I fight to recall a time beyond that of today. My neck tenses and I grind down on my lip, drawing crimson that is lost amongst the other fluids sloshing around the gestational sac. It is close, dark, and humid, and every attempt to inhale is a monumental task, my heaving lungs weighed down.
A memory builds before my eyes, the events of the previous day. They have not yet been slurped up by the tendrils of the vast ivy, though not for lack of trying. The vines prod around in the blackness, searching for an opening; up until now they had none, but my limbs grow weary.
It’s attrition in its simplest form, and soon my struggling will stop.
My name has not yet been taken, that much I remember from beyond the boundaries of yesterday’s construct: Jetta Stoyer, that was it.
For once, a colony was prospering out here in frontier space. The settlers named it St. Constance, birthed on the scarred world of 7617-Xing Xui. I can’t say what the date of my initial arrival was. I was security, no— I am security, still— however, the plant asked me to disarm yesterday. When I inspected rumors of loitering in the comms room near the root, the three involved on site turned with frightened looks.
Countless faces lie scattered across the fragile plains of my mind. The local pathologist initially wanted to dissect the giant ivy, what was her name again? Dr Nussbaum? What was mine?
My name is Jetta Nussbaum. That has to be it.
I try to stretch, and the sac begrudgingly adjusts, its grip tightening; it lacked subtlety, like that boy who put his arm around me at the St. Constance fair that time, the evening of the fireworks. Before all this. The feel of hands, human hands, on my breasts is one of several endangered memories of mine, prey now for a carnivorous growth. Only vines embrace me today.
He was there, though; he was one of the three, skulking in the comms room. His name escapes me. Handsome, though.
The guy’s eyes widened when I entered, seeing the uniform. His other friend had a weapon, hiding it behind his thigh as he surveyed the situation. Nicoll was his handle.
Sayaka was facing the ivy, hands clacking at the keypad of a disc-shaped device.
As I cough now, the walls spasm and close. They do that with every movement, like quicksand. My figure dictates its shape, however cumbersome the pod is. Like wearing a snowsuit. A leafed line snakes under my arm and wraps itself over my bare shoulder, clenching into my clammy skin. It urges me to twitch, even slightly.
Back to yesterday.
The guy stammered with each word. Sayaka wasn’t interested in speaking. Had we fallen out the week previous? Who can remember?
“Jetta, stay back,” the familiar face called to me. His words were along those lines, it’ll come to me.
“You’re going to blow the colony sky high?” I asked, hand wavering for the photon pistol on my thigh.
Sayaka gave a thumbs up, if only sarcastically to me.
“Nobody listened,” she muttered. “You all should have listened to us.”
Now, St. Constance was my home, and had been for years. It felt like a fever dream, and maybe it was. So little hassle for a frontier world, not even a whiff of piracy. Sure was warm, thanks to the foliage. The brush had edged closer to the colony perimeter daily, the jungles growing parallel to our flourishing city.
Folk got funny about it creeping on their doorstep now. My job became more difficult almost overnight.
The radicals issued warnings, a subset that called us ‘imbued’ under their breaths. Their methods were desperate, their protests cut short. Security thought about imprisoning some, even if just Sayaka, for a week or two. Cut the head off the snake. Chief of security was called Marcin, something. It was his initiative.
No, my name is Jetta Borova. His was something different.
I stifle a sneeze, but convulse all the same. My pod reacts. Notes of sweet nectar overpower my nostrils, the syrupy membrane lining crushing against my face. They retract though not all the way. The shadows deepen, the air lessens. Sweat gushes from every pore.
Again, back to yesterday.
“I won’t let you demolish the colony!” I cried. The guy retreated a step.
My glare shifted to Nicoll on my left as he raised his hand. I whipped the photon pistol from my holster and scorched his shoulder to his neck. He slopped to the floor in two parts. His friend wailed.
“Out of my way,” grunted Sayaka, the scattergun on her back swinging into waiting hands. I allowed her a second to reconsider, ducking a bolt of scarlet plasma that pulverized a terminal behind me. Returning a photon blast, I watched as her head was incinerated from the inside out.
“Please!” yelped the last guy. I wish I could remember his name.
I pointed the gun at his perspiring forehead. He scratched at his greasy walnut hair, defusing Sayaka’s demolition charge on my command.
“I’ve done what you asked, Jetta,” he wept. I ordered him to kneel. “There’s not many colonists left. You imbued have given most of us to that plant! Fight the voices, please! Like Nussbaum warne—”
I swear I didn’t pull the trigger. But I did.
I let my ruffled jacket coil on the floor, and stepped out of my boots, as we do in Sayaka’s home, and waltzed barefoot to the cavity in the wall where the dormant charge sat.
Prying it from the ivy wasn’t hard, it came loose with one yank. The gentle green flesh was injured underneath, but it would cauterize itself. How did I know this?
It told me.
It told me it would recover.
I then let my pistol clatter to the floor. I stared, unblinking, at the bulbous plant spanning the back wall. A gaping maw revealed itself, a crooked and inviting grin opening on the surface of the colossal root.
I readily clambered in.
Shadow filled my eyes, and that is where my memory turns hazy.
I writhe once more, a twinge in my lower back. The pod jerks, angrily, it seems. The walls salivate wildly, and the vines finally find my ears. They snake into the canals, scorching as they tunnel.
Bliss finds me in the dark, cradling my limp frame when the agony grew too much.
Now I hear their singing clearer. The other colonists, the taken few, a chorus in my mind.
The ivy suddenly chants louder than the congregation, bestowing upon us grand plans such as what we’re to do with the corpses of Sayaka and the other radicals after it releases us from our dank quarters. Like in the wondrous early days of St. Constance, we are all in agreeance.
I forget my name at last. But it’s bliss.
This story previously appeared in Rabbit Hole Short Stories, 2021.
Edited by Marie Ginga
S.R Malone is a writer living just outside Edinburgh, Scotland. He has been published in Synthetic Reality Magazine, 365 Tomorrows and Entropy-Squared. When he is not writing or reading, he likes to spend time with his family and their dog, going for walks in the Scottish wilderness. Get in touch on Instagram: s.r_malone