Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

The suns rotate around each other, red over yellow, yellow over red, and Sharra’s skin sheds again. Yet again, she had refused to mate. He hasn’t had a single sexual encounter during the last sun rotation and her body knows. It thinks it has failed her. So she molts her body trying another shape to attract mates. The process is painful. She stays at home for days, picking at her skin, nursing new limbs out of their hard shells. When it’s over, her sweat glands open and her scent hangs heavy in the hot air. Males sniff in the streets, noses veiled, but twitching as she walks by. She smells like copulation, like love.

“What is it that you want?” asked her sister, who had mated since her first molt, maintaining the same shape since her adolescence.

“Not this.” Sharra tells her, running her new limbs over her body.

She bathes to wash the scent off, but by the first sunrise it’s always back, wafting from her scales. Males flair their leathery skin wings at her – vestigial, but colorful reds and yellows, sometimes a dramatic neon blue. But Sharra isn’t interested. In the cafeteria, males give her colorful spun latticework, made from their vibrating tongues. Some of them are dull and gooey, but others are stiff and beautiful, colorful, works of art. She keeps all of them until they crumble. They are all sincere, if unwanted.

“Mate now,” says her sister, “and you will keep that scent. Don’t you want to have your pick of mates?” Her sister believes this is important, as important as work, as breath, as her own eggs.

“No.” says Sharra. “It’s not right.”

“But changing every sun rotation is a hassle! If you don’t like any of your mating options right now, you can always have a stimulator,” her sister says, “it will do the trick. Then you can keep that amazing scent!”

“I want to change,” says Sharra, her new skin tender under her scales. “This is what I want.”

This scent attracts too much attention. The scales are too rigid. Already Sharra knows she is ready for a change. Maybe next time, her shape will be right.

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The Little Queen

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

The royal family is property of The People, and it is The People who determine our fate. When I was eight The People voted to marry brother off to the King of an ore rich moon. He sits now, on a throne of onyx, beside his silent King. When I was ten, the people voted again and my sister was married to two Princes, who each rule half a planet. She lives on the equator, a buckle between the two halves of the world. All of my siblings were bound, earth royal blood, to alien worlds, to distant colonies. Royalty to Royalty. Crown to Crown. We marry so that we do not make war. Blood of violence or blood to bind, there is no peace without blood.

I, the youngest soul, the little Princess all grown, I was left on Earth, to read in the castle libraries, to cut ribbons in ceremonies, to attend dinners. I did nothing but wait, wait until, wait because, wait to be, just wait, biding time, treading time. Oh but then we discovered The World, a life form so large that it covers a planet, all but the poles, a King if there ever was one. The World is a plant, a person, a planet, it grows under two suns, links, stirs, blood as water, skin is green to receive the suns that rotate around their planet , whose million eyes are black like deep ocean water.

On my wedding day I wear a dress, newly made, woven of animal skins, soft against my own flesh. I step on the planet, the bride, a virgin to this space, this world, and the life there is rich – too much oxygen, and I am light headed. You will grow used to it, they say, before they leave me to be wedded to this world. You will grow used to it, they say, before they leave me to be wedded to this world.

I am lighter here. Lighter and light headed, I can step on my husband, my wife, this worlds rich gifts, it’s limbs. I sleep when I am tired, when I am hungry; there is ever fruit and nuts to satisfy me. I need only imagine my hunger, and there is food. My dress begins to shred. It is well made, but after a month, perhaps longer, the sleeves are gone, and the hem is shredded.

I am becoming wild, untamed. The suns never set, but take turns shining in the sky. I am unhinged, a wild thing, a tree animal. My shoes are long ago memories. I cannot remember when the ground was not soft leaves, when the weather was ever imperfect. It rains, and the leaves hurry to cover me, I walk under waterfalls and the water is sweet. The world is my lover, it hastens to care for me. I lay on the soft leaves of my lover, my own, limbs sinking into The World, covered, nearly consumed, and stare up at the two suns ready to receive their light.

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Flipped to the Sky

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

The last thing I remember before I hit the jagged edge of mountain rock was falling backwards, my feet flipped up, shoes dark against the snowy gray sky. Perhaps that’s a way our bodies and minds conspire to protect us, screening out the moments of painful impact from our memories. When I woke I was in a small, dim hospital room. Next to the window there was a teenager perched on a high stool. She was looking outside, white light on her face. She could have been my daughter, with our deep set eyes, high cheekbones and full lips, but I never had any children.

I heard the soft chime of a monitor. She turned to me and put both hands on her knees, in a movement so familiar that I blushed with embarrassment. How could I have forgotten my mother’s face? Then again, this was her face before she was my mother. I never knew this younger woman.

“Yong,” she said, and I saw that her cheeks were wet.

“Oh, Mom,” I said, my voice a surprising rasp, “don’t cry.”

She hopped down from the stool to stand by the bed. “It’s all these hormones.” she said, wiping her cheeks with a handkerchief. “Puberty sucks no matter how many times you go through it.”

I reached out to her but my ribs shifted painfully at the movement, sending a stabbing jolt along my left side. “How bad is it?” I said.

She pulled her hair back into a high ponytail. “You cracked your hip, slipped a disk and got a concussion. They called me when I was in a business meeting.”

My emergency chip. I had never bothered to change the contact information. Stupid. The emergency chip didn’t know that I had stopped talking to my mother sixteen years ago. It didn’t know about the holiday where she demanded that I go to her doctor and where I yelled at her the catchphrases of the pro-aging movement, words I didn’t mean, words I regretted. The chip only knew what I had told it when I first entered it under my skin, that if I was severely injured, it should call my mother. I suppose I thought myself immune to injury. I had been arrogant.

“Hiking on a glacier?” My mother started to pace around the room. ” You are too old to go hiking on a glacier.”

“Mom, you’re 35 years older than I am.”

” Yong, if you were rejuvenated you could go hiking on glaciers whenever you wanted. Why do you court death? Are you really so in love with your romantic notions of a limited life?”

“It’s not about dying, Mom.”

She took my wrinkled hand in hers. “Then you are going to stop this,” she said with certainty, with a finality that seemed humorous on someone so young. “You are going to get rejuvenated.”

“Mom, I want to get old, I want to experience dying. It’s the way nature intended us to live.”

She shook her head, her ponytail bouncing. “I can’t believe you’ve fallen for that ridiculous argument.”

I blushed. “I’m sorry I brought you here.” I spat the words. “I’m sorry I dragged out of a meeting. I forgot to change my chip. It won’t happen again.”

I meant to her hurt her but she didn’t wince, didn’t pout. I saw then how old she was in her young skin. She touched my forehead with her cool fingers. “I hope you never remember to change that chip,” she said. “Because no matter what you believe, I’ll always come for you.”

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The Light Between

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

Rae woke up strapped to a table, which was hardly out of the ordinary, but always came as a surprise. She had a headache, but that was to be expected, since she had a metal bar through her forehead. Her fingers were smoking.

“Bergh.” she said, although what she intended to say was “I could really go for a coffee.”

Winston leaned over her, jubilant. He was always jubilant, no matter how much she was smoking when her eyes opened.

“It worked!” he said, repeating his usual script. He was so pleased with himself.

“Graah.” Rae said, when what she wanted to say was “Get out of my face.” He was always pawing at her when she was strapped down.

Winston whirled away, laughing maniacally. “Brilliant!” he shouted. “I’m brilliant!”

Rae felt that if Winston were really brilliant, he wouldn’t have to keep shocking her to keep her alive, but she wasn’t about to complain, mostly because talking took so much effort. Her tongue was not her own and wouldn’t always obey her. If she wanted to talk, she had to force it to shape the words, think about the pressing of the l against the roof of her mouth, the little whistle shape she had to make to say an S. It was too much hassle.

“I really am a genius.” said Winston. “Though no one understands me.”

How cliché, thought Rae. It’s because you’re crazy. And your personal hygiene is questionable. Rae sighed. Her sighs, at the very least, were hers, full of meaning. There were stories in her sighs, novels.

“They want you down at the office park,” said Winston, unbuckling the straps and throwing them across her giant body. “You remember your installation, don’t you?”

“Krrphh,” said Rae, when what she meant to say was “As if I would forget what I’ve been working on for the past three months, you imbecile.”

Winston drove. He drove a jeep. At one time, he drove a small Japanese car, but now he needed something with a roof that could be opened, so that Rae could fit inside.

“Doctor!” cried the middle manager when he saw Winston and Rae pull up into the parking lot. Rae’s giant sculpture bloomed in front of the building, giant silver tendrils, like a wicked tree. They reflected like in sharp, white lines, refracting light onto the grass, the building, back towards the sky.

Rae climbed up her enormous sculpture and let Winston talk to the manager. She bent errant pieces into crisp angles, the sculpture reaching in all directions upwards, towards the heavens. Winston explained that it was meant to be motivational to the employees, to inspire them to do their best every day. Rae knew that was bullshit, but explaining what it meant was impossible with her tongue.

Rae marveled at her hands, so compliant, twisting and turning, grasping. Like her tongue, they were not her own, but perhaps hands were more agreeable than tongues, or perhaps all tongues have rebellious spirits. She looked at her hands then, but they had no opinions.

“Murphl,” she said, because she felt like speaking. She ran her obedient hands along the sculpture, the metal edifice reaching towards the sky. She imagined rain clouds gathering, grey and that strange yellow color before a storm and then blue and white and purple electric light would strike her sculpture, and it would conduct lightning between the sky and earth, for a moment, dangerous and alive. The sculpture wasn’t some symbol of achievement; it was her, her own, a life between two places.

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The Birth Mother and the Whole Living Child

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

We drank poison to prove that we were real. My mother fed me the poison herself, holding me in six of her twelve arms, cooing to me while I sipped the foul liquid. She had fed me things I thought were awful before, but I was obedient – ever a good child. Her last living child.

The rebels watched her feed me poison and admired her for it. She was the bravest among them, a symbol of their willingness to sacrifice for freedom. Her darkened eyes and shredded wings told her story for her. After we drank the poison in that dark hole, we spent days fighting the illness that followed, nausea and pain. After it was over, only two of my legs remained, the rest, shriveled husks.

Before the invasion, my mother used to say how pretty my wings were, how perfect. She was so sad now, and I would flutter my wings at her, pushing myself to lie at her feet. “Mama. Mama.” I would say, and she would touch my head, soothing me. I felt beautiful, even then.

Of course, they came for us. The worst of it was that when they came, they looked like us. It would have been better had they looked alien, but they were all too familiar, sculpting themselves to look friendly, like young adults or trustworthy mamas holding out their arms and legs and murmuring sweetness.

When they found us, my mother ran. She strapped me to her underside, pressed against her carapace, white cloth binding us together. I curled the legs I could move into my body shell and snuggled against her, afraid.

Even after weeks of struggling through poison, my mother was fast, burrowing into ground and then springing, nearly flying over the rubble of the city where we lived, through and over and under. She was glorious, then, in her moment of freedom. Then the aliens caught her and pinned her to the ground. She was a fast runner, but they could fly.

“Mother,” they said, so respectfully. She spat at them, the poison from her glands. It landed on them but it did not sizzle their exposed carapace -that’s how you could tell they were aliens, they were unaffected by poison. That and they could fly.

“Mother, you have a child – let us help you.” She kicked them and wounded herself.

“You are hurting yourself,” said one who looked like a young mother, “and your baby is ill. Please let us help you.”

My mother put her pincers around my spinal corridor. “I will kill her before you take her. She will die free.”

They looked at one another, and then they moved faster than I thought possible, breaking off my mother’s arms. She cried out and fought them, but they cut me from her in moments, and carried me away. I couldn’t move to look behind, where I heard my mother’s cries.

Two of them converted me, in that wonderful and compelling process I cannot forget. The pain in the conversion was of growth and change. I am no longer wounded; I no longer suffer from lost limbs and poison. I am one of them. Alien. Whole.

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