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The Thing Inside

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Rose left her house quickly that afternoon, in that incautious way that children do. The door banged shut behind her, and a handful of birds resting on the branches of a nearby tree took flight in response. Rose sat on the first of the worn steps that led down the side of the waterfall, so that she could slide down them, bump bump bump, one step at a time. As her small fingers trailed down after her and her bare feet lead the way ahead, the monster hissed and gurgled in the gushing water that cast its spray across her face.

The sun beat down on the damp cliffside, the churning water of the waterfall. As Rose left the river behind, the sun beat down, too, on the dried-out dusty road that curled away across the empty field and towards the distant line of the trees. Approaching, Rose’s dark feet were burned on the disused asphalt. The monster was there too, in the cracks at the edge of the black road, scrabbling hotly at the calloused bottoms of the girl’s feet.

Rose wondered what would happen if she walked down this road, a road upon which she had never seen a traveler. What places lay out there, in the forest, beyond? What cities, what suburbs, what oceans, what islands? She took a deep breath as she contemplated. The monster was in the air, too, perched on each particle of nitrogen and oxygen gas, invisible, watching her. Rose walked out onto the middle of the road without checking for cars. (There were never any cars.)

A bird sung listlessly, the sound strange in the summer heat. The pale paint on Rose’s house was peeling on the top of the cliff far behind her, revealing the pale sun-bleached wood. Rose looked up as she walked, squinting into the sky, and saw a single cloud. In the dustiness of the air, her mouth felt very wet and rare. In the air behind her, the monster stirred. It released the smallest of noises, the smallest of strange, tempting noises, like the noise that is always just outside your window when you wake in the middle of the night.

The monster made its noise. Rose stopped walking. Rose turned. The dust in the road was so dry it did not stick to her feet. She did not know that the monster was close, so close that it could have reached out and touched the glassy cornea of her eye, or the stray piece of hair that curled down her cheek.

She breathed in. Or perhaps the monster breathed her in. It floated into her mouth and crawled downwards until it pressed against the back of her throat, way down deep. It reached a hand into her heart, and a hand into her brain. She coughed violently, but not quite violently enough.

Up above, the dry roses clung to the trellis her mother’s untended garden. Around her, the dust motes hung improbably in the bright still air. Light-years away, the stars still burned. The monster was in her throat and heart and head, and now her stomach, and now her eyes, and finally her little bare feet, conspicuous in the gray dust. They trembled slightly, as if something horrible was going to happen.

She had consumed the monster.

She was consumed.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s many years later. Rose is a god, now.

She cried, the first night on the meteor. She sobbed. Not because she was leaving the others behind, or even as a reaction to the shock of death and undeath and the birth of the green sun, the mental exhaustion of it, but for the same reason that women cry when they give birth. She was scared, and she was violently happy, and she knew that nothing was ever going to be the same again.

An the meteor, she had her own vast and terrifying bedroom. She dispensed her bed from her captchalogue, still messy, still unmade as it had been in her distant home. She climbed in, still wearing her yellow and orange robes, pulling the covers up to her chin, and tried to ignore the machinery and empty tanks in the corner of the room, and cried.

That first night, few of them slept. The trolls, Rose knew, were still congregated in the kitchen and computer lab, afraid to close their eyes without their sopor, afraid to risk their violent dreams. After a couple hours, Dave crept quietly into her room, decaptchalogued a blanket, spent the whole night at the foot of her bed, perfectly still but with his eyes wide open, staring at his clasped hands.

Rose did not sleep, either, but she had far more interesting things to look at than her own hands. If she lay on her left side, and bent her neck to look through the narrow window near the ceiling of her room, she could just catch a glimpse of the dreambubbles passing, their great glossy circumferences, the souls inside them. The monster in her head stirred. It uncurled itself, and she closed her eyes, still wet with tears, and gasped silently to feel it. It didn't hurt. It didn't hurt at all. She opened her eyes again, and looked not at the dreambubbles, but at the spaces between them.

 

 

 

 

 

It was the second year of their journey. Rose stood on one of the meteor’s rooftops and pushed tentatively away from the station with a kick from her blue-slippered feet.

Neither of the station’s other two godtiers particularly seemed to enjoy flying. Dave still flash-stepped around occasionally, pushing past someone in a blur, blinking away in the middle of particularly awkward conversations. But he didn’t float up stairs like Rose would sometimes, or hold onto Kanaya’s hand and let her pull him, airborn, across a room, like Rose would. On the other hand, Rose supposed, he never had to suffer through walking in high heels.

Vriska, also, despite her pride in her luck, seemed to actively avoid most aspects of her godhood. She never wore her yellow-and-orange getup, never used her fraymotifs unless she was bullying Terezi into battle training. She certainly never wandered up to the meteor’s tallest rooftop, stepped up into the nothingness of the furthest ring’s empty air, and considered simply floating away.

Rose wondered briefly, drifting upwards from nondescript tower, if she should have tethered herself somehow. She found she didn’t quite care.

Rose was, perhaps, a little drunk.

She floated further up, traveling parallel with the meteor’s path.

She felt air streaming passed her face and hair and hands. A strange air, she knew, that she could breath but that didn’t slow her passage through space. Rose tipped her head back and let it flow around and through her. The gods of the Furthest Ring were here somewhere, she knew, all around her. She had a monster in her head, and now, rejoicing, she was surrounded by monsters.

She spun through a nothingness punctuated by somethingness. Every so often, she would lift a hand to trail it through the film of a dreambubble’s purplish soapy skin. Every so often, she would drift asleep, and would remember something unremembered, white eyes, black lips, gray skin.

Two days passed like this.

Eventually, Rose floated back to the slowly-turning gray bulk of the meteor. She touched down to the rooftop, hungry, heavy-limbed, hungover. She cried again, as she had two years ago. She gasped and shook with it, surprising herself, feeling a startling and genuine loss. The tears ran down her cheeks as she stepped down through the station’s endless stairs to the core. The machines and computers in various rooms buzzed and squealed their sad agreement with her. Her heart beat furiously around the monster inside.

“Where were you yesterday?” Dave asked as she sat at the table and ate something she couldn’t taste.

“What do you mean?” she said.

Before another day had passed, she’d climbed back up the stairs, and, sighing, flew again.

Rose wondered about how this floating thing worked here in the Furthest Ring. She knew that with astronauts— human astronauts in normal physical measurable not-actually-outer space— there were risks to prolonged weightlessness. The bones were in the most danger, becoming porous and brittle as they had nothing to support. Then the muscles, which would atrophy away to nothing. Other things, too— pressure of the fluids of the eye, loss of proprioception, disorientation of the vestibular system. In the end, however, Rose didn't care. Surely, she thought, a death from something like that would be neither heroic nor just.

But what Rose didn't know was that as she spun out through the nothingness between the bubbles and vast invisible godlike limbs, the monster would grow and thrive. She didn't know that as her bone and muscle disappeared, the monster would fill the empty spaces. The thousand tiny bubbles in the bone, the long thin gaps underneath the fat where the muscle should have been -- the monster lived there now. Even that which is solid is composed more of space than of matter, and the monster used that space to grow.

Before another year had passed, she was made more of monster than she was of herself.

 

 

 

 

Rose was back on earth, living by the sea. It was a different sun above her, and a different earth. Or it was the same sun. Or it was the same earth. Or it was a cold spring day.

Rose sat out on the porch, looking at the river’s course towards the cliff-bound sea. Her eyes were clouded and her skin was wrinkled. She was very old. She had died and un-died so many times. She had lived for so long with something monstrous inside of her.

The lupins around her house were blooming.

Kanaya stood out in the heather by the cliff over the ocean, throwing off a magnificent light.

The water in the waterfall tumbled down, down.

"I'm ready," Rose said, and the blueness of the sky was peeled back, and she floated, softly, in the vast nothingness between unconstellated stars.