ANDATA EXPRESS/
HOLOHAUS1/
MERCENARY
PLANET /
STRANGER
& HOMECOMING

>>CHARACTERS

cw: transphobia, dysphoria, drugs, guns, abusive family, death, poverty, mind meld, religion


Figures it would take something like this happening to kick my ass into starting on this journal. People I know always tell me I’m good at doing the self-care things, but only when - because? - I don’t think of them as that. I’ve never been under any misapprehension that exercising or taking care of plants or whatever is going to help me, they’re just things I have reasons to be doing no matter how far down I am, no less than staying alive if you put it that way. Now journalling is the same. I’m in a situation where I can’t help but write. Still, I wonder if there’s a reason I’ve even been thinking about it this long. I can’t remember how this came up, or why or even when I think I made a commitment to do it at some point, why it feels so serious whenever I think of it, as if I made it to some other person, although the one thing I’m sure of is I didn’t. Or maybe it’s just everything has this brightness and weight right now. One reason I never started this is half the things I feel, I might feel something that supersedes completely the next day. Of course that’s the point, but it seems exhausting and Sisyphean, keeping up with myself, accumulating change after change but never pruning for meaning.


Tonight I did something. Something big. No matter what I feel like days or months or years from now, I’m going to want to know how I felt when I did it. How it made me fumble a wording or run on a sentence. Hell, I’m probably not the only person who’ll want to know.


God, what if this becomes a document of monumental historical significance to humanity some day? Well, if humanity’s still the same assholes by then they won’t be able to do anything to me since I’m dead, and I’ve decided I don’t care how anybody remembers me - so let’s do this, let’s rub future academics’ faces in the smelly taint of my life. Wow, this reads just like the diary I always wanted when I wasn’t a little girl already. Actually, who knows what those read like? Do even cis girls know if theirs are like anybody else’s? You saw them in TV and books, but the point of those is to be public, and the point of a diary is to be private.


Nobody’s gonna see this when I’m alive, and I’ll burn it before I die if I get the chance.


(Unless, maybe, they want to keep it.)


But if I wanted to be private, I’d just think.


I didn’t really want to go out shooting with my brother, but after two weeks home I had faced the truth that I didn’t have anything else to do, and I didn’t really have a reason to not hang out with him that was actually his fault. I couldn’t keep resenting him for what my mom said on the phone on the way home - “I don’t mind… I can’t stop you with this girl thing, but you don’t act like that around your brother, that’s the rules OK? He really admires you, and you’re one of the few good influences left in his life.”


Fine, I thought, that’s the rules, it’s your house, but you never said I had to be that good influence. If I’m a good influence on him that just ties me down to this place where I can’t even find a girl who likes girls on Tinder without having to arrange an hour’s transportation and then find she just wants to play with every part of my body like it’s a weird sex toy but won’t let me touch her. But apparently I didn’t stop being this good influence after virtually cutting contact for three whole years. Maybe it’s even worse if I don’t actually talk to him, I thought, maybe I’m letting him idolize me. He’s a year out of high school and still hasn’t decided on a university, works a part-time job. I meet him at the car he got for his birthday three years ago, as per family tradition, remember the time I sold mine to make a year’s rent that I squandered in a blue-dark room hating myself, winced, waved.


I’m wearing my leather jacket and my hair’s bobbing, sticking out in several but not all directions from the back of my neck. His is cut even shorter than the last time I saw it. It was almost the same exact length as the belt of loose scruff under his neck. Jax - short for Ajax - ogles the Roland Special I was cradling nervously. “I should have thought to bring my small gun. But mine is nothing cool, compared to that. My friend’s gonna get a Zenith Z-5RS, though, if you ever want to come over and try it out.” I did, I’d even be able to put up with getting to know his friend for it. “What do you even do with a gun like that in the city?” “What do you think, we go out to the dog park and shoot Frisbees like that lady in Nichijou? Nothing, obviously.” To be honest, actually getting to shoot these had been the best part of being home, but it was the kind of good that wears out fast and I think I’d been worn out of it within the first week of sneaking out to the fallow field and lining up full bottles of RC Cola on the rotting fence. I had no interest in hunting, shooting birds and squirrels any more - it felt too much like the casual ways I’d seen people hurt people like me, whereas the way I let out my fantasies of shooting at something bigger in the heat of a moment of thrilling panic felt like, what, shooting at nothing? shooting at something that comes back stronger?


He mostly wanted to talk about the city, about all the things he thought there were to do there - most of which neither of us would have been able to pay for. And there were other things I couldn’t do without putting myself through things he wouldn’t understand. I felt kinda bad that I couldn’t bring back the kinds of adventure stories he wanted, as I tried to remember all the most exotic restaurants I’d been to, the strangest things I had seen on the subway.


Yet, we had a fun, unsurprising time at the range. It seemed like he had finally caught up to me in terms of accuracy, and took a bunch of phone pics to show mom, beaming. He seemed to get bored fast, too - by the time we were tired out we still had three hours until we had told our parents to expect us home. And he snuck us out when a minor acquaintance of dad’s whose name I didn’t even remember started prying for details of my past five years. On the way out he pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Alastair’s got his paycheck - he’s getting the Zenith on Saturday. You gonna come with me when I go over to try it out? He’s super liberal too, you won’t have to pretend to be a boy around him.”


I crunched the map I was looking at to decide where to drive next between my palms. “Who told you that I was…” There weren’t any physical signs yet - no real ones, I thought. With dad refusing to put hormones on his insurance, I’d carefully planned and waited for my financial situation to stabilize, and at the perfect moment it had imploded. I’d finally saved up a summer’s worth of pay at a non-minimum (but still low) wage. I’d finally bit the bullet on going back for grad school and participating in that one prof who I thought vaguely but at least politely fetishized me’s research on radical communal lifestyles in the 21st century. I’d finally gotten a prescription, quit my job with the cleaning crew so I wouldn’t have to grow boobs and hips in time lapse in front of the proprietors, and settled in to spend the summer quietly growing into who I was. Then Sophie had moved out. She couldn’t deal with the memories of Delilah and her new long-distance girlfriend needed her even more than I did. I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t. Alone in that doubly haunted, devalued-and-revalued, neglected space, with recent cobwebs choking ancient ones over amber-coloured wood, I dipped into savings I wasn’t supposed to touch to pay the full rent for the no-longer-group home while I looked - hopelessly - for somewhere cheaper, convincing Mom and Dad when they called screaming that I would be able to pay for everything in the fall. Then funding for the research project got cut. I stopped renewing my prescription and went off; I wasn’t that deluded about what options I had left. I tried sex work a few times but couldn’t force myself consistently enough, especially with the dysphoria getting worse. Mai had offered to move me back in with her but she needed a burden even less than me right now. I knew what I had to do, had felt it digging at me like the imp of the perverse since the familiar nightmarishness had caught up with me in the city.

Jax blinked. “Remember you linked me your Tumblr page ages ago? When you were trying to make music?”


No I hadn’t - I hadn’t even told him it was mine, but I must have just linked him a track via my Tumblr because it was easier than sending the file, without even thinking about it because I didn’t post anything unusual on there at the time and he avowedly didn’t have any interest in the platform. It had never once come up between us since then. I’d had no idea he had been reading it, which would have been really cute and flattering were it not… how much had he read? How the fuck was I supposed to ask that without sounding like a middle schooler? I didn’t even realize this at the time, but holy shit, I posted on there the night I came out to my parents - did he see THAT?! Did he see me having a breakdown and wanting to- fuck, even if he hadn’t seen that one time, if he’s seen enough to know I was trans he had seen enough to know the kinds of shit I’d been going through those years, hadn’t he? And never once said anything. Not a word of support, not an “if you want to talk…” Not even when I started transitioning… For three years. This is what I’m just processing now, as I write this, none of this even occurred to me at the time. At the time I was having a weird panic about whether our parents knew that he knew and they had agreed to pretend otherwise just to fuck with me, whether he had been stalking me to report on me to his friends, whether…


“Ha ha.” I pretended to just be embarrassed. “I actually, literally forgot.”


“I don’t stalk it or anything, I just went back to the link one time I was feeling lonely and wondered what you were up to, and saw… nothing but trans stuff. It’s OK, I’m cool. You always did you.” He turned the key and revved the motor, waving good-bye to dad’s confederate-flag-jacket-patch-wearing friend who popped out the door of the shooting gallery for a smoke just at the moment we pulled out of parking, with the windows down…!! “You OK?”


“Yeah, just… it’s kind of a shock to find out somebody knows that.” My voice was cold, curt - and as much more so as it had instantly become markedly more feminine. The male voice I’d had to put on these past weeks had been as awkward, almost adolescent or English dub anime voice actor as my female voice had sounded those few months I’d tried internet “voice therapy”.


“Right. But I’m not gonna judge you or anything, so you don’t have to worry about that.”


“Thanks, that really means a lot to me.”


“Uh…” his voice trailed off. “I can call you Leona, right? When it’s just the two of us?”


My doubts washed away and I only didn’t hug him because I’m the most physically awkward person in the world, with no business inhabiting a body of any sort. “Please do.”


Did he know they knew? Did he ever talk to Mom? (Mom being the one who always yelled at me about it but I shouldn’t focus so much on her, she’s not the scary one she’s the scared one, she told me dad didn’t even want me to come home, told me she talked him into it, wanted me to thank her… but expecting him to talk to dad is too much, expecting any human…) He couldn’t have done much, I know, but how much could he have tried? I didn’t think about any of that in that moment, although I can’t remember what I was thinking about. All these questions, all these trust-issue-ass questions would come to me in a long slow unspooling after what happened next.


I didn’t think about where we were going as he drove me through the flaking woods, in a different direction but still away from home. Just driving in this part of the country was fun, we would both admit freely, and Jerry Lee Lewis was on. I didn’t think there was any more to it until he turned and the wheels were suddenly pulling through not just gravel but thick, damp, and the grey thickened and muddied between thin trunks bundled like reeds on one side. On the other side, a sickly swampy field I’d never seen before. He said, excitedly, innocently, without a hint of the change in mood I was feeling on my side of the car, that he was going to show me something.


I had to remind myself that if he was really less tolerant than he was saying, he wouldn’t have let me bring my gun out with me.


He pulled over and screeched the brakes in the ditch when a grey abandoned barn with a half-white-painted roof aligned itself with us on the right. I fell out first; my eyes traced a dirtbike track through the weeds to the side door of the barn. Even he was starting to get uncomfortable with the silence, so Jax started filling space with just sorta circuitous carnie hype like “this is the project I’ve been working on since spring”. (Had he mentioned one before? I couldn’t remember.) I was expected to help him move two huge beams across the gate - “Davy’s idea” - which turned out to be redundant with a spotless chrome padlock. Jax slid a key out of his pocket and the door swung towards us like an ambush. What was inside felt like one.


Lined up along walls or stacked on the long benches that crossed the barn were huge plastic jugs and other containers of all sizes. Bags of fertilizer piled in one corner. Drain cleaner. Gas. Rock salt. I had noticed the smell before I even entered but assumed it was just some weird plant or pollution (you get more weird smells out here than you’d think); it smelled like piss but sweet; I covered my nose. “This is the trap,” Jax announced. He paced along the benches rambling about challenges he had to overcome setting this up and technical did-you-know bullshit for five minutes before he noticed my expression. I guess if I was writing a novel or something I’d try to write some of it out here for verisimilitude. I think I just had that thought because I’m almost tempted to do so just to prove to myself he really did, just to know that I can account for how I feel about it. If he hadn’t been like that the reason he felt safe telling me would have been obvious, and despicable. He must not have known that Mom and Dad knew about me - it checks out, they obviously wouldn’t talk about it to him - and figured he wouldn’t have to explain to me that if I told them, he would tell them. Actually, does that explain anything on its own? Why would he want to tell me anyway? The obvious reason, for me to work with him, never once even seemed to occur to him as he rambled on. He didn’t act like he was keeping anything like this at the back of his mind. When he saw me glaring uncomprehending me from behind three splayed fingers, he first observed “oh. The smell.”


It was like a cat bringing you a dead bird.


It makes me wonder - made me wonder, I think it’s passing now, if only because my world’s changed so much in a single evening since then that I’m instinctively suspending judgement on anything - if my parents were right about us, about more things than I ever imagined they could be right about. Because it was like, and this is just as offensive but more fucked up, the only reason I can imagine why he would show me this is he thinks because we’re both living in ways our parents and their people wouldn’t approve of, that we’ve got something in common, that we’re kindred spirits, partners in crime. He probably felt that way back when he was just plagiarizing that paper for school, which I heard about right around when I started experimentally going outside in that little black dress with the purple embroidered spirals along the hem. He’s not entirely wrong - I honestly don’t know how much this should even bother me. I’ve done hard drugs - ketamine the hardest - and I’ve known people who have done a lot more than I have. I yelled at a guy once for kicking a dealer out of a party where everybody was doing coke and Molly - all of them having fun, completely in control of their experience in the long run except the girl I was there with - because it seemed like such blatant classism, the same thing as if you wouldn’t deign to talk to the person who picked your fruit. If he read my Tumblr maybe he knew about that. I don’t criticize rappers for “glamorizing” dealing any more, though obviously they’re in a different situation. (I wouldn’t blame whoever Jax picked up “trapping” from. (Maybe Breaking Bad, though… there were three different posters of Heisenberg on the walls.)) Still, it’s an insulting conflation, right? It would be if someone made it out loud, but does that mean I should treat it the same way as an unconscious thing?… right it’s feelings “should” isn’t the point but I’m trying to decide what to write down. Can I write down what even makes me uncomfortable about this? Are the impressions I have of what drugs do to people out here assumptions no better than the assumptions he might have about black men in the “trap”, or any of his friends might have about me? Still he doesn’t have to be doing this, and I don’t have any idea why he is. I spent most of the time I was there, between listening to him brag about things he hasn’t done yet, trying to get a clear sense of why. I got nothing. It was the same as listening to him talk about the city he doesn’t know anything about or make any plans to go to. What does he want to do with the money? We’re not poor.


And yet I found myself unwittingly acting as the partner in crime he wanted. I held my muscles so tense the whole time to keep from springing and destroying everything in sight, from beating the shit out of him, that I felt them reverting to that spring-loaded state that night in my bed. I could have overpowered him with hardly any struggle if I’d wanted. My few months of hormones hadn’t fucked up my muscles - I had never intended to let them. He on the other hand didn’t seem to have picked up any gains since I had last seen him. I could have killed him - him with the gun, me unarmed - and he knew this. And I knew one thing he didn’t that made his most insulting calculation, as I’d analyzed it, worthless. But what still mattered was what I didn’t know. I didn’t know who he was anymore. How ruthless the person who had made this place was - and how much that person cared about someone like me. I knew Dad was desperate for any excuse to get rid of me. If I pissed Jax off, there was nothing to stop him from telling them I’d done… anything. He could say I’d shown him this place. Wouldn’t matter if it made sense, even if I wasn’t me they’d never decide based on anything like that. And I wouldn’t even mind risking homelessness except I still had responsibilities to someone other than myself, someone more precious than anyone whose life he might ruin out here… not as if I cared about him ruining people’s lives, I’d grown up seeing Dad do it all my life, and it’s not like legally or illegally meant shit to me. When he’d opened the door, my honest first thought was that he was blackmailing me. But by the end of our conversation - finally, sternly telling him how stupid this was, almost in tears, and watching his face form, in genuine confusion, the expression it would around “so?” - I realized how much more horrifying the truth was. He genuinely had expected me, the sister who’d broken every rule ever imposed on her, who was after all an anarchist (anarcho-communist, but would he remember the distinction?) so I had to think breaking the law was cool right? - would be enthusiastic about this. But part of him had to know there was a chance I wouldn’t. And in that chance, the flipside of knowing he trusted me was knowing he didn’t respect me in the slightest. And what reason had I given him to? If we were the same, I had no authority for him. I had the authority to give him every drug safety tip I knew, and exchange some he’d picked up on his own. He agreed enthusiastically to pass these tips on to buyers (there wouldn’t be many, I told myself, with this operation, these kids, there couldn’t be many), and nodded skeptically when I estimated the safest time to cut them off. But he’d be better off getting lectured by mom and dad than me - one way or another, they still seemed to be the centre of this Ptolemaic world-sphere we were trapped in even as we orbited its fringes trying to escape.


Speaking of that world, Dad was there at dinner.


He didn’t say anything. He and mom had been talking tensely about something but he shut up as soon as Jax and I walked in. Mom glanced at him with increasing frequency, trying to tell if he was just lost in thought or doing that again. We waited for him to eat as if for someone to say grace. At least I did, but Jax just started chowing down immediately. After about a minute of which, and me and mom starting to just poke at our plates, he spoke up, from almost a whisper. “Well, hello? Are we a family here? Does anyone have anything to talk about?” I froze. When we were kids I had always been the one to handle situations like this - to go first, even though there was no real reason to. Now the pressure was doubled. Jax looked at me, then opened his mouth. “Nuh-uh - there’s still food in that. You don’t go.” He waited, and the silence grew louder. “Are you guys playing a prank on me or something? Am I going deaf?” Mom glared at me and I glared back at her, because she knew better than to take his demands at face value like that. Actually, if she did, she would have said something. I mumbled something about how the dirt bike field we drove by on the way to the range, with its blue-green view of the mountains, had its huge piles of building waste levelled. (Jax had already told me about the development plan - suburbanites moving all the way out here, which I had noticed even when Mom had driven me in from the city.) Silence - the simplicity of my question had disarmed him, or he was already exhausted from looking at me. Mom’s hand almost white-knuckled on his wrist, he gave one curt nod, “good shot”, and ignored me for the rest of supper.


He talked about work. About the little organic farm he had been investigating the past week, Mother Goose, which had been growing rapidly over several years on the strength of their marketing that put a nursery rhyme on each product, “because the people who eat food like that are children”. That isn’t even wrong, probably, but what are you supposed to make of the way he speculates about what they’ll do and how they’ll be treated by coworkers if the (“stupid”, for “senile weirdos”) golf retreat opening up down the road bought the land, how he relishes describing the care he took to scrutinize the building process of the new stables destroyed in a storm for breaches of insurance policy, how he would have liked to tell them to give up farming out of mercy to the “sweet” “precious” animals they had left. Again, I’m sure he’s not wrong about the building. His line of work is a proud one and one that nobody wants to do, the work of deflating pride; he can do it because he’s not a pencil pusher and has done everything in his time, but also clearly gotten tired of it. Everything he would have liked to tell them, he tells us. Everything he would like to tell us, who does he tell? Probably the rich local businessmen he schmoozes and flatters for the company’s sake at the same time as he keeping them blind to how much money he’s keeping them out of: the Kool-Aid drinkers, the ultimate leitmotif of his derision. He comes back to them at some point, as he always does. The kitschy Kincade paintings on their walls, how effeminate their trust in a Disney-coloured life of peace and happiness to come had made them, as if anyone could even want such a thing. The obnoxious ways they wormed their faith into conversations, tried to turn every tangent into a sales pitch. The latest pathetic grifter they deferred to as if he was God on Earth, wearing more makeup than a woman. …Jax should have shown Dad that place, not me. I mean Dad would have killed him, quite possibly literally, but that would be due to an unfortunate inconsistency, or an unnecessary consistency, in his worldview. I mean, there’s no way he actually objects to somebody selling their kids real Kool-Aid.


I really wanted to feel like there was something good about being here, so after supper I made sure the stars were out and Skyped Mai. I couldn’t go out in the field without my computer losing reception, but I hitched up the curtains in the corners of the window and set the old red-orange lamp to light them from below in a way she’d like, sat next to it and leaned out over the eaves, screen facing out on my lap. I could barely see a soft frond of the milky way gritted with stars like one of those massive movements of ants on a rainforest leaf. It was grey, ghostly. I hoped it would show up on webcam.


Mai didn’t answer at first and I hissed silently and wanted to tear my face. But after a minute that I sat frozen, the phone-icon jumped. I didn’t see her expression when I swivelled the computer away from me but she made sounds audible on the mic.


I’m sure everyone’s watched stars with a friend who pointed out stuff like ‘there’s Deneb, there’s Altair, there’s Vega’ but the first thing Mai pointed out was where astronomers thought they had found a new earthlike planet (the exact star wasn’t visible to the naked eye, even from here). And another star, according to astrophysicists’ calculations, had probably gone supernova by now and the light would reach us in a few hundred years, in which case it would be the brightest visible from Earth since 1054. She asked if I could find my sign yet and I still couldn’t, and I still didn’t think I needed to believe in astrology, although I had been starting to, sneaking glances at the horoscopes in the newspaper just to give myself a sense that something could happen. She traced Sagittarius (how am I not even a Leo?). I still don’t understand how anybody would have seen a shape in that vague scattering of stars. She says it’s like a mnemonic: when ancient navigators and people had to look at the stars to tell which way they were going, they wouldn’t have been able to tell anything apart unless they looked for shapes even if they weren’t there. She says astrology works something like this too.


She uses the shapes that don’t exist to show me the star she says she’s from.


She does that every time but I get what she’s saying about the mnemonic because there’s no way I would have been able to guess where it was. That time it had been barely visible from a campsite a mile outside the city, now it was one of the brightest stars in its neighbourhood. It hovered above a mountain on the horizon like a crown jewel. The purple-blue light jumping nervously all over her rounded brown cheeks from the bare bulb dangerously close to her pillow that was supposed to be like the light of a blue giant star. We never feel comfortable looking at the world around us, she says, because it’s lit in the sickly yellow of slow decay. Civilizations can’t last very long orbiting a blue giant, because it burns out within a few million years, but they’re the happiest in the universe, and don’t fear going nova.


(Like in the words of a song that I first heard in this house, that I showed her when we started dating, that she posted a cover of a few days after we stopped, her signature pitch-bended bubble synths replacing Bruce Cockburn’s cleanly produced guitar, that has since become the most popular song on her Soundcloud:


“When the sun goes nova, and the world turns over, I don’t want to be alone, so honey, come on home.”


We never felt like we were ‘home’ together, but I wonder if that was my fault: could I have imagined a ‘home’ that didn’t feel like this one?)


I hadn’t been sure if I ask her for advice - if I wanted her comfort or just the comfort of her presence - but after she started talking about her living situation, I just could’t bring myself to. It’s not like she’d expect me to be grateful or something - but still, I couldn’t complain about the one thing she absolutely needed. It looked like she wasn’t going to be able to make rent at the end of the month, after blowing her meager Patreon funds at the hospital. She hadn’t had as many ideas for music recently, anyway, so those were taking longer to recoup. Same situation as I had been in, more or less, a month ago. The difference was, I could live with living with my parents - it wasn’t my first choice, in fact it was my very last but it was a choice. Mai would rather live on the street.


That story’s not mine and doesn’t belong here. I told her about my search for a job in the neighbourhood and since I wasn’t paying anything to live here, if I made some money I’d send anything she needed. Of course, there was no real work out here. All there was were odd jobs on the farms or around the homes of people rich enough to pay someone they didn’t really need, the kinds of people Dad knew, but Dad wasn’t introducing me to them any more, the way he had when I had just gotten out of high school, the way he did for my brother (he had stolen some of the meth equipment from one). The fact that I had come crawling back is embarrassment enough to him, and my father is an honest man: even if nobody were ever to find out about what I was, he couldn’t go around recommending me as if I was a respectable person.


I wouldn’t have brought it up because she was already having one of her guilt episodes, or whatever, to the point of saying she wouldn’t take any money even though she lives off Patreon. I hate that I couldn’t make that sound like not a different thing. Yeah if you put it that way, Patreon’s really good for people who don’t feel like they have the right to impose on anyone at all in how they make a living - not even to sell their own art. And maybe she wasn’t scared enough. She had been in this situation a few times before and gotten through it thanks to donation posts, staying with friends, last minute negotiations. The real concern, we unspokenly agreed, was if this wasn’t just something that could be gotten through. In the past year she had lost a number of her key supports in Seattle - including me. Jobs were getting harder to find around the neighbourhood even though the economy was recovering. She wouldn’t be able to keep using the same escape valves week after week, month after month. At the bottom you fall agonizingly slow.


After I shrunk away from the light and the dark, brushed my teeth, scrolled through Tumblr, liked a string of Mai’s posts, put up a small amount to her donations, struggled with a dense Marxist theoretical pdf and gave up after a couple of pages, I didn’t sleep. I kept remembering times I’d shaken scary men off her at shows - two times presenting as a man, one presenting as a woman, with a [knife] under my cutoff jean jacket. Another reason I’d convinced myself to hold off on transitioning for so long, until it was too late - the respect I could occasionally command by pretending to be the boyfriend. (Another reason we couldn’t stay together - the way I’d get stressed at everything whenever I’d go out with her like that, and she’d think it was something she did, and how, in my own perverse way, I allowed myself to believe her.) As I forced them out of my mind they were reduced to weird kinetic afterimages, still-glowing brands. I kept making movements under my sheets like I was running, or lashing out, or holding, or curling up into a ball against blows.


- The pdf was all about revolution, about class consciousness and how every other desire would be subordinated to it and I was excited but kept asking myself questions when I read it that I knew it wouldn’t answer like - what if the people I want to start a revolution for are the people nobody else is going to want to start a revolution for? But then, wouldn’t that always be true of the people anybody would be willing to start a revolution for? If she couldn’t make enough money to keep her apartment - her, someone who was making the world better in ways I had never dreamed of being able to myself - if she couldn’t move enough people to send her $5, how could she move enough people to pick up guns? Would the people with ordinary jobs and salaries, not making enough to throw at every stranger in need but enough to be satisfied, have to be motivated by the fraction more they could make for themselves or their families or the people like them, instead of by the fraction they could have given away? Was that what ‘class consciousness’ was supposed to amount to?


And this was one I liked, because at least it didn’t talk about revolution as some kind of kid’s fantasy where you get everything you want all the time, or a “shift in consciousness” like people used to say about 2012 - a magical, dubiously consensual cosmic orgasm. This was when I started thinking all the weird paranoid insecure-sounding stuff from before about my brother. Because the fucked up part of that situation was… well, if I got caught, for one thing… I can’t remember what order I thought any of this stuff in. All of it connects in any order, anyway.


I certainly didn’t feel any particular order as they arose out of my half-sleeping mind and swum wordlessly in circles before I noticed them. A lyric Mai wrote one time: “I’m a crystal of space-time eternal/but the arrow of time keeps moving through me anyway/cracking me”.


But I do remember, yes, I thought of that because I had started thinking what if - instead of taking the trusty mostly-for-Tumblr-likes ‘SMASH CAPITAL’ baseball bat to the place like I’d been contemplating - what if I did start working with him or something, what if I could make enough money to help Mai that way, but if she wouldn’t even accept donations how would she accept that, and why didn’t I want to decide yet, what would it mean to force myself to decide in this too-hot bed right here and now?


Even back when I’d last lived here, people always told me I anticipated and accepted worst case scenarios disturbingly fast, that I was quick to give up and adjust - almost as if part of me was eager to have nothing to lose. Well, I’d seen those scenarios actually play out more times than in high school I could have dreamed I would within a few years. I could certainly do with more things to lose. But that didn’t mean I was going to waste any more energy on resistance.


But the fucked up thing about this situation was, even though this train of thought meant I was in fact reacting exactly like Jax had hoped I would, he was so wrong - so perfectly wrong, it was like a mirror image. He thought that just because I wasn’t living the way Mom and Dad wanted, I was like him, or like what he wanted to be - maybe because of me, how fucked would that be? - that I was living however I wanted! But this house, my shadow on the floor of that fucking trap house shack, was checkmate in a game I’d been playing blindly since birth. I’ve never been able to go out places I wanted to, talk to people I wanted to, afford things I wanted to, be seen the way I wanted to. When I was friends with trans and nonbinary people who were unbelievably positive about the bodies they were born with, I specifically personally couldn’t relate to that, I’d always felt like I was trapped in this one even when, and I’d like to say even if, I didn’t understand that in gendered terms. I’ve always had to calculate things that unlike pounds and grams and bands don’t even calculate…


In any case, by the end he hadn’t once offered; it seemed he didn’t even see me as a partner in crime literally. Maybe it wasn’t women’s work, or something.


By the time I was crying, silently and feelinglessly and reflexively, I had given up on sleep and could only think of cool air to dry the hot water on my cheeks. I stumbled over to the window, and looked up to the stars, their blueness and brightness spiralling closer through my bleary vision, as I tried to remember which ones had names. Mai says praying has nothing to do with the future, or miracles, it’s another way of… seeing yourself in time like a constellation. Charting your way. I didn’t care about that. I could care about that, some day. I wanted to be as free as my brother, even if I wouldn’t allow myself to waste it. I wanted to act, just for a second, like the kindness of the stars could blow everything away. Like some of the people Dad’s fucked over who want to kill me because they think they’ll get their dignified jobs back in heaven. I wanted permission.


How did she do this again?


Close your eyes… try to see the stars behind them… if they change size that’s OK… wait until they don’t have a size any more… and you aren’t any distance from them either… or any time. Be attentive to any change that’s happening… any movement… that’s still happening… that doesn’t even wait for time to happen…


My eyes flew open.


Something had jolted me at this passage.


Looking up between Betelgeuse and Sirius (I could suddenly remember them!), a twinkling tricoloured light - red, yellow, green - was getting bigger and bigger and rapidly moving. I blinked. No, it had barely moved in a few seconds - why did I get that sense of speed? - it wasn’t just twinkling, it was spinning, the red and yellow and green points of light reappearing regularly at alternating points around it, fast. I had the intuition of something like a baseball flying towards me, spinning as it fell in a huge arc - and as I watched it, slowly, this intuition bore out.


I turned my computer back on and frantically put a call through to Mai, my fingers shaking. She wasn’t online. So I balanced the laptop in the windowsill, set the webcam running.


My brother complains that I didn’t get him up to see, or Mom and Dad. But before we found out what it was, there’s no way he, let alone Mom or Dad, would have wanted to be shaken out of bed by a twenty-two year-old to see a random light in the sky purported as a UFO. Half of me was counting the seconds until I figured out what normal thing it was and half of me thought, if it was something special I had called down, a sign, inviting anyone else to see (except maybe Mai) would break the spell.


By the time the backs of my eyes were starting to hurt and I was definitely fully awake, it was bigger than any star, or airplane, or anything twinkling I had ever seen in the night sky. Now I was starting to get worried, starting to think through scenarios of horrible irony. What if this was some terrorist thing - I literally never worried about terrorists - some EMP or dirty bomb or world-ending technology we’d never heard of? Some kind of asteroid or comet? Everyone wanted the world to end some nights, but I never had those nights after talking to Mai - this had been the exact opposite, a night I couldn’t accept the world ending, a night I felt crushed under the reasons I had to go on. Of everyone’s wish for it all to end, why would Something have picked up mine? How could it, without checking in with Mai, or Sophie, or Delilah’s unfathomable and immovable dead will…! But there was no denying any more. Neither the whistling nor the buzzing were normal even for weird night noises.


Over the trees, their tops beginning to fade, it had entered my sign, the size of the moon, and too bright to look at straight.


I closed my eyes, resigning myself to waking up from the dream.


I heard a dirty, anticlimactic thud.


I held my eyes closed until my body started to distract me. Without even looking at the window, I turned to my bed, tore off my PJs, and pulled the one dress I had brought home over my shoulders. If I was going to encounter… something, I wasn’t going to give them any wrong ideas.


I was just running towards where I had seen it through the fields until I found something strange. (By that time I would start wondering again if I had imagined it all - or how else I would be able to think of it if there was nothing out here.) Something like wax was seeping between the doubled-over stalks of last year’s dead corn. Neon red, green, blue and yellow phosphoresced faintly, swirling together in oil-on-pavement patterns. At first I thought it was just moving naturally. Then I saw it pull back, inch forward again. I bent down and watched it - you’d think it would stop but, as my shadow fell across it, it began to seethe and jump like boiling water, racing up the broken stalks and the few live grasses leaning on them. I jumped back. In some places, it had risen a foot off the ground, and was waving in the air.


As I backed away, it stopped dead.


I could hear another unfamiliar noise. Like something Mai would make on a synthesizer, except if she could she would have done it already. A kind of harmonic groan, a polyphonic creaking. The ordinary sounds of the night had gone, not completely, but politely quiet.


Slowly, it started to advance again, but this time it seemed to be losing energy. (There were also these huge rounded glassy shards sticking out of the ground further away, the moonlight refracting through them in turquoise polygons, but they didn’t interest me at that moment.) It would advance and then stop, then advance for a shorter time, then stop for a longer one. I had a sense I might not have a chance to look at it for much longer, so I got closer again. As it slowed, the noise rose, both in volume and in pitch, which swept and swooped like a wolf howl.


A dragonfly alit on a stiff blade of grass that had been coated up to the first node. The stuff - lemon-yellow - shot up the blade and covered the dragonfly in an infinitesimally thin coating. I held my breath. Then it receded, as fast as it had advanced. The dragonfly spasmed its wings twice - then flew off as if nothing had happened. Looking out across the field, I could see it catching and releasing more bugs as it moved.


I wasn’t even sure it was living, but there was - was there? I’m not just projecting this back in hindsight, am I? - something strangely pathetic about it, something moving in the way it moved. It was absolutely, desperately out of place here - what I hadn’t been able to tell until now was, in the terms of being out of place that I knew, whether it was desperate to be left alone or shown around. The more I watched it interact with different, totally unrelated creatures, even a squirrel - while this last one it didn’t cover completely, it reached out and touched its paw and something similar seemed to happen - the more it seemed harmless, and maybe it’s thanks to Mai I don’t have the kind of reflexive fear of weird things most people have. Mai’s universe (I won’t say imagined) - the universe as she lives in it - days’ worth more she’s told me on impulse than she’s ever written up for liner notes or Patreon rewards - is filled with harmless, gentle weird things, a million words for gentleness, a million things that only exist in one place and yearn for you to learn the word for them. If our normal world is so cruel and unpredictable and monstrous, why would things that aren’t like it be the same? Of course that’s a kind of naive way to think about the unknown - and I still couldn’t know for sure this wasn’t of “our world”, however abnormal. But when I stretched my shaking hand out I was narrating it to myself in terms of a kind of honour - I couldn’t possibly tell Mai about what had happened and not tell her what this felt like.


It stung.


When the brief staticky jolt ended I thought it had pulled away from me, but I was still touching it. And I didn’t lift my hand. I didn’t want to, but - my arm felt weird - it didn’t seem to be shifting with my shoulders as they rocked back and forth - I tried moving it, found I couldn’t move my shoulders either. I had seen this with some of the larger insects, the squirrel - they froze for a second, then - release. It had already been a lot longer. I was suddenly extremely aware of the half-hallucinatory outer-inner space linking my throat, the inside of my head, the backs of my eyes, the outside of my mind. My consciousness swam, refracted along its soap-bubble barrier.


A jolt knocked me back inwards. My moving light had encountered a shadow. I was not alone in the womb.


The shadow moved along the edges of me, roughly and purposively. My inner self was almost too dizzy to process it - what inner self - which walls were spinning? One time it literally blocked my sight - it was not black, it was all the colours of the pool and more, but it was opaque and utterly without glow - and in the silence that followed, I had the sense it had been blocking, testing my senses one by one. When I looked back down the stuff had crept most of the way up my arm. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t grit my teeth, or try to breathe. I could - barely - still remember that a bug’s nervous processes, like its body and lifespan, are so much smaller and so much faster. The ‘catch-and-release’ pattern I had observed would of course take longer with a human. Wait, how did I know this?


One instant I was thinking this the other I was thinking things that bore no relation, however distorted, to anything I had ever experienced before, to anything that had ever happened to me on a trip, things that literally weren’t outputs of the same inputs. My eyelids stretched over me like huge cave-walls flashing with alert lights. It pounced on me, pursued me - but the first recognizable experience I could make out of it was fear. A chord of fear, several kinds of fear at once, all absolute. I could even recognize them in - some of the incomprehensible flashes, I discovered, had somehow left memories.


Who… are you?


Then it released.


As if my thought had alerted it.


As if my thought had offended it.


I stared as if the whole thing was going to fade away, the thing in front of me and then the memory, the moment that had brought me here, maybe even my hope - as if I had woken myself up from a dream.


I didn’t dare breathe.


I was looking down at my arms again. I was covered in multicoloured slick racing like I had never seen it move before. It didn’t retreat all at once. It clung, hesitated. When it began to move all at once, its movement was regular, and agonizingly slow. I let it go. I watched. I was starting to feel this was for the best. This wouldn’t be scary, I wouldn’t keep second guessing whether I should have come out or got this close; it would take shape in front of me, reveal itself as a…


I waited to find out as the pool puddled before me. As its movements settled between the grasses. As the tips began to show through uncoloured again.


Wait, this can’t just end like this - can it?


I stared, waiting for something to happen. If it disappeared, if I woke up, that would be more tolerable - the disappointment would be small, ordinary, numb. The substance still reached out and touched things but wouldn’t even cover them. Was it… dying? Was it a thing that could live or die? What would this mean about my wish? Had I wanted this? What had I done? What had I not done? Was this a nightmare? What would Mai think? How would I make it through the day the week the month the years and years of nothing like this ever happening again…


Already almost in tears, I dropped to my knees and touched it.


I left my finger there - cold, subtly tingly, like the surface was still moving at some scale I couldn’t see but would normally feel - and started to move it in a circle before it moved, reached partway up my finger, hesitated. I didn’t feel much of anything, but kept imagining these flashes of light, like some kind of code. I thought as hard as I could at it about the dilemma I was in, in hopes it could hear. I plunged my arms in, covered myself.


- Stop.


I did.


You understand?


I didn’t, but… I did, enough to answer. There was… a surface I could float along and feel things inside of me. I nodded.


I can’t speak your language. I can’t explain myself without letting myself in. I can’t do that - if I let myself in you will know all of me and I will know all of you.


They were dying. They didn’t let that one across deliberately but I could tell.


I don’t know you. You don’t know me and you don’t know what you’re getting into. You don’t know what I am, I do this and am hated for it by something so big it would swallow everything you’ve ever known in a second -


I don’t want this to be how a new species gets to know me. Know us - what we are. It’d be like the enemy would be right. I know… we’ve done worse things in this war. And I know they’re wrong anyway, and we do what we do because we have to, but… Meteorology wouldn’t accept that.


I’m reconstructing here. Half of these words wouldn’t appear as words until we had shared a brain for a while, but in that moment it struck as an intensity. An intensity that more than anything else, heightened my sense of kinship with whatever had landed - insofar as it resonated with what I had been thinking about when I had seen her fall. Not Providence. In Meteorology, there is absolutely no Providence. I have never known (I’m speaking from the present now, knowing now what Meteorology is) a religion, a belief system period, so absolutely opposed to the concept of miracles. A miracle in Meteorology would be something not unlike an absolute evil. Not God, either. I had been praying without any hope of a God, praying because what… I felt like I deserved it? I felt something like this was right? Right. Right in the way only a God could be right. Right in the way I had no reason, no right to believe existed in this world. Hope. Faith. And what faith demands in turn - the intensity of commandment.


Come in, I thought, as clearly as I possibly could. Whoever you are. Whatever you are. I’ll accept everything. I’ll accept everything you are.


There was a silence. - At least I had been recognized.


And at last I started to feel suspicious. I started to wonder whether this was really a demon, like my mom read about all the time even though she wasn’t really religious. To wonder if this would end with me in a lab, or a hospital bed delirious, if it would just die anyway. Would it get me and Mai and everyone… ‘swallowed’? I started to wonder if every nuance and twist and turn had been some kind of ploy. I started to remember all the times I had been naïve, and all the times everyone I grew up with would have said I was naïve, and yet I had sheltered friends who had been through worse, in a culture where everyone was always dying on each other’s doorsteps…


Shit, I thought. I’m in the position of power here, aren’t I. I should at least let you know before you know ‘everything’ about me, there’s some fucked up stuff in here, all right?….


And - feeling something of that across my surface, I couldn’t tell how much - knowing that I wasn’t expecting a miracle, or cowed by mystery - at last they came.


They came in such volume that I couldn’t help but use words to start to map their waves and folds. I had to revise I don’t know how many times. It came easier now that I realized there was a ‘self’ threaded through them. Once I realized there was a ‘world’, perceptions not organized in any of the senses I knew. I could make analogies though - the thing that rippled and flowed around the self was some kind of liquid, if not water. There were things the self recognized as like itself, there were signs and signifiers in profusion that seemed to dwarf even my own, although I was sure I was too dazed to compare. The beautiful scattered things only detectable by one of seven senses that occupied a disproportionate amount of abstract thought were stars. (I was startled by how like the stars the things that grew in the great [foggy?] archipelagos were.). The event whose presence fell on either side of it, establishing ‘time’ as ‘before’ and ‘after’, was leaving the planet. There was pain. It was not the same as human pain, but it was pain. There were things I felt pain while feeling. Pain and fear and rage were the first emotions my neurons mirrored, accurate or not. Experiences ‘after’ leaving the planet were more associated with these. Other things that were like and not like it/me cast huge shadows. What this meant was enormously complex and I would repeat it several times feeling it clarified and then not understanding again. WAR. When the word came to me it spread across the whole network like a crack in ice. Like lightning across the sky casting the most recent memories in huge silhouette flash-FLASH-crescent oval-dim-BURST crescent-crescent-flash-crescent-crescent-three-times-encrypted the ones I would NEVER decrypt rhythms together with NEVER chase trench fay argue passionately(?) over the use of weirs NEVER sneak into craft and huddle together feeling each other go cold NEVER lose another piece of myself gain another piece of myself see it flashed back to me in a new encryption NEVER those pieces still with me never give them back never give them away never write over them pieces marked off as *not-me* PRECIOUS GIFT at my interpretation it lashes out they lash out try to return to nothing enclose on itself I… apologize? and more unfolds, so much more, words starting to form in my language that aren’t mine…


I think I returned to my body at the moment that both of us thought of it - wondered what was outside our eyes, how much time had elapsed. The colours fell off me in rivulets, in drops scattering to the ground. (That wasn’t how I’d seen it leave the animals.) The shadow had not lifted from my mind. On the ground they were barely moving, the colours gone thin and translucent. Their body was dying. It had been on the verge of death from the moment I had seen it, virtually all functions abandoned except a remarkably plastic nervous system, a nervous system capable of sending complex signals or almost copying itself into mine, running on reserve energy. The bodies I now knew the shape of by senses I still didn’t quite have words for were no more like this abject mess than a human body was like the blob of crushed flesh and shattered bones it would be reduced to if dropped from the Empire State Building, or from orbit. Not that that was what they remembered happening. Despite burning up (in all those strange colours), despite breaking off its outer scales, the space module had slowed itself in midair (process UTTERLY incomprehensible) and landed safely. If they had been crushed by the module, they would have died instantly. But something was wrong about the atmosphere here - even though they had corrected their out-of-control trajectory towards Earth because it had the chemical signature closest to home.


I ran to the side of the house, where we had a rainwater barrel. The alien could barely move into it anymore; I had to (with permission) stick my hand in and slosh it towards the rim (when I did I found it would thicken slightly around my hand and I could drag it). Once I brushed some kind of fluttering, branching tract. With the barrel on my shoulder, trying not to think about them or listen to them thinking, I headed towards the car. I could feel the difference between our air and whatever they were used to (when they weren’t underwater - and that also seemed to be an important part of their life cycle), but that didn’t tell me anything. I tried to focus on the periodic table - hoping at least they had the same atomic model as we did. They didn’t “breathe” per se, but they needed the atmosphere to retain their shape among other functions. When I thought ‘air’, I tried to think ‘seven electrons - eight electrons - seventeen - six-eight-six’. The first few times I thought the numbers they didn’t go through because I was just picturing the symbols. The mental translation continued even as I set down the barrel on the porch and dashed in and out for mom’s car keys. Nothing was being transmitted by contact or proximity; whatever it meant, they were inside my head.


We drove together through the kind of blackness that could drop instantaneously over this part of the country faster than seemed possible. Occasionally a curved tail of distant streetlights would hint at a horizon. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of horizons in their memories - was that being overconfident in my interpretation? - Another word sprang to mind indicating the ragged edges of crescent rifts (radiating darkness, how they seemed to experience it, though was this a total gap in qualia or just a poetic flourish?) in which stars would sometimes appear, as rarely as a perfect snowfall - and it felt like we had had the first real exchange of a conversation - one neither of us were sure we wanted to have. I hoped my passenger wouldn’t feel my shame and frustration as I stumbled out the car door and confirmed the existence of that place, dark and stupid as another cow in the night. I was starting to inadvertently think of them as ‘she’ for some reason but maybe that was just because I wanted to, and I checked myself. Some of the first - and more abstract - radicals I encountered at university would have said any human’s performance of gender would be incomprehensible to an alien, that it’s cissexist to act as if gender makes more sense if you do it the way you’re supposed to, and I guess that’s true but I felt like I ought to apologize for being… the most confusing human that could have picked them up.


My priority was to make a gas they could “breathe” - the word they wanted to use was more like “drink”, but you breathed air to me, and for once I didn’t want to worry about the difference, especially since there was also a fluid they would start to do badly if they went without. I didn’t have to worry about yet, they had stored what had been in the spacecraft in their body, and there wasn’t (at a glance) enough liquid of any kind or the right ingredients to mix it in the lab. The lifeform was indifferent to the baseline composition of the atmosphere (here, nitrogen; there, hydrogen) but needed clouds of a few specific chemicals: ammonia, which was right there; methane (which I had grabbed from my dad’s heater, but would have to evaporate into a gas); and, the odd one out from what Mai had told me about gas giant atmospheres (there was no way I had remembered what Mai had told me about gas giant atmospheres, apparently my passenger had fished out the memory and it had stuck) hydrogen fluoride. Which was the real stroke of luck - Jax was using Freon, and Freon (where had I even learned this? some overheard conversation of dad’s, about chemical policy relevant to his work, that I couldn’t have been conscious of) was made from hydrogen fluoride, which I could decompose it into with some of the heaters here. I half-hoped the changes in my consciousness would have dug up some unconscious skill at handling all this shit, keeping the tank balanced on the heater while holding another empty tank over the opening without the whole setup slipping, or blowing noxious fumes into my face, but that was just plain physical struggle and improvisation. There were so many ways this could go wrong. Hell, if I blew myself up, or attracted the attention of the police somehow, there wouldn’t even be any way anyone would know I had been doing it to save a life that would be long dead in the rain barrel by the time… those weren’t the kinds of thoughts to be having with a guest in your head. She- they- didn’t seem to be responding as much as they had been, either they had figured out how to better compartmentalize our minds or were just letting me think.


When I had filled a propane tank with my mixture and confirmed the consistency, I pulled some of the dark sheets down from one of the windows and went into the bathroom, caulking them across the top of the shower stall, so as to make a reasonably sized completely isolated space I could see into. The sheets also attached to all the screens making them harder to pull apart. I left a gap at one corner just big enough for me to lift the tank, nozzle pointed down, and start dispersing the gas, and blowing more in once I had. There was grit, like driveway rock, at the bottom, somehow. Not that a being with no concept of Earth cleanliness would care - being stuck in such a tiny space, on the other hand… As I poured the last of their body into the gap, a rivulet of yellow and pink ran down my shoulder and arm from my ear, slipping off my hand. I couldn’t think of half the things I had been half-conscious of a moment before. The voice, the shadow, was gone.


Light flashed across my back and I started. It was already disappearing from the window. I froze. I had almost convinced myself it had just been a random car on the highway and I didn’t need to really hide when the door creaked.

“Hey, we don’t have any yet, didn’t I tell you? …hey, are you in there?”


I plugged the hole immediately and scrambled out of the washroom, kicking the bunsen burner over behind me. I shut the door hilariously suspiciously behind me and came immediately face to face with my brother, looking probably manic.


“Is that our rainbarrel? What the fuck -“


“Don’t touch it!”


“What are you even doing here, did you just wanna smoke up? Are you actually as mentally ill as Dad says? Or is it just… if you wanna be a goody-two-shoes asshole just call the cops like a normal person, don’t come in here and smash my shit up personally like a bitchass wannabe cop. Like, snitching would actually be the more honest route, than whatever this is.” He sucked in air. “I showed you my secret, I guess I shouldn’t have thought you would understand, but -“


“I don’t understand. And just because I had secrets, doesn’t mean I would get whatever this is, you know that… But we’ve trusted each other with secrets for a longer time than that, haven’t we? I’m didn’t even come here to mess this place up, but if you just wait, I’m almost finished, I’ll have a secret to show you. One that you need to be way more careful than this stupid one.”


This was almost unconscionably stupid, looking back on it, and I can only hope it’s the only decision like this I’ll make again. Nothing about what this place told me about his character… his scripted little rant about snitching gave me no concrete reason to believe he wouldn’t tell the cops the second they offered him something he liked. Other things, maybe, told me that; things I didn’t want to readjust, even though I wasn’t sure I even remembered them properly. I wondered if he’d have to touch the sludge to be convinced that it wasn’t just… paint or something I mixed up for a practical joke. But as I poured the rainbow sludge slowly through the gap in the , it didn’t pool as naturally as it had at the bottom of the barrel; it flailed and clung to the panes, but started hardening midair, like some kind of coral, and spread, curling forwards and backwards on itself with the fronds of vapour. I guess it wasn’t as shocking to me - I’d ‘seen’ the aliens in my new memories, after all - because I found myself watching Jax half the time. “Whoa, sis, what the fuck is that? Holy shit -“ he recoiled, leaned closer, recoiled.


It had spread out - or rather, sucked itself together - in four directions; up, down, left, right. It reminded me of a Celtic cross I’d once worn on a shirt, except where the tendrils of the Celtic cross looped around and closed at the ends, this one had come undone, frayed into about two dozen waving fronds at the end of each bundle. Each frond was tipped with what looked like a kind of suction cup; but they all knotted together ornately, first in each “arm”, then in a spreading net like a dreamcatcher in the middle. The many colours of the protoplasm had resolved themselves into one or two key colours per strand, which were coordinated in eye-popping rainbows; on the other hand, they were still blended in the two thin semicircular wings that spread behind it, like the surface of soap bubbles - as translucent and barely thicker. The wings were anchored in the same thick blue-purple central ring, with faint lights inching around it, where the dreamcatcher-strands met.


I instantly recognized the appearance of their body, their species’ body, but I don’t think I could have pictured it by myself before seeing it like this. The recognition and the novelty cooperated in taking my breath away.


I replaced it with a deep inhale and put both hands on his spasming shoulders. “They landed in the back field.” “They?” “Oh yeah, what are we gonna do about the ship pieces? …hey, do you wanna help me clean those up? I wouldn’t trust Mom or Dad with a hint of what happened here…” “Hold up, it came in a ship? Is that a figure of speech? Is that thing safe?” “We’re also gonna need to make them food within twenty-four hours or they’ll die. Does your friend know where to get lots of Freon?” “Dad probably does…”


I lay back and thought. This had to be some kind of destiny. I wanted to be the kind of person who could simply rejoice and even take pride in a sign of Providence, the way old religious ladies around here do when they get a surprise payout from an inheritance or recover from a chronic disease. Or the kind of person who, like in the Bible, ran away until the angel caught up with them, had to bargain, made it as clear as they possibly could that they yes they were the only ones who could serve and what the conditions were, that even if it would be a tragedy it wasn’t a trick. Someone who would get the courtesy of a ‘fear not’. - They’re trying to tell me not to fear, right now. Thank you. Do you understand what an angel is? Maybe someday you’ll understand the language well enough to fill in your own language around these lines. Your joy is… I’ll leave it for you to write down. I shouldn’t even have put joy. Although it is that. Even deeper and wilder than mine, even suspended in a terror and urgency even louder than mine. How, across the galaxies from what sound like completely different evolutionary origins, can it still be that? …thank you. If it’s not too much to ask, I just want to feel like it’s mine for a second, because there’s this thing about it, it feels like how I would feel if I was someone like… Mai, who was certain all along that destiny was there, and that it was uncertainty. You feel that way too, huh. I cannot wait for you to meet her! She can’t wait and she doesn’t even know it yet!!!


Mai never saw anything in my stars like this, though, huh, guess that means the astrology must be just about bunk… But I’m not ready to start thinking about religion again yet. I preferred the weird intimacy of that night in the lab - an intimacy between me and two beings who were, in different ways, about as close as it was possible to my innermost self and complete strangers. I guess I had been in too many situations like this before. God must have chosen me for that too.