Cyborg’s Lament

by Dorianne Emmerton

Episode One

Of course Samza remembered the death of Zumeht. It had been a moment of massive importance for the whole community. Everything shifted. Everyone felt it.

For a couple of decades it was all they could talk about. Gradually they settled into a routine, tacitly agreeing on the order of stories for the best narrative effect. Mezmack and Lezzurk went first, they who had gathered with the humans to watch the space flight. They liked to start at this point because it was a wondrous thing to remember: being together with humans. In the same room. Caring about the same thing.

Mezmack and Lezzurk took turns, each sharing the memory from their own perspective. Mezmack spoke about their apprehension as they reached the door of Humanity’s Great Hall, how they were greeted warmly and their fears were soothed.

Lezzurk described how the humans poured champagne freely, how the two of them drank some, even though it was not possible for them to become drunk. But how it fizzled and popped in the mouth, a curious sensation.

Samza had always wanted to try champagne. She would have made some herself, gone to all that trouble just to try it, if the recipe was left on earth. But it was gone, like so many things.

Tanaza, Plimizi, Wachowz and Hekurz each told the tale of what brought them to the Cy Great Hall to watch the launchcast together. Tanaza started. She had once been with Zumeht; their breakup was amicable and they remained close. Tanaza had been afraid from the outset of this ambitious space venture. She invariably shed a tear when she said this.

Plimizi would take Tanaza’s hand when her voice broke. They were a couple now.

Zumeht had always treated him well, he would say. They had respected each other. Zumeht had been a fine woman, a strong person, an exemplary Cy. She had been ambitious, determined to bring the Cy and the humans together again. She had been so brave.

If Samza had a partner who still wept over a dead former lover, she doubted she would be as gracious as Plimizi. But she had given up romantic entanglements decades ago. Sex was fine, but loving and living with someone was not worth the trouble.

When Plimizi faded away, Wachowz would take up the story. Wachowz, always a loner, had the launchcast up on the personal screen in his home while he worked on historical miniatures. The project at the time had been the CN Tower. The real Tower had fallen during the Great Schism, no longer fresh in anyone’s memory but always there in the background. Wachowz’s tiny CN Tower, only ten inches tall, began to topple and he said he recognized this as an omen. He ran to the Cy Great Hall, too late to do anything but be with his brethren when it happened.

He went on, describing the screen that showed the assembled audience, Mezmack and Lezzurk waving wildly at the cameras knowing their kin would see them. Zumeht was calm and focused as the humans helped her dress in layers of gear. Then she slid the connector from the spacecar into the socket created in her skin.

Wachowz always stopped abruptly here and Hekurz took over. He put on his stoic face to tell the hardest part. Often some of them would reach out to others for comfort. The last time this ritual took place Samza and Lezzurk had held hands tightly and later she had invited vem into her bed.

Hekurz spoke about how everyone held their breath as the rockets powered up. In one part of the screen, the humans and their two Cy guests were still and silent. In another section showing the interior of the spacecar, Zumeht was checking all her instruments, a controlled burst of small actions. And then the countdown. Hekurz told them how his chest felt tight. He had wondered “Is this what a heart attack feels like?”

This was comic relief, a chance for a nervous titter to fly around the room. Of course Hekurz could not have a heart attack. He was Cy. Disease did not kill them. Nothing had killed them in centuries. Nothing, until the spacecar exploded in the stratosphere.

That happened minutes after everyone, humans and Cy alike, had started to think the launch was a success. Everyone was still intent on the screen, bodies motionless. Everyone held their breath, some inside lungs of muscle and some inside self-replicating polysynths mimicking muscle. Everyone’s eyes watched the phosphorous burst of the launch, many of the humans’ behind glasses, the Cys’ built to never deteriorate.

The silver cylinder of the spacecar fell upwards from the flame. That was what it was like, Hekurz said: it was like falling in reverse. As if the fire underneath the vehicle was entirely coincidental. The car moving up, the satellite video link with Zumeht establishing. That portion of the screen showing pixels wildly storming at first, then moving towards a stable picture of the tiny spaceship’s cabin.

They started to breathe a bit. The first thrilling moment of the adventure was almost over. They would see and speak to Zumeht via video. They would monitor her until she was totally out of the atmosphere, on a steady course to the closest known human habitat, and ready to fall into crycoma. Soon after that she would be too far away for the satellite to keep contact.

This mission was as important to the humans as it was to the Cy. They would be dead by the time Zumeht reached their kin. All humans young enough for the trip had left decades ago. Those who remained on Earth were old and missed their children. Zumeht carried letters with her.

After the launch they expected to be back to business as usual. It would be a hundred years before they knew if Zumeht reached the Python citystate. There wouldn’t be any humans left alive on Earth by then. The responsibility would rest with the Cy to decode each of the occasional transmissions of beeps and blips from the former New America colony, waiting for one of the brief messages to tell of the arrival of Zumeht.

People were beginning to talk to their neighbours when the space car cracked and groaned, then shrieked at a piercing decibel and flew into a thousand pieces.

The camera tracking the car became confused. It started to follow one of the falling pieces, only to be distracted by another. It careened around sickeningly, displaying a section of the fuselage, the back of the seat, an interior light, Zumeht’s arm – just her arm. The rest of her body was falling separately, limbs and head separated from torso.

Stephen, the leader of the humans, flicked a switch that turned off all the screens. Then he retched on the floor.

A few more humans were sick. Some cried, wailed. The two Cy sat unmoving.

Neither Mezmack nor Lezzurk had ever vomited. Their bodies were impervious to poison and disease.

They could cry. They hadn’t had any reason to do so since the Great Schism. Maybe they had forgotten how.

It was always Mezmack who said that. It was Lezzurk who said “We were in shock.”

The humans noticed Mezmack and Lezzurk sitting there, doing nothing. They asked “Do you feel nothing?” The two Cy could not find words to respond before the humans became more agitated. They yelled “Show some emotion you monsters!” They screamed “You heartless bastards!”

Stephen held up his hands, and said loudly “Hold back, calm down, let them be,” the reek of sick from his lips as affecting as his words. The humans stepped back. Stephen herded them out of the room, as they sobbed and suggested shots of hard liquor. Then Stephen returned, took them out a back way, a safe way. Stephen hitched their landmobile to the back of his so he could take them home and then return. Somehow Stephen knew that, despite their lack of tears, they were in no condition to drive.

Mezmack and Lezzurk told this part gently. Stephen’s kindness in this moment was so… inhuman. To this very day, whenever someone slipped and said the epithet “Fleshbags be damned” in front of Lezzurk, ve would always say “But Stephen, remember, he is proof a human can be kind.”

Samza never said “fleshbag” at all. She wasn’t prone to swearing. She remembered all the etiquette she had been taught as a young human child, even though she was thousands of years old.

All the Cy were thousands of years old, give or take fifteen to thirty years of human life. They discounted the time spent on earth before nanotech was invented and introduced into their systems to cure the cancer.

It had been cancer for all of them, except Tanaza. She had been afflicted with a lethal auto-immune disorder that hadn’t existed long enough to be named.

Samza’s form of cancer was leukemia. She had been so young and so loved that her parents immediately agreed to try the experimental new treatment that turned toxic cells into eternal ones. She had been days away from death’s door, and then she was immortal.

The process was outlawed after only a few years. Once the legislators ascertained the implications of the medical work, that the former patients became something other than entirely human, the treatment was unanimously banned in all the countries on the globe.

It would have taken much longer if the Cy hadn’t started changing in physical appearance. As their new cells took hold and replaced their precedents, skin became paler and hair began to grow in silver. Not the colour of old age; silver like metal. The Cy wore burnished halos, though most of the humans did not see them as similar to angels.

* * *

“It is suicide,” said Wachowz. He said it in such a flat manner that Samza wondered how often he had considered suicide. The nanotech cured almost all physical maladies, but did nothing for mental health. “There are so few of us,” he continued. “You will do us harm to kill yourself.”

Why had she confided in Wachowz first? She should have gone to Tanaza, who had a great imagination. It was Tanaza who spun tales about what human civilization must be like by now. She drew pictures with words of cities that floated through space, lush planets with large beasts who happily served humanity.

Tanaza never wondered, not aloud, why the humans had never come back to Earth. Plimizi had, in his own way. He brought in loads of bulging purple eggplants or slick green zucchini and muttered about how the fleshbags never appreciated all the earth had to offer. They, who needed to eat to survive, had rejected food from the ground and built themselves factories, belching carbon into the air, producing vile slop with strange tastes.

Samza preferred fruit to vegetables, and often preferred nothing other than clear spring water for weeks on end. But when Mezmack cooked she ate. Mezmack hadn’t started out as an extraordinary chef, but there had been centuries to practice and now he made food so delicious that everyone ate until they were bursting. Samza knew it was a tremendous luxury, remembering the humans who often had to ration food after the Schism because they would die without it. But luxury itself was old news. None of it was necessary; they didn’t need to eat, but Plimizi liked to plant and Mezmack liked to cook. They were all finding ways to fill the endless days.

Eternity was getting very old.

Most of the remaining Cy had been romantically involved with each other for some period of time. She had a relationship with Lezzurk for around fifty years, but then they started to irritate each other. Plimizi and Tanaza were the only couple still together. Samza wasn’t sure if she was impressed with their ability to maintain interest or scornful of their co-dependence.

“You could go on a journey here, on earth,” said Wachowz. “Explore the continent. Repair a boat, find the other continents, see what evolution has been up to with the monkeys. Maybe they’re humans again now.”

“The last time I went over there, the monkeys had bred with the capybaras. They were getting stupider, not smarter. Uglier too. And that was only thirty years ago.”

“Kill yourself if you must,” said Wachowz. “We will miss you though.”

That was why she had come to him first. He was a practical Cy, not given to extreme emotion. She needed Wachowz on her side before news of her plans got to Plimizi, who would wail and weep for days.

Also, she needed Wachowz’s medical expertise to create a socket in the back of her neck.

She told Lezzurk next. Ve merely said “So that’s where you have been going all this time.”

Of course Lezzurk had noticed. Lezzurk noticed everything. That’s why she kept sleeping with vem every once in a while when she felt a carnal urge. Ve was far too placid to live with, but enjoyable for occasional intimacy. Ver attention to all things included bodily reactions.

Samza had been going to the abandoned human settlement. At first it was a minor pastime, just something to do. What happens when this wire is entwined with this other wire? What combustion registered on the ancient computers? How did this work? And why did it only work with fully organic people?

That was what the humans’ report to the Cy had said: that Zumeht’s death was caused by the different neural networks in her brain. They had tested the spacecar thoroughly beforehand. They had tested everything. It always worked with humans. The vehicle had responded to Zumeht on land, and on sea. But, the report said, the effect of extreme altitude on cybrains was unexpected. The cells contracted and breathed in ions. They panicked and tried to save themselves by taking over the spacecar’s consciousness, and the computer defended itself.

And pieces of Cy and car fell thousands of kilometres down to earth.

Samza’s solution was elegant, if she did think so herself, which she did. She let the car take control of her instead.

After resurrecting the technology, reading the specs and all the other material she could dredge up from the information systems, Samza had been communing with the car. She rigged herself into it and relaxed. The car took her on long voyages. She had seen the monstrous monkeybaras across the ocean many times despite what she had told Wachowz.

At first she was careful not to provide any direction; she let the car drive. And then, when the car had come to trust her, she cautiously provided some suggestions. Not demands or even requests, simply some soft suggestions. Maybe it would be interesting to see the desert today, she might think by casually picturing vistas of sand. Eventually the car would agree.

By now they were in sync. When she plugged into the car Samza disappeared. She became Samcarza. Last night she had done the final test. She had driven to the top of Mount Forever.

She felt the altitude tug at her brain and responded with long, slow breaths, dropping into a hypnotic calm. She barely existed; she was all car. They reached the summit and she dared to look around. It was white everywhere. They were above the clouds. Their shared carbrain was in control and nobody flew into a thousand pieces.

She called a meeting to tell everyone her plans. Wachowz and Lezzurk, who already knew, sat on either side of her. Plimizi and Tanazi took to weeping on each other’s shoulders. Mezmack glowered at her briefly, and then got up and begin fussing with the food, putting more on everyone’s plates, adding more herbs to the bisque, cutting the cake into seven equal slices. Only Hekurz was excited. He pounded her on the back, enthusiastically complimenting her genius idea, her skill with machines, her vision and bravery. Samza felt so gratified she briefly considered inviting Hekurz to sleep with her that night. But his broad and sturdy physique had never appealed to her. She brought Lezzurk home instead, the smooth, sleek body that she knew so well.

Ve kissed her softly at first, but soon became hard and insistent. Ve pushed her down, picked her up, plowed into her. She met his ferocity with demands of her own. The sheets were torn and they broke a window. Afterward she asked “Where did that come from?”

“I hate you a bit,” ve said, turning ver face away. “You are brilliant. What a plan. Either you will explore the stars or you will die. And I will stay here alone.”

* * *

When Samza drove her landmobile away, Plimizi ran after it, screaming her name and sobbing.

At the launch site she turned on all the cameras, but didn’t check to see if the feed was going anywhere. Maybe the rest of the Cy had gathered in the Great Hall and activated the screen, maybe they hadn’t. If they hadn’t, probably at least one or two of them had turned on their personal screens. Samza didn’t want to know who was watching. Did any of them secretly want to see her be torn to shreds? It was possible.

She activated the launch pad, filled the emergency fuel tank, and parked the car in place. She circled the car three times, then switched directions and walked around it three more. She trailed her fingers over the cold steel until the machinery at work made it feel warm. Then she slid into the seat, closed the door, and plugged herself in, inserting the long needle in the back of her neck. The car’s brain caressed her own more softly that Lezzurk’s first kiss the night before. She breathed long and slow and became the car. She closed her eyes. If she was about to blow up, she’d prefer not to see it coming.

Episode Two

Shedding layers of atmosphere, Samza was too exhilarated to think about anything, which was for the best, as thinking independently risked her life. She was not her own person; she was Samcarza. It was crucial to keep the vehicle’s mind meshed with her own. Together, they focused on reaching outer space.

Once Earth was far behind and they were settled into a trajectory for Python, the car’s brain and her brain were free to wander and wonder together. Her neurons fired into the vehicle’s engine, and the mechanics fed back information and contemplation. Samcarza thought: is there anyone else out here? Something other than humans, and now one lone Cy? Was there life that had not originated on Earth?

It seemed ludicrous for there not to be. But many years ago, when humans were receiving transmissions from the colonies and passing information to the Cy, there had never been news of significant other life. They had found a liquid close enough to water to drink. They had found minerals, and even a form of fungi. That was a living thing but not sapient, not even sentient.

There must be some creatures in all the vastness. Between Samza’s logical faculties and the car’s analysis of probability, the result was certain: there must be sentient life. Somewhere.

Samza should go into crycoma. But, on the other hand, she didn’t have to. It would take almost a century to reach the Python colony but she wasn’t human; a century couldn’t hurt her. Physically, at least. Mentally it could wear her down, make her terminally bored, as the years on Earth had already done. For now, in the silence of a small silver rocket moving through space, perhaps she could let herself sit and think for a while. At least until she felt bored again.

Space was monotonous. It reminded her of driving through the prairies when she was a young human girl on a road trip with her parents. Also like the prairies, if you zoned out and kept your eyes on the landscape, or in this case the starscape, the slightest deviation popped out at you.

Samza lay back, her arms under her head, gazing at the small lights slowly moving past. She tried to gauge how close or far away they were based on size. They could be closer, smaller suns, or farther away and bigger. There was no point of reference to judge by.

The car part of her brain offered to turn on a point reference. The rest of her demurred.

She didn’t want to know. She knew everything there was to know on Earth. She enjoyed ignorance right now, and it wasn’t important if she knew the sizes of stars. The car’s navigation system sensed danger and steered them away so she didn’t have to worry that one of the thousand points of light might go nova. She could just relax and look. For the first time in her life as a Cy she was content to simply be; for the first time in her life as a Cy there were new things to see.

There had been new things before. Towers falling and derailments of the grey trains that ran under cities. There had been camps for people like her. The Great Schism happened after the governments of the world had called a halt to the medical technology that created the Cy. It happened after the Cy had become old enough, wise enough, to demand rights. And the backlash wasn’t contained to some buses being overturned, a few explosions, a violent protest or two. Because the Cy were immortal.

There had been hundreds of them. In the interim between the Outlawing and the Schism, many had been put in “facilities” to be studied. They were all relatively young, as the nanotech had been too expensive to waste on those already closer to death. But the newly cured, with their silvering skin and hair, didn’t age. When this became known to everyone, those who hadn’t yet been institutionalized refused to go. They stormed the buildings, freeing their new kin, and nothing could stop them.

This was the Great Schism. People who had only read about race wars in history books were now divided into two, human and Cy, set against each other. Sons who were recently dying, now strong and vital, fought against fathers who were old and brittle. The Cy walked into gunfire laughing, synthetic muscle tissue forcing out bullets and knitting back together again in a matter of seconds. But the humans were too willing to sacrifice their own. They dropped bombs on the cities. A Cy could not heal from being blown apart. Millions of humans died in every blast that killed a hundred Cy, or less.

Samza had lived in a small community called Deep River where there was a nuclear reactor. She had been saved from death at fifteen years of human age, then dragged from her mother’s home at eighteen so they could cut her open and look for her weaknesses. Meanwhile, they redirected the nuclear power away from electricity to make explosives to drop on Cy settlements.

Samza killed her mother.

She had noticed that her restraints were loose, and the door open, as she woke up from a haze. The fugue was not from drugs but from the torture of being vivisected, her cognitive faculties obliterated by keen physical and mental pain. On awaking she saw that, while her intestines were held in with layers of medical tape, she was able to walk free. And so she did.

All the missile launchers on the streets were blown out from the inside. The only person that she saw smiled at her with a face topped by silver hair. The Cy had won.

She walked into her own house and her mother came at her with a butcher knife.

* * *

The surviving Cy found each other easily, prompting some of them to suggest that their enhanced abilities included sensing each other’s proximity, though that was never tested. There was only seven of them. They abandoned the destroyed cities, building a new community on a rare tract of undamaged, fertile land. Eventually the human survivors settled nearby. They didn’t cause any trouble. They claimed to have been peace-keepers or draft-dodgers the entire time of Schism. There was no way to know if they were lying or not, but they seemed harmless, too intent on creating food and shelter and pure water to bother with weaponry.

This was in the northern realms of North America, still verdant, untouched by nuclear or biological warfare. This region had been relatively unpopulated until the decades before the Schism due to cold temperatures, but the world had warmed considerably. There was no community here then, that Samza knew of, but the last ghost town they passed before settling had a blue sign pronouncing it “Hearst.”

In this new place the seven Cy finally told each other their stories. They talked for weeks, sharing all their memories, their pain. It was then that they concluded they were a new race, and they cast off their human names and invented a nomenclature for themselves. They decided to each have a Z in their names, since they were practically zombies, the undead and undying. It was almost a joke.

Eventually the new race and the old developed a camaraderie, coexisting peacefully only a few hours’ drive from each other. They made great technological advances, creating usable materials out of waste and harnessing energy from the sun and wind. That lasted for centuries – until the humans invented space travel and Zumeht tried to be one of them.

* * *

Samza stretched, taking up most of the room in the space car’s cabin. Zumeht had been a mentor for her. Zumeht had taught her to think critically, to want more than she had, to remember horror. So many of the others had tried to forget their memories of war as they created new lives.

It was understandable. But one of the things she liked about Lezzurk was that ve was always happy to remember with her.

Life for ver had always been rough, ve said. Society was close to full acceptance of agender people. Then war broke out. Anyone who was Cy and also agender was doubly reviled.

Lezzurk’s old life had been more painful than hers and this helped her come to terms with her own history.

In bed Lezzurk’s body pressed up against hers with animal need. She liked being forced to remember they originated from animals. She liked to press back. And now she might not ever do that again.

All this nostalgia was taking its toll; she felt tired. Maybe she should crycoma. But instead she zoned out again on the galaxy zipping past the portal, the screen set to show the view in front of the car. Her brain went quiet. Dots of light flickered in black space. They created colours and vague shapes. Maybe she would sleep without her synapses being altered by the crydrug.

At first she thought the humming she heard was the harbinger of sleep, her brain creating a sound to lull her into unconsciousness. But no, it was outside her body. It sounded like a sharp, high note coming from right behind her head.

She adjusted the screen to show the space behind the car. Just the same dots of light on black. She swiveled the lens around, and around, until she had looked from every possible perspective. Nothing. But the humming was even louder now.

It was in the car.

She swung around. Nothing. Just the cool grey padded interior of her vehicle. But still the sound was there, still behind her.

She turned her head slowly. The humming stayed, always coming from just behind her head.

Maybe she had been awake in space too long and was now going mad. She didn’t feel mad. But the mad don’t know that they are. Or do they? Samza didn’t know much about the history of insanity. Just that everyone said that the killers, the dangerous, the wagers of war were mad. But they only said that after the fact. During times of violence those people were called leaders, soldiers, heroes.

With no other recourse, she tried to listen to the humming. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

“Finally!” said the humming.

Samza screamed. She was definitely going mad. She was hearing voices. How long had she been sitting there, watching the stars fly by, giving her mind nothing to do? She checked the chronometer: twelve weeks. Certainly that was long enough for a brain to become unhinged.

The spacecar had an extensive array of entertainment options. Samza decided she’d need the most interactive, mentally stimulating game. She played chess against computer-generated opponents at increasing levels of difficulty. The last match took forty hours to complete. She won and the computer said it had no further levels.

Of course it doesn’t, she thought. The car’s computer is no different from my own brain. We’re one being. We can’t beat ourselves at any game.

Trying to decide what to do next, she thought she heard the humming again.

“I should sleep now,” Samza said out loud, her voice strangely loud to her ears.

Responding immediately, the car filtered some crycoma drugs into her bloodstream. She felt soft and lovely, and converted her chair into a bed.

It had been a long time since Samza had cryslept. The drug had been invented to facilitate space travel, which the humans hadn’t intended to share with the Cy until the agreement with Zumeht was reached. And the Cy didn’t need the drug to keep them alive through a century-long flight. Crycoma was never meant for them.

But Samza knew it would work.

* * *

After the survivor human and Cy communities were established and living conditions stabilized, there were centuries of peace. This did not mean that the Cy were happy.

The first thing they had done after setting up camp was to build a computer capable of reaching the satellites that still orbited Earth. They examined the globe every day looking for signs of Cy life.

Once they saw a group of humans, on an island near Antarctica. Maybe they would have told their own humans; maybe they would have built a ship, an airplane even, to find them. But the group they saw were men treating a woman brutally. So the Cy skipped quickly to the next camera and forgot about them.

It was a small island. They would not exist for much longer.

Soon it became clear that there were no other Cy. The seven of them were the last. They stopped caring about computers. Until representatives from the nearby human colony came begging for their help.

The humans were rebuilding their technologies in ways that did not compromise the environment of the small part of the world they had left. The Cy had no interest in anything more than basic technology: they didn’t need much and, after being derided as nothing but ‘machines’ for so long, they liked to live close to nature.

Samza and her kin gave their assistance warily at first, and then that wore off and they helped eagerly. And then that wore off and they helped reluctantly. And then that wore off and they stopped helping.

The Cy’s relationships with each other followed a similar trajectory, albeit without the initial stage of wariness. At first, the seven were close-knit spending every day together. They went hiking, they built boats and went out on the water. They made instruments to play music and raised their voices in song. They erected the Cy Great Hall and painted its walls, both inside and out, with murals.

But everything eventually becomes tedious.

One by one they moved out of the bedrooms of the Great Hall and built individual homes, in a village but spaced far apart. They grew resentful of their past attempted romantic relationships, all except Tanaza and Plimizi who clung together as if each one was a barnacle thinking the other was a ship’s hull. As the land reclaimed itself, and grass and trees grew further and further south, the Cy roamed separately, able to spend months at a time without encountering each other.

But one day Hekurz, his extroverted tendencies rearing up, went to see the humans. They were so excited by the rare visit they took the Cy on a tour of their new project: trying to travel in space. The car, the suit, the connection via intradermal needle, the screens, the wires, the fuel, the launch pad, and… the crycoma drug.

Hekurz pocketed a phial. He called them all to the Cy Great Hall and offered them the substance. Just to try it. Just to see. Who had said “yes” first? Maybe it was Samza herself.

Her memories might be muddy because it was so very long ago, but perhaps also because she had spent the decade after that in and out of a crycoma. They all had.

Wachowz had become their dealer. He reverse engineered the stolen sample and made unending amounts of the drug in his home lab. Every six to ten months they would wake up and come creeping back to his door for another hit.

In space the humans expected to stay in crycoma for hundreds of years, the car’s computer programmed to maintain a steady stream via the needle. The Cy had to inject one syringe into their arm and then nod off for a time, almost always under a year. Upping the dose didn’t work. There was only so much the body could process before the active ingredients were destroyed by the Cy’s immune system.

Once Hekurz tried to build a dosing machine that would keep the drug cool enough to stay fresh, while also tracking time in order to administer doses to a spike firmly taped into the vein. But it had been a long while since the Cy had been involved with creating technology. And it had never been Hekurz’s strong point.

Wachowz could have done it. But he was more interested in the power he held as the provider of the drug. Although that’s not how he phrased it, on the few occasions he had spoken of this dark part of the past.

“Every few months we knew that we were alive. That the grass still grew and the sun still shone. If we had all gone to sleep for hundreds of years we might never have woken up. The humans would kill us, or an alien race, a meteor would destroy the earth and we would never even know the cause of our own genocide.

“That’s what we thought we wanted. But as terrible as living was, I couldn’t reconcile to assisting our own extinction. I woke up every few months, like everyone. I looked outside, and I counted the heads of the Cy at my door. Only after that did I make a new batch.” Then Wachowz would fall silent and was not likely to speak again for the rest of the evening.

Zumeht had roused them out of it. She entered Wachowz’s house one day, and looked at them waiting, huddled in chairs and on the floor.

“I see everyone else has also woken up,” she said. There were murmurs but nothing intelligible.

“I saw a moose on the way here,” she said. “Do you know how large moose are?” She kept going, all eyes on her, amazed by her willingness to talk. “I had no idea it was there until I was right in front of it, a huge thing with antlers and hot breath. For a moment I was quite irrationally afraid that the beast would kill me.

“I realized then that I don’t want to die.

“That moose is here because he thinks this is a forest. It is a forest. Everything has grown up around us while we lay asleep. The world is moving on without us. We should have just let them kill us all in the first place. That war, that pain and suffering, we survived it all just to blot out our own existence.”

Zumeht convinced them to destroy Wachowz’s new batch. She contacted the humans. Their space program was successful and the Python Colony was being built on the closest inhabitable planet.

* * *

Samza heard it again, still coming from behind her head even though she was now lying down. She was sleepy but not yet asleep.

“Hello?” said the humming. It sounded like the noise had formed a word, but the noise itself couldn’t exist, much less be speaking English. Samza checked the dosage of the crydrug in her system. It was small: she was still wary. If she slept for a couple of days and then stayed awake for a couple more, cycling until she got to Python, hopefully she would retain her sanity and ward off dependence. Hopefully.

“Pretty sure you can hear me,” said the humming. “Say hello, please?”

She was very tired.

“Aw,” said the humming, as dejected as a voice made up of a thousand tones, each of them barely audible to humanoid ears, could sound. “I’ve been looking forward to talking to you.”

It was definitely speaking English. But it wasn’t behind her head. It was inside her head.

It was the car! But no, it couldn’t be, the car had no need for words. She was Samcarza; they thought as one. But she realized she had been reminiscing about a past the car couldn’t remember. She hadn’t been staying in sync. Now, her brain dulling, she realized that the car was aware of receiving communications. And more than that: the car had broken from the programmed route to follow the voice’s instructions. It must be very convincing.

“Oh goody,” said the voice. It noticed that they were heeding its call only after Samza did herself. Apparently alien-computer-Cy three-way telepathy had its limitations.

Samza teetered on the edge of unconsciousness. The car soothed her, promised that she could sleep for a bit and they would land on their new friend’s planet when she woke up, rested and ready for an unplanned adventure.

* * *

Samza slept. She dreamed of nothing until she dreamed of earthquakes, explosions, everything loud and full of terror. She gripped her flailing mind, shook the panic off, and then pulled back into her body. Eventually she was able to open her eyes.

She immediately closed them again, sick with vertigo. She had seen her vehicle’s interior from a halfway upside-down perspective. Now she tried to feel her situation with her hands. She felt her body, still in the spacecar suit, still in the spacecar. She didn’t seem to be wounded, but the car was. She felt the burning sensations in its manifolds in her organs. There was a lot of damage. Worst of all, the emergency fuel tank was torn open and all the contents had drained out. It couldn’t repair itself without it.

The car wasn’t moving, nor was it creating gravity.

Samza reached through the pain to the car part of her brain, which whimpered and wanted a caregiver to turn it off, repair it, and only start it up again when it was fully functional. But they were one; it couldn’t power down without her. She checked the atmosphere on the planet outside: breathable, for a Cy anyway: she could exist on trace amounts of oxygen. She let the car start its shut down process.

Whatever planet they were on was large enough to create some gravity because she wasn’t floating around. She was squashed in an uncomfortable position with most of her body resting on her left shoulder, but she was much lighter than she had been on Earth. Back there, this position would have broken her shoulder. It would regenerate, of course, but it would hurt a bit. Here, wherever here was, she just felt awkward.

She elbowed the door open and spilled out.

And saw nothing. She stripped off the car suit and rubbed her eyes. Still nothing. Was she blind? She hadn’t been blind inside. But now she couldn’t even see her small spaceship. She stepped backwards and the side of the vehicle hit her shin. Ouch. It was there.

Samza began to see that it wasn’t pure darkness around her, more like a very thick fog, so grey it was almost black, but not quite.

She extended her hand; it disappeared. She pulled it back. Held right in front of her face, she could see her hand was still there.

What was out there? Whatever creatures had evolved here must be able to see through the fog. Or smell through it. This was like being dropped into a moonless Alaskan midnight in grizzly bear country. Except worse, because at least she knew what a grizzly bear was.

She didn’t think her body could regenerate if it was being digested.

She thought she saw gleaming red eyes, but when she tried to look directly at them they were gone. She thought about blindly going forward – maybe it was localized fog. Maybe she could walk right out of it.

But maybe she’d walk into a thing that would eat her. Or a large pit where she’d be trapped at the bottom until something ate her. Or maybe she was perched at the top of a volcano and one step would plunge her into lava. She didn’t think she could survive that. At least, she didn’t think she’d be able to escape a volcano in enough time to heal.

The car was dead. It couldn’t help her, not until she could patch the tank and find a fuel source to fill up enough to activate the repair kit. There was no fuel source here. There was nothing here at all.

Samza sat on the ground. It was cold and hard, like an outcropping on the Canadian Shield. She thought about Earth. It was boring but it had been safe. Tanaza and Plimizi’s bickering could be amusing. Wachowz had fine moments of hackneyed wisdom. She remembered him telling a story about a beaver meeting a penguin. Which was impossible, they lived on different continents, but they also didn’t speak and in the story they conversed with each other. It was a fable that Wachowz had dreamed up. They should have encouraged him to do that more, Samza thought. They should have written it down.

And Lezzurk. Ver hands were always cool in summer and warm in winter. She understood why they broke up but why had she only slept with vem so rarely afterward? Why didn’t they try other ways of making it work? They didn’t have to live together to have a relationship. They could have found a middle ground; they could have seen each other enough for comfort but not enough for contempt.

She sobbed gently. She had thought eternity was a long time to live on Earth with all her Cy for company. Now she would live here, alone in the fog forever.

A long time passed.

Then she heard the humming again.

She snapped her head up quickly and it was gone – nothing but the dark-greyness silent all around her. She closed her eyes and found the blackness almost comforting. She breathed, relaxed her muscles. She tried to listen to whatever it was.

It was there but quiet, quieter than when she had first heard it. The car had been helping to pick it up then.

The faint hum came from a direction. She got to her feet and took one hesitant step. Then she stopped. Following a noise that she might be imagining, on a foreign planet, with her eyes closed, seemed like a dangerous idea. She opened her eyes and now she could see vague shapes through the fog. Hills. Rocks. Maybe something like a tree, but drooping and spread out.

The sky continued to brighten and Samza began to walk. Her steps, tentative at first, became determined, and she strode forward quickly, gravity much lighter than she was used to. The feeling of bouncing increased as she walked off rock onto a field of springy moss. There was life here after all! For there to be moss, for there to be these strange trees, there had to be water under the ground. And if there was water, if there was plant life, there was probably animal life too. Perhaps even sentient animal life. Perhaps sapient enough to have created their own version of the Cy.

The huge boulders that dotted the landscape grew denser but she found paths through them, confident that she was walking a more or less straight line. Her sense of north and south couldn’t apply here, but she was fairly sure that she wouldn’t come across her car again, discovering that she’d been walking in circles.

The things she had come to think of as trees were short and circled many metres around their trunks, with long, low branches that held tiny sharp-looking protrusions. They were like jack pines that had melted down. Some of the boulders had deep cracks in them, and that was where the tallest plants grew. They looked like sunflowers with overactive pituitaries, two or three times the height of the trees. Leaves were sparse along the stalks but the heads were magnificent eruptions of spiralling petals in hues of purple and pink.

She slowed to admire a flower and a breeze she did not feel ruffled its petals. For a minute she thought she saw a large eye observing her from the middle of the mass of colour. She jumped back and quickly moved on.

She kept walking. More boulders, more extreme sunflowers, more melted pines. The ground began to feel less springy, but it was still covered with moss – the problem was her feet. She was tiring. She wasn’t used to tiring. Her muscles were powered by nanotech. She didn’t need to eat, or sleep. She hardly even needed to breathe.

Maybe the fact that there was less oxygen meant that humanoids could never have evolved. And then there would be nobody to invent Cy-like beings. Maybe this planet had nothing on it but plants.

Samza evoked memories of her brethren. She imagined Tanaza and Plimizi on either side of her, in one of their moods when they were so full of goodwill it was impossible to even roll your eyes at them. They kissed her on either cheek at the same time and asked if their lips felt different from each other. They fell back and Hekurz strode up beside her to point out obvious things, things they could both see, but which she found more amazing by his acknowledgment of them. The stalks of the sunflowers were ridged, each small bump almost uniformly the same as the one on either side of it. The bases of the boulders sometimes had small pools of water.

Mezmack asked “What was that?” and everyone stopped.

Wachowz said “Stay still and watch that spot.” They all froze. No one breathed. Eventually they saw it. It was, Samza noticed with delight, a small thing with wings. An insect – and an insect was an animal. There were animals here.

She turned and threw her arms around Lezzurk with joy, but just as she felt ver body against hers, it faded away and her arms dropped helplessly. Ve was not here. None of them were really here.

Except for the insect.

And the humming.

The sky grew darker again, though not fully dark, as two moons cast pale light down. With the dusk the insects multiplied and the sunflower heads became mobile, swinging from side to side, knocking tiny wings away. Samza imagined thousands of small proboscises plunging directly into an eyeball encased in vegetation. She shuddered and plodded on, looking for a spot where she might bed down. After a long time of forcing one foot in front of the other she saw a large hill with a black spot sliding down the centre: a cave. Wildlife slept in caves on Earth.

Maybe there was something in there. But maybe there was anything, anywhere, in this place. She straightened her spine and entered the cave.

Inside, the ground was covered in the same springy moss. As the moons rose high in the sky, torpor overwhelmed her and she sank into sleep.

Asleep, she still heard the hum. Gradually it got louder and stronger until ultimately it resolved into a voice. “Hello?” it said. “Hello hello hello. That is the right word, right? I’m sure I have mastered English and that ‘Hello’ is the right word. Right?”

Samza couldn’t move her body. She couldn’t see. She could feel herself comfortably bedded down in moss.

“Hello?” she said, without her lips or tongue moving.

“Hello! You do know ‘hello’. How very exciting,” the humming said.

“I am dreaming?” she asked.

“You are dreaming, but this is not a dream. That must sound contradictory to you but that’s what’s happening, trust me.”

“Trust you? I don’t even know who or what you are. You are reading my sleeping mind, how can I possibly trust you?”

“Oh, well, hello, I am… I think the closest translation in English would be Blork. Call me Blork. Pleased to meet you, and I’m not really reading your mind. I can receive your mental messages if they are directed to me. If you’re not thinking at me, I don’t even know that you’re thinking at all.”

“Is this how you always communicate? You can’t speak?” asked Samza.

“I don’t need vocal cords to communicate. Your larynx system is very restricting. Hopefully one day you will evolve. However, when we are physically in each other’s presence, I can project my voice on a trajectory that originates from my body. That might be more comfortable for you.”

“Did you bring me here? How did you bring me here? Why?”

“Finally, some worthwhile questions. I didn’t bring you here, I just asked you to come and you came. Of course you were half vehicle when that happened. I wasn’t even sure that you would be able to get here. Your brain isn’t complex enough to pick up communication unless it’s very close. I tried to get in touch while you were still on what you call ‘Earth’ – an unimaginative name – but it wasn’t until you came within missile distance that you heard me at all.”

“Missile? Did you shoot me down?” Samza wanted to sit up in alarm, but she was still fast asleep.

“We don’t have weapons. I just thought that was a measure of distance you would understand, being from such a violent race.”

“Cy aren’t violent, except to defend ourselves.” A sentence she had said over and over again in her past, one that she had not needed to repeat in recent centuries. But she was still tired of it.

“Cy, humans, you aren’t all that different. You’re better, sure, absolutely. I can’t communicate with a human at all; their brains don’t have any cybernetics to read my electronic pulses. But you are merely more capable versions of your makers.”

This sort of argument had also been around on Earth for a long time. Samza was tired of it as well.

“So you learned to speak English just to talk to me?” she asked.

“Aren’t you full of questions. No, we do not ‘speak English’, as we do not speak. Blork do not need a semiotic language. But we learn the uses of symbols to interact with other, lesser, life forms. To learn a language we travel to whenever it’s most in use to observe it in action.”

She was talking in telepathy to an alien lifeform on a planet hundreds of thousands kilometres away from home. This was not boring, so she was getting what she wanted when she left Earth. Unfortunately, this alien was a bit of a jerk.

“Hey. You still there?” Blork asked.

“I was just thinking. I didn’t expect… this.” Samza answered.

“You didn’t expect me to just pop into your brain? Fair enough. But you are very interesting to me. The Cy in general are very interesting, but you most of all.”

“You know who I am? And you said you go whenever the language is. Not wherever.”

“Very perceptive! Smarter than the average bear, I believe you’d say. Yes, we have a facility with time. I mostly learned this lingo from your planet in the 2010’s and 2020’s. I didn’t spend a lot of my attention there between then and when the humans left, but of course we all saw it happen – the war, the slight rebuilding. At least you Earthlings invented space travel before you invented more war.”

“This conversation happening entirely in my head is unnerving. You said I was on the same world as you. Can I meet you in person?”

“You’re on the same planet as me, but baby, we’re still worlds apart. But yes, come visit. That would be nice.”

“Where do I go?”

“Wake up,” said Blork.

And then she was awake.

She sat up abruptly, placed her hands flat down on the springy moss, and then brought them up again to defend her face. But she was alone.

Episode Three

Was that a shimmer in the distance? She squinted. No, it wasn’t at a distance. Or maybe it had quickly covered the distance. The air shimmered just beyond the opening of the cave. Bright light shone outside, indicating that it was now morning. Samza got up, drew a deep breath, and approached the exit.

The shimmer vanished.

“Blork, are you here?” she cried. The sunflowers turned their heads towards her.

“Ouch! You don’t have to be so loud,” came the voice in her head, just as in the dream that was not a dream.

“I can’t see you,” Samza said. “Are you even here?” She wondered if she had gone mad.

“You’re no madder than a hatter!” chuckled Blork. She had no idea what a hatter was. Blork’s manner of speech seemed both vaguely familiar and entirely strange. “I just have to orient myself a bit if you want to see me. So… if you go out of the cave and then place your cheek against a rock, any rock, and look straight ahead, I should be able to do this thing.”

Samza stood in the opening where the cave gave out to alien world and considered the landscape. The sunflowers blinked at her. She could see now that they definitely had eyes. There were more boulders and small stony outcroppings, the occasional droopy tree, but primarily there were endless fields of the things that looked like sunflowers but weren’t. Sunflowers did not have retinas, pupils, and irises.

She reminded herself that this was more exciting than another dreary day on Earth and stepped out of the cave. She tried to follow Blork’s instructions further but what did they mean? Why should she touch a rock with her face? Did the cold stone contain a topical poison? She found a boulder and brushed it with her fingers. It felt like any stone surface she had ever encountered. She pressed her cheek against it and stared ahead.

“Alright!” she heard Blork’s voice in her head again but quelled the instinct to look around for its origin. “I’m just about there, I think… Here we go… hold onto your hat, you’re gonna be blown away by my interstellar beauty!”

His voice ended with a strange sound, like a cork from a bottle of Wachowz’s mead being popped out under water. Simultaneously with the noise, she saw something appear out of thin air.

It had legs, arms, a torso, and a head, so she knew it was a being, a… person. She knew it must be Blork. But the layout of his body didn’t make sense. His legs were longer than his torso and head combined and they were stick thin – they couldn’t possibly hold his weight. Especially since they weren’t solid. His arms and legs wavered, vibrated, the flesh itself subject to interference. If you could call it flesh at all. He looked more like he was made out of paper. Very thin paper, which would dissolve under one decent rain shower. Or perhaps like he was shown on a screen with a bad connection, constantly pixelating.

One of his legs had a giant round knee, and the other seemed to be completely knee-less.

“Like my legs, eh?” chortled Blork. “They are one of my best features. Besides, of course, my brain. Not aesthetically pleasing though, the brain, although the head that houses it is one of the best of the Blork. No, the brain can’t be seen, except for the genius it puts forth into the world. Like you being here! Genius, if I do say so myself.”

He had the hubris of a human but looked only slightly humanoid. His hands were blotches, the protruding fingers constantly varying in size, length and number. He had two necks both supporting the same bulbous, featureless head and then suddenly he had no neck at all. All of his parts were pulsing, shifting.

And there was no depth to him. His head and torso were circles, not spheres. It wasn’t possible.

“Are you…” Samza started, and then words failed her.

“What?” he said after a long silence. “Am I what?”

She willed her larynx to cooperate. “Are you… a mammal?” she finished weakly.

“Like one of your earth creatures? Like a human, a dog, a monkeybara?” There was definitely a scoffing tone to his voice. However she was relieved that his voice now came from the direction of his strange figure instead of sounding inside her head. “What a limited mode of classification. And I don’t think you’re a mammal either, Samza, darling. You’re maybe half mammal. I would call you a hammal.”

“So you’re not… are you… are you flat?”

He laughed briefly. “Yes, again very perceptive. I am two-dimensional, we Blork are. That’s why it took some engineering to get to this point where you can see me. We both had to be in precise location to one another.”

Samza took a minute to digest this. Blork disappeared. She yelped. He appeared again.

“See,” he said. “All I did was turn an eighth of a degree, and then you couldn’t tell I was there at all. Now that I’ve oriented to your distinctive physical presence I’ll always be able to face toward you. If I want to”

“How do you live like that?” she wondered.

“I live just fine, thank you very much. How do you live, with all that mass? There are many planets you couldn’t even exist on. The atmosphere would crush you if you landed there and you, even you, would die.”

“And you’ve been to them?” she asked, now thirsty for knowledge. “What were they like? How did you get there? Do you have a two dimensional space ship?” This was what she had risked everything for. She was learning about the universe.

“Well…” he said, a little reluctantly. “We Blork don’t need vehicles, with our traveling capacity. We aren’t really two dimensional; that was a good way to describe it to you though. Better than ‘flat’, like I’m some puberty delayed human Earth girl.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s ok, no worries, you’re doing the best you can with your limited language. Our third dimension is time. Space and time are two sides of the same coin, so really we can be anywhere, anytime. I’m speaking to you right now but I’m also simultaneously playing chammers – it’s like chess, but far more complex – with my Blork buddy an hour ago, and I’m keeping an eye on your Cy friends back on Earth, and I’m observing a political coup in another galaxy that doesn’t get started for another hundred years.”

Samza took two quick steps forward. “The Cy? How are they? Is Lezzurk well?”

“Ah yes, your little lover. Quite attractive, ve is. You have taste dear Samza. That’s how I knew you would be a friend to me.”

Samza stood up straight, towering above Blork. “I wouldn’t call us friends,” she said. “You destroyed my ship.”

“I did not destroy your ship,” Blork said. “It crashed itself. I just gave you, and your ship – you know that you’re pretty much the same entity when you’re plugged in, right? I can’t discern Samza from spacecar when you’re in it, nobody can, not even yourself. Anyway, I gave you the frequency to follow. I didn’t steer, I didn’t program coordinates.”

Samza’s brief flare of anger faded. All of a sudden she ached for the vehicle’s computer enmeshed with her brain, her abilities amplified, space a domain she could navigate.

She leaned back against the boulder. “I am here now, so what do you want? I can’t leave unless you provide the materials to repair my spacecar. I require fuel. Some metal for a patch job wouldn’t hurt either, but primarily I need fuel. Any sort will do: liquid, like the old style gasoline or diesel we had on Earth, or gaseous, electrical. Anything that will spark the car alive. After that, it will be able to take over its own repair.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” Blork said.

This lack of commitment angered Samza. “Am I your prisoner?” she asked sharply.

“You are not my prisoner; I just wanted to see you. Talk to you. I have seen many people on many worlds through many eons and you captured my imagination. Plus, you traveled close enough to hear my call. That’s all I want: to talk, to exchange ideas. I’m sorry about your crash, truly. I will figure out a way to fix it.”

Samza began to weep, something she had rarely done since the Great Schism. She had cried when Zumeht died. She had cried right after the argument with Lezzurk that led to their breakup. That was it: twice she had cried since the war that ended the old Earth civilization.

Blork shifted his sticklike feet and coughed in a forced way. The implications of Blork’s claim to be able to travel through time began to dawn on Samza. Not just space, but time. Her crying subsided as she tried to imagine everything that entailed.

“We should be going, I think,” Blork said, his image getting a little taller.

“Back to the car?” Samza asked eagerly. Blork’s figure shrunk back down again and she knew that her hope was in vain.

“Eventually, I think we can find a way to repair your car. I’d love to do it myself but, you know, it’s hard to hold tools.” He held his hands out and then they disappeared. Samza gasped. His hands reappeared and Blork chuckled. “Just a twist of the wrist, that’s all. I want to take you back to the Blork hive. Community, I mean. It’s kind of like a hive, from your Earth perspective. It is what it is. With all of us working on the issue of your vehicle, I’m sure we’ll find a solution. On the journey we can talk.”

Blork began to walk away. Samza followed, not having any other option.

“How did you turn around to walk away without disappearing?” she asked.

“I didn’t turn around. Forward, backward, it’s all the same to me.”

* * *

The landscape changed. The squat trees now spread everywhere, their long branches crisscrossing the ground in a hazardous maze. Luckily, the relative lack of gravity meant that whenever Samza stumbled, she could launch herself into the air to recover. Eventually she developed a fast bounding gait, her eyes searching out the next spot to land as she was still in the air from the last step.

Blork’s legs moved but he didn’t seem to touch the ground. Samza wondered if he even had to walk at all. Couldn’t he just travel in spacetime to be with the Blork community one second from now? She would ask him that later but right now she was answering his questions and delighting in her new form of movement. Her fear dropped away as the sunflowers became less prevalent, eventually not appearing at all. Instead, large lakes opened up on either side of them, full of a rust-coloured substance thicker than water. Samza thought of blood and shuddered. But it wasn’t blood, at least not that of human or Cy. Both of those were bright red when first shed but faded quickly to brown. This was more of a burnt orange, and the texture as it lapped against the shore was thick and clumpy like spoiled milk.

Blork asked her questions and she told him everything. She told him about twisting her mother’s arm behind her back and dropping her to the floor. How, while Samza’s body automatically moved in expert defense, she had whispered, “Mom, mom, it’s me, it’s just me.” How her mother sobbed that they had turned their only daughter into a monster and now the world was destroyed by perverse robots like her. That Samza was a sin against nature. That Samza’s father was dead from the shrapnel that flew from the grocery store when it was bombed. That she just wanted to die, she wanted all of them to die. That Samza helped her mother die.

* * *

When he saw that talking about the Schism was painful, Blork hurried to ask about the Cy and their reconciliation with humans. He asked about the Cy individually – what was Wachowz really like? Was Hekurz’s constant cheerfulness real or was it sometimes forced? What was the glue that kept Tanaza and Plimizi together? Samza was pleased to talk about her old friends, her chest warm with love as she described their individual quirks. She even spoke of Zumeht with more fondness for her memory than grief for her death.

Eventually the land tilted upward, which meant Samza had to take slower, smaller leaps until she was walking just as she had on Earth. There were no more lakes of rust, and the trees with creeping branches gave way to thin green cylinders that came up to Samza’s thigh and swayed even though there was no wind.

“Be careful of those,” Blork warned. “They sting.” Samza jumped back. Through the previous environment Blork had led by his own internal compass, but now there was definitely a path leading up, the stinging grass a safe distance away.

Examining the field she saw a creature leap in the distance. It looked like a rabbit with the skin of a lizard, which prompted her to ask, “What do you eat?”

“Not what you eat. Not that you even need to eat.”

“Well, do you eat?”

“Hold on, you’ll see. We’re almost there. Tell me how you managed to get the car to work with you and succeed where Zumeht had failed?”

Samza answered, but she quietly resented the statement. Zumeht had died, not failed.

* * *

“Here we are,” Blork announced proudly. Samza could see nothing but a rocky outcropping. “Come on in.” Blork disappeared.

“Blork?” she asked, feeling a surge of panic. She no longer had any idea which direction she would have to go to relocate her spacecar. “Please turn to face me again. I can’t see you. I don’t know where to go.”

“I am facing you,” came Blork’s voice. “I’m just behind the, uh, what you call a rock. Come.”

Samza stepped forward and saw that there was a thin crevice. She wiggled in, surprised to find that this was not the same substance as the boulders that peppered the landscape where she had first encountered this world. Those rocks felt like they were supposed to, hard and solid. These rocks were slightly spongy. It was tight, but the stone gave way until she popped out on the other side.

And there was Blork. There were all the Blork.

* * *

Samza stood on a little ledge over a vast cave, lit from openings like the one they stood in, but also by a phosphorescent material like moss that grew all along the walls, emitting a soft white light. Sometimes a Blork would press its body against a patch and the light would go out.

All these odd creatures looked the same, except in colour. While her Blork was flat black, some of the others were grey and some were white. It was a monochromatic mass. If they were to go down into the pit she would never be able to tell her Blork from any of the other black ones.

Most of them just stood there, changing in size, body parts phasing in and out, becoming invisible and then visible again. Some interacted with each other in ways she could not comprehend. It was like they were playing pattycake with a million little lines emerging from their bodies.

“That’s chammers,” her guide said. “A delightful diversion. Of course you can’t really see the gameplay. It happens on a temporal plane.”

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a figure suffocating a white patch of light.

“That’s eating. Or sleeping. Or our equivalent of those things. That’s why I needed to get here, my energy is quite low. Running on empty, as you might say.”

He approached a patch on the rock wall close to them. It was a thousand tiny glow-worms rooted in one place. He placed his hand over it and the light went out. “Ah, much better,” he sighed.

“Do they grow back?” Samza asked.

“Of course. Otherwise the Blork would have died out eons ago.”

“Do you die at all?” she asked.

“We could, theoretically,” he said. “We haven’t yet. Like you. Also like you, we don’t reproduce.”

Samza gazed down at the dark cave filled with flat creatures engaged in inscrutable tasks.

“Why are you all here?” she asked. “You can time travel, you said. You’ve been back on Earth, you said. Why not approach me there? Why stay here? Why lure me to your planet and then walk all that way to meet me?”

Even though Blork’s face was featureless she could swear she saw amusement, or maybe derision, in the moment before he answered.

“You know this. Maybe you need to sit down.”

Samza slumped against the wall, slid down. She thought hard and watched his body, in a constant state of change, shaking and growing and shrinking.

Finally she said, “You can’t travel physically. You can travel in time but only with your consciousness. So you can’t make contact. You can’t do anything in other places and times, you can only watch.”

“Correct!” he said loudly. Some of the others down on the cave floor heard him and looked up. Then two of them started climbing the walls, moving straight up, like spiders. Samza yelped.

“Don’t worry, they don’t bite,” said Blork. The creatures, one grey and one white, reached the ledge and stood before them.

“Pleased to meet you,” Samza said.

There was a long, long silence.

“Actually, we should speak out loud. In English,” said her guide. “I know it’s a terribly limited language but let’s not be rude.”

“Hello,” said the white one. It sounded vaguely how British people used to sound, back before the Schism. She remembered watching a British television show, a comedy, when she was a human girl. These aliens, with their strange way of talking, their strange bodies, they were almost funny. “Sorry about that. I suggested speaking to you directly but your friend here said that all three of us telepathing into your brain might be disconcerting.”

“Disconcerting is an understatement. Out loud is really what I’d prefer.”

“I understand that you’d like your spacecar fixed. We might be able to help.”

“But we would like to know. Where do you intend to go with that vehicle of yours?” asked the grey one.

“The Python colony.”

“Why?”

“To visit the human colony. To inform them that the Cy can travel in space now. To establish a connection between our worlds.”

The grey gave a shrill shriek. She stepped back, ready to run, before she realized it was laughter. She looked at her Blork, the one who was as black as the space between stars, and raised her eyebrows in question.

Then she reached out to him with her mind to ask “What’s so funny?”

But maybe all the Blork could hear her thoughts. Maybe they were all laughing. And maybe her Blork didn’t care about her discomfort or her plans.

She took another step back, unknowingly bringing her to the edge of the ledge. She teetered on the precipice above a long fall down to the dark floor where thousands of Blork lived their flat lives. She felt the pull of gravity and wondered: if she cracked her head open against the cave floor, blood and brains oozing out onto the glow worms, would her regenerative ability function here? Were her nanoteched cells getting what they needed on this odd planet?

She had lived long enough, it would not be a tragedy to die now. But she would like Lezzurk to know what happened. She didn’t like the thought of vem living centuries wondering where she was and what she was doing, when all she had found was the sweet nothing that she had longed for. She didn’t want it now though. She wanted to live. She wanted to see Lezzurk again.

“Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere,” a long, low, solid voice sounded in her head. It was her Blork, deep within her brain, further in than he had been before. She held onto the voice, followed it up to a balanced standing position. She looked balefully at the two other aliens.

“You laugh at me, you laugh at Python. Why don’t you do something useful and tell me what you know,” she demanded.

“Or show you,” said the grey one.

“Let’s show her,” said the white.

“It would be best to show you,” her black Blork said.

“You mean by time traveling?” she asked, then thought for a moment, “Not travel, that’s a misnomer. It’s more accurate to call it ‘time observing’. Are you saying that you can bring me along as you elide the light years it takes to reach Python?”

All three aliens nodded their heads.

* * *

They led her back outside, where she blinked with relief to again be in the light of suns. She followed down a twisting, narrow trail. Her companions were traveling quickly and winking in and out of sight, but she could always see her Blork, attuned to her location, keeping himself visible for her. They came to a plateau where another cave opened up. They entered into an antechamber, where the largest tunnel seemed to lead into the large pit she had just seen from above. The entered a smaller tunnel where they reached a more intimate cave, empty but for the four of them and the phosphorescent moss.

The three at once absorbed all the small glowing plant life. Then, their bodies faintly shining, they surrounded her and pressed in. She hadn’t been that close to anyone in a long time.

Her skin registered a slight physical pressure, so minimal she could be imagining it. The one thing she did feel was a growing claustrophobia.

“Must we be so tightly together?” she asked, trying to keep her voice calm.

“Yes.”

“If we’re not in contact at the moment of departure, then we will not be able to perceive each other on arrival. We must travel as one being.”

Then all three of them spoke at once. “Watch that wall.” She watched the wall. She wondered why she thought of her Blork as a he and the others as it. For some reason the others didn’t register as people, as male or female or agender. Hers projected a masculine vibe, a swagger. He must think of himself as he.

They started turning, flickering out of her sight but she knew they were there. She could feel them now, razor sharp edges cutting into her torso, slicing her to shreds.

The wall exploded into stars whizzing past her head.

She must be bleeding, a thousand cuts in her belly and back while her brain leaked from her ears. She was speeding through space without a ship, brain freezing and shattering into a million shards of matter.

She heard that squeal of laughter again, and then a moan. A sun blossomed in front of her eyes, burning her retinas, and then disappeared. This was a blood orgy. The Blork took turns leading hapless beings into their lair to be eviscerated with the sharp edges their flat bodies, blood and bone licked up by aroused alien mouths in the dark caves they called home.

LEZZURK HELP ME,” she cried out with her last bit of mental strength, her mouth immobile, hoping that by pure force of will she could co-opt some of the Blork’s telepathy and…

And what exactly? Lezzurk couldn’t help her.

* * *

The pain began to lessen. Her eyes were filled with fog for a minute, then cleared. She was on a flat place on a mountain top. The three Blork were there with her. Her body was whole and unharmed.

“Maybe I should have warned you that might hurt,” her Blork said. “But I wasn’t sure. We’ve never done it before.”

“It worked very well though, I must say,” exclaimed the white one.

“Yes, here we are, on the world where the humans have built their citystate, and there is your little cyborg friend, come right along with us,” said the grey one.

Samza was not littler than any of them.

This was where she wanted to be, home of the human colony. She should be rushing down the steep incline with open arms. But the air stank in a way she remembered too well.

“Why don’t you have individual names?” she asked.

“We do!” huffed the grey Blork.

“They can only be pronounced telepathically.”

“And in our own language.”

“English is so limited.”

“Ok, ok, I get it,” said Samza.

“Samza,” said her guide, the black one. “We came here for a reason.”

She had caught a glimpse of the ground below the mountain but looked away. She wanted desperately to goad the Blork into more conversation. She wanted to ask them to try her with their language, just try. Maybe they were underestimating her.

But she was there to look. Even though she already knew that she didn’t want to see.

She stepped forward.

They were high enough to peer down into a city surrounded by a huge wall. The wall was braced by scaffolding full of tech; gears and wires, screens and levers. She could see humans in helmets and thick military suits, similar to what she remembered the solders from Petawawa wearing. They stood at stations, typing and pressing buttons while projectiles whistled out of the massive barrels that lined the top of the wall. Some exploded in the air, or on the ground. Many made it to the base of the mountain beside the one where Samza and her companions were.

Twisted pieces of a material that she didn’t recognize mingled with the remnants of bombs, littered across the land outside the city. The wind carried a putrid scent.

Inside the city there weren’t proper streets and parks and wide open spaces. Beyond the strip where the army worked was a large sooty brown dome. There were occasional strips of windows and if she looked hard enough she could sometimes see flashes behind them, people on their way from one place to another.

“What are they fighting?” she asked. “I don’t see an enemy.”

“They fight anyone they can,” said the grey Blork.

Her black one just said “Wait, and watch.”

She waited and watched soldiers rushing about, doing various things probably meant to power, to reload, to aim. She watched a child stop at one of the windows, fascinated by the action outside, before a woman pulled him away.

A bomb flew out of the mountain beside them. She squinted her eyes and could see the tiny opening it came from. If the enemy was inside the mountains, and they were on a mountain, what did that mean about their safety?

The humans launched a bomb of their own to meet the one aimed at their city. She waited for them to collide, expecting a huge display of fireworks. But at the last minute the alien missile ducked out of the way. Smart bombs – the natives must have good tech. But she wanted the humans to win. They were her genetic ancestors, they were Earthlings, no matter how long they’d been gone or what terrible things they had done to the Cy in the past. That was just history now

The colonizers launched more weapons, barraging the alien projectile until it crashed to the ground before the city walls. But it did not explode. Instead, a small door opened up on the side, and figures crawled out. They were strange creatures, each with many legs and a bulbous torso, like a snowman mounted on a spider. But they were alive, and obviously afraid of dying. They hid behind the wreckage until there was a pause in the bombing. Then they made a run back to the mountain they came from. The city started firing again.

“It’s not a bomb, it’s a ship!” Samza exclaimed.

“The Phens have not yet perfected a weapon that will fly unaccompanied,” said the white Blork. “Doesn’t look like they’ll survive long enough to do so.”

“They have spaceships, but not bombs?” Samza asked, incredulous.

Black Blork answered in a softer tone than his colleague. “That’s an air ship. They don’t have space travel. They were an agrarian civilization before the humans came.”

“But that was ages ago! They can’t still be warring.”

“Here it comes,” said the grey, sounding almost bored.

The Python soldiers scrambled to stations built into the outside of the dome. The perimeter began to rotate slowly, then faster. With the outside rim whirring, the whole city lifted off the ground. Samza gasped and staggered back until she hit solid rock.

The colony rose into the air, five metres, twenty, a hundred metres. The soldiers held onto the ledges around their stations as the city moved forward. Samza saw thrusters pulsing fire underneath. It floated across the plain toward the mountain that had launched the air ship. When it reached the base it settled again.

With a grinding noise that hurt Samza’s ears, drawbridges fell from the city’s walls. They slammed to the ground and soldiers poured out, heavily armed and in tight formations, disappearing into small openings in the mountain.

Cries arose from inside. They weren’t cries in any human voice, and certainly not in English, but Samza could hear pain and death.

“The humans are killing those who live here,” she said. She had not expected her voice to sound so dull.

“As they always have,” said the white one.

“They take the genocide part of colonialism very seriously,” said her black Blork. He reached out to her as if he would take her hand, but then he stopped.

“When is it here?” she asked. “Relative to us? They left Earth a very long time ago.”

“Let’s go home,” said the grey. “We can explain there, and it’s unpleasant here.” The top of the mountain beside them burst open and the bodies of Phens were thrown out, tumbling down to land unceremoniously wherever there was a rock ledge or crevice, only a few of them ending in broken positions on the ground far below.

The black ignored his sibling. “It took a while for humans to adapt. It took a while for them to be able to mine the land for resources to create their death tech. It took a while for them to gain the trust of the first Phens they came upon, those called the Phentems. After conquering them from within, they moved in open warfare against the Phensoths. Then the Phenkams. Then the Phenrars. These are the Phenwoms, the last Phens left on the planet who are neither subjugated nor extinct.”

“Don’t speak so fast” said the grey. “Looks like they’re pretty close to extinct.”

* * *

More Phenwoms ran out of the base of the mountain. Samza could now discern that each of their eight feet was completely round and surrounded by jointed claws, and that what appeared to be eyes were in the middle of their lumpy torsos. The very top of each snowman-pile was a hole that opened and closed. Paying close attention she could attribute the screams to these.

“They don’t look like us…” Samza said faintly.

“You expect other sapient species to look like you? For what reason? You only look like humans because they made you and you’re half human. What do you think this is, that show you Earth people always watched… what was that?” asked the white one.

“Star Trek,” said the grey. “Or Star Wars. There were others. Humans loved to create aliens who looked like humans.”

“Humans are aliens.”

“Everyone is alien. Except for us.”

“You are alien!” Samza screamed, hot all the way up to the roots of her silver hair. “To me you are totally alien! You only feel unalien to yourselves because you are you!”

“Of course,” said all three Blork in unison.

Python soldiers came out of the mountain and rounded up the rest of the living Phenwoms. The humans lined up the spidery-snowman creatures and shot at them until they were still.

“Take me back, please,” asked Samza softly.

They surrounded her and again she felt eviscerated, her internal organs falling out from between the razors of their bodies. Then they were back in the dark cave, and she was whole.

“We can stay here for the night,” said the black Blork, taking the dead moss from the walls to fashion a bed on the floor.

Samza wasn’t listening.

“Sorry, Samza” said the white one. He didn’t sound sorry.

She felt sick.

“See you tomorrow,” the grey said. They both left.

Samza and her black Blork were alone. She followed his instruction to lie down on the bed of moss. He seemed to lie beside her, but how could that be comfortable with his two-dimensional body? Or was comfort even something he could feel?

She realized she had been thinking of him as her Blork. As if he were her friend, after all. He was certainly nicer to her than the other two. She needed someone to be nice to her right now.

Python was hell. Humans were hell. Cy were created from humans so could they be any better?

There were only six other Cy in the world and she was far from them. She had no idea how to get home.

Samza wept, for the fourth time in centuries. Blork reached out as if to touch her. She couldn’t feel it but she imagined that she could.

“There there,” he said. “There there.”

Episode Four

The insects buzzed around her face but Samza didn’t move to brush them away. She had lain here long enough to know that the bugs were only interested in her as a place to land. The tiny feet on her flesh was the only touch she’d known for some time. She didn’t welcome it but she also didn’t mind.

The sunflowers – as Samza thought of them, though they were different from sunflowers on Earth, with their pink and purple petals arrayed around pistils with eyes buried deep in the centre – no longer scared her. When one focused on her she smiled instead of shivering and looking away.

The bugs were hungry only for the fluid of the flowers’ eyes. When bitten, a flower became swollen, its hazel iris turning an angry red. Sometimes they burst, leaving the plant to wither and die. The flowers that had once unnerved her were now her friends, and the insects her enemy. Not that she fought them; there was no fighting a swarm.

Humans are a swarm.

She chose a new place to lie in the fields at the base of the mountain each day, so the flattened grasses of the previous spot could spring back. When the two suns sank in tandem below the horizon she returned to the small cave. She slept each night, though her days lying in the field were hardly laborious enough to require rest. She did not do much of anything because there was not much to do. She followed the pattern of night and day because that’s what the Cy had been taught by humanity. She followed it for something to mark time passing.

In the cave she examined each small head of moss glowing in the dark just as she examined the flowers during the day. She tried to observe without analysis; to see without thinking about what she saw.

Blork came to visit her often. She told him stories from her life and he told her about planets far away and civilizations from long ago. They did not speak of the future, or of humans. But, as much as she tried for comfortable ignorance, sometimes thoughts at the back of her brain insisted on being considered.

One day she asked “When we traveled through time…” and stopped, unwilling to bring that memory flooding back.

“Yes? Do ask,” he prodded.

“I could see you and interact with you, and with your friends.”

“They’re more like acquaintances.”

“But the humans and Phemwoms wouldn’t have seen you, right?”

“That’s correct. Our third dimension is time, so it’s not really ‘travel’ as much as it is ‘paying attention to.’ But since no other creature we’ve found can pay attention beyond temporality, we can only be perceived here, where our two visible dimensions live. Except by others we are traveling with, of course, if we are in contact when we make the jump.”

“So they couldn’t have seen me either?”

“We’re… not sure.”

Had Samza travelled only with her consciousness, somehow cut from her body? Or was she herself cut from the restraints of time and space as she knew it, under the Blork’s stewardship? They certainly had unique abilities, and even they did not understand them. Her friend couldn’t answer any more of her questions, though he stayed attentive to her.

Soon after, on a day when the suns were particularly bright, he came bounding down the hill, his legs pumping while his flat feet floated over soft rock.

“Samza!” he said. “Finally! After eons of research, I have a solution for your spaceship problem.”

“Eons? It’s been weeks. Perhaps a month or two.”

“You’re very stubborn about your limited sense of time. I have traveled eons to find a solution for you.”

Samza almost answered, “Don’t you have something better to do than help me with all your limitless time?” but restrained herself. It wasn’t his fault that she only had access to one temporal plane. He didn’t mean to be rude, he had just never been taught the forms of politeness practiced on Earth.

“I know how to fix your ship.” he said, his voice lowered. He was trying to sound serious, Samza thought. If his flat chest could puff, it would. “Come on, then.” He started back toward the Blork colony.

She didn’t want to get up but she expected he would return and pester her until she complied.

Near the top of the mountain they stood on the ledge, sunlight streaming in from behind to light up the bodies of the Blork on the cave floor below. Unlike last time, they were all gazing up, heads turned toward Samza above them. She assumed they were communicating with telepathy. It was unsettling to be looked at by so many faces but no eyes. She much preferred being looked at by the flowers, which had eyes but no faces. Eventually, her black friend turned and led her once again to the smaller cave where Samza spent her nights.

And then the sharp edge of his body cut her torso open from groin to throat, a vertical gaping hole. She felt her blood flowing out, leaving her weak and gasping. The searing spread from her abdomen around to her back along her spine and through her limbs.

Just as suddenly the pain stopped. They were still in the same small cave, although the walls and floor were carpeted in phosphorescent moss instead of the carefully maintained patches that had just been there. The rivulet of water that ran through the centre of the room didn’t yet scar the floor and the whole place felt smaller.

How many time-rides did she have to take before it felt less like evisceration?

Blork led her out of the cave. The landscape was similar but the differences were notable. The mountain a little taller, the horizon a little hazier.

“Now,” he said “We just have to walk back to the place where your spacecar will crash in the future.”

“Could you not have placed us there instead of here?” Samza asked. “The walk, as I remember, is quite long.”

“The journey is where learning happens.”

“I enjoy learning but my current focus is to journey away from this planet.”

“I’m on board, I get you, you and me are sympatico, but I have a couple of other things in mind too. I can hold a number of focal points at once.”

Samza started walking.

The sludge lake was thicker than when she had previously encountered it, and its edges were undefined, swampland creeping outward for kilometres.

“I can attempt to circumnavigate the bog,” offered her guide, “To save your feet from getting wet. However, I do not know how far it reaches – perhaps it encompasses the entire equator.” Samza declined and marched on, mud sucking at her ankles with each step.

At least the gravity was light.

* * *

Eventually they climbed out of the muck but there were still no familiar sunflowers. Instead the ground was covered with vines, one of which snaked around Samza’s ankle as she stepped close. Curious, Samza bent down to examine the thin green strand. Before she could look too closely a second vine sprang out to capture her other foot. Acting in concert, the plants pulled her feet apart and she fell, landing sharply on her hip. The vegetation kept pulling in opposite directions, as if trying to separate her legs from her body. As she rolled over onto her back more tendrils encircled her wrists, her waist, her neck. The loops of vines tightened and kept tightening.

This was real, unlike her hallucinations of death during time travel. The pressure around her neck was inexorable: after crushing her trachea it would keep on. If it separated her body from her head there could be no regeneration.

The ground beneath her felt hungry. The roots of these plants fed on blood.

She tried to scream Blork’s name but all she could manage was a choked grunt. The plants pulled harder and she felt the bones in her pelvis begin to give way. Her eyes bulged.

Then he was by her side. “Oh my,” he said. “This is troublesome.”

“Save me,” she said, but could only mouth the words.

“I will save you,” he promised, but did nothing. Samza dug her fists and heels into the ground and thrust her torso toward the sky, snapping her neck up at the last second with the force of her whole body. The tendril around her throat broke and she found her voice.

“Cut them!” she demanded. “With your body’s sharp edges.”

“I have no edges. I don’t know what you mean.”

“Like you cut me when we time travel,” Samza explained, aware of a new vine, a thick one, creeping up around her breasts and over her collarbone. Blork didn’t answer, but he did come closer. The murderous vines lunged at him but couldn’t get a grip on his surface. They fell to the ground in green coils and shrank away in defeat. He loomed over Samza, as if to lay down on top of her and then she felt that slicing pain again, like her whole body torn open. She was beginning to get used to it.

* * *

Samza lay in the shadow of a large rock, the ground beneath her firm and free of vegetation. After catching her breath she raised her head just enough to look around. The field of vines was only a few metres away, but nothing was trying to break out to reach them. She breathed deeply, noticing oxygen for one of the few times in her long life.

“Thank you,” she sighed.

“Apologies for how long it took me to act. I didn’t remember at first that you need your neck circumference intact to stay alive.”

“But you did it!” Samza raised herself onto her elbows and looked at his blank, black face. “You cut me free.”

“I did no such thing. Not that I would refuse to, but one needs a blade in order to cut. That’s what made me pause when you told me to use my edges. I may be edgy, cutting-edge, all that, but I don’t have any literal edges. That would require a third physical dimension and I have only two.”

“You cut me when we travel. It feels like it, at least. There are no wounds or scars.”

“You felt this again just now?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry that traveling with me is painful. But my body is not what hurts you; that is time itself. We have traveled on three occasions now: once to see Python; once to this past era, where the Cetils will hopefully help us; and once just now, to transport us a few minutes and three kilometres away from those vines. We will need to travel a fourth time, to return to when the remains of your ship exist. After that, you will not have to come with me again. I won’t touch you.”

Her friend’s face was as inexpressive as ever but Samza thought he sounded sad. Perhaps she was sad herself; as painful as the travel was, and as unpleasant the realization of the nature of the human colony, her voyages with Blork were the most exciting things she had ever experienced.

* * *

Lezzurk heard rustling coming from the woods. Ve turned ver long torso around.

“Hello Hekurz,” ve said.

“Did you know I was there?”

“You followed me all the way up.”

“I was trying to be quiet.”

“That’s not your specialty.”

Hekurz sat down beside Lezzurk at the top of a cliff that overlooked a vast forest. The drop in front of them was severe but the path up from the opposite direction was relatively easy. This was Lezzurk’s favourite place to sit and think, to watch night fall and the stars appear, to wonder what Samza was doing at that moment. It was where ve came to be alone.

“I don’t have a specialty,” said Hekurz, sounding uncharacteristically mournful.

“Don’t be foolish. You are physically the strongest of us, and you are cheerful to keep our spirits lifted. Those are valuable specialties.”

“Thanks,” said Hekurz, and grinned before frowning. “I needed to hear something nice. Do you need to hear something nice?”

Lezzurk had not been surprised when Hekurz appeared but was surprised now. “I don’t know.”

“You are so gentle and kind. Even when Plimizi is being insufferable, you treat him well. And I know, we all know, you feel Samza’s absence the most. Yet you never burden anyone with your hurt. I think that is admirable too, but also unnecessary.”

“I had no idea you thought so much about me.”

“You’re rather the opposite of me, yes? I talk so much, you talk so little. I smile constantly, you smile rarely. But that means you always say exactly what you mean, and also that you mean every smile you give.

“That’s not true for you?”

“No. I talk to fill the silence, I smile to make myself well-liked.”

“There are six of us left. I think we’re beyond liking or disliking.”

“Perhaps you are.”

The bottom of the sun touched the horizon. They watched it drop out of sight.

“Why did you come up here?” Lezzurk asked into the dusk.

“To watch you watch the sky. I won’t come anymore if you don’t want me to. It feels lonelier in the village when you’re not there.”

Ve turned to look ver friend in the eyes, seeing a confession that ve hadn’t expected – though perhaps should have. Ve remembered how delighted ve’d been with Hekurz’s pet bear. The adolescent ursine had followed Hekurz home only a few nights after Samza’s departure. The tenderness between the two was evident and Lezzurk admired it. And when Hekurz showed off the tricks he had taught the bear, ve was delighted. It was the most ve’d laughed in possibly forever, and ve still smiled at the beast when they encountered each other.

“Where is your bear now?” ve asked.

Hekurz didn’t seem to think this was a non-sequitur. “At the bottom of the mountain, likely having a grand old time with his family and friends. But he’ll hear me when I come back down. He always does.”

“You didn’t bring him on purpose?”

“Yes.”

Lezzurk couldn’t think of a reason to leave the bear behind, other than the obvious, so ve leaned forward and Hekurz leaned forward too, until their lips touched.

* * *

Through his kitchen window Wachowz saw Hekurz and Lezzurk walk out of the woods, Hekurz’s bear ambling behind them in the bright moonlight. The two Cy walked side by side, talking the whole way across the field. Lezzurk’s travels up the hill happened almost nightly but Hekurz being with ver was new. New things were rare enough that Wachowz noticed them.

He moved to the bedroom window to continue watching the pair enter the village and continue talking all the way to Hekurz’s home. There they parted, but they squeezed each other’s hands before they did. As the bear curled up in front of Hekurz’s door and Lezzurk strode toward his own place, Wachowz contemplated the development.

A new relationship could stir the Cy out of their current torpor. People in love became inspired and they wanted to do things together, things that they had not been doing before. Some of those things would be private – or perhaps not? The long history of the Cy had included two different orgiastic periods. Each of those started with a couple, their sensuality spreading, community meetings ending with limbs and lips indiscriminately entwined. Wachowz looked back on those times fondly, when the Cys’ love for each other had been apparent and visceral, but now he hoped for more. Pleasure was one thing: advancement was another entirely.

The longer Samza was gone, the more Wachowz fantasized about the adventures she must be having. If Samza could explore the universe on her own, the rest of the Cy could do better than idle their hours away. Training a bear to do somersaults was amusing but how did it improve the universe? Not much; yet it was something. Hekurz had created something that didn’t previously exist, not since the circus bears of ancient times.

The bear started snoring. It was not trained to sleep at Hekurz’z door; it chose to do so, though it could easily have slept in the forest like the rest of its species. Hekurz even complained that he was trapped in his house every morning until the bear awoke because even with their camaraderie, even with his strength and bravery, Hekurz would not dare to wake a sleeping bear.

No, it was more than camaraderie. Hekurz and the bear had a bond. And perhaps Hekurz and Lezzurk were developing a bond as well.

Lezzurk must be easy to love. Samza and ve had been like that. They had a troubled relationship, better when they lived apart than together, but their attachment to each other was indisputable. And now she was gone and Hekurz was not. Wachowz sat back in his comfortable chair and closed his eyes. He thought about Samza off in space, where no Cy had gone before. He couldn’t imagine the adventures she was having… or could he? With the peace of the sleeping village settling in around him, a meditative calm descended upon him. He could almost see her face in the dancing blackness behind his eyes. It was like she was right there and he wasn’t alone in his house. She wasn’t alone. He knew it with certainty. Samza wasn’t alone out there.

Suddenly something grabbed him around the neck. He jumped up, looked around, brought his hands to his throat. There was nothing.

Wachowz sighed. His imagination, as much a blessing as a curse, had taken over again.

He turned his thinking back to Hekurz and Lezzurk – how could they use this new romance as a starting point for a better future for the Cy?

If they all coupled off, that left Mezmack the only one left for Wachowz. Wachowz snorted. Some people were better off single and he was one of them.

* * *

“What are Cetils?” Samza asked as she stood up and tentatively began to follow Blork. She glanced back at the blood-hungry field of vines and then resolved to keep her gaze on the ground in front of her, lest she walk into anything else carnivorous.

“You could think off then as primates,” He answered. “They are our ancestors. You have a lot in common with them.”

Samza decided not to feel offended.

She spotted a familiar crack in a large rock ahead. With fresh energy she hurried forward.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “This is where I slept.”

“Where we first made contact,” he confirmed, sounding nostalgic. Was it even possible for time travelers to feel nostalgia? “The crash landing site will be just this way.” Blork waved his hand in a direction and Samza started to run. “Be careful!” he called after her but Samza paid no attention.

They would fix her ship and she would return to Earth. She would tell the Cy to forget about humanity. They were a disease infecting the universe and Earth was better off without them. Their planet had healed and the Cy were its caretakers now. Why hadn’t that been enough for her? Why had she needed to expend so much energy to create this adventure for herself? She desperately wanted to see the Cy again, her family, her home.

Wachowz’s face emerged in front of her eyes, a visualization hanging transparently over the landscape. She slowed her pace. She could imagine exactly what he looked like, she could practically hear his voice.

The Cy needed a better future. Something to live for. The Earth itself was not enough. They used to live for each other but they were too few for that to last.

They must invent a way for the Cy to reproduce.

Samza stopped at this bold new thought. There must be a way. Probably not through the excruciating and inconvenient method of pregnancy and birth – it was an evolutionary flaw that humans continued to have vaginal births after achieving bipedalism. The Cy had the potential for science far more advanced than that which had created them as sterile. They had laboratories, the ones the humans left behind and Wachowz’s own where he had produced the crycoma drug, and they had the ability to build more. They had creativity and an eternity to experiment. They would lift themselves up from the rudimentary life they had led for so long and discover a way to proliferate. They would become populous and then concern themselves with space travel – not to reconnect with humans but to spread hope and compassion throughout the universe as a counterpoint to humanity’s distribution of death and oppression.

Meditating on her new goal, she didn’t notice the figure until she almost walked into it.

“Ummanama Harribothuj,” it said.

“What?” she asked. It ducked its head.

The creature was shaped similarly to the Blork, but taller, as tall as Samza herself. It was three dimensional, balls for head and torso, smaller balls for knees and elbows. Its limbs between joints were cylinders, and its feet curved up from flat soles. Its thick hands had heavily webbed fingers. Sun gleamed on its basalt black surface, run through with silver veins.

Samza wondered that so much of the sapient life she had encountered was bipedal. It seemed a statistical unlikelihood. Of course, the Cy had two legs because humans did, and the Blork must have two legs because the Cetils did. Not that the Blork even used their legs for walking, not really. Her black friend mimicked walking sometimes but the others never bothered.

He caught up with her. “Repeat this,” he demanded. “Hulukalabithirwa Faluda.”

“What is that?”

“Their language.”

“You can speak it?” Samza asked.

“Of course. It’s our language, although we have a great many more words and more complex syntax.”

English was a human invention. Samza wished she spoke something else. There had been an era when humans had many languages, but that was ancient history.

“Hulukalabithirwa Faluda” Samza repeated the syllables with no idea what they meant.

The Cetil spoke more gibberish and she parroted Blork’s responses. Then the creature loped off.

“They will do as we ask,” said her new friend. “And I have calculated carefully, there is little risk to us. Us as in the Blork, I mean.”

* * *

“What risk? You have not told me anything.” Samza tried to quell her rising anger and forced herself to add politely, “I would be appreciative if you could illuminate me as to your plan.”

“They have a tree that, when the leaves are boiled down and processed, produces an extremely strong bonding agent. And they have a smelter, to create an alloy that you would perceive as metal. They will create a sheet large enough to cover the hole in the side of your ship. They have a liquid they create from the bones of the large animals that live in the desert not far from here that should serve as fuel. They will make a barrel and leave it for us along with the metal and glue.”

“They will make these things and leave them for us to find when we return to the present.” Samza restated the plan to make it feel real. “But, if they are the precursors to you, why can’t you make these materials yourself? And what if they misplace it, or use it, in the years between now and then?”

“Blork can’t manipulate things anymore, Samza. How do you keep forgetting? Our minds can go anywhere but our bodies stay in a fixed time and don’t have enough substance to move objects. The only part of me that’s here right now physically is an almost imperceptible line. You can see me because you came with me. But even if we were back in the present, I couldn’t touch anything. It’s a small price to pay. But to help you I need hands that can lift, not just gesture.”

“So you told it that I am from the future?”

“No! We have to ensure we don’t give them any knowledge that could change the course of history, else the Blork might cease to exist.”

“So how do you know they won’t just use up the fuel and metal themselves?”

“Because I took us back to the very last day they will live.”

“They will go suddenly extinct? But then how did you evolve?”

“Tomorrow the sun splits into two. It will do a lot of damage, but ultimately it will be for the best; it is the catalyst for the creation of the Blork.”

Samza looked up into the sky. There was only one sun! Why had she not noticed before? “So the sun splits and the effect on the planet is that it flattens the Cetils into Blorks?”

He snorted. “That’s very simplistic. Not bad though, really. It was something like that, though it involved years of the surviving Cetils, who had holed up in the cave where we now live, being pushed through the fabric of time. Like… like cheese through cheesecloth.”

“Oh. That doesn’t sound pleasant.”

“It isn’t. I’ve watched.”

“How do you identify what knowledge to withhold from them? Is there a certain set of facts that could change the course of events so that you never evolve?”

“Who knows? I’m just using my best judgment. I’ve never talked to them before, or any other species, other than you, of course. We can’t be seen or heard, but we watch and learn.”

Samza chided herself. It was difficult to remember that she could interact with him only because she originated from the same physical space as two of his dimensions; that she suffered the pain of contact with his body in order for them to speak in this other time. But she should be intelligent enough to wrap her mind around it. But she valued more than just intelligence.

“What is the point of all your learning if you do not use it to do good in the world?”

Good is a pretty relative term. The sun-split wasn’t good for the Cetils but it was good for the Blork. If we went around using our vast knowledge to do ‘good’ it would probably only be what is good for us.”

“Can you not use your vast knowledge to decide courses of action to benefit all species?”

“Do you know how many species exist in the universe, Samza?”

“No,” she admitted.

“Three hundred decillion. At the moment. Well, not this moment. The moment that is your present.”

“That sounds like a lot.”

“It is quite a lot, and we are not yet sufficiently wise to plot courses of action across the wider expanse of time that would have either a positive or neutral effect on them all. So we stick to observation. For now. One day we will get there.”

“And then…”

“Yes?”

Samza thought Blork knew what she was about to say but would never say it himself.

“And then you will be gods.”

“Depending on your definition of ‘god’. We would not, for example, be a creator god.”

“No, but omniscient.” He did not respond. “But not omnipotent,”’ she continued. “You cannot, for example, even lift a metal sheet.”

“We have plans. You cannot know everything we intend, but know that we have plans,” he muttered.

“And why can’t you just travel forward in time to when you become omniscient? Then you could ascertain how to attain that state.”

“There are limits, Samza. There are forces in the universe and they have limits, rules. Gravity, for example. Time is the same.”

“So what –”

“What I can tell you is also limited. Are you rested? We should start moving back.”

“I still have questions, like how is it that I’m here physically and can talk to the Cetil but you –” He started moving away from her and she gaped at his round retreating form. “Are you suggesting we walk all the way back to the mountain before you return us to the present? I almost died on the way here, if you recall. Please just get us back to the mountain and the present in one trip.”

“Why go back to the mountain at all? This is where your ship will be.”

* * *

It was suddenly real to Samza that her departure from this planet was imminent. They were about to return to her timeline where fuel was waiting for her. She would repair her spacecar and once again merge her mind with its computer.

Samza closed her eyes and probed the spot in her brain where the car used to be. She ached with the absence of close companionship, her friend who never judged, who had no agenda, no irritability, no secrets.

She opened her eyes and saw Blork’s big face close to hers. After all this time together she was beginning to discern dim features; not eyes or a nose but the blackness of his face varied in hue at different moments. Right now the onyx near the top of his head faded downward into graphite, with wings of ebony curving outward. It formed an almost wistful expression.

“Is there something the matter?” she asked.

“I will miss you when you are gone.”

Samza didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure she would miss him. She longed to be rejoined with the spacecar computer but she wouldn’t miss a sapient creature who had helped her immensely. Maybe she was more machine than living thing. Maybe that was why the Cy had become so despondent over the years: they were incapable of true connection even with each other. That would explain why no one had ever tried to invent reproduction. They instinctively knew that they did not have the emotional resources to raise children.

The enthusiasm she had just felt, her inspiration to create new Cy life, drained away. These odd, flat creatures had godhood in their future: what a small thing reproduction must seem. The Cy were insignificant compared to them, compared even to the humans. Humans were violent, but at least they were ambitious.

The Blork and the humans were both ambitious, terribly so. Humans wanted to conquer the universe, Blork wanted to preside over it, but it amounted to the same thing. Neither scenario was a universe Samza wanted to live in.

“Come on then,” her friend said, extending his hand. Samza suppressed a sudden desire to tell him that she preferred not to go home, that she would spend the rest of her life lying under the flowers in the field by the mountain. Blork could keep her informed of all the knowledge his people discovered and she would watch him become a god. Then, when she had had enough, she would drown herself in the sludge lake.

Perhaps all the Cy back on earth had found a way to die by now.

The graphite colour of Blork’s face condensed into a little spot in the middle and the onyx flooded either side. She read this expression as anticipatory, possibly impatient.

She should, if nothing else, repair the spacecar. Her mood might improve once the computer was back in her brain. She impulsively threw her arms around him. Tiny slices cut up and down her torso – like cheese through cheesecloth, she thought to herself – but the torture of time travel was beginning to have elements of pleasure. She relaxed into the pain, breathing in agony instead of air. The sharp jabs began to feel like points of light opening up from her body, the tearing of her flesh was light spilling out, joining with the cosmos in a trembling connection to all things that existed.

* * *

There she was; the beautiful spacecar with an ugly hole in her side sat on the sandy ground, wires and torn upholstery spilling out like intestines from a gut wound. Samza ran to the vehicle and fell to her knees at its side, stroking the smooth metal on a section of the hull that remained intact.

“Where will we find the material?” she asked without taking her eyes from the car.

“It’d be buried over the years. Should be here, on the other side of this rock. What do you have in that car you can use as a shovel?”

“Why would a spaceship have a shovel? Would you expect a yacht to have a bailing bucket?”

“Which is why I asked what you can use as a shovel, not if you had one.”

“After all this, now I need to engage in physical labour.”

“You’re angry. A minute ago, I could have sworn that you were sad. You may not be human, but you certainly have a similar set of emotions.” Blork’s tone was disparaging, but Samza smiled and decided that digging for a bit was not such a difficult task.

She donned the gloves from the carsuit to protect her hands and carefully tore at a piece of the hull. It was disturbing to damage the craft further but the chunk she removed was a triangle hanging loose, attached by only a few inches. Once free in her hands it became a makeshift shovel and she got to work digging into the sandy ground.

Eventually she hit something solid. It was a large sheet of metal curled into a cylinder, a tank – maybe fuel – and another large barrel. She hauled the cylinder and the tank out of the hole in the ground and stretched her arms.

“You forgot the adhesive,” Blork protested.

“Forgive me, but I doubt that whatever rubber your primitive ancestors made is likely to be a spaceworthy solution. My car has self-repair functionality. Once she has fuel she can do it all herself. The metal may come in handy though.”

Samza opened the gas tank and sniffed. It smelled terrible. She didn’t know if this would work, but the car had promised that any fuel, no matter how rudimentary, would provide enough power to repair itself completely, including the self-fueling feature.

Hopefully it would return to the state it was before the crash, and not the state it was when first made. The car had been designed to create its own energy source out of the carbon dioxide exhaled by its occupant. Humans, breathing more oxygen than Cy, also created more carbon dioxide. In her many years working on this project she had discovered that the Cy emitted something the humans didn’t: trace amounts of ozone leaked from the pores of their skin. She was able to reconfigure the car to use both ozone and carbon dioxide to create energy.

“What are you doing now?” asked Blork.

“I must have her correctly positioned,” Samza answered absently. She gently moved aside pieces of the vehicle’s workings until she located the tiny fuel tank. During a normal space flight this tank was kept full as a backup while the car constantly processed Samza’s gaseous waste. Now it lay torn open, dry and dusty inside.

Assessing the position of the hole, Samza gently rocked the spacecar so it was angled oddly, tilting upward and resting on a fuselage that was unlikely to hold the weight of the vehicle for long.

But the tear in the fuel tank was now facing up; liquid put in wouldn’t spill immediately out.

Grimacing at the smell, Samza poured in the contents of the unearthed tank, what she assumed was the Cetil’s version of fuel. She flashed a quick grin at Blork before turning to enter the car. She put her foot down tentatively, afraid of upsetting the precarious balance of the ship. If her movement knocked it over, the tank would drain and she would have to try again. She tried not to entertain the notion that the computer might already be smashed into too many pieces for self-repair.

“Do you need any help in there?” Blork’s voice was shockingly loud and she flinched slightly. The ship slipped a fraction of a millimeter throwing Samza into panic. She gripped her body tightly to keep still. When it seemed the car had come to rest again she hissed “Be quiet and don’t move a muscle. I mean it.”

“I don’t have any muscle…” he whined, but then, from what she could hear, followed Samza’s instruction.

She reached down and across to where the control panel lay. She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them and initiated startup.

The car shuddered. Samza gripped the back of the chair which lay horizontally in front of her. The sound of rattling filled her ears along with Blork’s voice yelling her name. It occurred to her that with the Cetil’s foul excuse for fuel the whole thing might explode right now, with her in it.

Even with the immediate possibility of disaster, she felt immensely better than she had previously. Perhaps it was because of the possibility of disaster. It was certainly in part due to having a task to accomplish, something of importance to focus on doing. Left to its own devices her mind did her no favours, jumping from mood to mood with a heavy emphasis on melancholy.

Then all the lights came on and the comforting whir of the engine replaced the rattling. The computer screen lit up and glowing text informed her that self-repair would begin in 5…4…3…2…

“Yes!” Samza screamed in glee. She grabbed her carsuit and slid it onto her body. The needle fit easily into its old hole in her neck. The computer flooded into her brain and they hugged, Samza’s arms surrounding herself, caressing her own back.

Through their connection she experienced how the car had been frightened, or as close to frightened as a machine could be, about her chances for survival on this planet when it realized a crash was inevitable. She felt the pain of the collision, of metal and wiring and microchips being torn apart. The car caught up with Samza’s travels and then they stood in silent comfort for a while.

Only Samza was still though; the car was putting itself back together. First the edges of the hole in the fuel tank welded closed. Wires soldered together, wrapping around and into each other like lovers. The car decided to make use of the sheet metal, grabbing it with pincers and flattening it against the great gash in the hull. Once it was in contact with the bulk of the ship it formed perfectly into shape, becoming molten for a moment under the car’s power.

When everything was done a current of pleasure ran through Samza’s body. She was whole again, at one with the car.

Gently the car turned over so everything was upright. Samza rolled into her chair, sinking down and sighing. She ran her hands over the car’s sleek interfaces.

“Samza!” She jumped. She had almost forgotten that Blork was there. She opened the car door and peeked her head out.

“It is wonderful!” she cried. “As good as new. This car is a fine piece of technology, if I do say so myself.”

“I suppose you’ll be leaving right away then.” There was no mistaking the sadness in her friend’s voice, if the shades of black on his face weren’t clear.

“Oh. I have enjoyed meeting you. This does not have to be goodbye forever. You shall visit Earth – you have that impressive ability with time and space. It would be a pleasure to introduce you to my kin.”

“Whatever,” he said glumly and started moving away. “You forget wilfully, I think,” he muttered.

“Wait!” She called back. “May I fly you back to the mountain in my lovely spacecar?”

He was inside in an instant.

Episode Five

The corn rose so tall that it towered above the Cy. Over their brilliant green husks, blonde Rapunzel locks reflected the sun. Plimizi had gone back to gardening with gusto. He was teaching the other Cy how to make seeds most likely to sprout and grow large, juicy fruits and vegetables; how much water a particular plant needed and how much sun; when to harvest and when to let land lay fallow one year for regrowth the next.

Tanaza took up a side specialty: flowers. Plimizi gently made fun of her for tending plants that were not useful as food, and Tanaza teased back that his food wasn’t much more useful as the Cy did not need to eat; they only liked to, as they liked the look and scent of flowers. Then everyone would debate the relative merits of the pleasure of taste versus the pleasure of sight and smell and how various plants factored into many senses, producing beautiful and aromatic flowers as well as delicious food.

The Cy could talk about aesthetics all day and invent heuristic methods to prove their perspectives. Mezmack sided with Plimizi, as one would expect from a chef, with the opinion that the enjoyment of taste was superior to the enjoyment of sight or smell by virtue of not being in a consistent state of stimulus. Eyes and noses registered sights and smells constantly; a tongue could only taste when there was something in the mouth.

Tanaza, with Wachowz backing her up, argued that the taste buds were also constantly stimulated – by saliva. Wachowz put spit samples through a diagnostic program to determine if they registered properties that compared with various foods. The results were always subject to interpretation, keeping the debate alive.

Hekurz and Lezzurk egged this argument on, sometimes favouring one side, sometimes the other. But occasionally they gave their own opinion, which was that the greatest sensory pleasure was touch: that of skin on skin.

* * *

Wachowz listened to the snores emanating from the huts of the Cy village after dark. They slept regularly these days, an indulgence and a marker of their current collective peace of mind.

But not Wachowz, who wrote and read until dawn when he embarked upon his daily riverside walk. Sometimes during the night he’d sit thinking, gazing up at distant galaxies.

It was good to hear Cy voices raised in laughter again in this era of contentment. It was good that they were gardening and cooking and eating and touching each other. But there had been good times before. This new flush of life was initiated by the spark between Hekurz and Lezzurk. The dissolution of that relationship could cause group despair.

The spectre of suicide was never far from Wachowz’s mind. During their low periods he worried that one of the Cy would find a way to die and during their high times he worried that a low period was imminent.

He worried that Zumeht had orchestrated her own accident.

If Samza was alive out there in space maybe she would come back one day with a solution. But Samza was mercurial herself. As much as he missed her perhaps it was best she was gone, leaving room for this new romance to grow. It hurt him to think this.

He intended to capitalize on the inertia of this good time to throw the Cy into a progressive state of awareness and improvement. He had built a sophisticated computer out of parts from the old human city and wormed his way into the memory banks of their ancient servers. He had found vast caches of what used to be known as the internet.

So all night, every night, and much of each day, he read the internet, making notes of anything that might be useful, and thinking. He was looking for an idea for a project. Something huge but conceivable. Something the Cy could set themselves to.

Often he was tempted to spend all day at this work but he made himself go out for exercise and socializing, at least a little bit. He was taking on his own specialty under Mezmack’s tutelage: baking. Mezmack preferred to cook; he liked to taste and add things as he went along. Wachowz found satisfaction in baking, which was science as opposed to cooking’s art. To bake, he must measure exact proportions of ingredients and add them in the right order. Everything had to be correct before putting it in the oven and leaving it there for a prescribed amount of time. Only when finished did he know if he had succeeded.

He invariably ended up pleased with his time among his brethren, baking, eating, talking, despite his tendency toward isolation. He just wished that he had conceived of his mission much earlier. Perhaps Samza would not have left if there had been ambition for the Cy on Earth.

He had considered space travel, of course. It was Zumeht’s ambition, and Samza’s. But Zumeht was dead and there was no way to know if Samza was alive and well. It was too risky: he wanted to save the Cy, not wipe them out. And he didn’t want technological advancement just for the sake of itself: that had done enough damage during the reign of humanity. There had to be something worth achieving, something that did no harm.

Wachowz curled up in his armchair with his tablet computer, which was networked to the bigger machine that now housed the remains of the internet. Some nights he read nothing that struck him as useful. There were times he was appalled at the viciousness, the petty personal attacks between strangers based on trivial disagreements. But there were also beautiful personal essays and fiction, visual art and short films, science journals, amusing pictures of animals and whole communities of people supporting each other though they did not seem to have in-person relationships.

He enjoyed leisurely browsing, remembering some things he had forgotten and learning some things he hadn’t known. As long as the love between Lezzurk and Hekurz kept everyone else in love with living, then he had time.

* * *

The spacecar and its two occupants flew low, watching the land change below. Without mentioning it to her companion, Samcarza veered away from the direct route back to Blork Mountain when they reached the sludge lake.

“A joy ride!” squealed Blork. “How thrilling!”

They followed a slow moving river for kilometers, its edges lined with bulbous plants that occasionally burst open, loosing hordes of insects into the air. The river eventually led to a deep red ocean. Samza thought she saw a sailboat and caught her breath – was there still sapient life here other than the Blork? Beings who could build modes of travel?

They dropped even lower, skimming the surface of water that wasn’t water, and approached the boat. From here she could see that the thing wasn’t constructed; it was organic. The curved surface was scaly and the mast that reached straight into the air was segmented and covered with suckers. The sail itself was thin, stretched flesh.

Abruptly, the sail withdrew into the mast, and the mast moved, slapping itself against the spacecar’s side. The suckers stuck, and the boat reeled itself in, opening a circular hole in its bow. The hole was dark and vast, giving the impression that the creature was larger on the inside than out.

“We call it a pib,” said Blork. “It’s trying to eat us.”

“We’re twice the size,” said Samza, fascinated by the sight of shiny silver scales dripping red liquid. Samza’s own skin was also silver, her blood red.

“It has been known to eat animals twice its size. Like one of your great snakes on Earth. Like a python.

Samcarza shot up in the air, but the pib held on and kept advancing. The great cave of its mouth was hypnotic. Samza wondered if a scream in there would echo.

The ship started spinning in circles, faster and faster until Samza’s stomach felt queasy, but she was laughing. Her friend was laughing too, hysterics filling the small chamber of the spacecar. The pib couldn’t withstand the centrifugal force; it went flying and landed on the surface of the water, floating for just a minute before disappearing beneath the waves.

They flew on until the ocean dropped off in a waterfall larger than any that had ever existed on earth. It seemed like the edge of the world, like the old human myth that the planet was flat. They flew up into the very top of the atmosphere before they could see through the pink mist of the falls, and even there the roar was deafening.

When land appeared again it wasn’t rock or sand but the carnivorous vines. Green coils were layered on top of each other, creating a mountain of deadly vegetation.

“How did this happen?” Samza asked.

“They eat, like they tried to eat you, and the food makes them grow. There are layers of animal remains in there. Whole species have become extinct.”

“So there were creatures here with indigestible bits like bones and teeth? Other than the Cetils in the past, the only animal life I’ve seen has been the insects and that boat. The pib.”

“Yes. Plants rule the planet by now.”

It must be frustrating for the Blork to lack control even over their own home, thought Samza. On the other hand, the humans on Earth had had too much control and almost destroyed it all.

Samza noticed that the spacecar was losing speed, gradually but constantly. She momentarily feared the vehicle was damaged after all, but was assuaged by the car in her brain: they were slowing down on purpose. No one wanted this moment to end. Blork didn’t want it, nor did Samza, and because Samza didn’t, neither did the car.

She sighed. “Come visit often,” she asked. “Promise.”

“You wouldn’t be able to see me,” he reminded her, his voice flat as his face. “And my traveling days may be over, anyway.”

“Why?”

“Just take me home. Drop me off and then take off. Don’t get out of your car, ok?”

Too curious to dawdle now, Samcarza sped up. Blork Mountain appeared in the distance and with it the mood in the cabin took on the distinct quality of dread.

The large plateau at one side of the mountain was empty. Samcarza began to land.

“Just open the door and I’ll jump out,” he suggested.

“No need for that. I can take you down.”

“It might not be safe.”

“What do you expect to happen?”

“I don’t know. I just know it would be better if you left straight away.”

“I will leave, but I’m not going to let you leap out of a moving spaceship!”

The car settled on the plateau. The door opened and Blork leaped out. Did he not even want to bid her a proper farewell?

The grey and white Blorks appeared near the edge of the plateau. Samza waved but they did not wave back. Perhaps waving was an Earth gesture that her friend had picked up from all his time spent watching the Cy and the humans.

He was moving very slowly and looked dejected as he approached his kin.

Samza disconnected herself from the input in her neck, reluctantly losing the presence of the computer in her mind. She kept the carsuit on and exited, quickly reaching the spot where the three Blork had just met.

“Hello,” she said. There was no response. They stood in silence for a while, only one of the four figures casting a shadow on a plateau under two suns. Finally Samza said, “I believe you must be communicating telepathically again. Please speak aloud.”

“Why should we?” the grey one asked. “You are not one of us.”

“Talking to you is like grunting for us,” said the white one, and then grunted twice.

“It is not necessary to be rude,” said Samza.

“Just say it,” said her black Blork.

“We don’t like you,” said the grey. “Why should we kowtow to your Earthling conventions of politeness when we have no respect for your kind or for you as an individual?”

“Why? What have I done?” Samza asked, her shoulders high and tight. There was another moment of silence.

“Out loud!” black Blork yelled. Samza stepped back with surprise.

“Fine then. We’ll consider it a last wish. I understand that’s a human thing, so it might as well be Cy, which means it might as well be you too,” said the white one to Blork.

The grey spoke again. “You,” he directed to Samza “Have ruined this one you call Blork. Even that name – as if he were all the Blork! And the rest of us are what in your estimation? Nothing? No, we Blork are one, or should be. Your special friend here, became distracted by Earth, by the Cy, by you particularly. He is interested in you above all other life forms. It’s practically sexual, as if he too were a beast. His infatuation is an affront to us. It undermines our purpose.”

“I am aware of your purpose. You are fashioning yourselves as deities. That is an affront to all other forms of life in the universe,” Samza stated.

The two swiveled towards her Blork, disappearing for only a split second. The air felt colder.

“She shouldn’t have that idea,” the white one said.

“Whatever gave her that idea?” asked the grey.

The edges of the plateau seemed to flutter in Samza’s vision.

“Me,” said black Blork, sounding resigned. “I didn’t say it in so many words, but that’s what she assumed when I told her of our… priorities.”

“Betrayal,” hissed the grey.

The fluttering edges of the plateau resolved into shapes, round monochromatic shapes of the Blork surrounding them on all sides.

“I just want to go home,” said Samza, more quietly than she had intended. The white one walked up to her. She tried to discern if the shades on its face gave it an expression. But she couldn’t see any minute change in the colour: no cream, no eggshell. It was entirely flat white.

“You didn’t know what you were getting into,” it said. “It’s not your fault. But we have learned something of value from our use of you, so your life has had meaning. Hold that with you.”

Samza shuddered.

* * *

The strong body moved between his legs, sunlight blinding his eyes, and Hekurz laughed with pure joy. He twisted handfuls of thick fur and held on, knowing that a fall would hurt enough to keep him at home for a few days. And now that he had this grand new adventure, staying home was not an option. Even though he suspected Lezzurk would tend to him, and that prospect held some pleasure, it was not a temptation compared the joy of rides like these.

The bear burst through a copse of trees into a clearing lush with St Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans and devil’s paintbrush. The sun made dappled patterns on the green and white and yellow and red. The bear ran tight circles and they both laughed, Hekurz with low throaty breaths and the bear with rumbles deep inside his massive breast. Finally they tumbled to the ground and rolled around a bit before falling into a comfortable cuddle, Hekurz’s head resting against the bear’s belly.

He knew a part of Lezzurk still missed Samza. But everyone held onto love for things long past.

Hekurz didn’t like to think of his own history too much: it could be hard to maintain a cheerful disposition under the weight of all those memories, and his ability to smile and laugh contributed to everyone’s survival, not just his own. He had not always believed this, and it felt like a great responsibility, but Lezzurk’s insight and trust had helped him appreciate his role among the Cy.

He needed these times away, but everyone required time alone. Except, perhaps, Tanaza and Plimizi, who never seemed to leave each other’s side.

Hekurz was never really alone either; he had his bear. But the bear did not speak, and did not require Hekurz to speak.

He remembered the baseball diamonds he played on as a boy, a youth, and then a young man. Grass became astroturf; audiences of family became audiences of fans and then audiences of hundreds of thousands via the television. The money, so much money he didn’t know what to do with it all. He bought a cottage on its own island in Muskoka and a skiing chalet in Revelstoke, both outfitted with a hot tub and sauna and wet bar. There was free flowing booze and cocaine, vacations for himself and all his friends.

Some of the friends has been transitory, there for the party and the glamour, and he knew it. But there were two who were true. Both had known him since his minor league days, and were honest with him, and were there for the bad times as well as the good. They cleaned up when he drank until he vomited, they held him when he cried, and he did the same for them. They celebrated when his team won the World Series, sure, everyone did; but they also helped him hide from the public eye when he was traded to a lesser team south of the border, and came to see him even when he couldn’t afford to pay for their flights anymore. And maybe once or twice they cuddled in the night, two of them or all three, and maybe hands strayed and lips touched the backs of necks. That wasn’t something you acknowledged in those days, but it was a comfort.

They had been there by his bed when the darkness under his eyes was not the eye black of baseball anymore. He was out of the sports doghouse by then, back on a winning team and they had to sneak into the hospital, careful not to be followed. He was too weak for the media.

His two friends told stories of their sexual conquests with a variety of young women, they compared new models of cars and trash-talked other teams. They did not cry or say how much he meant to them or acknowledge in any way that he might not make it. But he knew.

Then the new treatment was offered, so experimental that his family warned against it. He opted in anyway. His mother, weeping all the time, thought that putting machines in his blood would surely kill him, but he knew he was going to die without it. He could feel it in his contaminated bone marrow.

Afterward, when he was healthy again, he was not allowed to play in the major league. It was as bad as steroids, they said. He hadn’t asked for the enhancements to his body; they were just side effects of surviving. He grew four inches in a year after having been the same height for a decade. After a month in his old workout routine he could lift a car. He went grey, silver actually, but other than that he looked younger than before.

By the time his skin starting shining, his two friends had already withdrawn. They were intimidated and he couldn’t think of anything to say to them. Their intimacy felt like a thing of the past anyway.

It was hard to reconcile his gladness to be alive with his loneliness. It was almost a relief when the Schism started and he could renounce any humanity that he was clinging to and band together with the other cyborgs to save themselves from their creators.

War was satisfying. Taking out an enemy with one precisely aimed shot was like hitting a home run. He shot far more people than he had ever hit home runs.

Later, he had time to wallow in guilt for all the human lives he took. Later, he had time to wonder how his friends had died. Later, he decided again that life was a gift and he breathed through the pain when it came upon him. Then he lifted his lips to smile.

Episode Six

Mezmack chopped chives and stirred the slowly caramelizing onions. Wachowz would be along soon for a lesson on creating hot cross buns. Wachowz didn’t really need instruction; he could probably make them already based on the brief description Mez had given him yesterday. Wachowz would come for the company, and to make Mez feel useful. Mez didn’t want this charity, or the company, but it wouldn’t do to be rude. If he did there would be questions like “Has something I’ve done or said upset you, or is there something else bothering you that you’d care to share?” He couldn’t stand the constant caring of the Cy anymore. They had known each other for centuries: why bother talking at all?

Eating was worthwhile because it was pleasurable. Sex could be the same. Idle conversation could be pleasurable, but all this earnest talk of emotion left Mezmack cold.

He was jealous, he acknowledged. There was a new love affair, the first amongst the Cy in ever so long.

There had been a lot of romancing back when the community was first established: he had been with Samza and Zumeht each for a while. Tanaza made her disinterest clear, and Lezzurk was not quite within his resolutely heterosexual realm of interest. It was impossible to deny that ve was very pretty, especially when ve braided flowers in ver hair and ran through the garden flashing long expanses of smooth silver thigh. Mezmack had always focused on his unrequited lust for Tanaza, turning away when he noticed Lezzurk. For a while this had worked splendidly. Until the day when the two of them were thrown together as the representatives of the Cy amongst the humans. When Zumeht made her last mistake.

Since thenm, Tanaza’s simpering disgusted him and he always had an awareness of where Lezzurk was in the village, unless he was up on the cliff. And now Lezzurk’s eyes were bright again, ver fingers warm when ve lightly touched his arm.

But ve only touched his arm when they were all cooking or gardening together. Ve was in love with Hekurz and Mez’s chance to know Lezzurk intimately was long past. He had wasted it by clinging to a sexual identity as obsolete as the stock market.

Coriander, fennel, celery root. He stirred the onions again and turned the heat on the stovetop down low to let everything simmer. Then he unlocked a door under his sink and took out several large trays.

Wachowz had an impressive lab; Mezmack’s was tiny and secret. But still, with a few phials and burners, a small hidden fridge that kept exact temperature, a microscope and various solutions and extracts, Mez could make something important too. Wachowz hadn’t created anything of note since they all detoxed ages ago. Sure, he had caches of the internet set up in there, but what was the point of reading all that? It was ancient, irrelevant, Mezmack thought. So much now was irrelevant. Including the Cy themselves.

The Earth was a place of wondrous plants and animals. The Cy were just the bad aftertaste of humanity. It was time for some global mouthwash.

* * *

“We should invite them over for dinner,” mused Tanaza.

“Lezzurk and Hekurz?” asked Plimizi.

“Of course. Who else would I mean?”

Plimizi kept rubbing moisturizer into her feet. They made it from cocoa beans, marigolds and beeswax. “Like a couples night?”

“Sure, yes. It’s just nice to be have something in common, you know.”

“We all have a lot in common.”

“A relationship, I mean. A romantic one.”

“Did we ever have Lezzurk and Samza over for dinner?”

Tanaza pulled her foot away. “Yes, but she and I didn’t get along in close quarters. And now I will always feel bad about that. I wish you wouldn’t bring her up.”

“I’m sorry, my love.” Plimizi kissed her lightly on the lips.

She pressed back and then said brightly, “Why don’t I do your feet now, sweets?”

Plimizi sighed deeply as she dug her thumb beneath the ball of his right foot. She massaged so well. He was always afraid that his own massages were not strong enough.

Oh yes, that night when they hosted Lezzurk and Samza, he remembered now. They had begun discussing theoretical physics and he excused himself to clean the dishes. Science had never been his strong suit.

He came back into the room when the screaming started, and found Lezzurk trying to calm the two women down.

“This is about physics?” Plimizi had asked, feeling stupid in so many ways.

“They have differing theories of everything.” Lezzurk said wryly, and then managed to coax Samza out of the house.

But now Samza was long gone and Lezzurk was with Hekurz, something Plimizi had never expected. In all the centuries they had known each other, he had never thought of Hekurz as capable of love; not romantic love, at least. Hekurz loved them all. He was kind and compassionate, if overly optimistic and enamored of his own physical strength. He had never seemed interested in coupling off – until now. Maybe people are so changeable you can never really know someone, Plimizi thought. I wonder if they’ll last. They’ll never last as long as Tanaza and I, though. We have a significant head-start.

Tanaza slicked moisturizer in between his toes and he wriggled with the sensation. It tickled but was also sensuous. He laughed as Tanaza slipped fingers in the spaces between his toes. He growled and drew his knees up to his waist to pull her close, her hands still entwined with his toes. He touched her perfect earlobes.

“Be nice to my toes and I’ll be nice to your rose.”

Later, Plimizi nuzzled into the petals of Tanaza’s “rose”, a pet name that had existed longer than any pets had lived.

* * *

Samza did feel a certain sense of relief mixed into her worry. Of course she wanted her life to have meaning. Why else go to the trouble of space travel? Wasn’t meaning the thing that was lacking from the Cy’s immortality?

But what meaning was this?

“Please explain?” she asked. She held on to her civility as if it were a weapon.

The horde of Blork surrounding the edge of the plateau slowly closed in on them. She knew they, and the three standing with her, were conversing silently. She was left out of ninety percent of this discourse yet she was the topic.

“Have you not realized?” the grey one said with disdain.

“Humanoids are so stupid,” the white muttered. Why bother to mutter when he could have said it telepathically? He wanted to openly insult her.

“I am going home,” she said. “If you want anything more of me, tell me now.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” said the white one. “We’re not done.”

“I am done.” she said, her anger and fear leaking past her mask of politeness. “I doubt you two-dimensional beings can do anything to stop me. I’m going home.” She turned toward her spacecar.

The crowd of Blork had gotten closer and were in between her and the car. She started stomping through them but pain bit at her ankles until she fell. She lay on the cold rock, blank round faces staring at her from above. She looked down at her feet. They were gone.

“You think we can’t hurt you because we are flat.” It was the buzz of a million voices inside her brain. “We can take pieces of you anywhere in time. We can take your body parts away and never return them.”

Samza screamed. She screamed while screaming was possible, before they took her vocal cords along with her throat.

Then she stopped. “But why?” she asked. “I may disagree with your goal but I haven’t interfered. Perhaps you would be benevolent rulers. The universe would be better off with benevolent gods than with nothing, as it is now.”

She was at least half sincere but didn’t expect them to believe it.

“Oh Samza,” she heard. It was her black friend beside her now, the onyx of his face streaked vertically with graphite. “It’s not about you and what you think. It’s about you and I, and what we did. What I did, what I had you do.”

A booming dissonance filled her ears, a million voices raised in wordless anger, and her Blork fell back.

Above the howling, the white one spoke aloud. “He shouldn’t talk to you. He is in disgrace for that unacceptable interaction with you and the Cetil. It endangered all of us. Who knows what could happen if we let you two continue your unnatural relationship.

“You won’t like to hear this, and we are not entirely without compassion, but you are very valuable to us as an experiment. You don’t realize the importance so let me make it clear: we traveled with you and you retained your physical being.”

The aggregate Blork voice seemed to sigh and quieted. The white one continued.

“The three of us – your Blork, myself, and the one you think of as the grey Blork – we devised a theory for transporting three dimensional beings with us on our travels. We ran many trials with plants, and then the last with the few remaining animals. It involves splitting apart each atom in your body and absorbing them into us.”

“That’s certainly what it feels like,” Samza said.

“And reassembling them at the other end of the journey. It was almost perfected. We were having trouble finding more animals, but we don’t need animals anyway. We need people, able to lift and move objects, to communicate with natives. Eventually this will be a requirement for further progress. Soon. We are close to omniscience. But to attain true godhood we need to affect the world – all worlds – physically.”

“You need minions.” Samza stated.

“We think of the role as that of Helpers,” said the grey Blork. “You were our first opportunity to make an attempt and it was a great success. At Python we saw you leave footprints in the dirt, lean against the rock. Your body was there.”

“If your plan has always been to use me as your servant, why did you even let me fix my ship?”

“You weren’t supposed to be able to fix it. You were never supposed to interact with a Cetil. It endangers our very existence.”

“Blork explained that, but we were careful. What did you expect me to do with my shipwreck if not repair it?”

Blork burst screaming into her head. “I’m so sorry, I was to see if the communication technology in your ship would function well enough send a message back to Earth. To bring more Cy here. Those were my orders. I’m so sorry.”

The million voices rose again, not speaking in unison but once more creating aural chaos that drowned out her thoughts. Samza worried for the integrity of her psyche, then remembered that her feet had disappeared. Both her mind and body were at the mercy of this race of megalomaniacs. She thought of her own race, the silver creatures of the Earth. There was so much life on her home planet: bear and moose, monkeybaras, birds and mammals and cyborgs all coexisting. How had she ever wanted to leave?

She remembered Wachowz’s patience, Hekurz’s enthusiasm, Tanaza’s and Plimizi’s devotion, Mezmack’s composure and Lezzurk’s honesty. She channeled these traits, tried to manifest all of them in herself. A soft murmur started in her cochlea; not a sound from outside but from inside her head. It was impossible to make out the words but it was the voices of her brethren, as if they were in conversation in a different room on a different floor of a house she was in. In her nose was the smell of sweet buns baking.

The soft, improbable sound of her fellow Cy talking together undermined the auditory assault of the would-be gods. Like a sweater unraveling, the amalgamated voice of the Blork pulled apart into individual speakers; instead of a droning wall of sound she heard a thousand arguments. Some were angry that they had told her so much. Some thought they should tell her everything in a bargain to make her a willing partner. Some advocated killing her now before she could endanger them further. Most were of the opinion that drawing more Cy to the planet was the most important priority. There was a counter-argument that less advanced species would prove better Helpers, and they had all of eternity to wait for some rudimentary spaceship to come close enough to draw in.

“You are safe,” Samza transmitted mentally. “The interaction with the Cetil happened and you are still alive. You can let me leave and I will bring my people here.” Could they hear the lie in her mind? “I almost died in the vines,” she said out loud. “I owe my life to Blork and Blork is you. I owe you.”

The voices chattered in response.

“After the vine attack he should have brought her back. It was too risky.”

“She should never have encountered the Cetils! So irresponsible.”

“But the vine touched her! That’s harder evidence than some dusty footprints.”

“And of course the Cetil let us know for sure – when she travels she’s corporeal, it’s certain.”

“It’s confirmed!”

Jubilant cheering sounded all around her.

If she was corporeal when she travelled through time with them – if they disassembled and reassembled every atom of her being – then they had to be really cutting her, really touching her. At the most minute level, but still: it was physical.

“Give me back my feet. Please?” Samza asked.

Her feet reappeared and the pain in her ankles dissipated.

“But,” said the swarm voice, speaking as one again. “You cannot go. We will find a way for you to message the Cy to come but you must stay. We still have many tests to conduct. We have been testing you all the while. Every day as you lay on the grass beneath the mountain we have been observing your motions and monitoring your nervous system. We know you are strong. We know you are sterile. We know how the microtechnology inside you interacts with the organic tissue. Now it is irrefutable that you have travelled with your body, we must examine you more.”

The multitude in her mind fell thankfully silent but the white Blork spoke out loud. “And send you on more exploratory missions! How will you interact with the gas beings of Nomanic? And the hyper-intelligent beetles on Fonytide? We must know. You will help us.”

“What’s in it for me?” asked Samza. Around her, all the aliens chuckled, a tidal wave of psychic sound.

“You get to be the first,” said the Blork, echoing everywhere. “You will be the one we perfect our methods with.”

“Eventually, we hope to make it less painful.”

“The whole universe will benefit.”

“Samza, you are our first ambassador.”

“No!” Samza yelled, leaping upright on her newly returned feet. “I want to go home. The Cy will help you. On terms. You and us, we can come to an agreement.”

The Blork left her a few metres of space but the voices rose too intimately inside her head.

“You will be important, you will be the first to travel to new places, you will introduce the Blork to the universe, you will be significant, you will help us…”

“No!”

“We will destroy you if you refuse. Your legs will lie in dust on Alfamon, your arms useless in the mountains of Ischales, your torso wasting away at the bottom of the ocean on Yaraus, your head floating and freezing out in space…”

Samza breathed deeper than she ever had before, stretching the synthetic component of her lungs with as much oxygen as possible in this strange atmosphere.

Feeling more certain in her body, she stood up and kicked out. She didn’t know if anything would happen if she struck a Blork, but she was counting on it. They had enough substance to slice her molecules open, so there must be something to them.

Her foot went right through one of the round flat bodies. She didn’t feel any impact, but the creature was affected, falling down and staying there, seemingly stunned. She spun around, kicking every Blork in the circumference around her. The first one clambered up again. It felt like her foot was striking nothing at all, but it worked at keeping them down, if only for seconds.

“I am not your guinea pig!” Samza couldn’t tell if the Blork understood this reference or not. “No!”

Flat forms swarmed on top of fallen flat forms, and she kicked more, creating small piles of bodies thinner than paper. When one landed exactly horizontal against another they would disappear from the side view, but most had twisted arms or bent legs. The Blork on the bottom began to stir but they were trapped underneath their comrades. Samza kept kicking, building up hills of time travelers, the stunned on top while others wriggled to get out from underneath, to free themselves in order to attack her until –

The spacecar came to life and turned its nose toward her.

Episode Seven

Hekurz and Tanaza set the table, smiling at each other and at the cutlery. Wachowz, Mezmack and Plimizi were in the Great Hall’s kitchen putting the final touches on the feast. Lezzurk was probably up in the mountain, thought Hekurz. He had only followed Lezzurk that one time. Lezzurk must need to sit on the cliff at sunset the same way Hekurz needed to ride his bear in the sunshine. Everybody needed to do certain things alone. Wachowz read the internet all night. Hekurz remembered the internet and didn’t miss it, but if that was Wachowz’s interest now, then it was good. Once upon a time Wachowz’s primary activity was making the drug, and theirs had been taking the drug.

Plimizi and Tanaza both gardened, but they planted different plants. That must be enough for them to have space from each other. It didn’t seem like enough. Hekurz knew he needed to get fully away from the others on a regular basis, and so did Lezzurk.

What did Mezmack do for alone time? That was a good question. He seemed to hole himself up alone in his cabin a lot, but while everyone knew what Wachowz was doing at home, no one knew what Mezmack did.

Probably just inventing new recipes, Hekurz thought, as Mezmack brought out a fragrant pot of carrot soup flavoured with dill. He restrained himself from grimacing. Hekurz hated dill, but it did no good to insult Mez’s cooking by saying so. There was always more than enough food; no one ever noticed when Hekurz skipped a dish.

Lezzurk arrived as more dishes appeared: a quinoa salad with peppers, nuts and berries; stewed okra; a loaf of dark bread; cupcakes proudly presented by Wachowz.

With the table set and everyone present, feasting commenced.

“This is delicious,” Tanaza belched extravagantly. “We should do this more often.”

“Says she who does the least amount of work!” chirped Plimizi.

“I made the centrepiece,” Tanaza gestured to the bouquet adorning the table, but laughing because she was not pretending that flower-arranging was as labour intensive as cooking.

“Oh, I’ll make you work for it later,” whispered Plimizi, loud enough that everyone heard.

Hekurz noticed that Mezmack wasn’t eating. He picked at his salad, but his soup was entirely untouched.

Wachowz took a small sip of soup but then raised his wineglass. “To us, our long lives and memories; to everything we are and will be,” he toasted.

They clinked glasses and drank, but after setting his glass down Mezmack wondered aloud, “What will we be exactly?”

“We’ll be alive at least. That’s something.” Tanaza said. She spooned more soup into her mouth.

“Watching the Earth recover is a profound experience,” Lezzurk mused. “I’ve watched it for over a hundred years and I could watch it for over a hundred more.” Ve sipped ver soup.

“I like to watch that bear of yours do tricks!” Plimizi said to Hekurz. “Shall we do that after dinner?”

“Sure,” Hekurz began to answer, about to tell them the new trick: the bear could stand on his hind feet while raising Hekurz up into the air with his forelegs. But Wachowz grabbed his stomach and let out a groan.

“Are you feeling poorly?” asked Lezzurk and Hekurz was struck once again at how caring his partner was. “Do you need some chamomile, or lemon balm?”

“Yes, I think…” started Wachowz but he was interrupted by Tanaza bending over the table and moaning.

“My love!” exclaimed Plimizi springing up from his seat and grabbing Tanaza’s shoulder only to topple over himself, bringing her with him. He lay on the floor underneath Tanaza, both of them breathing heavily.

“The food…” Lezzurk said pushing ver chair back. “There’s something wrong with the food. Evacuate! Now!” Ve dropped to the ground and tried to shove ver long fingers down Tanaza’s throat.

Mezmack came around to Lezzurk and said “It’s ok. No need to do that. Let nature run its course.” Lezzurk’s hand drifted away from Tanaza’s face, ver eyes becoming unfocused.

Hekurz sniffed the soup. He couldn’t smell anything wrong, but he could see that something was wrong. He ran around to Lezzurk and stuck his fingers into Lezzurk’s mouth until his lover’s vomit covered his legs.

“What are you doing?” asked Mezmack. “Just leave them. Eat some soup.”

Hekurz lifted Mezmack and threw him across the room. He collided with the wall and sank down with his back twisted at an unnatural angle. Hekurz ran to Wachowz and again pushed his fingers down a throat, receiving more vomit on his hand and legs. He left Wachowz for Plimizi.

“It’s for the best,” Mezmack croaked from the corner.

With Plimizi’s regurgitation now added to the rest on his body, Hekurz lifted Tanaza’s head to insert his fingers.

But it was too late. Tanaza wasn’t breathing.

* * *

“Hold that steady!” Wachowz barked. Plimizi wavered and Lezzurk pushed him aside to take control of the IV plugged into Tanaza’s arm.

“There’s a stand in the Great Hall kitchen, the one for drying salt meat, go get it,” Wachowz asked and Plimizi raced out of the lab.

“It’s good of you to help him feel useful,” Lezzurk said. Wachowz kept his attention on his patient.

“He really loves her,” Hekurz said. Everyone knew that but Wachowz understood why he felt the need to say it out loud.

Mezmack was tied up in the Great Hall’s kitchen.

Plimizi came back and they attached the IV bag to the stand. Tears streamed from his eyes and mucous from his nose. “She will recover, surely?” he asked. “We’re supposed to be immortal!”

“We have been…” Wachowz mused. “She’s stable now.”

“We have always been impervious to human illnesses and attacks by humans that did not destroy our bodies,” mused Lezzurk. “But Mezmack is one of us. Could he have found a poison that humans never discovered? Or perhaps one of us killing our own is a natural possibility allowed by the laws of the universe? Maybe our immortality is more metaphysical than physical.”

Wachowz lifted one of Tanaza’s eyelids and assessed the colour and responsiveness. “She won’t die,” he said. “I can’t promise that her brain will survive.”

No one remembered what it was like to have family members alive without their minds except Wachowz. His mother had been suffering early onset Alzheimer’s when he underwent nano-treatment. He had described it a million times but it registered as a story divorced from reality to everyone else. It was not something expected to happen to Cy.

“She might never wake up?” Plimizi asked, his voice thick.

“Or she might wake up and remember nothing.” Wachowz wanted to say something hopeful, but as always he felt bound to the truth.

“For an immortal to have no memories…” wondered Lezzurk. “That’s perverse. We live on memories.”

“Not just memories,” Plimizi said, “we live on each other. I want to crawl up in that gurney and lay there with Tanaza until either she wakes up or we die together. But there are only so many of us. It would not do for me to die needlessly. I care for you all too much to leave you voluntarily. I care for you all except for one. I care nothing for he who tried to kill us.”

Wachowz was not thinking about Mez, or his mother. He was just glad that as a Cy, Tanaza would never need a feeding tube.

* * *

Without the spikes in her veins Samza had felt no connection to the car – until now. Now its computer slid into place in her brain, comfortable and comforting. The vehicle had established a connection with her of its own accord, no intradermal needle needed.

How did you do this? Samza asked the car’s presence in her mind.

The spacecar never spoke in words but it communicated that damage and crisis had forced it to learn. That it had missed Samza and used all of its knowledge and power to reach out to her, knowledge that included studying the electromagnetic disturbances caused by the Blork’s telepathy. And now they were Samcarza once more, and could act in concert.

Moving under their shared volition, the vehicle nosed monochromatic bodies out of the way to approach Samza’s body. The time travelers crawled across its hull. It pulled up in front of her and threw the door open. Samza scrambled inside, shaking the sting of a Blork off her back before it could disappear her spine. The car began to prepare for takeoff.

“No! Not without Blork!” she cried.

The swarm still resounded in her head, screaming that the betrayer would be executed for his sins against his race.

They lifted off. Samza focused her mental energies on her friend, who was, despite his people, someone she trusted. If she concentrated she could pick apart the voices of in her head. She heard them damning her escape, condemning his complicity, but she cast these voices aside and found him. His tone resonated in her memory, making it easy to locate.

“The top,” she said. “Get to the top.” She tried to mentally whisper it so the other Blork didn’t hear. She wasn’t experienced in telepathy and had no idea if he would even hear it, much less if the others would not. But she felt bolstered by her communion with the car. If they could reach each other, maybe together they could reach her alien.

Blork clung to the bottom of the craft.

Samza sat back in her chair and slid the needle into its input. She and the car fully merged again and she felt that, despite its recent bravado, it was afraid. It couldn’t be certain that its size would save them from the Blork’s time travel capacity. If Blork could surround the ship with their bodies joined, the way her friend always circled his arms around her torso to time travel, perhaps they could suck its atoms away into other places and times.

The car’s sensors were going off, manic from detecting presence on its surface but unable to verify a breach. Alarms rang in her ears but at least it wasn’t the Blork mass voice.

Samcarza shot straight up into space.

Episode Eight

The total lack of gravity compromised the Blorks’ hold on the car and inertia acted on flat bodies as it would on any other; one by one they drifted away. Samcarza tried to ignore the desperate wailing she heard in her mind as the would-be gods succumbed to their new state as space garbage.

They dove back down to the planet, to the top of the mountain. Her black Blork was waiting for them. But he wasn’t alone.

The grey and the white were chasing him around the small plateau. They slid in and out of sight as their movements took them sometimes side-view to Samcarza. The car’s one laser gun, its only defense, tried to aim at either of the two enemies but it was impossible.

“Get ready to land. Quickly,” said black Blork sharply in her mind. She yelped but the ship held still and positioned its landing trajectory.

He veered underneath the ship, his pursuers close behind. It was hard to tell how fast they were going since their feet didn’t move. But as soon as her friend’s form appeared in front of the bow, Samcarza slammed down.

Her neck felt the impact and the car’s self-repair started up again, assessing and fixing the damage to the undercarriage. But Blork came around to the door with no one behind him.

She peered out to see the white one’s leg stuck out from underneath one side of the ship, two grey legs from the back.

“Are they dead?” she asked quietly. She had not killed a living thing since her mother.

“Not likely,” he said. “It takes a great deal to kill one of us. But let’s not find out, shall we?”

The ship’s interior was meant for one person, but he didn’t take up too much space.

They lifted off.

“I thought you would leave me,” said Blork.

“What would they have done with you?” asked Samza, though she knew.

“I am a traitor to my people.”

“They aren’t very nice people.”

“That’s why I am a traitor.”

* * *

Racing through space toward Earth, Samza assuaged her guilt over potentially killing the white and grey Blorks with the certitude that she had saved her black Blork from being murdered.

“You know,” said Blork. “I may die anyway.”

“From the travel?” asked Samza. “Is there some law of your abilities that bars you from traveling through space with your body?

“That’s ridiculous. I travel through space on my own planet. Traveling through the space between planets is not functionally different.”

“It must be. We need specialized machines to do it.” The car part of her brain felt slightly insulted. It was more than just a machine.

“Pfft,” said Blork. “Machines are things people build out of materials. It’s not deep physics. You’re showing your limited intellect again.”

The car part of her brain was even more insulted.

“I could just let you off at the next planet we pass by. Whatever it happens to be.”

“Probably just rock and gas. That’s what 98% of planets are.”

“I’m aware,” Samza said icily. She noticed that his body was growing taller and wider.

“You rescued me just to cast me aside?”

“I’m just teasing. Mostly,” Samza relented. Wordlessly she soothed the car’s ego. The vehicle had saved them both. It shouldn’t have been able to move on its own, to reach her when she was outside and not hooked into its computer. The spacecar had become more than its parts. It had become a part of her.

“You won’t die. We’ll take good care of you,” Samza promised Blork.

“Do you have the moss that sustains me on your planet?”

“I’m… not sure. How often do you need to eat?”

“Soon,” he said. He was now twice the size as usual, making the spaceship’s cabin feel cramped. “I am only in one other temporal sphere right now, to conserve my energy. The two dimensions that you see have had to expand to fit the rest of me.”

They gazed at the stars in silence for a while. The while turned into weeks. Samza played games with the computer but Blork barely moved or spoke.

Finally he said, “Here, land here. It has moss.”

Samcarza veered toward the small planet. They were so close to home that it was hard to delay, but Blork seemed very weak.

The ground was barren, if beautiful: white rock like quartz shone in hills and valleys with no interruption of vegetation. There was no oxygen, so Samza would only last a few hours before needing the car’s controlled environment to breathe, but there was enough gravity to walk. As they moved away from the spacecar, Samza reached out with her thoughts and felt the connection. She and the vehicle were in touch now, even when physically separated. Reassured, she boldly strode forward on the hard rock of the new alien world.

Blork led them to a tiny crack in a cliff and slipped inside. “Here it is! Beautiful, wonderful, life-sustaining moss,” his voice echoed out.

“I cannot follow you!” Samza yelled. “I will not fit!”

“I can hear you, you don’t have to be so loud,” Blork’s voice came again. “Amuse yourself then, please. I’ll be a few minutes.”

The spacecar needed a break too. It was using the time to run a diagnostic and polish up all the hastily done self-repair. Samza took a walk.

The glare from the sun on the white rock was intense. Samza shielded her eyes and crested a ridge then stopped in shock. On the plains in front of her lay the ruins of a town.

Tumbled down houses, walls and roofs caved in, fences lying on the ground, everything covered in layers of white dust. No one had inhabited this place for quite some time. But the shape of the empty doorways and windows implied the people here must have been humanoid.

She wandered through the streets, poking her head into buildings that she didn’t dare enter: everything still standing was on the verge of collapse and she couldn’t risk being trapped or worse. Not this close to home, not this far from the ship.

Inside the houses there was mostly rubble and decay, but she saw some things she recognized – pieces of tables and chairs, ovens and pots and pans. There was a lab with the remains of antiquated computer equipment. And a greenhouse where long troughs full of dirt sat on the rock, though nothing grew.

There was a skeleton in the corner of the greenhouse. She saw now that many piles of dust were shaped like skeletons.

She returned and waited outside the crack in the cliff until Blork emerged, back to his usual size.

“What is this place?” she asked. “I found an abandoned town.”

“Ah yes,” said Blork. “When I first came here it was a long time ago and humans lived here.

“Humans!” said Samza. “But we’re less than a day away from Earth.”

“They set up an outpost to keep an eye on you. On the Cy and on their home planet in case they ever had to return. Let’s get on our way. I’ll tell you about it as we fly.”

Blork and Samza re-entered the ship. Samza breathed in oxygen, slid in the computer’s needle, and set them back on their course for home.

* * *

“When the last of the humans departed from Earth they knew they were taking a risk. They left people here who could easily get back if they had to, if it was needed for the human race to survive.

“The settlers wanted a challenge but one they could back out of if they became desperate. They did it because it was hard but safe, much safer than taking over livable planets that already had sapient populations, as the rest of their race was doing. The people who chose the quartz planet didn’t want to risk their lives in war. There was oxygen there back then: they could make water, grow food, engage in exploration and discovery of whatever this planet held which is, as they eventually found, not much. And there they didn’t have to live beside the Cy.”

We were why they left?”

“They hated you. They told their children stories about what monsters you were. Ever since the Great Schism, humanity’s tales about the terrifying Cy grew more exaggerated with every generation. People grew up with nightmares about your attempt to wipe humans out of existence, living in constant fear that you were waiting for your chance to strike again. The people who worked alongside you to rebuild never trusted you. They looked into your silver eyes and saw death.”

“Of course we looked dead-eyed to them. We had lost almost all of our kin and had no reproductive ability. We saw the humans grow in numbers, while we few surviving Cy stayed stagnant. That was their fault.”

“You don’t need to convince me. Anyway, eventually they used up all the oxygen and suffocated to death.”

They were silent for a minute, the car part of her brain unsuccessfully trying to soothe her.

“What have we ever done to help anyone?” Samza asked bitterly.

“What are you talking about?” asked Blork, an onyx squiggle forming near the top of his head.

“Apologies. I was responding to an internal dialogue.”

“I travel in time, not in psyche.”

“The Cy are useless. The humans are horrible, warring all over; the Blork are evil, planning to take over; but the Cy do nothing. We can’t stop the humans or the Blork, we can’t help any other race. We are useless.” Earth loomed before them, growing bigger each minute. The familiar blue and green ball was home but Samza did not feel the joy she had expected.

“Look at that,” said Blork. “Look at the colours of your planet. This is what it looks like – now. Not so long ago, by my standards anyway, all one would see from here was black and brown. The war that you call the Schism was almost the last straw for a world already burdened with pollution, already changing in climate. Earth was completely moribund by the last battle of the Schism. You changed that, you tall silver people. You were gentle with the plants and animals. Those are races too, and you saved them all from complete extinction.

Samza impulsively reached out and stroked the back of Blork’s hand. She almost thought she could feel it.

Wachowz was generous with his attention, despite his gruff façade. Hekurz cared intently about the happiness of others. Lezzurk was eternally patient. Mezmack was quiet and industrious. Even Tanaza and Plimizi had good qualities. The Cy do have emotional resources, she realized.

“Will the Blork win though?” she asked. “They must know, you must know. If you can travel in time, can’t you just see if the future has Blork overlords?”

Graphite swung up from the bottom of his face. It was a smile. “Nobody can know their own future,” he said conspiratorially. “It’s a law of the universe. We can go forward and see other races, other species, but have no idea if we are influencing their actions from behind the scenes. We can’t see ourselves in the future at all, not even one minute. It’s like you trying to walk through a closed door. It doesn’t work.”

They reached Earth’s exosphere and began their descent.

* * *

They tried to put Plimizi down in Wachowz’s bed but he complained. They tried to put him in Lezzurk’s but he continued to complain. They tried his own bed but he still resisted, as tired as he was. If they wouldn’t let him crawl into the gurney with Tanaza then he wouldn’t sleep at all.

“Is it that dangerous for Tanaza to just let him sleep with her?” Hekurz asked. Wachowz shook his head after a minute. Hekurx helped Plimizi get settled next to Tanaza.

She would probably recover. They had to trust their centuries of immortality and Wachowz’s medical skill. The issue now was what to do with Mezmack.

Hekurz’s opinion was, “Let the bears eat him. They would if I told them it was what I wanted.” He didn’t relish the thought, but it was simple. It was something he could offer.

“Would we have to watch?” asked Lezzurk.

“No, no,” said Hekurz and then added, “Only if you want to.”

His bear nuzzled under his arm. The small group of Cy stood in the field between the village and the forest for this solemn discussion.

“We have to execute him in some way. I know it is terrible, for we are so few, but what else can we do?” asked Lezzurk.

Mez was one of them and not just because he was Cy. Since humans had left they were the only sapient beings on Earth, which made his betrayal difficult to understand. Why would one of them poison their own? It was a suicidal form of genocide.

“Yes, we are few!” said Wachowz, with more enthusiasm than the situation called for. “But perhaps not for long. I have been looking at possibilities. Ways for us to propagate.”

“Reproduction?” asked Hekurz, astonished.

“Babies? We have no idea what to do with babies,” added Lezzurk.

Wachowz seemed unperturbed. “There’s no point in discussing this further until we agree what to do about Mezmack. My proposition is to create life, but now we must decide upon a matter of death.”

* * *

After days of watchful attention, the Cy rotating shifts at her bedside, Tanaza woke up. She opened her eyes and Lezzurk jumped up from ver chair, yelled out the door for them all to come quickly. They squeezed into the room, staring as Tanaza turned her head from side to side. Her eyes focused on Plimizi and she smiled.

Within a week she had recovered enough laugh at Wachowz’s continued attempts to provide treatment. She laughed and teased him gently but usually let him at least listen to her heart beat.

And then Samza returned.

* * *

The Cy were gathered in the garden laughing as Hekurz and his bear performed rough and tumble antics. Tanaza sat in a chair, still a little weak, but smiling and applauding. They were still procrastinating the decision on Mezmack’s fate. Then the silver spacecar appeared above them. They gasped, pointed and then shouted. It was descending quickly, in their direction instead of toward the old human settlement and the launch pad. The bear cowered and Hekurz reassured him softly, stroking his long furry back.

The vessel landed in a large field. The Cy ran forward in joy, only to stop suddenly when a strange, flat, black figure emerged.

When they had learned Blork’s name and Hekurz had learned the difficulty of shaking hands with a two dimensional being, when Samza had hugged all the Cy assembled, she asked “Where’s Mez?”

“Let us sit down together,” Wachowz responded. Samza’s eyebrows creased with worry. They walked to the Great Hall.

Later, after the story had been told, she said firmly “You can’t kill him.”

“He tried to kill us. He almost succeeded with me,” Tanaza asserted.

“And what did dying feel like?”

“I ate some soup and then I became unconscious. It was only once I awoke that I knew what happened.”

“We have been so long removed from death; only I have experienced that fear, visceral and all-consuming, in recent days. The certainty that what you are will cease to exist. Can any of you remember what that was like? I thought I could smell the palliative care ward of my old human hospital at the moment when the Blork horde were about to separate my body from myself.”

“Sense memory,” stated Lezzurk. “But what is a Blork horde and how was it able to hurt you?”

“You said Blork was your friend,” said Plimizi.

“I will explain all soon. It is a tale that will take some time. One of our own, held captive in the very next room; that is a matter of urgency.”

“As much as I dislike it, we cannot allow him the opportunity to attempt again,” said Lezzurk softly.

“And what has been your opinion on this, Wachowz, wisest of us all?” asked Samza.

“As of yet, I have not ventured to form an opinion.”

They sat in silence for some time until Samza said, “Perhaps I should tell you of my adventures after all.”

“I’ll help,” interjected Blork.

“I think it may provide some context for deliberating on how to proceed with Mezmack.”

* * *

Samza sat on the floor with Mezmack and repeated the account of her travels that she had told the rest of the Cy the day before. He grunted and did not make eye contact.

Then she said, “My friend here can transport you to any time and place. We could be rid of you quite easily. If we so wanted, we could send you somewhere you would surely die. I will not kill you outright. But if you ever threaten us again, know what my recourse will be.”

“And I will be able to see what you’re doing whenever I want,” said Blork cheerfully. “So don’t go brewing up any poisons.”

“My hope is that you learn, as I have, the value of the life of the Cy,” said Samza quietly.

* * *

They tied Mezmack to the mast of a boat. All religion had died out long ago so they had no idea that with his arms outstretched and bound he resembled ancient images of Jesus.

Plimizi and Tanaza sailed across the ocean. When they found a good place to harbour they cut Mezmack loose and ignored his cries for help. They were making love on the deck of the ship as he yelled from the beach. Maybe he would even die, torn asunder by a monkeybara or some other creature: there might be over-sized lions, zebras mixed with cheetahs, who knew? The important fact was that Tanaza was alive and she was with Plimizi.

She was supposed to tell Mezmack that they would be back for him in fifty years, but she didn’t. Samza had been insistent on that part of the plan, but Tanaza hoped she would forget.

Episode Nine

Samza brewed tea she had grown in her own garden. This was one of her joys in life, the first sip a bodily thrill. It was the closest thing she currently had to physical intimacy.

As if cued to her thoughts, Lezzurk and Hekurz went by her kitchen window, Lezzurk nestled into Hekurz’s chest on top of their big brown bear.

She turned away, the yearning for Lezzurk threatening to subsume the joy of tea.

It’s not that they hadn’t talked about getting back together. They had talked and talked until their tongues and ears were numb. Lezzurk loved her but their relationship had been volatile, while ver connection with Hekurz was strong and stable. And Hekurz did not want to share.

Samza kept herself busy making machines. Tanaza had taken up breeding silkworms so they had lovely soft and cool things to wear instead of just cotton, and Samza had created the machine for weaving silk.

At first she had focused on the ones she remembered from childhood, coffee percolators and toasters, walkie talkies and space heaters, the last of which was needed now that winter was beginning to return. Everything was solar powered and sleekly designed. She didn’t like right angles.

But now she was creating something entirely new, something that had never existed before.

“Mez is doing fine,” said Blork, appearing suddenly beside her.

“Sweet pib!” Samza cried. “Were you there the whole time?

“I wanted to give you some alone-time,” he said. “And you need more than just a couple of hours when I take the spacecar to the quartz planet to refuel on moss. I only need to do that once for every two hundred times your Earth revolves.

“How is that doing?” she asked, anxious. “I don’t want you to… run out.”

“Fine, fine,” he said. “I know when I’m low. Anyway, just now I turned myself sideways so you couldn’t see me and put my attention other times and places. I wasn’t watching or listening to you, I swear. I respect alone-time. Though I’ve always been around other Blork, I often left them and focused on other things, where I was just observing. That form of solitude is important to me too.”

“You’re lovely,” said Samza. His face turned jet at the cheeks, which she knew meant he was blushing. “You want to see the newest work?”

“Oh yes,” he exclaimed, and then turned and spoke to the rest of the room. “We’re getting closer guys. Don’t be jealous!”

He was in the habit of addressing comments to the Blork who must certainly be visiting them on a regular basis. She suspected that he could feel their presence, though they were there in time only. She had felt the Cy on their planet Blork, after all, and they hadn’t been there in either space or time.

Samza and Blork entered her workshop. There, leaning against her table, was the latest version of the tactile suit.

It was silky and stretchy but maintained the general size of Blork when he was in his usual temporal locations (around ten at a time, he claimed) due to a frame of tempered bamboo. It glittered throughout, fine threads of conductive wire connecting with tiny round studs of sensitive biometric readers.

Without a word, he slipped into the suit. It filled up, curving out behind and in front the way Blork would if he were made of balls instead of circles.

“Aaaaaaaah…” he sounded like someone getting a good hard massage in a tense part of their back.

The readers pulled his being away from the other times and, instead of letting him grow larger in two dimensions, routed him along the wires, creating a body of sorts underneath the woven flesh.

This was the point where it usually failed. At previous attempts, Blork would try to move and immediately deflate.

But this time Samza had been given some assistance. Wachowz had been there that day and she confided her secret project, asking for his advice.

“This is how our muscles work with our nervous system,” Wachowz had said, examining the circuitry. “But for a spherical creature, you will need some modifications. I am thinking perhaps the synthetic muscle tissue – very nice work, by the way – should extend into the nerve circuitry instead of the other way around. Like in a nematode. And what are you using for adhesive?”

He ran a bioengineering model on his tablet. It was a simple correction, although it had required a lot of new wiring. The suit was now as much metal as it was cloth, but soft, stretchy metal. It would not be harsh to the touch. And instead of blistering her fingers with sewing, she had painted the wiring and cloth together with the barrel of glue from Blork planet. A bioassay had shown that samples of the adhesive contained properties similar to Blork’s “flesh”.

Blork reached out toward her. She did not move. He took a step. He reached her and put his arms around her. She breathed out then.

His hands and arms were solid against her. She wrapped her own arms around him. After being through so much, this was their first hug.

“Shall we go to Car?” he asked.

Of course they should go to the spacecar.

* * *

The vehicle had been waiting for them. Machines were nothing if not patient.

They lay cuddled together, with the car’s computer consciousness deep in their brains, both a conduit and its own separate sapience. Their three-way communion was complete now that Samza had the tactile sensation of both the car’s comfortable cabin and of her soft, round Blork. Her brain slowed its thinking and she sank into contentment.

She did not have Lezzurk, she did not have a bear, but she had an alien and a spaceship who both loved her. It was enough. For now.

But soon there would be more. More people to love and to loathe, to protect and to teach and to learn from. Because Wachowz hadn’t come over today with the intent of helping with her suit. He came because there were new developments in a project they were working on together. In his lab, using cells extracted from their blood, in a little dish, a heart had begun to beat.

Dorianne Emmerton writes queer speculative fiction. She is co-curator of the Brockton Writers Series in Toronto. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario amidst rock outcrops, jack pines, and pigeon-sized mosquitoes. She has short stories published in anthologies such as Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One) and Ink Stains Volume Seven: Decay.