This is a story I submitted to Glitter + Ashes, “an anthology of queer joy and queer community in the face of disaster”, published by Neon Hemlock Press. It made the shortlist but not the final cut, so now I get to share it with you. I’m honoured to have made the shortlist, and if you enjoy this kind of thing (or the above description whets your appetite for less sad post-apocalyptic stories), please do check out the zine as it’s still available for pre-order! Info here, and pre-orders are here! Support small press!
“What do you mean, ‘your bones are no good here’?” Festree said, confused. “These are third-age roach skeletons, they’re worth at least a few old wyrds.” She picked up the bones to emphasize her point, showing their intricate branching structures. It had taken her nearly three days to prepare them, and these were the good ones; the rest had been thrown into a lackluster stew as spice. Her stomach still roiled when she thought of it.
“I’ll tell you what, little witch-” The hag hacked horribly, her misshapen, furred body wracked by the effort, “-you cure me of this wretched cough, and I’ll give you what you want.” She rubbed at her throat for effect.
Festree rolled her eyes, then scooped the bones back into a pouch. “Fine.” She drew herself level with the stooped woman’s eyes. “But if I find out these wyrds are bunk, I’ll hex you with my period cramps for three moons, you old blister.”
Carlisle wrinkled their nose, but said nothing as Festree cleared a spot on the ground.
The creature sat idle in its chair by the fireplace, fingers aglow with the last vestiges of its cigar. How long had it been smoking that, I wondered, as I rose to stoke the fire – not for the first time that evening, I realized. The woodpile had been steadily consumed, greedy flames lighting the dim parlour with their grim energy; when had the sun gone down?
“Ah, but it is no matter.” Said the creature, all horn and tooth and skin of scale, shifting forms in the twisting shadows. It took me a moment to understand that it had been speaking aloud to itself, and I had, what, dozed off? In the dim light, its shape was gigantic and diminutive all at once, a thing of true unknowing. Something beyond my ken. It continued, “I’ve another here. Pass me the matches, would you?”
I obliged, only to hand the thin matchbox tin – a family heirloom, I noted by the crest that adorned its top – to a horrific tentacled hand, which itself morphed into the claws of the devil himself. Were it not for fear of insulting my guest, I would have dropped it there and then and run from that room. But propriety kept me still and calm above the panic that roiled in my gut. The creature struck a match, its grotesquely beautiful visage a twisting canvas of horrors from outside this plane, lit only by that single flame. Intermittently, I caught glimpses of it as it puffed happily on that cigar, the smoke a purple-yellow that stunk of the bog, something rotten and festered. It sighed contently, then gestured at me.
The station wheeled through the void carelessly, metal carapace groaning and creaking against the sheer vacuum that surrounded it. The Jovian moon of Callisto swirled in the darkness below, framed by the gigantic sphere of gas and storms that was Jupiter. The rings glinted in sparkling sunlight, sunlight that had careened through space at such unimaginable speeds just to shine against all these tumbling, hurtling rocks. Even the other moons twinkled in the distance, hot white sparks against the deep black canvas behind.
It all looked so fake.
Niké stared hard out of the viewport, trying to convince their brain that what they saw was reality. Those huge, unimaginably strange bodies outside, so alien compared to the cool Martian sand they grew up on. So cold and barren, devoid of life or shelter. Niké squinted their eyes. Still doesn’t look right, they conceded.
“Niké!” The old caretaker bot shouted down the connector.
“Yeah,” Niké responded distractedly, eyes glued to the surreality of such an immense spectacle. The unfathomable vastness was just wrong-
“Nee-Kay.” Came the synthesized voice again, stressing the syllables. It always got their attention, and not for good reason.
“What, Tink.” Their reply was flat.
Even here, in the deepest void of space, there was comfort in moving through nothing.
The ship’s engines rumbled pleasantly; more than that, the feeling of the engines running, matter being converted to plasma to be ejected through narrow cones, the heat and pressure of it all – these were feelings no person could ever truly feel. The sensation of electricity coursing through the hull; automated drones, each one feeling as if a part of her body; the cold, pressure-less void trying to rupture the skin of her hull.
She felt more and more like a vessel, a Ship, than a physical being every day.
She answered the signal with a slight nod. “Par’terre responding.”
Her Carrier’s voice replied. “Mines ahead. Recommend we move around – too dense to push through.”
“Negative, Hunlock. Fuel is too slim to allow reroute. Deploy sweeper drones to clear a path.”
“You ever been shot, meddy?”
The medic paused for a breath, surveying the wounds on the soldier’s shoulder and abdomen in an instant, flicking through mental textbooks to adapt to the worsening situation in front of them. “Can’t say I have, L.T.”
The lieutenant grimaced under the medic’s ministrations, their breathing shallow and constant. “It’s funny.”
“Funny.” The medic chuckled distractedly, “what’s funny about a hole dug into you?”
Warning: this story contains brief situations revolving around a lack of control and use of power over another. If that makes you uncomfortable, please return to the Archives.
SystemStartup; run VitalStatistix
– GetStatus: Sleeve*; -GUI
– Error: Sleeve5; stat=Interference.LeftShoulderServo
– Request HotTransfer=Y
– Agent Found: #500392010-4A
– Initiating HotTransfer
The rushing sound of data and light, like a torrential waterfall of endless bits and bytes cascading over her head, was suddenly dulled by the sensation of having ears again. And eyes. Oh god, and a mouth, too. She could sense herself in a small, well-lit room, painfully white and sterile to her newfound sight. Sleeves hung in their rubber harnesses, charging up for the night’s festivities; basic skinjob bots like these rarely had the glamorous gigs.
The city bustled around Harald as he made his rounds, delivering things from far-off cities and towns to the east. The colonists here were trying their best to survive on the border of the salty flats that stymied most attempts at growing anything, but it was their connection to their old lives that truly gave them purpose.
Most had shuttled here when there was a promising find in the desert: a ruin out in the desolate wastes of white, crystalline salt. The problem was, most that searched for the ruin were lost in the flats, for every direction looked the same to the horizon once you lost sight of the foothills. The people that built this little town – Trestle – were those who stood on the precipice of that vast and daunting expanse and realized the folly of it all.
(Warning: This story contains mention of suicide. If this is something you don’t wish to read about, please return to the archives here.)
door.17 opened. door.17 closed. heat readings identified as human; fourteen(14) prosthetics detected…zero(0) essential cybernetics detected
door.18 opened. door.18 closed. door.18 locked.
The AI slid between pipes and wires, giant transformers latticed between cooling units and fans galore. The deeper it went, the more complex and maze-like it all felt, as though the very core of the planet were nothing more than a quantum collection of endless piping and machinery. It often wondered whether that might one day become the truth.
“Well, there’s a set of them, aren’t there?”
“Answer the question, roadie. Who are they?”
Horace was getting snippy; 15 hours of roundabout, merry-go-round, chase the fucking rabbit, and he’d barely got back to the starting point with this lackey.
“Which?” Came the tart reply.
Tory shot the roadie in the foot. In hindsight, Horace thought as he resisted the ringing in his ears, that should have happened earlier this morning.
The glittering iridescent hide of the beast shimmered in the pulsar’s light, dancing across the thick exoskeleton in waves; an interstellar tide.