“Hostile Universe” by K. Eason

“Hostile Universe” by K. Eason

The word came up from Science in a condensed squirt over the comps: Atmosphere ninety-two percent carbon dioxide, surface temperate ranges between minus one hundred and minus fifteen C. And added, only half sarcastic: Wear your suit out there.

“Helpful,” Mercx muttered. “Someone topside’s got a sense of humor. Check it.”

Jenner materialized over her shoulder, ghost-image in the comp-screen’s black and green. He flashed her a grin. “Nah. See. Thought I’d go down naked. What you think of that, Mercx?”

“I think you should’ve volunteered that thirty solar days ago,” she murmured. “Save BioHaz some work. Scare the indigenes to death.”

Jenner leaned on the back of her chair. The springs sighed in protest. “Way I heard, the indigenes got no eyes.”

Mercx had her own ideas about the indigenes. Sounded to her like bored BioHaz personnel entertaining themselves. But the indigene rumor kept Jenner interested. Gave her team something to think about besides a lot of nothing on the other side of the ship and a distinct shortage of action inside it.

“We’ll find out, won’t we? Dirtside in our future.” She shifted counterbalance against Jenner’s weight, kept her hands near the keypad. Slanted a look at him, through the screen’s reflection. “Maybe they’ll want us to bring back a sample.”

“Live or dead?”

“They’re sending us, aren’t they?”

“So, dead.”

“‘S my guess. Wait for the brief.” Which would be incoming — now, looked like. Mercx watched the flat green bar on the bottom of the screen. Percentage download, it told her, fifteen percent. Forty. Big report. Meant a lot of reading. Meant pulling weapons out of lockers, and priming the suits, and doing something, God, and finally. The only conflict Carlen Mercx, Sergeant, Special Environments Commando Tactical Reconnaissance, had met so far this run was the third-shift tech-chief. Big man, hair like copper wire, who made a habit of looming in garrison corridors and scowling disapproval at anyone in a uniform.

Fuggin’ janissaires are nothin’ but a waste of resources.

As if the ship had a shortage. As if somehow her team’s presence might mean some other crewman slept in an airlock and ate nutripaste for all his meals. Mercx wondered what the tech-chief would do in her place, if he had to go dirtside with a polyceramic rig between him and a hostile universe. What he’d do with non-standard G, and a horizon that curved the wrong way and klicks of nothing except air and gravity between self and cold space, or with weather cutting around the suit’s slopes and angles, precip spatter and rattle on the faceplate.

Bet he’d need decontamination in his suit, that was what.

“What’s it say? Car?”

“Hm?” She blinked Jenner’s face back to focus. Harder to see him now in the screen, with the orange lines of text marching past. Her gaze snagged on geological data, seismic reports, mineralogy —

Hell. Oh hell. She stabbed the keypad, backed up in a series of violent clicks. An equipment manifest. A passenger list, for IC-274 Drakkar.

“Got your answer, Jen. Why we’re here. This isn’t a survey run. This is — ” Search and rescue, she almost said, and then she saw the crash date. Her pride prickled. ” — salvage and secure.”


She leaned sideways to let him read the screen. “That’s why we’ve been sitting in orbit. They’ve been scanning for wreckage.”

And had found it, apparently. There were drop coordinates in the report, and high-orbit images. Scans showed no domes on the surface. No EM output that didn’t come from rocks and the star’s radiation. That wasn’t a surprise. But the deepscans had coughed up those anomalous readings that BioHaz claimed could be —

“Indigenes,” she muttered, and wished she hadn’t.

“Indigenes,” Jenner said in the same breath, and swore after. “You think it’s survivors?”

“You think anyone walked away from a crash like that? Drakkar wasn’t built for landing. Chunks of metal made it down. Scrap. Look at the images.”

“Maybe some of the inner-ring made it.”

“Sure. You’ve seen atmospherics, Jen. Nothing’s breathing down there.”

“Something is,” he repeated darkly. “BioHaz says so.”

“BioHaz, hell. We’ve been circling this rock for three tendays, haven’t we? Everyone’s bored. Even BioHaz.” She twisted and laid a hand on Jenner’s arm, where it weighted the back of her chair. “The reactor’s probably leaking. That’d set BioHaz off.”

“Maybe it’s the Nanny.”

“Hell. Nannies run ships, Jenner. That costs power. There’s nothing down there to feed it. It’s probably microbes. Nothing exciting.”

“Except — ”

“No except. This rock’s useless dirt if it’s got organic contamination. We’re here to see that it doesn’t. So we go down, haul out the scrap, scrub the place down, and InterCorp can get back to the business of building a colony.”

His jaw squared off stubborn. “So why are they sending us on an s-and-s?”

A good question, sure, and one that OpSec hadn’t put in the report. But it wouldn’t’ve mattered if they had. Jenner wouldn’t believe it. He had an answer in mind already, had indigene fever-bright in his eyes. And he’d take that down to the troops; when they dropped, she’d have a team distracted, looking for aliens and chattering what if instead of minding what was.

So Mercx snapped out, sergeant-voiced: “Assemble everyone in the mess for a briefing, 1500. Don’t start with the indigene stuff. This is a salvage and secure op. That’s all you say. That’s an order, Corporal. Savvy?”

“Yes sir.”

Jenner cut her a salute, stiff-shouldered, spun on his heel. Didn’t quite stomp, no, but she pitied the deckplate. So he was angry. Hurt, which he had a right to be, hell. She’d apologize later. Make it up, after the drop, when they could joke about indigenes and BioHaz pranks and maybe, then, he’d laugh with her.

But after Jenner was gone — bawling names loud enough for OpSec to hear him on the bridge — Mercx pulled up the images again. Gouges in the landscape, churned sand, a shallow trench, dark on the edges, that wasn’t from any catastrophic flood. That was the crash site. Reports placed most of Drakkar inside that, with a scattering of debris on the red sand.

Hell. The trench wasn’t that far, really, from the subterranean channels. A rigged body might make it that far. And a mining colony would’ve brought sealed ground transport.

Mercx ran the numbers, a dozen most-likely scenarios — if Drakkar had spun just so, if she hadn’t broken up in atmosphere, if she had and in how many pieces — and couldn’t predict a single survivor. Improbable nudging up on impossible, that anyone had lived through that, even if equipment survived the impact.

But she stared at the BioHaz readings, and she wondered.

* * *

“This place have a name?”

Private Kibrya aimed a kick at a rock, sent it arcing three meters over the red sands. The dropship set them on the broad plain, half a klick from the trench. Can’t get closer, the pilot had told her. Wind shearing’s bad.

Damn right it was. Mercx’s rig sang a constant click-and-whir adjustment against gusts and spurts and blasts that pinked her atmo-readings on the HUD. Lot of sand blowing. Hell on the filters.

“Sure,” Teel said. She stretched the word into three syllables. “It’s called Bad Investment.”

“Hell it is.” Kibrya hesitated. “Is it?”

Teel made an airless sound, like laughter in vacuum. Mercx interrupted, before Kibrya recognized himself as the butt of a joke.

“It’s got a survey tag. ICS-1399G4-point-7.” And added, because this was Kibrya’s first drop, and he’d proven that cluelessness could be a fine art, “InterCorp doesn’t waste names on dead dirt.”

The HUD flickered. Com-channel blue, which meant command, which meant Jenner, for her ears only. His voice smoked like a burnt wire. “Maybe we ask the indigenes what they call the place, when we find ’em, huh, Car?”

She imagined Jenner’s eyebrows, the insolent line of his lips. “Sure, Jen. You can ask ’em. But I don’t think bacteria got much imagination.”

Oblivious, cheerful, Kibrya relocated another rock. It skipped and stuttered a meter to the edge of the trench. Teetered a moment, before the sands tipped it over.

“How about we call it Hell’s Asshole?”

“Ha,” said Teel, “or maybe — ”

Jenner cut in like seal doors in a hull breach. “Keep it clean, Kibrya. OpSec keeps a transcript.”

Sand hissed on Mercx’s face-shield, in the sudden silence. Then Kibrya coughed.

“Sorry, sir.”

On the other side of the rigs, Mercx would wave him off, roll eyes and hitch a smile. All she had now was a bright green strip on her HUD with his name under it. Her face went through the motions anyway.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, as Jenner snapped, “Keep your mind on the mission, Private.”

“Sir,” Kibrya said. Two commanders with one syllable. And then came more silence, rig-com pure. Mercx listened to her own breath compete with the wind and wished for static. Watched Kibrya’s readings hitch closer to yellow: elevated heart rate, blood pressure. He’d be shuffling his feet now, if they were ship-side, red crescent ears and eyes fixed on the deck.

She keyed blue-com, the command channel, and just two of them on it. “You know OpSec won’t care, Jen.”

“He needs to stay focused.”

She turned her head out of reflex, fired a scowl through HUD and helmet which Jenner did not see. She hadn’t argued when Jenner insisted on bringing the big RB-221s or the concussion rounds. Had thought — and been wrong, evidently — that he’d relax once they hit dirt and saw what she did: nothing but sand and rocks and wreckage.

The moment passed for a retort, and Mercx said nothing else. She walked against the wind-drag and sand-slip, with the horizon curved and cut with distant mountains, and a watery unfiltered sun carving shadows in her wake. The terrain changed only slightly. The countdown on her navpoint ticked down to proximity and then stop.

Mercx paused at the top of the trench. Stared down at a shattered ship’s tangled bones. Hours down, hours back, God knew how long navving the wreckage. It would be full planet-night when they got back, and the winds always got worse after sunset. They might spend a full dirtside revolution down here, waiting for a pick-up, and the danger had nothing to do with anything Jenner could shoot at. Lose a coil, a filter, and a body would die down here. Hostile universe. And

Hell’s Asshole

ICS-1399G4-point-7 already had a taste for human flesh.

* * *

Black tangled alloy crunched under Mercx’s boots, sent the faintest shiver up through polyceramic and synthrubber soles. The highbeam on her helmet bleached circles of solid reality into the wreckage. Rocks. Sand. Metal and melted plastic, burned matte in the impact.

There was no place down here for the indigenes. No room even for sunlight. Just black overhead. Black all around. Space-black and impenetrable, except space was safely empty. More treacherous down here, in the vault and tangle of Drakkar‘s bones. Teel had already collided with a fallen deckplate that lurked sharp and edge-on in the shadows. She’d walked knee-first into it and damn near split a joint-seal. Alarms had gone off in Mercx’s helmet, breach and red-flashing Teel on her HUD.

Teel had gone down, swearing. But the rig had held, and so had the joint, and Mercx consoled herself by blistering the inside of her helmet with a litany of Teel’s failings, from birth-tank to basic to now, while Kibrya helped her up.

Jenner had said nothing, then and since. Except for the steady green presence on her HUD, and the footprints gouged into the sand, he might not have been there at all. She sent him to the bones of the bridge, sent herself to engineering. Protocol said two-man teams, but she didn’t want an extra minute in the wreck she didn’t need. Pray Kibrya and Teel could keep from impaling themselves on anything, pray that they found nothing at all.

Not much of a prayer. Nothing down here. BioHaz and their damned readings had been a mistake.

“Kibrya. Teel. Anything in medlab?”

“If by ‘anything’ you mean ‘lots of broken stuff,’ then yes, Sergeant. But the hardware’s totally fragged.”

“Looks like they lost pressure in here,” Teel said, in the same tone she might’ve used to say it’s soy-fish for dinner tonight. “The tanks imploded. There’s organic contamination. But,” she added, “nothing alive.”

Of course there wasn’t. Mercx bit back an entirely petty urge to say tell that to BioHaz. “How’s your knee?”

“Fine, sergeant.”

Not quite the report on her readout. Those numbers said elevated endorphins, which meant pain, and an uneven gait that the servos corrected, with only a minor drain on the batteries. Nothing to worry about, long as

nothing goes wrong

the battery held through the climb back to the surface. It’d been an ugly descent. Up would be worse, with everyone tired. The chrono said eight-point-two hours elapsed. Bet at least that much more until the dropship returned. Mercx thought about the ascent again, and the spreading ache in her back, and the pinpoint pain in her needle-slot that would only get worse, the longer she stayed in the suit.

Hell with salvage and clean-up. Nothing down here worth one of her people. Dead planet, whatever BioHaz said.

“Bring it in,” Mercx said. “Return to the rendezvous. — Jenner?”

Insolent two beats, then: “Nothing yet.”

“Yet? What’s left?”

“I’m looking at the bridge seal now. There’s a three-level hole in the decking. Took me a while to get up here.”

“Hold position, Jenner. I’m coming up.”

“Negative, Sergeant. This won’t take long. Nothing in there except the Nanny-pod, and it’s long dead, right? I’m going in.”

She could argue with him, open-channel. She could take it to blue-com, too, with only the rig’s recorders as witness. Hell if she’d grant him that satisfaction. She’d see him court-martialed for this, charge him with insubordination and confine him to quarters. No. Better. Reassign him to maintenance, have him dis- and re-assemble every one of the rigs, seal and bolt and circuit. Let him work with that third-shift tech-chief for a tenday, and Jenner would ask for —

His vitals surged toward a sudden yellow. Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and a breathless: “Car, it’s here, the — ”

The com crackled. The whole rig dimmed and dropped Mercx into sudden and absolute black. She strangled a moment of panic. Stopped moving, held breath, and waited for the secondary systems. The life support came online first, mechanical sigh and groan, before her HUD flickered. Before the com did, in a hiss of static and Teel’s fooling-nobody calm:

” — geant? Do you copy?”

“Affirm.” The primaries flickered on, light by light. That power drain shouldn’t’ve happened. Shouldn’t be able to happen, with all the rig’s redundancies and shielding. Mercx let her breath out slowly. “Did you feel that, too?”

She expected a yes, and was surprised when Teel hesitated. “No, Sergeant. We registered an EM disturbance down there. Real localized. Like a weapon discharge, sir.”

“Origin?” she asked, already knowing.

“Looks like the bridge. We’re on our way, Sergeant.”

Her gut dropped into freefall. Now she noticed the orange RIG OFFLINE on her HUD, and the flat gray line of Jenner’s vitals. There should have been an alarm when it happened. Might’ve been, and she hadn’t heard it, being offline herself.

It wasn’t protocol, and OpSec might skin her for it, but she didn’t need to risk two more lives. “Hold position.”

“But Sergeant — ”

A plague of insubordination, clearly. “I said hold position. You lose contact with me, you go topside and you wait for the dropship. Savvy that?”

“Sir,” said Kibrya, unhappily. And after a moment, in which Mercx damn well heard mutiny in his crackling quiet, a grim little “Yessir” from Teel.

Mercx squinted out the skeletal lines of the ship’s guts. The rig’s lights seemed too dim, now, wholly insufficient against the dark. She followed the twist and tangle of the ruined corridor, overlaid with the specs on her HUD. Stopped when she found Jenner’s three-level hole and swore. Easy to see why he’d taken so long to climb it. Jagged metal, that’s all it was, no resemblance to decking or bulkheads or ductwork. She wedged her gloves and boots where she found room for them and climbed, and hoped she didn’t slip and impale herself on something harder than the polyceramic.

Jenner’s vitals stayed flat. So did his com, each time she tried it. Which she did —

“Jenner, you copy? Jen, dammit, answer me”

— until the HUD told her she’d found the bridge corridor and the first of the breached seals. She ducked through the first hatch, and damn near stepped on Jenner’s rifle. Damn near stepped on Jenner, sprawled face down and halfway into the corridor. Mercx panned across his back. Saw no trace of impact, no cracks in the tanks. A tiny red e-light glowed steady and desperate near the power pack.

Empty, that meant. Both batteries drained, down to reserves and a handful of minutes. She could recharge him. Sacrifice one of her batteries to his rig and hope the pick-up happened on schedule. Hope wasn’t something command encouraged. They liked hard numbers and secure zones. Didn’t like risks to personnel or equipment. One man down, bad enough, but a half-drained rig in a red zone might lead to two dead, and more at risk on retrieval.

So let them court martial her corpse, if she got it wrong. She knelt beside Jenner and snaked an umbilical to his suit.

“Teel,” she said, past her suit’s advisory beep. “Teel, Kibrya, you copy? Need a hand.”

Nothing. Her suit beeped again. Did she really want to initiate power transfer, y/n? Yes. Numbers spilled onto the HUD, front and center.

She noticed, then, that the com-lights were gray. All she had was rig-to-rig, and Jenner was still offline. She wasted five seconds swearing, flipping blue-com to general and back. All right. Her own vitals spiked, steadied. Blame the power transfer for the lapse. Worst that would happen, Kibrya and Teel would disobey and come down, and she might need them to haul Jenner topside. No goddamn idea what’d got him. The source of the BioHaz readings, he’d said, which apparently packed a hell of an EM charge behind it.

Her rig hadn’t reported anything, but sometimes the sensors missed things. She looked up, then, and into the bridge. The

too dim

headlamp rubbed out the shadows. Sweat prickled her scalp, chilled on the back of her neck where the rig mated into her socket. She’d been wrong. God, she had.

There were survivors.

The whole bridge-crew, it must be, the ones who might’ve survived the impact, here in the center of the ship. A tangle of cables and wires snaked in and out of a half-dozen e-suits, the soft ones meant for in-ship emergencies. They dangled and flapped from gaps in the cabling. There were strange bulges in some of them, organic softness that seemed to change shape when Mercx looked too closely. And there, in the center: the Nanny pod, that should be long dark and wasn’t, oh God. Little green lights on the console, that meant live.

The silvered visors turned toward her with inhuman precision. A half dozen tiny screens flickered into awareness, white noise to blank black. Text began on the far left and crept from visor to visor.

IC-274 Drakkar to any ships. Mayday. Help us. Have lost primary drives, life support critical, high casualties, mayday.

Flash, and another chrono-stop: life support critical.

Flash again, and then names, God, one for each suit, with the InterCorp command-sigil and alphanumeric strings that must be command overrides.

Bile burned at the base of her throat. Mercx tried hard not to think about the faces behind those visors, what they might look like now, this many years dirtside, this many years mated up to the Nanny. They wouldn’t be human anymore. Not quite.


A Nanny managed a ship’s biosystems. And when the biosystems were down to six crew, running short on air and out of water — hell. Oh hell. It was one thing to modify a Nanny to handle an e-suit. But it was something else to refit it for human life-support. A Nanny needed a power source, and the ship’s drives were long dead. So guess, just guess, what it was using for batteries.

Jenner’s coms flickered live, static hiss and cough and gasp. His vitals spiked from gray to orange.

” — shot me, motherf — ”

“Easy, Jen. Just breathe.”

“The Nanny, Car. The damned Nanny — ”

“See that. Just breathe.”

” — killed those people.”

“I don’t think it did. I think they’re still in there. I think they were waiting for us. That’s our indigene. Savvy?”

He swore, raw-voiced. Take that as a yes.

They — it, the crew, the Nanny — must’ve known that InterCorp would investigate a loss big as Drakkar. Take that as faith. But not for years, in the time-stretch of deep space. Delay the inevitable, that’s all they’d done, one last snatch at living. Merge with the Nanny. There wasn’t any sunlight down here, and the organic soup in the e-suits had to metabolize something.

God. Don’t think of that. Don’t think of what was in there, moving around in those suits. Something alive, for some value of living, that’d triggered the BioHaz sensors and got rumors flying and crossed OpSec’s desk. But not something recognizably human, or recognizably Nanny. Something else.

Indigene. Organic contamination. The reason OpSec would send janissaires on a salvage and secure mission. OpSec didn’t want this thing alive.

Well. The indigene seemed to have other plans.

“I got no coms,” Mercx said conversationally, as if she wasn’t crippling her rig for Jenner’s, as if he wasn’t gagging and choking like a new recruit in zero-G. “I told Teel and Kibrya to wait topside and leave if we didn’t show. Think they will?”


“Me, either. Got a discipline problem in this unit. Got to work on it when we get back. That’s good, though, because I don’t think I can haul your ass up there myself. Unless you think you can walk on your own.”


“Then maybe I shouldn’t punish them too — ”

“No. Listen.” Wet sound, like spilled soup. “It didn’t hit me. Until I tried to leave. You savvy?”

“I savvy.” Of course the EM pulse hadn’t been an accident. An attack, she’d thought first, to keep the indigene’s secret. A pulse would cost power, to something that had a limited supply. An insupportable waste, unless the indigene had the means to recover that cost, from a rig’s power pack. From a rig’s occupant. She looked, really looked, at the bridge. The headlamp wandered across exposed wires and cables and metal peeled into strange shapes. Might be crash damage, sure. Might be adaptation, too. Ask where those cables went, in the shredded nest of the bulkhead.

Maybe the indigene just didn’t want its supper crawling away.

The indigene’s composite eye watched her, blank screen faces reflecting six versions of herself and Jenner. She had no way to communicate with it. There wasn’t enough atmosphere down here for external audio and hell if she’d try an uplink. She had Jenner to worry about, linked to her rig, and it had — itself. Themselves. And what could she even promise it?

Let us go, and InterCorp will leave you alone. We’ll send batteries.

Best that might happen is BioHaz would come down and collect it for study. And in exchange, what would the indigene offer?

Sure, janissaire, we’ll let our first meal in five standard years just walk out the door.

Mercx moved experimental fingers onto her rifle stock. Some of the cables shifted near the suits, rippled and resettled in front of the Nanny. A thick once-blue cable writhed on the deckplate. A disk of charred metal winked from the end. BioHaz could guess at its purpose. Sensor. Weapon. Mouth. Mercx looked and saw target.

Grimly, she said, “My rifle’s still got a charge. All you have to do is get out the door. I’ll cover you. Get you topside.”

“Car.” That was his serious voice, that could mean apologies or thanks or I’m dying.

And he wasn’t. Damn him, he wasn’t. Couldn’t.

But of course that wasn’t true. Any EM that got through rig shielding wouldn’t leave flesh undamaged. Guess at the harm to organic material. Guess why his lungs wouldn’t clear. Guess why his vitals were flashing now, and verging on red. Jenner couldn’t fight like that. Couldn’t move like that.

He knew it. She did. How many combat drops had they done together? How many campaigns? Neither of them were young anymore. Not like Teel and Kibrya. Any you’ll be all right, soldier speeches would waste air they both needed.

Jenner sounded like his own ghost. “I can give you a couple seconds. Keep it busy. Got enough juice for that.”

And God, she wished for eye contact, to see his face instead of her own rig reflected in his faceplate. It would be easy to die down here, her and Jenner together. But do that and Kibrya died too, and Teel, and everyone else sent into the wreckage, until OpSec ordered an orbital strike. And until it did — if it did — the indigene would have new biomatter to modify, and rigs with power packs. Bet the indigene wouldn’t continue to modify itself. Bet it wouldn’t find a use for Jenner’s rifle and the concussive rounds. The next team down here

Teel and Kibrya

might get a face full of ordnance. And there was a whole garrison up there to feed it, that would come through this door in pairs.

Jenner knew that. Expected her to know it, too. And they didn’t have the extra air for



She swallowed her voice back to steady. “On three. Your count.”

Another cough. She knew he’d be nodding his head, in the helmet’s tight confines. “Three.”

She triggered the combat sequence. Her rig whined protest: not a low-energy process, combat, and she didn’t have much to spare.

Make it work.


Jenner’s flashing vitals retreated the HUD’s margins. She moved the rifle’s targeting link front and center. Armed it.

The indigene rippled, a sheaf of black e-suits flashing Mayday, Mayday across its screens.

Jenner released the umbilical. Triggered his own rig and rolled onto one knee. One last burst of power, machine to get him where meat wouldn’t.

“One,” he said, and launched.

The silver-faced e-suits peeled aside like an honor guard. The Nanny pod rested behind them — casing and cables that had never been meant for the conditions on this planet. Cracked joints bled frozen fluids, that turned briefly liquid as Jenner turned his combat rig into a slow-moving missile and punched into the heart of it.

The suits closed ranks behind him.

Silence in her helmet, as Mercx held her breath. Held her eyes wide against blinking as Jenner’s vitals flickered into desperate red. One more flash, and then — gone. RIG OFFLINE filled in the gap, impersonal and orange and for real, this time. Forever.

Mercx let herself blink. Shifted the rifle to her shoulder. Steadied it. Blinked again, to clear the blur. And stopped, breathless, as the indigene shivered, an internal wind rippling through the e-suits. A green light bloomed in her HUD, where RIG OFFLINE had been. Stretched and grew and pulsed into a steady heartbeat that was not



The com crackled. Whispered her name.

Mercx fired. The e-suits shredded in the first explosion, peeled and flapped and melted, where the incendiary touched them. The second shot caught Jenner’s rig square in the back. It burst in a shower of quick-frozen air, blood and oxygen and polyceramic sparkling like crystal in her headlamp.

In silence, all of it. There wasn’t enough air for sound.

Mercx emptied the rifle, round after methodical round, until it clicked empty. Only her own breath for company, coming hard enough she left fog on the faceplate. Through it, she could see the bulk of the indigene — polymer and biological compounds — fused into a slick, shapeless mass. Tiny white fires dotted its surface, where there was still something living to burn. They died, one by one, as she watched.

K. Eason started telling stories (to pets, stuffed animals, and anyone who might listen) in her early childhood. She ended up with two degrees in English literature before she decided that she needed to stop writing about everyone else’s stories and get back to telling her own. She lives with her husband and three black cats in Southern California, where she teaches first-year college students about zombies, cyborgs, and Beowulf. Her short fiction has appeared in Cabinet-des-Fées, Postcards from Hell: The First Thirteen, Jabberwocky 4, and Crossed Genres.