“Syren Song” by A.C. Buchanan
You’re a teenage Syren on the run, but no one must ever know that because your race is a bringer of doom, its very name – not the name your people once called themselves, but a name that others began to call them – carries disaster and death. A story from another world that happened five thousand years ago, or never really happened at all.
You arrived on a salvaged Catari vessel, and on the way, over the deep stretch of space, you plucked the feathers from your head and shoulders and your skin is now rough and smarting, the black of your blood slowly crusting on the surface, and your back aches where you have bound your wings against it. You say it is for disguise, but your bright red skin would give you away on any station; mostly, you feel like everything about this decision needs to be dramatic.
When you reach the station, you sell your shuttle – no going back – and the first thing you buy is a wig to replace your feathers. You choose turquoise even though brown is cheaper, because for your people brown is a color of earth and you are so, so, far beyond the earth.
In bars, men shrink away from you in mock horror.
– Oooh, you going to lure me? I’m shaking.
– She can lure me alright. Look at her! Hey show us your wings, Syren.
You’re going to tell them, when the words no longer stick in your throat, the truth – that no Syren has ever lured a ship, that the whole thing is a myth made up for pilots to save face when they fail to navigate a tricky sector of space.
You’re going to tell them, also, because you’re badass really under the nervousness, not to call you she, that Syrens don’t have gender and don’t want it, thank you very much.
You won’t tell them that your people are just scavengers, and that the whole thing makes you ashamed, not because they take advantage of the misfortune of others, but because how can you be proud of yourselves when you’re living off other people’s trash? How could you keep living there when you know that other races build ships that shimmer like glass, other races can move through time, other races can fold away pockets in the universe, manipulate existence itself, and here you are, amongst these small-minded people, dragging in twisted metal like carrion, stripping wires from ships turned to coffins.
But you think about that, lying in your rented pod at night, so shallow your beak almost touches its roof when you lie on your back. Your few possessions are in a canvas bag by your feet, and you feel fury and bitterness and excitement.
You’re here to see the universe. You’re not the only one with this idea, not the only teenager on the run from boredom, from planets few visit voluntarily. You will meet some of them, sometimes, though they do not stay long and you don’t make commitment even to friendship. You try new food and you dance for hours, because what is day and night in the black of space?
Your money runs low, but despite the fact that, like all your people, you can pilot at least a small craft, noone is going to hire an uncertified teenage Syren. You find work clearing glasses from tables, mopping floors, retrieving cleaning robots from ventilation shafts.
After some time, you’re no longer a teenage runaway, but just another person getting by on this station. You work hard and you certify. You can work as a pilot, nothing exciting, taking loads of cargo between stations. You’re contented with life, though it’s lonely work sometimes.
When you’ve been away long enough, your memories bleed into myth. You decided when you left that you’d never go home voluntarily, and you stick to your decisions. And so when you fly sometimes you listen closely, so closely, for a song that lures you back, a Syren song, inescapable, beyond your control.
And the only sound is the gentle hum of life support, the breeze of filtered air flowing across your feathers.
|A.C. Buchanan lives just north of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Their short fiction has most recently been published in Unsung Stories, the Accessing the Future anthology from FutureFire.net and the Paper Road Press anthology At the Edge. They like cheese, dinosaurs, and good disability representation in SFF, and you can find them on twitter at @andicbuchanan or at www.acbuchanan.org.|