Month: June 2015

The Mutable Sky

Sky took a step forward. Her leg stretched out toward the desolate horizon, then came down behind her. She wobbled and half-fell before she regained her balance. She closed her eyes, but it didn’t help.

She’d never been comfortable in her body, but this was ridiculous.

Oil slick-purple clouds rumbled, then dumped sheets of rain that billowed like sails. They smelled like burnt sugar and felt like feathers on her upturned face.

Sky stood, let it drench her. She glanced down at her naked body, trying not to hope and failing.

It was still wrong. Unchanged. Still her familiar, male prison. Reality itself bent and broke around her, but her body remained stubbornly unaltered.

Her tears tasted like cilantro.

Bare trees loomed to her left, and a herd of horses lumbered by, competent if not graceful on their lengthening legs.

Sky watched them, hoping to catch the trick of it.

“You’re new,” a voice said.

A woman floated toward her. Her long blond hair curled and billowed around her naked body, and her pale, bare breasts reminded Sky of how wrong her own body was.

“Yes,” she said. To her delight, her own voice sounded different. Feminine, like she’d always heard it in her head.

The woman blinked. “How strange you are.”

Sky had always been strange. She had thought no one would notice, here. “I’m sorry.” Her voice wavered, new and old within single syllables.

The woman shrugged. “Strange is not bad.”

“Oh,” Sky said. “Good.”

“What is your name?”


“I’m called Celina.” She floated around Sky, looking her up and down. “I’d like to have sex with you. Your body is very fine.”

Sky’s hated penis twitched. It stretched to the horizon, then returned to normal. “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not. I hate this body. I hoped I might change, here.”

Celina frowned. “I don’t understand. Your body is lovely and strong.”

Sky shrugged. She was tired of explaining herself.

“Well, things do change here.”

“Have you?”

Celina shrugged. “Why would I wish to?”

Jealousy twisted Sky’s stomach. If she looked like Celina, she wouldn’t want to change either.

“Is there a secret to walking?” Sky asked.

Celina shrugged. “I’m sure there is. But I never bothered to learn it.” She floated in a fast circle around Sky, smirking as Sky’s head turned all the way around to watch. “I float instead. I can teach you.”


“You are interesting, and I am bored. And I am selfish and optimistic enough to maintain designs on sex.”

The Things We Should Be Doing

The person who stops to help me leaves their headlights on, and I can see my body folded up in a way that makes me certain I’m dying.

I can’t move.

This must be what going into shock feels like: nothing at all. But I know I should be feeling something because my left arm bone is sticking through my leather jacket. And I have all these thoughts queued up—the things I know I’m supposed to be thinking about while dying—but all I can think right now is how stupid this fucking jacket is.

Ride or Die. Really?

The man gets out his phone to make a call. I can’t hear anything, but I assume it’s to 911. Then he paces for a bit, probably working up the nerve to comfort me in my last moments, putting on his mask of false-positivity, because he must also know I’m dying.

Then he holds up his phone and walks toward me. I hear the muffled scuffing of his shoes against the asphalt as he approaches, sounds that are far away but close at the same time; or maybe I don’t hear anything. He takes one step back as the glistening pool of my blood almost touches his shoes. He’s still holding up his phone.

Is he filming me?

And now I’m thinking about what I should be thinking about: my family, and how my daughter is only two years old, and how my wife is the most beautiful soul in the universe, and how I am—how I was—so lucky, and how I’m hurting them by leaving them, and how I’m so so so sorry that I’m leaving them, and is this fucking guy actually filming me?

The man is expressionless, his mouth a hard line, his eyes a thousand-yard stare. I try to scream at him, try to yell help!, even though I know he can’t do anything for me. Nothing happens; I don’t move or make a sound.

He continues to circle me, a timid coyote passing out of my field of vision and then back in. He sweeps his camera over the pieces of my motorcycle strewn about the street, then he fixes it back on me again. He stays that way for what feels like the rest of my life.

I still can’t feel anything, but somehow I know my breathing has slowed and I’m getting close to my last moment. And my last moment is going to be with this guy caring more about getting a good shot than me going peacefully. Part of me doesn’t care, but another part feels more alone than ever, and I can’t do anything except lie here and keep on dying, can’t do anything but think things like what’s going to happen after this?, and what if my family sees this video?, and I can’t let that happen. And I get so angry I start to rage inside and think why are you doing this?, and I’m dying!, and leave!, and fuck off! fuck off! fuck off!

And now I’m thinking in pictures. Pictures of all the things I want to see just one more time before I’m gone, but I’m thinking them right at him: a picture of me lying on the couch with my daughter asleep on my chest, of my wife with her hair all messed up in the morning and how it makes her look like a lion, of my daughter hugging our cat a little too tightly, of my cat being fine with it, of my wife in the shower, of my wife squinting because she can’t see me without her glasses, of the three of us sitting around the TV, eating pizza and watching cartoons.

This last thought is a whip lashing out of me, and the man staggers. His eyes go wide and he struggles to regain his footing.

But he still has his phone held up, and my anger becomes a sun in my chest; a fiery star that burns burns burns, then shrinks, waits, and detonates.

The supernova is a bursting series of images, the colors of it lighting up the street: an image of us quietly drinking coffee and my daughter still asleep, of my daughter insisting that I pick her up, of me picking her up, of my wife insisting that I pick her up, too, of both of them laughing, of me laughing with them, of me asking my parents questions that I’ll never get to, of my brothers and sisters, of me telling them I love them, of my little girl’s cheeks, of my wife’s eyes, of their hands and feet, of them happy, of them happy without me, after this, not forgetting me, but being happy.

For a second I forget the man as he’s swallowed up by the spectacle, but when the colors fade I see his hands are shaking so violently that he drops his phone. He’s looking me right in my eyes for the first time, and his face drains of all color. It’s as if he’s just now realizing I’m not an alien. His phone hits the blacktop, and I hear it crack before I actually see it crack.

And now he’s kneeling next to me, his hands still shaking as he takes mine into his. “I’m so sorry, buddy,” he says, “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Then he starts saying all the things he should be saying, and I realize I wasn’t the only one in shock.

He says, “It’s going to be okay-ay.”

And, “Y-you hang in the-there.”

And, “Thambulance is on sway.”

And, “Withwith st-stay with me stay me with…”

Drew Rogers is an indie game designer and has been writing short fiction for about two years.

When the Waves are Whales

The day before I left to go to sea, I went to visit Alana. She was an aunt or cousin of some distance, but when I was a boy my city was at war and my parents had sent me to stay with her, through the mountains to where the slopes dipped into the sea.

I knocked on the door, though I should have known better. She was not the type to be sitting quietly inside, knitting or reading like my mother, especially on a sunny day like this when the wind rocked the water into gentle waves. Finding no answer at the door, I looked to the garden, where she had once taught me the healing properties of various herbs, where we had once sung the old shaman songs together to encourage the plants to grow.

The garden overflowed with bright blooms, but Alana wasn’t there. I found her sitting on a rock by the shore. She didn’t turn when I sat beside her. Her face looked blissful, her eyes softly focused on the ocean waves.

“I had a dream you’d come,” she said.

“You didn’t get my letter?”

“Mmm,” she said. “Maybe that was it.” Her eyes crinkled. “No, it was a dream. We were watching the whales together, just like now.”

I followed her gaze to the water. The wind pulled the waves up into white tips. I watched for the spout of a whale’s breath, for the emergence of a dark flapping tail.

A few minutes passed before I said, “I don’t see any whales.”

“They’re everywhere,” she said. “Hundreds of them. Look!”

She pointed to a large whitecap, then clasped her hands in delight. It wasn’t her eyesight. She had been old as long as I’d known her, and she’d never had to squint to identify faces or read signs. It was the way she saw.

I tried to see the waves like she did, wanting to believe that her way was right, that there were hundreds of whales cavorting right there in the bay. Maybe they were whales of a different dimension, the songs of their bodies vibrating on a different scale than the songs of our world, and she could see them because she had one foot in that world too, like the shamans who had long disappeared. I tried, but the whales always turned back into waves for me. Just white caps created by the wind.

I kissed her head, the gray strands of her hair soft under my lips. She wrapped both her hands around one of mine. We sat there for another hour, me watching the waves, she watching the whales, until the sun flashed green as it disappeared into the sea.


Let me just freshen your glass, Lera darling, and we’ll go into the garden to see my latest treasure! But can I trust you with a secret?

You remember how, just before the last time I went back to being a girl, I went on the Grand Tour for seven months? With Teldon?

No, not a whisper from him, not since Ringwinter. And my spies tell me

I’m the one who should be asking you, darling, anyway! Well, I booked us a sinfully luxurious suite on the Andromeda, and we went everywhere: Valirette, Holalasha, Nuevo Perú, Yeldi, all the most exotic worlds you can imagine.

Yes, darling, it really is true about the night life on Valirette. Teldon went quite wild in the clubs – you know what he can be like! Of course, at our age, we’ve seen it all, haven’t we? And done it.

Let’s go out through the herb garden. Watch your step! Do try one of these leaves. It’s stensiga, just a nice buzz, hardly addictive at all. No? Well, maybe later?

Anyhow, as I was saying, Holalasha was an utter disappointment. We’d looked forward to seeing the Ice Caverns – well, doesn’t everyone? But after we landed, they told us that they were four hundred kilometers away, and no heliport! We’d have had to take a bus, and spend a night in a nasty local hotel. They showed us a stereo of the rooms, just so shuddersomely primitive: no sensies or even gravbeds! So I told Teldon, if he wanted to go he could, but I was going to stay on board in the suite I’d paid for. In the end he stayed: I think the silly boy thought I was angry with him about that birdgirl in the mud pit at the Casino Valirette.

Well, I may be a century-and-who’s-counting, but I’m not a prude. And besides, the last time this girl got seriously jealous over anything, Teldon wasn’t even born. After all, if I was the jealous type, we wouldn’t still be such good friends, would we, darling?

But Yeldi, now! You’ve seen stereocasts of the Yeldian Flower Jungle, haven’t you? That was one thing I was absolutely not going to miss. Even though the uncouth natives who run the so-called tourist agency there put us through the most absurd nonsense. (Do watch the thorns on that one! Very nasty.)

Before we even got off the ship, we got this idiotic lecture about not touching anything, and had to put on bodysuits with helmets – like space suits. No air tanks, just filters, but utterly, utterly uncomfortable, especially as my hair was right down to my derriere then, and it all had to fit into my helmet. And the stink – my dear! I don’t suppose they ever bother cleaning them, and I think they use the same ones for tourist class passengers. They said the suits were to keep the insectoids away from our skin. Apparently their venom puts you in a coma, and then they inject their larvae and – you don’t want to hear the rest. Trust me.

And after all that, the guide wasn’t even a botanist. Just an enormous Yeldian native, two meters tall, and she didn’t even speak System! Fortunately we had a crewman along to translate.

But the jungle itself? Lera, the stereocasts don’t show you the half of it. All the leaves are dark, dark reds, blues, and purples, like velvet. Even darker than these hexaploid coleus over here. We went at dusk, after Kinna, that’s the bigger sun, had set, so they looked even darker. And you have never, ever seen so many flowers! They came in every size, from huge flowers on the trees a meter across to shrubs with tiny flowerets you need a magnifier to see. And all in more colors than you can begin to imagine. Then Merax set too, and the flowers started to glow, pulsing slowly. And the scent! I was in heaven, darling. Heaven. Even Teldon was impressed.

There was one kind of flower, trumpet-shaped and the most perfect robin’s-egg blue. Each one was about half a meter long, only the narrow part was coiled up in a shape that made your eyes go all funny if you tried to follow it, like one of those clever exhibits in the Topology Room in the Imperial Museum. The guide took out a pocket light, and showed us insectoids, like flying jewels, as big as a fingernail, flying in and out. The odd thing was, if you watched some flowers, one insectoid after another would fly in, as if the flower was sucking them up and destroying them. Quite sinister. And other flowers were just the opposite; the bugs kept flying out, as if the flower was spawning them.

Teldon asked about that. He’s quite clever. About some things, anyway. The guide said something, very low and rumbly, and the translator said these insectoids were the ones that – well, you know. And then she said something else, and the translator said some nonsense about these flowers, all over the planet, being joined together in the fourth dimension. But maybe he hadn’t understood properly. Probably some local superstition or other.

Here we are, Lera! My prize! Yes, you guessed, didn’t you? I was very naughty, and smuggled back a few seeds from that gorgeous blue corkscrew-flower plant. They actually searched us, can you believe it? I planted the seeds this spring. Only one germinated, but isn’t it wonderful? And it’s flowering this week for the first time ever. Doesn’t it smell marvelous?

A bee? Bees aren’t green. No, of course I don’t know, angel. I’m a gardener, not an entomologist. How many legs does it have? Can you see?

Lera! Did it sting you? You really shouldn’t have got so close. You will understand if I stay over here, won’t you?

No, darling, I don’t think there’d be much point calling them. I don’t think there’s any treatment. And, do you know, I think I may have told you a fib. Maybe I was just the tiniest bit jealous about Teldon after all.

Turn of the Wheel

The surgeon hesitates, bathed in the harsh lights of the operating theater, scalpel poised above the patient’s exposed abdomen. The patient’s skin is slick and yellowed by the antiseptic swabs, not really human at all-–like the flesh of some alien creature. Now, as with every surgical procedure, he senses a moment, a turning point where outcomes are yet to be determined–and briefly revels in the uncertainty.

He will know soon enough. Just one touch will tell him. Success or failure, life or death–and all before an incision has even been made.

Distantly, he hears the drone of another wave of bombers heading out on a night raid, delivering their payload of terror and destruction by order of Bomber Command. Whose turn tonight, he wonders? Hamburg or Dresden or perhaps Berlin itself?

Around him, the anesthetist and theater nurses wait patiently for him to begin.

He feels paralyzed; unable to move. He cannot bring himself to touch the body. Seconds tick by. Minutes. There are anxious glances but no one dares disturb the silence.

At last he takes a long, shuddering breath, wills the trembling in his hands to cease, and makes an incision. He draws the scalpel downwards in a smooth motion, a line of red beading behind it. He repeats the movement, this time parting layers of subcutaneous fat with deft strokes. As he does so, the strangest feeling comes over him: the sensation of something pushing back, struggling to free itself from the body, slipping and wriggling out through the wound. For an instant he thinks he sees something move past his blade; insubstantial and tenuous, like a barely perceptible waft of smoke.

Hesitating, a nurse steps closer to swab sweat from his brow. He resumes his work, but now the tremors are back.

This will all be for naught, he thinks. The patient will die no matter what I do.

Ah yes. Just another turn of the wheel.

But one word crowds into his thoughts.