“So, you’re a prodigy?” asked Marilyn.

“What’s that?” asked Lori.

Marilyn shrugged as she lazily pushed herself forward and backward on the swing set. Lori sat next to her on the tire-swing that hung crooked where one of its chains had been broken by the older boys during their recess time. She still managed to push herself in small circles that were starting to upset her stomach.

“It’s like a genius,” said Marilyn. “But not just with math stuff. With like, art, and music stuff, too. Gifted. You know?”

Lori tilted her head back and forth as she considered. She remembered hearing the word “genius” when she was very young, stacking the blocks in a way that just made sense to her, finding stories in the letters that her parents read too slowly. She remembered some psychologist who had used the word “gifted” when her worried parents began to suspect something was wrong. By the time she had begun to sing, and dance, and paint, they stopped using the word genius, and they stopped taking her to the psychiatrist. They never used the word “prodigy.”

“I guess,” said Lori. “I’ve just got a knack for things.”

That was what her mother told her to say, if she slipped up. When she forgot to make mistakes during art class, her mother told the teacher she traced the picture from their coffee table art book. When she sang with abandon at a karaoke birthday party, her father answered calls from concerned parents the next day and claimed the mic was accidentally autotuned. She was supposed to play dumb.

“That’s really cool,” said Marilyn.

Dumb was not cool. The way she composed a rhythm with her tapping pencil during class was cool, making Marilyn’s head nod in the same beat.

Everyone noticed how cool Marilyn was, with the pierced ears she had since she was a baby, and the black eyeliner her mom let her wear, and the rings she shoplifted from the supermarket. But only Marilyn noticed that Lori was cool. No one was supposed to notice her. Lori’s parents lectured her about how dangerous it would be if someone noticed her. But being noticed felt so good.

“I can do it again,” said Lori.

Marilyn stopped swinging and waited with a smile.

Lori’s fingers hovered over the hot rubber of the tire swing. She knew she could do it again because she had done it before. When she was very little, when her parents still threw around the word “genius.” She had tapped her markers against a blank sheet of paper and saw that the cat was nodding its head with the same beat. She kept tapping, and the cat kept nodding. She tapped for hours, and then she stopped, but the cat kept nodding. And nodding. And nodding. But she was little more than a baby then. And it was just nodding.

It was not like the mistake she made when she painted her watercolors off the page, or when she sang every morning until none of the birds outside sang anymore, or when she drew circles with her feet in the sand until all the ants were swirling in circles before turning on their backs with their little legs twitching in the air. But the memory of those little ant legs that twitched so pathetically before they did not move at all stopped her fingers before they started. Her knuckles thrummed painfully, wanting release, but Lori clutched her fists.

“Maybe later,” she said.

Marilyn looked disappointed, but she could not have been more disappointed than Lori felt. She wanted to sing without sucking in the world’s music. She wanted to paint without staining her entire home, including her parents, blue. She wanted to make a rhythm that people could dance to and then stop whenever they wanted. But she could not.

The bell signaling the end of recess rang and Marilyn hopped off her swing, running towards the door.




It did not feel like a gift.

She remembered her parents using the word “curse.”

Lori continued to push herself in gentle circles on the tire-swing, only stopping when she noticed the other children who sprinted for the line were starting to swerve as they ran, turning gentle circles of their own before falling dizzy into the grass. They did not notice that they made circles when she made circles, or that they stopped when she stopped. They did not even look at her when she got up and joined the line at the door. Lori could have made them notice. Instead, she smiled at Marilyn when she rested her arm on her shoulder.

“She’s so cool,” whispered one of the other students.

If Lori closed her eyes, she could pretend they were talking about her.

Walking the Line

Eleanora was in trouble again, though “again” did not seem like the right word. It was more that she was constantly in trouble, and her mother’s familiar lecture chased her from her home. She had hoped to be alone, but despite the darkness and the unseasonable chilliness, she was not the only one out on Poetto Beach.

“Would you like some company?”

The boy was blond, and Eleanora preferred brown or black hair, but she was really not supposed to prefer any boy at all. If her mother saw her smile at him it would set off another lecture, but her mother was not here, so she smiled.

“I would love some company,” said Eleanora.

The light of the moon reflected on the water, the only light out tonight. Eleanora still sat on her hands, just in case, though there was nothing she could do about her hair. It probably looked wet.

It probably looked like she had taken a midnight swim. She probably looked very romantic, and the thought put a damper on her almost rising mood.

“You speak English very well,” said the boy.

“I speak many languages very well,” said Eleanora. “Italian, Sardinian, and some much older.”

“Latin?” asked the boy.

“Not Latin,” said Eleanora.

Even the name of the language left her mouth feeling singed. Which meant her mother was right.

If she kept slipping, there may be no coming back. Her mother said she had to stop kissing the boys, no matter how much she wanted them. Why did the boy have to initiate the kiss? Would it really make so much of a difference? Eleanora could not imagine that it would feel any different, that it would stop the changes taking place.

“It’s so beautiful here,” said the boy. “I wish I could stay.”

Eleanor wished that her smile was sharp spikes instead of these domesticated stubs that filled her mouth and demanded she abstain from raw flesh.

Her sisters, her mother, her grandmothers, they used to be feared, even worshipped. They still had happiness in the past, they still had their men, but they also had freedom, and power, and blood and the night. They did not have to go to school, what was school to the Gianes? There was no education that could not be learned from dancing along the salt lakes, that could not be tasted in a young man’s blood, or absorbed in his embrace. What was the world of mortals to a child who was neither fairy nor demon, a creature that walked the line between life and death, love and murder? Why did the generations that had gone before her deny Eleanora that pleasure?

“You could stay here a little longer,” said Eleanora. “Sometimes just a little longer is enough to make everything feel okay.”

The boy smiled and sat down on the sand next to her, and his body was warm, and she tried to want it, want it for her own selfish pleasure and her own feast, and not want it for company, for love, for family.

They were upsetting, intrusive thoughts.

If she were a true Giane, she would straddle him on this beach, she would tear out his heart, she would let his blood spray across her cheeks and breasts, and taste a salt like the ocean but richer. If she was a true Giane, she would push this boy away when he rested against her shoulder, like he did now, and flay him, expose him, devour him.

Eleanora told herself it was her mother’s lecture still ringing in her ears that stopped her. She told herself it was not her own will, but a decision that had been made long before she was born; to be weak, to be companions, to be loved. She told herself that if she ran the wild hills, if she saw the boats of men intent on tearing her island upside down, she would not have given in to their charms. She would not have given up her wildness for their children.

She had nearly broken through, so many times, so close that her nails were already curving into claws, her hair was already matting into scales that hung in rough curls down her back, and maybe if she kissed another boy so deeply again, her teeth would break the skin of her lips and she could run on the sand as more creature than girl. A part of her, bred so deep, so long ago, held off, did not want that abandon, did not want that wildness, and Eleanora could not will it to quiet its appeal for love, for comfort, for domesticity.

But it did not matter what she wanted, because the boy’s lips were her on hers, and his tongue was in her mouth. She did not initiate the kiss, but she could have pulled away. She could have, and she chose not to. Eleanora felt her mind filling with darkness and her mouth filling with spikes that did not break her own lips, but they did break the boy’s tongue.

Travel Onward, Funani

The video was well-preserved, and when Commander Arie stared into the camera, it was like she was looking into your eyes, divining the desires of your heart.

“The stars are not the distant dreams they were in the past,” Arie said, and her voice cut like a sliver of diamond, and it made you tremble to hear her voice. “The stars are our neighbors, and I will not rest until I have met every neighbor, and seen their backyards, and sat in their homes, and welcomed them into mine.”

Arie dropped her gaze, and when she looked up again her normally stony glare twinkled with a light and warmth that made her look twenty instead of a formidable forty-five. Years had distinguished her, and maybe her beauty faded a little, but her presence had outgrown her slender frame.

“I pride myself on being the perfect hostess.”

The reporters laughed. They asked her questions about Star Cluster 9, and Alpha Zeta, and Satellite Planet 41-003, and she smoothed down her long hair, already silver, a respectable color on her, and she answered their questions with a steady stream of knowledge, glowing with the wonder she felt whenever she visited a planet, the wonder she wanted all of Earth to feel. And they did feel it. At least, Funani felt it, and even when she was six years old, watching this video in her little bedroom covered in posters of galaxies instead of from the inside of her small quarters on an exploratory space vessel, she knew that she would follow Arie into the darkest hole of space.

Funani turned off the video.

“Nolwazi, how much longer until we arrive?” she asked her vessel.

“In three point two hours, we will reach the destination,” answered Nolwazi.

When Funani travelled with other astronauts, they complained that Nolwazi’s voice was too cold, too stern, but Funani designed the AI to be like another woman she respected. She designed her voice to sound like the familiar cut of a diamond. Nolwazi did not share Arie’s passion, but she shared her vast knowledge of the mysteries of space.

Funani turned on another video.

Arie was smiling in this one, and she rarely smiled, possibly because she was embarrassed by her crooked teeth, though Funani guessed she could afford the technology that would fix her smile instantaneously. Arie was not smiling at the camera, she was smiling at a creature nearly twice her size that seemed to be composed entirely of tar. The blob creature had a gaping hole near the top of its shapeless body that could have been a mouth, and several blobby appendages that could have been arms, but it was probably just Funani’s mind trying to understand a shape that was entirely foreign to her.

“Arie!” a reporter off-screen shouted. “How did you manage to decipher the language of the people of Sept Printemps?”

“Most of the deciphering was done by the Sept Printempians,” said Arie. “I am just honored that they chose to reach out to me for first contact.”

The Sept Printempian gurgled, spitting a tarry blob at Arie’s feet. Are smiled, and shook his hand, and did not cringe or gag as her hand was engulfed in the creature’s gelatinous exterior. She pulled away, her arm stained black, and reached into a large blue duffel. She always brought her large blue duffel when she was meeting a new alien. Funani thought of the duffel as a treasure chest when she was a little girl, and it was still hard to see it as anything else. Arie pulled out a small bag, presenting it to the Sept Printempian, and the reporters laughed.

“You think aliens like maple candy, Arie?”

Apparently they did, because the Sept Printempian ate the entire bag, including the plastic wrap.

Funani loved that video. She loved any video of Arie meeting aliens, because Arie enjoyed it so much. Arie inspired Funani to become an astronaut, then join the exploratory astronaut’s league led by Arie. Funani missed home, she missed Earth, she missed people that looked like people and planets that looked like civilization, but if Arie was leading her, she would continue to travel deeper and deeper into the unknown.

Though the league followed Arie from planet to planet, they were always a few planets behind her, then a few more, until their leader no longer responded to their efforts to reach out to her. The other ships gave her up as lost, for forty years they gave her up as lost. But Funani refused to give up. If they gave up, then she was just far from home, and terribly homesick, with nothing guiding her forward. If Arie was not pulling her forward, then Earth was pulling her back.

She turned on another video of Arie.

“We will reach our destination in one hour,” said Nolwazi.

The others had given up. They had programmed their vessels to search for Arie’s form, copied from thousands of videos, but there was nothing like Arie in the universe. Then they programmed their vessels to search for life forms in the deepest, most sterile parts of the neighboring galaxies, and they found life forms they would have never believed could exist, but they did not find Arie. They decided to keep her alive through their exploration, and leave the hopeless search to Funani. Funani instructed Nolwazi to search for a blue duffel, far from any other signs of human civilization, and Nolwazi found it.

In this video, Arie was pulling a long scarf out of her bag, and wrapping it around a wide-eyed, multi-eyed, slug. The duffel was a treasure chest. And Funani followed Nolwazi’s treasure map to her hero.