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Corvus, Hydra, Centaurus

Grant Maierhofer

The meat of these who were sat to the left and right of me was gray and smelled putrid and wet. We were sat in a large vehicle and everything was dark so as to discourage our communication and intermingling as we were slowly ushered up to where a large halo of figures would hand down what would be the coming years of our lives. I was lucky to have a large organorobotic cloak woven into the skin of me that would surely be cut from me after being shipped but for the moment it covered the lot of me and made slow inhalations of chemicals I’d programmed some time back into my flesh to cloud my thinking. I could still smell and see the skin of these next to me and though I could ingest draughts of this comforting thing the two of them were sufficiently putrid for it to barely matter.

My name is Horus but where I am I’m sure there’s some term they’ll give me before I’m jettisoned or whatever else. I’m prepared for this. The way I was bred was to prepare me for this exact sort of thing. My mother had spent the majority of her years caked onto the side of a machine tethered between a string of moons that hovered in this massive wall of other organic matter and she’d butchered my father in that cold condition before birthing me and communicating what.

I’d been discovered in the bowels of this massive vehicle within the wall sucking at tubes of its fuel and through a series of missteps was escorted here where we’ll apparently be made to atone for what.

The majority of my life had been spent on a sopping wet rock constantly alight in dark tar fires and it abounded in unsavory rapist lizardlike creatures who’d buy and sell to me the spoils of whatever war they’d been bound up in since long before I’d come. A species of humanoid occupied one of its bordering moons and I was lucky to affix myself to one of their vehicles and spend a time sneaking from footlocker to footlocker intaking the chemicals I might find there and returning to the rock surface to buy or sell myself and lay in the sopping tar and staring up at the suns’ lights. There were benefits to situating oneself between warring parties, and for a time I existed within the galactic rot between these places.

I never had sympathy for the bodies after the life went from them. It wasn’t a purpose exactly but whenever I could be between warring factions I was settled. These weren’t civilizations, they were brutes. I was a slightly larger brute. I could pull them apart. I would grab at them and yank the limbs of them and pile them up where they’d lit fires in the tar and it would smolder and I could rest a bit staring to the moons. I don’t know how long we’d been sat there before the body on the left of me had started its fidgeting.

The vehicle stunk of rot and some kind of putrid dust and its legs started flailing around as the being sat on the right of me started howling this idiotic cackle and I was nauseated. There was no guard in the vehicle. I leaned forward and pressed my face into the cool metal there and heaved backwards into the fidgeting figure with all the weight of me. My elbow got sucked into the teeth around its mouth and I pushed myself into it to stop its movement as I felt it scream against my flesh and the cloak. I sat back and looked at the moaning figure there as it wept red tears into the ground of the vehicle and the figure on my right attempted to console it. I tried to sleep.

I would’ve taken the language of him and found some means of calming the idiot noises he made and make the morons around us stop behaving the way they did but I was certain that something unfathomable was waiting for me and I didn’t want to ease discomfort. Discomfort doesn’t need easing. Language doesn’t need a source, a receptacle. Some objects exist to be flattened. A rapist, likely, or some sniveling ugly figure to be disposed of, under the rule of some sniveling tyrant moron, and I would wait.

Being dragged through tar to eventually be positioned in the receptacle and poured into the vehicle like grinding meat is the first time I remember true fear. These vessels were always discussed. Rumors about them were always circulating amid thieves and these quiet sadists I’d surrounded myself with all my life. I remember in a wet jungle on a dimly lit planet being told of faraway places where legions of species were imprisoned and made to multiply and generate the forces that in turn created the wall, the walls. I had laid there eating a feast of grubs and drinking this mulled wine they poured over the backs of these massive toadlike figures an ape had poured for us and eased into the bath of this burning jungle paranoia and multicolored moons above us flickering and moving in immeasurable steps surrounding us while down below a fleet of humanoid soldiers raped the woods.

A yellow liquid was leaking from the mouth of the being sat next to me and the figure on my right reached across in an attempt to pin its mouth shut between two fingers. I wanted nothing to do with either of these and so slid out to reposition myself at the edge of the vehicle and first to leave whenever we’d landed and the sentencing would start.

We were taken in the dark and now some light was cracking through the blinds of the vehicle. The figure I’d attacked was mumbling something I couldn’t understand and the figure now sat to my left in turn attempted to console the mumbling figure. I looked through the slats opened up on the side of the vehicle and inhaled the draughts from the cloak and felt the calm come with the lights of the suns scattered on several varied horizons. It was clear that there were enough of us in there to try and escape the vehicle. They were relying on us being natural enemies and this was probably correct. The fingers on my left hand were twitching a bit perhaps from driving my elbow into the face of the moaning figure. I couldn’t be certain. I tried to breathe and to sort of welcome the light to me but where we were sat was cold and each of us was wet and distended awaiting judgment and there would be no relief for a long time and we would likely each wind up slowly withering away on some vessel or planet harvesting what water there we could and it would at least be pure. That was the best these figures and myself could hope for, and what. We would be lucky to find a pure state.

—It isn’t necessary to spend your thoughts against him, you don’t need to do it, you can just sleep, you can just let yourself rest

—Passive clatter, talk talk talk, he’s vermin, he’s a little speck of his vermin, his vermin is there in him being his little speck of his violent vermin

—I think about what got you here, and I wonder, and what, and this fellow in his violent display, and the other across from us there whining and the guard outside with his funeral stick, a machine, a warping little machine he has, I think about it and what got you here or made you thus, in the dark of this vehicle room, only to step into their light and welcome your penance

—I wouldn’t talk, the being of him and vermin being, loudly let against the tar, the burning sand, the glass desert of their suns, a whining light of them, I’d only hope for exile

—Exile is a rumor unconfirmed and nobody’s going to confirm it and nobody is going to receive a penance they want, it just doesn’t happen, it doesn’t exist

—I would not purport to know or understand the state of either of you whining children, I have no interest in your whining or the materials melting from your ugly stupid faces, my only concern is getting out of this place and being able to move forward but if it provides some consolation in the meanwhile as we await the executioners of our spirits then have my apology, and close your whining eyes

I used to be able to look up at the lights and understand. The multicolored suns and moons were in constant movement and I was able to look up and understand, and I would tell the apes in the jungle of their meaning and I would feel at peace. There was peace in that movement and the constant stench of the wet tar and the pyramid their enemies had erected in the glass desert. At their war I was able to bury myself down deep below the tar and scrape by a life that was simple and took form and shape and I was never alone. I would etch things into the tar and sleep. I would masturbate myself and rest and drink at the tar’s runoff. I would sing to the apes as they came back from wars against those in the pyramid. I would hop between ships hovering in orbit and eat at the chemicals and materials there. I had a different name then and it was simpler. There was the wall and the galaxies and void erected there. I was calm and wide awake. There was occasional music on massive devices before I was taken and there was a peace in this place. My mother was gone and nobody knew my true name. My second name was an eroded version of the first, and these brutes will find their own name for me. I am prepared. My body is prepared. They will tear the cloak from my skin and see me in my true state and they will have their name for me. I look forward to it. I am ready to be punished. I am ready to be made to sit in whatever rotting sunless corner of the galaxy they’ll send me to. I used to create weapons from the chemicals and tar and give it over to the apes. I used to create structures for them to hide their way to the pyramid and I would watch them drunk on runoff and I would smile up at the lights there. I have known a violence all my life. I have known an anger, a misery all my life. These faces here within the vehicle. These bodies seated and rotting next to me. They’re wearing their various garb. They’re dressed however they are dressed. I am a body in a chamber filled with bodies on a planet drenched in wet. They stink, are putrid. Someday again soon I will look up and I will see the lights. In Exile I will look and see the lights as they fly me into the guts of a furious sun. All have heard of these experiments, and I am ready. I am not afraid of death. I feel no anxiety when I look into the faces of those around me and I know that we are en route to death. It is ok. I am at peace and I am ready to see the lights. I am ready for what.

I remember being younger on the surface of a planet whose covering was this growing organism of small hairs. These were connected and I had crashed there on a ship whose refuse I’d subsisted on for a time, and when we crashed I was forced to make myself known to those in control and we were forced to spend this time together, waiting. These were grayfleshed beings whose talking didn’t stop. I laid for a time on the organisms and as they grew they’d wrap around you and pull you toward the planet’s core and a warmth would overwhelm you. Their sun was close and all you could see in the air. Some of the gray beings spoke with me there as we waited their rescue vehicle and the organisms released a pollen and sap that fed us as we sunk deeper toward the core and melded with this material. The gray beings had chemicals on board their ship and if they minded my eating them they never spoke of it. I don’t know my age then. I don’t know if this was before or after the death of the apes. I don’t know if I felt better or worse in the sun’s light. I was calm. I waited and waited for what.

The movement of days there dragged and distended to the degree that I remember this time there as one unending blur of light and the feeling of being pulled. These beings apparently were against confronting me or taking me to task and I am large. I contain refuse. I am a never ending being and I don’t know for how long I’ll live. Sat next to the figures and amid the dregs and refuse that way led me to these memories of the long warring stretches of my life how they’d awaken. The burning of my flesh in the grassy space there. Losing the beat of my hearts there. Feeling the hands of these beings as they examined me. I am ready. I am laying there and I am ready. I am welcoming their sun to burn me and I would reject escape on their vehicle and I would find another means of leaving, or I would simply sift through into the core of the place and I would finally be free from what.

An infection entered me there that I doubt has ever left me. The organisms there worked to calm you and as you were brought closer to the planet and farther from the sun a sort of sepsis would enter your blood that made nearly everything painful. I have no language now to describe that pain. Even this, transcribed and rearranged to make sense to whoever needed it, there’s nothing I can even suggest that would describe that pain. Sitting on the rescue vehicle as we were carried off that place and I began the long process of again rebuilding my life amidst utter strangers, this constant wincing made it so that I could barely speak again, and I avoided it. I’ve been trapped under the miles-thick ice on moons away from everything in search of something that might be bartered, that cold dark emptiness, and that loneliness is nothing compared to the rot that entered me.

I can remember the heat of the sun and its feeling against my flesh. Sat with the fellows awaiting our judgment I could feel it then. I was amid the ugly, these bodies who’d done wrong according to some arbiter, this figure telling the rest of us what was what, and they were god. I don’t know if the seeping language of my idiot race has a word for god. I remember being on a planet where things were built of stone and it was the first time I’d seen one of the arbiters. They had a word for them like god and everyone was constantly speaking it. I tried to mimic them and for a time worked as a smith creating the material with which they’d coat their ships. They spoke and it was constantly raining. Their world was constantly filled with wet black mud and it’s to one of them I’ll be thrown for judgment, dropped from the vehicle at their feet and made to atone for what I did, whatever I did, all of it laid out at my feet in turn and stated, repeated, along with their words for god, and only partially understanding the sentence that will define the remainder of my lived days. Sat there I wanted to reach into the coil of teeth and the yellow wet that leaked from its idiot mouth and yank its heart to eat. I would’ve felt at peace then. I would’ve waited for what. That’s what nobody says, nobody wants to say anything else once they’ve got their words for god, the rest of us at their feet dragging our pitiful bodies in a long moan against the ones who’ve figured it out.

My pigment has always made me angry. Only anger. My pigment changes with the suns it’s under. Only anger. I feel my life reduced to a little puddle. I see the bodies I’ve been near and see it reflected there. I see. Nothing could make the situation in the vehicle sat there, waiting there, so noxious as my lived days, everything prior to this, the ugly history. I see the yellow rot on my arm and the jagged scathing there from its teeth, and I would like to escape for good. I’m at the door and I would like to part. I’m dragged out into the village there they’ve created for their butchers and executioners and I stumble along as my busted leg trails behind and I sneer at the faces of these tyrannical figures dragging the arms of me that work. I’m brought into a large building and I can see the lights of it through the ruts and cracks from a red sun at the horizon and this world is sopping wet, the first I’ve seen of it in its entirety. I continue, I persist, until the butt of a large weapon comes driving down on my neck and I’m thrown into a small, dank cell.

—That’s for the mischief against your mate, you’ll be here until sentencing is meted out

—I would like to watch the both of you buried up to your necks in blood, oh please

—You’ll soon be made to what, and what, my son

There I was sat in a barred hole in their ground where the wet was present and were the waters at different heights I might’ve choked, and could still. Nobody then to drip on or to talk at. Nobody then but my self and my suffering and awaiting this final step before the rumors would be shut up and locked away and my true sentence amid the rotting stars could be laid out. I waited, I was patient. Being alone I was better equipped to let time pass as I etched small circles on the walls of this little decrepit pit and moaned the sounds of my mother into the bars as steps and drops of liquid and tyrant voices echoed back to me. I could just see from the corner of my bars the top corner of the vehicle I’d been plucked from far away there and the red sun dimmed more with every breath out on the distant horizon. Surely I would be beaten. Surely I would first be made to atone. Surely I would be questioned about my species. Surely I would be made to speak for the whole of my ugly idiot lineage and I would have nothing to say. Perhaps they’d hack off a foot in the worst of it. Perhaps they’d take my tongue. Perhaps their word for god would be burned into my flesh before I was jettisoned into the deep wet seas of space along the wall. I would not be able to tell them how long I might live. Should Exile be proven a reality they might send me to the furthest reaches as I could curse back to them the spittle of the universe and grant their evisceration of whatever planet there provided energy back to this ugly husk structure. I couldn’t tell them how long I’d live. I couldn’t tell them that my mother had survived in the reaches and depths of space. I couldn’t tell them a thing because they already knew what they could extract from me. In preparation I carved sneering messages into the walls and slowly pulled the cloak from my peeling skin and imagined the hatred of my arbiters staring back at me. I pulled the dark fabric and my skin went with it, opening and peeling off rotting layers as the sting shot my skin and my back burned. I felt the burning and I imagined their hatred as I approached. I pulled the last tatters of the cloak and tossed it in the corner. I stretched out my back to further open the wounds and I imagined their faces, their exquisite hatred staring back at me. I welcomed it. I wanted their hatred burned into my memories forever. I imagined them throwing rocks into the holes of my flesh. I imagined them spitting at me and dousing me with acid. I felt them tear into me and yank my skin apart. I imagined their hatred and what.

—I wonder if you might articulate for us why you feel you’ve found yourself in Takk, do you have a firm sense of why you’re in front of us in Takk?

—My speech isn’t firm, I don’t have the language you seem to have to speak to Takk or why a body would find themselves in this place, but I believe I was brought here related to the materials I pulled from an apparently dormant ship or somesuch?

—I believe you find yourself here for reasons, and perhaps my partner here could shed some light on the situation?

—Object number eight-four-seven-four-para-nine-subheading-even is brought before the courts in Takk for eleven disparate offenses related to bodily harm, thievery, enhanced weapons assault, rape, and eighteen variations therein related to those left on dormant ships, those in his employ, and a saga of violations that showed no sign of stopping until Takke officers apprehended object trapped between two pillars on board the dormant ship Hereform X1 eons deep upon the wall

—And for these offenses, object, what sort of an atoning are you prepared to offer? What is it that you’ll do in the face of all this what?

—I don’t have adequate language for you to fully respond, I believe I’m here for a number of offenses and I’m prepared for whatever sort of decrepitude you’re prepared to subject me to

—I think my partners have laid things out pretty adequately at this point, and I believe your place in Takk is right, have you heard rumors, though, of the Exile programs?

—I believe I’m in Takk, and I believe you’re establishing an initiative to send us far into massive voids in your mapping, the Exile Initiative right?

—I believe he understands me, though it isn’t a military sort of thing, I believe perhaps it makes sense to send him into the swath of the wall toward the upper reaches where nobody’s come back, I believe it makes good sense

—I need to speak with you, with all five of you and I’m slightly incapable, I think it makes sense to simply go forward with your sentencing, I’ll accept any orders you feel fit to give me, I haven’t the language to tell you I no longer care

—This object is apparently the perfect candidate, this object before us now is exactly the sort of body we’ve looked for, longer than a century’s lifespan, impenetrable skins, ability toward recovery, the body before us is rank and putrid and ready for something, and the Exile programs are exactly right for this body

—Are we at all worried about his ability to report back? His recordings of matters? His language? He apparently has no god and what

—I want to speak with you about my fate, and I cannot, if what I’ve heard is true then I accept it, if Exile is true then I accept it, just let’s be done with this and what

—It is time to send this object to its fate, and it is time for us to adjourn for the day, and what, Takk is what

—I recommend full Exile then, in the region previously determined, in the fullest suit with requisite materials and full jettison this evening

—In Takk, do you have anything else you’d like to say before you’re sent off?

—I haven’t the full language to say what, I don’t know how to say it now, to you there, I can accept Exile if that’s my fate, it doesn’t matter, I have no god, I accept what

I think that I might’ve left there under different circumstances had I attempted to access whatever it was these figures wanted to communicate to me via whatever means they were using to communicate—their rancid throats, the small arcs of ugly dirt that shot from above their eyes when they spoke, the yellow gristle around their necks that expelled green wheeze whenever they stopped speaking—but I went into that room sick, starving, and bored, and prepared for whatever might come next.

They took me to a room that was all light, and when I entered the light started to burn the bits of my flesh that were exposed. They laid me on the floor of the room and began dripping this muddy black liquid all over me as the lights got brighter and my skin continued to burn. A dome was laid over my skull and they laid a worm twice the length of me across my chest and stomach that started to scrape its teeth against me and suck at the flesh that was now covered in the drying black mud. Everywhere the worm gnawed and sucked at me was newly exposed to the light and it burned twice as bad. I didn’t speak. I didn’t complain. I didn’t reach for the figures that stood over me. What clothing and utilities I had were ripped from me as the light shone its brightest and I was lifted up and told to strangle the worm for convenience. I grabbed what felt like the neck of the thing and started twisting two of my hands around it and reaching inward until I’d gotten through the meat of it and plucked off the red nub of it there and what remained began to bite and suck at me. I reached my arm down into the throat of the thing and squeezed every half a foot or so until I’d mangled and distended the thing and it fell to the ground where I stomped on its remnants and the guts of it were mashed across the floor.

I was pulled by an arm then into a room that smelled of decaying matter and acid and burning hot liquid began to cover me in the dark. I didn’t move. I wasn’t trying to what. I let the material burn me and didn’t wince. I stood there. I bowed my head slightly and closed my eyes. I let the material burn me.

I first saw the teeth of the wall. I had been cleaned and they had inserted me into this partial-bio pod that would react to things not dissimilar from the coat I saw on my mother when she was nearing death. My cloak was burned before me. I was tested. I was subjected to any number of things. I was subjected to what. They sat me down and subjected me to the known lights of the universe. The partial-bio suit they put me in would shock me if I stopped recording observations every three weeks or so. They wanted me to record my observations from within first, the physical sensations I experienced before what I saw around me. They’d tested my skin to exposure and found that I could handle things and thus I was made the partial suit and thus I was tossed out first on a pod which would get me mostly there and then I was left to my own flesh exposed there and my own mouth making these observations there. The wall itself, or the portion of the wall itself where I was sent, had ugly teeth at the edge of it. These large gnawing pieces of rock or organic matter. I was close to one and I touched it there, the skin on my partial-bio suit reacted to it quickly and made observations and sent them back to Takk. Everything was dimly lit from far off the horizon, only a moon, I couldn’t see the rest of the system and I recorded my observations of this. I talked and I qualified my speech and tried to explain that I couldn’t fully communicate to them the awe they seemed to expect. I didn’t know how to ensure I was communicating effectively. After a while I stopped caring. I tried to reach the edges of my portion of the Exile programs and when I went too far I was electrocuted such that I didn’t wake up for weeks. I floated there twitching at the edge that limits my contained space that they wanted me to observe and the pain was constant and abrasive. Constant miserable pain and what. I had an overwhelming sensation in the pit of my guts when the cold began to split me. I had ripped part of my partial-bio suit on a fragment of rock passing through when I’d become tired of matters after so much time. I stared at the moon there and cut into my flesh with the rock and could feel the cold there enter my blood. I’d waited for some fragment sharp and strong enough for years. I’d been waiting there for years. My body had withered and my arms had each grown pale and thin and my stomach was constantly growling and beginning to rot as the world there passed by me. I was in this massive space, I could communicate. I could talk to them but they couldn’t respond. Nobody could hear my gasping and I had grown sick of it. I was waiting for what. I would stare at the light and try to let my mind ease itself into the swamp of being there and now the cut suit and the plasma and blood and viscera of me leaking then and it was right, I was right. I cut the rock into the meat of my neck and dragged it through my spinal tissue and ripped and tossed myself across the system. I would be whole. I surrendered to the flickering of their lights as I let one final braying scream leave me and I was cut.

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Grant Maierhofer is the author of The Compleat Lungfish, Peripatet, Works and others.