With each stroke of the knife, I knew he loved me.
It started with my nipples, him telling me how much he loved me and how sexy I would look without them. He touched my face as he did it, cooing and kissing my forehead and telling me how much he loved me. He kissed away every one of my tears and held me within his powerful arms as I bled.
For six weeks there was no mention of knives. My heart leapt every time he looked at me, a joy and longing in his eyes. The six weeks after I gave up my nipples were quite possibly the happiest of my entire life.
But the seventh and eighth and ninth passed, and he grew distant, moody. He would spend nights away from the house and return drunken and grumbling. One night, I asked what was wrong, and what I could do to help him.
And so the knives came out again.
He shaved my head, including my eyebrows that night. Soon after, all of my hair from my body was removed through his amateur electrolysis. He took off my nose with one clean slice and, using a device I didn’t recognize, sealed up the wound and made it smooth to the touch, as if nothing had ever been there. I could only breathe through my mouth, and told him so, panicking. He just smiled, kissed the smoothness in the center of my face, and told me I was beautiful.
My toes and fingers took nearly two months, one joint at a time. He took similar relish with each of my teeth. He said he was sad when he went for my crotch, but I saw how happy his eyes were and how his hands shook with arousal as he smoothed out my groin.
He used that same device to seal off my sockets after he cut out my eyes. He also used it to fuse my ass cheeks, and later, my mouth leaving only a small hole in each case. I heard him laugh and tell me how sexy I looked. He kissed me all over, and made jokes about how easy it would now be to confuse my two ends. He sounded so happy.
One nightâ€”or what I assumed was night, at the very leastâ€”he drew a heart on my smooth chest with his finger. He told me it meant “I love you.” Then he cut off my ears.
Between long stretches of nothing, I would suck vitamin-enriched water from a straw he would press against lips and feel his strong fingers all over what was left of my naked body. I was too weak to react physically, but I reveled in his touch and the way traced that heart on my chest over and over. My life was spent this way, waiting for these moments.
It is difficult to love a being from another planet, but there are sacrifices to be made in every relationship. And now my alien lover will never leave me.
Peter did not remember the first time he used the displacement generator. That was how it should be, of course. When used properly, the generator always erased the traces of itself. If it didn’t, a person could get tangled up in time, strangled by tethers of conflicting memory. So when he woke up in the white room, surrounded by lights and wires and the generator’s dull whirr, it used to take Peter several minutes to get his spatial and temporal bearings. Not anymore, though. Now, he had a few shortcuts.
When he came to, the first thing his eyes settled upon was the sheet of paper taped to a wire over his bed. He snatched it, squinting at the broad, circular letters. Your name is Peter Graham. You are a displacement technician. You are thirty seven years old.
The statements continued, and gradually, Peter’s memory spilled into the places that were blank when he first woke up. He had two sisters. He lived with his girlfriend and their daughter Sarah. He played tennis. By lunchtime, he’d overcome most of the amnesia of temporal shock.
“What’s it today, mate?” asked the portly, graying man across the table at the complex’s cafeteria.
Peter didn’t remember anything about Will, but he unfolded the paper to double check. Nope. Nothing. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’ll come back in a few hours.”
Will nodded and peeled the plastic wrap from around his sandwich before taking a large bite of synthetic tuna. He chewed this thoughtfully, then put the sandwich back on the table and snatched the paper from Peter’s fingers. “Peter Graham,” he read. “Nice. You’ve got a kid.”
Peter nodded. Odd man. Years of doing this made some people go a little strange.
“You working this afternoon?” Will asked. “Check the schedule.” He pointed to a large display on an adjacent wall, and Peter stood up to find his name. It was nothing but numbers.
“I don’t remember it being like this before,” Peter said. Will chuckled.
“Check your arm,” he said. Peter did. At the base of his wrist, a seven digit number showed in crisp black ink. “They can’t do that kind of thing by names, for obvious reasons.”
Peter found his number and followed it across the glowing chart. “I’m working the French Revolution,” he said.
He continued examining the schedule, picking out what he’d be doing for the next few days. “Hey,” he noticed, “Why do I have a dormitory number?”
“They have here that I’m supposed to sleep in section 17-F.”
“Well, then you sleep in 17-F.”
“What about my girlfriend and kid?” Peter said. He dimly remembered promising her that he’d take her out for dinner tonight. Was it their anniversary? Her birthday, maybe. Will laughed.
“See you at dinner,” he said as he pushed away from the table. “Maybe you’ll be Pierre by then.”
Outside the dome, the earth was sealed with cement; the towers of processed plastic, retrieved from the treasure chests of ancient dumps, grew, broke and branched like mad metal trees. The glimmering city sang in a constant low thrum, tiny machines building additions, remodeling for the new and the better, ever evolving, unfinished. The man made cold swept over the hard city, sending citizens running for manufactured warmth and longing for a past that never was.
Inside the dome, the wild Villia embraced herself under thousands of watching eyes who longed for her natural paradise. The constructed environment bore her food and cradled her in eternal summer. Villia thrilled before her invisible admirers, stretched herself in the gaze of the gods of her wide Eden. On neon screens she, natural goddess, worshipped by the clicking of tiny insecticide cameras, smiled at a field of tiny yellow flowers, imagining them as her followers, faces rising, bright and delicate.
The walls of Maria Gracia Planaâ€™s prison had long since fallen, the building having crumbled along with the Empire that constructed it. The planetâ€™s wealth and populace have gone, leaving it boundless and bare, a relic of times long past. Maria Gracia Planaâ€™s guards have left her, after she broke the leg of the one who tried to rape her and the skull of the one who was going to watch. The walls were gone but she remained, writing letters to the outside worlds.
But they were no longer letters, not since the Blight. They were now nothing more than a series of apologies. Apologies to her people, who believed in her and her revolution. Apologies to her revolution, for not being strong enough to defend its ideals. Apologies to the dead.
In an open prison, Maria Gracia Plana wrote apologies those lost in the war that she started and the Blight that followed and hoped it would ease their weight off her shoulders.
She was engaged in this activity when the spaceman arrived. His Imperial uniform was disheveled and torn, but his bearing and movements betrayed a life spent in space, a life used to conserving everything.
â€œMaria Gracia Plana,â€ he said. â€œStill here?â€
â€œThere is a war on. I am a prisoner of war.â€ Maria did not look up from her tablet; she had apologies to write.
â€œWarâ€™s over. You won.â€
â€œI did not! I never wanted the Blight. I never asked for it. If I wasnâ€™t here, it would never have been used! Mass murder was never what I wanted.â€
â€œKnow. Read your letters.â€
â€œYou read myâ€¦â€ Maria managed to tear her eyes away from her tablet. â€œWho are you?â€
â€œNadir Faruqi. Captain, Galactic Imperial Fleet. Only, Empire done gone. Just Captain, â€˜spose.â€
â€œAnd you, no doubt a romantic, have come to rescue me, is that right? Well, I am dreadfully sorry, Captain Faruqi, but I have no desire to be saved.â€ Maria returned her attention to her tablet, and the apologies it contained. The spaceman merely stood stock still, another rock amid the ruins of Mariaâ€™s prison.
â€œNot here to save you. Here to save worlds. Empire done gone. Chaos, now. Blight done that. But so did you. So did I.â€ The spaceman touched the grip of the blaster that was strapped to his hip. He shifted his weight as he did so, as if the weapon had suddenly grown heavier.
â€œYouâ€™re here to remind me that Iâ€™ve failed, is that it? I donâ€™t need you to tell me that! I thought I was being a martyr when I was arrested. I didnâ€™t know then that martyrs are dead, and the dead canâ€™t speak. So when the people you trusted decide to release a devastatingly lethal on the enemy, no one will hear you cry â€˜no.â€™â€
â€œThatâ€™s gone. Canâ€™t change, so let go. Worlds need you.â€
â€œI am dead! Donâ€™t you understand? I am dead! No one will hear me except the dead, and all I can do is apologize to them! Thatâ€™s all I can do! I am dead! Can you hear me? I AM DEAâ€”â€
The spaceman placed his hand over Mariaâ€™s mouth. It was not an act of violence or anger. Merely frustration, which was echoed in his eyes, black as space itself.
â€œNot dead. The dead done gone. Youâ€™re here. Worlds need you. Was an Imperial Captain. Fought and killed for Empire. But never believed in. Saw much Empire as Captain. Nothing to believe in. Until you. You had a better way. Empire mighty, but not in your eyes. Your passionâ€¦your grace. Believed in that. Worldsâ€¦Iâ€¦need you to be worth your name.â€
The spaceman withdrew his had from Mariaâ€™s mouth, and held it in front of her, ready to lift her up out of the dust.
The walls of Maria Gracia Planaâ€™s prison had long since fallen, the building having crumbled along with the Empire that constructed it. The planetâ€™s wealth and populace have gone, leaving it boundless and bare, a relic of times long past. All that remains are her apologies, and the dead.
The thousand babies slept in the high, dry grass as late summer breezes caressed their cradles. Local farmers, paid by the government not to grow food, had abandoned the field and left their farm equipment to rust. The summer had been blazing and the ground cracked under the oppressive sun. For the babies, the heat had been ideal, the same as if they had been tucked under their mothers belly. They swayed inside their hard cradles, rocking themselves in and out of dreams. Their mother thought of them always, they could hear her bright thoughts, even from far away, and knew that they were not alone.
In early autumn, when the weather was still warm but the breeze hinted at an approaching winter, the children crawled out of their cradles. The tiny ones were eaten by their stronger siblings, mewing inside broken cradles that were unable to protect them from razor beaks and sucking orifices. The children played, pecking at each other, snapping at autumn leaves, burrowing in the earth and launching themselves a hundred feet into the sky before gliding downwards back to the wild field. Each little explorer listened for the voice of the mother, trying to pin-point that invisible light in the sky from where her voice came. Food came to the field, tempted by the whistling voices, and the children ate together.
Mother’s giant mind, a processor of incomprehensible power, sent the children loving thoughts and strict commands. When they were too big for the field, having ripped the brittle grass and wet the ground, they spread their scaled wings and leaped, soaring towards a higher, bigger playground, a city of steel and glass, glittering in a twilight haze.