The city is crumbling. Clouds over Nowy Solum have not parted in a hundred years. Gods have deserted their temples. In the last days of a dying city, the decadent chatelaine chooses a forbidden lover, separating twin outcasts and setting them on independent trajectories that might finally bring down the palace. Then, screaming from the skies, a lone god reappears and a limbless prophet is carried through South Gate, into Nowy Solum, with a message for all: beyond the city, something ancient and monumental has come awake.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)|
|Age Range:||16 Years|
About the Author
Brent Hayward’s fiction has appeared in several publications and anthologies, including Horizons SF, On Spec, ChiZine, the Tesseracts series, and Chilling Tales. In 2006, his story “Phallex Comes Out” was nominated for the StorySouth Million Writers Award as best online story of that year; it received an honourable mention. Filaria, his first novel, was published by ChiZine Publications in 2008 and has since garnered solid acclaim. Born in London, England, raised in Montreal, he currently lives in Toronto. He can be reached through his LiveJournal at: brenth.livejournal.com.
Read an Excerpt
THE FIRST PARTITION
The women hung there, awkwardly, grinding their teeth, hearts pounding and libidos stilling, ditto the tiny rockets at their wrists and ankles. There were three of them, suspended above this inert console, in the head of the mother. Happier, moments ago, drifting across from their car, they had absorbed a tab of dat each, to make entering this ship — found static on the leeside of a class seven moon while they killed time on a furlough — all the more of a rush. They had raced around, exploring, hoping eventually to fuck inside that great empty body.
Through the apertures of valves neither closed nor opened in eons, around delicate latticework of structural guy wires, through tangled cables and emptied conduits — a gloved hand almost grabbing a boot but not quite — to be suddenly silenced, bumping first into each other and then, entwined, up against the inside surface of the great, curved cornea. Game over. What had been a strange and unexpected discovery was now infinitely stranger.
Distant stars coldly watched reflections of the women shimmering in the giant slow curve of the lens and on the covers of the gauges as they disentangled, like chastised children.
"This mother should be barren." Voices hissed in each others' headgear. "I mean, she should be dead and fucking barren. You told us she'd be barren." Beneath them, arcing out of sight, a cloud-shrouded planet occluded space. "What happened here? These bodies, these exemplars ..."
"Stop freaking out. And they're symbiotes. Ships this big needed symbiotes. Exemplars were on the broods. One on ones."
"We should leave. This is fucking creepy."
Crackling. The grey skin, open mouth.
"Nobody knows this mother is here, right? That's what you're thinking? That we're the first people here?"
"Take a deep breath."
"This isn't an abandoned wreck. Something bad happened here. Something killed all the symbiotes, or whatever."
"Maybe the supports went. The oxygen."
"Just like that? This mother's still alive, right now. Trapped in her own infrastructure. She's fucking alive."
"That's crazy. She's been here for hundreds ..."
"Don't touch a thing. Let's split."
Yet the women lingered, watching corpses of the symbiotes move ever so slightly in the disturbance they had brought aboard. One body was still tethered to the console. These crew had died quick.
"Do you think she was pretty?"
"Who? The ship?"
"No, that girl, right there."
"Girl? That's no fucking girl. She's been dead ages. Look at her."
"She's like us."
"You're fucking high. She was never like us. Groomed to live up here, serving."
"I'd like to, you know, really see her one day. You know? The way she was, when she was alive. Tell her it's okay. Maybe just, feel her hair. I heard they were all orphans."
"Jesus fucking Christ. Of course they were orphans. And things are not okay. There's dried up bodies here, forgotten on a long spacer, floating in the middle of fucking nowhere. Possibly intact. Something awful wiped the crew out. But hey, look, see? There's some hair floating by right now. There. Just reach out and touch it."
"That's not funny."
Slowly moving strands did indeed corkscrew the vacuum. Other clumps had twined in loose braids where two bulkheads met — joining Styrofoam chips, dust clusters, and sundry other debris — to make graceful yet chaotic orreries.
"All right. Happy now? Can we please leave?"
"Wait, though. Wait. Not yet. Let's stay for just another second. Really, what do you think they were like?"
"Sold their soul to rock and roll. Not real people. Spent most of their time plugged in, helping the ship to fucking think. You'll be asking about her next, the ship, the spacer. She's like us too. She used to be. And these symbiotes paid with their souls to work inside her."
"What choice did they have?"
"For fuck's sake, they would die if they were taken off. You know that. They were parasites. Barbaric practices back then. That girl fed her mother ship little bits and pieces of her own brain. And then the ships went mad. Their broods were even more fucked up. Why do you care what she was like?"
"I just wanna know, is all. Never seen one before."
"Plugged in, they were drones. Unplugged, they were morose. Lots of issues. Stunted and retarded, just like you. Now let's get out of here." Grabbing the suit of her friend.
But the third woman was down low, fumbling, pushing aside a tiny body with her elbow, searching in the console, muttering, "We're in the eye, right? Eye of the storm. Motherfucker. I swear, if she could be active, if we're the first ones —"
The other two kicked off from the lens, rockets ramping up again (but not arousal). They sailed away from the head, into the thalamic corridor, and from there down the passage of the ship's spine. In and out of shadow, illuminated by glowing ribs of light, while through their hammering veins — where hormones fueled by methamphetamines had recently raced — frustration and emotions closer to fear now jangled.
Moments later, the third woman, mask misted by hot breath, trembling in her suit, caught up. Her heart was pounding.
More dead symbiotes in what must have been a mess hall. These crew members, not strapped in, had floated free until contacting something solid, and there they gently rocked. The corpses had accumulated dull coloured collections of junk. Air must have lasted a while longer in here (there goes that theory), because decay had set in: sunken cheeks, pulled back from gums, exposed long yellow teeth; eyeballs gone altogether or shrivelled to the size of little black cocktail onions —
"What is that?"
"Huh? That? Broccoli. Let's keep moving. I don't wanna have to report this. Let's go back to the Europa and have a fucking beer. I need to meditate or some shit like that. Let's leave."
"Why so nervous? They've been here since before we were born. Nobody's searching for them. Nobody knows they're here. So what. They wrote all this off long ago. Program failed. Miserably. This is like a museum piece in the ideas we never should have thought up. For a fucking buck. Did people eat that green stuff?"
"I guess these spacers had access to real veggies. Hydroponics on board, probably in the stomach."
"What do you think happened inside this mother? The dead crew. The damage. You saw the damage coming in. Burns on her skin. What could bust up a ship this big? What could fool a system like this?"
"Movement." The third woman, who had had remained in the corridor, fumbling nervously with her pack, looked at her watch, about which glowing images and tables of numerals shimmered.
"Just registered it. Outside. A craft's approaching. Slowly. Low frequency. Surrounded by drones."
"A craft? Surrounded by drones? Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of craft? I'm not getting anything on mine —"
"It seems like — It's docking."
"The craft is docking."
They heard then felt a faint shudder in the structure. The wrecked body of the mother trembled about them.
* * *
At dusk, from Black Fields, and coming slowly under the Talbot Lane Bridge, toward the opening that was South Gate — in the direction all flotsam must go, from mountain to ocean — the corpse floated, face down. Four kholics stood knee deep in the turgid water of the River Crane and watched. This was not an unusual sight for them. Paused in the task of skimming shit from the river, the men held their huge nets aloft, like pale flags. Light from a lantern, hooked on a pole, caught on low ripples in the brown water, and on debris, and then on puffy grey flesh.
The body was that of another man, naked and slim. He had not been dead for long; flesh did not last in these waters.
When the timing was right, one of the kholics waded out and extended the pole of his net to intercept, managing to hook the body by its stiff arm and pull it closer. Flipping the corpse was a struggle — a difficult task, but not impossible. Foul water and muck splashed the kholic. He did not flinch.
The dead man's throat had been cut, body drained of humours. Fat black leeches clung to legs, groin, torso. Across the man's face was a black tattoo, inked around both eyes and nose, extending — like the gash — back to the ears.
One of them.
Brief looks, exchanged: over the past few nights, working this bend of the river, the bodies of two other murdered kholics had been retrieved. The men knew these dead, had eaten with them on occasion, had cleaned with them, side by side, had stared at the ground together, to avoid the hemos' eyes.
As if the killer might be watching, they turned to scan the banks. There were a few people there, other kholics, mostly, labouring among the rocks. No one walked the promenade atop the embankment. Torches and street lanterns did little to the shadows of Nowy Solum, looming behind. Nothing in their city appeared out of the ordinary. The night, like most, was warm and humid, the river foul, the clouds close over their heads.
An upside of discovering that the dead man was like them: all they had to do was build a bonfire and toss the corpse of their brother onto it.
But as they began to pull the body to shore, a brilliant and terrible object hurtled across the sky, burning streaks through the clouds. Clay rooftops, mossy brick walls, buildings crammed together: all, for that instant, detailed more brilliantly than any day could ever possibly have illuminated them.
Smell of thunderstorms rained down.
The celestial object had vanished.
Warm dusk — for just a second — fell back into place, and as the men turned, frowning, to their work, the air was torn asunder by a roar so loud it seemed the world might have ended; now the kholics darted, clapping their hands over their ears. One fell headlong in the water. The lantern winked out.
Booming echoed briefly off the city, off the palace, off the towers and perimeter walls, off the markets and hovels, before all went quiet once more.
In this profound silence, on this profound night, Nowy Solum now seemed impossibly still, as if unchanged, as if nothing had happened. But the kholics knew better. Rules had shifted, fundamentals altered —
Concerns for the hemos, not them.
Without a word to each other about the incident, the men retrieved the body one more time — which had been trying to continue its way downstream, perhaps to escape — and brought their brother to the rocky shore.
* * *
Rolling lazily, laterally, the fecund let out a sigh. She half-closed one red-tinged eye. Her cascading body, strung with the weeds of her cell, was clearly swollen. Ready, it seemed, to burst. She said: "I suppose we could begin at other points, if you'd prefer. Perhaps we could start with the chatelaine, finding herself, one morning, feeling strangely refreshed and clearheaded for a change?" The monster's voice could be very quiet when she wanted it to be. "But before we get too far with this story, I'd like to ask you a personal question, if I may?"
The trilling sound of frogs.
She cleared her throat, veiling lightly a sneer, and put on airs: "Once-noble creature, marvel of marvels, viceroy of your domain — pushed forth from a thin caul into this shrouded world — what do you feel? Between trembling thighs, as you're pushed forth, or held aloft, above a steaming corpse, what do you see? Tell me, when you look out of those beady eyes?"
Stretching, like a huge green dog, butt in the air — and yawning while doing so — the fecund showed rows and rows of needle-sharp teeth. Then she settled, also like a dog, circling twice, and again, before finding comfort in the muck.
"I know you're nothing but bones and flesh, with various combinations of blood or choler or melancholy in your veins. And you're tiny things — mere mortals, as they say — subjected, from day one, to a host of calamities and infirmities. The list is endless. Pride, envy, desire, ambition. Plagues, insecurity. Raging disease. Loss. Factions and hatred among your own people! Ignorance and war. You humans fascinate me."
Still no response, save the thrumming of insects and the quiet splash of an animal — a fish, perhaps.
"And yet," the fecund continued, her unclear question devolving into a series of others, and from there into a customary ramble, "throughout these trials, time keeps moving, past your traumatic birth and childhood (which was most brief, spent hungry and snot-nosed in egocentric oblivion), past your self-indulgent adolescence (when you thought you could change everything, and that there was a small chance misery might pass you by), moving faster and faster, past your adulthood (if you were fortunate enough to make it that far), finally dragging the remaining few of you into old age and sweeping you along, toward eschaton!" As the last word echoed, the fecund shivered with what could only be mock dread. "Tormented race! Abandoned race! Oh, clouds have closed in, all right! (Or so they say: all I see when I look up is this damned stone ceiling.)"
Rolling again caused water to slosh against the walls.
"Do you know my opinion about this? Do you? Big deal, that's what. Twelve gods once descended from the firmament. I saw them arrive. From my verdant home, I saw crowds gather around them as they touched down. Gods can offer many things, including salvation. But how did you people react? With suspicions and pettiness and incessant questions. Constant doubts. Backstabbing. Granted, the gods acted little better, in the end. There was stiff competition and vying for followers. There were fights, divisions. People killed each other. And the gods began to fight among themselves, too, brother against sister, sister against brother. In fact, there are the dead bodies of two of them — at least two, possibly more — out in the great desert, to the east. At least, I assume they're still there. Long before the walls of your city were completed I saw them, scorched and pitted by sand, great polymer bones poking from the scorched earth.
"Who knows how many of the gods survived the battles?
What was left of the pantheon took their cosmic balls and limped home, wherever that was.
"The bottom line is: humans had a chance to be spared life's ailments and you blew it. You fought, you killed hundreds, and you built this awful city."
Words faded softly down the long stone corridor. But the fecund's eyes were not entirely open, as if she might even have been talking in her sleep.
"Now you are free again, in this place you call Nowy Solum. Free to scuttle aimlessly about, with only small expectations to live up to, arbitrary rules to follow, no agendas of a higher power to fulfill. You are created, you suffer, and you die. That's it. Principal and mighty work — my little pink friends — you have fallen from the grace you so briefly attained."
Here the monster chuckled and quickly snapped at a haspoid unlucky enough to get too close. Licking her chops brought in crunching chiton, legs, wings. Thick ichors dripped from the scales of her chin.
"For me, though —" she burped "— and for every other unfortunate soul of a more, uh, sophisticated nature (shall we say), who find themselves here with you — those who don't fall into your rather rudimentary biological categories — we see things differently. Time, for example. Time could mean anything to us: the nightmare of an alien despot; cyclical, self-consumptive loops; a spectrum of theory existing altogether beyond your meager ken.
"Do you understand what I'm saying?
"Creatures like me are more —" a vague gesture with one clawed hand "— complicated.
"I mean, are we really in the same moment? Are we in the same place? Do we even speak the same language?
"And these gods, building up your hopes, coming down from on high and then battling it out, to leave you stranded, back you where you started. Who were they to me? Why should I care about them? Or about you?" She hissed and spat and blew steam out her nose. "Because I don't. I don't care. So let's not even talk about gods. And don't tell me they're returning, or that they've been seen, flying overhead. This story is one of the last in your sordid history. Nowy Solum crumbles."
At the waterline, where paler scales stretched to near translucency, ripples on the swamp made duckweed ride up and down. Setting her jaw, bands of muscle hardened the angled jowls, though it was difficult to tell if the monster was truly angry or not.
"Now," she said, "where were we?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter"
Copyright © 2011 Brent Hayward.
Excerpted by permission of ChiZine Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The First Partition,
The Second Partition,
About the Author,