Human voices wake us, and we drown.
Blue waters shimmer around me, above and below and to the side, and somehow I’m still breathing.
I don’t remember.
“Yasmin,” says my sister’s voice. “Yasmin, can you hear me?”
I’m underwater, swimming in blue-violet, blue-green, shimmering white streams. No fish swim with me; no birds break the surface to seize one and carry it off.
No trails of bubbles rise as I speak, only a diamond disturbance of the flow. Splash. Crash.
“I can hear you. Can you hear me?” It sounds like my voice, as if I spoke in the screaming of metal, somehow sweetened to music.
I remember that sound, as if every molecule shrieked its horror at separation from its neighbors, as if the polymer chains wailed their own dissolution. White-hot shrieks flamed through my muscles, as I hit the manual overrides and my own body took over the task of maneuvering the skimmer, which outweighed me by a factor I can calculate now, now that I’m swimming in the cool undersea.
Did I grow gills, after I drowned?
But I didn’t crash into the Inland Sea. I refused the controlled crash in the forest, because we do not tread on living plants, leave alone use full-grown Groves to break our fall. The craft turned upside-down, one horrifying moment that stretched to eternity before I wrenched control of the craft away from the death-flailing of the navigation system. I overshot the forest. The North Tower swung upside-down toward the horizontal, then righted itself —
In a blaze of adrenalin, I could see the molding on the windows, pick out the one that had been mine —
No. If I hit the tower, it wouldn’t only be me who died.
The skimmer shrieked and howled. Fire shot down my arms, across my shoulders — the heat from within, the muscles tearing under superhuman effort, as I steered toward the sea. Something remained of the propulsion system; the engines weren’t yet dead weight, but the air screamed past me, burning down the moments before I found myself piloting a projectile.
I gave myself over to the laws of physics and hoped for the best.
The best, I had already accomplished. I had not crashed in the forest. I had not hit the North Tower. I had already saved hundreds of lives. I could die content, like Mavra the Hero. I might never reach the stars, but I had done honor to the living.
No one here to sing the Last Song for me, so I had to sing it for myself.
The world disappeared. For a split second I waited for fire to devour me, but if it did, I was unconscious before it came.
“You’re not dead,” Jehen says. “I’m not dead either. We don’t need the Last Song yet.”
I stop, and the last echoes of my voice ripple through the blue undersea. No separation, in this place, between thought and voice.
“Where am I?” But of course that’s the question everyone asks.
Another voice, cool, impersonal, balm on a burn. “You’re in the stasis tank.”
By which they mean, what’s left of me.
Jehen says, “They called us. Pretty much as soon as they had you stable.”
“Don’t worry about that,” says the cool voice, the stranger.
“Total loss,” Jehen says. “What was left, they had to destroy to get you free.”
“And me?” I don’t trust that voice, Karis to the bone, aristo or near enough, ready to tell me what I don’t need to worry about, what I don’t need to know.
“If you don’t tell her, I will,” Jehen says. Her cold, level, fighting voice. I can’t see, but I can imagine Jehen shouldering that functionary out of the way. “You’re in the stasis tank. What’s left. I’m talking to the console.”
“So how soon am I going to die?” I ask. That’s a reasonable question, on Sarronny.
“Don’t worry,” says the cool, supposed-to-be-comforting voice.
“So is she ever going to walk away from the stasis tank?” Jehen asks sharply. She’s left the console on so that I can hear the exchange between the two of them.
“We’ll talk with her about that later.”
“No,” I say. “We’ll talk about that now. I don’t think I’m walking away, am I?” A silence, that’s almost a waveform itself. I’m processing waveforms, sines rolling through me. “I’m in a stasis tank, and I’m not talking with my vocal cords. So there’s not much left, is there?”
“Don’t worry yourself, cadet Yasmin.”
I ignore her, or him, or it. I’m inclined to think It–whatever was human is now entirely assimilated to the role, a cyborg in spirit if not flesh. “Jehen, is Ferenc there?” I want my sister and my brother with me at the last.
“I’m here,” Ferenc says.
“Will you two sing the Last Song for me?”
“There’s no need,” says the cyborg-functionary. “You will survive, if you’re willing to do it in another body.”
“What sort of body?” Jehen asks, more or less at the same time as I.
“There’s a Ship under construction. It needs guiding intelligences.”
“I don’t want to leave my sister and my brother.” Though I don’t know if I can refuse the offer. I am here at the Academy under the Treaty, and we have our part to play.
“You won’t have to,” the functionary says, now sounding almost human. As if it’s about to give me a treat. “If you take the offer, your sister and brother will be receiving their Captains’ commissions.”
“And you’ll be serving Aboard-Ships,” Jehen says. “As part of the Ship.”
“No,” says the functionary. “You will be the Ship.”
Swimming in the blue undersea, I remember the magical creatures who came with the journey-ships from the Original World, or their legend anyway: half-human, half-fish, their voices keeping air-breathers alive–
And the fire that must have been, but which I cannot remember, out of which I am now reborn.
Late to the party this week, my flash fiction in response to Chuck Wending’s terrible minds flash fiction challenge, “Rising of the Phoenix.” Read the other stories and meditate on just how much variety can bloom out of the same prompt.