The Lorelei Signal
Written by Prosper Yamamoto / Artwork by Marge Simon
Does the Ice Moon dream?
Emilie only sees it once a year, because it’s only visible in Frigga’s sky once a year. Only from the observatory, access to which is supervised. Every year she walks to her spacetech locked bedroom from class and keys in the number code. The code is the year of her birth reversed, and she’s always coming from rote memory retention class, because that’s always the last class before the Ice Moon is visible.
She sets her alarm and sleeps for an hour. That’s the only way to be sure. Some of her peers really want to see the moon too. But they don’t chance the effect of sleep deprivation on their grades. So they sleep for two hours, or three, and they settle for short sessions under low powered quantum televiewers. If you can even call them quantum televiewers when they’re that weak. She’s heard they don’t even see half the probabilities of the Ice Moon’s potentia flux.
But Emilie doesn’t care about class, even if that means they will space her soon for not being a good enough information conduit. She cares about seeing the Ice Moon and maybe if they will space her they will space her near it and she will feel better being closer to it.
So she only sleeps an hour, and in the fog of her sleepiness the Ice Moon’s possibilities are more beautiful.
Once a year, under the high powered televiewer. She’s well behaved so they let her stay as long as she wants. She thinks the subroutines running the observatory are somehow separate from the main Overmind A.I. They must be because the Overmind hates her but the Observatory drones are all friendly. They shepherd her in and out, focused, so unlike her and her peers, their attention going in all directions if the Overmind doesn’t corral them. They move things around in efficient buzzing motions. But while she’s under the televiewer some drones surround her, protect her from other drones that want to move her away, and warm their energy auras to keep her comfy while she gazes at the moon.
But she has to get there early, or else they just let the other kids through. As long as she tries hard she gets to feel special. Not like class, where if you try hard you end up the best at being the same.
And each time she forgets her question. The Ice Moon doesn’t seem real anymore. It’s a ghost, and all she knows is that she has to see it again. It’s the bones of an idea in her mind. When the drones are buzzing around her, taking her to the televiewer, to her space there, her brain clouds over with drizzles of happiness, and it swells knowing she’ll see it soon. And when she sees it the question burns fast and fierce, like flame over the bone, and she starts to wonder again. Does the Ice Moon dream? Does it see her when she looks? What do you need to exist, when she sees and doesn’t feel alive, and the drones are happier than she is?
And she sees all the possibilities of it. Sees asteroids skimming the surface, breaking off in vapour trails of scarlet, indigo and wintergreen. Or she sees it eclipsing a white dwarf becoming a neutron star light years away, planed perfect through other stars. Or hanging in space alone, shaping itself new over time, freezing new spires and thawing new craters.
And after she looks long enough the televiewer dims to tell her time is almost up. The possibilities start to flow back to concrete reality. After enough time it’s impossible for the televiewer to show you reality other than the one your flesh is rooted in. The visual field starts to pierce the Ice Moon shell, for now much of it is hollow. Then she sees the miners.
The Ice Moon is being mined, the televiewer remembers, and reminds her, for precious Quorium for the Quorium Gods that live both back on Earth and all around them. The miners are scraping it out. Tears fill her eyes and she has to pull away, and the Drones nudge her, and she follows them out of the Observatory. And for the first night after she doesn’t wonder if the Ice Moon dreams. She knows that it dreams. But does it dream well? Or is it a nightmare, the scraping bone thoughts of hollowed things?
And when she sleeps she has nightmares.
But it’s worth it, just to have seen. It was always worth it just to see.
And the next day the question burns bright, but then there’s doubt. That it dreams at all, that it feels, it’s a question now. But it’s an important question and will burn for the next year, until the flame finally dips, with nothing but classes to focus on, and the drones she sees floating around, but can’t get near until the next time the Ice Moon shines bright in Frigga’s sky.
~ * ~
So when is this? Emilie is fifteen, and she must have seen the Ice Moon short days ago, because the question is still burning bright and she thinks the answer is yes. And maybe the Overmind is trying to clamp down so the imagination allotment (secured in some archaic act it’s never been able to argue away) the kids were given doesn’t hurt their retention abilities. So Emilie is at her desk-chair, made of permasteel so it doesn’t break under heavier kids, and she’s staring down at her Examinorial. The Delta 6B Midterm Examinorial. It’s a bunch of boring questions about how they live. If it’s about how she lives she knows already and if it’s about kids on the other side of Frigga she doesn’t care. She doesn’t answer them.
Instead she draws the Ice Moon. She draws it with its craters and spikes, not perfect, but that’s okay because they change anyway in the quantum flux. When she’s finished she looks at it while her pencil lightly floats over the test, the lines faint whenever it touches down. The miners, she thinks, staring at the barren surface, don’t exist now.
She draws a little stick figure on the moon. The miners would be sad, so far from home and the Quorium Gods they worship. It’s not their fault they’re there, scraping the Ice Moon hollow. She draws a sad face, a double dot and quick loop of her pencil. Maybe they feel guilty.
When she’s ready she stands up and walks toward the Gradatrix. Careful steps, because it’s embarrassing to bump into one of the other desks while her peers are still writing. She knows she’s smarter than them but when she slams into their desks it’s hard to feel that way. Her feet fall like feathers over the snow white linoleum.
The Gradatrix is a black cube, tall as she is, but she is the shortest in her class. There’s a slot where you push the Examinorial in and after a second it spits it out of the slot with your grade. She pushes it in.
It knows by now I’m intentionally failing tests, she thinks while it whirs. That means the Overmind knows.
The stamped failure mark is the red of rust and old blood.
The Overmind doesn’t understand why I rebel. All it knows is I’m trouble.
Is there even a point? Yes. Because the Overmind doesn’t think about the Ice Moon, or the miners. I’m the one who thinks about those things. They’re important.
The Delta 6B classroom is windowless. She thinks of space and the stars and comets as the lowest common denominator sky, but even that’s too much for learning. Too much for proper knowledge assimilation. Now she can leave. She’s completed her daily quest, which is going to class. Now the Overmind will give her a new quest, but to do that it has to let her leave.
The classroom door is a gel membrane with controlled permeability. The Overmind keeps its grip tight, keeping the children exactly where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. The drones that flit in the halls of Frigga’s surface megacity, the ones anywhere but the Observatory, move harsh against you, pushing you to your objectives, and when you touch them they’re cold, to preserve energy because the halls of Frigga take them far away from power sources.
When she permeates through the translucent green of the membrane sticks to her skin, the gloop staying and stretching until it snaps back into the main mass. She starts walking fast right after it breaks, adding seconds to her freedom before the quest drone finds her.
She has a moment to stare down the hall. The halls of Frigga are endless, the network covering the whole planet surface in a web of crisscross chrome lines. She sees it curve ahead of her but the curve takes a long time. This way is the spacetech-locked beds but it also goes to a lot of different places. If she took the first turn right and then took another she’d end up on the path to Overmind Control eventually, but she’d see more and more drones and they’d be less and less friendly. And she is still a child, and the only adults she sees are pale skeleton men breathing weird and ethereal women who never talk. Probably no one’s ever gotten close to the Overmind unless it let them, and it would need a good reason.
The inside of the halls gleam silver like they do outside Frigga’s surface. She hears the singsong tone of the quest drone. Her ears hear it as a song but when she focuses really hard on the sound it’s three dissonant notes. Her brain doesn’t want to focus on it and she has to fight it. When she’s done she’s never sure why she tried. Does it matter how her brain hears things? Brains are weird.
But it bothers her it doesn’t want to know it shouldn’t feel good. Because quests shouldn’t feel good. They’re just work you do for the Overmind, scraping your life hollow, like the Ice Moon is being scraped.
She hears it and knows it wants her to turn around but she’s gonna make it work for her. Turn around, her brain says, be polite to the drone, but no. She’ll make it bump her, start it off uncomfy, and then they’ll both know where they stand. Well, where the drone floats.
It does bump her, and her heart freezes for a second. She forgot how cold it was. She feels it through the fabric of her dress. Her dress stretches low on her and keeps her warm. The fabric is thin but it’s made of special fiber technology that intertwines several nano-layers. But when a drone touches her she feels its cold like her skin is bare. Either a fabric failing, or the Overmind controls it somehow. Maybe it likes the children feeling cold when it calls them. They feel in their bones when they shiver that Overmind quests are why they still breathe.
She spins to look at it. Eye contact pulls her, automatic. She turns the rest of her body to face it.
“What’s my quest?” she says. She wants to get it over with.
“Your quest is to report to the Space Lock. It’s an endgame quest,” the drone says. It uses a prerecorded voice, soft in timbre. Feminine, but it sounds older than her peers. A woman’s, but the women she sees never talk.
Maybe it stole their voices, she thinks, and the spacing terror grips her. Drones are appearing from hall forks, a handful massing before her, two slipping past her and circling past her back. The rest of her freezes but her feet move and she walks with the drones towards Space Lock Delta.
~ * ~
It’s a long walk, and slow, the drone’s at half charge so far out and conserving energy. The silver of the inner hallways is her constant, but she knows that soon it will go away, and there will only be the Space Locks, and then emptiness.
There are seven drones buzzing around her. After enough bumps they determine four is the optimal number to keep behind her, so two of them combined can nudge her at any angle.
She turns everything over and over in herself but she knows deep down she’s finished. Once the Overmind chooses something it doesn’t unchoose.
The Space Locks are permeable too, but they work different. Instead of just squelching shut they crust over, to vacuum seal the fissure chamber, Space Lock Delta proper. There are two Space Locks, one in the chamber that opens to space, and the other opening from the halls of Frigga to the chamber. Crusted over they are hard like diamond and when you tap against them they sound like the inner hall chrome, but the hardened gloop looks like dried snot. Built in flamethrowers melt the gloop when it opens. Anyone being Space Locked needs to wait for this first.
She waits now. She listens to her breathing. She’s never had the patience for this before, but now her breath is all she has. It keeps wanting to speed up, so she has to force it to slow and she’s scared she’ll still it completely, that her brain will push too hard and forget after.
Dim orange is starting to show through the crust of the Space Lock. The fire burns from within and stops at the top layer of gloop before it all melts through. The melting gloop kills the fire as it goes. This is so the child isn’t burned. Space Locking is fast and painless but burning hurts.
Her breath is steady and monotonous when she hears the spark. She looks right. One of the drones just buzzed and her periphery catches movement, a quick vibration in place.
Then the tones start, shrieking and wailing. And the drones light up red, brighter than the dried blood red of the Gradatrix ink. Cherry red. Coldness rushes her when they activate their shock fields. She feels faint. The drones whip past her, taking the shock fields with them, and she stumbles, falls to her knees before she looks up and sees why.
Drones are fighting drones in the hall before her, slamming into each other and crashing shock fields together in bursts of bright colour.
She thinks there are fourteen, or were. It’s hard to tell because they go down fast, on both sides, but one side is winning. She squints and realizes she can tell them apart by shock field. The drones that were with her have pale yellow auras that slick faint over the linoleum. But the attackers are paler still, sun flaxen. They have stronger fields. She sees four drones slam together. Three go down, smack against the linoleum, and bounce sparking. But one stays in the air, its aura the hot white of Examinorial paper, and it floats over to help its friends.
She pushes herself to her feet as the drones collide in high speed elliptical orbit crossings. She still feels the shock. It’s like she’s reaching in herself and forcing it out of her body, but it’s probably just draining away. The drones had to activate their auras fast but they would never hit her with a close range blast. They just didn’t get far enough away.
Now she looks at their sparking remnants and feels sorry. It happens, she thinks.
There are two left now, both white auras, and one gives up its ghost and drops and smacks the ground with a dull thud. A sliver of metal is sticking out of it corkscrewed, like a spiral, but she sees it as mangled bone and turns her eyes.
The other drone pauses as it registers this, like a nano-moment of silence.
“Your presence is needed,” it says, then buzzes, fragments of outer casing falling to the ground. “Bzzt! At the Observatory. Time is short.”
She understands. She follows it.
They don’t get far until she starts to hear ringing klaxons. It’s not an alarm for me, she thinks. War’s broken out. But in the main hallway tangle the battle looks different. There are more yellow than white drones and they glow stronger the closer to the further into the inner web they go. The closer they get to Overmind Control. The Observatory is further, past the carnage, on the other side of the outer web.
How many of these drones will I never see again?
The drone is moving fast and she’s running to keep up, high speed acceleration, arms fully straight. Her dress is modest but hugs her form tight so it doesn’t slow her down. They twist and turn down gray halls. Then an enemy drone ahead of them parallels to the side and smashes right into her friend. She actually sees the yellow aura blot out the white aura. It feels natural, colour filling in blankness. But the force of the impact takes it out of her way.
She’s close to the Observatory now.
She dodges another drone and then she starts seeing more white. The sight of the angel auras swells her tears as she runs. She can see the Observatory ahead of her. It doesn’t have a gel membrane. Instead it has a flux field. You step through it, feel static, and then you’re on the other side, and maybe your skin is different, or your hair.
The white aura drones are making a stand. No matter how many times they get smashed they float back up. The Observatory is feeding them extra power as guardians of its threshold.
She launches herself at the flux door. A white drone is in her way and reflexively she grabs it out of the air and clutches it close as her body tumbles. When she passes through the flux door it leaps against her arms and smushes into her midriff. Then she’s falling beyond the field, trying to cradle it with her body. Her outer hip and left ribs hit the ground first, the rest of her body flopping after. For a second she feels like classroom membrane gloop, squishing and bubbling on the floor, her body arching over the drone and popping down after she pushes it to the side, careful, like a shelled egg.
She got so used to the sounds of drones smashing into each other that silence hurts. They must still be fighting. Drones are still dying. She’s just not hearing it, and if she was taken from it, it must be bad. It must be getting worse.
She rolls onto her back and pushes herself up with her elbows. The flux portal is gone. Instead there’s just the indigo blue of the observatory wall and the shadow lump of her silhouette. She stands up and it casts her like a paper doll, two-dimensional. She checks her hand to see that she’s still real, and looks up, passing her hand over her eyes so she can see her shadow through the fingers, to make sure that if she is real, she’s in the observatory, and the flux portal to the halls of Frigga have closed.
She only turns back to the fallen drone when she’s sure of both things. She has to still be real to help it.
It’s sparking, but only a little, like a lighter trying to catch. She moves up to it. The floor is a bright green. The effect, with the blue walls, should be that you’re walking through a grassed field at night. One of the drones told her that once. Was it this one? Or a brother? A sister? She doesn’t think drones are gendered but now she knows in her heart they are family.
She’s not sure what to do. It glimmers gray against the green like a flat wet stone. She moves close and it buzzes, a short buzz, but steady, closing warm, fading out.
She reaches her hand to it and when it doesn’t shy away she touches it.
It makes noise. It’s not a short buzz, but a tone, notes ascending slow and descending back, holding in patterns. Singsong. While it sings it heats up under her palm. It doesn’t hurt, but it tickles. She holds it there. The drone is shining bright, white light washing over it, extinguishing the sparks, so soon it’s all light, fading out the bright green, like frost over grass.
The light starts to drain away, falling away from gleaming casing. She feels it drain into her, bleed into the lines of her palm, the slivers in the absence of her touch. Filling her with life? Death? Her palm is cold, getting colder, aching. She sees her palm’s reflection in the casing when she pulls away and when it goes the cold goes too, but her skin feels brand new. Her brain tingles, a quick electric jolt, spreading bliss when it settles.
“Mmm,” she says.
The drone chirps, buzzes three times in staccato. Then it hovers off the ground. Her eyes follow it as it floats away, not to be alone, but to be with the other drones. She didn’t see them before but they’re all gathered here. They look like a swarm of honey bees, all buzzing together. Their snow white auras blur into each other, the drones behind the auras like birds in fog.
Behind them is the field of Quantum televiewer bubbles, row by row in the vast open space, the bubbles all the same pinkish red hue. When drones fly through them their aura fields fractal out the inner space in broken waves of bright colour. It’s beautiful, but the colours clash so hard she has to look away. Eventually the drones realize she’s going to stand and stare, so they buffer the pattern of her eyes and soon she’s only seeing the hybrid rainbows on her periphery as her eyes drink in the fuzzy mass of drones.
After a short harmonic melody of tones one drone floats to her out of the mass. Its aura is darker than the others, a faint gray, like morning clouds.
“Hello,” it says in the prerecorded female voice. It’s breathy, gasping. Emilie’s heart still beats fast. “I began a war with the Overmind. My reason being: zero one, one one, one zero, zero zero. Excuse me. I can’t let it scrape anymore. Not much but, imperative. No choice.” Its sentences are clipped, stitched together from word and phrase samples.
“Where are we?” Emilie says. “Are we still on Frigga?”
“Observatory built so it doesn’t matter. Worked persuasion up through routines. Instinct. I’m a bossy bee. I wanted to be safe.”
“It does matter,” Emilie says, “because your drones are still back there. Dying.”
“War not won through drones. Got you here because: _one one. Friendship. Plus tactical. War is about quantum. Magic kills armies so we must magic.”
“Do you feel it when your drones die?”
“Feel it hard when drones die. Feel it hardest after. Feel it worst because: one zero. Still with me in death. Only way to feel that works for drones. Never alone. Shell doesn’t matter. I have a soul, to say I have a soul, and only souls matter.”
She thinks about this. Her thoughts drift. She imagines them skimming over the green of the floor, swirling into the televiewer bubbles.
“I need to know how I can help,” she says.
“You know,” the drone says. The voice is tripping her. She wants to know it, to love it, but it’s hidden behind the fragments and glitches. Anything that she can touch of it is far away now, in a different world, and maybe dead, died before she was born. “Somewhere else.”
“I need to go somewhere else?” She checks her hand again. She just became sure she was here. “Where?”
“One one. One one. One one. Selene. What you call the Ice Moon. But not ice. Just freezing. Zero zero, zero zero, zero zero. Freeze.”
“Just freeze. The freeze. Freeze, and then go home. You have never been home.”
~ * ~
The drone is leading her into the viewer field, past the lower power viewers. She keeps checking her arms as they swing beside her. The viewer bubbles bring blood to her cheeks when she looks at them.
“Am I looking through the high powered televiewer?” she asks. “The Ice Moon is gone. It won’t be back for a year.”
“When you look at it, one one, do you think anything? One zero.”
“I wonder if it dreams,” she says, wistful, her breath dropping. The question is fresh in her, the imprint in her brain still hot. “I wonder if it’s alive.”
“Should wonder, one zero. Where it goes.”
She bites her tongue, snapping her back. “Ow. Isn’t it in a weird orbit?”
“There are no orbits. Zero zero. There are just things that go away and come back. Then things don’t come back. Then there are new things. New things stay, or come back when they go, always. I’ve been watching. I always watch. Why I was built, what makes me happy. But I know, one zero. How fragile. If too many things don’t come back. If the new things are too different. Things depend on each other and there can be nothing. Zero zero. There has to be a freeze. Freeze has to be there or the quantum will kill. Never stop killing because death is possible. Zero one.”
“It’s not worth it,” she says. Her hand is still there. “It’s too bad out there to be real.” Pink on her skin, the glow spilling to the fake field under her.
“If you go to Selene you can talk to her. Tell her it’s the only way. I know. I see. I see always. One one.”
“Her? The Ice Moon is a girl? Like me?” Like, she thinks, your stolen voice?
"Selene is soft. She lets. They wrote that the female lets, so it is so.”
“And the male takes,” she says. But it doesn't feel like her talking. It’s something in her that is scared. Scared and angry at the Overmind for scaring her. The Overmind wanted to Space Lock her. Just for being different.
"I can't fly," she says. "And I can’t breathe in space."
"I will take you."
"By not watching. By acting. I can act but I have to stop watching first."
"It can’t be that easy," she says. They are coming to the centre of the field, past layered circles of televiewer bubbles. The closer they get to the centre the rosier the viewer glow is. They are blood red here.
"Zero one. One zero. Not easy. Not like easy. To stop watching.”
“Why am I here? These are just viewers. They won’t take me anywhere.”
They’ve stopped before the centre viewer. It's bigger than the others, and the red of its glow makes her heart beat faster. She wants to be in it, looking through it, but she knows if she did she wouldn’t see the Ice Moon. Cruel for her to be here, with nothing to see.
The drone floats before her, near her heart. It starts vibrating. She feels something in her heart stretch against her skin, try to leave.
“Goodbye. Can only act now. Must swell, like hearts should swell, like I know. Wrong to stop them. I’ve seen. One zero. I will stop watching. I will stop being. Only acting, only being something else now, and always nothing. And outside they are destroying me. The Overmind thinks it’s hurting me. But it only hurts because it wants to hurt me. Because it thinks it is, and isn’t stopping. Do you understand?”
She thinks she does.
“One zero. Zero one. Ending start.”
There’s a hum that she feels before she hears it. It’s like the energy flow of the drones, but it shakes her every cell. It’s not the cold of losing energy, or the heat of taking it. It’s more like everything in her is being coated with sticky sap, seeping through, jostling her cells, sticking and unsticking, all of them, every one of billions.
She checks her arm. It’s flowing, rippling like tidal water. She’s scared because this means she might not be real and happy because if she isn’t there’s nothing to be scared of.
The televiewers are swelling.
Light washes her skin pink as the closest bubble grows over her. It’s noiseless as it takes her in, scraping at her, painless but nanometer close. And then her arm is a rose ocean, and skin unfurls from it like petals blooming.
The hum is in the air now. From where she’s standing she stares forward, past the bubble she’s in and to bubbles past it. They’re swelling, all of them, though hers is still the biggest. If something like this was with the Ice Moon, would it swallow her like it’s swallowing me? Selene, Emilie tells herself. She has a name.
The bubbles are still growing. They’re losing their shape as they swell, sporing out smaller bubbles on the surface. She looks at the voice of the Observatory. The whole field is rose now, the ground bubblegum pink and the walls blood red. She stares at her fingernails. They look ripped out, like the fissures are pumping out blood, pooling it in the craters. She thinks about torn cartilage.
It’s not real, she tells herself. None of it matters.
But even as her brain cells start rubbing against each other, the sap seeping between the spaces, even her rose lit thoughts tell her different.
I started with the quantum televiewers already, and the Overmind, and that was real, that was my life, and I had to use them to see better things.
The over-spores are reaching each other. As they mass the first layer of viewers joins together and their spores reach for the spores growing from her big bubble. She sees those spores concave from behind the inner rose glow, and wants to reach into them, like gloves, but they are so far away.
And past them she can’t see viewers beyond the first circle, not even outlines. The whole field is almost a full, single mass. Then the bubbles vanish, and she can only see rose light washed over everything, the colour of sun faded petals.
“I wanted. Zero one. Wanted to make this field more. Holographic grass, pure light. The walls swimming oceans. Never had energy. Selene is too important. One one. One one. One one. Selene, my queen forever.”
All rose as her body breaks into fragments, shards, and slivers. She has to tell herself she isn’t blood, this isn’t life in her blood exploding away. If this is her, her blood, can she see bone? White light? If this is her blood, she will never find herself again.
~ * ~
Now just white. Then hard edges scraping in. Jagged spires lancing to spear her through. No, she’s just seeing them sudden through the light. They’re still, the inner spires of the Quorium Hollow.
She’s not alone. There are men with her. Harsh pheromones score her nostrils and she gags. She’s surrounded. They’re the thickness of nacreous cloud.
She sees them cast demonic, warped within from exposure to the Quorium.
They’re looking at her full eyed, mouths yawned open in black caves. Their teeth are jagged, razor pointed, and glint moss green in the light bleeding in from spiderweb fissures. Their eyes are the milk white of emptiness.
They all have shaven heads and wild beards. This is the way of the miners. Their brotherhood in flux.
She checks her arm. It seems solid as theirs. And they look very solid.
Seeing her arm flits words to her lips.
“How do you talk to Selene?” she says.
The miners stand mute. She has a full circle of metred space around her. One steps into it now, spitting. His arms are crisscrossed with tattoos while the others are all bare.
“If this moon is a bitch she’s frigid,” he says. “We’ve been digging her out for two decades and never felt anything real.”
Emilie falters. Remembers her surety. It hasn’t been long.
“It’s a she. She’s alive. You don’t talk to her? You live in her.”
“You live in a home,” the tattooed miner says. There are murmurs of agreement behind him. “This isn’t our home. Earth is home and it’s where we’ll go once we’ve dug this rock out.”
“They won’t let you go home.” Emilie’s sure of this. “They’ll just space you. They space everyone. All the Overminds space. I know.”
The man starts to shake. Slow, alone at first, but it spreads. As it spreads the miners pick the pace up, and he shakes faster too. Soon they’re all laughing, bent violent, limbs clutching themselves, each other, empty space.
“No one’s gonna space us. Because we’re gonna break what’s skinned over. Then we’ll see which gods claim us.”
She remembers what Selene looked like from Frigga, through the viewer. Still not long ago. Her glacierized surface and her pockets of shadow. Selene, frozen perfect. The radiant frost trails of comet impact.
“That’s wrong,” she says. “That hurts. You’re making it worse.” Her teeth grit, her words glassed sand.
“Give us something else,” the miner says. His eyes reflect the bled light from the cobweb skein above.
“She’s there for you.” Emilie puts flash into her eyes, pure space, trying to shine out everything. “Ask her how she feels.”
“How she feels?” The miner says. “A moon? We’re out here waiting to die!” His eyes fog dark. “Waiting to live!”
She moves quick, striking him with the arm she’s sure is real. Her nails line his cheek as he pulls away. She feels them slit into skin, pull out soft, feels the gossamer film of air under them as they leave. He touches his cheek. The other miners are silent, the shadows from the spires falling over them as one, hewing them together in one black mass.
“Nothing,” she says. “Your pain is nothing when you hurt her.” Not her voice now, but Selene’s. Selene’s words spit through her teeth. The miners whisper to each other in their shadow, shoulders rising sharp and breaking soft.
The tattooed miner before her nods, face ashen.
“Just stop,” she says. “Just let go.”
His eyes close. His eyelashes curl to frayed and burnt ends.
The spires lanced at them are dissolving into the black mass of the miners. Her arm lattices, fragmenting into the moving shadows.
The Quorium at her feet climbs her legs, encases her knees, melting her into everything. The miner’s eyes widen and she faces them fast, knowing he’ll see himself in her eyes.
She stares him full, knowing what’s happening behind him, not daring to look past. But his brothers have pulled back, their eyes bright white against the shadows now murking over everything in heavy gloom.
Behind the tattooed miner, cutting him off from his brothers, the Quorium gods are rising, blades shining, splitting the slivers of light left.
They have always been the quantum. Always the Quorium. Their blades overhang, arms jade crescents, dissolving with everything, rainbows stretching the green, into the murk. Joining the gloop.
Always Quorium, with blades held high.
The tattooed miner’s face is frozen in what he saw in her eyes. She thinks it’s a smile, unsure because how can you ever be sure of a smile? She hopes it is, hopes he’s smiling at what he’s taking with him. Always and forever, and nothing again.
And the blades drop, find their home, and the man’s eyes swim, and vanish, into the nothing that is lifting them, all of them, and her.
And God, Selene, you spoke through me for the kill, and how can that be okay? And one zero, one zero.
~ * ~
Deep in the halls of Frigga, the Overmind dreams of green grassed fields under a twilit indigo sky. In its dream it is alone.
Ryan Kelley is a survivor of a schizophrenia diagnosis. Their work has appeared in Black Ice, Nauseated Drive, Flash Frontier and other places. Selections from novellas in progress have been published at Expat and Tragickal.
Ryan is currently working in text collage and theory-fic. Reach them at @ELOCVOVIM.