down, then an ostensibly permanent resettlement community in the Siberian region of China, newly temperate since the permafrost melt.” The image shifted through several slides in which the wireframe furniture resolved into the same studio in what were clearly different rooms. It looked almost real, if you didn't think about how nothing seemed to age or gather dust.
"He took this MyHome set with him to all of these places, and even kept it once he was resettled permanently on Acqua around Io. It was very important to him. He said it helped to remember the home he was made to leave.”
"Is he still alive?" One of the students standing toward the front of the group. Her glasses matched Quincy's - an old-schooler, this kid?
"No, he died about ten years ago.”
"What happened to his MyHome?"
"It was left to one of his children and is currently in her private collection. I believe her intention is to donate it to the museum upon her death." The student seemed satisfied with the lie, the same one Quincy always told when she got that question. It wasn't a lie, exactly. Salazar had, in fact, died and left his MyHome to his only surviving daughter, and she did intend to bequeath it to the museum when she died. But that wasn't all. The viewscreen dimmed and resolved to a spacescape of the Eagle nebula, artificially animated.
"Thank you all for your time," Quincy said, and smiled. "You'll find restrooms to your right, and the museum exit down the hall. Don't forget to visit the Planetary Landscapes exhibtion! It leaves next week!" The crowd dispersed slowly toward the bathrooms and the gift shop. The kid who had asked the questions stuck around for a moment, meditating on the bright pink relic from a planet nearly dead. Qunicy smiled at her and turned to leave, but she spoke again.
"I noticed your name tag," she said. Her eyes were deep grey-green behind the tortoiseshell, and her hair, in tight, cascading braids, was the photosynthetic blue they liked on Nereid.
"Oh?" said Qunicy, "What about it?"
"Your last name is Kirchner as well. Any relation to Salazar Kirchner?" Not many made the connection. Quincy smiled.
"You got me. He was my father."
"So are you the daughter that inherited the MyHome?"
"I am," Qunicy said. The kid made a pensive face.
"My great-grandparents had one just like that. They were from the Maldives."
“Oh?" The Maldives Resettlement Riots had led indirectly to the Red Freeze and the first off-world resettlement. "Did you know them?"
"No, they died before I was born. Nereid didn’t agree with them. They got a MyHome from the U.N. when they left Maldives, but it made my grandfather angry to see it. He threw it off their ship to Brazil. My grandma told me about it. She missed it when it was gone. She had liked it.”
“Some people liked them. But many thought it was a cheap handout to make them feel better about losing their homes."
“What do you think?” The kid’s face was hard, now.
"I understand the feeling.” She took her glasses off and rubbed her grey eyes. "I don't think I would have survived my childhood without some semblance of a consistent home. Maybe it would have been different if I had been older when we had to leave. The MyHome wasn’t ever convincing, really, but it was convincing enough.”
The girl nodded slowly. "Do you have a permanent home now?"
"Yes," Quincy said. "I live on this station.”
“Is there anything you would take with you if you had to leave?” Quincy returned the girl’s hungry look.
“Yes, there is. And it isn’t my hand terminal. It probably won’t seem important to you.”
“Try me.” Quincy smiled.
“It’s a very old, taped together and nearly unreadable paper copy of Homer’s Odyssey, back from when they still used real trees. It never leaves my bedside. I’ve left clothes, shoes, even gold coins behind to make weight allowances to take it with me.” The kid nodded. She got it.
“Do you think he had anything like that?” She pointed with her chin at the radiator. Quincy thought for a moment.
“I like to hope so, but I’m not sure. We’re much more used to moving around now than people used to be. Anywhere can feel like home if you have special things with you, but maybe it’s more honest to want to bring the real thing with you, even if it’s only a model. Maybe that helps you remember how unfair it was that you had it taken in the first place.”
“I think that’s right,” the kid said. Her fists were clenched, and she stared rigidly at the gauzy, filamentous unreal memory. “We ought to bring our homes with us, to remember. The actual, physical thing. Like the radiator.”
“Maybe so,” said Quincy. The kid thanked her and took off, lost in angry thought. Quincy took the Lift to her apartment. She set her bag down and walked to the gauzy pink radiator fitfully resolving into thick, heavy steel by the wall. She touched it carefully. It still didn’t feel hot, exactly.
Mathieu Debic is a writer and graduate student living in Dallas, Texas. His fiction has been published in Mirror Dance Fantasy, and his academic writing has been published in Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies. He likes taking care of plants, cats, and other people.
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