Monday, October 3, 2011

Oktober the Third: Parasite

It's funny that when I try to write Sci-Fi too consciously, I stumble allover myself. When I'm not trying, it comes out naturally, surprising me.

Here's a bit that took me most of the day, aside from eating, etc. There's more I want to put in, but those chunks need to simmer awhile yet. Enjoy.

By Mari Kozlowski


Particles too small to see, too cold not to feel, sliding off him. The rain between the worlds. Cold kept at him, and he ignored it. He could ignore it for longer than it would last. He remembered being caught, the year it froze here. The melting had hurt more than the ice…


A pressure, warming, solid; smile of bright teeth between burgundy lips, opening to him. Petals of roses against his knuckles, soft movement in his hands as he pushed down and in. Roses climbing the side of a brown wall… memory was a blanket, a teddy bear, it kept his mind off the next phase.


Pressure increased. The pull beginning… his teeth sucking back into his jaw, pulled from inside their roots, eyeballs sore as they seemed to float away, his stomach walls flattening against each other— it should stop soon.

A grind of bones straining, muscles stretched, tendons railing as they began to snap…

It should stop soon. It should stop.

It didn’t. His tongue pulled out a thousand feet long. The pressure in his skull made him see red. It should stop soon, should have by now. His knees were undone, his arms groaned from their sockets.

Stop! His throat crunched, it cracked as he cried, breaking training. An involuntary response, a mistake. Don’t push! He gathered his mind as it crushed in on itself, grasping for the packaged calm he’d prepared for any emergency… it should stop, it would stop.


Drop. Cooler air. He was out.  
When he woke, he was almost immobilized on a bed, with a flat pillow underneath. It didn’t worry him, yet. It could be the effect of drugs; it could be lag from the long, difficult shift. Give it time to wear off. He let himself fall back to sleep.
Warmth surrounded him, large and soft, and dark. Must be night. Time to begin, to find where and how he’d landed. He hoped his eyes would adjust soon.

The scents were diffused— he couldn’t place them. Bitter saltiness, moist copper, a sweet edge of musk, the lush swampy touch of vanilla. They formed a single, rich aroma he couldn’t name but that wasn’t unfamiliar; a smell from far back. From life before the shifts. It wrapped around him like the blurred dark and stilled his fear. It should have been alarming, having his senses blunted so, the swathe of deep smells; but instead he was comforted. And grateful.

After a while, the urgent feeling crept back, but slowly. He could have lain there resting for ages longer but there was a job to do, wounds or no.

He tried to clench and unclench his hands. It helped hurt shifters make a controlled assessment of possible damage. He tried again, with more effort. Something was wrong— he felt small scratches against his face, but couldn’t feel his hands at all. As if there was no connection. With his feet, he tried again. And again. Nothing.

His scream in the last phase of the shift must have caused resistance. Just what they were always warned against. What the months of simulations were designed to prevent. A shifter’s panic could only make a tough shift worse, and he’d made that happen for himself. Now he’d pay.  

Time was a cold, treacherous place, a place of thorns and sinkholes. Those who dare to shift through it must learn to let themselves be carried on the currents, or be dashed on the spikes that reach for them, pulled into the waiting pockets.

The reasons for shifting are infinite. The way to shift safely is singular—  utter surrender of mind and body, an absence of any reaction. You cannot push past Time; you can only be sucked through it, whatever direction you start from.

There are myriad approaches to accomplish the surrender, different schools using different means. Shifters learn to insulate themselves through meditation or calming techniques, through various mental disciplines, physical training, and sometimes a finely calculated dosage of helpful drugs.

All methods used seek to achieve the same goal of mental, physical, emotional acceptance, for to resist is to break the stability of the shift. And then you are Time’s parasite, apt to be flushed out through the nearest available crack.

He’d been hurt bad, maybe paralyzed. If he could move, he had no apparent control over it. There was no pain, but a feeling of heaviness, weakness. As if his muscles had lost their firmed state and become so much gel. He tried once more to raise a limb, any limb, feeling panic creep in. The Last Contingency demanded an action: one specific twitch of one specific muscle unaffected by the shift under most circumstances. It was the safety catch, and he’d never needed to use it, never wanted to. Knowing that it might be inaccessible tangled up his mind, and he strove to contain the fear scattering over him. Relax, relax, relax, he willed.

And pain raced through his body, arcing up from his stomach and out. Hunger, a hunger that gripped with iron fingers, and he cried out, unable to stop. The sound was high, piercing. He was brushed by some flailing hand, automatically reached to slap it away and found it was his own. Murmured sounds sifted over him, along with the calming scent he couldn’t remember, and a strong arm curved under his head, lifting. The soft warmth of it soothed him, even amid the rage of his hunger.

And he knew.

The shift had stabilized by pocketing him in his own timeline. Vision still blurred, the weakness, all added up clear as air. No way but through, now.  

A movement near his mouth distracted his attention, a large dark mass pushing at him. Compelling him. He struggled to restrain the impulse ignited by the scent, the feel, the hunger— the impulse to go towards it. There was something to do first, and he strained his whole will to it, desperate, then felt the twinge as the hidden capsule broke and spread, swift as blood flows, erasing his awareness in layers.

The final thing he knew before The Last Contingency took effect was open-mouthed wonder at the beauty of total surrender.

 “He’s latching, Paul! He’s doing it!”

The woman looked down, tearful and relieved. Her husband's hand caressed the small cheek laid against her smooth brown breast.

“Of course he is. Anyone that hungry is going to eat what’s in front of them. My son’s a quick learner. You'll see.”  


JohnPainter said...

I will admit I didn't "get it" until I was about half-way through, at which point I genuinely laughed aloud. What a delicious (pun intended) twist on the genre!

heavy hedonist said...

That is thoroughly useful feedback-- thank you.