Roaring Camp

Off base and in the bars, or crowding the rails in the opera house, the Gentlemen are on the hunt for somewhere to sleep. War is come, but not—quite—yet, and they are flash in their uniforms, the clever, the canny, the old hands among them camouflaged in civvies, wary of the tigers that prowl the streets, that slink in through the kitchen door just long enough for the word to spread and the less wise to scatter.

They pass messages through the jukebox, sometimes through titles, sometimes through lyrics: heaven for two, why don’t you do right, jolene, jolene. They are scrutinized by the other patrons, the locals, the townies: what do they know, and when do they know it? None of them are from this town, all of them are suspect.

Later, scattered to the winds, they send letters through the military post, always one step ahead or behind the censors. Change the names, change the dates, change the places; nothing as formal and as breakable as a code, but all sly allusions, sidelong slang. If you know, you know. Meanwhile, the Army, off on completely the wrong track, prohibited soldiers from using any Xs at the end of their letters because ‘the number and arrangement of kisses might constitute a code.’

Would That I Knew You When You Were Young

He was 34 when he gave birth to his fourth child. Late, all things considered, but not uncommon; some people didn’t push out their last one until late in their forties. He wasn’t in a rush, but he didn’t want it looming over his head, either. Four lives to Pythia, that was the rule; four seedbank colonists out to work the curving fields before landfall. Better to get it done and out of the way, so he could focus on other things.

The E had made his hair grow back, the one change he didn’t rue in the process. A younger face in the mirror, softer; the spin of the ship dragged at him more, pulled him in strange ways. Glad to have it above him and done, but he will miss his hair when it goes again. Ah, well.

He gave birth to this one in one of the forest pools, air sharp with amniosis, cedar, eucalyptus. The water was cool, not cold, Pythia warming to his need. He cried out her name and dug his fingers in her soil for the final push, but otherwise it was an easy birth, and him an old hand at it. Born swimming; that was the way. Good for engineers, good for fishers; who knows what the future would need, other than Pythia?

Another life, another step through the narrow pass of extinction. In that moment, ship to skin, he could feel a little of her, sense the high walls passing on either side, an inhuman tension easing for a moment. Duty discharged; his life and hers spun on.

Tethys

“Abimelech asked, would it not be better to be ruled by one man, rather than seventy? Remember that I am your blood, your brother, your son.”

When the younger gods fought amongst themselves, turned knives and teeth against their children, I took pity on the oldest and hid her away in the far reaches of my kingdom where ever the light cannot reach. I taught her the oldest ways, the language that can only be spoken in the darkness, the spells that brought motion to an unmoving world.

Both of us were built for love, and loyalty, but even then her future pressed down upon her like so many atmospheres of water. Constancy itself, she would never find constancy, nor in shape nor mood, but find herself exiled among the rivers of the air, the mutable, everchanging tides of the heavens. Married now to a man, now to a bull, now to a flicker of gold, she will learn to change herself, into smaller things, flies that bite, eyes that peep from a feather’s end.

We took her in, as I said, my man and I, and gave her safety, a bed, the knowledge we had. Time, most of all: time after her double wombing, time before marriage taught her petulance, time to be herself, to be alone, to owe no one nothing and be owed nothing in return. We had space; no greater kingdom save the earth itself, no less need than the night that came before and will follow after. We had many daughters, and she, Queen of the Gods, was but one among them.

Caesaria

“No, listen,” slurs Cedar, “listen.

“I’m listening,” says her barmate, with just a shade too much humor in her voice. “Go on, then!” Cedar darkly suspects her of sobriety.

“The thing you have to remember about Alcibiades—Alkibiades? oof, that can’t be right—the thing about Alcibiades was, dude was horny. He was cockthirsty.”

“Whomst among us—”

“No, I mean, seriously. Dude wanted the D. And your boy Socrates—Sokrates?—Socrates, he wouldn’t give it to him. He was a tease.”

“The philosopher?”

“Yeah, shut up, of course, that guy. Socrates—”

“The weird bald dude with the potato nose?”

Yes, are you even paying attention? Hemlock, soldier, ran for miles without breaking a sweat, corrupted the youth, jackass at parties, cocktease—”

Her barmate puts her hand on Cedar’s, and she loses complete track of what she was saying. She hopes to god it’s charming, but she’s too sweaty to say for sure and too drunk to really care.

Something Novel

Day 5,408

After fourteen years, I do not miss people, but there are times my skin hums with the reverberation of a long-forgotten handshake, some impossibly distant clasp of flesh. I have begun dreaming of crowds, of bodies pressed together on the sidewalk and subway platforms, of some smell of humanity I cannot quite recall. Some tang of sweat, blood, hair, piss; I remember the city seeming so dirty, so unconquerably filthy, when I left. The particulars elude me, but dreaming I remember.

A plague, it seems, has come to the city below. Separated as I am from the world, the specifics are as distant as the trains I dream of, but the roads are empty, the bars fallen silent. The few people that brave the streets roam listlessly, circling each other warily, beads of oil shoved across the surface of a dishpan by a fallen drop of soap. It has never been so quiet, and I have never felt so alone; it is only the wailing of the ambulances that says the city is still alive, still working.

An earthquake shook my rooms this morning, a fairly minor tremor that nevertheless knocked the books off my shelves and rattled the dishes in my cupboard. I have begun to hoard my food, no longer so certain of the deliveries I have relied on summer, fall, winter, and spring for over a decade. Even now, even in this eternal retreat, I am as bound to the world as ever, as tied to the city, as reliant on the invisible work of humanity. My loneliness is self-imposed, illusory; a comforting dream of control.