Rule No. 1: Do not cast unsupervised.

Kennick laid out his supplies: his notes, the spellbook he’d taken them down from, and the small lumpy stone from the garden.

He planted the latter right in front of where he sat crosslegged on his bedroom floor. He took a long, slow breath, carefully pulling the energy he’d swiped from the master reserve into a mass inside the center of his chest. He extended his hands over the stone, consulted his notes.

He took another breath. Channeling the energy up through the bones of his ribcage, through his shoulders and down his arms, he stared intently at the rock and said, “Náothrë, täthümkáel.”

The energy burst from his fingertips and wrapped around the stone in a glowing, sparking halo.

“Náothrë, täthümkáel,” he said again, focusing hard. He hunched over, trying to blot out everything that wasn’t the rock, the energy, the words, the warm, buzzing connection with the Lifeblood. The words sounded perfect to him. Perfectly memorized, perfectly executed.

Irix probably wouldn’t say so, but it was working, regardless.

He imagined exactly what he wanted. His clear purpose for the stone. Every time he uttered the phrase, his connection with the stone strengthened, a gradual stiffening of his spine.

And as the connection grew, the stone levitated, pulling slowly up toward the space between his palms.

A slow smile stole across his face.

He tripped over the last syllable of the fourth repetition, and the stone flashed suddenly to the side, crashing straight through a pane of glass in the balcony doors and disappearing over the terrace.

The energy cord snapped unbidden and Kennick gasped, pulled slightly aside by the distinct feeling of its ripping from each wrist.

He sat there on his knees, gaping at the circle of broken glass across the room. Massaging his wrists, he slowly raised himself to his feet and stole over to the doors to look out.

Cynneth the groundskeeper was in the yard below, picking something up out of the grass. She glanced up, and they made eye contact. Kennick backed up, abruptly. He stood still in his room, eyes wide, heart pounding. He looked at the books on the floor.

Irix was going to kill him.

He turned and padded urgently to the door, down the hallway, and down the stairs. He grabbed his shoes by the door and cut through the sunroom toward the garden.

Cynneth met him on his way out the door at the back of the sunroom. The stone was in her callused hand, which looked small and dextrous when free of her heavy gardener’s gloves.

“What is this, Master Kennick?” she said, eyebrows raised.

Kennick swallowed his deep sense of mortality. “A rock, ma’am.”

“Did you throw it through your bedroom window?”

Kennick nodded and hung his head, hoping she would think him destructive, pass it off as a symptom of early puberty, and leave it at that.

She was studying the rock.

“There’s soot on it,” she said.

Kennick swallowed.

“You were practicing without the master’s permission, weren’t you?”

“Please don’t tell her,” Kennick said, fearfully.

Cynneth’s lips tightened sympathetically.

“Sorry, boya. You know I can’t do that.” She tucked the stone into the pocket of her overalls with a sigh. “So…Do you want me to tell her, or shall I let you do it?”

Kennick felt a sucking sensation in his chest. His head was still buzzing with traces of the extra energy in his system, the rumor of the broken energy cord like nails on a chalkboard in his sensory memory.

“I’ll tell her,” Kennick said.

“Good,” Cynneth said. She didn’t hand over the evidence. “Sweep up the broken glass. I’ll go up and tape the hole until we can replace the panel, all right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kennick said.

Cynneth nodded. Before she turned to go, she pointed a finger at him. “As soon as she gets home, you tell her.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kennick said.

The edges of the house seemed to loom in over him as Kennick stole back into the house and crept into the kitchen, hunting for a broom. Open, breathless, waiting.

He glanced at the square clock on the kitchen wall. Irix would be home in an hour.

He stared at it, clutching the broom in his fatigued, jittery hands. One more hour to live, he thought dismally.

And Then

When I was in high school, I always prayed for empathy, and I thought I understood the world perfectly:

There were us humans, created for good but with destructive tendencies.

And there was God.

The world was black and white. Right or wrong.There was a cut and dry answer to every question ever.

Homosexuality was a choice, and it was a sin.

Evolution was a stupid worldly thing that in no way existed. Like global warming.

All of the Bible was objectively, literally true and did not contradict itself whatsoever because if it did, it would delegitimize itself.

A spirit was for sure imbued at conception, and abortion needed to be illegal at all costs. (Darn that liberal agenda.)

American Christianity was the “right religion.”

I knew all the words. I believed them all.

And then college happened. Little by little, what I thought I understood at the ripe old age of 18 was dismantled. Gently, quietly.

Until it wasn’t so quiet anymore.

Halfway through my fall semester senior year, I was sitting wedged between people in the bustling meeting room of a coffee shop. Even more members were due to arrive. It was a jovial space, a safe space. We were going to talk about gender this meeting. I was still trying to feel comfortable in this group, who I sensed had grappled far more than I had, regarding far more difficult questions I still had my collection of easy answers to—although these answers were considerably more tentative than in previous years.

These people had been eschewed from the system I had previously thrived in, hidden under. I knew I had so much to learn and I was terrified of that.

About this time, the pro-life club on my private Christian university campus had made an innocent, but very negatively received mistake regarding flyers in campus bathrooms, and on this particular evening, the college students around me were freely deriding this mistake as I sat among them. I knew they didn’t mean any harm, but I froze.

What seemed so obviously naive and assumptive to them, I had just realized maybe wasn’t a good idea.

They didn’t know I hadn’t thought in depth about this yet.

And in that safe space, quietly, I didn’t feel so safe, anymore.

It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.

But in that moment, I began to understand what I was doing to myself that semester. Something necessary and terrifying and rife with sharp growing pains.

Earlier that summer I’d realized I was asexual. For those unfamiliar with the term, asexuality describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction, as separate from romantic attraction. I’d always thought I was just a late bloomer, and I faked crushes to fit in. I remained sex repulsed for most of my known life up until that point. And it was nice to find out there was a label that fit me better than the assumed one. It was like, after years of adolescent size changes, finding that one pair of jeans that fits like a miracle.

And after that realization, my point of view shifted. I understood, like a pound of concrete settling into place, that alternate sexuality was not a choice. The question of alternate sexuality vs Christianity was no longer just an intellectual topic. It was me. It was the friends who had just come out to me, as well as friends I intended to meet.

And I understood the world was not as black and white as I had presupposed. I felt it as close as my own skin.

As soon as the fall semester started, I reached out to the LGBTQ club created by students from the school; a club which, despite the invaluable support and solidarity it offered other gay and trans students at the university, hadn’t received official recognition by the university.

The leaders enthusiastically welcomed me into the fold.

Also that semester, I was taking a professional writing class, in which there was an overarching public relations project. My friends were starting up a pro-life club on campus, and they agreed to let me do some PR for them.

I sat through the meeting that night, feeling like a complete liar, and bombarded by a confused, panicky sort of shame (self-inflicted, of course). By affiliating myself with the LGBTQ club, was I somehow betraying my conservative Christian friends? And by affiliating myself with the pro-life club at the same time, was I betraying my LGBTQ friends?

I was more afraid of what the latter would think of me if they found out. These people who had endured so much hatred and fear from people like me, finding out that the dictionary illustration of a proper American Christian sat among them. Asexual but still hanging onto ideas she herself hadn’t arrived at on her own.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

But I’d stepped off the dock and there was no denying I’d gotten wet. I couldn’t go back. The mechanism was in motion, and I had no choice but to press forward (or shove my head in the sand but we all know that wasn’t an option).

My attendance of both groups dropped. I was too exhausted and confused to put myself through that anxiety every week, but I grappled long and hard with everything I’d thought I’d known.

I contacted one of the leaders of the LGBTQ club, a friendly political science major named Jen. I admitted my current position regarding the pre-meeting conversation the other day, and said I wanted to know more and hear what her perspective was on the issues of “pro-life vs pro-choice.” Something was off kilter and I really, truly wanted to understand.

We had a long coffee date, and as I walked back to my house on campus through the wet, leafy Oregon autumn, the framework I’d thought was impenetrable–obvious and logical and unquestionable–was breaking.

I talked to my friend who was helping lead the pro-life group, and she, too, was having doubts about how the “pro-life” movement, as it was, currently operated. We sat on a bench one afternoon in the center of campus, which was deserted for the weekend, and talked it over until we didn’t have anything else to say. Neither of us had reached any solutions, but we had at least admitted to ourselves that there were things that needed to change in the way we tackled the issues of maternal health.

I tried to apply more sensitive tactics into my PR material for the pro-life club, most of which weren’t actually used. Which was all right. It was just an assignment, and the club was still young, so it didn’t need much in the way of brochures. I have no idea how it’s doing currently, now that its founders have graduated. I hope maybe it has regrouped.

The LGBTQ club at my alma mater is still going strong, and I am very grateful to everyone who welcomed and supported me. I was asked to say a few words at the club’s graduation ceremony my very last semester, and that was extremely hard for me, since I did not feel the least bit worthy after how absent I had been. Even though I was trying to figure myself out and find some solid ground again.

Then I moved away to the San Francisco Bay Area for graduate school, effectively leaving the white-washed Christian suburban bubble of northwestern Oregon. This led to my current grappling with racism and how to help the violent racial tension in the United States, even though I grew up in a rather benign area. Being out of my home environment has considerably furthered my development into someone that may have shocked my high school self. She’d think I’d have backslid, gone completely off the deep end.

Maybe she’d despair that this version of me looks so different than she envisioned. Maybe she’d be intimidated, but I like to think she would understand, after a while.

I marvel at how much of a difference 6 years make. How a dutiful prayer has turned to genuine desire. When I was a kid, I didn’t fully understand what my pleas meant or why I made them. Only that I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to care. I wanted to think. I didn’t want to be left behind.

I’m pleased that this journey, for me, began on a conservative Christian university campus. The familiar space combined with all the people I had the honor to meet and speak with there was the perfect springboard into my adult life, into the deep end that grows ever deeper.

That evening in the fall semester of 2014, I began to understand what it is to be in the middle ground. What it is to think hard about things with a logical, open mind. To not be afraid of nuance and confusion and lack of answers, but to pursue empathy and compassion over being “right,” and to have the courage to show up when I am needed.

I firmly believe that if you search for truth, you will find it, and this is where my own search has led me.

And lately, I’ve been reflecting on how everything I’ve done in my life has fed very deliberately into where I am now, though I didn’t realize it while it was happening. Looking back, I can see the ties, trace the wires, and I stand amazed.

Be careful what you pray for, kids. God does not confine himself to the neat and predictable, and He may just bust your life wide open.

Woman

Ugly chest, ugly hips.

Sex on soft, ugly stilts.

23 years trying to accept this body.

In a sea of voices screaming.

You are female: You are ugly, beautiful, sensual, horrible. Cover your repulsive, delectable skin. Anything that happens to you is your fault. You are a woman, it is always your fault.

Wait to be rescued and valued by a kind charitable soul, because the world hates you.

Procreate and try to be pretty and maybe it will be satisfied.

Too much and not enough. The disgusting message of my culture.

Too much, not enough.

A 12-year-old, afraid of what was happening.

What it would mean.

A 15-year-old bleeding for the first time. Paying a lifelong debt of pain and fatigue and blood to be hated by the world.

A child, terrified to grow up. Because her culture tried to get her to believe that women aren’t human. Women aren’t funny. Women aren’t strong or unique or interesting. They are pursed lips and styled hair. They are strange, needy, bitter creatures with annoying high-pitched voices. They are sexual vending machines, a status symbol, a lubricated hole.

Ugly chest, ugly hips.

Is it any wonder I hated these parts of myself?

Because all I’ve ever wanted was to be human.

And this soft body made it hard to masquerade as one.

I could try to disown myself, if I wanted–say I am neither. I am nothing.

Except my heart won’t let me.

I intend to stay here, in this body and its labels, declare for myself that it is human. My body is a good place to live, and I have decided that for myself. I will reach out for as many hands as will join mine. I will raise my voice to be heard and I will defend to my dying breath that women are funny, they are strong and unique and interesting and they can be whatever and whoever is in their hearts to be. They are human.

We are human, and we do not owe the world anything.

Quiet chest.

Steady hips.

Cherished skin.

The world cannot define for me whether I am human or not.

My body is a temple, and first and foremost, it is mine.

Hate it, hate me, if you want.

But I will not.

+++

A/N: Some thoughts on womanhood and rape culture.

The Verge

She’s on the cusp of bigger and better things, but today she lost her mind.

Perhaps it had been coming on for weeks or days. Change, isolation, alienation, waiting, hoping.

Her mind and body became a rush of reaction, of inarticulate, overwhelming emotion. The tears and pain and earthquaking heart pushed her outside, away from quiet, searching for somewhere else. Somewhere anonymous.

Down the busy street. Where to go? Union Square was too close. Yerba Buena, maybe. No, not far enough. Not far enough.

She walked fast, feet and legs pounding, hands shoved in her sweatshirt pockets, her face a dynamic, contorting inhale and exhale as wave after wave of pain rushed in and out.

She fled underground, hopped a subway just arriving, took it north. She walked and walked, throat closing and unclosing. 

There was no more logic in it. Now it was just tears. Just raw pressure compulsively spilling out in wave after wave. The culmination of trying to keep it all together for too long. Trying to be brave, to control and contain everything in her that was weak and problematic and troubling. Terrified of becoming a warning sign while she still waited, sore and fragile, to feel human again.

Lorikeets babbed and squeaked in the trees above the park on the waterfront, and her emotions only magnified. More memories, of loved ones separated, of her own aloneness here on the edge of bigger and better things.

She walked out to the water down Pier 7, found a lonely bench on the uneven windblown boards. She planted herself there, rubbing at her leaking eyes with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. Letting it out slowly, so as not to crumble beneath its weight.

She stared at the water, at the ferry across the way, the bay bridge. A big white gull with well-kept feathers and greedy eyes sat on the railing a few steps down. Sometimes it would crack open its yellow bill and yawp at her, and she wondered if it knew. If it could sense the pain. If maybe it was trying to comfort her, or telling her to stop.

The bell on a fishing pole jingled endlessly in the wind and surf across the way. Its owner in a white plastic rain suit ventured over to her side of the pier. He looked into her eyes a moment, then sauntered back to his effects.

Mostly, people left her alone, and she was glad for it. 

When she finally mustered her voice, she got up and employed her cellphone, letting any and all words speak as she trudged her way up hundreds of steps to Telegraph Hill. The sun was setting as she climbed up and up, through forest and behind back porches, and she felt safe as she climbed, out of breath but still talking.

There was a small water fountain at the top of Telegraph Hill, and its presence felt significant, somehow. She felt seen in that moment, in the cool rush of water, in the garbled voices but present hearts of her dearest friends, in the sun setting over the expanse of San Francisco.

She felt emptied and filled, then. At peace again, on the verge of bigger and better things.

+++
A/N: Some prose about emotions. They’re hard and messy and inconvenient but sometimes you just gotta let your body do what it’s gotta do…

The Death Throes

I’m scrubbing my soul with lye.

The witching hour approaches, and I’m tired of choking on lingering spores.

On paper, it sounds so simple. The cause of the dark circles under my eyes, the heaviness of my limbs, the pain in my stomach.

I look at the synopsis. Stated so simply.

Was that it? Was that all it was?

Mere months of toxicity?

Mere mold, spreading, creeping up the walls and hanging around the human boulder on the living room floor. Fruiting bodies, releasing toxin.

Across the room, spores whispering around my head like gnats, burrowing into my skin. Rooting, spreading, suffocating. Was that all it was?

Behind my eyes, I watch the months in hyperdrive. Over and over again. Every time less raw. Less crisp, perhaps less reliable.

I was cornered because I didn’t know. Wasn’t that it?

Naivety, hope, guilt. Trying and trying, but never able to change anything.

It wasn’t my fault. Was it?

The apartment is clean now, but the embedded hyphae secrete toxin as they slowly wither away.

A red noxious film, a splotch on my heart, a craving for blood, for recompense I will never hold.

The more I want it, the more it binds me.

I gape in despair at the apparition of spores and pain and fumes. Shadows strung up like cobwebs. I thought I’d fought them all.

I thought this was finally dead.

The paper is soaked in toxin. It stings, burns, fills my mouth with bile.

The paper sees it first, in the dead of night. My creator reads over my shoulder, as the witching hour approaches.

I tell my loved ones in daylight.

I have been poisoned, and I will not hide my weakness from those that will pull me up.

The festering is dead and the hyphae are fading, but there may still be some stubborn embers.

Do not let me become what hurt me.

May this aftermath never be more than a passing sickness.

This lingering pain, the sting of antibiotic.

+++

A/N: It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Learned a lot of life things this year, including things about negativity and toxic people. Haven’t had the headspace to comment on them coherently, and I apologize for my recent absence on this little corner of the Internet. I hope to get back to a regular blogging schedule soon (one that will also be compatible with my soon-to-begin school year.) Thanks for bearing with me!

America the Broken

I am so incredibly heartbroken and disgusted by what has happened in the last few days. Brutal, unapologetic rapists get a 3 month prison sentence, a young rising singer loved by everyone who knew her murdered in a senseless act of violence, and then I wake up this morning to learn about the horror what went down in Orlando.

And I don’t have words. Certainly not civil ones.

All year, we’ve been hearing “Make America Great Again!!” along with “It’s ______’s fault.” The immigrants, the gays, the Muslims…etc etc etc. Things aren’t the way they used to be, and we are freakin’ uncomfortable with that.

But what happened to the still small voice of love in our hearts, against which everything is weighed and compared, which helps guide our responses and actions? Are we listening to the small, scared voice of our comfort zones instead?

I do not feel safe in my country and that has not always been the case, simply because I did not used to know what horrors awaited me in the real world. The kind of Great America that too many of us are hoping for does not exist, and it will not be solved by any one presidential candidate. Pining after such an illusion is like obsessing over the golden days of childhood—the blissful ignorance of privilege we simply cannot afford to entertain anymore. People are suffering, people are dying. What kind of modern, development-oriented society are we that allows this? Since the dawn of forever, the marginalized have been silenced, and now that they have fought and sacrificed and paid very dearly for the most basic of introductory footholds to make their voices heard, how dare we not listen. How dare we push them away and whine for the good ol’ days so we can ignore reality and sit in our cozy privilege and look after only ourselves and our posh, 2-dimensional ideas? 

The more I see of our downward spiral and notice the patterns in our history, the more I think perhaps America has never been “great.” We have used our power and wealth to meddle and abuse for as long as we’ve had the means. We are proud to be a melting pot, but at the same time, we stand on the bodies of the peoples we exploited to make our country what it is and continue to exploit them. We have sanitized and domesticated and commercialized ourselves and our ideas to a point that, quite frankly, no longer looks human to me, and our modern worshipping of firearms and status quo has led to the caustic, systemic plague of violence and hate exploding all around us.

And amidst all this horror and pain, how dare we think self-preservation is worth the monstrosities we are permitting?

Love is the greatest weapon against hate. It is a compass, a counterbalance. But faith without action is dead. Making this life count requires something of us, and if we want to do good in this world, it will not be from the tiny boxes we’ve decided are big enough.

The American Dream is over. It’s time to wake up.

+++

A/N: I’ve kept my wrath to myself the last few months. I may just be one young, angry voice. But something needs to change, and I will add mine to the call.

Enceladus’ Indigenous

I was the first to turn.

It was extremely quiet on Enceladus, the tentatively friendly moon of Saturn whose colonization we were sent to oversee. The operation was already pretty far along. They had begun to build towns across the frozen valley. I could spot people from the station windows. Going about their business, living life, quietly.

After two months here on assignment, I was beginning to think I didn’t like it here. It felt like we were living under a microscope, but with no one at the eyepiece. Like we were on the edge of being forgotten. As much praise and ambition people had had for the project back on earth, I had come to expect…more.

It’s a strange thing, to leave your own planet. It’s not like leaving your province, your country. It’s even farther. A deep, cold, alien homesickness, that lodges in your bones and never quite leaves.

And as I force myself to concentrate on work, updating the station, monitoring the environment, managing communication between earth and the projects across the valley—I can’t get over the fact that I signed up to be here for two years.

Two years.

The station was always chilly, but you get used to it after a while. The rooms were big and quiet and ominous. We all slept in the same room. The kitchen was massive as well, silent, dark, with the light from the skylight glinting blue off every chrome surface.

I hated to stay in the kitchen, the sleeping quarters too. But I was one to let my imagination run wild.

“¿A veces, te sientes como alguien está mirándonos?” I sometimes asked one of my colleagues, without thinking.

“¿…Qué quieres decir?”

That’s where it would end, usually. Me feeling like a paranoid freak, with the more rationalistic minds of the group beginning to think I was a paranormal fanatic.

I began to have nightmares, of dead people under blankets, rising with hollowed screams as I drew near. My colleagues, my friends. I began to see things, shadows racing across the walls, whispers of touch on the back of my neck, a gaze on the back of my head.

But there was never anything there.

A little fuzzy creature that called itself Pud got into the station, and stuck a little too close if it saw me. None of my colleagues could see it. Even when it stood right at their feet, looking up at them. I couldn’t get Pud to leave. It always found a way back in. Tried to cause trouble with the work. Always questioning what I was doing. Jeering at my colleagues.

They’d catch me telling it to get lost and let me work, to not sit so close, to get away from my food. I tried to reign it in when they were around. I tried to figure out where the little imp came from, but it never answered anything.

And how could it speak my language, anyway? That’s what I’d like to know.

I needed to get up the guts to stick up for myself to my colleagues. But…what if it really was just me? This frozen rock, the muffled, distant rumbling of its petulant geysers, hoping one wouldn’t form under the station. Perhaps it was beginning to get to me. Admittedly, I hadn’t been the most stable of people upon leaving earth.

I meant to put together something with empirical evidence, to show my colleagues something really was there. But I kept forgetting.

I was forgetting everything, actually. Simple things, like forgetting to wash my dishes after meals, even when the protocol was to line up and do it all at once. I kept finding things from my desk in my bed.

I dreamt my blanket wrapped me up and was trying to drag me off into the darkest corner of our quarters. Pud appeared and I punched it straight in the face. I woke up on the kitchen floor. The only sound the vague rumbling of Enceladus’ geysers outside.

I began to feel angry, all the time. Everything was cause for aggression. I am not an aggressive person. I don’t pick fights. I don’t bark, and I don’t bite.

But I did. Many times. Over stupid things. I got headaches. I lashed out at every opportunity.

The last straw was when I caught myself actually trying to physically bite someone.

I backed off, horrified. I turned and ran, looking for silence, for solitude. Sweating and shaking, I found myself in the kitchen.

I sank to the floor behind one of the counters. The only light came from a skylight in the middle of the ceiling, creating ghostly shadows, a frozen, blueish hue to everything.

I ducked forward, hands clutching my head. I wanted to kill them. I wanted to kill them all. But why? It didn’t make sense. They were my colleagues. We were a team.

Something stood over me, but when I looked up, I saw nothing. I fought to breathe.

This was supposed to be a quiet two years. Eerie and lonely too, perhaps. Sure, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but it was quiet. A chance to do honest work, to be some good in this universe.

But I wanted to tear it down. Ten years of collective effort, I wanted to see it wiped from existence. These people and their arrogant, stupid structures. Didn’t they once stop to think that maybe Enceladus belonged to someone else?

My breath caught at a sudden, sickening crack of my spine, in the shoulder region. More followed it, all the way down, painful, electrifying; curving and elongating and pushing up and out.

With a cry of pain, I fell to my side. My legs grew longer, my feet stretching far beyond the backs of my slippers, losing human form. The skin was darkening, hardening.

I curled up into a ball. I could hear footsteps, muffled voices. I panicked. They couldn’t see me like this. I pushed myself up, feverish, my vision blurring in and out. My arms were unsteady, clawed hands warping beneath me. My spine had become longer, stretching my body another half its length.

Something burst out of my sides, thin shafts jointing and planting on the floor. Four extra appendages. My blood dripped on the polished tiles—black, viscous liquid, like an insect. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

Structures sprouted on my forehead. Two rows of two. When they opened and the confused visual information imposed itself upon my natural perception, I realized they were eyes.

The doors beyond the counters opened. Silence ensued. Listening.

“¿Renata?” One of my colleagues called. Sergio. “Renata, ¿estás aquí?”

Slow footsteps. I held still, my chest heaving, head and heart pounding.

He crept around the corner. As soon as our gazes met, he backed up in horror.

I acted on the first impulse: Attack.

+++

When I came to my senses, I found myself beating against a prison door with all six arms, screeching at the top of my lungs. I stopped, abruptly, and backed up, surprised and mortified.

I could still taste blood in my mouth. Red, coppery. Not my own. There was a gash in my grasshopper-like leg. It hurt like heck.

I sat down against the wall, trying to catch my breath, taking in the sight of myself.

My skin was almost black, plated along the top like some kind of lightweight bio-armor. My uniform was ripped and too short in many places. It was bloody.

I’d never been covered in blood before.

Had I killed someone? Oh god…

I stood up, creeping to the door. I felt like I was on stilts, with silly putty for a spine. Everything hurt. I tapped on the cell door, tentative.

“¿Aló?” I called. My voice had changed. My jaw felt torpid, trying to talk through rows of jagged teeth. “¿A—alguién está? ¿Qué pasó? No…no puedo acodarme después de…” After transforming. How long had my blackout been?

And why had I regained sentience now? Lost and found it just like that? If it was that easily forgotten, I could forget it again.

I was better off caged.

But for some reason, everything in me screamed to be set free. This cell was suffocating. It wasn’t safe, it was strangling me. I had to get out. They couldn’t keep me here. I had to empty this station. They all had to die or surrender—

I jerked myself away from the door, so sharply I collided against the back wall. That beat back some of the animalistic thoughts clawing through my head. For a moment, the spiraling, seething voice silenced.

I was shaking.

I felt the anger, as well as the derision. From deep inside me. Mingled with my fear and confusion and shame. Something else. Whatever had taken control of my body…it hated me.

It hated all of us.

This is the price for trespassing, it said. This world is not yours. It will never be yours.

“¿Qué es usted?” I demanded. To myself in the lonely cell. To the monster inside my head.

We are the indigenous.

“¿Renata?” A voice from outside the door made me jump. Delfina. “Franco dice que dijiste algo sofisticado. ¿Tú estás…tú?”

“¿Todos están bien?” I said, anxious. My voice shook. “¿Por qué estoy cubierta de sangre? ¿Maté a alguién?”

There was silence for a moment. “No.”

I brought a hand up to my mouth. “Gracias a Dios…”

“Pero empezaste algo,” she said, solemnly. “Algo aún más feo.”

“¿Qué quieres decir…?”

A screeching sound burst into the air from the cell next to mine. Scratching and banging against the door.

A weight dropped into my chest. “O no…” I straightened up. “¿A causa de la mordedura?”

“Eso pensamos,” Delfina said. “Funciona rápidamente. Pregunta es, ¿quién te mordió a ti?”
“Nadie,” I said. I tried to think back. No strange wounds had manifested. Just a lot of other strange things. “Pienso que me seguía un rato…De algún modo, me entró. No sé cómo…”

Delfina hesitated. “¿Este…Pud cosa?”

I took a steadying breath. “No sé. Es posible que tenía algo que ver…”

Maybe the night I punched it incited something. But that was in a dream…It had to have been…

“Tenemos que irnos,” I said, urgent. “Recoger todos de esta luna. Las creaturas aquí…Ellas son las que hacen esto.”

“¿Qué son?”

“No sé.” The thing in my head was sitting back and watching through my eyes and ears. If I did what it wanted, I hoped maybe it would leave us alone.

“¿Cómo hacen esto?” I muttered.

None of your business.

“Estamos dispuestos a trabajar con ustedes. Queremos colaborar.”

Now you’re negotiating, because we’ve made you a crazed monster. You will never be human again, you know.

I swallowed. “No creo eso,” I whispered.

“…Renata?”

“¡ALÉJATE DE NUESTRA LUNA!” The screech exploded out of me, compulsive. “¡O MUERA! ¡VAMOS A MATAR TODOS USTEDES!”

I clutched my head in my hands, bracing the other arms against the floor.

“No sabíamos—” I said through clenched teeth. “Por favor, no sabíamos. Tienen nuestra atención total, ahora le suplico, nos permitan colaborar con sus exigencias.”

The creature quieted then. I sat back, trying to catch my breath. I looked at Delfina, apologetic, wishing more than anything I could set this right.

10 years of collaborative effort. The pressure of colonization pushing back against an isolated incident on a tiny science station. As it stood, the indigenous had claimed me and Sergio. They wanted immediate evacuation, but we all knew they wouldn’t get it, not without an epidemic.

And as I sat on the cold floor of my cell, in temporary possession of my mind and altered body, I knew the indigenous intended to give us one.

+++

A/N: Been sitting on this one-off for a long time. I get really weird stories from dreams–more the environment and a few strange impressions, and then it spirals off into the sunset from there. Originally, like most of my scribblings, this was all in English, but I thought I’d experiment with language a bit for kicks, see how it changed its flavor, so to speak. I kind of like it.

For the translation: Enceladus’ Indigenous dialogue (english)

Reboot

comic3_robot_revised_1

A hand jammed into my chest. A quick, lethal tug.

That was my last memory.

When my next bit of sentience reengaged, I was lying on my back, looking into a round dark face, fluffy black hair framing it like thunder clouds.

“You are alive!” it said.

I jerked back. I tried to get up, to run. My leg was supposed to plant into the weedy grass and propel me, but it missed. Only air. I pitched straight onto my face, amid background noise of its voice, words I didn’t care to hear.

Its human voice.

The last voice I’d heard was human. Raised. I could still feel the tug. The last word.

u  s  e  l  e  s  s  .

GET AWAY FROM ME! I tried to say—but what issued from my voice simulator was a staticky buzz, ugly and unintelligible.

I cut off, surprised. Half my left leg was missing, twisted and snapped clear out of its socket. My chest panel was also gone, baring my sensitive inner circuitry.

I tried my voice again, quieter.

The human stood over me. It was showing me its palms. Bare hands.

Good for you. You have hands.

Bare hands were supposed to pacify me? Bare hands had fingers, muscles, bone, the perfect combination for insertion and extraction. Soft and vulnerable, perhaps, but cruel, all the same.

“It’s ok, it’s ok,” it was saying. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

I can’t trust you— More ugly buzzing. Water damage, probably. I glared at the hole in my chest, hunching my shoulders.

It had registered by now. I was in a junkyard. I could see the me-shaped outline in dead grass under a fallen beam a few yards away. Spindly arms, smooth edges.

The human had propped up the beam with a small scissor jack.

u  s  e  l  e  s  s  .

We are not supposed to have feelings.

But that’s a pesky side effect of advanced AI. Those of us that are placed with humans develop personalities.

She’d probably already seen it, this human. I didn’t know what to do. She’d decided it was a good idea to revive me, and now she’d seen—how many emotions plastered on my simplistic mechanical face? I didn’t care to count, but I tried to think of them—fear, surprise, hostility, disgust…

All problematic.

She’d probably cut more of my wires now, including the ones she had soldered back together. I had no escape.

My outer panels were already starting to rust. She would cut my power, take whatever scraps she wanted, and leave my remains to rust away.

Because robots were never supposed to feel.

“What are you doing out here?” she said, gently kneeling next to me.

I curled up, slowly.

Sadness came, then. Pain, betrayal, confusion, grief. Welling up in my circuits, flooding my broken voice simulator, adding a whining tinge to the grating buzz. They threw me away…

I showed negative emotion and they threw me away, and now that same fearful ugliness was spilling out of me.

I curled up tighter. I hid my face, but I couldn’t hide the shaking.

Why did she revive me? Why?

I hadn’t hurt anyone.

Why did they throw me away?

What was I supposed to do now?

“Well then.” She got to her feet.

When I looked up, she had extended a hand.  “What do you say we get your leg fixed up? Your voice simulator too?” She flashed a smile. The well-meaning type. “You look like a talker…”

I stared at the hand. Callused palms, short fingernails, grease and rust along the fingertips. Probably from me. The hand remained in the air between us.

I chanced to look into her eyes. Tentatively, I unfurled a tiny bit. I lifted a hand.

I placed it in hers. Metal panels against seamless skin.

Her smile softened and the warm, organic fingers closed.

And I wanted to believe in that sensation.

I wanted to believe that maybe overstepped malfunctions like me deserved to live too.

+++

A/N: A written version of a comic I did for class this last semester.

Kindling

One final checkmark. I felt it coming on many days in advance. Perhaps even weeks.

Before I felt the anger and contempt and unrest building to unbearable proportions, I knew one last dialogue was on the way.

Either he would instigate a talk, or I would explode under the pressure. Or, if we were lucky, we’d just fade away. Our time together would expire and we would never draw near again.

A metaphorical matchbox sat heavy in my hands. The crumbling, warped bridge barely standing between us.

One final checkmark.

I ended up sparking the impending moment with an indecorous flare of anger. I was met with outright denial.

A misunderstanding, perhaps, on the subject of my tactless quip. But I couldn’t have misunderstood everything. Not the things I saw and felt–the months of emotional stress that had slowly been driving me to breaking point after breaking point. Things witnessed and affirmed by another uninvolved.

I couldn’t have misunderstood it all.

Yet he was in the mood for denial, so I tried a familiar route he knew positively. I asked if he was ok.

Yeah, I’m fine. He said. Are…you ok?

When the sun is shining and all the thorns played off, he is an affable, open book. He is kind and eager to please. He loves discussion, and he can make a person feel like humanity is a virtue.

But only when the trouble does not concern him. He does not have the stomach for humanity, then.

Are you ok?

The final checkbox stood waiting, red, phosphorous. A match between my fingertips, the bridge before me. I’d already decided it needed to be burnt, but the question remained as to how it would go down.

We hadn’t been speaking for a while already. I hoped maybe he had thought through some things when, as a last resort, I had had to distance myself, allow my supports to atrophy. Maybe he had grown up a bit, now that I’d openly had enough of his toxic, juvenile behavior.

As I leaned against the doorway, staring at his face, his question, I thought maybe I could hope that when we parted, he wouldn’t turn right around and do this to someone else. Maybe the crumbling of our bridge had taught him some valuable lessons. Maybe finally he would help me put it out of its misery and move forward.

Months of pent up anger gave me courage.

I decided to be honest. For old time’s sake, for aligning myself with my firm belief that mutual communication and honesty are the best way to solve problems.

Out of the last few shreds of respect I held for him as a person, I decided to be honest.

After months of him skittering around me, avoiding eye contact, submissive speech and dirty looks, of fickle and unpredictable fits of self-pity, he looked me dead in the eye. He spoke with more clarity and lucidness than I thought he was capable of with anyone.

And he emphatically denied all of it.

He wanted specifics, but I was too flustered and incredulous to think of anything that would make sense to him. My pride screamed at me to think of something he could not deny, but I knew it was useless. He never heard me when I spoke. Only when it was good. Anything real, he recoiled from as if burned, a child’s hands struck by a ruler.

I stuttered a few lame sentences. He was earnestly confused by them, the pitch of his voice raising as he continued to press for a  better explanation, as if this were the first he had heard of the problem. I stared at him, dumbstruck. I think he truly believed himself. He spoke with such conviction I wondered, mortified, if I had made up everything about everything. If I was the insane one in this.

You know what, forget it, I said through gritted teeth, turning away. Just forget it. Stupid, petulant words, but they were all I had. He would never hear me.

Then his voice broke. Pleading hopelessness and confusion. An almost comical repeat of months past, whenever I attempted to calmly address concerns like a responsible adult and he never interpreted it as such.

Finally, I understood.

Like every other instance when the saccharine mask of sunshine and smiles and honeymoon friendship faded, whenever I tried communication, he pulled his platinum level victim card. He threw it down in front of me that afternoon, begging me to take it, to ease up, to make sense. A slap to the face. Presenting the front of his useless clogged filter he really believed was in working order.

And as the realization hit me, so did the overwhelming disgust. A deep, revolting nausea that would cling for days afterward.

He’d learned absolutely nothing.

I left him alone as he continued to blubber on, trying to shed responsibility. The brick wall of his stricken face, his teary eyes, his tight voice.

He would never change.

There was nothing more to say.

The last box was finally ready to be checked off.

I stepped forward to the bridge, finding it much uglier than just a second before, a whole other layer of illusion stripped away. Beneath the chipping, weathered paint, I could finally see just how painfully the wood was twisted and rotting. How many boards were missing, bolts and sockets rusted and cracked, how the supports had been defective all along. I had done everything I could to save it, but perhaps this bridge should never have stood in the first place. It was a time bomb, a desperate, idealistic joke.

The last clinging drops of remorse and hesitation detached as I docked his beloved victim card into the seam between two wooden supports.

Grimly, I struck the match and lit the card’s sharp, bitter edge.

+++

A/N: Some personal prose, I guess. A new experience for me.