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by Catherine Rain
Lulu liked the view from the wooden deck. Here, on the side of the hill, she could see all of the valley. This was all still so strange for her; she was used to being so close to the ground she could barely see over the grass.
Suddenly she was accosted by a force at her side. She turned her head-- still not used to this frontal vision thing, she thought, even after this long-- to see that it was Lea who had flung her arms around her, hugging Lulu with the force of her entire weight. Lulu put a hand on the top of the little girl's head, stroking her hair.
"Lulu," said Lea in a nervous voice, "you know a lot, right? Is it true that we're all just made-up people in a comic? If that's so, are we all just drawings on paper? Are we even real?"
Lulu wasn't sure how to answer so many questions so rapidly, so she put an arm comfortingly around the girl.
"What if we're not real?" insisted Lea.
Gently Lulu took the little girl's hand and, ever so carefully, bit down on it.
"Ow," said Lea, "hey, what're you doing?" She yanked back her hand and looked ruefully at it. "Well, I guess that's real..."
by Catherine Rain
S-ko sighed. "Mr Artist is in one of his moods. I really don't know how we're to cheer him up."
"Trout?" suggested Tam.
"Well, he seems to perk up a little when I smack him with the trout, but it never really lasts. It's like there's something inside him that we just can't get to, some void that we can't fill no matter how we try."
Tam nodded. "I wish there were some way we could fix him."
"I just don't know what we're lacking!" said S-ko, slamming her fist down on the table. "Why can't we do anything? Why aren't we good enough?"
Tam had a thought briefly, but then dismissed it. "Hmm, I don't know either. He's always upset, no matter how big his problems are or aren't."
"I know, and... remember what I told you? Sadness about misfortune just creates more misfortune." S-ko sighed, putting her head down on the table. "But there's just something inside of him that won't stop. He's the most mysterious person I know."
"He's the second most mysterious person I know," said Tam.
S-ko glanced at her curiously. "Who's the most mysterious?"
by Catherine Rain
Whenever Tam slept, the sky was black. Black and infinite.
She tried not to mention it any more than she had to in response from questions. She didn't want to think about the meaning of the blackness. It was more than the practical fact of being in space, more even than the endlessness of infinite vacuum stretching out in so many directions (more than she could see or count). It was a black that meant Something, and that Something was a memory that threatened to swallow her into its darkness. No physical vacuum could have been as terrible as this.
Oh, she'd looked everything up in countless dream dictionaries, found lots of alternate meanings (the womb? Her own silence? Existential angst?) but none of them rang true. She was only evading it anyway. She knew what it meant, what pursued her and pinned her to her seat and insisted she endure the blackness whole. Because when it finally caught her, when she wasn't fortunate enough to hear an alarm or the morning shrill of Myshka crying, when she didn't wake quite in time and the dream made it to its completion-- that was when its source was clear, when it pinned her down, when it reached straight through her and she realised with a sickening wrench that the darkness was uncoiling itself out of her.
She woke up that morning with the same knot of dread in her stomach. S-ko was still asleep, so Tam shuffled into her slippers and padded over to the window. The sky was a wintery grey. An atmosphere, letting her breathe easily, yet it was merely a cloud cover, she knew. Weak and intangible mist between herself and the ozone layer, between her world and a lesser blackness bringing with it a drowning infinite of the greater.
She shuddered, and tiptoed back to bed.
Sliding under the covers next to S-ko's curled and sleeping form, she burrowed, and tucked the down comforter around herself to entrap her own body's warmth. Here, warm, safe, the stillness of the early morning surrounding her, she heard a winter bird chirping outside of the window.
She was not there in that blackness. She was here under a thick featherdown comforter and a bright red-and-turquoise afghan that S-ko had given her long ago. There was a pot of violets on the dresser, and her favourite soft wool sweater was hanging on the closet door, drying from the laundry. This room couldn't look more like home if it had a cross-stitched sampler calling it sweet.
She rolled over and listened to the sound of S-ko breathing, slow and regular. This was her home; it was the very opposite of that blackness. It was all that the blackness meant to take away, and it was with her yet. What did it mean, what could she cherish, what could she guard against the black depths? She searched for the answer, closed her eyes and let herself ask question after question until finally she could hear it pounding in the back of her mind and her blood and her throat: Life, life-- life.
When she sank again into a drowsy sleep, she was running across fields and bridges with Myshka, the sky a pure and unshielded azure blue.
by Catherine Rain
Lulu wandered the house late at night, looking for company. Usually Myshka was awake at this hour, but today she'd tired herself out chasing falling leaves, and she was fast asleep. S-ko was outside looking at the stars. But it was cold out there and it made Lulu sleepy, so she wanted to stay in.
Tam was in bed, but her eyes were open and staring at the ceiling, so Lulu crawled under the covers from below. She poked her head out at the top and looked at Tam. "You not asleep?"
"No," said Tam, "as you can see."
"You have nightmares again?" wondered Lulu.
The alien woman rolled over onto her side to face Lulu. "I suppose you could say it's a waking nightmare. I can't stop thinking about it just because I'm awake."
"Lulu can listen. Make the nightmares go away. Lulu cover you up so they can't get to you." She took the blankets in her hand-- how strange it was that she could pull on things so easily just by wrapping her hand around them!-- and pulled them over Tam's head and their own, so that they seemed to be underground together in a secret burrow, the blankets draping closely over them.
"I don't know if it's that easy. I can't hide from my own past,"
"Lulu help you hide."
The woman sighed. "It doesn't work like that. I have to face my past so that I can fight against it. It hurts from the inside. Sort of like-- let me think. Oh, like sickness."
"Lulu fix. Tam not sick alone."
She put her hand above her face, lifting the covers away from it so that she could look directly at Lulu. "Thank you, Lulu. I appreciate your concern."
"S-ko concerned too. Mr Artist concerned. Everyone concerned."
"I know. But really, that's part of why it troubles me. I don't want the others to expend their own energy feeling concerned about me. I should be able to deal with this myself, without being a burden on the others. S-ko has her own memories to deal with; she was there too. And yet..." Tam raised the covers higher with her hand, making their burrow bigger, and rolled over onto her back. "S-ko deals with it herself. She's fine. If she's fine, then why can't I be fine as well? Why can she gracefully accept it, when I can't, and bring her a greater burden?"
"You have same memories," pointed out Lulu, "but different minds. What bothers Tam not bother S-ko. What bothers S-ko not bother Tam. What bothers Myshka, no one else care."
"I suppose," said Tam, and dropped her hand, letting the blankets fall softly over her.
Lulu reached out a hand to the still lump beside her and lifted the covers again. "Before Lulu changed, Lulu was turtle, and Lulu remember now. Before Tam changed, Tam was Bobble, but Tam remembers pilot past?"
"I remember being a Bobble, but it feels like it wasn't real." Tam had not moved, her eyes fixed at a point above her, not at Lulu. "It seems like that whole life was a dream. Being a pilot, being in war-- that history feels real to me; it feels like that's what I lived through, even though I know it was made up. Mr Artist wanted me to be interesting, so he made me suffer. Perhaps he's concerned a bit that it doesn't get out of hand, but surely he doesn't worry much, because he crafted me carefully this way."
Lulu waited while Tam gathered her thoughts. It was awkward. How to say things convincingly? What words would fix it? "Lulu care about Tam." How to make it sound like she meant it? "Lulu care a lot. That is true."
"Lulu think Mr Artist care too. Lulu think everyone care. But Lulu know Lulu care."
She let Tam think for a while. The clock ticking outside the covers was loud. Even the wind outside was still.
The temperature was still dropping tonight, and she was starting to feel sleepy, but she didn't want to fall asleep if Tam still needed to talk, because she had to be awake to listen. "Lulu cold."
"It is a chill night," said Tam. "Curl up with me and we can share body heat."
"We'll warm each other up. Or I will, at least, and it will warm you up."
"Not a burrow?"
"Why not a burrow?" Tam reached over and draped an arm around Lulu. "Come closer."
Lulu dragged herself towards Tam's warmth. Humans were like radiators, nice and cozy. The warmth spread through her and revived her mind from the sluggish, sleepy darkness she had been slipping towards. Tam was nice and warm, though she was squishy and soft and not much like a turtle would have been. It was like having a soft radiator on her belly: she and a radiator twining their legs together, wrapping arms around each other. She was waking up now, and ready to listen to Tam's troubles.
"Tam want to tell Lulu what happened in the nightmare?"
"Mmnh," murmured the warm woman. "I'm falling asleep. Some other time?"
Now, of course, Lulu was wide awake. "Okay," she said. What else could she say?
But now she was awake, and she was tangled up in a sleeping Tam, whose warmth was keeping her alert. Perhaps she would be awake all night.
Lulu felt a heavy weight curl up on top of her and Tam's legs, heating up their twined bodies and keeping her from disentangling herself.
It was going to be a long, wakeful night.