My Extended Death
—A serialized novelette from the world of the Human Legion—
Ferocious stratospheric winds assaulted the floating resort of Betoto Strato Parc. From the arms radiating from Betoto’s hub, hundreds of gaudily colored dirigibles danced crazily in the wind’s relentless buffeting.
Come to ‘Strato Parcs’ and get away from it all.
Sentwali could not think of a more perverted concept than this corporate slogan. Still, it suited ser purpose. Sie had reached the point in ser narrative where sie met Kelile. That seemed a good point to pause the audio recording. Sie ordered the dirigible to attach itself to an egress pylon and slip its mooring. The vessel shuffled away from Betoto’s hub until it reached a launch node.
Outside, vaporous wisps of cloud curled over the planet like a worker’s shovel-for-hands. Sentwali realized how much ser horizon had spread and curved since ser early life imprisoned in the Pristine Colony.
As soon as the nav system completed its safety checks, it gave Sentwali a cursory beep and then launched the vessel into the air. Winds instantly caught the bag of solar cells and pressurized helium, sweeping it into the upper troposphere where it began to slow its fall, on course for a covert descent.
In the three years after the bombs brought Kelile to me, I felt greater contentment than I have known before or since. Ironically, once I had emerged from Dreamtime, reborn as a scribe, the colony employed me as the principal architect of the Nest’s strengthening in response to the attack. We buttressed the upper levels using chewed dirt mortared with spit. This building technology had been in use for at least two thousand years. We knew of no other and needed none.
To burrow new galleries deep underground, where we would move the birthing cells, we harnessed most of the colony’s population of spinsters. One worker to six spinsters and one scribe per twelve workers. With this simple hierarchy, we channeled great teams of the brutish spinsters into productive work.
For Kelile’s new scribehood, the Council assigned a role managing supplies to keep the fungus farms at peak efficiency. Far too often, this took ser outside the Nest, though never outside the boundary that you in the modern world had set for the Pristine Colony. Ser absence left the air tasting like dust as ser scent died away. (Though never entirely. I like to imagine it lingers there still.) I would spend as much time as I could of those long, dry days with ser pups, Sentwalikwanza-pya and Sentwalipili-pya. Each shared a little of ser parent’s scent. (They would carry the ‘pya’ suffix until they birthed a pup. A practice you abandoned about the same time as your biology.)
Whenever I could share a rest period with Kelile, we would talk, laugh, philosophize, feast, nurture, and even spin a little bad poetry together. We tried to live every aspect of life and do so together. Perhaps those of you who have sat in the belly of a military drop-ship, waiting to be propelled into a Slow Bug gravity well, might know what those days felt like. We lived life at 125% and never talked of the future.
That perfect period ended during one final rest shift spent together at the crèche. It was the day our three surviving pups graduated and entered school (My Kelilepili-pya died when a week old).
We watched our pups skittering over the brightly-scented climbing frame, using their larger bulk to shove the other crèche pups out of their way. They giggled happily but tightly controlled their emotional scent; the days when they would unconsciously exude amusement had passed. They were a sweet trio, though, to try cheering us during our deep melancholy brought on by this sign of Destiny’s approach. We would not miss the pups so much as their symbol of the special connection I shared with Kelile.
I remember lazily rubbing one leg over the soft white of Kelile’s back and feeling the comfort of ser returning the contact, merging our scent. I watched proudly as a few of the other parents turned their heads away from the sight of our mutual affection. As a scribe with fourteen pups already to my credit, few dared speak openly of my perversion in the architects’ chamber. (Even our Great-Parent at the time had only twenty-six pups.) Some fools talked of me as a future great-parent. I suppose history proved them right in a way. Even so, we knew our mutual affection had become the talk of the colony.
Forgive me, I keep forgetting that you have never experienced Dreamtime and so I must explain the nature of our perversion. For Kelile and I to love one another would have been something to admire, except that, as a chance consequence of that mortar attack, our love had begun in our previous life. To our Nest members it seemed that Kelile and I were defying our renewal, trying to overcome the great cycle of death and rebirth that the gods themselves had ordained for our people.
I can hardly expect you to understand that perversion when you yourselves have taken it to greater lengths. You have banished our cycle of renewal completely.
Back to my story, to the day our pups graduated. I can still hear Kelile’s casual comment: “I would be pleased if our pups should mate.”
I snatched my leg from ser back. This proxy argument plagued us with increasing frequency.
“Let us not talk of death,” I replied firmly. Instantly, I regretted this; Kelile never responded well to firmness.
“Do not be weak. I would rather one of our brood lived to parenthood to pass on our blood. You know the odds of surviving a first mating. Better one dies so the other lives with the flesh of the other inside it.”
I said nothing, my forelimbs drumming a rhythm onto the floor as I am apt to do when undecided.
The question of our pups’ future taxed us of every particle of courage. Not enough remained to let us speak of our own future. We had several years yet until our nimble fingers and brains would begin to stiffen, and our carapaces harden into the dull, black armor appropriate to workerhood. Yet that time would surely come and when it did, our love would become heady with mortal lust. The one thing I wished for more than to mate with Kelile was to know sie would live on, if only for one more cycle.
Your poet, N’Bushe, wrote of true love as the thing you desire more than life itself. With your implants turning you all into great-parents, those words come easily to you. For Kelile and me they were hard and they were literal.
Text (c) 2015 by Tim C. Taylor. All rights reserved. Alien insect image (c) bluecrayola / Shutterstock