When We Fall
by Kameron Hurley
I don’t remember the first time I was abandoned and forgotten, but I have told the story of the second time so often that when the memory boils up it feels hot and gummy, like the air that day.
Whoever cared for me – and I can’t be certain they were legal guardians, let alone relatives – took me with them to beg at the crossroads just outside the interplanetary port. I don’t know how long they had me, but I know they were not the first. I remember being hungry. I remember a tall woman with dark hair pulling me close and saying, “Stay here Aisha.” She gave me a length of sugarcane and a mango. Her skirt was red. I still think of the red skirt when I think of home.
The people I saw as I sat out there, day after day, were all engineered for different worlds. The world I was on then, there was something about the sky… bloody red most of the day; stars the rest of the day, and a night filled with blue light. People were tailored to fit where they were from, or the place they’d chosen as home, whether that was a world or the deep black between the stars. Some were tall and fat, short and squat, or spindly; willowy as leaves of grass. Gills, webbed toes, ears that jutted out sharply from faces with eyes the size of jack bolts… many had tails; a few had four arms or more. Many wore respirators; teeth gleaming purple behind translucent masks or fuzzy full-bodied filters or suits that clung to their bodies like a second skin.
Even then, sitting alone on the mat with my mango and sugarcane, I couldn’t imagine that none of these people wanted me. I used to pretend, sitting at every port then and later, that somebody would come up and recognize me, or see me and just want me, not for some gain of theirs, but out of pure, unadulterated love. I was skinny and long-fingered, with squinty eyes and tawny skin covered in fine hair. I had a high forehead and a bright shock of white hair that stood straight up. I still wear it that way, long after I figured out the tricks for taming it, because I never did like being tamed. I suppose it never occurred to me to ask why none of them looked like me, because none of them even looked much like each other. I heard once that there’s a test you can take to find out what system your people are most likely in, but I can’t afford the test, and sure couldn’t afford to go back. And who’s to say they’d want me now, when they didn’t before?
It’s difficult to reconcile this memory, still, with what I’m told about our society, about how our people are supposed to be. I see close-knit families and communities embracing one another in media stories. Every audio play and flickering drama squirming at the corner of my vision tells me we care for one another deeply, because we are all only as healthy, happy, and prosperous as our least fortunate member. There is no war, no disease that cannot be overcome, and every child is guaranteed a life of security and love.
But the grand narrative of societies often forgets people like me. They forget the people who fall between the seams of things. They don’t like to talk about what happens below the surface.
I went through a series of homes – waystations, temporary shelters – is probably more accurate. When this story drips out now, to engineers or star hustlers or bounty hunters at whatever watering hole I’m drunk at, most insist I had to be part of some community foster system organized by one government or another.
I wasn’t. I’ve made my own way around, getting work in junk ports and on dying organic ships. I’ve done salvage of old trawlers, rotting on the edge of the shipping lanes, half consumed by some star.
I spent my life with ships.
But I never expected a single ship to change my life. (Continue Reading…)