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THIS SHALL SERVE AS A DEMARCATION

by Bogi Takács

I.

Tiles flip over, land to sea to land. Enhyoron grimaces, rocks back in their chair, eyes still fixed on the ever-changing map. I can feel their moods on my skin and my skin burns, flares with frustration, chafes against my simple cotton garb.

 I sit up on the futon and pull up one sleeve to examine my arm—lighter-toned in branching lines like the bare, defoliated frames of trees in winter. I used to be cut along those pathways, gleaming metal and shapeforming plastic set into flesh, embedded to remain inside—a part of me forevermore.

 

A full transcript appears under the cut.

[Music plays]

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode three for April 16th, 2015. I’m your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you.

First, some quick queer publication news: two new releases from Aqueduct Press (a feminist small press) have some queer content in them. Those are Caren Gussoff’s Three Songs for Roxy and Lisa Shapter’s A Day in Deep Freeze. Both books are part of the Aqueduct Press Conversation Pieces series and are available for purchase on the Aqueduct website at aqueductpress, all one word, dot com.

Links are also available in the transcript on the GlitterShip website.

Our story today is “This Shall Serve As a Demarcation” by Bogi Takács

Bogi Takács is a neutrally gendered Hungarian Jewish author who recently moved to the US. E writes both speculative fiction and poetry, and eir works have been published in a variety of venues like Strange Horizons, ApexLackington’s and GigaNotoSaurus, among others.

E has upcoming stories  in Clarkesworld, titled “Forestspirit, Forestspirit” and in Queers Destroy Science Fiction titled “Increasing Police Visibility.”

In addition, e helped Rose Lemberg assemble the Alphabet of Embers anthology and will guest-edit the next issue of Inkscrawl, a magazine of minimalist speculative poetry.

 

 

THIS SHALL SERVE AS A DEMARCATION

by Bogi Takács

 

 

 

For A, M and R; for the path walked

 

I.

 

Tiles flip over, land to sea to land. Enhyoron grimaces, rocks back in their chair, eyes still fixed on the ever-changing map. I can feel their moods on my skin and my skin burns, flares with frustration, chafes against my simple cotton garb.

I sit up on the futon and pull up one sleeve to examine my arm—lighter-toned in branching lines like the bare, defoliated frames of trees in winter. I used to be cut along those pathways, gleaming metal and shapeforming plastic set into flesh, embedded to remain inside—a part of me forevermore.

The Collaborators took it all out—Enhyoron took it out, softly murmuring as they adjusted, readjusted, readjusted; molded rather than cut. Magic as technology. Still, I wept in pain, thrashing against my restraints, keening like a foam-cat stuck in bramble.

I shudder as the memory passes through me, but I don’t miss the metal—I only miss the domes of Red Coral Settlement, the sounds of all-surrounding water pulling me down into sleep every night. There’s no way back now, now that I’ve taken a stand in the war between land and sea settlements, and I’ve chosen neither.

Enhyoron push themselves away from the wall console, stretch out their strong limbs, their wide shoulders. They move with firm determination. “It’s time to go.”

 

 

“I have done so much wrong,” I mutter, my tongue slow. “The land will not accept me. The sea will not accept me,” I whisper to Enhyoron, and they grab me by the neck, push me down into the dirt.

“They already have. You think I’m the only one?” Enhyoron says mildly, somewhere above me, standing guard over me.

I smell green and the sweet-rot smell of spring decay. A band of invisible light connects my mud-sodden front to the ground and I weep in relief.

Their words resonate in my head: “The planet accepts you before you can accept yourself.”

 

 

 

We walk back—I’m unsteady on my feet, and my eyesight is hazed over with exhaustion.

“This planet knows the meaning of sacrifice,” Enhyoron says, gaze firmly fixed forward toward our makeshift camp.

I don’t get to mourn the technology softly scooped out of my flesh. I don’t get to mourn my break with my home. We have no time. The land has requested my presence, and the sea has given assent.

 

 

 

Can I call my home an eyesore? Was it ever really my home? As the antenna-tops of Red Coral Settlement peek out of the water, all the stainless steel seems crude and out of place against the billowing clouds sweeping across the horizon, the ever-renewing waves of the sea. Still, do I want it gone?

I turn around. The landfoam is encroaching, drawing closer to the cliff edge, heaping up in small iridescent piles. In a few days it will go through another growth spurt, rushing toward the water, solidifying, extending. A map tile will flip.

Red Coral Settlement is foamproof. The people will be gathered inside, huddled together as the structure croaks, but holds. I’ve been through many such transitions on the borderlands. Settlements changing from undersea to underground. Hard chunks set into the soft soil and fluid of the planet-surface, unmoving when everything else flows. Disrupting. I am reminded of my body, run my hands down along my sides. The metal is gone, only the pain remains.

Enhyoron knows my thoughts. “It’s not sustainable,” they say. “The settlements will be gone in another long cycle. The question is, how much damage can they do to the planet until then?”

I used to live there. I know how much damage they did to me.

Enhyoron pulls me close, and we hug; I mash my face into their coveralls.

“I am afraid,” I whisper.

They smooth down my tiny curls—I have hair on my head again, after so many years. “I know, Î-surun, I know.”

 

 

II.

 

The land and the sea were perturbed when the people started to guide the foam. Guide is a Settlement term, a poisonous euphemism. They forced it into their own paths, rushing along linear trajectories at high speeds to assault other Settlements. The borderlands changed shape in unprecedented ways. My nightmares started. The planet screamed.

The first dream was the most terrifying. Sea-foam melted away the land like acid, as I’d seen many times, but then it turned around and surged toward me. I was naked, with no envirosuit. I panicked—I wouldn’t survive outside, the foam would eat away at me, the air would poison me. I woke stunned.

The battle of Lapis Lazuli Settlement only came afterward.

 

 

 

I wish I could say that I ran away from my task to guide. But I was instructed to seek out the Collaborators, pose as a defector and destroy them from within; Red Coral Settlement knew precious little about them, but deemed them dangerous.

I took an envirosuit and a small buggy. I knew the Collaborators were somewhere out there, trying to live on the surface, not in shards irritating the planet’s skin. I knew they existed, but I had no more information.

In retrospect, I just wanted to kill myself. After that battle. I was so eager, driving myself forward, into destruction. Akin to the destruction I had caused. Not seeking the Collaborators, just desperately trying to run away.

I drove to a deserted clearing, flecks of foam hanging from the treesprouts and slowly worming themselves forward on the ground like mindless slugs. My hands shook so hard as I stripped out of my suit that I could barely unlatch the clasps.

I knew foam spores were floating in the air outside the buggy. I deliberately exhaled, then held my breath as I opened the top hatch and clambered outside. Was this bravery?

 

 

 

Of course it burns like acid; and it is drawn to magic, being of a magical nature in itself.

It does not abhor technology; it only abhors attempts to coerce.

What Enhyoron finished, it had started.

 

 

 

I was thrashing in a puddle of my own body fluids when arms suddenly held me, when hands wiped the tears, the snot, the saliva, the blood off my face. I don’t remember well; I think I might’ve had a seizure, my brain giving in to the unbearable, unassailable input.

Two brown eyes stared at me, skin the same if lighter shade. A round face, a thick neck disappearing into leaf-brown coveralls. I had no room for thoughts in my head—I didn’t know if this person was one of the Collaborators, and the group had no uniforms, just a symbol. A symbol I had not known then: the open hand.

I could not speak. But I grabbed their coverall sleeves and would not let go.

This was how I first met Enhyoron. The planet alerted them, sent them to me. A disturbance, again.

 

 

 

At first, they didn’t ask questions. No one did—not a single one of these bright, non-uniformed and only loosely organized cavalcade of people of all kinds of genders, shapes and sizes. I even saw someone like me, neither of the two most common genders as Enhyoron was both. Could the Collaborators even be called a group, or just a set of people with mostly aligned goals? I still don’t know.

The people waited for my reconstruction to run its course. My own lack of language isolated me better than any quarantine.

 

 

 

My previous life is cast in gloom and wrapped in gauze. I lost a lot; planet-adaptation is usually gentler because it is usually supervised. It still pains Enhyoron that they could not have been there from my first breath of unfiltered air.

But I remember this. I remember signing up, back in Blue-Ringed Octopus Settlement, talking to a dark-skinned lady wrapped in a turquoise uniform and discussing my options. At that point, I was sure I had options.

I had the magic, and a deep willingness to serve. Serve my people? I hadn’t understood yet that it was best to avoid ones speaking in the abstract.

They would re-form me, neurotechnology and implantations and all the training; ostensibly to help me control my magic. Also, always unsaid: to help them control me. And I gladly complied.

I wanted no part in a war. But after Blue-Ringed Octopus was washed away and us stragglers, ragged and shocked survivors with wide-open eyes, were picked up by Red Coral, they told me I had no other choice but to fight; for I had the power. And the foam could be guided.

I saw Lapis Lazuli Settlement crackle and burst under the pressure, imploding upon itself deep inside the earth. I was among those who made it happen. They pulled power out of me, tore it out of me—guided it, they said—until I was utterly spent, until there was nothing left, until the enemy settlement was gone. The eternal war of land settlements against the sea, sea against the land.

But the sea itself, the land itself spoke out, their voice hammering in my head. No longer tolerating the people’s actions.

I didn’t know if the others had heard. I heard, but did not listen. Not until much later.

 

 

 

All around me it was soft and twilight-dark. Enhyoron was there, running a hand along my smooth if patchily colored skin. Admiring their handiwork? I understood how much effort it had been to remove the shards and slivers from my body, to remove the contamination.

I knew them beyond speech, from the way they carried themselves, from their gentle accepting kindness, and the words shaped themselves in my head long before my mouth could move.

They helped me walk, take the first hesitating steps. How much of my nervous system had been regrown? A staggering percentage. They helped me eat, spoon-fed me, guided my hands in the true sense of the word. They were patient, and I tried so hard, with all the eagerness that I had to serve, so cruelly exploited once; even before I knew that it wouldn’t be exploited again. They could’ve done anything to me in that state. They chose to heal me.

They hadn’t betrayed me, hadn’t sent me to destroy life. And I wouldn’t betray them. Not now, not ever.

“I wish to serve you,” I said, my first sentence.

They shook their head, a sad smile on their androgynous face. “You understand nothing.”

We talked. So much we talked!

 

 

 

“I… I wasn’t built to destroy,” I said, voice edging into a whine; again after so many times. The well of tears was very deep. “Originally…”

Enhyoron leaned close. “Are you sure?”

I thought of the configuration of implants. Intrusion, invasion. Settlement. Even my spine cut open. They had said it was for my benefit, it was to improve my magic, I was a civilian—this ran through my head: I was a civilian, before the destruction of Blue-Ringed Octopus, before I was conscripted into war—magic had so many peacetime uses…

But who would need this in peacetime? Was there ever peacetime on this planet, or just brief cessations of neverending hostility, like tiny gasps of breath? What had I agreed to, in my eagerness, my naivety—I had thought this would be good, I could be helpful—

I thought of the settlements scarring the planet.

“When the entire establishment is corrupt, it corrupts those who serve it,” I said slowly, haltingly.

“If you have a need to serve, it is best to serve a person, not an organization,” Enhyoron said. “A person who respects your no.” They were silent for a moment. “A person you trust. A person you love.”

I knew they were alone. I knew they were painfully lonely. I knew they were thinking of themselves.

But it was only much later that they accepted my service.

 

 

 

Improve. Like guide. Words themselves are twisted, take on new meanings. I had to disentangle myself from that bramble, and I fear I’ve only partly succeeded.

What would Enhyoron ask of me?

 

III.

 

The landfoam waving in the wind, hanging off the cliff wall in thick fluffy braids. Red Coral Settlement in the distance, on the water—in the water.

I’m not serving Enhyoron to cause destruction, I tell myself, but yet I know not what they will ask of me—what the planet itself will ask of me. Yet we are aligned, we are together.

“Those who wish to stay inside their cages can stay,” Enhyoron says. “I’ve disavowed coercion.” It strikes me I know little of their past; but they say these words with conviction and force. There has been something to disavow.

“Kneel,” they say on a more gentle tone, and I do so. The landfoam twines around me, touches my skin. It feels warm and dry. I bend my head and close my eyes.

“I will guide you,” Enhyoron says and a twinge of fear runs through me. Too-familiar words. But they continue differently:

“We protect life,” Enhyoron says. “We do not seek to harm. We do not destroy—we seek to build. We seek to sustain—not to dismantle. What is harmful will, with time, dismantle itself.”

They put their hands on my head and guide me as the magic rises up in me, running along paths in my body that still feel new. Power soaring to the sky. The landfoam rises, rises; multiplies with a newfound strength drawn from me. I shudder, but I know my reserves are deep. I recall the destruction.

Enhyoron holds me from behind, crouching down into the mud. I breathe with their breath.

“This shall serve as a demarcation,” Enhyoron says, “a border we vow to uphold, a chain-link of mountains to stand between sea and land. And we will uphold it, until person will lift arms against person no more, until we collaborate with the planet instead of settling, until the time of intrusion runs out and the body rejects the invasion.”

They pause. Their words give me renewed strength. The planet itself ripples.

“We isolate the harmful,” they say. “We do not deny its existence. And once it is gone, the planet can reassert itself, and the border between land and sea will again move freely on the foam.”

A sudden flash of insight—from outside my skull? Is the foam the planet’s defense mechanism?

We are the planet’s defense mechanism,” I whisper to Enhyoron as the giant spires of the mountains solidify, and I waver, my energy spent; spent but not ripped out.

Offered of my own free will, I think and smile. And of my own free will it will likewise replenish itself; for I choose to live. I have stopped running away.

Enhyoron embraces me as I topple forward, holds me firm and tight.

END

 

 

“This Shall Serve As a Demarcation” was first published in Scigentasy in July 2014.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license, which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the  Google Audio Library.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again on April 23rd.

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