Skyglass: Chapter 1
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This series has an accompanying glossary of terms and technology.
Bone and Birth
Beneath my blankets, I could pretend nothing existed. I didn’t have to move, or feel my body, or acknowledge that there was a person embedded in this fake night. Hiding under the covers meant I couldn’t see the morning’s green invasion. It meant I could pretend it was still pre-midnight, that Thursday hadn’t turned into Friday–that I didn’t have a life to live, clean boxers to put on, or dead parents to visit.
Then the com.
Über-happy elektro-jingle. And the lights. Rot it. The lights, those dancing candy-colored flashes from my p-com, hacking my bliss.
I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut. “Rot you, Devin,” I muttered, cursing my ex-best friend, because of course this was his fault–because vocalists have no sense of privacy, and this one in particular loved to steal my com and reconfigure it. Which, in Devin’s mind, meant changing it to that most irksome setting known as happy-bouncy-sunshine-party. Such trickery was his specialty.
I’d considered getting my com embedded–shrunk down and squeezed between my skull and skin–just like everyone else. At least then he wouldn’t be able to steal it. But the only satisfaction I got from the thing was the nice sound it made smashing against my wall. So–no embedding. I was, however, open to throwing myself at walls.
I kept my eyes shut and fumbled a hand across the mattress until I felt the battered square of steel that was my personal communicator. Even with my eyes shut, I could see the fructo-lights wiggling on-screen. I tapped the left side to ignore the call; I’d done this so many times that looking was unnecessary. I wondered who wanted me, but only briefly. I didn’t actually care.
Now that the lights and jingling were dead, I opened my eyes. My giant, ancient twenty-first-century headphones were still around my neck, but they’d unplugged sometime in the night. I synced up my com’s music collection and jacked my phones back in. Fallin, the only band–the only thing–that really mattered to me groaned into my ears with its murky guitar-thrum. My tongue found the roof of my mouth and my jaw tensed; I smirked and listened to Vear’s screaming and siren-wailing. That voice was my first and only love. The whole band was basically perfection, except for the drums–they were too simplistic for a drummer like myself, but for Fallin, I made an exception.
And anyway, at least the happy-bouncy-sunshine-party was gone.
I huddled in bed awhile longer before I finally managed to drag myself out. Today was important, but rushing wasn’t necessary: I was skipping work. Not that Marko would care–he was tolerable, for a boss. I’d done this every year, on the same day, for four years now. He expected it.
I took the vus out to the Gut, the forest that surrounded the city. The tree line had no beginning or border–it just emerged. Man-made structures decayed and fractured into the earth, while biomass took over, crowding overhead in green vertigo. My boots squelched in mud and leaf decay as I stepped off the vus; the wind of its retreat buffeted me as it sped on to its next destination.
The Bureau of Botanical Psychology had two graveyards: one at their headquarters in the middle of the city, where all the respectable elfin citizens were composted, and one here, in the Gut, where they buried elves who…misbehaved. My parents were in the Gut. Only my dad’s remains were supposed to be here, but he’d been a criminal and my mom, just a human, so the BBP hadn’t really cared that I’d spread their mulch together.
After their deaths, after I’d put them to rest, I’d carved their names into a tree trunk. The past four years had distorted the letters, but they were still there: Eddi Wick, Sha Wick. I slumped against the tree and took out my com. I noticed a bundle of flowers beside me; someone else had been here. Someone else remembered. Whatever.
I found the memory I wanted on my com, and synced it to my brain.
As I opened the front door, Fallin droned in my ears like a giant drain sucking endless dregs.
The house was dark, which was odd. I yelled, but no one answered.
Huh. They were always home. Dad usually had dinner started by now.
I checked their room last, because they never used it except to sleep.
They were sleeping.
Or looked like they were, at least. In the shadow box. Their room. But it wasn’t a shadow box–there was no glass. I could enter. I could turn on the light. I could see their red bed. I could see my parents tucked together on their red bed that hadn’t been red earlier that morning.
I crept forward. I couldn’t stop myself.
I saw knives. In their hands.
I scrambled away, away, away with mire music in my ears, infrasonics shaking my lungs, which explained the lack of air. I couldn’t breathe. My back scraped against the wall, caught the light–out. Floor.
I undocked and shut off my p-com before a call could get through. Why would I want to talk to anyone? If I could’ve trusted my so-called friends to be polite today, I might have left it on, but I couldn’t–trust them, that was. Sympathetic people pissed me off.
I arranged a meal in front of the tree: venison, an apple, crumbly cheese. It would be the largest meal I’d eat all year. It was expensive, and rich, and I had to eat it all–and slowly, too, because eating this much was hard. My stomach couldn’t handle it.
After eating, I felt like a block of cement. The food was an anchor, a reminder of how every day after school, we would eat together. And now I ate at their grave to find an answer. Maybe? I didn’t actually know. I just wanted to know why they killed themselves–because of course they hadn’t left me a note explaining everything. Who would actually do that, anyway? I knew I wouldn’t. Death was private. If I killed myself, I wouldn’t want to be followed, or understood.
It rained on my way back into the city of Raith. I hated being wet, so I crouched in an alley to wait it out, headphones turned up to full blast.
Something bloodstained and furry rounded the alley’s corner, rammed into my legs, and stopped short. The creature blinked up at me with its full moon eyes, then sat on its haunches. I blinked back.
The thing opened its mouth. I turned down my phones.
“MrrrOW,” it said.
A cat, I thought. Not bloody–just wet and red. It had red fur and white eyes.
On automatic, I relaxed and crouched down, holding a finger to her nose. She sniffed it skeptically, then proceeded to investigate my crotch.
“Um,” I said. She sat and cocked her head. “Uh, yeah. It’s all there.” The cat’s eyes lifted up and to the side.
She was making me uncomfortable; her needle-like teeth had gotten too close to certain sensitive parts, so I stood. She stood with me. “What?” I asked. She flicked her tail at me, then turned her head and looked over her shoulder.
In the distance, I could hear splashing–the pulse of feet pounding through puddles. It was getting closer.
I reached for the cat impulsively and picked her up; she struggled in my arms and clawed up to my shoulder, teetering for balance. She’d only just found it when a woman rounded the corner and shoved a gun into my belly.
Proceed to Chapter 1, page 2–>