Auxiliaries

Petra’s hit with a wave of homesickness so intense she has to lean her rifle against the ship’s rail and close her eyes for a second. One of her fellow baleares bobs over. “Hey, are you okay?” She waves him away, swamped by faces she hasn’t remembered in years, old lovers and family.

It takes her a while to pick out the sun among the byzantine tangle of the rigging. Out here it’s little more than a slightly larger, marginally brighter star. She locks on it, slows her breath and her heartbeat, lets the minor hypnosis calm her. The past drops away. She blinks, and there’s the homely face of her centurio; she’s quiet in a way that means she just finished saying something.

“I’m sorry,” says Petra. “Just a little light-headed.”

The centurio sizes her up, not unsympathetically. “First time off the islands?”

“I— yeah.” She’s obscurely ashamed; for a second dizzingly young again, vulnerable and adrift.

“Don’t worry about it. Leaving hits some folks that way, that’s all. You’ll get over it, assuming y’stay on; people mostly do. Y’need a moment?”

Petra reshoulders her rifle and tries to claim her old brave swagger. “I’m okay.”

“That’s the way!” The centurio claps her on the shoulder, then has to grab her before she goes over the railing. They build women strong on wherever her island was. “Back to your post, balear.”

“Yes, ma’am,” says Petra, and retrains her eyes on infinity.

Commuting

Cannon fire between rings.

Walking to work, Petra passes through at least three rings: high-tension wires embedded in concrete, shop awnings and the long shadows of cross-street buildings, scaffolding. She wears headphones. Each ring is a new body: heavy and shaggy, small and liquid, gray-furred and spider-eyed. The headphones are constant, somehow.

It was all a novelty when she first moved here, but these days she’s over it. She ducks shrapnel from the latest revolution happening in D4 and turns her headphones up, drowns out the death cries of alien beasts with a Prince album. Well, Prince and the Revolution. She’s not completely over it.

The bus only comes in D2, which means it’s about a kilometer long and seats 20 comfortably. She curls nose to anus and watches boiling mud slide by. At work she’s a file clerk; she strenuously avoids any implication of metaphor.

Watches of the Night

Walking back from the theater, very animated. Rain gurgling in the gutters.

Gillibrand had killed both Gladstone and Disraeli in the third act, Gladstone with a horse and Disraeli with an eagle, a shocking development by anyone’s standard. Where they can possibly go next is anyone’s guess, but that’s the bitch about these sequence plays, isn’t it? Petra’s glad she has a season pass and maybe she’ll buy another couple of tickets because there was a bit of prestidigitation in the middle of the sun city shuffle that she didn’t quite catch but must have been important and that’s going to come up again fasure and maybe she’ll stop for a beer on the way home and it’s too early to go

Three of them.

“Hey,” voice like a rotten berry, all grey fur and sweetness. “You look sad.”

She smiles, not desperate, just smiles, tooth and gum. “Nope, I’m fine.”

Circling, wary, suspicious. She can smell them through the rain, garbage and ordure and that permanent alien reek. “You looked sad.” Doggedly.

“Heal thyself. Do I look sad?” One, the littlest—and it’s always the littlest ones that are trouble, the ones with the knives and the brains—looks up at her, leans in close to where the tag hooked into its chest catches the light, breathes her in, tongue tasting the air. Smile, smile.

“No,” it says, doubting. “Be happy. Stay happy.”

“Yes,” she says, “very happy,” and smiles wider, to prove it. Slows her heart down, and her breathing; swallows adrenaline back into acid. All friends here.

Circle opens and she’s gone. Looking back from the light she can just see them watching her, eyes aglow. She hurries on, no longer wanting that beer.

Recapitulation

Water utterly fails to support her weight and down she goes, past light, past shadow. Weight of atmospheres presses against her skin, metal creaking and popping; she feels it in her bones and the roots of her teeth. Instrument panel lights and the whirr of machinery: too aware of what a thin width of metal there is before the abyss, she flicks lights on and out into nothing.

Vast this space, and unceiled. Petra reaches yellow arms out and out and out and loses strength without finding anything firm to hold, anything tangible. Her ears mislead: sideways she descends, or rises. There may be movement just beyond her reach. There may be antediluvian shapes watching her from below. She tells herself patience.

Contact! Lights seize on ocean floor and pull her along. Down here she is thronged by leviathans, cells grown wide as her palm. They haze against her eyes, tease among her fingers. She pours a cup of coffee and settles down to work, home again for just a while.

In Memoriam

There’s a coyote pack waiting for Petra next to the dumpster. “Get, you mooches,” she tells them, and they disperse, slowly, with dignity, eyeing her sideways. There have been more of them, lately. Lock up your pets, the news warns her, too late; she has taken to carrying an airgun with her when she leaves the apartment. No people have been attacked, but you see them in alleyways, perched atop moldering pallets, or hear their cries echoing through the empty shell of the financial district at night.

They’re waiting for her again outside the bodega. She bites into the meatstick, growls at them, low in her throat, lets the bag loop around her elbow as she reaches up for the airgun. They watch, perfectly still, tapetum lucidum throwing the light back at her.

Long moment.

Hiss of door behind. “Holy shit,” murmurs a male voice. “I’ve never seen so many.”

Traffic noise fades away in the distance. They are gathered here, in an empty corner of the city, her hand upon her gun, frozen.