Brachypelma emilia

The doctor stares at his hands, at the bright line of new flesh peering through the slash a ragged edge on the console had torn in his palms. (The ship shakes, turbulence or fire or just miscalibration; it can be hard to tell.) Underneath, he is pale as a jelly, unlined, raw, throbbing against the limits of his old body. This is not new, in any sense, but still he is always taken unprepared, always startled and unhappy as a boy approaching puberty. This body is worn as comfortable as an old shoe, molded to him, friendly and familiar.

He locks the console and retreats to his room for privacy. Better they not see this, the young pyro in her leather jacket or the snobbish mathematician with his red star; they mean well, and they’ve grown used to his eccentricities, but it’s a delicate tension; he doesn’t want them to see him in his unfurling.

It takes days of patient, bloody work. He scrapes himself raw, runs a razor from ear to jaw, over collarbones and along the sternum, across the points on his hips and down the flat plane of his shins. He wedges fingers clumsy with new youth under his skin and pulls, a deep arachnid ache. The air hits his carapace at last and he shudders, an electric current of worry. He forces air into empty lungs, slaps his chest until his hearts stutter and start, twists and turns until his bones harden and his skin solidifies.

The face in the mirror is new but the eyes however are old.

Heat Dome

Stagnant air, still as an oven. Sick and dizzy, Russ pauses in the fields, glares up into a sky cloudless and white with heat, pauses to take a long drink at her canteen, water as warm as blood. It has been months, will be months, summer like a lid on a pot, and they bake. Tip’s been after her to pack it in and take the wobbly out to Holofernes or someplace cooler but hell she broke this ground, built the house, she ain’t gonna leave it because it got hot.

But.

The ground cracks and blows away, and no amount of skill will keep it when the wind blows through. They have done everything, loved the land like a sister, taken nothing from it that it didn’t gladly give, put nothing into it that wasn’t already there, took no more than they needed, honored it like any great-grandmother, but: sometimes things just die. She knows this, knows to accept it when it happens.

Still it stings.

She barely makes it home again, stumbles up the steps into the shade, into a house like an open throat, every door and window wide and panting after any trickle of a breeze. Tip is huddled against the icebox, washed out and miserable.

Russ sighs, deep down sighs. “Grab your things,” she tells Tip, wet-eyed, already mourning, already planning their return.

Nothing Serves to Further

Dry the hills and dry the lakes; bone dry.

The old ways work no longer: we have hung the statues of the saints facedown in the wells, but the wells are dry and still the rains do not come. We have prayed and fasted and beaten our children and still the rains do not come. We built fires in the high places, slaughter sheep and cows and goats and burn them there, fat and bones and organs all, and still the rains do not come.

Older methods and new: you cannot seed clouds that are not there, cannot pull moisture from a sky dry as an old bone. We have cast our strongest from the planes, our finest, straight of limb and sound of mind, loaded them down with letters, offerings, icons, charms, sent them tumbling from sky to earth to carry our message to the gods, and still the rains do not come.

The ferns have withered in the forests, the grass has bleached upon the hills. Our cities bake as the shoreline recedes. We turn to god with the carrot and the stick, praise in one hand, torment in the other, and still the rains do not come.

We topple the statues and the lords, set the rich to the sword and fire to the corporations, and still the rains do not come.

Delafield

Delafield tells herself she’s one of the good ones. By the book, keeps her nose clean, stays on the right side of the code. “It’s important to have a code,” she says. “I’ve seen what happens to cops who start to put their own beliefs, their own desires for justice, ahead of the sure working of the process. Trust to the process, I say.”

The murder suspect she’s currently knuckle deep inside of sighs happily, and clutches at her shoulders. “Oh, Kate,” she murmurs.

“It’s just—” Delafield starts at the suspect’s collarbone and works her way slowly down, over curve of breast and swoop of belly, enjoying the flex of muscle beneath her. “—once you step off that path, you’re lost, and it always always comes back to bite you.” She nibbles delicately at one soft thigh, and the suspect inhales sharply. “You understand. You’ve got your own code.”

The crowd had left the lecture hall twenty minutes ago, and the only sound in the vast cavern of the auditorium is the hum of the lights and the soft sound of their breathing. “Come home with me,” says the suspect, and Delafield draws back, affronted.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” she snaps. “I have a wife.

Every Body Implies the Violence of Its Maintenance

The sound of lungs pumping, heart beating, bowels fermenting, joints creaking; Samuel is never silent, never alone, always watched and watching, subject and object both. He stands from a chair and his bones click into place, muscles and ligaments lengthen, posture shifts, weight shifts, blood stirs and moves, all consciously, all observed, all observing, each piece self-aware, self-critical, no innocence anywhere, no privacy, no quiet, the unstoppable machinery of being.

Plagued.

Out there, each piece has a meaning, a limit, a process: knowable and therefore constrained. In solitude each piece shatters, expands outward, multiplies, and disintegrates. Hands becomes palms become carpals become cells. Cysts hard as a pebble up and down his arms, the same as his father, thin hair like his mother, long spurs of bone at his knees, only his. The sound of breathing, inescapable.

Quarantined.

He spent a week, once, with nothing to do but turn his attention inward, to the labor of his body, and since then… He tells himself to breathe, and he breathes; he tells himself to blink, and he blinks. He tells his heart to beat, and realizes that he is stifling for lack of air. “Breathe, stupid,” he hisses, and his body, compliant, inhales.