Comet Born – A Short Story

Comet born

section α

Three years since.
It is so cold. I freeze all over in my room, all over my room. My hands, my shoulders, my fingers and that soft thing between my thumb and my wrist, my nose, my earlobes, my neck and chest, my waist, even the small of my back freezes. The air blows over me, and I shiver. Water crystallizes into ice over my mirror, where a fleeting glance meets mine, cold.
Limbs that are cool, calm, calmer, dead, they are under my little bed, they are under my sink, in the closet I keep my uniforms, in the trunk, in the toilet, follow me around, wrap themselves around me.
They are a part of me. They are my arms, my legs, pale and sallow in the artificial light that sparkles off every surface in my home. And yet they are not part of me, they are parts of you because you claimed them with your lips and your fingertips and that thing between your legs and behind your eyes, within your smile. You drained me out, so I will drain out everything.
It is so cold.

One month, fourteen days, two hours, since.
The quietest corner is mine. My own. My bags form a barricade over which I stare out. I’m angry, oh yes, you know I’m angry. Not at you, though, but at him. And her, yes, her. I sigh inwards. A choking sensation and a prickling around my eyes, I wonder what it is that longs to come out. I draw a shaking breath, in, and then out. There is a hum arising through the floor, seeping into my ears. I shake my head and then the hair out of my eyes.
I have read the whole library aboard. I have not spoken to anyone. I will not speak to anyone. They asked me who I was; I shook my head.

Thirty-two days since.
I had a cup of tea this afternoon, and smiled faintly at the cup. My nose grew foggy from the steam, and I turned the page, still smiling. But then I saw it. One innocent word reminded me of her, it spun the remains of my guts into a tight little knot.
It’s now evening. The evening is just like the other evenings here. They give us an option. I choose not to take it, I don’t want their pity or their control. I’m in control of myself, thank you very much. And I’m not really thinking about her. I read about the astrophysicist’s wife and their children, and I wonder why their brains are emptier than their hearts.
Life never worked that way.

 

section β

Two years, eight months, six days, four hours and thirty-five minutes (about) since.
I can’t believe I was that stupid. Farcically I jump on one leg to the cooling unit, ask it very kindly for an ice bag and don’t even try to stop the tears of pain.
It hurts. It looks quite nasty, too, red and swollen. Tissue fluid oozes out at the area of contact. I whine as I place the bag of ice upon it, trying to focus on the romantic novel I’m reading, but no, the pain is a massive ball of red fury. I limp my way to the medical cabinet, and rummage it through looking for the syringe of pain killer, but no dice. I should’ve known. It was that time in my turquoise period when I tried everything and loved the numbness and uncertainty of that stuff. As the pain isn’t going anywhere, I take the cream for burns and one of the capsules against muscle tension pain. Beggars and choosers and all that.
The medical cabinet stands next to the cooking unit. I put on some tea water, and heave my leg up on the dining table, groaning, pull up the fabric some more and open the jar. The smell of the cream stings my nose, and I read the instructions, as carefully as I can in my delirious state of mind. Do not apply on open wounds, check. Do not apply if pregnant, check. Do not apply on genitalia, or inside mouth, check. Then the litany of products not to use with simultaneously, and a warning about side effects (hair loss, infertility), and finally the instructions. Thin layer over the burnt area. I nod.
First it stings. It feels warm, pounding and the pain is in full bloom again. Suddenly, I wonder if I have passed out, because I can feel nothing. Then I realize it is the soothing. Efficient.
I flex my arms over my head, and feel how my muscles creak, tension letting go, aided by medicine. More training. There isn’t much else to do, anyways.

The day.
I’m going away.
You do that, Lith.
Are you not going to stop me?
I couldn’t stop you if you want it. I wish you’d stay, but if you have to go, go.
You don’t even ask me where.
If you want to leave me, it doesn’t matter. If you’re coming back, you can tell me, and then we can sit on my couch and watch reruns of the History of Violence and have pear ice cream with chocolate syrup, and I can kiss you on the tip of your nose as if nothing had happened.

section γ

One month before.
I open the door, and there you stand, wearing your wonderful blue new uniform, ready for battle and official meetings. You’re beaming at me, that radiant smile making my knees weak, and here I stand in my clothes, wet from the afternoon’s rain and running up the stairs.
You’ve been waiting for me, I see.
I certainly have, you answer and lock your arms around me. We are standing very close, so close indeed that I can’t see you properly. I never really believed in corrective eye surgery. You never believed in god, makes us even.
Your kiss is soft, and I smile against your lips. Then you seem to remember that I’ve come straight from university academy work and ask me if I’m hungry. I’m not, but I nod, and you let me go.

The day.
I’m going away.
Why, Lith?
I don’t love you anymore.
You don’t mean that, come here. What’s this piece of metal supposed to mean then?
I woke up this morning and didn’t love you anymore, I made the decision. I don’t. Love. You. Anymore.
You do that, then, you do that Lith.
You don’t even want to know where.
Does it matter? If you seriously don’t love me, go away! And stay away!
I…
Lith, are you really serious about this? I thought we were… We… we can work it out, whatever it is! I’ll work less and you’ll…
No.

section δ

Long, long time ago.
The dawn’s red light creeps down the house slowly, finally reaching the room where a human breathes slowly. His – or her, there’s no way to be quit sure in the gloom – eyes twitch beneath their lids. The light reaches the tight fist of a hand first, and then tickles the nose that lies upon a red pillow.
It’s a single-room apartment. There has been a party. The lettering on the banners form the words ‘congratulations’ and ‘happy’ and ‘birthday’, all in a Tarraan dialect and in a catchy shade of taupe on beige. Nobody claimed it was a cheery party.
The person sneezes, and an alarm clock goes off.
“GluaarAArgh!”
Very clumsily the person heaves themselves up and sprint across the floor to the windowsill where a very small metallic man jumps up and down screaming foul words at the top of his electronic lungs. Picking the thing up apparently makes the screaming stop.
“Well, drat.”
The person proceeds quickly to a corner and is lost from view from the window. The sound of water against a naked body fills the room. A little bit later a newly clad person appears, scratching their scalp and with a towel across their shoulders. He or she whistles and picks up a bag from the floor, a floor which is hardly visible under all their belongings.

Two years, eight months, six days, six hours and fourteen minutes (about) since.
It’s funny how fast skin heals when the right chemicals are applied. I poke at the burn. It almost looks normal, but the prickling sensation is returning. It doesn’t hurt as much as itch, and I don’t want to scrape at my leg. It tickles. Tick-lish.
Bam, you strike.
I bend double in a roar of rage, my eyes go blind with tears, and my stomach feels as if it had breached escape velocity very fast. I gasp. You chuckle in my mind, with sparkling tears at the corners of your eyes and the shred of a dimple on your right cheek under wonderful post-summer freckles. I snarl. The strength in your hands. You lifting me up, carrying me when I’m on the brink of consciousness, risking your life to save mine.
I beg you, but no, you speak my name, softly, pleadingly and tempting at the same time, with that look in your eyes. I give up. I can’t…

One year, four days, since.
I found three new movies to watch on the raid this morning. I watched them all, just like old times. I liked the one where death is portrayed by an old man and wears a black cape, but the file was corrupted and would not play fully. I wonder who won the game of chess.

section ε

Long, long, time ago/Two years, eleven months, three days since.
They’re holding hands in public for the first time. He kisses her on the forehead at the corner of the street, she laughs and let’s her long hair loose from its braided prison. He smiles and takes her face into his hands, softly holding her as he kisses her again, on the same spot. And again. And again. And again.
The memory plays on loop, and I no longer remember whose lips are the ones on that forehead, are they mine or yours or his or hers, the marauders, the traitors, the lovers that broke us both, but I remember, the kiss on the forehead at the corner of that street, dandelions sprouting between cobble stones, green algae growing on a cracked wall, windows broken on the nearest house.
It wasn’t warm. It wasn’t summer. It wasn’t sunny. It was windy and cold and the now reaches me, and you haven’t sent me a message. Not a single message. What did I leave you with, my love, my one and only, the desperate fleeting absurd extraordinary bitch and saint that made me live just so I could be stabbed and bleed dry, blood freezing upon this icy rock and turning me into a piece of geology?

Three months, fifteen days, a few hours since.
My day was most ordinary. I woke up when my eyes refused to keep together and my stomach was craving food. I walked to the replicator and asked it for coffee and a pastry. It gave me liquid and something that almost looks like it might contain tomatoes, I am not sure. I dressed and combed my hair, which is getting long again, I ate and then packed my bag, put on my boots, checked my bag, put on my jacket, goggles, gloves, backpack, and walked into the first chamber. Second chamber. Third chamber, mounted my snow speeder and started it. Fourth chamber, and I’m outside. There’s a storm catching up. I set the course for the other settlement, the big one and not the small hermits like me, I need those medicines as I’m running out.
The speeder is having some problems. I have to get off it and make sure it isn’t going to blow up, and then I see something on the sky, through the snow. It’s huge, it’s burning and it’s approaching, speeding through the darkness of space, leaving a trail of ice… And I know what it is, I’m sure, and regardless of risk for blowing up I mount my snow speeder and ride, ride fast, like the wind that is picking up speed on the way, I see my chamber door and shout a command at it but it’s lost as the comet is about to strike. I jump off the vessel and run, sinking in the snow, I make it to the door but my gloves are thick. Open up, I shouted, and the doors slid apart, open up, open up, open up, until I’m all the way inside, I rush to the command room. It’s secured by concrete and steel, but I ask it to strengthen every wall, every structure there is in my little house. It asks why, like all good machines, oh dearest love of my life, why can’t machines just do what they’re told, and then it says everything is ready for impact, would you like to, in the middle of that sentence the world falls apart –

I wake up, and can’t hear my own laughter in the darkness, but I’m laughing reborn. There is dust around me, and it is very cold, so cold that I can’t feel my fingers or toes anymore and a pinching pain is creeping up my arms and legs. I try to move, but there is a strange pressure on the small of my back, and it feels slightly warm. I can’t see in the darkness.
I let out another laugh, as I realize the warmth is actually just pain, and I force myself to bend sideways. It’s hard. I don’t understand why until I realize one of the shelves has fallen over me, the one with books, and books lay sprinkled around me in the darkness. I’m still wearing the thick jacket, the goggles and the boots. Why are my feet so numb?
I heave myself up from underneath the metallic structure, and see the reason for the foot issue. My boots are no more. They have been ripped open, both of them, by the shelf, but the gashes have not broken my skin. I pull my legs up towards me, and try to get into a sitting position, ever so slowly.
The next step was to get on my feet. It hurts, it hurts insanely much and black spots dance in front of my eyes like bats in a cave. I laugh again, but can’t hear a thing. It must have been the shockwave. I feel around on the floor until my hands bump into something, not sure of what it is I drag myself towards it and yes, it is the control unit. Still not sensing my fingers I wrap my arms around it and heave myself up.
The emergency screen is lit, I shout at it but don’t know what as I can’t hear my own voice. I calm down my voice enough to make it comprehendible. Emergency power to lights and heating. Shut all the chambers. Damage report, written.
It takes ten seconds. Twenty goes by. Thirty. Then there is suddenly light, and a readout on the screen states that one generator has been knocked out and the two outer chambers, plus the chamber shutdown system. Manual closing mandatory. I curse, spilling all the profanities I can over the machine. My own stupidity once again.
In the newly found light I inspected the damage to my own body, and found it less alarming than expected. Worst off are my legs, which do not support my weight, and my hands, that shine white and won’t move. Still cursing I pull a pipe, that should have been installed in the ventilation system, towards me and use it as a staff as I make my way to the chambers.

Two years, six months, two days since.

I found a life form in my outmost chamber. Or well, I didn’t find it – the control did. There’s generally a belief that you shouldn’t make contact to anything autogenerated on a colony, but I couldn’t resist it.
It’s sitting here, now, a thing that looks like a very furry bird. It adapted surprisingly well to the gloom and warmth of my home, even to the gas blend that I call air and which is carefully monitored to fill my needs as a humanoid.
Humanoid, what a silly word. We’re all humans until we start to evolve, which happens on a colony after a while. We had a lot of briefing on the way, yes we did, and I can’t remember the named because I wasn’t listening but I remember the essence. Go to the planet. Breed. Wait for half a millennium. Compare genome to mother planet. Be amazed at the differences, that are not drastic but still big enough and have isolated your planet, genetically, from the rest of the cluster.
Was I supposed to have children? Was my DNA ever supposed to form another human, a better human, a stronger human that did not isolate itself into the sole survivor.
I heard the old hermit died. No, I heard nothing, I saw the body and smelled death. A transformation, a shift from body to corpse.
I let out a hissing laugh, which I can’t hear. Well, I’m deaf, I admit it. There is nothing to hear in the world anymore.

 

section ζ

The first attempt, not very long time before (mentally).
There’s no money left on my account, and I feel strangely light-headed in my realization of just how poor I am and how dependent I’ve grown of you. It’s no longer symbiosis, it’s parasitic, I’m a growth on your back, clinging on with my arms around your chest and softly kissing the nape of your neck. But not today.
There is water, dark water, flowing upon the river bed, southwest. Southwest towards the slum, southwest towards my home, and I walk north east, feet in the cold dark liquid. There’s water in my supposedly water-resistant boots. There’s water climbing up my pants. There’s water running down my cheeks, down along the neck and over my collar bones before getting soaked up in the over-sized sweater you knitted for me. Midwinter festivities make people do strange things. We did strange things. I did not wear the knee-length sweater back then.
There’s water flowing down my back. The clouds are really letting out all their agony over me, and in the street light that floods my eyes I must look as insignificant as the worn-out trees on the river banks. Less significant. My hair doesn’t sparkle when wet, not like the old leaves, the ones that fell in autumn and still have not grown back.
There’s mud in my boots now, or the substance that would be mud if the river ddid not flow through a city. I know what it is. It’s dead, death, putrification, hydrolysis, carbon dioxide, methane. My feet are having a great time, I can tell by the slippery grip and the dying sensation in my toes. And the waters keep on flowing. I reach the bridge and walk underneath it. On the other side the water grows deeper, it kisses my calves all the way up to my knees. The tote bag on my shoulder, the one that contains almost everything you do not own, is darkening from water. Dark water.
One small brave step forward. One deep plunge down. I gasp for breath, smudged, foul water filling my sinuses and ears. My eyes burn. Well, now the running water isn’t a problem anymore, my heavy clothes weigh me down. I refuse to thread water, but my arms and legs refuse to relax. I find myself jumping up and down, a silly weightless ballet in the dark. Panic strikes me, but fades, fast.
I’m too angry to drown. Too desperate to take my life. I don’t matter enough to die and become one with the dark sludge on the bottom, the sludge that currently is sprinkled around in my environment, like confetti flowing around. A party to cheer me up. I seriously don’t care enough, but there is something inside of me that does. I can’t see anything, but my hands grab hold of the ledge I went over. They pull me up, and gasping, again, I’m back in knee-high water, on my knees, coughing my lungs out quite inefficiently.

 

section η

The day.

I’m going away.
I’m going away, really.
I… I’m going away. (did you hear me?)
I’m going away.
I really am going away.
Fine, Lith, I got it.
I’m going away.
Don’t touch me.

The day.

I’m going away.
If that is what you want.
I’m not coming back.
Well, I wasn’t expecting you to.
Aren’t you wondering where I’m going?
No. Look, I could pretend I still give a damn about you, but I don’t. We had it good, but you threw it all away for him. Sure, the uniform looks great, but I expected more of you, Lith, and seriously, if you go away, good riddance. You’ve never been satisfied with me, and I’m tired of trying to meet your expectations. Clearly, this is another way of seeking my pity. You’re not worth it. Go back home Lith, return to your love – what are you doing here anyways on a Thursday night? I thought so, nothing. Get a life, Lith, get a life.

The day.

I’m going away.
Please, I’ll do anything. I didn’t mean it!
Why did you do it, then? Why did you do the one thing you know would not only break my heart, but freeze it and incinerate it too? You almost –
I…
I’ve had enough of this. I’m going away, far away, to a place where you can’t find me. Try breaking me there! Try it, and I bet you will understand, for once, what it’s like to fail at something you really want!

section θ

Three years since.

It is so cold. My hands shake too much to let me grip the bag of dried peas. My hands, my beautiful hands, white like the snow and ice of the rock I live upon, one tiny spot covered by snow, a small bubble of almost liveable to temperature, suddenly dropping, dropping like everything I put into those hands. They cannot be my hands, and I scurry the room, hunched together inside my three blankets, looking for my real hands. They must be somewhere.
You come creeping up my shoulders, the warmth of your hands, your lips whispering and kissing my ear, inside and out. No, it is not your lips, it is my blood, and your lips touch the red, make it spread over my neck and leave smudges over my hair, the mess that grows out of my head.
Hay on a summer field, yet not gathered into stacks but cut. I’m running, then I’m out of breath and I lay down, coughing from the allergy that seems to haunt my family despite meddling with genes. And you are there too, but this time you are outside of me, looking in. Smiling, laughing, chills down my spine inside my three blankets.
You cannot find me, I’m far away, and somewhere you can’t find me, am I not? But I realize, reaching for the cup I was going to make soup into, that you’re not, you’re inside me, constantly watching, making me scream, soundlessly I scream, I throw my arms out, the arms that are no longer mine but yours, your arms, and they hit the cup and it smashes on the floor. Blind, deaf and with a magnificent roar I feel in the vicinity of my hips I drag myself out of the room I used to call a kitchen, smashing everything that can break in my sight because I can and because I can’t heal myself, I can’t heal anything else either, but I can destroy, I can destroy anything and when I will die, I’m taking the whole world with me. And the idea makes my mind see white.
I dream of white as I’m blinded by its light, luminosity close to one, everything reflected from my eyes, shining out upon the dark walls in the artificial lamp light. I stumble further, dragging myself out, out past the walls and barricades I have built into the white, out, out, further and further, I need to see it and I need it to fill me up, I need it to erase everything and leave the shell behind, the shell you have tainted ages ago, a lifetime ago, I have to become one with the snow and the ice and the sky that is a constant storm on this icy rock, far away, further away, somewhere where you can not find me and yet you did.