Her lover was a supernova. She smiled when he came, his bright burning light rocking her body, impregnating her with the essence of stars. Through the metal bones of her ship she felt the gasses enter her, felt the compound light exploding inside of her. Her hands clawed at the cracked vinyl of the chair, her legs spread to either side with toes stretched out, her mouth in piercing screams of ecstasy.
Her lover was a supernova. And her womb—it spun with the light of stars. She felt black holes open up inside of her, intense gravitational weight. She felt her mind expand, and then a stillness as the blue light glowed and everything around her was awash in a sea of colors.
She couldn’t make out the controls. Not now. Not even in her mind. She lay back and let the ship fly itself, a small vessel in the starsea, floating through the explosions around her. Everything sucked in, the large mass pulling in stars and planets and satellites and docking stations and floating flop houses.
Ekhi saw the sun center of her lover and felt herself push through to the other side, her eyes half lidded in rapture, her warm hands on the smooth, round flesh of her stomach, rubbing in circles the home of a new galaxy, of a new starling landscape growing inside of her.
They vaulted outward, the boneship starspat and spinning, the lights inside of the crusted and cracked marrow cage blistering with warning signs. She came as they forced their way out, howling alive on the other side, her eyes rolling in her head like marble spheres as she gasped in the glory of orgasm. The lights dimmed into a slow halo-glow of amber, blue, and then out. Exhaled. Like a candle flame.
The engines wound down. The seconds unticked. She felt time unravel inside the great ribcage of her egia. The great body of the ship was losing power, the few orange lights still active only flashing mute warning signs.
Adrift, her displays dead, her radios silenced. Everything in the ship shut down and shut off. Not enough fuel to get home. Just energy enough to drift and make oxygen, keeping her alive in the empty void of space for a few more months. The oxygen vents around her wheezed in and out, conserving as much energy as possible as they tried to keep her alive, tried to stave off the empty void of space for one more moment.
She sighed and trembled, her finger to her lip as her nerves burst in radial songs of joy and adulation. Her body floated up, the artificial gravity turned off to save power. Behind her the light of the nova shined on, bright and brighter still. My lover is dying, she thought, and he’s taking out whole worlds with him.
Ekhi smiled and sung a lullaby to herself, the whole of space immaculate with her lover’s last breath, the stars growing dimmer by each moment.
Lights. Circles moved over ripped vinyl chairs and cracked bone ceilings. Yellow halos dipped on instrument panels, searching for anything of value. Air was thin. Oxygen tanks exhaled their last few breaths. Three figures walked through dark and shadowy ribs, each one with an electric lantern that gave off a cold, yellow circle of light.
Scavengers. Airtight, chitinous armor clung to their bodies. Breathing masks covered their faces and clicked with animatronic mandibles. Like spiders they crawled through the egia, searching for anything they could pillage.
One figure shined a light over a body that floated in the middle of the hallway, suspended above a chair that had tears along the armrests, with clouds of cotton puffing through. The body was nude and female; her eyes were closed in slits of sleep. She snored as she spun, her bare breasts suspended in zero gravity. The yellow circle focused on her body, moving up her toes, up her legs, up her thighs.
A voice from an insect armor. Male. “Well fuck. I think we hit the jackpot.”
The other insects turned and looked. Their numen suits gleamed in the darkness of space, their eyes lit blue and human beyond the clear shell of the insect masks. “Damn, Hodei. What you find?”
“What do you think? She looks like she’s only been out a little bit. Oxygen reads that it has only been thin for a few hours. Probably very little brain damage, if any. We came just in the nick of time.”
A crackling of static filled the helmets, and then a whisper of words that sounded like two stones rubbing together. The captain, a ghost in their terminal, a spirit watching over them from afar.
A female voice from the third insect, one demanding respect: “Captain says we’re taking her on board the ship. Leaving her here to die would be unethical. We bring her back to the egia, then come back to scavenge for supplies. Got it?”
The yellow moon moved away from the floating body and focused on the bone structure of the ship. Eyes followed the light. “Look at this place—all the foodstuff has been vaporized. Nothing but dust. And it’s off the chart for radioactivity. The walls, the shelves, everything is still hot to the touch. I’m starting to think we’re going to get nothing but her out of this.”
The one called Hodei walked toward the floating body. He held a gloved hand over an ankle, framing it with his clicking arachnid fingers. “She’s so beautiful.”
The female insect walked forward with a marionette gait, her magnetic steps sending out loud clanging echoes as she brought out a weapon resembling a scorpion’s tail.
The betadur was segmented, and the segments were filled with sparkling blue light. The tip glowed a bright orange and the air tensed around it with a sparkling symmetry. “Hodei, please. Let’s just move her into the ship. Waking her up here could be disastrous. We don’t know what happened to her just yet. She could be in shock.”
He moved his hand away, staring still at the barrel of the betadur. “No problem.”
She sighed. “Sugoi, help me move this girl back to our egia. Hodei, you stay here and scavenge. Make sure we leave nothing behind.”
Hodei sighed and watched the two of them walk up to the naked body and gently nudge it toward the rear docking vents. The body spun violently as it floated, the arms out to either side making circles in the air as she corkscrewed toward the exit. Her shoulder-length black hair puffed up like a messy halo over her head.
The cold lantern lights shone against her brown skin, reflected against the dented bone walls behind them. Hodei walked over to the dead instrument panel, hiding his face and obscuring his features, muttering obscenities to himself.
Cotton cocoon. Ekhi struggled inside of it, pushing her head through the tightening layers of fabric to look around. Outside of the cocoon: steel bunk beds, bone ceiling. Circles of painful orange lights shedding amber shadows. Her head throbbed and her body ached. Ekhi could not remember why she hurt, did not know where she was. She only remembered the blue light of her lover and the greatest sensation she had ever felt, a volcanic eruption of orgasm after orgasm.
The room was cramped with metallic furniture. Chairs and tables and beds crowded around one another in a chaotic disharmony. Cards lay scattered across the floor, their pixilated surfaces displaying heroic figures and brutal images of war.
Beside a circular door, covered in rust, sat a woman reading a cracked leather book that lay flat against her lap. Her face was half gone, replaced by a silver latticework that made a cage out of her skull. The eye on her left side was a red jewel, sparkling in the halogen lights. Inside the metal cage of her face fluttered two mechanical butterflies, their wings shedding rainbows of refracted colors.
Ekhi gasped in surprise.
The flesh half of the woman’s face twisted into a sweet smile. The metallic half stayed still, the only motion that of the butterflies that whirred around inside of her skull. “Morning,” she said.
Ekhi nodded. “Morning?”
The woman shrugged. “It’s always morning somewhere.”
Ekhi looked down at her hands. She was naked beneath the blanket. She felt vulnerable and hated the feeling. It left a bitter taste in her mouth. “Oh,” she said, “I guess so.”
The woman looked down at her book. She stared at the page for a moment, and then marked it with a thin piece of newspaper that made a crinkling noise as she slowly closed the book, sighing. “My name is Mari. Welcome aboard the Good Ship Lollipop.”
Ekhi stared at the knuckles on her hands. They grasped the blanket hard enough to turn red. Ekhi knew that there was a joke in what Mari said, but could not find the cultural reference in order to process it. “My name,” she said, searching her mind for the meaning behind herself, “Is Ekhi. Do you-”
She paused, looking harder at her knuckles and the twisted knots of cotton below them. “Do you know why I’m here?”
Mari put her book on the ground and walked over to the bunk bed, sitting on the edge. Her good eye looked at Ekhi. It was like a grey metal ball floating in a sea of milk. Her hair was also grey, but not an aged grey. A metallic grey. An accent to the machine part of her face.
“That’s an easy one. We saw your ship floating amongst all this debris and we latched onto it. We were going to scavenge it for food and maybe some cash, but, well, all we found was you. Why were you out there, floating naked? And why was everything inside your egia destroyed? We don’t have answers for that. We were hoping you would.”
Ekhi pulled the cotton cocoon up over her breasts, concealing herself again as the round door creaked open. A boy stood at the door, probably no older than eighteen. His hair was a mess of disheveled black curls and his thin, brown face had a carved-stone quality. He puffed his lips out, pouting as he talked. “Mari, she up finally?”
He turned and saw Ekhi and winked. “She is! How’s my sleeping beauty doing? Let’s say you and me take a tour of all the dark corners of the ship. I’ll show you why I’m wanted in fourteen galaxies, and why my face is plastered on all the tabloids as the sexiest bachelor in space.”
Ekhi shook her head, trying hard not to let the blanket droop down. The boy stared at the curves of flesh that peeked out from the top of the fabric, his gaze intent on making the blanket fall down with the power of his mind. “No thanks,” she said.
He shrugged. “Your loss. But in a few weeks, when the lonely void starts eating at you and you need some comfort, I will be here, waiting. To comfort you. Physically.”
Mari walked up and hit him over the head with the back of her hand. His head whipped forward in pain, his hair dancing around either side of his skull. “Ow, fuck.” He rubbed the back of his head. “What did you do that for?”
“She’s a guest, jackass, that’s why. Ekhi, this is Hodei. Our in-ship mechanic, space scavenger extraordinaire, petty thief, and resident pervert.”
Hodei bowed and smiled. “At your service, mademoiselle. If you need anything—oh, and I mean anything—just let me know, and I will be more than happy to assist. More. Than. Happy.”
Mari shoved him out the door, and then turned to Ekhi, her metal face glittering. “The captain will want to see you soon. I’ll let her know that you’re awake and ready to talk.”
Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed and award winning author of weird, strange, and surreal fiction. With well over ten years in the genre publishing field, he’s had stuff published in Apex, Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, PostScripts, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and a billion more. He also has three books under his belt and another soon on the way from Apex Publishing.