Mating practice in humans consists of applying friction to body parts until they are engorged with blood. —Starpilot

And like a pendulum come round again, the mood strikes them and they couple there in the street, pressed up the sundrunk side of a building. Rush hour breaks around them; they leave a wake, three blocks long, of dry mouths and tightened throats. Infectious, the city crystallizes around them, super-saturated with a long July’s lust.

Home, they are half-paralyzed with heat. They strip naked and throw open the windows—the city swarms into the apartment, asphalt, garbage, cooking, sex; the faint cry of a siren circling the lake, the whicker of a helicopter passing overhead. There is nothing to eat. Dusk brings the illusion of coolness, and they emerge, faintly shining with summer. On the way to the restaurant they pass couples tangled in the short grass of the park; in these pairings they meet their own shadow, grown long in the westering light of the setting sun.


He’s a warning come too late, and they’re a fallout shelter. —Starpilot

The explosions darken the sky behind him, and the blast wave tears at his clothes; he feels his guts shred away, but his death is a dark wave frozen inches from breaking. He limps down the side of what had been a broad lawn, little swirls of ash rising with each step. For the first time in almost three thousand years, he can’t travel fast enough; he lurches as fast as he can, broken legs a disregarded agony, desperate only to get away, to move. An epoch of travel has shown him horrors enough to breed a mighty shell of humor, of ironic distance, but this is beyond all human coping. Poor immortal, he weeps now as Jesus wept, broken by the pointed, specific cruelty of the species.

One step thuds hollowly. He stares with eyes half-boiled away down through lead-lined glass into bloodless, shocked faces pressed against the shelter door. He’s a horror, momentarily godlike in his anger and his disappointment, and he raises his arms and wails at them, a wordless, empty sound, of judgment beyond death; then the old curse descends again, and Ahasuerus shuffles on, weeping dustily, tears boiled away by a completely avoidable disaster.


for Sonja

He’s a bad astrologer. She’s a four-letter military acronym, her body mutating beyond the scientists’ control. —Starpilot

“I can never remember which one’s the fish-goat,” K. warns her, slipping out of his K-Mart windbreaker. He’s worn holes in the pockets with his keys and keeps losing pens in the lining. “Capricorn? Sagittarius?” The pens leak. His waist is an arresting patchwork of blue and black ink.

“Capricorn,” she tells him.

“Really? Well, there you are, then.”

“It’s the same root as unicorn. Corn, horn; from the latin–“

He coughs, almost loses it. There’s black mold high in the corner of his shower that he can’t get rid of, no matter how much bleach he sprays on it. He can feel it growing in his lungs. She spasms in sympathy, then balls her fists tight as she jumps from five fingers per hand to two, to seven. He stares, fascinated.

“They told me, but… does it hurt?”

“Does your incompetence hurt?”

K. shrugs, unembarrassed. “Sometimes.” He sits down, pulls an antique tarot deck from his hip pocket, warm from his blood. The silk handkerchief is seduction on his skin, a lost extravagance from fatter days. “What do you want to know?”

The soldier leaning not quite against the wall tenses. K. watches her, each bullet she carries a needle pressed against his stomach.

“Tell me,” says Awol, then swallows back a tongue grown knife-edged and too big for her mouth. “Tell me what I’m FOR.”