Enyo meditated at mealtimes within the internod, huffing liquor vapors from a dead comrade’s shattered skull. This deep within the satellite, ostensibly safe beneath the puckered skein of the peridium, she went over the lists of the dead.
She recited her own name first.
Enyo’s memory was a severed ocular scelera; leaking aqueous humor, slowing losing shape as the satellite she commanded spun back to the beginning. The cargo she carried was unknown to her, a vital piece of knowledge that had escaped the punctured flesh of her memory.
She had named the ship after herself—Enyo-Enyo—without any hint of irony. The idea that Enyo had any irony left was a riotous laugh even without knowing the satellite’s moniker, and her Second, Reeb, amused himself often at her shattering attempt at humor.
After the purging of every crew, Reeb came into Enyo’s pulpy green quarters, his long face set in a black, graven expression she had come to call winter, for it came as often as she remembered that season in her childhood.
“Why don’t we finish out this turn alone?” he would say. “We can manage the internod ourselves. Besides, they don’t make engineers the way they did eight turns ago.”
“There’s the matter of the prisoner,” she would say.
And he would throw up his dark, scarred hands and sigh and say, “Yes, there’s the prisoner.”
It was Enyo’s duty, her vocation, her obsession, to tread down the tongue of the spiraling umbilicus from the internod to the holding pod rotation of the satellite, to tend to the prisoner.
Each time, she greeted the semblance of a body suspended in viscous green fluid with the same incurious moue she had seen Justice wear in propaganda posters during the war. Some part of her wondered if the body would recognize it. If they could talk of those times. But who knew how many turns old it was? Who knew how many other wars it had seen? On a large enough scale, her war was nothing. A few million dead. A system destroyed.
The body’s eyes were always closed, its sex indeterminate, its face a morass of dark, thread-like tentacles and fleshy growths. Most sessions, she merely came down and unlocked the feed cabinet, filled a clean syringe with dark fluid, and inserted it into the black fungal sucker fused to the transparent cell. Sometimes, when the body absorbed the fluid, it would writhe and twist, lost in the ecstasy of fulfillment.
Enyo usually went straight back to the internod to recite her lists of dead, after. But she had been known to linger, to sit at the flat, gurgling drive that kept her charge in permanent stasis.
She had stopped wondering where the body had come from, or who it had been. Her interest was in pondering what it would become when they reached its destination. She lost track of time in these intimate reveries, often. After half a rotation of contemplation, Reeb would do a sweep of the satellite. He would find her alive and intact, and perhaps he would go back to playing screes or fucking one of the engineers or concocting a vile hallucinogen the gelatinous consistency of aloe. They were a pair of two, a crew of three, picking up rim trash and mutilated memories in the seams between the stars during the long night of their orbit around the galactic core.
When they neared the scrap belt called Stile, Enyo was mildly surprised to see the collection of spinning habited asteroids virtually unchanged from the turn before.
“It’s time,” she told Reeb. “Without more fuel, we won’t make it the full turn.” And she would not be able to drop off the prisoner.
He gave her his winter look. She had left the last of his engineers on a paltry rock the color of foam some time before. He did not know why they needed the crew now; he did not have her sense of things, of the way time moved here. But he would be lonely. It’s why he always agreed to take on another crew, even knowing their fate.
“How many more?” he said.
“This is the last turn,” she said. “Then we are finished.”
She let Reeb pick the new crew. He launched a self-propelled spore from the outernod well ahead of their arrival on the outskirts of Stile. The dusty ring of settlements within the asteroid belt circled a bloated, dying star. Had it been dying the last time they passed? Enyo could not remember.
Reeb’s sister worked among the debris, digging through old spores and satellites, piecing together their innards, selling them as pirated vessels imbued with the spirit of cheap colonial grit.
Enyo had not seen Reeb’s sister in many turns, when speaking of the war, of genocide—in terms outside the propagandic—was still new and unsettling and got them thrown out of establishments. Broodbreeders and creep cleaners called them void people, diseased, marked for a dry asphyxiation aboard a viral satellite, drifting ever aimless across limitless space. They were not far wrong. Sometimes Enyo wondered if they really knew who she was.
She heard Reeb’s sister slide up the umbilicus into the internod. Heard her hesitate on the threshold, the lubrication of the umbilicus slick on her skin.
“This your satellite?” Reeb’s sister asked.
Enyo had expected to feel nothing at her voice, but like the body in the tank, she was sometimes surprised at what was fed to her. Something in her flared, and darkened, and died. It was this snapshot of Reeb’s sister that she always hoped was the true one. The real one. But she knew better.
She swiveled. Reeb’s sister did not take up the tubal port as Reeb did, but inhabited it in the loose way the woman inhabited all spaces, wrapping it around herself like a shroud, blurring the edges of her surrounds—or perhaps Enyo’s eyes were simply going bad again. The satellite changed them out every quarter turn. The woman had once had the body of a dancer, but like all of them, she had atrophied, and though she was naturally thin, it was a thinness borne of hunger and muscle loss. Her eyes were black as Reeb’s, but their color was the only feature they shared. She was violet black to Reeb’s tawny brown, slight in the hips and shoulders, delicate in the wrists and ankles, light enough, perhaps, to fly.
“Reeb says you need a sentient spore specialist,” the woman said.
“Yes, we have one last pickup. I need you to aid in monitoring our spore for the drop. I’m afraid if you do not, the prisoner may escape.”
Enyo had forgotten. This woman had not met them yet. She did not know. Something inside of Enyo stirred, something dark and willfully forgotten, like a bad sexual encounter.
“Where are the others?” Enyo asked.
“Aren’t you going to ask my name?”
“I already know it,” Enyo said.
The day Reeb’s sister was born, Enyo had named her “Dysnomia.” She had cursed all three of them that day, and perhaps the universe, too. One could never be quite certain.
Nothing had ever been the same after that.
Because she could not go back. Only around.
The sound of the machines was deafening. Enyo stood ankle-deep in peridium salve and organic sludge. Ahead of her, Reeb was screaming. High pitched, squealing, like some broodmeat. But she could not see him.
Then the siren started. A deep-seated, body-thumping wail that cut deep into her belly. Now we turn, she thought. This is a very old snapshot.
Ahead of her, a few paces down the dripping corridor, Dax battered her small body against the ancient orbital entryway. Her tears mixed with sweat and grease and something far more dangerous, deceptive. Grew florets spiraled up the bare skin of her arms from wrist to elbow.
Enyo raised the fist of her weapon and called the girl back, “Don’t go down there! Not there! The colonists are this way.”
“I’m not leaving them!” Dax sobbed. Her white teeth looked brilliant in the darkness. What animal had she harvested them from? “I know what you did! I know you started this. You set this all in motion.”
Enyo admitted that she had not expected it would be Dax who went back. Her memories were not always trustworthy.
The satellite took a snapshot.
Reeb’s tastes were predictable in their disparity. He brought up his new crew to meet with Enyo in the internod. The first: a pale, freckled girl of a pilot whose yellow hair was startling in the ambient green glow of the dermal tissue of the room. Enyo could not remember the last time she’d seen yellow hair. The war, maybe. The girl carried no weapons, but her hands were lean and supple, and reminded Enyo of Reeb’s hands when he was in his sixties: strong, deft, capable. Not what he was now, no, but what he would become.
The other crewmember was a mercenary: a tall, long-limbed woman as dark as the girl was light. Her head was shaved bald. She wore a silver circlet above her ears, and half of her left ear was missing. She carried a charged weapon at either hip, and a converted organic slaying stick across her back. She smelled of blood and metal.
“Do they have names?” Enyo asked Reeb.
“Dax Alhamin,” the little pilot said, holding out her hand. It was a rude affectation picked up by many of the young, to touch when first meeting. They did not remember how the war had started, with a nit-infected warmonger who murdered superpod after superpod of colonists with a single kiss. Or perhaps they had simply forgotten. Enyo was never sure what side of the curtain she was on. The satellite distorted the universe at its leisure, often at her expense.
The other one, the mercenary, laughed at the open hand the girl proffered and said, “I’m Arso Tohl. I heard you have cargo that needs . . . liberating.”
Dax pulled her hand back in. She was smiling broadly. Her teeth were too white to be real. Even if she was the twenty years she looked, no real person had teeth like that—not even a rim world god. Not even a warmonger.
“It’s necessary,” Enyo said. “We need to get back to the beginning.”
“The beginning?” Dax said. “Where did you come from?”
“It doesn’t matter where we came from,” Reeb said. “Nor where we’re going. That’s not how a satellite like this works.”
“I think I’ve heard of this satellite,” Arso said. “Some prototype from the Sol system, isn’t it? You’re a long way from home. You were already old news when I was growing up.”
Enyo closed her eyes. She ran through her litany of dead. At the end, she added two new names:
Arso Tohl and Dax Alhamin.
She opened her eyes. “Let’s tell them how it works, Reeb,” she said.
“Enyo-Enyo makes her own fate,” Reeb said. “Her fate is ours, too. We can alter that fate, but only if we act quickly. Enyo guides that fate. Now you’re part of it.”
Arso snorted. “If that’s so, you better hope this woman makes good decisions, then, huh?”
Reeb shrugged. “I gave up on hoping that many cycles ago.”
“All that we are is sacrifice,” Enyo’s first squad captain told her. “Sacrifice to our countries. To our children. To ourselves. Our futures. We cannot hope to aspire to be more than that.”
“But what if I am more than that?” Enyo said. Even then, she was arrogant. Too arrogant to let a slight go uncommented upon.
Her squad captain smiled; a bitter rictus, shiny metal teeth embedded in a slick green jaw grown just for her. The skin grafting hadn’t taken. Enyo suspected it was because the captain forgot the daily applications of salve. People would take her more seriously, with a jaw like that.
“I know what you did, Enyo,” her squad captain said. “I know who you are. This is how we met out justice on the Venta Vera arm, to war criminals.”
The captain shot her. It was the first time Enyo died.
As Enyo gazed up from the cold, slimy floor of the carrier, her blood steaming in the alien air, her captain leaned over her. The metal teeth clicked. Close enough to kiss.
The squad commander said, “That is how much a body is worth. One makes no more difference than any other. Even the body of the woman who started the war.”
As her life bled out, Enyo’s heart stopped. But not before Enyo reached up and ate half her captain’s spongy artificial jaw.
Enyo secured her comrade’s skull in the jellied dampener beside her. All around her, the spore trembled and surged against its restraints. Reeb had created it just an hour before and clocked in the elliptical path it must take to get them to the rocky little exoplanet where the cargo waited. The spore was ravenous and anxious. Dysmonia already lay immersed at the far end of the spore. She looked terribly peaceful.
Dax eased herself back into her own jellied dampener. Torso submerged, she remained sitting up a moment longer, cool eyes wide and finally, for the first time, fearful.
“Whose skull is that?” Dax asked.
Enyo patted the dampener. “Yours,” she said.
Dax snorted. “You’re so mad.”
“Yes,” Enyo said.
Arso pushed through the still-slimy exterior of the spore and into the core where they sat. She spit a glob of the exterior mush onto the floor, which absorbed it hungrily.
“You sure there’s no one on that rock?” Arso said.
“Just the abandoned colonists,” Reeb murmured from the internod. The vibrations tickled Enyo’s ears. The tiny, threadlike strands tucked in their ear canals were linked for as long as the living tissue could survive on their blood.
“It was simply bad timing on their part,” Reeb said. “The forming project that would have made Tuatara habitable was suspended when they were just a few rotations away. They were abandoned. No one to welcome them.”
“No one but us,” Enyo said, and patted the skull beside her. For a long moment, she thought to eat it. But there would be time for that later.
“Filthy business,” Arso said.
Enyo unloaded the green fist of her weapon from the gilled compartment above her. It molded itself neatly to her arm, a glittering green sheath of death.
“You have no idea,” Enyo said.
Enyo screamed and screamed, but the baby would not come. The rimwarder “midwife” she’d hired was young, prone to madness. The girl burst from the closet Enyo called home three hours into the birthing. Now Enyo lay in a bed soaked with her own perspiration and filth. The air was hot, humid. Above her screams, she heard the distant sound of people working in the ventilation tube.
So it was Enyo who took her own hand. Who calmed her own nerves, who coached her own belabored breath. Enyo. Just Enyo. Why was it always the same, every turn? Why was she always alone, in this moment, but never the others?
She pushed. She screamed herself hoarse. Her body seemed to tear in two. Somewhere far away, in some other life, in some other snapshot, she was dimly aware of this moment, as if it were happening to some character in an opera.
The death dealers banged on the door and then melted it open. They saw she was simply birthing a child alone . . . so they left her. Sealed the room behind her. Like most rim filth, they hoped she would die there in childbed and spare them the trouble. They could come back and collect her dead flesh for resale later.
Enyo grit her teeth and pushed.
The baby came. One moment, just Enyo. The next . . . a squalling, writhing mass no more sentient in that moment than a programmable replicator, but hers nonetheless. A tawny brown child with her own black eyes.
“Reeb,” she said.
She reached toward him. Her whole body trembled.
The second child was smaller, too thin. This was the one she would give away. The one who would pay her way to the stars.
This one she called Dysmonia.
Enyo voided the body for delivery. Capped all the tubes. A full turn about the galaxy in transit for a single delivery. A single body. Back to the beginning. How many times she had done this, she wasn’t certain. The satellite, Enyo-Enyo, revealed nothing. Only told her when it was hungry. And when it was time to station itself, once again, on its place of origin.
She pushed the body’s pod over and it floated beside her, light as a moth’s wing. She placed her fingers on top of the pod and guided it down into the cargo bay. The body stirred gently.
The interior of Enyo-Enyo was mostly dark. Motionless. Not a sound. They were the last of the living on Enyo-Enyo, this turn. They usually were. The satellite was hungry. Always so hungry. Like the war.
At the airlock, she stopped to bundle up. Stiff boots, gloves, parka, respirator. The air here was breathable, Enyo-Enyo told her, but thin and toxic if exposed for long periods. She queued up the first phase of the release and waited for pressurization.
The vibrating door became transparent; blistering white light pushed away the darkness of the interior.
Ahead of her: a snow swept platform. In the distance, a cavernous ruin of a mountain pockmarked with old munitions scars. A sea of frozen fog stretched from the platform to the mountain. As she watched, a thin, webbed bridge materialized between the mountain and the platform.
She waited. She had waited a full turn around the galaxy to come back here, to Eris. She could wait a couple terrestrial turns more.
The moisture of her breath began to freeze on the outer edges of her respirator. It reminded her of the first time she had come here to Eris.
Bodies littered the field, and Enyo moved among them, cloaked in clouds of blood-rain. The nits she had infected herself with collected the blood spilled around her and created a shimmering vortex of effluvia that, in turn, devoured all it touched.
“You must not fight her,” the field commander shrieked, and Enyo knew some of the fear came from the waves of methane melting all around them as the frozen surface of Eris convulsed. “You must not stop her. She is small now. You must leave her alone, and she will stay small. If you fight her she will swell in size and grow large. She will be unstoppable.”
But they fought her. They always fought her.
When she took the field, she flayed them of their fleshy spray-on suits and left them to freeze solid before they could asphyxiate, flailing in sublime methane.
There had to be sacrifices.
As she stood over the field commander, making long rents in her suit, the commander said, “If it’s a war your people want, it’s a war they’ll get.”
When it was over, Enyo gazed up at the thorny silhouette of the colonial superpod that the squad had tried to protect. Most of the Sol colonists started from here, on Eris. She would need the superpod, later, or she could never be here, now. Sometimes one had to start a war just to survive to the next turn.
Enyo crawled up into the sickening tissue of the superpod. She found the cortex without much trouble. The complicated bits of genetic code that went into programming the superpod should have been beyond her, but she had ingested coordinates from her squad commander’s jaw, during some long-distant snapshot of her life that the satellite had created. Now the coordinates were a part of her, like her fingernails or eyelashes.
She kissed the cortex, and programmed the ship’s destination.
Reeb worked on one of the harvester ships that circled the Rim every four cycles. Enyo was twenty, and he was eighty-two, he said. He said he had met her before. She said she didn’t remember, but that was a lie. What she wanted to say was, “I remember giving birth to you,” but that, too, was a lie. The difference between memory and premonition depended largely on where one was standing. At twenty, on the Mushta Mura arm, her “memories” were merely ghosts, visions, brain effluvia.
When she fucked Reeb in her twenty-year-old skin, it was with the urgency of a woman who understood time. Understood that there was never enough of it. Understood that this moment, now, was all of it. The end and the beginning. Distorted.
She said his name when she came. Said his name and wept for some nameless reason; some premonition, some memory. Wept for what it all had been and would become.
“The satellite is a prototype,” the recruiter said. The emblem on her uniform looked familiar. A double red circle shot through with a blue dart.
They walked along a broad, transparent corridor that gave them a sweeping view of the marbled surface of Eris. Centuries of sculpting had done little to improve its features, though the burning brand in the sky that had once been its moon, Dysmonia, made the surface a bearable -20 degrees Celsius during what passed for summer, and unaided breathing was often possible, if not always recommended. The methane seas had long since been tapped, leaving behind a stark, mottled surface of rocky protuberances shot through with the heads of methane wells. Beyond the domed spokes of the research hub’s many arms, the only living thing out there was the hulking mop of the satellite. Enyo thought it looked like a spiky, pulsing crustacean.
“A prototype of what, exactly?” she asked. Her debriefing on Io had been remarkably . . . brief.
“There’s much to know about it,” the recruiter said. “We won’t send you out until you’ve bonded with it, of course. That’s our worry. That it won’t take. But . . . there is an indication that you and the satellite are genetically and temperamentally matched. It’s quite fortunate.”
Enyo wasn’t sure she believed in fortune or coincidence, but the job paid well, and it was only a matter of time before people found out who she was. The satellite offered escape. Redemption. “Sure, but what is it?”
“A self-repairing—and self-replicating, if need be—vehicle for exploring the galactic rim. It will take snapshots—exact replicas—of specified quadrants as you pass, and store them aboard for future generations to act out. Most of that is automated, but it will need a . . . companion. We have had some unfortunate incidents of madness, when constructs like these are cast off alone. It’s been grown from . . . well, from some of the most interesting organic specimens we’ve found in our exploration of the near-systems.”
“It’s alien, then?”
“Partially. Some of it’s terrestrial. Just enough of it.”
“It’s illegal to go mixing alien stuff with ours, isn’t it?”
The recruiter smiled. “Not on Eris.”
“Why Eris? Why not Sedna, or a neighboring system?”
“The concentrated methane that will give you much of your initial inertia comes from Eris. The edge of the Sol system is close enough for us to gain access to local system resources at a low cost, but far enough away to . . . well, it’s far enough away to keep the rest of the system safe.”
“Safe from what?”
“There’s a danger, Enyo. A danger of what you could . . . bring back. Or perhaps . . . what you could become.”
Enyo regarded the spiky satellite. “You should have hired some techhead, then.” She was not afraid of the alien thing, not then, but the recruiter made her anxious. There was something very familiar about her teeth.
“You came highly recommended,” the recruiter said.
“You mean I’m highly expendable.”
They came to the end of the long spoke, and stepped into the transparent bubble of the airlock that sat outside the pulsing satellite.
“The war is over,” the recruiter said, “but there were many casualties. We make do with what we have.”
“It’s breathing, isn’t it?” Enyo said.
“Methane, mostly,” the recruiter said.
“And out there?”
“It goes into hibernation. It will need less. But our initial probes along the galactic rim have indicated that methane is as abundant there as here. We’ll go into more detail on the mechanics of its care and feeding.”
“Feeding?” Enyo said.
“Oh yes,” the recruiter said. She pressed her dark hand to the transparent screen. Her eyes were big, the pupils too large, like all the techs who had grown up on Eris. “You’ll need to feed it. At least a few hundred kilos of organic matter a turn.”
Enyo gazed up at the hulk of the thing. “And where exactly am I going to get organic matter as we orbit the far arms of the galaxy?”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” the recruiter said. She withdrew her hand, and flashed her teeth again. “We chose you because we knew you could make those kinds of decisions without regret. The way you did during the war. And long before it.”
Enyo sliced open the slick surface of the superpod with her weapon. There was no rush of Tuataran atmosphere, no crumpling or wrinkling about the wound. No, the peridium had already been breached somewhere else. Arso and Dax hung back, bickering over some slight. Enyo wondered if they had known one another before Reeb picked them up. They had, hadn’t they? The way she had known Arso. The snapshot of Arso. Some other life. Some other decision.
Inside, the superpod’s bioluminescent tubal corridors still glowed a faint blue-green, just enough light for Enyo to avoid stepping on the wizened body of some unfortunate maintenance officer.
“Don’t you need direction?” Reeb tickled her ear. But she already knew where the colonists were. She knew because she had placed them there herself, turns and turns ago.
Enyo crawled up through the sticky corridors, cutting through pressurized areas of the superpod, going around others. Finally, she reached the coded spiral of the safe room that held the colonists. She gestured to Arso.
“Open it,” she said.
Arso snorted. “It’s a coded door.”
“Yes. It’s coded for you. Open it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s why you’re here. Open it.”
Enyo lifted her weapon. “Should Enyo make you?”
Arso held up her hands. “Fine. No harm. Fucking dizzy core you’ve got, woman.”
Arso placed her hand against the slimy doorway. The coating on the door fused with her spray-on suit. Pressurized. Enyo heard the soft intake of Arso’s breath as the outer seal of the safe room tasted her blood.
The door went transparent.
Arso yanked away her hand.
Enyo walked through the transparent film and into the pressurized safe room. Ring after ring of personal pods lined the room, suffused in a blue glow. Hundreds? Thousands.
She glanced back at Dax. Both she and Arso were surveying the cargo. Dax’s little mouth was open. Enyo realized who she reminded her of, then. The recruiter. The one with the teeth.
Enyo shot them both. They died quickly, without comment.
Then she walked to the first pod she saw. She tore away the head of her own suit and tossed it to the floor. She peered into the colonist’s puckered face, and she thought of the prisoner.
Enyo bit the umbilicus that linked the pod to the main life system, the same core system responsible for renewing and replenishing the fluids that sustained these hibernating bodies.
The virus in her saliva infected the umbilicus. In a few hours, everything in here would be liquid jelly. Easily digestible for a satellite seeking to make its last turn.
As Reeb cursed in her ear, she walked the long line of pods, back and back and back, until she found two familiar names. Arso Tohl. Dax Alhamin. Their pods were side by side. Their faces perfectly pinched. Dax looked younger, and perhaps she was, in this snapshot. Arso was still formidable. Enyo pressed her fingers to the transparent face of the pod. She wanted to kiss them. But they would be dead of her kiss soon enough.
Dead for a second time. Or perhaps a fifth, a fiftieth, a five hundredth. She didn’t know. She didn’t want to know.
It’s why she piloted Enyo-Enyo.
The woman waiting on the other side of the icy bridge was not one Enyo recognized, which did not happen often. As she guided the prisoner’s pod to the woman’s feet, she wondered how long it had been, this turn. How long since the last?
“What do you have for us?” the woman asked.
“Eris is very different,” Enyo said.
The woman turned her soft brown face to the sky and frowned. “I suppose it must seem that way to you. It’s been like this for centuries.”
“No more methane?”
“Those wells went dry five hundred years ago.” The woman knit her brows. “You were around this way long before that happened. You must remember Eris like this.”
“Was I? I must have forgotten.”
“So what is it this time?” the woman said. “We’re siphoning off the satellite’s snapshots now.”
“I brought you the prisoner,” Enyo said.
“The prisoner,” Enyo said, because as she patted the prisoner’s pod something in her memory ruptured. There was something important she knew. “The prisoner who started the war.”
“What war?” the woman said.
“The war,” Enyo said.
The woman wiped away the snow on the face of the pod, and frowned. “Is this some kind of joke?” she said.
“I brought her back,” Enyo said.
The woman jabbed Enyo in the chest. “Get back in the fucking satellite,” she said. “And do your fucking job.”
Back to the beginning. Around and around.
Enyo wasn’t sure how it happened, the first time. She was standing outside the escape pod, a bulbous, nasty little thing that made up the core of the internode. It seemed an odd place for it. Why put the escape pod at the center of the satellite? But that’s where the thing decided to grow it. And so that’s where it was.
She stood there as the satellite took its first snapshot of the quadrant they moved through. And something . . . shifted. Some core part of her. That’s when the memories started. The memories of the other pieces. The snapshots.
That’s when she realized what Enyo-Enyo really was.
Enyo stepped up into the escape pod. She sealed it shut. Her breathing was heavy. She closed her eyes. She had to go home, now, before it broke her into more pieces. Before it reminded her of what she was. War criminal. Flesh dealer. Monster.
As she sealed the escape pod and began drowning in life-sustaining fluid, she realized it was not meant for her escape. Enyo-Enyo had placed it there for another purpose.
The satellite took a snapshot.
And there, on the other side of the fluid-filled pod, she saw her own face.
The squalling children were imperfect, like Enyo. She had already sold Reeb to some infertile young diplomatic aid’s broker in the flesh pits for a paltry sum. It was not enough to get her off the shit asteroid at the ass end of the Mushta Mura arm. She would die out here of some green plague, some white dust contagion. The death dealers would string her up and sell her parts. She’d be nothing. All this pain and anguish, for nothing.
Later, she could not recall how she found the place. Whispered rumors. A mangled transmission. She found herself walking into a chemically scrubbed medical office, like some place you’d go to have an industrial part grafted on for growing. The logo on the spiral of the door, and the coats of the staff, was a double circle shot through with a blue dart.
“I heard you’re not looking for eggs or embryos,” she said, and set Dysmonia’s swaddled little body on the counter.
The receptionist smiled. White, white teeth. He blinked, and a woman came up from the back. She was a tall brown-skinned woman with large hands and a grim face.
“I’m Arso Tohl,” the woman said. “Let’s have a look.”
They paid Enyo enough to leave not just the asteroid, but the Mushta Mura arm entirely. She fled with a hot bundle of currency instead of a squalling, temperamental child. When she entered the armed forces outside the Sol system, she did so because it was the furthest arm of the galaxy from her own. When a neighboring system paid her to start a war, she did so gladly.
She did not expect to see or hear from the butchers again.
Not until she saw the logo on the satellite recruiter’s uniform.
Enyo ate her fill of the jellified colonists and slogged back to the satellite to feed it, to feed Enyo-Enyo. Reeb’s annoying voice had grown silent. He always stopped protesting after the first dozen.
She found him sitting in the internode with the prisoner, his hands pressed against the base of the pod. His head was lowered.
“It was enough to make the next turn,” Enyo said.
“It always is,” he said.
“There will be other crews,” she said.
“Then why are you melancholy?” If she could see his face, it would be winter.
He raised his head. Stared at the semblance of a body floating in the viscous fluid. “I’m not really here, am I?”
“This turn? I don’t know. Sometimes you are. Sometimes you aren’t. It depends on how many snapshots Enyo-Enyo has taken this turn. And how she wants it all to turn out this time.”
“When did you put yourself in here?” He patted the prisoner’s pod.
“When things got too complicated to bear,” she said. “When I realized who Enyo-Enyo was.” She went to the slick feeding console. She vomited the condensed protein stew of the colonists into the receptacle. When it was over, she fell back, exhausted.
“Let’s play screes,” she said. “Before the next snapshot. We might be different people, then.”
“We can only hope,” Reeb said, and pulled his hands away from the prisoner.
© 2013 by Kameron Hurley.
Originally published in The Lowest Heaven,
edited by Anne C. Perry & Jared Shurin.
Reprinted by permission of the author.