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by Rhiannon Rasmussen
Interphase: the skin is struck hot and sharp and spills fluid and breath internal into void.
Fat punctured, nerves spasm. The side is aflame, clenched lungs afire, the body seizes and rolls
away from stellar light, turns eyes to darkness. Under skin the muscle will wither under the song
of stars. It is not the first impact but it is the worst, vision inside and outside blinded, spotted with
black pain. Skinplates wrench free as tendons contract around the wound, crush the invader,
swallows breath tight so no more life will spill out.
Arkaadi pulled himself through the ship's wreckage, hot metal scraping away the surface
scales of his emergency environmental suit. The impact klaxons rang in his ears though the
sound had stopped with the buckling of the hull. He was small enough to fit through the gap the
airlock had peeled open into. If the atmosphere burns, your only hope is outside--he knew that
much from drills and diagrams and the last words he'd heard before the suit sealed. Soot burned
his hair and scorched his fingertips, but the suit kept clean oxygen/nitrogen pumped into his
lungs. He couldn't even smell the fire.
"Papa? Mama?" he said, hands sinking into dark sponge, into the void pocked with lights
like eyes--but not vacuum. The fire crept up behind him, his voice drowned by a rising thrum, a
rhythm he thought might have been his own pounding heart until he looked up from the smoke to
the cavernous muscle that surrounded him, a tiny foreign cell injected into a monster's dilated
Arkaadi grew in the mother-ship's belly. We watched him grow with our many eyes, with
our reaching tendrils and our grasping polyps, though we did not know his name then.
We knew him only as the child of calamity, the single-bodied life that crawled from
wreckage alone and mewling while our flesh bubbled and burnt around it. For all we knew, he
was born then, a tiny interphase cell spilled forth of fire and of metal. We had other concerns: our
bleeding, our wounds, the inorganic shattering that splintered our walls and inflamed our tissue. It
was not the first impact we had sustained during the journey, but it was the sharpest, the hottest, a
lancing pain that penetrated our skins and seized our muscles into long, wracking spasms.
How did he survive those fiery cycles? Only on scavenging his ancestry, child; memory
and meal, as do we all survive. He was talkative, but we were occupied with the quick actions and
chemicals of survival, and we paid his vocalizations no mind. The stars speak as well, in the long
dark silences between them, but they are pattern without intent; how were we to know his cries
were different? When he quieted, that seemed no more a message than his noises had.