Portland, Oregon. 2057
Pursuit of her conjures a centripetal force that sculpts the seething ball of superheated wrongness inside my chest. Otherwise it would shatter my honeycombed ribs and blow a hole in the side of this cherry soda-smelling derby palace.
I am all about her thick red braid and the backwards sweep of her skates, her ass assuming all manner of exquisite shape in the crossing and uncrossing of her thighs. Those fucking pink knee socks, the lucky number seven on her back.
I can predict the future. I see number seven smashing into the padded side rails, groaning, and me pressing close against her, one hand slinking my tapered fingers into her silky braid. Our limbs entangle, fucking each other up good.
We’ve been here before. She kinda likes it.
The impact will be glorious. Stars and moons and shimmering dust. And our helmets will keep her safe in the event that I feel the overwhelming urge to get close to her face, which I always do. Always.
“Cora, your mother’s dying,” the father says, sounding like he might be just outside the locker room, not impossibly far away in both space and time. “If you feel anything, come home and say your farewells.”
I pull the company phone off my ear and brush the temporal compass with my thumb, bleeding his LoChron onto the screen: Hell Creek, Laramidia. 2075.
I look back to the tiny locker mirror, wincing and gingerly patting the ripped flesh of my lip back over the upper left incisor and a welter of blood and saliva. I wonder if I’m going to have to sew myself shut again.
Goddamn it, I am.
The pain feels not good, but right. Would have been better if it had been number seven’s teeth rather than a corner of exposed metal rail.
Would have been even better if it had been me and number seven in a dark equipment closet pounding each other, licking, panting, smearing blood.
Then going out for beers afterward.
But here I am on the phone with the father instead. I press the device, humming with its long-range exertion, to my ear again and hunch closer into the open locker as though to prevent my teammates from somehow seeing what’s on the other end of this phone call from the future.
“…bought you a bus ticket, Cora. It’ll be waiting at the Greyhound ticket office. Bus is…”
In his pause I hear a faint classical recording rising up over a buzzing and pulsing thickness, an oppressive racket of insect music. I close my eyes and see coiled vines. Feel the murky air. See his pale fingers wrapping his evening gin and tonic.
“Four forty-five, tomorrow. Should get you to the crater well before the first boat… And, Cora?” Another long pause. “The king is dead. She killed him just minutes after he mortally wounded her. I need you to reason with your siblings… Are you coming, Cora?”
On the island I was just M13, the thirteenth egg of female M, the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. This human name, Cora, is a precious thing I extracted from hard ground, cleaned, and polished myself. I regret divulging it in a misguided attempt to invoke a relationship with the father. Whenever he says it, I cringe.
My teammates are heading to the lobby and meeting up with the other team to go get beers. I’ll just wait until they’re gone, thanks very much. I tried once, awkwardly, to hit on number seven, and got pretty bruised.
“Maybe you should think about getting rid of some of those mods,” my friend Patty had offered. “They might be a little hardcore for number seven, you know?”
Yeah, easy for you to say, Patty. The iridescent scales arming my cheekbones transition to tiny white feathers at my temples. But down at my lips I’m all human. I finger the edge of soft, ripped flesh and inhale sharply.
“Cora? I’d like an answer. Are you still there?”
I tongue blood from my teeth and slam the locker. It rings in the empty room. “Sure,” I say and hang up on him.
I pound my bike up through the parking lot to the crest of a hill and then streak down through rainy city streets, hunkered down, my lip tight against the canvas of my coat.
I fly. My backpack slams me as I try to hit every damn pothole. Occasionally the needle-sharp tip of my incisor catches the ragged edge of flesh and my mind goes white hot.
Red taillights spark through rain drops, and in the distance Portland’s geology plunges into silver knives of water gashed by the shadowy hulks of bridges.
At home I unscrew a bottle of whiskey and commence fucking myself up. The deconstructed cardboard box I use as a rug is still fecal-smelling from the last rain. I drip blood on it and all across the tile floor. I fire up my cheap Starbucks Employee-of-the-Month coffee maker. I take gulps of whiskey and dump half the bag in a filter.
The shitty whiskey’s working. My face is getting tingly and tight, flushed. I peel off clothes and stand under a freezing cold shower until I feel like I’ve receded into a block of ice.
Time to stitch. A careful gulp of strong coffee to sharpen my vision. Hot liquid seeps through the gash, tearing my mind to shreds. Swearing like a crazed ventriloquist, I gather the supplies I pinched from the team medic and fill a bowl with ice.
Aside from the cardboard, the only furniture in my apartment is an old sleeping bag I found in the equipment room at the rink. I figure it’s mine because I bothered to wash the mold down. I sit on it in front of the long bathroom mirror. I take an ice cube and press it on the wound.
The thread catches on the ragged edge of butchered skin. Mother. Fucker. I glare at myself, and there she is. Bony brow bowed with rage, flecked reptilian eyes, pupils cinching up into a slit, long hawk-nose and flaring nostrils.
“Fuck you, bitch.”
I make as though to stab myself, but reconsider and slide the needle in smooth and quick instead. I’m a fucking plastic surgeon. A pinch and a deep ache spreads to my teeth and the bones of my nose. I apply the ice again. Another sip of coffee. Blood cascades down my chin and into my mouth. More coffee. More stitches. More ice, more whiskey, more blood.
Finally, the thing is done.
I screech and pitch the glass bowl at the tile, and pass out on the bathroom floor to dream of her terrible face amidst melting ice and shards of glass.
Hell Creek, Laramidia Island. 2065
She doesn’t like me.
I understand. I wouldn’t like hatchlings that don’t look at all like me. That resemble in too many respects the pale, blond wisp of a man who sedated her and, because her DNA had been redesigned, knocked her up.
M11 looks the most like her, comfortably cantilevered forward from her massive back haunches. The rest of us confuse her, though somewhere within the dark sulci of her late Cretaceous brain, I’m sure she’s figured it out.
She likes to chase us as though to say, “Learn how to run, you wretched misfits.”
This time, I stop cold within a dense forest of ferns and turn to confront her. She gets still and tilts her gigantic head, seeming to consider me as an individual. But then she stomps one enormous hind leg, shaking the ground, and unleashes a noxious gust of a screech, stretching to within inches of my face.
One day I will think perhaps she was just trying to figure out how to tell me about a life of violence and longing for something you cannot have.
But in that moment I run for my life.
Portland, Oregon, 2057
I crawl out of the bathroom in the morning, face tight and swollen, pain pulsing like a motherfucker, clothes still wet. I reach into my backpack for Tylenol and swallow half of what’s there with some whiskey. I can barely fit the mouth of the bottle between my lips, and amber piss dribbles down my chest.
I sit back against the bare wall on the cold tile floor, staring at the muddle of spitting rain outside the sliding glass doors. Who the hell thought to put a tile floor in a place like Portland? But it’s cheap.
And the tile is a piece of home, I guess, the feel on my bare feet reminiscent of the father’s house at the edge of Hell Creek on the island of Laramidia, open on two sides, choked with vines. His books and bottles of gin, his jars of insect specimens, coolers filled with ice and autopsied parts–an immense heart of some herbivore comes particularly to mind. His hammock, mosquito net, and desk piled with notebooks full of unspeakable things. I can picture him at it now, pen raised, staring out into a rain shower and speculating about his position in court.
Of all the father’s many cracks, the deepest is this belief that he is one of them, somehow. That, having bred with his own seed a flock of cunning mixed-breeds off the biggest, meanest female, he will somehow assume a position of power among the island’s apex predators.
With the king dead and her dying, only one thing’s for certain in my mind. The father will no longer be forced to flee through the floor hatch and hide in the abandoned Corporation tunnels for fear of his bones being crushed to splinters or finding himself sliding into a massive gullet like a bludgeoned chicken carcass.
My pain is suddenly blunted, like someone turned the volume down on some hardcore punk, and I remember he said there’s a ticket waiting for me. A bus to Crater Lake. To come and pay my respects. And, what was it? Reason with my siblings.
He’s got to be kidding.
Yet. The ticket means freedom of sorts. I’ve never been anywhere but this wet city. Maybe I’ll get off the bus in a small town and make a new start. Starbucks is everywhere.
Or maybe I should go see her one last time, get a good look at that piece of me in all its undeniable wrongness.
Maybe I should kill the father for what he did.
I have a few hours before my bus. I put on a not-too-dirty pair of jeans, some dry sneakers, and a t-shirt with my roller derby name, Tyrannocora–a joke that goes with my face.
I pack a few more items of clothing into my backpack and jump on my bike, flying to the place where I’ve always been able to find clarity. The place where I found my name and began to puzzle myself back together six years ago like a pile of broken fossil shards.
“Why do you always go there?” Patty asked once. “You treat it like church or something.”
“Dunno,” I said. “I like science, I guess.”
But the more honest answer is that I come to the museum for a woman.
I usually wander around for a little while through the gems and the ice age mammals and early humans. Sometimes I make myself read every inch of text in the insect room so that I’ll run out of time before closing and be forced to leave without the exquisite torment of seeing her.
But this time I go straight to the demonstration fossil lab. Catherine is seated on a rolling metal chair, a skull in her gloved hands.
I have always been careful to keep a deep hood over my head and to sit in a dark corner. But for the first time in these six years, I come in close, peering at her through a thicket of tourists.
Looks like she’s working on some sort of ice age cat, a puma maybe. She picks at a cranny in its intact jaw, removing waste rock with a pneumatic air pen. My lip throbs, and the rapid vibration of the tungsten carbide tip ghosts my gums.
Hell Creek, Laramidia Island. 2068
I’m sixteen. I’ve been out in the outer wilderness for days with my brothers and sisters. I’m muddy, I stink. My uncut blonde hair is matted and green with sweat. I’m naked, my cheeks smeared with blood. I’ve been living mostly on bugs and small snakes.
But my siblings and I also recently teamed up to hunt a juvenile herbivore, slender neck, tiny brain, a walking feast. We chased it down and surrounded it. M11 went in for the kill with her powerful jaws.
It’s this thing the father lets us do to “be in touch with your theropod side.”
But I’ve had enough for now. Maybe forever. I creep back home to his shelter at the edge of the creek, thinking to stand beneath the hot water of his outdoor shower and to eat his food–I alone among the children have started to prefer it to raw meat. I want to curl up in my hammock, clean and protected, and dream of civilized things like math and music.
I steal into the clearing, the click of my taloned middle-three toes my only sound, and see a woman in her thirties showering. She too is naked. Her short hair is dark, eyes closed. Water sluices over her body like a waterfall over smooth, white stone.
I stand and stare, and when she opens her eyes, she jumps to see me. Her fear is replaced with a polite smile, then a puzzled tilt to her lovely head as she takes me in–my scales, patches of feathers, the strange color of my eyes, the not-quite-right ratios of limb length and torso.
At dinner, we three sit and eat grilled fish and salad to celebrate the arrival of the father’s new lab assistant. We drink gin and wine. I am scrubbed and wearing one of the bright white cotton smocks the father sewed for us.
After a long period of awkward silence, the father announces, “M13 is the smartest of the children. Give us the four nucleotides.”
I rattle off the words.
Then he has me recite other facts and processes, culminating in an explanation of lateral gene transfer, followed swiftly by a recitation of all of Mozart’s works. Then he goes silent for a time, chewing and sipping as though he’s alone.
Catherine and I steal glances at each other. Me in lust, she in disapproval. But maybe, maybe something more, I think. There is something there of hunger. I regard her over a sip of wine.
“But this is preposterous,” she whispers, putting down her fork. “How can you-”
But she is all alone with her ethics. It is just us. The others from the Corporation fled years ago. Sixteen, to be exact.
I know from reading the father’s diaries that our birth hit Laramidia like a massive meteorite, causing scientists to flee back through the shrouded portal, wrestling with their consciences, peeling off for home, or applying to work on the Corporation’s projects in other dimensions and timelines. Anything but stay and be associated with this crime.
Only the father remains, still sending requests for research assistants to top universities.
“The alcohol won’t hurt her,” he responds and goes on clicking his silverware on fine china and sliding dainty bites of white fish between his flat square teeth.
Portland, Oregon. 2057
When I first found it six years ago, I’d linger in this hall for hours. Yes, it was disturbing to look up at them. Back then it had also been profoundly disorienting to read the text. “Majestic creatures of the past.”
But… no, I remember thinking. They–we–are creatures of the present. It was just 2051, after all, and I had yet to hatch on Laramidia. My mother and her siblings, and the children of so many others, were juveniles. Her parents, somehow I knew, had been the first of us, engineered in 2017 out of the laboratories hidden beneath the mists.
It took me a while to understand that we were in fact descended from scientifically resurrected individuals, clones based on DNA found in the bone marrow of individuals who had become extinct sixty-six million years ago. Like these figures towering over me.
But then tampered with, made even smarter. And able to be crossed like fruit trees.
Over time, unwilling to contemplate the meaning of this, I turned my attention to the humans during my visits. They would enter the museum hall like it was a lair. Juveniles were prompted to rattle off our names and predilections. Parents threatened nightmares haunted by bloodthirsty monsters and laughed at their children’s horror.
Once, I watched a little girl look up into the massive eye socket of a crouching monster and growl, “I’m not afraid of you.” Then her parents had called, “Cora! Time for lunch. Let’s go!”
I scavenged her name. I hoped somehow it would give me her life. Or the one I supposed she had, of weekend field trips with a family, bedtime stories, birthday parties. Later, high school and dating and going down on girls in the backs of cars.
Hell Creek, Laramidia Island. 2069
Surprisingly, Catherine is still here. She dutifully attends to the lab work and cleaning. She organizes the father’s papers. She sits in shocked silence reading his diaries when he’s not there, her hands shaking.
I follow her everywhere, slipping through the jungle at a distance. I have finally pinpointed the reason for my fascination, and I know that we are on a collision course.
One day, from the edge of Hell Creek where she is bathing, I call to her. “I’m just like you, see?” and I gesture between my legs and to my breasts.
I am the only one, as far as I can tell, to have developed anything resembling human genitals. Of course, I can’t be sure. There are siblings I cannot get close to. But the ones I’ve been able to inspect in their wild, naked roaming have multi-purpose cloacae instead of my complex array of openings and pleasurable morphology.
I approach her slowly, my taloned toes sliding into the soft, silty creek bed. She lets me touch her low on her stomach and slide a hand down between her legs. I rub my cheek against hers and my fingers find her folds of soft wetness, and she moans.
But she splashes back through the water suddenly, saying, “No. This kind of thing… It’s profoundly… deeply wrong. I won’t take advantage. I won’t.” And she hurries away.
The next day, she hefts her pack and hikes back out to the crater to return to the outer world, to choose some other spur of time and place.
I can’t bear the thought. So, as I am wont to do, I track her out along the trail, into the mists of the island crater and its whirlpool, where we fall and fall. First she, then I in pursuit.
I wake in the shallows of Wizard Island, pick up her scent, and follow the sound of crunching leaves.
In a day or so I will come out of my daze and realize I have pursued the object of my desire eighteen years into her past. To a place I’ve never heard of.
Portland, Oregon. 2057
When Catherine sees me, she nearly drops the puma skull on the cement floor. The crowd of museum-goers gasps as she reaches out, as she fumbles it like a football, as it bounces back into her palms.
She stands, shaking, and gestures me into a laboratory behind closed doors.
She rests a palm flat behind her on a counter and leans back slightly, her other hand on her chest. The stance has the look of something I’ve seen before in movies, a recoiling in ambivalent horror, as though at the sight of a vampire.
“M13?” she whispers.
“I go by Cora.”
“Oh god, it didn’t- I thought…”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve been here for six years. I followed you.”
I think of saying something like “Don’t worry.” But I’m hesitant to impose a frame on our interaction. Who knows what she’s thought of me in the years since she abandoned the future. Has she thought of me? And, if so, how? With pity? With desire?
“I see you’re working on the late Pleistocene now,” I say conversationally. She doesn’t respond.
Physically, she’s in her twenties now, like me. She’s thinner, even more lovely. Her skin is tight and plump, juicy.
My hunger flares, pounding through me such that I’m certain it’s visible, like a red-tinged column of mist rising out of my belly. Or a scent of sugar, more likely. I bare teeth, which could be interpreted as a smile.
“What happened to your face?”
“Just a roller-skating accident.”
She peels off her gloves and comes to stand close to me. She puts a light fingertip on my cheek and inspects the stitching. “Looks painful.”
“It’s not too bad,” I lie.
“Have you been back?” she whispers, her hot breath making my scales tingle.
“No.” I reach up and touch her cheek, run my thumb along her lips.
She jerks back and turns, begins to tidy the counter, gathering brushes and sinking their tips in a jar of water. “You know, what your father did… is very bad. You understand that, don’t you?” She tumbles a line of dental picks into a drawer and rolls it shut.
“The father called me to tell me my- Female M is dying. He bought me a bus ticket, back to the crater.”
She sinks into one of the ubiquitous gray metal chairs and rests her head in her palms. She’s silent.
“I’m thinking of- of killing him,” I offer. Moved perhaps by the violence of what I’ve said, I back up into a low table strewn with tiny fossil pieces and await her judgement.
Without a word, she rolls her chair over to a drawer under the counter, unlocks it, and pulls it open. She takes something heavy and ungainly from it. She turns and I see a handgun hanging limp between her legs.
I can’t see her mouth, but fine droplets of spittle fall on the floor as she speaks, “I already did… I went back to Hell Creek of 2051 and shot him before he could…” Her voice takes on a pleading tone, as though she’s been backed into a corner in a nightmare, as though she’s not the one holding the gun. “Why are you here? Why do you exist?” Then, in a faint, faint whisper, “You abhorrent freak of nature.” And then the muscles of her thin white hands tense as she just begins to lift the gun.
There are footsteps in the corridor, the one that leads away on the other side of the lab. She turns and quietly places the gun back in the drawer and rolls it shut.
I have burrowed into an armchair in the Crater Lake Lodge. A fire roars before me. I have a book from the bookcase, a cup of complimentary coffee. Guests mill around having after-dinner drinks or reading novels. I bury my face in the book, something about the flora and fauna of the lake. I’m only pretending to read.
I revisit what I’ve learned. I always learn something at the science museum.
She had hoped to erase me from history when all I’d wanted was for her to teach me how to feel pleasure.
But she failed. The father still lives, and so do I. At least, I believe we do. Why? Have I somehow anchored him by stepping into a different time and place, by continuing to thrive? By giving him my name?
Or maybe I have nothing to do with it. Catherine’s gun simply started a different timeline.
Does this mean, however, that there is also a universe where I do not exist? Nor the father? Where my forebears have been reengineered without ethical compromise? Without scientific grotesquerie, thanks to Catherine?
Am I grotesque?
But now another eventuality flashes into my mind. Knowing what she knows, Catherine surely won’t answer the call for lab assistants and go to Laramidia in 2068. Is there then also an M13 who will never be tempted away from home by a woman? Who will stay and become involved in the father’s strange world?
Time is obviously something terribly fractured. Different temporal cracks depart from the exact same points of impact, and reach out to a thousand distinct possibilities, wrapping up places in a thousand different versions of themselves. There are a thousand Coras in a thousand Portlands. A thousand M13s in a thousand Laramidias. And equally, a thousand absences of me.
On the bus ride I dreamt that the parts of my body were gnawed and scattered, then gently lapped and buried in silt. I dreamt my skull had been unearthed many years hence and that slender fingers in latex gloves were prying fossilized silt out of my pneumatized bone with dental instruments. I’d awakened from the pain of a pick rummaging around the edges of my left incisor, only to find that it was only my skating injury flaring.
It still hurts. I need more Tylenol. It’s one of many problems to solve. If I doze before this lobby fire, will staff come and inquire about my room number?
Someone sits down in the armchair next to mine, and I can sense they’re looking at me. This is it, I think. I’m going to have to go down the trail and find some pile of leaves or a log to sleep under.
I remain frozen.
“Hey, I’ve been trying to catch your eye all night,” someone whispers with a conspiratorial tone.
I lower the book and turn. The young woman is resting her chin in her palm and smiling at me. I recognize her as one of the waitstaff in the cafeteria, where I was able to afford a bagel and a cup of coffee. I do recall that she gave me several refills and smiled whenever I looked up. I smile back now, to the extent that I can.
“Those are some sick mods,” she whispers.
She’s a redhead. She doesn’t have the murderous look of number seven, but she’s still hot, if a bit skinnier. My mind tangles up with wet, thick vines and the sickly sweet flowers of home. I don’t know what to do. Pretending has not been working for me, so for once I tell the truth.
“They aren’t mods. I’m half theropod,” I say.
A couple sipping brandy nearby look over.
“You mean like… tyrannosaurus rex or something?”
“Yeah, exactly,” I say, preparing to raise the book again and be written off as a freak.
But she says, “Cool. My name’s Jenny.”
I stare into her gray eyes for a bit too long. “Cora,” I say.
Her voice gets real low then and my hunger sparks at the sound of it. “My shift’s over. Wanna come back to my place? You can be my queen for a night… Get it?”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Come,” she says.
And then it’s just typical me, catching a scent and, in a daze, following her out across the vast parking lot with its Subaru Foresters and tour buses, back behind a stand of pines to a modest two-story building.
She unlocks her apartment, shuts the door, and pulls me immediately to the bed. My stitches stretch and sting, but I push up her uniform and take her in my mouth anyway. Jenny is vastly knowledgeable. She rubs her cheekbones against my scales and finishes me off with her fingers and tongue. She doesn’t even seem to mind that my moans occasionally shade into snarls. There are several seconds when I feel as though I’m levitating above her bright sun-yellow sheets.
“You’re so light,” she whispers.
“It’s my bones.”
Early in the morning I whisper in her ear, “I gotta go. I have some family business to tend to.”
She pulls me close and says, “Come back after?”
“Yeah,” I answer, before I really think it through. But surely some version of me will.
She watches me pull on clothes. Kissing hurts, but she nibbles on my ear and licks my neck. She rubs my scales with her warm cheek. I stumble out the door, flushed, newborn, heading to the trailhead and smelling the icy Crater Lake spring.
After the boat ride to Wizard Island, I hike over the cone and go down to a spot in the shallows. Seeing no tourists, I simply wade in and shut my eyes, not knowing quite what to do, hoping the complex powers of the company portal will recognize me as a traveler.
Following Catherine to Portland was like falling, fingers slipping, a feeling infused with panic. This time, my memories are my very own passport. They crowd around me, connecting me to my original timeline. Fine strands of other times, other places are also visible to me, but they don’t have the bright persuasive pulsing of the paths that lead me to my siblings.
This time, the sensation is of rising, progressing, belonging somewhere. It is tinged also with knowing I have someone and somewhen to come back to.
I open my eyes on the rim of the Laramidia crater. The hot, moist air shoves into my throat and nostrils. Fingers of rich dark green puncture through pools of mist in the distance. I hesitate before the trail, wondering which version of this place and time I will find.
Hell Creek, Laramidia. 2075 V. 1
The hunting must be good. Graceful arcs of herbivore necks poke through the canopy. The ground shakes with herds of them in all shapes and sizes. The air concusses with their wings and sounds with screeches.
When I finally find it, Hell Creek is just an empty clearing on a long, lazy, burbling path of water with no true name.
There is no sign of him. No sign of my siblings. No sign of any human, or anything a human might have fashioned.
Except: A large wooden box with a locking mechanism for primate hands.
I lift the top quietly, carefully. I don’t want to attract attention. Inside, far down with plenty of room to spare, are two neat piles. One of laboratory notebooks, the other of diaries. The cover of the top diary has the date: 12-30-2074.
I hang down over the rim and take a diary at random from the middle of the pile. Sitting with my back against the box I open the cover and read for a while, taking in descriptions of work, but also comments about the weather, the sunsets, the daily trials of ordering scientific supplies and getting along with colleagues. Whoever this is seems a good person. There is nothing of breeding experiments or strange children, or plotting violent coups within royal theropod courts.
This person’s last entry:
Tomorrow at dawn, we will hike back to the portal. We are all very proud of our work. We take leave of this island, confident that these incredible creatures will have another chance at life. A team will return in twenty-five years for a period of analysis after the eco-system has been left to itself for a generation.
I rummage down through and pick out more diaries, reading. Once, I climb in the box when I hear something coming through. It snuffles at the latch, smelling me. It wanders off.
Finally, I find reference to it in a diary marked 2051: Someone writes of a strange incident. A woman coming through the portal, down into the laboratory, and shooting a scientist in the head. The entry is short, clinical, as though to give it more space would mar the overwhelmingly happy and successful work of the team.
Or perhaps the father had already tipped his hand, and the others were relieved to see him dead.
Hell Creek, Laramidia. 2075 V. 2
As I get closer to the shelter, I can hear my siblings. They’re speaking the language we invented together, a pidgin of the father’s words and the mother’s signals. They’re excited about something. A classical recording–Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor–spirals up into the fronds and vines, wet with a recent rain.
In the clearing by the creek, and half in it as well, the body of Female M lies. I walk around to her open eye. “Hello, mother,” I say. For the first time ever, I touch her. I place my unbelievably insignificant little hand on the ridge of her brow, reaching up on tip toes. There is a ring of flowers on her head.
Behind me, there’s a disturbance in the pebbles and leaves, and I turn and see my siblings.
“M13, you’ve returned,” says M7.
“Yes,” I say. “The father called me.”
“You’re too late, she’s dead,” says M10, glancing behind me at Female M. M10 looks at the others, hesitating. “And so is he,” she says.
“Come,” says M3. I follow them to the shelter.
At first, I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing. There’s a peculiar collection of human bones on the ground just outside the structure. They’re small, glistening, mostly bare but with bits of meat still clinging here and there.
“He tried to mate with M11,” says M7. “We held a trial and determined his guilt. He is–was–unfit to live among us.”
My breath is caught in my chest, the pain of my swollen lip flaring. I go in close to the pile, though in fact it’s not a pile. All the parts have been arranged very carefully according to their anatomical locations.
Beyond this, inside the shelter, shadows of vines twine over fine gold-rimmed, porcelain plates bearing smudges of grease and strips of human skin that show evidence of having been carefully removed with silverware.
Hell Creek, Laramidia. 2075 V. 3
I hang back in the ferns next to the fallen body of Female M and watch them. M7, his muscular, smooth chest and too-short arms. M11, her haunches so big now as to force her to remain outside. M10, her face kind despite the brow line. And all the others. They stand or sit just outside the room, attention focused on its center.
I see myself there, seated at the father’s table. It’s breakfast. The father and I drink tea from an elaborate tea service bearing a blue springtime pattern.
I can see the past.
Catherine never came, of course. I was made laboratory assistant to the father instead. I wear a shiny key on a piece of rough twine around my neck, and there is a lab notebook next to my plate on the table.
The eyes of my siblings are on me. I wear the white cotton smock, brighter than ever, and a kind of crown of vines and sickly sweet flowers.
I have been here all along.
Leonie Skye is a writer, linguistic anthropologist, and occasional instructor of radical economics. She has a short story in Entropy Magazine, and linguistics articles in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology and Mind, Culture, and Activity. She is the editor of small press Elm Books’ science fiction anthologies, Dark Space and Light Space. She lives in northeast L.A. with her partner, daughter, and a chihuahua-corgi named Karl Marx. You can also find her on Twitter @leonie_skye or her website: hazylightwraiths.wordpress.com.
Published November 2018, Shimmer #46 , 5900 words