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Skyglass: Chapter 5

Buy the complete novel: ebook | paperback (coming fall 2016)

Fracture and Form

PHOENIX

A vengeful wind scrabbled at my face with wild, sweeping claws. I leaned into the slipstream, hanging my torso over the bottommost balcony of a spiny spindle-tower. The darkness of its sunslab overhead kept me doused in shadow, which was convenient, because I didn’t want anyone to see me when I jumped.

The gray light of dusk caught on the raw metal of my father’s satellite. I bent my mouth into a satisfied smirk. I’d spent a week riding the skies, scrutinizing the powdered-milk hillocks of the Waste, searching for those spikes of terrible, telltale yellow. And now I’d finally found it.

I double-checked the replacement anti-g scarves I’d acquired earlier that week (the old ones had burned up on my first day in Raith), making sure they were cinched tight enough ’round my legs–I didn’t feel like waiting around for my gravity-broken body to heal once I reached ground level. Once my scarves were secure, I climbed the railing and stepped into the air.

After a few bounces and skids that left a scythe-shaped plume of Waste-dander billowing in my wake, I came to a halt, brushed off the dirt, and strode toward the ship. It had crashed itself into a hillside; only half of its star-shaped body was visible, the other half buried deep in the flaky epidermis of the Waste. I climbed up the hill, then out onto the protruding arms until I found a way in.

Silt shushed down as I wrenched at the wreckage of my father’s satellite. I wormed my way past curlicued beams and snaggly bioplast. I coughed to rid my chest of the lungful of debris I’d just inhaled; it was nasty stuff that tasted of powdered memory and the driest, fermented rage. I perched myself in the unbroken window of one of the ship’s arms. My spine felt all twisted and crinkly, like a balled-up chip bag; the porthole was just like the one I’d curled myself into once, after blasting free from this very satellite. I’d fought hard and mean among the floating, zero-g ship guts, but then the gigaweight of loss and loneliness had settled and I’d gone still, letting myself drift in the empty moon of the porthole.

Part of me wanted to sag against its frame now and pretend I was back in the vacuum, wallow in my despondency. But I wasn’t here for drifting.

I snatched Zinn’s com from my pocket and told it to glow. With its flare of green luminescence held overhead, I peered down into the belly of the ship, my second womb. I could have changed the com’s light–green wasn’t a proper womb color–but I let it be. Father #2’s ship wasn’t a proper womb.

I crept down the tilted arm toward the ship’s heart, seething with recall and curiosity for what I might find. When I’d woken in the ship’s cold white light all those years ago, I’d wasted no time in blasting myself an exit, but I’d always wondered: what had my father kept in the center of his satellite’s clingy, petrol depths? Something nasty, I had no doubt. Was the nastiness still there now, or had he cleared it out after the crash? Would he be there, all desiccated and dead–useless? I gnashed my teeth and hoped viciously against that; his death belonged to me and me alone.

The satellite’s arm ended in a painted door. Scarlet and ginger did battle on its surface, reminding me briefly, sharply, of home–but home wasn’t stillborn, wasn’t a pendulous seepage of pigment down bioplast canvas. I kicked the door, then tried to fit my fingers into its seam and pull, but it wouldn’t open. With a gnarled cry, I forsook the door, turned right, and began a slow circumcision around the ship’s center, contorting myself through earth-punched corridors and metal canines ruptured up through the floor.

I tried six more doors, each at the end of an arm, each skinned in heavy color, each covered in a painting more bleached, more sensual, more spine-crunching and disturbing than the one that had come before it.

The last arm was truncated–not an arm at all. Instead of stretching off away from the center, it was only a few steps deep and ended in a sheer wall, like someone had taken a shimmery guillotine to it and stoppered the residual hole with a metal cap. This was my womb; I knew it. My faux-womb. Father had clearly amputated most of this arm of the satellite after I’d destroyed it. He’d struck it off clean, but left the sides the same: a frozen slough of fire-warp. The scars of my escape. I grinned, then kissed and tongued the misshapen walls, tasting waste silt and a fizzle of long-cold fire. Longing for my lost might pummeled my chest.

Ashes still gritty on my teeth, I spun to face the final door. It was coated in star-pale brushstrokes, and from the gap between its halves a ray of gold fog glittered. I could smell the bite of blood-warmed metal. I gripped each half of the door and shoved them open wide.

The bitter burn of bile leapt from my belly into my throat. The room inside was empty, except for a single, misty-paned display case. I squished my face up against it, staring at the suspended and lifeless creatures inside.

I choked. The heart in my chest yanked around in its bone cage, fighting to escape, to punch through my flesh and be with its sisters–because that’s what they were, those dead things, obscured by all the misty rotsucking glass. They were my sisters. Frozen sisters–snared and dead–but brilliant and sparkful as ever.

I screamed, but it was a small, meat-locker scream, too trapped and hooked by the satellite to echo. Another scream as I threw my body at the case. Break it down, break it down–the words shuddered against my skull as I slammed my fists against the cage. When that failed, I gnawed my palms till they were hot and bleeding. The blurred glass went red and shivery, then fluid, as I put my burning hands against it. Pocks and widening holes stretched toward the floor. Glassmelt puddled and ran around my feet.

I dropped my red-dripping hands and stared at my siblings. There were three–or almost three. The first looked like I once had, so many winter-chewed years ago: a slip of serpentine sinew, blue-cored with bold, red flames raised along her body. The second was bulbous; she had a coiled human fetus bloating her head. The last sister I recognized as kin only because of the damage she’d done: the shape of a girl slumped on the floor of the cage, chest torn agape and hollow as if in welcome, her flesh charred all over. A child made of fluttery wasp’s nest. The butchery had surely been my father’s, but the burning–no one but a sister of mine could have made such a fragile creature of cinder.

I tried forcing myself in through the case’s folding, cobwebbed breaches, but the dusty air bludgeoned in first, too much too soon. It snuffed out my sisters. I struggled into the cage as they dissolved, their sparkly ash whispering against my skin. I sat beside the charred girl and watched her cave skull-first, watched them all break apart like crumbling statues of stardust shivering away in a solar wind.

When they’d been rendered to nothing but a soft second skin of carbon that clung to me, like something in their atomic memory recognized me as a sibling, I left the satellite. Murder murder murder was the word circling my mind now. I kept my hands clenched at my sides and didn’t brush the ash from my skin.

Proceed to Chapter 5, page 2–>

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