by Julie E. Czerneda
First published in When the Villain Comes Home
edited by Gabrielle Harbowy & Ed Greenwood
Dragon Moon Press 2012
Throughout the labyrinth of pods and corridor tendrils that was the Ship, strings hummed into
motion at the 3rd divide of the 4th cycle, pulling denizens to their assigned tasks, drawing others
home from their labours. The procession was orderly and swift, for denizens built well and with
forethought. Tails wrapped or claws did. Those with burdens took advantage of hooks. Like
commuters anywhere, some gossiped as they traveled while others buried their broad snouts in
readers or dozed.
The journey was a full 8th longer since the new pods had budded, ready to be coaxed into
useful structures, but no one complained. More housing was a now-urgent need. The oldest pods
were hollow, unlivable shells; the Ship would soon shed them. The denizen population, ever-growing, had been prepared, about to expand into the next cluster of freshly prepared and
furnished pods, but that was no longer possible.
Others lived there now. Others who found the pods to their taste, if not the strings
connecting them. He'd see some if he looked in what wasn't down, but was away and dark and
narrow, for the others traveled the corridor's machineway, clinging to conveyors and assemblers
and fabricators like bits of lint.
1055th Sanitation Engineer Tissop snapped his thumb over the decel string, releasing his
tail's curl around the corridor string with an instant's delay that spun his body towards the
waiting iris of his home. The flashy move gained him askance looks from those speeding past in
either direction, but they were ordinary denizens and unimportant.
The iris membrane let him through, absorbing his momentum so Tissop entered his home
with the calm dignity of someone now far from ordinary and exceedingly important.
To be greeted by floating green balls.
"Children! Catch dessert!" Raekl gave him an apologetic look as she herded their latest
litter in chase. "A good cycle, husband?"
Tissop dodged the leading edge of the swarm only to collide with the mass that followed.
His uniform, spotless through an entire shift, acquired blobs of sticky green goo.
"Sorry, father!" Rus, Ssu, and Spel bounced and tumbled through the air in pursuit with
the nonchalant grace of those raised in null-g, catching the errant food in open mouths; likely
their plan all along. They were, he thought with proud exasperation, too clever for anyone's
good. No leaving this set with a minder. They'd have the poor denizen tied up by his or her tail
and locked in a cupboard in moments.
Gravity would help, but that required a home within a pod's gentle rotation, not blistered
from a corridor. The Ship responded to such wounds with increased growth, so denizens took
their turn living like this. That didn't mean they enjoyed it. Denizens belonged where they could
use their pairs of strong legs and even stronger arms, where food could be lapped from proper
bowls instead of sucked from bulbs, where bathing could be a properly luxurious soak instead of
a process requiring a sack, scrub aerosols, and vacuum hose.
Soon, Tissop thought fervently. Soon.