Listen to Let Me Tell You by m b blissett
Chasing and waiting
For the hot, tense
In that time has no dominion
When you and I collide
Surrender to my hands
I’ve waited long enough
Passion has made me
Inventive and profane
And although I am
Dusty and worn
With trails of scar tissue
Splitting my fur
Inside and out
You, bare your throat.
Feed my fingers
And your pulse is tiny
Against my callused
Tell the thousand
Years of storms
Their lesson has
The risk of
In the everyday
And the concerns
I am weak
I come to you with
The same hunger
As when I am strong
The same steps
But a different
And I say how I feel
But some part of me
Knows the value of
This bitter ocean
Demands a steady hand
And there you stand
Calling my name
And I know
In your eyes
Kiss the salt from
As I reveal
Deepen the mystery of
You and I
Tiny stars as we
Race towards velvet darkness
A mutual oblivion
Wild quiet regard
And kiss me
As we taste one another’s
Surveillance was useless over Tonto. 4.2 million acres of forest, and we had seeded the sky with drone cameras and millimetre wave sensors but they found nothing from above. Sarah had gone down alongside Dr Theresa Safford and Paula Escovedo from Reproductive Services and were setting up a station at the edge of the forest. Safford was a blonde scalpel, beautiful and sharp whilst Escovedo was quiet and intense, corded with muscle as she hefted the equipment into the station.
Sarah came to RepServ from Homeland Security, and before that, six years as a marshall in the Male Crimes Unit. She enjoyed her work because men fascinated her and thought they’d had a rough deal in recent history. Her mother had quoted from a banned philosopher named Ken Wilber about ‘wicked problems needing wicked solutions’ when she visited them in Florida. Her empathy made her an effective agent even though a lot of her experience with men had been professional.
They got bad for a long time but things came back. Not all of them but enough plus the automated services which took care of most things. Which was why RepServ got more funding and resources than Homeland Security. There were problems with artificial sperm alongside a lack of genetic diversity to prevent inbreeding or mutations. What men were around were infertile and soft, kept as status symbols like teacup dogs unless they found themselves in some of the rougher or more desolate parts of the world. They provided tissue samples to extrapolate, but we looked into a downward spiral until a couple from Wales, holidaying in Tonto took video footage of a tall, bearded figure in the forest and a souvenir from her activist days pinged an alarm. The wristband alarm bleeped at the pheromonal signature of a man but he slipped into the trees without making a sound. RepServ got the GPS and they were on our way.
She wore a set of contact lens connected to a liquid computer, loaded with tracking and tactical software. The rifle, loaded with adhesive balls of foam, which expanded on contact, encasing the target in material which hardened to concrete. It disintegrated with a spray she had in a harness on her wrist. The lightweight chameleon suit projected images onto the surface creating a perfect blending with her environment. She chewed on the piece of gum, swallowing a blend of nutrients and stimulants to keep her alert and engaged.
The software scanned the world ahead, paired with the data from the drones and satellite footage to provide her with streaming real time information about her environment. The trees were too thick for heat signatures but it allowed Sarah perfect awareness of her environment. Her vitals spoke to a genuine excitement about her work as she walked into the forest.
Three miles in, a drone picked up movement. There were bears out here although the foam rifle would stop anyone. Sarah knew the horrible things about bears were how fast they moved, despite their size. Still, it excited her to be out here.
She shouldered the rifle as an overhead view of the location guided her whilst millimeter scans sent instructions to the boots on her feet, the soles a series of rubberized nodules which inflated and deflated depending on the terrain and information available. She was a silent ballerina dancing through the woods, lethal in intention if not in execution.
She saw the leaves shudder in a copse of bushes and she brought the rifle up in a smooth arc, letting the software run the millions of calculations required to deliver the payload. She squeezed the trigger and waited for the rounds to hit their target. They missed and splattered against a tree four feet behind him. He had ducked the shot, and she blinked, running a diagnostic as she swept the rifle across the line.
‘Go back home, miss.’
His voice was deep and rough, like a saw across damp wood. Satellites gave him up like a prison snitch. The calm, playful burr of his voice surprised her. Most men’s voices around her were soft, pitched to the point of women and the noise shocked her into inaction.
‘You need to come out with your hands up.’
He chuckled and Sarah’s blood crept up into her cheeks as she adjusted her sights aiming to have the next rounds activate over him.
‘I’ve not broken any laws. You have no authority here.’ he said.
Sarah brought up the relevant legislation to quote from.
‘I am prosecuting the detainment of a gender negative individual. Please come out and I will detain you without further use of force.’
She kept her voice bright, but he had gone, according to the data.
A branch snapped behind her and she had time to turn around.
The soft crush of his bicep against her throat gave her enough time to gasp before she felt darkness wash over everything.
She awoke with her eyes stinging and thoughts left alone for the first time in years. Her head rung like a bell and when she felt the chill press of the tin cup against her cheek, it sent a jolt of discomfort through her like a knife.
A rough voice told her to drink and she did. The water was cold, and her throat opened to receive it with blind gratitude. Rough fingers cupped her chin and she shivered with a quiet burst of emotion. She gasped as she licked her lips.
‘They will send people out after me. You’re not thinking, sir.’ she said.
He grinned through the thick scrub of beard, dusted with silver and nodded.
‘No, thinking got us into this mess, didn’t it?’
He got her to her feet and extended his right hand, flexed his fingers and closed his eyes.
The air shimmered before her.
It appeared before her in slices, lengths of cabling lashed to plastic framing, pulsing with liquid information and pouring into squat ceramic barrels. The filters would direct the data to keep the system running. Smart technology several steps beyond the standards of the communal housing they all lived in.
The shimmering solar panels sucking in the light and delivering clean, consistent power.
Young, determined eyes staring at her.
Women looked at her with dismay. Men with envy. Broad faces. The fat burned away despite the comfort. A hardness of character she found thrilling. She sniffed the air, and tasted the tang of cooked meat, and beneath it the animal musk of men she caught only in moments through work.
Sarah looked at her captor.
‘We did things when you decided your ideas meant more than the reality of being human.’
She sneered and pulled away from him.
‘The world is safer now, for all genders.’
He snorted and shook his head.
‘Nothing is safe.’
She walked through the settlement. People stared at her with a frankness she found thrilling. Some of the men looked at her in a way which she could have them charged but with her hands tied, all she could do was endure it.
Accept it, she thought with a swift hunger which was disconcerting.
He led her into a dome through a door which opened before him.
Once they were inside the room, she looked around. Thick blankets hung from the walls, woven in dark, earth tones and two chairs sat around the information fountain in the centre of the room. A bowl sat above it, filled with glowing liquid. Her contact lenses floated in the centre, fizzing with activity.
He stood behind her and took the rope from her wrists.
‘Hold still.’ he said.
He stepped away and Sarah rubbed feeling back into her wrists as she looked around.
‘You’re committing treason, you understand?’ she said.
Her voice sounded sharp, panicked and she willed it back under her control.
He chuckled and waved her off, walked over to a small maker in the corner and asked for a glass of water.
‘No, because I don’t recognise your authority and I won’t have you milk me like cattle.’ he said.
She glared at him with appalled frankness.
‘You’re being asked to submit genetic materials to ensure viable reproduction to take place, we exist because you make an issue of it.’ she said.
He shook his head.
‘People used to do it because they wanted it to. Or shit, an accident you turned into an opportunity’ he said.
Sarah grimaced and looked away.
‘I will not listen to your propaganda. I’m surprised you’ve shown me this and kept me alive.’ she said.
He smiled and shook his head.
‘Your implants shut down when you came through the barrier and we’re sucking out all the information from your computer. You might kill a bunch of us, maybe get away but you won’t come back and find us here.’ he said.
He sighed and sat down, took a sip of the water and smiled at her.
‘Sit down and have a drink, then I’ll send you on your way.’ he said.
She stared at the chair then him, eyes narrowed with suspicion. He looked relaxed and confident. She knew six moves which would hurt him, three to paralyse and two she could kill him. His eyes sparkled with interest and he gestured to the empty chair opposite him.
Sarah sat down and he passed her another glass of water.
‘We want nothing but to be left alone.’ he said.
‘Tell me your name?’ she said.
‘Adam.’ he said.
‘What are your -‘ he shook his head and smiled.
‘No, I will not use your terms. The language is part of the problem, and it’s part of why your society must hunt for top shelf come and figure out how to keep everything from falling over.’ Adam said.
Sarah blanched and shook her head.
‘Are you gloating? You live in a fucking forest.’
Her voice was a snarl. Such frankness at home would have been flagged for problematic content, led to automated messages from the house intelligence system. The liberating act was terrifying in its power.
He laughed and clapped his hands.
‘Lieutenant, we are self sustaining and live in comfort. We are free to do so, and we don’t police how other people speak or think. It’s rough at times, because we have had to live apart from the rest of you.’ he said.
She ran her tongue over her lips and looked at him. He was alien, compelling in the way a child finds the monster under her bed compelling. They were always male.
But were they?
‘You can’t do that.’ she said.
He chuckled and shook his head.
‘We have. It’s just not sinking into your collective heads.’ he said.
She had been prepared for gendered slurs, sexual innuendoes, even aggressive threat. Beyond her pacification, she was unharmed and being listened to.
Sarah wondered why she was enjoying it.
‘Talk, Adam?’ she said
He smiled and gestured outside.
‘I’ll show you.’ he said.
Sarah blinked through the lenses, they were irritating her and she was grateful to see the station where she could take them off. Safford flung the door open and glared at her.
Sarah grimaced and shook her head, mumbled something about countermeasures and being held captive. They took her gun, but didn’t hurt her.
Adam had rehearsed these details with her. They had moved from water to scotch, and then she had moved to a good facsimile of red wine, as they debated.
The three days she spent there was a revelation. Uncomfortable and challenging, but beneath her skull, she was humming with new ideas. They were old ones, questions which demanded debate over denial and factors kept hidden from collective discussion. She agreed to help them get access, but nothing more. Violence was too constant in her world, and Adam explained how preparedness was not the same thing as aggression.
He had given her choice. The gaps in the data would reveal how to find them and the people there represented vectors of infection and valuable genetic material for biological diversity.
People who had fed and met with her.
She slipped the lenses from her eyes and passed them to Safford who rushed them inside. The data would be valuable.
Just not for RepServ.
She wanted sleep over a shower. A shower would have forced certain materials from her skin. She had never seen an uncut man before, and when he invited her to bed, she had gone to him a virgin in this way. Sarah ached with a deep warmth which nestled in her hips and thighs as she stepped into the dormitory attached to the station.
She laid on the cot and closed her eyes. Her hands cupped to her mouth and nose, breathing him in as she waited for the change to come out of the forest.
We landed at Dulles, took the president to an armoured limousine as his wife fed him pills and lifted a bottle of water to his lips, telling him it would be okay.
The alien invasion had ended. We had received communication of a desire to open negotiations with the entity.
We had lost against something we knew so little about.
It had utilised a series of drones, intelligent enough to reproduce and evolve, and the ones we took apart showed the elegant malice of its designs. The carbon rods propelled by chemical charges launched from shuddering soft jellyfish floating above the atmosphere and destroying entire cities. Lupine creatures with armoured skin, dropped into the countryside and attacking everything they fell upon. Things which soared through our skies, emitting bursts of electromagnetic energy which blacked out entire countries. A cosmic zoo of grotesque proportions and exquisite capabilities and lost. The scale and speed of the assault made anything else a suicide note from our species.
My boss told me I was going along. I nodded, a little too quick from the caffeine I had been mainlining since we came out of the bunker in Colorado, desperate not to miss a moment of living now it was possible again.
The President was sending the vice president.
Their craft had landed in Nevada. Our analysis had been a race of reptilian beings, anatomy and intercepted communications representing a base ten mathematics. We never encountered the corpses of anything biological. If a race had reached technological singularity, the possibility of its machines becoming aggressive had factored into my calculations, but I believed we were dealing with a biological entity, its given name revealed in the final communication.
I’VE FIGURED OUT HOW IT WORKS
Sixteen major cities in smoking ruins beneath a rain of gelatinous napalm spat from the plastic wombs of writhing white machines which appeared and struck in perfect synchronisation without warning. It was the biblical made literal and what scared me about the technology and the tactics was the possibility of dealing with an invader who was whimsical.
The craft was covered in a reflective material which seethed with lines of sparking energy, twisting and turning in spirals and waves as a small aperture opened in the side. A ramp extended, rippling like a cat’s tongue at a saucer of milk and solidified into a single column.
Cassie Reynolds. The girl who bullied me through grade school until MIT admitted me onto it’s accelerated programme, and I left her smug ten-year-old face behind. I was looking into it now, twenty years later. She updated her social media with how happy she was, and I would unblock her to feed the irrational irritation she stoked in me after all that time. Yet I was looking at a ten-year-old Cassie Reynolds. I shuddered but the look on her face was something unusual. Dismay.
‘No, listen I know you’re seeing something awful but I can explain.’
The vice president wept and shook his head, praying as he put his hands up to hide his face and the secret service surrounded him, guns raised as Cassie skipped down the ramp.
‘There’s something in your brain which makes me look like the person you hate the most. Have you heard of apophenia?’
‘It’s where we prescribe meaning to patterns. It relates to schizophrenia. Why?’
‘Well, I have this implant which generates apophonic responses and triggers disgust responses. It’s what kept me alive when I took this mission. I’ve been working from the inside, across the planes, and I’m sorry I didn’t make it sooner, ma’am.Persuading the Council of Ricks was more difficult than I expected but I found my way into the central core.’
My stomach crawled with a desperate loathing as I planted my feet on the ground and clenched my hands into fists. I wanted to run over and claw at her pouting doll face, how she’d grin as she pulled my hair and slapped me, the ripples of mocking laughter whenever I spoke aloud. Smart children represent the purest expression of the uncanny valley effect, and it revolted girls like Cassie, much as she revolted me now.
Not Cassie’s eyes filled with tears as she came and stood in front of me.
She held a small gel capsule in her palm.
‘This will help. I can explain it better if you’re not fighting the urge to murder me.’
‘Wasn’t the invasion of earth enough of a reason?’
She shook her head.
‘I didn’t cause this. I’ve stopped it. Just like you’ll ask me to.’
I took the capsule and swallowed it. A tight band of pain settled into my temples for a second before she wavered and I looked at a tired, scarred young woman, only twenty five.
‘I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’m a federal consultant. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything.’
Her eyes were red as she scratched the back of her neck. She told me what we had fought against.
They came from the future, working backwards like locusts.
For each civilisation they devoured, they became more degraded, outsourcing the majority of their activity to machines, making them more sophisticated to take on more responsibility for the invasion. By the time they had found us, it was the machines acting on their programming, as the last of the species died out.
Alien machine ghosts.
Not-Cassie told me this as I fought the urge to run screaming.
The worst part was her discovery about the aliens.
They weren’t alien at all. What we became in a million years. Humanity.
‘What year is this?’
I told her then talked about the invasion and she swallowed, turning pale with horror as she backed away.
‘Oh shit. Look, I can fix this. One more leap and I can stop them before they find the station.’
Cassie had given me Swirlies, Chinese burns of livid skin on my forearms. If we’d gone to high school together, she would have graduated to cigarette burns and streaming my live humiliation on her phone.
She ran back to the ship and took off. Someone fired a shot, but it pinged past her and she looked over her shoulder, grimacing.
‘I know, okay?’
The ramp retracted and the aperture closed behind her before the ship took off into the air like a leaf on the wind before it sucked away into space.
I looked at the vice president, on his knees and weeping with disgust.
We returned and I had the dubious pleasure of flying back with the vice president and trying to explain what had happened. I met someone who told me I had ordered her to stop this invasion and she did, but too late for the amount of devastation. The vice president had asked me what occurred during our conversation, which was when I found out we had been speaking in pig Latin. It was horrible to listen to.
The skies were clear, but the plane shook with a sudden squall of turbulence and I closed my eyes. Life had become not a blessed gift, but a forced appearance in an awful, cosmic vaudeville.
I closed my eyes and waited for more of the worst. The capsule, I guessed, comprised of more than a change of perceptions amongst its effects. Perhaps it was a fear of the future but I sat back against the seat and prayed I found the courage to look forwards past today.
Making this public was out of the question. We had been grateful for the scraps of infrastructure left to us, and the ambiguous horror of it would devastate our faltering efforts.
It needed a hero, and so I told myself a story. One large enough to build a wall between the truth and I. It wasn’t enough to mute the disgust for Not-Cassie, but I imagined the woman underneath and wished her well.
The plane stabilised and I watched the vice president lower his head in prayer. I joined him, without asking.
I prayed for her.
I prayed for my soul not being too stained with weakness before I met her again.
For the first time.
I write poems
On your skin
Sonnets against the
Soft skin of your
To what is mine
But I forget how many
Until you reach and take my
Head in your hands
Correcting my grammar
And you ask
Permission to reply
And on sheets
(Pardon the irony)
Listening to you
And beguiled by
The light in your eyes
But does not
The quiet intimacy
Flows like the dance of
And I am fighting through
The urge to master
The rising tide of
I’m made animal
Tender tough and
Open like sky
My presence is not
Penance but the wisdom
Of long nights
Spent in contemplative prayer
The god within me
A thing of warm shadow
Leaves and fur
Callused skin and slow
Hands in motion