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about the author…
Hello and welcome! My name is Merc Rustad and I’m a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker who likes dinosaurs, robots, monsters, and cookies. My fiction has appeared in nifty places like Scigentasy, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. (More at the Published Fiction tab at the top of the page.)
I’m mostly found on Twitter @Merc_Rustad and occasionally playing in cardboard boxes. The site is updated with publication announcements, completed short films, and occasional blog-like essays. (For more semi-regular blogging, I hang out on LJ and DW.)
about the narrator…
Mat last Read for EP episode 466: Checkmate
To the Knife-Cold Stars
by A. Merc Rustad
When Grace opens his newly crafted eye, the first thing he sees is wire. Thick cords of braided wire snaking like old veins up the walls. It’s dim inside the surgical unit, but for all the black metal and mesh shelves, it _feels_ clean, even in the heat. The air still has the unfamiliar taste of crude oil. Sweat sticks the borrowed clothes to his skin. He blinks, a flicker of pain in his head as the left eyelid slides down over cool metal buried in the socket.
He’s awake and he’s alive.
The anesthetic hasn’t worn off. It’s sluggish in his blood, an unpleasant burn at the back of his throat. It blurs the edges of his thoughts like too much bad wine. But it doesn’t dull the deep-etched fear still unspooling through his gut. He survived the demon, survived his own execution. It’s a hard thing to accept, even days later. He wants to touch the new eye, this machine part of his body, the forever-reminder what happened. Doesn’t dare, yet.
“Back with us, eh?” says a raspy voice muffled by a respirator.
Grace turns his head, slow and careful. He dimly recalls the wire-tech mumbling about whiplash in his neck and the horrific bruising along his ribs and back where the welts are still healing. “Guess so.”
The tech is a small man dressed in heavy surgical leathers that are studded with metal sheeting. Old blood speckles the apron and gloves; the metal and rivets are spotless. Only the skin on his forehead is visible under thick embedded glasses and a breather covering nose and mouth. “Nearly died on us, you did. Venom went right into the blood.”
The demon’s venom. Grace doesn’t reach to touch his face where the sunspawn’s claws took out his eye and split flesh to bone. He doesn’t look down, either. A new shirt and worn jeans cover whatever scars the demon left on his belly and thighs. He shivers in the heat. He doesn’t know if he can ever look at himself again; what will Humility think–
Grace trembles harder. Humility will never see him again.
_Don’t think._ Harder a self-command than it should be. _Don’t go back there._
The second voice jerks Grace’s attention back to where he is. He turns his head again, wincing. He craves more anesthetic, and hates that he wants it. Numbness is just another way to hide.
Bishop stands near the narrow doorway, leaning against corded wire that bunches like supports along the wall. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, dressed in travel-worn leathers with a breather mask over the lower part of his face. His mechanical eyes gleam dull green in the surgical bay’s weak florescent glow.
Bishop–the man who saved his life. Bishop brought him here to this city, to the medical bay tucked somewhere in one of the vast districts that no name Grace can recall. Grace’s throat tightens. He ought to say something in greeting, or acknowledgement. All words feel hollow.
Bishop looks at Grace, unblinking, though he speaks to the tech. “Appreciate your help, Dee,” Bishop says. “Your skill’s always sharp.”
“I do my best.” The tech bobs his head. “Better if some of us live.”
Grace flinches. He braces his hands on the metal gurney, gripping the edge until he can’t feel the tips of his fingers. He should be dead–worse, even. Should, and isn’t.
Bishop straightens. “Grace, we need to go.”
Grace shuts his eyes–the new optic sensor makes details too sharp, too real. He shoves himself to his feet. The world tilts.
Bishop’s shoulder is under his arm before he falls. He can’t recall if he walked into the Wire City or if he was carried. Not that he’ll ask. _Forgive us our sins, oh Lord, forgive us–keep us safe from the Sun, from the Dark, and from our own–our own…_
He can’t remember the rest of the litany, so he leans on Bishop and swallows down the shame of needing such help even to stand. His wrists carry the memory-weight of the heavy manacles that held him bound to the cross.
“Sorry about your boy,” Bishop says to Dee in an undertone as he pivots towards the door. “Heard Jackob mention that.”
Dee’s throat clicks. “We can’t save them all.”
Grace tries not to flinch again. _God doesn’t save the ones He should._ “How’d he die?” Grace asks, hoping that Dee’s boy wasn’t crossed and left as tribute to the demons that walk out from the sun.
“He didn’t,” Bishop says.
Outside, the air is heat-dried and dirtier. Grace slits one eye–his old one, his real one. He faces a wide, paved street flanked by banks of windowless buildings, worn things built of metal and stone. They’re so big, Grace can’t see the rooftops. He can’t see the sky through the atmosphere dome above the city, or the stars beyond. The noise is the worst of it, though, the hum of great engines, machines grinding. The air vibrates against his teeth as a vehicle big as one of the faithful’s houses back home rumbles past. Grace stumbles backwards. A gust of hot air from a passing carriage stings his face.
He can _feel_ the space around him, despite the compact grid-like structure of the buildings. His home, Blessed Servitude, was a large town. But he was never lost inside the walls. Here, Grace has no reference points. It’s a cavernous space that his senses are adrift in. Panic edges into him, sideways like it always does.
He needs to get away from here, but when last he tried to run, he was caught.
Bishop nudges him. Grace stumbles along, down a narrow alley.
Grace braces his legs and breathes deep. The city is too big to focus on, its massive presence overwhelming his senses. He needs something smaller, something saner. “What happened to the boy?” he asks, jaw gritted so his voice doesn’t break.
Bishop shrugs. “The cityheart took him.”
Grace grinds his teeth. “He’s alive?”
Bishop’s arm is tense. “Yeah, more’s the pity. The cityheart takes easy targets. Kids, mostly. They’re somewhere down inside, but the fumes kill them eventually.”
Grace presses his spine against the alley wall. The metal is warm like sunbaked earth. He stares at Bishop, not hiding his anger. It’s ingrained like fear into his heart. “No one does anything?”
Bishop’s tone is flat. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“Nothing?” Grace should drop it. He’s always been like this–clinging to the questions he shouldn’t ask. Wanting what he can’t have.
Bishop rubs his temple above the cluster of thin black-cased wires that trail from the corner of his eye down under his mask. “The cityheart shorts out Wired tech. Anyone dependent on it who goes down dies sure as not.”
Grace digs his fingertips against the wall, the heat winding up his arms. “You’re telling me everyone’s going to leave the boy to die.”
“Don’t be so surprised,” Bishop says. “No one intervenes in the offerings, either.”
Bishop was once an offering and he escaped alive. Then he returned to Blessed Servitude, years later, faced down a demon and killed it to save a stranger. Grace doesn’t know where that kind of strength comes from.
“I can’t go into the cityheart.” Bishop sighs. “Neither can Dee.”
“Then let me,” Grace says, before he turns coward.
Bishop shakes his head. “You’d–”
“Die?” Grace sets his jaw. “We’d not lose much, would we?”
Bishop is silent.
Grace turns his face away. He didn’t mean it as a jab. He’s shaking and can’t make his body stop.
He was tried in Blessed Servitude and condemned to death; he was shackled to a steel cross as an offering for the demon. He deserved to die, and he was so fucking afraid of it. But then Bishop appeared from the wastelands, freed him and challenged the demon for Grace’s sake. Grace fought at Bishop’s side, unwilling to see someone else die because of him.
_You deserve to live,_ Bishop told him when the fight was over, when Grace lay wounded, poisoned. Bishop offered him a choice between survival and mercy-killing. Grace knew he should have taken the knife, not Bishop’s outstretched hand.
He still isn’t sure he can believe Bishop’s words. It’s because of him Humility is dead.
“You gave me a chance,” Grace says. He can’t exist like this: breathing and walking and possessing space, all the while knowing that someone who aided him has lost family and no one else will _help_. “Dee should have that.”
“I already paid Dee with credit,” Bishop says. “You owe him nothing.”
Grace jerks his head side to side and points at his implanted eye. Fuck the pain. “You paid him for parts.”
Bishop grunts. “He stitched you up. It’s his job.”
“He saved my life.” Grace can’t meet Bishop’s gaze again, or look up. There will be only steel and the glow of the dome above. He stares past Bishop at the seemingly endless line of flat doors set in the alley wall. “So did you.”
Bishop is quiet again.
Grace swallows hard. “I need to make that matter, Bishop.”
“It already does.”
Grace concentrates on his breath. _Stay steady._ “I know.” He doesn’t believe it, and he hopes Bishop can’t see that. “But if I can help that boy, I have to try.”
Like his little brothers he left behind, like his friends and neighbors, his weakness will punish them more than it will ever hurt him. And he cannot endure that again.
Bishop turns his back on Grace. “If that’s what you want, I’ll show you where the access hatch is.” His voice is tired. “You know you’ll be on your own.”
“I know,” Grace says, and this time it’s true.
“His name’s Das,” Bishop says.
The two of them stand by an open grate in a shallow circular indent between a crisscross of alleys. A few city workers in rubberized contamination suits watch. Musty air gusts up from the tunnel opening. Grace wonders how many willing suicides go down there.
“He was taken earlier this day. He won’t have more than a few hours left.”
“Understood,” Grace says.
Bishop clasps his arm. Grace meets Bishop’s eyes with effort.
“Good luck,” Bishop says, quiet.
Grace nods, then lowers himself into the access hatch, down the short ladder to the dark tunnel below.
The access tunnel winds in a slow spiral downward. The first hundred feet are a sharp incline looping deep into the earth. It gentles out into an easy slope for the rest of the way. Dim red emergency lights line the tunnel and all he can think of is the blood spreading along the dusty ground.
Grace keeps a hand on the wall for balance as he walks. He’s never liked enclosed spaces, but in the tunnel, he can’t feel the city anymore. The relief is short-lived.
He steps into the huge, cavernous room that holds the cityheart and stops. The tunnel ends on a narrow platform that juts out over an abyss.
The cityheart is as big as a building, a cylindrical structure covered in riveted metal plates, rising from the center darkness. A giant fan turns methodically halfway up the bulk, stirring the thick, heavy air. Wire-mesh catwalks circle it, bare of railings. Huge throngs of corded, braided wires twist and loop away from the tower to jut out into the walls. Red emergency lights dip down, down along the cylinder’s side, until it’s too far to see anything more than a faint glow, and then blackness.
The machine, the cityheart, thrums with a giant, slow pulse. Each beat fills the air and reverberates in Grace’s teeth.
He’s never seen anything so massive and so _alive_.
His new eye goes dark. Grace starts, retreating into the tunnel again. Where can he run except back to the surface in defeat? No. Not like that. He makes himself stop. He squints, forced to turn his head as he searches the huge chamber.
There, lying in a small heap on the catwalk near the cityheart, is a child. Das? Grace spots no other bodies, but he doesn’t look too deep.
The voice is not so much words as a great, intense weight that buries itself into his awareness. Yet he understands it the way he comprehends spoken language.
Grace sucks in a breath, unnerved. Wires of copper, steel, and a dark material he doesn’t recognize peel away from the sides of the tunnel and gesture in a sweeping motion towards the great cylinder.
[[We get few visitors any longer,]] the cityheart says. [[Have you come for a purpose?]]
Unsteady, Grace takes a step forward. Wires turn like slender, delicate snakes, unwinding from the walls of the cityheart and the catwalks. They caress his back and shoulders. Grace startles and jerks away. He stumbles on the catwalk, his steps a shallow echo in the chamber.
[[You may stay. It is warm here and you will forget the world above.]]
_Easy death_, is what Grace hears, and he dares not answer. Bishop risked too much to save him once. But when he frees Das, Grace doesn’t know what awaits him above. Bishop is lucky. Bishop knows his purpose, knows himself, knows what he wants.
Grace is lost.
“I can’t.” Grace points at the boy. “I came here for Das.”
[[What awaits you upon return?]] The cityheart’s voice is a deep purr. The wires creep forward again. [[Who will stay to see you rise? Is there truly anyone who will mourn your passing?]]
Grace flinches away. “Doesn’t matter. Give me Das.”
[[No. A child’s mind is open and full of wonder, and wonder is a taste we have always craved. It is sweet and fresh, fleeting and delicate.]]
Grace swallows down bile. The cityheart’s intense, vast hunger for the new presses against him. It craves things it has never seen or felt or imagined. It is…bored.
“We can make a deal.” Grace edges along the catwalk; it’s as wide as he is tall, but feels too narrow, and a misstep will plummet him into the abyss. “I give you something and you give me the boy.”
Das is curled in a ball twenty paces away. Grace can’t see if the boy is alive. _Lord, be kind. He doesn’t deserve to die alone down here._
[[And what could you offer, jaded as you are?]]
Grace shakes his head. If it only wanted a body, well, he was given to a demon already. The sunspawn’s whispers still trill in the edge of his thoughts; recreated voices of the dead urging him to lie down and struggle no more. Does Bishop fight these thoughts every day? How does he live?
_Don’t think about it._ It will paralyze him faster than firemoth venom. He was stung once as a boy, and only the curse of witch-breath kept him from dying in agony as his insides liquefied. That was the first time he met Humility–the older boy found him convulsing in the fields and carried him back to the safety of the town. Grace adored him and their friendship grew over the years until he loved Humility so fiercely it hurt.
“What haven’t you seen before?” Grace asks, his voice hoarse.
[[That is an impossible question. You might be clever, old as you are.]]
Old? Grace almost laughs in surprise. He’s not even twenty.
“I’m not from this city,” Grace continues. “I’ve seen things no child could imagine.”
There–Das shivers. The white gleam of an eye, red-rimmed with tears, peeks from over the boy’s elbow where his arm is curled around his face.
The cityheart sounds curious now. [[What do you propose?]]
Grace takes a slow breath. One more step and he can reach down and scoop the child up. “Let me take him back. I’ll give you–”
Wires snap away from the cylinder’s walls and loop around Grace’s wrists quicker than a blink. They pull his arms wide and pin him against the dully rumbling heart shell. Like he is being bound to the cross again. Grace chokes on a scream and throws his weight against the bonds in panic. Wire slices into skin. Blood wets his sleeve cuffs and drips to the steel floor.
[[Why should you give when we can take all?]] the cityheart murmurs, an honest question.
A gleaming needle-pointed wire hovers before his good eye.
Grace freezes. He can’t abide the dark. When the demon wound its neural tendrils into his mouth and one ear, it easily found his fears pushed to the forefront of his mind. The dark, loss of sight, being left alone.
[[You are wise not to struggle. You will never remember what it is you lost.]]
The witch-breath in his blood–the heresy he was born with–strengthens his muscles and bones, makes him tougher, harder to kill. The Deacons found it easier to shoot Humility than him.
He strains and lifts one hand until his blood-slicked palm is between the wire and his face. Wire cuts deeper along the back of his wrist. The pain is not unbearable yet, and he welcomes it as distraction from the ache in his gut. “You’re wrong,” Grace says. “There is one thing you can never take.”
“I’ve seen the stars,” Grace says. “But only with this eye. If you take that, you’ll never know what they are.”
The wire dips languidly and presses under his jawbone. With any pressure, it will pierce his throat, his tongue, and drive into his brain.
[[There are other ways.]]
“If you kill me,” Grace says, “you’ll never see.”
[[And why is that?]]
“I told you. I’m not from your city. I’m not like the others. Can’t you sense what’s in my blood?” Bishop’s scanners detected it easily enough. Surely a city can feel it too. “The witchery?”
The humming tone shifts a note. [[Others have given memories of stars. Lights in the night. Dim, warm, dull. There is nothing left of interest in them.]]
Grace’s breath comes short, startled. “Those aren’t stars.” The ones he knows are cold and bright, spread vast across the dark sky. “You’ve only taken children from this city, haven’t you?” The needle punctures skin, and blood trickles soft down his throat. “How many have been outside the walls or the dome? Any of them?”
A longer pause.
Grace fights for breath. “Let me leave with Das safe, and I will give you memories of the stars.”
[[What leverage do you believe you have?]]
“Do you think you’ll ever find another like me who comes down willingly?” Grace says. “You won’t ever know what I’ve seen.”
Grace’s muscles ache and the inexorable pull of the wires drag his arm back until he is pinned against hot, rusted metal. The needle flicks away from his chin and lightly touches the edge of his tear duct.
The same terror he couldn’t fight when he saw the demon, its golden eyes alight in the sunset, burgeons in his chest once more. His knees give out. Wire holds him up, thicker cords sliding beneath his elbows and arms so the thinner wires don’t slice through his wrists.
He shouldn’t be afraid. The cityheart isn’t a demon. It can’t devour his soul. He can see Humility again–except if the cityheart gobbles his memory before it kills him, how will he remember who he loves, who he’s looking for in Heaven?
Grace holds tight to the image of Humility’s face: dark eyes and crooked smile, his jawline and the errand wisp of beard that always grew too fast to be kept shaved smooth. The wheat-shaped burn scar on his cheek and the way the left eyebrow was higher than the right. The confidence with which he walked; the calm he nurtured in his spirit so he would never be angry; the way his face lit up when he looked back at Grace.
“You can’t have him,” Grace snarls. “I already survived a demon digging though my head. You’ll get nothing through force.” It’s a bluff. The sunspawn saw everything; the cityheart can do the same. “You kill me and you get nothing but a boy who’s never seen the stars like I have.”
The needle withdraws from the corner of his eye, and he feels it prick the base of his neck instead.
Grace grunts in surprise.
Grace’s voice catches. “How do I know you’ll keep your word?”
[[Perhaps you will come back, when you understand how easy it is to forget.]] The cityheart almost seems amused. [[Remember the stars for us, and you and the child may go.]]
Sharp, violent pain slices into the back of his neck. The vast hunger of the machine hovers at the edge of his thoughts, waiting.
Das’s life depends on him.
Trembling, Grace shuts his eye and remembers.
Grace sat on the roof of the old abandoned silo. It was flat, patched once or twice before it was left to the chokevine and creeping spider grass. The silo was the only tall structure in the Grove, and from this height, away from the light pollution inside Blessed Servitude, the huge expanse of the sky spread above them.
The stars were cold and bright, knife tips gleaming against black satin. No moon tonight to outshine them. Grace gazed up, unblinking, calmed by the open space he knew so well. Stars, he’d heard once, were distant suns in other worlds too far away to imagine. And the light that reached the sky came from the dying suns, corpse candles left by the ancient dead. It was just another story. Demons came from the sun, dull and hot as it faded. But demons didn’t live in the stars. The stars were alive and bright, cold and beautiful.
Humility leaned his head on Grace’s shoulder. “What do you think about when you look at the sky?” he asked.
Everyone was forbidden to be out past dark. Too many dangers lurked in the sand and along the roads. But Grace felt safe here, even with chokevine and ghost whippoorwill nests less than two meters below his feet on the side of the silo.
“I wonder what it’d be like to visit the stars,” Grace said. “Just you and me.”
Humility laughed. “How’d we get there?”
“We could walk,” Grace said, smiling. “We could walk away from here, step onto the edge of the sky where it touches the horizon, and keep going ‘til we touch the first star.”
He didn’t say, _We’d be safe and no one could take you away._
He didn’t say, _We’d never have to hide._
He didn’t say, _We’d never have to be afraid again._
For a moment, Humility was quiet. Then he squeezed Grace’s hand tight. “Maybe one day we will.”
Faster now, Grace recalled the moments he saw the stars clearest:
The nights he snuck away with Humility, hiding their time together with help from Humility’s sister, who operated the delivery gates on the north wall.
The time he climbed up the Deacon’s Clocktower and caught a glimpse of the sky during the Night of Reflection, when all lights were shut off.
That final night, when he and Humility gathered what belongings they could carry and snuck from Blessed Servitude, intent on stealing aboard a train to Pure Temperance where they would be unknown and free. They never saw the Deacons follow them. Grace kissed Humility in excitement as they neared the train depot. They were so close. Above them, the stars were bright, beacons of hope.
The Deacons came. Grace pushed Humility ahead of him as they ran. Gunfire chattered and something struck him in the back, flinging him to the ground. He didn’t feel the pain at first. Not until he saw Humility fall, and saw the blood dark under the starlight.
The Deacons fished the bullet out of Grace’s side, kept him alive, and brought him back to Blessed Servitude to pay for the crime of wanting to live with the one he loved. He was found guilty of forsaking his duty to Blessed Servitude and of unsanctioned intimate behavior. His sentence: he was to be an offering, staked to the cross at the edge of the road, and left for the demon that dwelled there. His death, his damnation, would be tribute to the demon and would ensure Blessed Servitude remained untroubled for another season.
And the final memory, the night Bishop killed the demon to save him and half-dragged, half-carried Grace to the Wire City. That one, brief glimpse was all Grace remembered before sunspawn venom and pain felled him unconscious: a splash of brightening sky and three stars sharp and knife-bright above the horizon. He could touch them, if he reached–
And then nothing.
The wires release his arms. Grace pitches forward onto hands and knees and vomits. The air is hot, so close it presses like cloth against his nose and mouth. Grace fumbles at the back of his neck in search of the needle. It’s gone.
The cityheart sighs, a deep, reverberating wave of pressure more than sound.
Grace wants to fold his arms over his head and scream. He knows the cityheart took something, but all he is left with is a word.
He talked with Humility about it, and yet, all he remembers is lying on the flat silo roof and staring at the black, empty sky. The sky has always been dark at night. Hasn’t it?
[[The child is yours. Go, before you tempt us with what else you have seen.]]
Grace chokes down a sob. He doesn’t know for what he grieves–there are spots of emptiness where something was taken. He crawls along the catwalk, his one eye half-closed, scarcely able to see in the dim red light.
“Das.” Grace curls his fingers around the boy’s thin arm. “We’re going back up.”
It’s a long climb.
Grace is soaked in sweat, muscles trembling by the time he sees the change in light from the open access hatch. Das has crawled slowly ahead of him; Grace carried him when he could find the strength, but it isn’t enough to last all the way.
“Grace?” Bishop’s voice echoes in the tunnel.
“We’re here,” Grace manages. “Help him out.”
Grace heaves Das up. The boy’s foot kicks his face, jarring the dead metal eye. He grunts and turns his head. He’s staring down the long, curving passage a step behind him. The incline would let him slide if he let go the iron rungs.
Just slide, down and down until he falls into infinite dark. There might be others down there, like Das; perhaps he might buy them free. If he let the cityheart take everything, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt any longer.
Slowly, Grace turns his face up.
Bishop leans down, hand extended. Again. _I’ll help you, if I can,_ Bishop told him. _If you want._
Grace wants to know how Bishop can go on. How he can find any will to live when everything has been lost to him.
With a faint buzz and click, the wire eye flicks on again. Grace starts, almost losing his grip. His sight blurs a moment; his left eye is sharper, clearer with the metal and glass optic processing the thick air and smog. He can see farther.
He can see.
Humility’s voice is clearer than the demon-song, and for a moment, it doesn’t hurt so much to remember his voice. Grace focuses on that.
_I wonder what it’d be like to visit the stars. Just you and me._
_How’d we get there?_
_We could walk._
_Maybe one day we will._
Grace takes Bishop’s hand and lets Bishop help him up. The hatch clangs shut behind him.
Dee gathers Das up, incoherent words spilling between father and son.
A flicker of relief pushes back the hot, suffocating weight in Grace’s chest. He almost smiles. It tugs at the scar along the corner of his mouth.
Bishop nods to him. “Glad you made it back.”
Grace bows his head. Bishop has faith. In what, Grace doesn’t know. But perhaps that’s what lets him go on. Bishop believes Grace deserves a chance to live and find a purpose.
For just a moment, as he watches Dee lead Das back home, Grace can almost believe it. And one day, perhaps, he can find that first step and climb the black sky.
There is one thing he wants first, sharp and fierce.
“Bishop,” Grace asks, all but a whisper. “Can you show me the stars?”
“They’re hard to see in the city light,” Bishop says quietly.
Grace’s body sags. He leans on his thighs and fights down the yawning grief like a pit in his chest, opening wider.
Bishop lays a hand on his shoulder to steady him. “But I know a place that might work.”
Grace scarcely recognizes the journey through the city. Fever claws at his blood. He refuses rest; he needs this first. He needs to know what the stars are like.
There is another climb, and he is aware of Bishop supporting him as they ascend the final steps and emerge from a tower onto a roof, flat and open, lined with gravel. The dome is a thin membrane here, nearly translucent, tinted red-orange from the city lights.
“Look up,” Bishop says.
Grace tilts his head back. With his good eye, he can see nothing but the faint glow of light pollution. But with his new eye, wired like Bishop’s, he sees the dark sky beyond. He focuses, slowly, accustoming his senses to the new perception.
There, in the distance, is a flicker of white light, tiny and almost lost in the blackness.
The heat lessens in his skin. He can breathe easier. He wants to keep breathing, to keep watching the sky.
The star gleams like a knife, bright and cold.
Grace smiles. “It’s beautiful.”
“It is,” Bishop says. “It is.”