Tsiolkovsky looked like shit under the hab dome. Solarlites circling like flies, waiting for the airport without a busted airlock to clear their landing. Whole city’s been smelling subtly of shit for years, ever since they found some way to cheap out on the filters. Probably it’s poison to breathe.
Nearest we could all figure it was a way to make the offers they had to make to get us into suits and off the planet cheaper. When we took the company dollar and made the oath to reclaim the Earth they fed us like they wouldn’t feed rats, but it felt good to be eating without spending money. They got us drunk on cheap rizzo, the kind that everyone says tastes like drain cleaner or turpentine or something. It was the first time some of us had ever been drunk, and the ones who had been before just said, “Don’t worry about the puking, man, it’s the part that comes after it that makes it worth it.”
The officer on duty called us heroes, and we all laughed, and he laughed too. What a crock of shit, and everyone knew it! It felt good to know, you know? It felt good to be in on the joke for once.
Tell us for real that you wouldn’t die for something worse.
You offworlders have never understood the perfect hatred we have for each other, sucking marrow from long bones, chewing and spitting out our own flesh. No greater joy to us than the hunt, terrified singletons making busy tracks under vigilant eyes, glass or otherwise: We will find you, and we will change you, and we will make you part of ourselves.
And you offworlders have never understood the depths of our love. In the crush depths of the ocean our vestigial eyes are only there to see you. In the death zone of heaven our lichen curls to tangle with the wounds in your feet. You have blood, don’t you? By and by it will be ours. You have strength, don’t you? A mind, don’t you? A soul, don’t you?
By and by they will be ours.
K— was in love with Z— so she signed up to stay close to him. It was the stupidest thing and we all knew it, and we told her, “K—, you fucking idiot, you know there’s going to be megatons of Abomination between you and him, best case scenario.” And she was all, “Just knowing we’re looking at that big gross moon together is gonna make it worth it.” True love, you know? There’s a reason they tried to breed it out of us.
What’s there to be so afraid of? Pillars of tumescent flesh in the blistering sun, bristling with incipient melanomas. “This was a forest once.” Big deal! We have become the forest, and we know what the wolves knew when they screamed alone in the dark. What’s there to be so afraid of? No time to mourn trauma anymore but it belongs to us, only time to listen to the little voice inside that says: Rest; sleep. It will be over soon. The machine knew what was best for everyone. We have become the machine, and we know what the sirens knew when they wailed at our approach.
K— didn’t find out about it when Z—’s descent vehicle got scoped by the scoutweb, when he got pulled into a devouring field. Z— got taken the stupidest way anyone could get taken. He was deadass pulling the flare gun out of the first aid kit and about to put one between his own eyes when the voices convinced him not to. You believe that shit? Convinced him not to. Like, what was his endgame? No idea, even now. He walked out with the flare gun and got nerve pithed in seconds. Last thing we can tell that he saw with just his own eyes was what used to be the Guangzhou skyline cresting the horizon, and he couldn’t see the parts of it the Abomination could see, all the burn scars and all the mold and the little molecules of CZ still hanging in the air after all this time. He couldn’t see that yet. He staggered a few steps towards it and stopped being Z— all the way anymore, and then stopped being Z— at all.
No one bothered telling K—. They don’t tell us shit. We wonder if she felt it, or if that true love stuff is bullshit after all.
Your avatar is dying by degrees, blood slowing down in his veins, crackling under the breakbone fever in our gift. Death is a foreign country to us and you are our passport. Your armies are withering under our gaze, little kevlar-coated ants dissolving into retreat, into rout. Every man for himself: isn’t there a better way? Every man inside every other man. Genital intimacy, tendril intimacy, chimeric intimacy.
You will learn to love the children we make of you.
C— and his crew lingered a while over a dry patch in the Arctic on a slow southbound. Fewer photospores, weaker scoutweb. He could have flown that bird all the way to the Hudson, seen the urban canyons knitted together by human flesh, and he might have made it, too, but they set down first – pussies! – and actually got to the recon stage. All the birds were flying wrong, like they tell you. Nothing is afraid anymore and it’s weird as shit. Flocks made up of passerines and great big hawks. C— shot a few of them, more out of spite than anything, and they didn’t struggle as they died. Fucked up, they don’t mention that part. It’s like a fly they gave a neurotoxin, just dropped straight out of the air.
Thing is, though, C— got bad purification tablets. Sure, happens to the best of us, but he should have used more, everyone says to use more and just put up with the rank taste of the iodine or bleach or whatever the fuck else the lowest bidder put in them. But his mouth was too sensitive or something like that, or his teeth hurt or something like that. Whatever.
We have humored you, have wooed you as a nation wooes a nation, with all the roughness of artillery. Thermobaric munitions incinerating useful flesh. When you deployed the last of your nuclear weapons we howled in delight as your frozen fire seared our genes. You thought to terrify us but your terata are our delight, little vessels never meant to grow and thrive. We only think to know ourselves by the ways you twist us.