Excerpt for Close Your Eyes by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


CLOSE YOUR EYES


By Paul Jessup



APEX BOOK COMPANY


In loving memory to Radar Ray Kalman

and Tom and Virginia Jessup

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Book I: Open Your Eyes

Act I: Those Left Behind

Act II: All the Stars Have Teeth

Act III: Skull Baskets

Act IV: The Beauty of Our Weapons

Act V: Heart Attack Water


Intermission

A Dissected Heart, Displayed Under Glass


Book II: Close Your Mouth

Act I: Savage Echoes

Act II: We Were Monsters

Act III: Mermaid Bones

Act IV: A Collapse of Suns

Act V: Our Little Skull Collector


Acknowledgments

About the Author

Open Your Eyes


Book I

Act I: Those Left Behind


1

Her lover was a supernova. She smiled when he came, his bright burning light rocking her body, impregnating her with the essence of stars. Through the metal bones of her ship she felt the gasses enter her, felt the compound light exploding inside of her. Her hands clawed at the cracked vinyl of the chair, her legs spread to either side with toes stretched out, her mouth in piercing screams of ecstasy.

Her lover was a supernova. And her womb—it spun with the light of stars. She felt black holes open up inside of her, intense gravitational weight. She felt her mind expand, and then a stillness as the blue light glowed and everything around her was awash in a sea of colors.

She couldn’t make out the controls. Not now. Not even in her mind. She lay back and let the ship fly itself, a small vessel in the starsea, floating through the explosions around her. Everything sucked in, the large mass pulling in stars and planets and satellites and docking stations and floating flop houses.

Ekhi saw the sun center of her lover and felt herself push through to the other side, her eyes half-lidded in rapture, her warm hands on the smooth, round flesh of her stomach, rubbing in circles the home of a new galaxy, of a new starling landscape growing inside of her.

They vaulted outward, the boneship starspat and spinning, the lights inside of the crusted and cracked marrow cage blistering with warning signs. She came as they forced their way out, howling alive on the other side, her eyes rolling in her head like marble spheres as she gasped in the glory of orgasm. The lights dimmed into a slow halo-glow of amber, blue, and then out. Exhaled. Like a candle flame.

The engines wound down. The seconds unticked. She felt time unravel inside the great ribcage of her egia. The great body of the ship was losing power, the few orange lights still active only flashing mute warning signs.

Adrift, her displays dead, her radios silenced. Everything in the ship shut down and shut off. Not enough fuel to get home. Just energy enough to drift and make oxygen, keeping her alive in the empty void of space for a few more months. The oxygen vents around her wheezed in and out, conserving as much energy as possible as they tried to keep her alive, tried to stave off the empty void of space for one more moment.

She sighed and trembled, her finger to her lips as her nerves burst in radial songs of joy and adulation. Her body floated up, the artificial gravity turned off to save power. Behind her the light of the nova shined on, bright and brighter still. My lover is dying, she thought, and he’s taking out whole worlds with him.

Ekhi smiled and sung a lullaby to herself, the whole of space immaculate with her lover’s last breath, the stars growing dimmer by each moment.


2

Lights. Circles moved over ripped vinyl chairs and cracked bone ceilings. Yellow halos dipped on instrument panels, searching for anything of value. Air was thin. Oxygen tanks exhaled their last few breaths. Three figures walked through dark and shadowy ribs, each one with an electric lantern that gave off a cold, yellow circle of light.

Scavengers. Airtight, chitinous armor clung to their bodies. Breathing masks covered their faces and clicked with animatronic mandibles. Like spiders they crawled through the egia, searching for anything they could pillage.

One figure shined a light over a body that floated in the middle of the hallway, suspended above a chair that had tears along the armrests, with clouds of cotton puffing through. The body was nude and female; her eyes were closed in slits of sleep. She snored as she spun, her bare breasts suspended in zero gravity. The yellow circle focused on her body, moving up her toes, up her legs, up her thighs.

A voice from an insect armor. Male. “Well fuck. I think we hit the jackpot.”

The other insects turned and looked. Their numen suits gleamed in the darkness of space, their eyes lit blue and human beyond the clear shell of the insect masks. “Damn, Hodei. What you find?”

“What do you think? She looks like she’s only been out a little bit. Oxygen reads that it has only been thin for a few hours. Probably very little brain damage, if any. We came just in the nick of time.”

A crackling of static filled the helmets, and then a whisper of words that sounded like two stones rubbing together. The captain, a ghost in their terminal, a spirit watching over them from afar.

A female voice from the third insect, one demanding respect: “Captain says we’re taking her on board the ship. Leaving her here to die would be unethical. We bring her back to the egia, then come back to scavenge for supplies. Got it?”

The yellow moon moved away from the floating body and focused on the bone structure of the ship. Eyes followed the light. “Look at this place—all the foodstuff has been vaporized. Nothing but dust. And it’s off the chart for radioactivity. The walls, the shelves, everything is still hot to the touch. I’m starting to think we’re going to get nothing but her out of this.”

The one called Hodei walked toward the floating body. He held a gloved hand over an ankle, framing it with his clicking arachnid fingers. “She’s so beautiful.”

The female insect walked forward with a marionette gait, her magnetic steps sending out loud clanging echoes as she brought out a weapon resembling a scorpion’s tail.

The betadur was segmented and filled with sparkling blue light. The tip glowed a bright orange and the air tensed around it with a sparkling symmetry. “Hodei, please. Let’s just move her into the ship. Waking her up here could be disastrous. We don’t know what happened to her just yet. She could be in shock.”

He moved his hand away, staring still at the barrel of the betadur. “No problem.”

She sighed. “Sugoi, help me move this girl back to our egia. Hodei, you stay here and scavenge. Make sure we leave nothing behind.”

Hodei sighed and watched the two of them walk up to the naked body and gently nudge it toward the rear docking vents. The body spun violently as it floated, the arms out to either side making circles in the air as she corkscrewed toward the exit. Her shoulder-length black hair puffed up like a messy halo over her head.

The cold lantern lights shone against her brown skin, reflecting against the dented bone walls behind them. Hodei walked over to the dead instrument panel, hiding his face and obscuring his features, muttering obscenities to himself.


3

Cotton cocoon. Ekhi struggled inside, pushing her head through the tightening layers of fabric to look around. Outside of the cocoon: steel bunk beds, bone ceiling. Circles of painful orange lights shedding amber shadows. Her head throbbed and her body ached. Ekhi could not remember why she hurt, did not know where she was. She only remembered the blue light of her lover and the greatest sensation she had ever felt, a volcanic eruption of orgasm after orgasm.

The room was cramped with metallic furniture. Chairs and tables and beds crowded around one another in chaotic disharmony. Cards lay scattered across the floor, their pixilated surfaces displaying heroic figures and brutal images of war.

Beside a circular door, covered in rust, sat a woman reading a cracked leather book that lay flat against her lap. Her face was half gone, replaced by a silver latticework that made a cage out of her skull. The eye on her left side was a red jewel, sparkling in the halogen lights. Inside the metal cage of her face fluttered two mechanical butterflies, their wings shedding rainbows of refracted colors.

Ekhi gasped in surprise.

The flesh half of the woman’s face twisted into a sweet smile. The metallic half stayed still, the only motion that of the butterflies that whirred around inside of her skull. “Morning,” she said.

Ekhi nodded. “Morning?”

The woman shrugged. “It’s always morning somewhere.”

Ekhi looked down at her hands. She was naked beneath the blanket. She felt vulnerable and hated the feeling. It left a bitter taste in her mouth. “Oh,” she said, “I guess so.”

The woman looked down at her book. She stared at the page for a moment, and then marked it with a thin piece of newspaper that made a crinkling noise as she slowly closed the book, sighing. “My name is Mari. Welcome aboard the Good Ship Lollipop.”

Ekhi stared at the knuckles on her hands. They grasped the blanket hard enough to turn red. Ekhi knew that there was a joke in what Mari said, but could not find the cultural reference in order to process it. “My name,” she said, searching her mind for the meaning behind herself, “Is Ekhi. Do you-”

She paused, looking harder at her knuckles and the twisted knots of cotton below them. “Do you know why I’m here?”

Mari put her book on the ground and walked over to the bunk bed, sitting on the edge. Her good eye looked at Ekhi. It was like a grey metal ball floating in a sea of milk. Her hair was also grey, but not an aged grey. A metallic grey. An accent to the machine part of her face.

“That’s an easy one. We saw your ship floating amongst all this debris and we latched onto it. We were going to scavenge it for food and maybe some cash, but, well, all we found was you. Why were you out there, floating naked? And why was everything inside your egia destroyed? We don’t have answers for that. We were hoping you would.”

Ekhi pulled the cotton cocoon up over her breasts, concealing herself again as the round door creaked open. A boy stood at the door, probably no older than eighteen. His hair was a mess of disheveled black curls and his thin, brown face had a carved-stone quality. He puffed his lips out, pouting as he talked. “Mari, she up finally?”

He turned and saw Ekhi and winked. “She is! How’s my sleeping beauty doing? Let’s say you and me take a tour of all the dark corners of the ship. I’ll show you why I’m wanted in fourteen galaxies and why my face is plastered on all the tabloids as the sexiest bachelor in space.”

Ekhi shook her head, trying hard not to let the blanket droop down. The boy stared at the curves of flesh that peeked out from the top of the fabric, his gaze intent on making the blanket fall down with the power of his mind. “No thanks,” she said.

He shrugged. “Your loss. But in a few weeks, when the lonely void starts eating at you and you need some comfort, I will be here, waiting. To comfort you. Physically.”

Mari walked up and hit him over the head with the back of her hand. His head whipped forward in pain, his hair dancing around either side of his skull. “Ow, fuck.” He rubbed the back of his head. “What did you do that for?”

“She’s a guest, jackass, that’s why. Ekhi, this is Hodei. Our in-ship mechanic, space scavenger extraordinaire, petty thief, and resident pervert.”

Hodei bowed and smiled. “At your service, mademoiselle. If you need anything—oh, and I mean anything—just let me know, and I will be more than happy to assist. More. Than. Happy.”

Mari shoved him out the door and then turned to Ekhi, her metal face glittering. “The captain will want to see you soon. I’ll let her know that you’re awake and ready to talk.”


4

Coils of black and gold cords unwrapped, stretched out, pushed forward. A fogged-over glass chamber swung open, gold leaf and vine decorations coating the top and bottom. Between the nests of wires and cords lay blinking artificial stars, multicolored lights giving out complex information matrices, discernible only to a trained, mechanical eye.

Pushing out of this electric womb was a young girl, probably no older than twelve. Her skin was the color of pale, melted wax, her eyes like glass balls with painted irises in the center. Her hair coiled in blue curls, the cords and wires wrapped up in the mess of her tresses. She wore a black, lacy dress that puffed out like an umbrella. On her legs and her arms were green and black striped stockings.

Her eyes blinked. They sounded like a camera lens. Opening, closing. “Welcome aboard my ship.”

Ekhi’s back was against another round door, the rusted-orange metal staining her shirt. To her left and right the bone walls rested, breathing. “Thank you,” she said.

“You know, we could’ve left you for dead.”

A statement like a knife under her ribs.

Ekhi sighed and looked at her feet. Her legs and ankles and toes were still bare. They had given her a long grey shirt to wear, one that barely covered her body when she moved. She felt the boys stare at her with each gesture, waiting for the raise of an arm or a leg that would reveal her secrets to them.

The doll girl walked forward, pulling the cables from her body. “You have nothing to worry about, here. I just bring up the point so that you understand your situation. So you understand that you mean nothing to us.”

Ekhi looked into the girl’s face. It appeared artificial, like a mask. It gave her an uncanny feeling of a ghost haunting a puppet. “I understand,” she muttered.

The doll girl tilted her head to the side. She smiled, her teeth lined with sparkling electrodes. “Good, good. We can use some help on this ship. What do you know about egias?”

Ekhi instinctively raised her hand to her belly. She felt the growth inside of her—gasses compacting into mass, stars whirling around, chunks of rock aligning into orbit and gravities pulling and yanking inside her womb. “Quite a bit. I piloted my own egia for several years. Without any sentient servants of any sort. The ship didn’t even have a heart. I piloted the thing bare to the bone. Flying straight and naked in space.”

The doll paused, her eyes slit with thought. “Hmm. Well, we have a heart and a crew on this ship. This isn’t some small thing, some tiny space vessel. We could use someone with the knowledge, but you have to remember that I am in charge here. Not you. Not anyone else. The walls of this ship are paper-thin, barely keeping away the painful void of space. It would be so easy to push you through those walls, push you out into a grave of stars. Understand?”

“Yes,” Ekhi said. Her chest tightened into a knot; her lungs entangled around each other, slipping over the valves of her heart. She knew that she had no choice.

The doll sighed. “Now then. Have you any questions for me?”

Ekhi paused. “No.”

The doll shrugged. “My name is Itsasu. Aren’t you at least curious as to where we are going, what we are doing?”

Ekhi remembered the gasses of her lover surrounding her. She remembered her arms grasping and clawing at the vinyl chair. She remembered that feeling, that wonderful feeling, and everything around her paled in comparison. “No,” she answered. “No. I guess I don’t.”

The doll smiled. “Good. We’ll get along just fine. You are such a curious specimen of humanity.”


5

A relic, Itsasu thought. This flesh is a relic.

She breathed in the fluid and felt like she was drowning. It wasn’t painful. Not anymore. But she remembered the first time she had been submerged in the preservation tank. Fire had filled her. Fire had consumed her. And thunder. Her breath had been thunder.

She watched a flickering image of Mari wandering through the halls of the egia, projected onto the amber holograph fluid. Mari’s muscles stretched with each movement, the silver hair dancing around her head. Mari’s arms swung back and forth as she walked, meat pendulums that teased Itsasu with their solidity and strength.

Itsasu stared at the moving body, zoomed in on each tendon stretching and flexing. She felt a tingling along her bent legs, a tingling in her mouth and a growing heat in her body. Itsasu moved her head in closer, through the gelatinous prison, her eye touching the hologram, caressing it. She licked the figure, the tingling balls of firefly light coating her taste buds as she ran her tongue over the image of the muscular meat face. The hologram blurred and shook at the movement, disturbed by the rocking fluids.

Itsasu’s twig arms twisted about, trying to reach down and pleasure her, the gnarled limbs unable to do more than reach across her stomach. The egia, sensing her need, sent pleasure chemicals through the water. She smiled a maniacal grin and dreamt of Mari’s flesh for herself. She dreamt of strong bones untouched by age and no longer made brittle by the lasting centuries. She dreamt of skin no longer paper-thin, but supple and gripped with muscles. She dreamt of dancing with her husband, back before the war took him, before she had been left stranded in the ancient planets, searching the alien ruins for a way to bring him back to life.

She gurgled and dreamt, the lazy light of blue suns glinting on the bones of her ship.


6

Hodei sat on a moon-shaped chair and sipped hot coffee from a black bulb. His brown fingers grasped the sides, feeling the warmth against his hands. He perused a magazine in his lap, his eyes browsing over the slick pages of women in different stages of undress and arousal. The texture of the paper against his hand was like flesh, real and smooth and clean.

It wasn’t the nudity that kept him coming to this magazine at each port. It was a specific girl. The nets had no info on her, none that he could find. But there she was, a ghost of space. A haunting female form that burned itself into the landscape of his mind.

His first glimpse of her had been a stark and beautiful memory that haunted his dreaming hours. She had been a background figure in revealing white robes, shaved legs dangling beneath, her hips and waist barely covered. Her red hair contrasted her pale face like scarlet blades to either side of a white cloth; her mouth formed a thick-lipped, mischievous smile. There was something in her eyes that pulled him in. A restless yearning. A desire for something greater. Even though she had four pages of revealing nudity, her eyes and her lips and her face were what brought him back, made him search her out. She was not just another model. Her presence was more jovial, more jocular, more searching and burning.

“Hey cowboy, find any good cattle?”

Startled, Hodei looked up and saw Mari staring at him. Her one good eye was an intense beam of light; her jeweled eye offered him no solace from her angry gaze.

“Cattle? Cute, Mari. Cute. Not sure if she’s in this one. I haven’t seen her in the last two issues. I hope she’s all right. What’s gotten into you?”

Mari walked over to the coffee maker and flipped a cracked switch. The machine whirred to life, grinding beans into a fine powder and boiling water with a draconian hiss. “It’s your idiot brother, is all.”

Hodei raised an eyebrow. He sat up, concerned. “Trouble in paradise? Knew you two wouldn’t work out. He’s too stupid for you. I told you that a long time ago. Sugoi, he’s different in a bad kinda way, you know? He didn’t even go to school. He flunked out before anything stuck, and now his brain is like antimatter, destroying any knowledge that tries to approach it.”

He gently closed the magazine, then slid it into the drawer behind him, making sure not to crease or bend the delicate pages. Later, he would get a small plastic bag and gently slide the magazine in, labeling the outside and storing it in deep freeze with the others. His library. His most precious possessions.

“Not like me,” he said almost casually, “I mean, I don’t show it, but I’m pretty smart.”

Mari coughed, trying to hold back a laugh. Hodei looked at the ground, covering up his embarrassment. “Hey, that’s not nice. I may not be a brute, but I got my own benefits, you know.”

Mari sighed when she realized he was serious. “I don’t even know why I come to you to talk. Look, just because we’re having problems doesn’t mean I’m going to leave him for you. I love your brother, even his flaws. We’ve been together for four years. One little mistake isn’t going to change that.”

Hodei looked up, his face red and his expression a mix of anger and sorrow. “All right then. So what is it? What did my big brother do that was so damned horrible?”

“It’s not. I mean it is. Well, damnit. He’s just distant as of late, you know? And he keeps looking at that new girl. Fuck. It’s like I don’t even exist sometimes. He’ll just stare at her, and all of a sudden I’m not there anymore. I’m just a transparent thing. And I don’t like that. You know?”

Hodei grinned. “She is hot, all right.”

Mari walked over and punched him in the arm, leaving a small bruise beneath his jumper. “Aw, fuck, why’d you go and hit me for? It’s not my fault that some pretty new thing turns his head.”

“You’re no help, you know that?”

Hodei shrugged. “More than the captain. She would just give you some bullshit line, spoken through one of those dolls. About ethics in space. About no sex on the egia. That sort of thing. Me, well, at least I’m still flesh and blood, you know? The machine and void haven’t eaten me away just yet. I still got sex on the mind, and I can relate.”

He sighed and leaned back. “Besides. What do you want me to do or say anyway?”

She sat down on the chair. The hissing stopped and the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the air as the room once again fell silent. She reached over and grabbed her own bulb of coffee, her hands almost burning from the heat. Her features were slack, emotionless. “I don’t know, Hodei. I don’t know. Maybe ... maybe you can talk to him. Ask him what he feels, you know? Get him to tell you the situation.”

Hodei laughed, hard and loud like a seal. His voice echoed in the chamber; his laughter bounced off the ribs and absorbed into the orange padding. “Oh man, you want me to go up to my brother and ask him about his love life? To get him to what? Open up to me? That’s rich! What the hell do you think I am? Huh? I’m his baby brother. If I say shit like that, he’ll beat the fuck out of me and you know it.”

Mari frowned. The metal side of her face stayed emotionless, the butterflies in flight calming down, resting on the silver cage, no longer refracting rainbows of light. “You’re right. But it’s my only hope. What the hell am I supposed to do?”

Hodei beat his fist into his hand. “Punch him. He won’t hit you back—you’re his girl. And if he even thinks about it, he knows that the captain will be watching and he’ll be shoved out into the void if he lays a hand on you. If he asks you why you hit him, you tell him you’ll do it again, at random points during the day. That way he’ll have to watch you, just so he can see when it’s coming. He will have to pay attention to you then.”

Mari sipped her coffee, looking at Hodei over the ceramic lips of the bulb. “You’re a fucking idiot, you know that? Just see if you can talk to him. I don’t care if he hits you for it. If you don’t, I’ll hit you. And what would the great space bachelor Hodei do if at every port they knew he got beat up by some half-metal woman?”

Hodei stared at the padded walls in silence for a moment. He then stood up, looking at the ground. His face tried to betray emotions—so many complex emotions—but he held them in, keeping them behind a twisted map of his face. He threw his bulb against the wall. Coffee sprayed across the floor, the bulb bounced against the padding and then dropped to the floor—clink clink clink.

He stormed out, not saying a word. Mari smiled and knew that she would be getting her information soon enough.


7

Hodei paced in the engine room, knotted metal and brass wires brushing against his jumper, soft firefly sparks pulsating as they jerked and hovered in the air. In the center of the room sat giant, wet eggs, quivering and green and covered in sparkling electric webbing and film. In the center of the eggs nested the entanglement engine.

The engine resembled a human skull, bigger than Hodei, bigger than even Sugoi. It was yellowed with age, cracks lining different pieces, glued back together by the competent hands of the mozorro. It took up the width of the hallway, the eye sockets lined with translucent fungal wires.

Behind him, Hodei heard the door slide open with a loud clang, and then footsteps. Sugoi, he thought. Just on time. Acting like he had nothing planned, Hodei leaned in to get a closer look at the entanglement engine. He heard whispers in the skull, strange psychotic words that crossed over each other, a hundred voices, each of them mad. Conversations of ghosts. Each of them centuries gone, each of them trapped inside the engine, powering it.

A stone hand on his shoulder. The fingers bit into his bone. “Hey. You. What you say? Huh? You say mean?”

Hodei didn’t turn around. “What are you talking about?”

Sugoi moaned. “What? What. I tell. Mari, she mad for something. Dunno what. Last I saw, you talk her. Then I get you note. Come to ungun room. So, I come. What? What you say her? What you do her? Huh? You tell. I listen. Now.”

Hodei sighed. He heard the song of dead worlds, sung in the voices of ghost children. He heard stories of century-long wars fought in the void of space, with junk graves floating like asteroid belts around a wounded sun. “Look, dumbass, she was making fun of me for my porn.”

Laughter. The hand loosened, then patted him hard on the back. Hodei realized it was okay to turn around. His brother no longer saw him as a threat. The last time he had been seen as a threat, he spent a week in bed, the thalna combing over his body with their little hands, stitching him slowly back to life.

Sugoi was twice Hodei’s height, with a head that scraped on the ribs of the ceiling, his eyes black stones in his skull. A giant, Hodei thought. My brother is a giant carved out of stone.

“You stop reading that stuff. No thing for real girl. And we got new one now. You like, eh?”

Hodei smiled. He could use this conversation after all. “Yeah, she is hot. What do you think, you think I got a chance?”

Sugoi shrugged. If he had been a mountain, the sky would have been filled with moving stone. “Not your type, brotherbaby.”

Hodei felt his tools along his belt. He would need something in case Sugoi got mad. He wasn’t going in unarmed again. The screwdriver should do in a pinch. The wrong word, the wrong phrase, and his brother would erupt into violence. “I’m not? Well, whose type is she?”

Sugoi leaned his arms on his knees, just so he was eye level with his little brother. The giant smelled of dirt. Of trees and moss. The stone lips opened and spoke, his words the sealing of a grave. “She my type.”

Hodei leaned back and wrapped his fingers around the handle of the screwdriver. “I thought, well, I thought Mari was your type.”

Sugoi laughed. “She is. They both my type. But you can have other girl. Just want seconds, you know? I even help. Good for both, you know? We share when you get.”

Hodei forced a laugh. “Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, big brother.”


8

The mozorro cleaned. They climbed the halls of the egia, their nimble hands and legs digging into the giant bone architecture, latching onto ceiling, wall, and floor with mechanical agility. Their clay skin glittered with a microscopic intelligent dust, reading radio waves from Itsasu’s cage in the heart of the ship, recording their movements and sending them back to her for approval.

Their lizard-bone skulls swerved around with ratcheting sounds, pastel lenses deep in their eye sockets looking at each object they touched, inspecting it for flaws or anything that could be collected into a databank and marked with metatags.

They read back data as they scrubbed and fixed and cleaned, a constant stream of information, a societal memory that flowed with the ticking of the seconds. Notes and tags and images danced about, creating new formations, new layers within each mozorro as they hunted through the ship. The data danced into probabilities, the probabilities became predictions, and the mozorro prepared for, and awaited each catastrophe with an all-seeing prescience, using all of their abilities to keep the egia running and its crew alive.


9

Itsasu watched with mozorro eyes as Mari walked into the engine room. Itsasu’s crippled body swam around in her fluid, her frail form tensing. Her lips twisted back into a grin, a struggle for her skin and bones.

She watched as Mari walked over to one of the low-burning ion drives and ran her hand over the twisted, sparkling cages. The metal half of her face flashed dimly as she smiled and ran her fingers close to the firefly lights. Around the engine skull crawled several mozorro, scrubbing and cleaning and fixing to perfection.

Another mozorro crawled across the ceiling, focusing on a brown body walking into the engine room. The dusty suit of Sugoi, his face twitching, his hair mussed up on his head. Itsasu swam closer, her eye as close to the holo as possible. She clenched her bony fists to her sides and felt the fragile skin breaking with each movement, her blood a red dust in the fluid.

“The ungun room popular. For me. Why we meet here? Not in rooms? Like normals?”

Mari turned. Itsasu noticed the way Mari hid her face, trying to put the metal side in shadows as much as possible. “I need to talk to you. About the new girl. Why is she still here? We should’ve just sent her out in the pod or something.”

Sugoi shrugged. His eyes glanced at the whirring metal cages and the turning wire cords, his face struggling to hide a smirk at the mention of the new girl. “Dunno. You know captain. She got plans, sure. Hodei likes Ekhi enough.”

Mari walked forward, still hidden by the shadows. The only hint of her metallic face was the whirring of butterflies reflecting firefly lights. “Your brother likes anything with legs.”

Sugoi paused, staring at her. His eyes glared at the shadows, trying to see the metallic half of her face. “He not like you.”

She smiled, her good eye darting over his massive body. His whole form was retracted inward and tensed to snapping. Her red jewel reflected engine light in the darkness, a sparkling black amongst the shadows. “Never stopped him from hitting on me before.”

Sugoi’s eyes glinted, emotion breaking through the stone façade, a visage of slow pain. Anger and heat rose up inside his eyes, until they closed into slits of frustration. “I will break. Break bones. Break all. He lie. Lie to me.”

Mari stepped back. Such violence about ready to spring from the massive body.

“Trust him. He didn’t hit on me recently. I was talking about before.”

Sugoi chuckled. “Yeah. Still.”

Itsasu licked her lips, her eyes narrowing as she glanced over the holos, her eyes tracing his muscles. She zoomed in on Sugoi’s face, looking at each muscle in his jaw as he spoke. The flexing of the skin, the raw stubble across his cheek. Itsasu felt warm again, excited again.

Itsasu watched a smooth hand touch that cheek. One stained with grease. Mari’s hand? Manicured. Mari’s voice entered Itsasu’s gelatin prison. “Sugoi. Listen to me. The captain’s mission is important to us all, right?”

A pause. Heavy breathing. The hand moved off the cheek. The cheekbones were smooth. Itsasu could see every pore and blemish on that wonderful young flesh. “Yeah.”

“I mean, you still believe in our fearless leader, right?”

A shrug. Barely perceptible from this close. Itsasu saw muscles tensing, relaxing. She felt her own body tense, her whole frail form tighten. Her legs and groin tingled with a fluttering sensation. She resisted the urge to flail her twig limbs, resisted the need to unwrap her claw hands and try to reach down once again.

“Sure, I do.”

Each word was a muscle clenching, releasing, clenching, releasing.

“I do too. But I have this feeling that, well, that this new passenger is going to change things. Maybe even derail the mission. And where would that leave us? Us and all those years we spent on this ship, searching for—”

A pause.

“Don’t say, Mari. If you right, then we quiet. Not speak.”

Strands of braided hair moved over the camera. Gun-grey hair. Itsasu cursed and switched to a different mozorro. She saw the flesh of a bare back, curved hips and a straight spine. The metal face was no longer hidden by shadows, but instead stood vulnerable in the engine light, the butterflies beneath her skull cage dancing about in frenzied intensity. When had Mari dropped her clothes? “You’re right. Let’s do this quick, before your brother comes looking for us.”

Her back muscles flexed as Sugoi unzipped his dirty jumper and let it pool on the floor in a dusty heap. Several mozorro scurried up and cleaned around his clothes, making sure not to disturb the loose pile of fabric.

Mari walked over to Sugoi, leaned in and kissed him across his chest, pushing him to the floor as his hands tangled in her grey hair. The sound of the engine became a thundering rush of sounds as Mari straddled him, her hands on his chest as her back muscles tensed, released and tensed again.

Itsasu could not restrain herself anymore. She flailed her limbs, her arms down. She heard the snapping of her arm breaking and cursed as the pleasure fluids entered her prison once again.

She groaned in frustration and pleasure. It wasn’t the same, not without the physical contact. Even masturbation was something. This—this chemical love was unsatisfying. She flailed and moaned and came in conjunction with Mari and Sugoi, three rigid bodies releasing themselves in the floating graveyard of space.


10

Ekhi flailed against the walls, a mad ghost wailing in the honeycombed halls. Her mouth frantically formed shapes, her lips twisted and grimaced with each howling scream. She clawed at her shirt, her skin, clawed as if something was living beneath her skin and she had to dig it out. She had ripped and torn her face; her fingernails were still clogged with tiny bits of flesh and blood.

Down the hall, Mari ran toward the screams with Sugoi behind her; they were both red-faced and sweating, their minds buzzing with after-sex endorphins. They followed the panicked mozorro that scrambled and clung to the walls, not ready to see the broken figure of Ekhi in a complete and total psychotic break.

At the other end of the hallway ran Hodei, his eyes large and panicked, his hands pumping to either side. He did not make any sound as he ran, his footsteps swallowed by her screams.

Ekhi was trapped. The walls rushed in, the bodies rushed in. She tried to form words in her screams, tried to turn her cries into an expression of her dread and emptiness so the others could understand her pain, so the walls would feel empathy and not smother her underneath their honey limbs.

Mari reached her first, holding her, putting the screaming head against the smooth skin of her chest. Ekhi heard Mari’s heart beating like a clock planted between rib bones. Mari’s eyes closed as she said incantations under her breath, trying, by her will alone, to make all of this stop, make Ekhi become normal once again. In response, Ekhi sobbed and rubbed her head up against Mari’s shoulder, her tears mixing with the sweat of sex.

“He’s dead!” Ekhi screamed, her voice muffled by breasts and shirt.

Hodei crouched down, putting a hand on Mari’s shoulder, his fingers resting against bare skin, the metal cage of her cheek brushing against his knuckles. A spark of connection; a sadness flowed through the three of them like an open circuit. They saw the nova, felt the rising force of orgasms, and shivered intimately. The death of a star. The birth of a galaxy.

Sugoi shot his brother a warning glance, a threatening stare. Hodei shrugged, but did not move his hand. Ekhi screamed. “He went nova, nova, nova. He took out so many planets and neighboring stars. But not me. Not me. Why am I still alive? Why am I still here? I want to be dead! Why can’t I be dead? Why am I left behind?”

Mari tried to think of something appropriate to say. She could think of nothing at all. So, instead, she chanted more calming words under her breath, the phrases like steel rods rubbing together as she ran her hands through Ekhi’s hair. Ekhi screamed and wailed and bit and pushed, painful hands on breastbone, knees digging into ribs, teeth pushing past flesh and leaving red moons on Mari’s arm. Mari said nothing but her incantation, biting back her own screams of pain.

Sugoi stomped over to Hodei, his fists clenched and his eyes burning. He said something that was lost amongst the screams. Something threatening to Hodei. A warning, perhaps. Or a threat of things to come. His voice was low. It rumbled beneath the ship like an asteroid striking the armored sides, a thunder in the halls.

Hodei said nothing. He stood his ground, staring at his brother, the threats hitting hard and deep but causing no damage. Mari did not know what was happening. All she knew was that Ekhi screamed and Ekhi remembered, and that Mari would hate to be in that situation. To see Sugoi die before her very eyes. To be a survivor, carrying their child inside, planted with memories and genetic architecture, but still alone, haunted by the moments they had spent together.

Sugoi tensed, his rock form trembling. He pushed Hodei to the ground, the massive force throwing his tiny brother across the room with a single flick of a finger. Mari saw and could not move. She screamed, “Stop,” but it was lost amongst the wails and the sobs and combat, her words floating empty, without meaning, formless spirits forced back into the ether without purpose.

Hodei stood up, whipping out a crowbar from behind his back. It shone black under the halos of orange light.

STOP! STOP! He’s dead! He’s dead! screamed Ekhi. I will never see him again! Stop! Please stop. Stop it. Don’t kill each other—bring him back to life! Take me beyond death! I can’t handle this anymore. I can’t. Please, stop. Don’t do this. We don’t need this. Stop.

Footsteps. In the hall. Clanging, metallic. The footsteps of a doll. Hodei turned to see who it was, the ripples of his spine exposed. Sugoi moved a giant stone fist, punching Hodei square in the back as one of Itsasu’s dolls glided into the far end of the hall. Hodei’s body hit the ground with a wet thump.

Around Itsasu’s blue-haired doll floated the thalna on lightning-coated wings, their little eyes glowing blue with a holy neon light that blinked in short bursts of electrical conversation. Hodei spasmed on the ground in front of her, Sugoi grinning over his body like a mad giant about ready to eat for the first time in months.

Ekhi stopped screaming when she saw the captain’s doll. She lay quietly, curled up in Mari’s arms, gnawing tiny mouse holes in her fingers with the pointed tips of her eyeteeth.

Several of the thalna flew down and stitched Hodei back together, webs of glowing light fluttering beneath their fingers and sticking to his wet skin with a faint scratching sound, like a knife against canvas, removing paint. Sugoi stepped back, letting the doll through. She did not say anything to him. Not a word of reprimand or appraisal.

She bent over, her doll eyes staring into Ekhi’s flushed face. “I see that you remember.”

Ekhi nodded, muttering incantations under her breath.

“Good. Do you want to forget him? Your lover? Forever? I can do it. One word and the thalna will enter your mind, fixing it forever with their tiny scalpels. Is that what you want?”

Ekhi shook her head. “I have a responsibility. To remember him. For my sake. For our daughter’s sake.”

The doll nodded. “I understand. Do you want a sedative?”

Ekhi smiled. “No, no I’m fine now. A little shaken. But that’s about it.”

Mari helped Ekhi stand. Marble eyes watched them move, recording each movement and sending it back to Itsasu through her doll. Sugoi stood and watched as well, waiting for them to leave. Waiting to be alone with Hodei, once again. So he could break him, smash him, grind his face into the ribs of the egia for touching his girl.

The two women walked down the hallway, arms around each other’s waists, each using the other for support. They were like dolls themselves, broken rag dolls, trying to prop up one another’s boneless bodies. Itsasu watched through avatar eyes, through the mozorro eyes, through a thousand many-faceted eyes throughout the ship. The doll did not move her head, her face still staring down the hall. She whispered back to Sugoi, who waited.

“You had better go. Go back to your room. I’ll take good care of your brother. Understand?”

Sugoi did not nod, did not respond verbally. He only turned and walked back down the long ribs of the hallway. He would deal with Hodei later. He kept such events logged in his mind, deep in the crevices of his hate-drenched soul.

Someday, he was going to kill his brother.

It was just a matter of time.


11

Ekhi sat on her bed, the soft sheets knotted around her waist and legs, and a bulb of tea between her hands. Her eyes closed as the aroma of it teased her senses. Mari sat in the same chair by the same round door, a replica of when Ekhi had first awakened on board this new egia.

Maybe I was sleepwalking, Ekhi thought as she sipped the tea, the steam tickling her nose. Maybe I was sleepwalking and I just woke up now. That is why all of this is the same. Because now, now I am really awake.

Mari sighed, then spoke. Her voice was naked, the only sound in the room. “We’re hitting a port tomorrow. Floating port, out in the void of space. You don’t have to stay with us. You could find someone else there. Someone else who could take you—”

Ekhi opened her eyes. She was calm. A strange calm. The orange lights were low, tinting the room amber. “No,” Ekhi said, “What would I do? He’s not there anymore.”

Mari nodded. “You want me to go? I can leave you alone now, if you would like.”

Ekhi sipped some more tea. Calm. No, she wasn’t calm. That was the wrong word for this. Numb. She was numb. “No,” she said, “I want you to stay.”

Mari walked over and sat on the edge of her bed. “Okay. But I have to warn you, I’m not good for company. I guess that’s why me and Sugoi are perfect together. He doesn’t talk, and he doesn’t expect me too, either.”

The tea tasted strange on her tongue. Like a forest fire. As if Mari’s words had corrupted its flavor. “I know. I mean, in a way. I know.”

Mari pulled Ekhi against her shoulder again. “It’s the same isn’t it? Both of us trapped in silence. Silence we enjoy. What do you plan on naming her, your daughter?”

Ekhi sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t even know her yet. I’m not even starting to show. Maybe then, when I’m ballooning out and this feels real, when it is concrete fact. Then I can come up with a name for her.”

Mari kissed Ekhi on the head, her hair brushing against Ekhi’s lips and teeth. “Nothing is ever concrete.”

Their voices died down, their breaths silent on their lips. No noise, no sound. Not even the struggling engines of the ship or the cleaning of the mozorro. Just a void of space engulfing them with non-noise, surrounding them with non-being.


Act II: All the Stars Have Teeth


12

Ekhi awoke, panting, her body soaked in sweat, the room hot and the orange lights still on, still tinting the room in fluctuations of amber. The lights felt alive. She had dreamt. What had she dreamt? Of her star, her lover.

Still alive. Searching her out.

A pain tugged at her, dug into her. She felt her mind splintering, breaking apart. He was dead. She had watched him die. She came as he went, the lights of galaxies filling her, embracing her. Exhaling her. Making her whole.

She laid her head back on the pillow, resisting the desire to call Mari. She was split between what she felt and what she knew. She could not see reality, not even in the middle, floating between the two like a bridge. Only illusions, faceted shadows, splintering into dizzying forms.

She could not go back to sleep.

She did not want to go back to sleep.

Instead she tossed and turned, trying to decide which had more reality, which had more gravity. Her dream and her intuition, or her memory?


13

The mozorro howled in wolfling pain, their lizard-skull faces shaking with each movement as they combed the ship, bursting with warning. The lights went from amber to a waxy red, the walls shaking and the bursts of hollow explosions ringing in their ears, trapped within the void of space.

Intruder! they howled, Invader! Foreign!

They called for the white blood cells to come storming through the ship with poison arms, wrapping and grasping the outsiders that walked amongst them. They sent warning chemicals to Itsasu, recorded images of the invaders for her to watch.

Itsasu stirred; the chemicals burned her skin.

The antibodies were withdrawn, their chemical compositions still forming. She would have to go as a doll and stop this herself. She only hoped her crew was prepared. This was war. This was suicide. They had no choice. Invaders could only be after one thing, the thing that Itsasu kept hidden in the secret part of the ship. The true meaning for her mission, the sole purpose of the last few centuries of her life.

The Ortzadar engine.

And there was no way she was going to give it up to some pirates storming her ship. No way she was going to just roll over and play along with their stupid little games. It would stretch her brain waves thin, but she commanded the computer to awaken four of her dolls and get them ready for war.


14

Mari ran to Ekhi’s room, her boots sliding across the floor as she came to an abrupt stop in front of the door, her heart on fire, her lungs struggling, her mind floating with a thousand thoughts. Panic, she thought. Emergency, she thought. In the distant echoes of the halls, she heard the mozorro scream.

She forced the door open with a single thrust of her orange passkey. It slid aside reluctantly, the rust on the sides grating against the ceiling and sending a metallic dust below. In the circle of the doorframe, Mari saw a hollow-shelled room with the bed messed up and the blankets strewn across the floor in knotted piles. No sign of blood, no sign of struggle.

The butterflies in her skull cage leapt about, fluttering in fright. They spoke what Mari could not: danger, warning. Something in the ship. Something coming for them. Ekhi wasn’t there, wasn’t in her room. Mari hoped Ekhi was safe. Hoped Ekhi was someplace else, hiding in the secret corners of the ship.

She turned and let the door slide back to a close as the sound of footsteps penetrated her thoughts. The metallic clang-clanging of dolls as they stomped through the long, winding halls of the egia. She remembered when she was a child, living on one of the Norilian moons. She had gone swimming in the planet-sized lake, diving off the edge of the man-made island, the metal edges brushing her feet as she knifed into the water. Cold. Blue. Rushing around her.

And then she remembered seeing things, things on the bottom of the lake. She had known that her people had killed all of the original inhabitants, that the terraforming and the island had cost the natives their lives. But she had never seen it until that moment. Never seen that the bottom of the planet was one long graveyard, filled with the corpses of mermaids and mermen, their long hair whipping along with the waves, their eyes staring up in the leathery skull skin.

A fear. She had been afraid that they would reach up and grab her. That they would drown her to keep her down there with them, forever on the bottom of the lake, swimming with them until she bubbled out of breath. Terraformed to death.

It was the same in the egia, this fear, this fear that these people could destroy them, could kill them. It came back fast, filling her every vein with that same panic she had felt as a child. Outsiders. Invaders. Those who wanted to kill her.

Crimson-faced war dolls stomped around the corner with ringing feet. All female, carrying betadurs in their hands, the rifle tips sparkling with gold and blue energy. Ready to fire. Ready to turn Mari into a pool of flesh and metal. They wore white aprons trimmed with red flowers, their waxy skin barely covered by the straps and fabric. They each had red hair that fell over faces and shoulders in wild, messy curls.

The dolls stopped when they saw her. Their feet stopped clang, clang, clanging; their marble eyes focused on Mari. “You are not him,” one said, pointing the rifle at Mari, the tip glowing hot and the air tensing with magnetic spirals.

These were not Itsasu’s dolls. Her dolls had an elegant grace, a sort of Neo-Victorian aesthetic. These were crude creatures. Sex puppets. War puppets. Something designed by a man, controlled by a man.

Mari looked at each of the dolls. “I’m not who?”

The mozorro screamed in the background.

“She is of no use to us. Continue the search.”

They clanged past Mari, shoving her aside. The minute they were out of her sight, she ran through the hallways, the honeycombed passages blurring past, her body in a panic, her mind filled with terror. With each moment, she remembered swimming down, seeing the graceful limbs dancing even in death. Her arms shook and her heart danced. But her mind, her mind was perfectly clear. Focused on a single goal: to be armed. To be ready.

She ran through the rec room and the half-filled mess hall, the mozorro screaming at her as she passed. She ran through bedrooms and entertainment parlors, and finally she ran to the docking station, the long hangar next to the main airlock.

The room was the largest in the egia, big enough for smaller ships to be docked inside of it. Above her head lay the ribs of the ship, gothic bone arches propping up the ceiling. At the far starboard end she saw that the air vent was open, and it led into a fragile glass tube suspended between two ships. A sucking sound came from the tube, like wet lips over a straw. She saw stars glitter beyond the tube, the walkway exposed to the infinite emptiness of the universe.

The light of a sun glittered off of the glass, reflecting a nearby planet and its trio of moons. The moons, they were blue and hovering, terraformed places, designed to keep human life. One was covered in water and gentle mechanical islands, and she thought again about the dead of her home planet and could not help but feel like she had come full circle in her life.

She walked calmly over to the line of lockers against the wall and pulled open her personal closet. She pulled out her suit, pulled out her own betadur. She slipped the black fabric over her head, hooking up the oxygen tubes, letting air flow through her suit. The cool artificial breeze tingled against her skin, giving her goose bumps and awakening some hidden cluster of memories nested in her mind. Memories of space. Of killing. She felt a change come over her, the suit clinging to her, masking her in its own memories.

This was a second skin. An exoskeleton. She felt insectoid, the memories of a hive mind crawling into her through the chitinous armor. Now she was the scavenger. Now she was the killer. This suit had seen death, had seen blood. It would see more, it would shed more. She twirled her betadur in her hands. It was heavy, hot. Enchanted. She felt the fire grow inside her.

And now, Mari thought, I beat them at their own game. They will see the thunder of my hands, feel the roaring waves of my heart burst upon them. They will tense and burn in my fire, their bodies crisp relics scattered across the stars.

As quietly as she could, she crept into the glass tube. She kept in the shadows, using the tricks of artificial light to hide her body as much as possible, letting the glow refract around her and disguise it as shadows on the wall.


15

Ekhi hid. She hid in the dark place, the unseen place. The place that was barely habitable. A tube that carried oxygen and hot air down through the vents below. She was curled in a ball, trying to close in on herself, one hand protectively grasping around the circle of her stomach.

It’s them, she thought. The glass eaters. They’d come back for her even though the planet was gone, was burnt up, was nothing but asteroids now. That had to be them. They made the same loud clanging noise, had the same metallic voices.

She had thought she was safe. After so long, after so many years. How could she have thought that? Her brother’s ghost still haunted her, and that meant they could, too. It meant they could hunt her and find her, even though they should be dead. Because by all rights, she should be dead too, dead over and over again. Because the world wyrms had eaten them all.

She crawled a little farther into the vent, thinking. She tried to forget about the past, even for a moment. Tried to forget being twelve and hiding in the passages beneath the station, seeing the ground so far below and the moon so close above, fat and pregnant and full, just like now.

She tried to forget about them dragging Tobat’s dead body through the tunnels. Tried to forget the trail of blood behind him. Like a snail. A red snail trail. A brother blood trail. The scraping sound of flesh on metal. She felt nauseous.

As a distraction from her memories, she decided to try to name her little girl. She knew it was a girl, no sensor or scanner necessary. A little girl whom she would keep safe. Keep alive and normal and brilliant. Naming her would be a way of moving out of the past and into the now. A chanting of names to calm and quiet her busy nerves.

Laino? Lurra? What was her name? Ekhi looked down at her stomach and asked in a whisper, What is your name, little girl? What is it? Urtzi? Sorguin? Tronagarru? Maju?

None of the names fit. None of them felt right. The words entered her mind, whispered on the tingling tips of her lips, but died when spoken aloud. They were void words. Empty, meaningless words.

She heard a banging directly beneath her. And the sound of something sliding across the floor. And she knew, knew, knew it was her brother’s body again. And again, and again. That body sliding, that wet red trail slicking the ground beneath him.

She leaned over. The air was so hot, so barely breathable. She was slick and sweaty and vomiting and nothing could keep her thoughts from smashing into one another, disrupting any coherence in her mind.

So, she crawled and crawled and tried to make as little noise as possible. And kept trying on the shape of names, to see if they fit. Each word calmed her a little, while each sound beneath her took her back to that time, that time when Ekhi and her dad had climbed into the back of an egia and stole away aboard a ship to the skysea, leaving the wyrms to eat away at the glowing blue and gold world below and the glass eaters to tear her family to shreds, removing even their patuek so there was nothing left of them to resurrect.

She heard a scraping sound beneath her again. A hot thrust of air hit her and Ekhi felt like her skin would burn right off and leave her ash and bone. She struggled and bit her tongue and climbed through the veins of the ship, through the hot and sweaty veins, moving closer and closer into the heart of the egia.

That is where I will be safe, she thought. The heart. It is safety.


16

Hodei sat on his bed in the dark, hearing the chaos out in the honeycombs of the ship. He had his knife in his hands and his circular door closed, his clothes scattered in a messy pool on the floor.


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