by Nostalgia

The stars fall sideways like snow caught in the wind. I move my arms to wrap them around me, so that I become a little warmer, a little less frozen. I feel like a child bundled up against the winter. When I look out at the stars I have to look at myself reflecting back from the glass, staring blankly. I am my own accuser.

I wonder what I would see if I was her, if I was the shadow and I stood out there in the cold, pressed flat and blinking in time with the real me. I must look so solid to her, so bright. She must envy me, and my gifts of scent and sound and touch. She tastes of glass.

When I was eight I caught a butterfly. I just reached out, pushed my hands together and caught it. It was so beautiful. Its wings were fragile and delicate and so many colours. I drove a pin through it to keep it on a small square of card. That's what they told me I was supposed to do.

I threw the dead butterfly away in the end, I cast conformity away and I didn't have any use for reminders.

It was a small act of protest, like saying you don't know the right words when they tell you to make an ultimatum. Like siding with the ones who want to be different.

Sometimes if you laugh at the joke you might as well have told it, so I become resolute and leave to sit with the woman who never smiles. She'll never allow me to be her friend, certainly not anything more, but sometimes I like to pretend I'm useful.

Someday I won't be needed out here among the snow drift stars, because everyone will have learned to speak like us, or there will be a machine that lets us think that they have. The people with the power and the influence would never learn a thousand words for `other'.

I sit there and I smile for two and see the factories making clothes that flatter only one type of body, but are sold to all.

Her eyes flicker and I consider it laughter. I translate the differences into things that I can understand. I despise myself.

"Do you like snow?" I ask. Not that I think of you as cold, not that I would judge you. Not that I am weak.

She says that she has seen snow a few times (I translate an exact figure into something I would have said). She doesn't like it, it's cold and it works its way to her skin. It chills her as it melts on her skin.

You must be like us or people will detest you. They will tell jokes and then infect you and make you wither. All worlds must be like our world.

She's in on the conspiracy, so I feel like I can trust her. (I trust most the people who are most like me - I am dangerous). We will both lose if we are discovered. She will lose more, of course, but I need an excuse for solidarity.

"If", I call it. "If" we are discovered. This is funny, but she never laughs.

I am in on the secret because I know about all the differences. I know how to turn one thing into another. "This" becomes "that" and everyone can sleep for another night before the guilt starts.

She is in on the secret because she knows all about plausibility. No one would expect her to lie, because she does it far too well.

Each lie makes the next one harder and more unlikely. Eventually, someone's going to turn us around and ask us questions. We buy time, nothing more, spinning fake truths to pay for years or months or weeks. Each lie is more life.

I got into this because I whored myself to the people with the most resources. I signed up and gave them my years because they were the ones who could feed my mind the most. I could take and take and take and all they wanted was my soul.

Who needs a soul when you don't plan on dying?

I hid from the worst excesses. I stayed with my books and my research and I promised I would never help spread the Empire. I read the journals that complained about my employers and then I read the ones that they controlled. I heard the arguments and never join them.

I wore a uniform and memorised the number that they gave me.

This is why I was corruptible. I pulled up the zipper and pulled back tears because they offered me words that no one else had ever heard. No one like me, that is - but they had told me that the other people didn't count the same way. I had been convinced without ever knowing it.

I have to help as we leave fragments of our lie behinds us, as we drop excuses into other people's lives. I have explained that the air is too thin, speaking easily and drunk on oxygen. I have fabricated the findings of women on other worlds, who would be like me if only I had never been taught otherwise. I have saved, selfishly.

For me this is redemption. The romantic in me assigns altruism to my never-lover and knows that she is a better person than I am. The realist is kept in silence for once.

Time slides away as I plan my next chance to save myself. An hour, half an hour, fifteen minutes, and then I'll stand locked in metal, dropping my voice to a whisper unnecessarily. I have become paranoid, which may someone's revenge.

Who needs a soul, huh?

I will stand restless and plot against my owners. I will go back to my station and transmit treason from a comfortable chair. Not suitable for colonisation, I will say, not suitable for mining. I will send falsified reports and encrypted lies. I will hold back the darkness for a few more hours.

If I close my eyes I can hear the empire falter.


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