I Longed For Wide Experience

Weather-beaten and rangy. The library at her hip is grey steel and rainbow mother of pearl.

The old road, the old imperial highway, winds its way across the top of an old sea, and Ulloa has never been more shivering aware of the depths of the open earth. She pauses at the top of a long, brutal rise, and stares down between the alien curves of sandstone; the earth has dropped away beneath her, and she floats on an imagined horizon. She is normally afraid of heights, but not here — how can you be afraid of the level surface of the water?

Still. She feels the wide mouth of the long-vanished sea yawn beneath her, and picks her careful way back down, past petroglyphs, past pioneer cabins, past the bones of long dead aquatic monsters, past tourist traps. The apocalypse has been and gone so many times from this landscape, what is one more or less?

She is more than half-crazed from the heat, and clings close to the cliffside, away from the open air that promises a cool breeze on the way down to the depths. The sky is so blue it hurts her eyes, even behind the polarized lenses of her breather. She stops when she reaches shade, covers herself with as much of the fine-grained urticating sand as she can, and waits for night to fall. The imperial road catches the light, even now, even in starlight, enough to keep her on firm ground, and she’s got a week or more before even the hope of another person.

Domestication of the Basilisk

Weather-beaten and rangy. The library at her hip is grey steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl.

A Diverse Appetite.
Ulloa’s been riding herd on some code out at the Triple B, a project so wild the ranch boss won’t lay out what exactly they’re working on; she keeps buttoned and pieces it together by keeping her ears perked around the chuckwagon. They’re collecting everything they can, sports and opera scores, what remains of the public domain, ads from the last three centuries, a daunting amount of pornography.

Rapid Maturation.
Every couple of weeks they slide a new version into her herd. She never knows what to expect, either in terms of what the new head’ll do or what exactly she’s looking for. They’re all version 0.23007; the insistent, repeated specificity unsettles her.

Willingness to Breed in Captivity.
They all interact, all cross-connect, even when there’s no benefit to keep them together that she can see. She’s been warned off interfering with them, just log whatever errors arise and pass them along to the bunkhouse. Her reports flow one way only, the only response she ever receives the single word Acknowledged.

Been a quiet six months, and the pay is good, the food tolerable, the beds better than a rock in the dunes. She cleans her breather, cycles out the old algae, keeps her library clean and ready—ready for what, she couldn’t say, but she’s strained.

Strong Nerves.
Whatever they’re working on is fast, lean, and responsive, but not obtrusive. Her herd doubles, triples, and still she’s online in seconds, not the minutes or hours she’s used to. They give her test cases to run, scripted conversations, art projects, games to play, an arbitrary and senseless constellation as far as she can tell.

Social Hierarchy.
Damn thing is, every test activates every process, regardless of which head she’s working on, regardless of whether it’s within or without the core purpose of the code, image editors passing data back and forth with spreadsheets, screen savers, physics engines, neural networks. Whatever she does, they all watch her inputs, two thousand unblinking eyes placid, trusting, and unknown.

A Third The Seas

They have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.

Red with blood, the seas, and red the waters that run into and out of it, red and white the delicate lace things that wave in the current, floating ribbons of pink-white flesh in streamers around them, half-hair, half-flesh, half-beast, half-plant. The quiet inhale exhale of the suction, the patient boredom of the samaritan, eyes intent but unworried behind her mask; metal along the ocean floor.

Red and rich the seas, ripe with life, teeming, twitching life, furrowed against the grain, bringing forth every fruit and every fowl, every tree, every leviathan, rising to swallow the land, to make it new, to bring it forth wet and squalling; delicate metal, wash of water in, water out between the stirrups.

Pain enough; the injections the samaritans dispense numb but do not soothe. Flex of muscle beneath the belly, intermittent, unending, pinch of forceps, rod, speculum, suction. Sutures. The light bleeding in around the corner is white, harsh, and dry; it bites at fingers, toes, ears and lips, bare skin. Salty as the sea, as new life, as old; she clenches hands against the table and endures.

One Life for Three

Long and hollow are the phlebotamist’s teeth, long and hollow and delicately red. When the fires have died and the samaritans have departed, their wings black against the sky, the phlebotamist comes creeping, body held low to the ground, one eye cocked nervously toward the horizon.

Gentle creature, timid and fearful, they wait their turn. Their soft unwrinkled fingers plead consent after the crisis has passed. Their breath is sharp with rosemary, cold with copper, warm on your cheek when they nuzzle close after the worst has subsided. They give comfort; they sympathize, they do.

Like you, they have much to give. The worst has happened, the rains are never coming, night stretches out into an infinite future, but life goes on. Long-skulled and hairless, colorless eyes watery behind dusty glass, the phlebotamist reminds you, even now, to think of others before yourself. Their voice flutes reedily through the syrinx of their teeth.

Their teeth turn red and darken, and the cool curve of their body grows hot and familiar against your chest, tucked into the crook of your arm. You pump your fingers, ball a fist, as much as you can. Someone, somewhere, may live, a red piece of yourself.

Better Than Both, He Who Never Saw the Sun

It’s been three weeks since Cohen last left the studio. She’s been too busy, and there’s a chemical shower in the corner, and a sub shop that delivers round the clock, and someone left a cot here ages ago, so. She sleeps on decades of sweat from others too busy to leave, maybe, but who cares?

They took her leg when she was fourteen, dead rotting meat. She screamed when they touched raw flesh: she remembers their eyes, all whites behind red lenses, the long edge of their beaks, the ineradicable reek of burning oil. They let her live, that full of scruples.

This her latest is a self-portrait in plaster, a dragon’s nest of left legs hatched from the egg of her hip. She is smeared white with the making. When it is done — done enough, good enough, close enough — she stretches, yawns, longs for fresh air.

They are waiting for her outside, samaritans, eyes red and blank with the setting sun, beaks sharp with borrowed time. They let her live, that full of scruples.