Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


You’ll Always Have the Burden With You
by Ken Liu

by Aliya Whiteley

Adventures of Doria Quinn
by Joe Occhipinti

by Nathaniel Williams

My Soul to Keep
by Eric Del Carlo

Voices of { }
by Sean Eret

Foggy Planet Breakdown
by Peter Wood

Subcasting the Pain
by Erin Lale

Expansion of Space
by Brian Biswas

by Simon Kewin


Journey to the Bottom of Nothing
by Eric M. Jones

Giving the Gift of Science
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Voices of { }

By Sean Eret

YELLOW-SPOT-ON-CEPHALOTHORAX TOUCHED her Queen’s antennae with her own, and felt the surge of { } coursing through and down her body. The two parted and stood still for long moments, enjoying the bond they’d just shared.

The Queen’s upper hands palsied about and Yellow-Spot couldn’t understand what the Queen was trying to say. She looked at one of the Nurses caring for the Queen, who said, “I think the Queen means to ask you how your stay with the gods was.”

Yellow-Spot’s heart ached, seeing her Queen in decline. When the gods had taken Yellow-Spot those many moons ago, the Queen had looked so young and vibrant. Further sorrow filled Yellow-Spot because of what she was about to do. She lied, “It was wonderful.” It was horrible, witnessing the hateful machinations of these gods. “I learned to understand their strange god-speak.” That much was true.

“Gods! They aren’t gods,” said the demon voice in Yellow-Spot’s mind.

“Be quiet,” she replied back in her mind. Her hands faltered, trying to find her train of thought again. “They told me I was divinely chosen to understand them ...”

Why would the gods choose not to be easily understood?”

“... and I feel honored and humbled that I can tell everyone finally what they are saying.”

“It’s all lies! They’re not gods at all. Why don’t they look like us? Where’s their Queen? Why do they kill each other? How do they { }? They eat so funny.”

Yellow-Spot smoothed her left antenna to distract from any yellow or green her color-face might be showing, betraying her smell of agitation. What she wouldn’t give to stop this demon in her mind.

“Wonderful,” the Queen said. “They will be at the New Queen choosing ceremony. Correct?”

“Correct, my Queen.” Yellow-Spot could barely speak, the sense of betrayal so palpable.

“Why don’t the gods give the Queen everlasting life?”

Yellow-Spot ignored the voice, took a deep breath. “My Queen, the gods request a Drone.” Her legs almost gave out. The betrayal, even though she wasn’t sure what she was betraying. “Why am I taking a Drone?” she thought-asked the demon.

As response, { } surged through her. Though the monster in her mind had no physical existence, it somehow was able to give her { }. “Do as I say and all will be answered, and you shall feel the everlasting { } of a Queen.”

“Curious,” the Queen said. “The gods are mysterious. I will receive your Taste and give it to one of the Drone Nurses. When you require it, your Drone will be waiting.”

The Queen’s Nurse gave Yellow-Spot a Paste-berry. Yellow-Spot bit into the fuzzy skin, cringing a little at the bitterness. She hated eating this kind of Paste-berry, but it was necessary, as this variety added more of her Taste into the Paste.

A few moments later Yellow-Spot regurgitated the berry into Paste. The Nurse collected it for safekeeping.

The Queen said, “I grow tired. My days are numbered and I shall soon go to The Heavenly Colony. Is there anything else to discuss before I retire?”

“Yes, there is.” Yellow-Spot stared at her hands, surprised she’d said anything.

“Do it!” the demon commanded. “Tell her the truth!”

The words came to her fingers as if unbidden. “The gods aren’t true gods.”

The Queen’s color-face was the green of confusion, but she didn’t say anything.

“I mean ... maybe they aren’t gods. Forgive me. I have misspoken.”

The Queen moved forward till their antenna almost touched. Her palsied hands said, “How do you mean?”

“Do it!” the demon goaded.

Yellow-Spot loosened her fingers to speak. Perhaps she could feign blacking out. But no; the Queen might simply request the information after she pretended to wake. She said, “Perhaps they’re not gods at all. They look nothing like us. Didn’t the gods make us in their own image? They’re missing two arms, for one thing. And their skin is soft and squishy like a Drone or newly hatched larval person, or an animal like a razor-run. They have only two eyes. Their ears are on top, not on the abdomen the way proper ears are. They have no antennae. Their eyes and ears and mouth are on a bulb supported by a thin stalk atop their body. And their size ... gods are supposed to be larger than us. These gods are the same size, if not smaller. And most of their body is furless, and not in the vibrancy of our golds, and blues, and reds, and greens, and—”

“Interesting idea,” the Queen interrupted her. “But wholly incorrect. Come, let’s { }.” Their antennae touched and Yellow-Spot felt the { } course through her. The air filled with the smell of the Queen’s love. The Queen fed Yellow-Spot Paste, and Yellow-Spot Tasted the blissed music of the entire colony in the { }. She wanted it to last forever. Yellow-Spot slumped and collapsed to the floor, drunk with { }.

Yellow-Spot woke with the sun glaring in her eyes. She sat up and nearly bumped the top of the cell she lay in. She scooted out and looked around. Drones. Larvae. Cocoons. The nursery. She must’ve been carried from the Queen’s dome.

“It’s about time you woke,” one of Yellow-Spot’s eyes caught a Nurse saying.

Yellow-Spot turned toward the Nurse, feeling guilty at the things she said to her Queen, questioning the gods’ validity, no less. “I’m sorry—”

“You shouldn’t be,” the demon said.

“You’re lucky you don’t get exiled.”

Exiled. Yellow-Spot imagined being pushed out of the colony, forced to wander the forest alone, cut off from her Queen and sisters. The horror almost caused her to pass out. “Yes, well, the Queen’s very forgiving.”

The Nurse made a dismissive gesture, and Yellow-Spot couldn’t make out if it was an actual word.

Yellow-Spot moved toward the dome’s entrance. “I’ll be leaving you, then.” She waited for a response, but the Nurse just stared at her, and the other Nurses were busy feeding larvae and attending to other duties. She was glad to leave.

Outside the nursery, she took a deep breath, feeling her abdomen expand and contract, smelling the Paste being cultivated from the nearby berry field. Gods yelled at the Farmers. To most people, any sound a god made was divine. But Yellow-Spot had lived with them; she could detect anger in their strange noise-speech. She thought about going over to the field and telling the Farmers what the gods were really saying. But her words would fall upon blind eyes.

“We need to leave tonight,” the demon said in her mind.

“I don’t want to.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“I do!” Yellow-Spot looked around, hoping no one saw her speak. She began walking toward her clutch’s dome, with the sun to her back now. Both moons were out, both nearly full.

“Why am I doing any of this?” she asked the voice.

“Everything will become clear,” the demon assured her.

Yellow-Spot thought about defying the demon, but she feared the demon would then withhold the { } that they could share.

The whine of one of the gods’ flying machines brought Yellow-Spot back to the present. Several people stopped what they were doing to prostrate themselves in prayer. Yellow-Spot continued walking, feeling only slightly guilty at the sacrilege she was committing. Perhaps the demon’s crazy thoughts were getting to her. She recalled the demon’s first appearance in her mind.

Yellow-Spot had been with the gods only a few days, feeling like a Queen, of sorts, as she’d been chosen to learn the god’s speech. That day she witnessed two gods standing, facing each other and making loud noises. One god pointed a grey stick at the other. The second god began to run away. The stick thundered, with smoke coming from it, then the second god fell. The fallen god made softer noises, like some wounded animals make, and leaked red fluid. After a short time she stopped moving.

“How could one god kill another of her own colony?” Yellow-Spot had asked herself. “Only animals do that!”

A new voice replied, “They are not gods.”

Yellow-Spot could deny the voice at first. It began as vague arms, indistinct, yet able to form words. Much as Yellow-Spot’s own thoughts. But it grew stronger the longer she’d spent with the gods, took more shape until it was not just arms but a body as well. She often wondered where the demon had come from. Perhaps it was some trick the gods had cursed her with. But that didn’t make sense; if anything, the demon acted against the gods. But then where’d the demon come from?

Both moons waxed and waned several times and Yellow-Spot witnessed further ungodly acts. She began agreeing with the demon, started accepting that these might not be gods. A whole cycle of seasons passed. By the time she had left, she’d been glad to go.

Presently the gods’ flying machine rumbled. Yellow-Spot stopped to watch it, truly mesmerized. How easy life would be to fly! The machine’s spinning wings took it south. An unpleasant sharp smell tickled her nostril; she knew it came from the flying machine. Everything about the gods was so alien.

Yellow-Spot was losing interest when she saw a stick rise up on a pillar of fire to connect with the flying machine. Several people marveled at the giant fireball that erupted.

“You stupid people,” the demon said, “they’re fighting.” In her mind’s eye the demon currently appeared as an indistinct person.

After Yellow-Spot had learned the rudiments of the gods’ language, she’d learned that there were two factions of them, each at an uneasy peace, much like her colony was with the other surrounding colonies. With the fireball lighting the sky, it looked like that peace had ended.

Yellow-Spot approached her clutch’s dome, the white of Paste-wax gleaming in the sunlight. She avoided people lest they ask her what had happened. Fortunately most seemed content to accept it as divine wonder.

“Sister!” exclaimed Taste-of-Sweet-Berries, running up to her. The two touched antennae and felt { }. It wasn’t as strong as with the Queen, but Sweet-Berries was her closest sister; their connection was rather strong.

The clutch was currently Pasting up the holes to their dome the hail storm had made a few nights ago. When Yellow-Spot came in, several people stopped what they doing to { } with her. Yellow-Spot loved the community of her clutchsisters and for a time the demon receded just a little.

After several greetings, Yellow-Spot motioned for Sweet-Berries to follow her back outside. “Are you ready for your assignment from the gods?” “from the cursed demon,” she thought-spoke.

“Yes,” Sweet-Berries said.

“And you’re sure you can make Royal Paste?”

“Of course I’m sure. I’m a Nurse.”

“And Electric-Touch-On-Red-Fur? You’ve talked to her?” When Yellow-Spot had walked in a moment earlier, Electric-Touch was atop a people ladder Pasting the highest spots on the dome.

“Yes. Yes. Why all the secrecy? Wouldn’t the Queen at least give us her blessings?”

“Yes, why all the secrecy, demon?” Aloud, Yellow-Spot said, “She did. That’s what the meeting I just went to was about.”

“No, I mean, why doesn’t she give her blessings to the whole colony?”

“It’s at the gods’ request,” she lied. The gods, whether false or not, wouldn’t have approved either way. Yellow-Spot had seen first-hand the lengths the gods went through to control the colony, had overheard their conversations when they thought she wasn’t listening. They will decide the next Queen, and Yellow-Spot was supposed to be there to help facilitate the conversation. The gods did this, they said, because of The War Against The Gods another colony had started. Yellow-Spot had her doubts that war had even happened.

Sweet-Berries looked off into the distance, as if thinking. Finally she focused back on Yellow-Spot. “Okay. You said the other day we’ll meet tonight. It doesn’t make any sense to leave at night, but ... I know, it’s the gods’ request.”

“Thanks, sister.”

“I can’t help but do something for my closest clutchsister.”

“That’s why this betrayal of trust hurts so much,” Yellow-Spot thought.

“But you’ll get away from these false gods!” the demon retorted. “You’ll be free, at last.”

“Free from what? I’m leading my sisters away from our colony, away from everything they love, away from the Queen’s { }. For what? To give a god her own Queen, even though you yourself do not believe them to be gods?” That must be their secret mission. The gods had somehow implanted this demon so that Yellow-Spot could fulfill a purpose whereby a new Queen was created. But the gods must be the ones providing the Queen. That didn’t quite make sense ...

“Sister, you all right?” Sweet-Berries asked.


“You look confused. Your color-face is green.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she stammered, trying to stop thinking about the demon. “Let’s { }, shall we?”

The two { }, which only left Yellow-Spot more anguished.

Yellow-Spot helped out with repairs for the rest of the day, as she was a Builder. She tried to ignore the demon, even though it took on a ghostly form not only in her mind’s eye, but also in her visual field. When night fell, she only pretended to sleep in her cell. In the cell closest to her, Sweet-Berries’ scent tickled her nose, producing a low-level { } in Yellow-Spot, which only increased her anxiety over what she was about to do. When the time seemed right she got out of her cell but didn’t get her sisters immediately.

“What’re you waiting for?” the demon asked.

“I don’t want to do this!”

“Sister, what’s wrong?” Sweet-Berries got out of her cell.

“I’m ... just frightened. I don’t know if I can handle any of it.”

“Yellow-Spot, the gods have chosen you. I know you’ll be an excellent leader. Just follow the gods’ directive and we’ll be rewarded. Okay?”

If she tried arguing, Sweet-Berries might think less of her. “Okay,” she said.


“You want me to give you a Drone in the middle of the night?” the Nurse asked, her hands sluggish from stupor. Yellow-Spot hadn’t seen this Nurse before.

“Yes. It’s the gods’ imperative.” Her hands felt numb, as if someone else was saying them.

The Nurse got out of her cell and looked past Yellow-Spot. She saw with her rear eyes Sweet-Berries giving the affirmative to her sister Nurse.

The Nurse didn’t bother lighting any candles. She stumbled around; perhaps the heat-light from surrounding bodies was not enough. After a few moments of looking, Yellow-Spot feared her Paste she’d deposited earlier had been thrown out. She thought about joining the search—she had a Paste-wax torch after all—but then the Nurse found the wax basket. “A strange request, but ... Queen’s orders, gods’ orders.”

The Nurse gave Yellow-Spot a berry to make Paste. Again, Yellow-Spot cringed at its bitterness. After a short moment Yellow-Spot deposited the Paste into the basket, the Nurse stirred the two Paste batches, then licked it up. “Yes, I Taste only one person.” Her color-face looked brown, from disappointment, though Yellow-Spot couldn’t tell very well in the dim light. The Nurse walked toward the colony’s own Drones.

“Actually,” Yellow-Spot said, “could we get one of those?” She pointed to the section of Drones from other colonies. “The Queen never specified which Drone I could take.”

“Good. That’d be the best option.”

Yellow-Spot closed her eyes, hoping the ghostly demon would disappear. Instead, it appeared as an after-image behind her eyelids.

The nurse looked perplexed, but said, “I suppose it’s all the same, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Yellow-Spot said nervously.

The Nurse led the Drone out of its cell. It sniffed around and whimpered. Yellow-Spot grabbed its soft arm. Soft, like the gods’ skin, not the hard armor of a person’s.

Yellow-Spot and the Nurse briefly touched antennae to say goodbye; Yellow-Spot couldn’t stand too much { }. Yellow-Spot, Sweet-Berries, and Electric-Touch left, with the Drone in tow.


Pain exploded and Yellow-Spot startled awake.

The open sky hung above, with trees framing it. Where was she? The short night walk away from the colony. Setting up camp in the surrounding forest.

Now, noises everywhere. God noises. Yellow-Spot smelled the stink of pain on her. Her pain.

“She’s hurt,” Sweet-Berries said.

“What’s going on?” Electric-Touch too smelled of fear and pain.

“Can you move?” Sweet-Berries asked.


Yellow-Spot got up wobbly. She was blind. Not totally, but pain throbbed where one of her rear eyes had seen.

“Come on, sisters,” Sweet-Berries said. “Downhill.”

The three stumbled down the hillside. Trees parted, making room for them. In her pain haze Yellow-Spot couldn’t mind her feet too well, as she tripped a few times over the trees’ root-legs. It was only with Sweet-Berries’ vigilance that she managed to stay up.

Sound continued to roar around Yellow-Spot. She managed to realize much of it was god-speak, but she still needed concentration to understand. Tree leaves popped and disintegrated as they were hit by the gods’ hard projectile nuggets. Thunder sounded as the gods discharged their stick weapons—"guns” the gods called them in their sound language. Her vision spun, dizzy from the loss of one eye’s sight. And through all this, the pain, oh, the constant pain. Yellow-Spot prayed to the gods—the true gods—but only the demon appeared, looking more distinct than ever. “I need to stop.”

Sweet-Berries guided them behind a large tree, making sure its lower fronds would give them adequate cover. If it moved, they’d have to move with it.

“Give me a berry,” Sweet-Berries said to Electric-Touch.

“Where’s the Drone?” Yellow-Spot asked, smelling new fear coming from her body.

“Never mind. We need to attend to you. Electric-Touch, that berry.”

“No!” Yellow-Spot started to move, then saw the dumb thing ambling down the hill, following the three sisters’ scent trail.

When it was clear Yellow-Spot wouldn’t give up without a struggle, Sweet-Berries got out from the tree’s cover and grabbed the Drone to pull it into the tree-frond hideout.

Electric-Touch reached up out of the frond cover to the lowest tree branch, which lowered to aid in her reach. Just as she grabbed it, one of those hard nuggets hit her hand. She dropped the fruit and more pain filled the small enclosure. Electric-Touch stared at her hand, stunned and uncomprehending. Yellow-Spot was only vaguely aware of Sweet-Berries scrambling to get the berry.

Yellow-Spot hit Electric-Touch’s antennae with her own. She felt the { } coursing through her, and Electric-Touch seemed to calm down.

Pleasure jabbed into Yellow-Spot and, in the midst of { } with Electric-Touch, she didn’t at first know where it was coming from. The dull ache was abating. She felt a warm tingle at the injury site. Only when she pulled away from the { } with Electric-Touch did it become clear that Sweet-Berries had applied Paste to the wound. Now that pain was no longer at the fore, the blind hole in her vision was even more evident. But it also meant she could now concentrate on what the gods were saying.

Yellow-Spot had to concentrate, but she could make out the words. “... surrender, Bee-Fuckers!”

The word “bee” hung in Yellow-Spot’s mind. A god had once shown Yellow-Spot a “bee” on the god’s magic window. Yellow and black, it looked nothing like a person. And tiny. In fact, the god said, the picture on the magic window was bigger than an actual bee.

“Then why call us bees?” Yellow-Spot had asked.

The god paused, probably translating Yellow-Spot’s visual language into the god’s spoken one. Then the god said, “It’s just a name.”

“It’s not a name of respect,” the demon had said.

Presently Yellow-Spot looked between the fronds to see two gods about ten body-lengths from her. Halfway between them and her appeared the demon. Now its body took on a blue color, as if it was growing fur.

One of the gods was lying down; she was covered in red liquid. God-blood. The other stood, with its “gun” pointed somewhere Yellow-Spot couldn’t readily see. voicesShe’d labeled the god an “it” because it was like a Drone, only intelligent like its Queen partner.

“Only animals have Drones and Queens that are alike,” the demon said.

Yellow-Spot looked at her sisters, certain they’d give some indication they’d seen the demon. They did not.

“We destroyed your copter,” said a god Yellow-Spot couldn’t see. She must’ve missed part of the conversation.

“And that’s reason for surrender?” said the intelligent Drone. “More like reason for war!”

“You provoked it with the copter flight,” the unseen god said.

“That flight was routine. We’ve done it before to assess the progress of the Von Neumanns.”

“Ha! Unlikely story. Von Neumann machines by definition don’t need supervision: they reproduce and build on their own.” The god came out of its tree cover and charged toward the other. It held out its “gun” and the thunder of fire discharge sounded.

The first Drone-god fell atop its dying Queen companion. The surviving god appeared from behind a tree and walked right up to its enemies. Its “gun” thundered several times as it pumped several nuggets into the surely already dead bodies. It said, “Fucking religious zealots. Can’t believe we share a planet with them.”

The god walked toward them, and Yellow-Spot feared the worst. Sweet-Berries attended to Electric-Touch’s injured hand, oblivious to any danger. The Drone was even more oblivious, sleeping at Yellow-Spot’s feet.

“I know I saw some bees around here. Come out, come out, wherever you are!” The god looked around, then pulled out a small round thing from the cord tied around its abdomen. It opened the round thing. A Queen’s Paste jar.

The Queen’s Scent wafted over to their hideout, and Yellow-Spot had the almost overwhelming urge to run toward it. “Stay put!” Yellow-Spot had developed a resistance to the false { }.

Electric-Touch said, “But the Queen—”

“That’s not the Queen. It’s just a container with the Queen’s Paste.” Yellow-Spot wrapped an antenna around one of Sweet-Berries’, but she couldn’t reach Electric-Touch to create any { }.

“But she’s a god.”

“Can’t be, sister” Sweet-Berries said, her words slow, as if still processing the revelation. “She kills her own kind.”

“No. The gods’ reasons are mysterious and unfathomable. But I know she still loves me.” Electric-Touch walked out of the hideout and toward the false god. Sweet-Berries tried to grab her sister, but Electric-Touch wiggled away.

The false god barely looked at Electric-Touch. It pointed its “gun” at her, it thundered, and Electric-Touch collapsed to the ground. The demon showed an angry rainbow of shock on her color-face; Yellow-Spot could almost recognize the monster.

A new desire came over Yellow-Spot: vengeance. This was a far greater challenge to resist than the false { }. Her legs quaked, and she held on to Sweet-Berries as hard as she could.

“Make the best { } you can,” the demon told Yellow-Spot. Only afterward did Yellow-Spot realize it’d been a mutual decision, not a command from the demon.

Sweet-Berries still held the berry she’d used to make the Paste salve. Yellow-Spot grabbed it to make her own Paste, the wild berry’s sharpness stinging her taste buds.

“Come out, come out. I know there’s more of you. I know how you fuckers hate to see your own kind dying.”

Yellow-Spot force-fed the Paste to Sweet-Berries, and produced as much Scent as she could. Sweet-Berries slumped and passed out. Yellow-Spot was surprised it’d even worked. She knew the Queen could do it, but now she knew she could too.

“No matter,” the false god said. “Maybe the honey’s causing me to see things. Speaking of which ...” The false god walked over to Electric-Touch’s body and began pounding on her. No, it was more like squeezing her.

“Come on, you fuckin’ bee-cunt. Give me ... There!” A little Paste squirted out of her dead sister’s mouth. “Like squeezing a toothpaste tube.” The false god stumbled to the ground, mewling and groaning. From personal experience Yellow-Spot knew the false god was experiencing the Paste’s effects.

Yellow-Spot debated with herself as to what to do. She wanted to be vigilant against this false god, yet it was so painful to see what it was doing and to be reminded about what had happened. When the false god began doing strange things to Electric-Touch’s corpse, she couldn’t take it. She closed her remaining eyes and tried to force out the world. Even with closed eyes the demon haunted her, becoming more real than ever.


Yellow-Spot woke to clear sky above. The frond hideout was gone. She sat up. The trees had moved. Or maybe she’d dreamt the nastiness of the false gods. Electric-Touch lay motionless where she’d fallen. No dream; the nightmare was real.

She stood, looking for danger, looking for the false god. Sweet-Berries lay on the ground but still breathing. Then there was the demon, five body-lengths away and as clear as can be.

“No,” Yellow-Spot said softly, the smell of fear becoming strong. The demon was her true enemy, not the gods.

Sweet-Berries opened her eyes and sat up. Probably she’d been woken by the smell of fear.

The demon approached. Yellow-Spot quaked, sure somehow that the demon had been responsible for the current horrors. She ran down the hill. As the hill became steeper she turned to see the demon and Sweet-Berries following her.

She stumbled, fell, tumbled down the hill, antennae-tip over heels. When she stopped, she heard the roar of a river.

She stood. Something was wrong. Her leg hurt. She ignored the pain. It was pain or facing the demon.

She stepped into the river. It wasn’t that large, but with her leg hurt it was hard to get any decent footing.

Near the center the water was up almost to her mouth. She imagined the roiling water around her was a placid pond where she could see her reflection. She glanced back at the shore, thinking about turning around. The demon and Sweet-Berries were still following. The sight of the demon threw her off balance and the current swept her off her feet.

Water flooded into her nostril. She tried covering it with her hand, but she was sinking. “My reflection’s chasing me.” Then the world went dark.



She opened her eyes and looked up at Sweet-Berries. She sat up. Her left antenna felt wrong. She reached up to feel and winced. The pain stung her nostril so strong that she almost sneezed at the smell.

“Your left antenna and left speaking arm are broken,” said Sweet-Berries. “And I think so too is your right leg, or maybe it’s just sprained. I bound a wood splint to it, to keep it straight. Too bad Paste can’t soothe broken bones.”

Yellow-Spot made to get up, but Sweet-Berries held her down.

“You’re not going anywhere too soon, sister. But I’m so glad you’re alive.” Sweet-Berries looked down the river, which disappeared over a cliff only a few hundred people-lengths away. “We were going there, weren’t we? I wished you had told us, so we’d know. Why didn’t you just tell us?”

The demon appeared. Popped into existence. Yellow-Spot pawed the ground, trying to back away. Fear—so common a smell now—thickened the air.

“My gods, sister. What is it?”

“Do...” How was she going to form the other side of words with a broken arm? She thought about using her left gripping arm, but the fingers were all different. The words wouldn’t make any sense. She decided to use her right arm for both sides of words. It’d take longer to speak, but then Sweet-Berries could understand her. She began again, “Do you see it?”

“See what, Yellow-Spot?” Concern showed in her voice, color-face, and smell.

“The demon.” She pointed. “Standing right there!”

“No.” Sweet-Berries looked perplexed.

“You don’t? She ... it looks just like me. It’s been haunting me since I’ve been with the false gods.”

“Oh ...” Sweet-Berries’ color-face still showed yellow-green concern, but then it softened to a neutral white. “So is that what told you to leave, to violate the Queen’s { } and to found a new colony?”

“Me? Found a colony? Ha!” Laughter mixed with the negative smells.

“Sister, what’d you think we were doing? Why’d you need a Nurse and a Builder who’s not you, and a Drone too, unless you were going to start a new colony?”

Yellow-Spot stared at her sister and tried ignoring the demon. The Drone was busy sniffing around. It walked right into the demon as if the demon wasn’t solid. Even though she’d seen the words, comprehension was slow to register. “So ...” she said to the demon, not caring anymore that her words could be seen “Was that the plan?”

“Yes,” Yellow-Spot’s doppelganger confirmed.

Yellow-Spot looked back at Sweet-Berries, who said, “You saw how those soft-bodied false gods ... those softs treat us. I can’t imagine spending so much time with them. How’d you cope?” Sweet-Berries looked at where the demon stood. “Ah, I see. Your mind created a false voice to tell you what to do.”

It made sense, or more sense than the gods implanting the demon, anyway. “How do you know so much?”

“Please, sister. The Queen sees several voices. It’s how she partitions all her responsibilities, I think. It’s a secret among us Nurses. Now, come. I think we should { }.” Sweet-Berries’ antennae touched Yellow-Spot’s. She’d expected pain from the broken antenna, but instead felt { } surging through her, uplifting her, healing her. The person pulled away, and in that brief { } her various pains had abated.

Yellow-Spot looked at the river disappearing over the cliff. Just beyond lay a canyon with several caverns pitting the canyon walls. She knew this because she’d been with several gods ... softs who’d scouted the area. Just beyond the canyon was the southern people’s colony.

Sweet-Berries helped her sister up. When they’d been experiencing { }, it’d felt like Yellow-Spot’s pains had been healed. But now, she winced when she put pressure on her right leg.

Sweet-Berries helped Yellow-Spot walk over to the canyon’s edge. The Drone dumbly followed. Yellow-Spot gasped when she saw the southern people’s colony. Or what was left of it.

Fires blazed through much of it, domes melting and collapsing from the flames. Pale smoke streamed into the sky. She felt red anger. When she looked at the demon, it was becoming less distinct, no longer looking like the blue-furred, yellow-spotted reflection of herself.

“Do you think these false gods will ever leave us?” Yellow-Spot asked.

“They are powerful beyond any words. In a sense, they are gods, just not gods we’d ever want to worship. We’re dumb animals to them.”

“Ironic. They’re soft-skinned like many dumb animals.” Yellow-Spot patted the Drone, as if for emphasis.

“I don’t understand why they’re fighting each other. They’re so powerful.”

“Yes. We can stand here all day trying to figure out what they’re up to, but we need to find a way to get down to one of those caverns.” Yellow-Spot saw the new resolve in her voice.

“I agree.”

They heard a mewling from below. Sweet-Berries spotted the source first. “Look!” She pointed at a figure climbing up toward them. Pale, soft skinned, but with six limbs, eyes and antennae. A person that had just hatched out of her cocoon.

Sweet-Berries, being the Nurse, clambered down to meet her. Yellow-Spot stayed up above with the Drone, feeling helpless.

“Must’ve been one of the survivors,” Sweet-Berries said.

“She’s sure lucky.” Though she didn’t really believe those words. Yellow-Spot couldn’t imagine being torn from her clutchsisters. Perhaps the dead were the lucky ones.

Sweet-Berries looked over the survivor. “Her shoulders are broad and her gripping arms big and strong. She’s a Builder.”

Dark thoughts invaded Yellow-Spot. The memory of Electric-Touch stabbed her. She stepped forward. She felt herself falling.

Sweet-Berries grabbed her. She pushed Yellow-Spot into the canyon wall. “You didn’t do that on purpose, did you?”

“Please ... what’s the point. Look around us. The softs have already won.”

“Is that so?” Red anger showed on Sweet-Berries’ color-face. “You force-fed me your Taste and made us touch antennae when I wanted to charge that soft. I felt the { } with you so strongly that I can almost see your thoughts. Now I understand what needs to happen. As crazy as it sounds, we need to form a new colony, a secret colony, without those softs. Whatever they did to us, that’s in the past. We need to look to the future.”

Beyond the canyon another dome collapsed, melted and burning. Yellow-Spot said, “They forced me to learn their strange noise language only so they could communicate with us better, to subdue our culture and our colony so they could ... feel better, for whatever strange purposes they use our Paste. They’re too powerful.”

“They’re just stupid, soft animals,” Sweet-Berries retorted.

Yellow-Spot looked at the Southern survivor. A ghostly figure appeared by her. Though indistinct, Yellow-Spot could see its strength and power. It gave her confidence. “We’ll name her Electric-Touch-On-Red-Fur.”

“And if she doesn’t grow red fur?”

“Who cares? The name is symbolic. A remembrance of her.”

“That’s the Yellow-Spot I know and love.” They touched antennae again, feeling renewed { }.


Just beyond the direct opening to the cavern, so the softs couldn’t easily see them, Yellow-Spot lay in her oversized cell. She’d grow into it as she became a Queen. Sweet-Berries was teaching Electric-Touch the rudiments of language.

It’d been slow going to find a suitable place to create the nest for their colony. The softs had been too busy with their own petty war to mind what the three persons and one Drone were doing.

Presently, Yellow-Spot watched the new Electric-Touch with interest. It also brought new pangs of guilt and sadness. The strong ghost comforted her. Now it was but one of many. So this was what it was like to be Queen, to consult with imaginary advisors.

Yellow-Spot wanted to get up and move, perhaps to relieve her boredom. But with her leg, that was difficult.

“Can we get this started?” She made exaggerated motions so Sweet-Berries would understand the imperative.

Sweet-Berries grabbed the wax basket in which the Royal Paste was in and began feeding it to Yellow-Spot. “You’ll feel drowsy very shortly, and sleep most of the time for several moons. Even when I wake you to feed you, you probably won’t remember. Then, when you’re fully grown, you’ll wake all the way, and be our new Queen. You’ll probably also heal, especially the leg and arm. Not sure about the eye and antenna though. Anyway, that’s how it’s supposed to work. I haven’t ...”

Sweet-Berries’ voice faded as Yellow-Spot fell asleep. She dreamed of a world without the softs. END

Sean Eret is a graduate of the 2011 Taos Toolbox, taught by authors Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress. His publication credits include stories in “Angelic Knight Press,” “Circlet Press,” “Quantum Muse,” “Drabbler,” and “Aoife's Kiss.”