The NeofatesMature

I challenged myself to write an entertaining fantasy story with abortion as a main element.

           The room offered no comfort.  The air blasted cold and constant, spreading out across the blue rubber of the examination bench and sinking to the ground.  Diagrams of the female reproductive system were framed like public service announcements with key phrases underlined.  Every corner that wasn’t sharp was probably waiting to be stuck into someone.  Even the light felt sterilized.

            Separated from her clothes, which were folded neatly on the counter, the young woman dried her tears with the edge of the patient gown.  She sat, feet dangling from the edge of the bench and growing numb, opposite her doctor who dreaded what she had to say.

            “There’s a twenty-four hour waiting period before we can perform the procedure.”  She saw the girl’s eyes fog up.  Her bare toes, painted with cracking purple polish, rubbed against each other anxiously as if trying to start a fire.

            “Why?” She moaned more than asked.  She missed the days at the doctor that were all neon bandages and lollipops.

            “It’s a new law.  Frankly… it’s not medically necessary… but we have to abide by it.  In case you change your mind.”

            “I don’t want to change my mind,” she sobbed in response.  “I know I’m not ready.  I’m just not.  I don’t have the time… Nobody… I have nobody to help.”  She looked ready to pull her hair out.

            “It’s alright dear,” the doctor consoled.  “You’ll receive no judgment from me.  I’m just here to help.”  She’d seen many young women in this position before.  They’re excited about a life of their own.  Their cars are no longer parked in their parent’s garages.  Their curfew is whenever they start yawning.  And sometimes they underestimated their own vulnerability.

            The girl struggled to control her breathing and the doctor could see the questions rising in her with fear and guilt.

            “Do you think I’m killing it?” the girl asked.

“I don’t know what…”

            “Do you think it has a soul?” she clarified.  She needed an answer.  The doctor just happened to be the only other thing in the room with a pulse at that moment.  Were she not there the girl might be asking the tongue depressors or her own pile of clothes like it was a mirror.

            “I think…” the doctor started, choosing her words like steps on a tightrope, “that there’s no way to know.  If souls do exist though… we have no way of knowing what they want.  Maybe this life tears them from their loved ones elsewhere.”

            The humans succeeded in comforting each other.  The warmer their conversation grew, the less they resembled the blueprints framed on the wall.

 

Antelife

 

            Amnio soared through the blackness on her blue jay’s wings.  A great chasm ten trillion lifetimes wide stretched out before her, sparsely populated with Neofate buildings and the dangerous, mesmerizing, colorful Blooms.  She looked down at the swarms of Blooms beneath her, some pink and some blue: a label for what kind of Neofate they would kill.  Being female, Amnio had to be wary of pink Blooms.  There was little to worry about at the moment though, she flew so far above them and so quickly that they could not catch up to her.

            Their numbers continued to swell.  Soon there was a sea of internally lit rippling spheres beneath her, all wandering around in search of prey.

            Who throws a celebration at a time like this? Amnio thought while staring at the swarm of Blooms.  She had the vague sense that some were staring back; the kind of feeling that would make the hairs on her neck stand, if Neofates had hair.  Her blue jay Phenotype did allow her to grow a thin layer of blue feathers from her scalp, but most of the others were balder than newborns.  With the feathers and wings came a long beak and sharp claws on her feet.

            A few ships passed by her, their passengers waving from the transparent parts of their vessel.  She noticed that Aradox’s ship design had become the standard.  Everyone now traveled in clam-shell shaped vehicles with the top half made into a viewing dome.  Another one passed by silently.  One of its passengers mimed a question to Amnio.

            Amnio shook her head from side to side.  The passenger shrugged and the ship sped away.  Everyone always stopped to ask if she wanted a ride.  It would be callous not to offer help to a Neofate flying unprotected through areas in Bloom.  Only her brothers and sisters with bird, bat, or fish Phenotypes understood; sometimes she just needed to fly.  It was an instinct carried over from her previous life.  If her feet touched the ground for too long they started to sting.

            The silhouette of a hovering structure revealed itself.  With nothing to light the obsidian-like surfaces of their buildings other than the faint glow from Blooms, it was sometimes very difficult to see them before colliding with their side.  The ships that passed Amnio turned on their sides and docked with the building, the clear sections fusing to the wall and creating an entrance.  Amnio spread her wings wide to slow down and gripped the black surface with her talons.  She placed one hand on the cool stone and commanded it, in the silent pure authority of Neofate Focus, to open.

            A tiny depression formed in the stone, and then it widened and deepened until she could slip inside.  The hole closed behind her, keeping the building sealed from the Blooms outside.  Amnio retracted her Phenotype: her beak turned back into a nose and mouth, her translucent blue feathers vanished into her arms, and her claws became rounded pale toes.

            The new Amnio was greeted by a clamoring din the likes of which she’d never heard.  When her friends Zygo and Geneda invited her to a party she had never suspected such a spectacle.  Everyone was acting hideous, like the humans who made the Blooms so much more dangerous with their reckless intellects.  The fountain that acted as the centerpiece of her friend’s home was now frothing violently instead of flowing peacefully.  Neofates stood in its basin and splashed each other playfully.  The synthetic water had been replaced by some new fluid that sparkled like it had flakes of copper in it.  One of the splashers reached down, scooped some up with his hands and drank it.  Streaks of it flowed down both sides of his face.  The entire floor was slippery with the copper drink, causing several partygoers to slip and hit their heads on the floor as they grabbed at each other.  Red dishes were being passed around, drunk from, and broken against the wall both accidentally and on purpose.

            Unable to comprehend the mess, Amnio’s first response was to clean up a little.  She held her hand out towards some of the sharp broken dish fragments and made them vanish.  Then she dried a path across the floor and waded into the chaos.  Giggling fools bumped and jostled her the entire way.  She could feel some of the impacts starting to bruise already.  Being between realities, Neofate flesh tended to be more delicate than sponge cake.  Amnio noticed bruises on many of the partiers, which gave the crowd a crop of sore purple leopard spots.

            Something was very wrong here. A normal celebration entailed the quiet sipping and chewing of new synthetic concoctions.  There was conversation and readings from scrolls, books, and tablets of synthetic crystal and wood.  Perhaps a few coordinated friends would unite their Focus and create an aurora light show for everyone to marvel at quietly.  I can’t hear myself think, Amnio thought.  Her head was beginning to pound.  Why is everyone acting so strange?

            A male Neofate, flushed with his lynx Phenotype, reached out a paw-like hand and grabbed her shoulder. 

            “Dance with me!” he ordered, his pointed and tufted ears twitching erratically.  Intoxicated by whatever poison had turned this crowd of normally intelligent beings into a pit of headbutting buffoons, the lynx Fate did not realize his claws tore through the straps of Amnio’s black shirt and cut her skin.

            Amnio ducked and spun away.  With her Focus turned into a laser point by hot anger, she was able to create a baton out of thin air and strike the fool on the shoulder, sending him to the wet floor.  Amnio dropped the baton and examined her wound.  Sometimes she still expected these things to bleed but, of course, it did not.  The pain was there, and the lines were there, but nothing flowed.  She pushed the pain to the back of her mind and brought her Focus back to the baton.  Her will lifted it into the air, stretched it and softened it into bandage-like strips of black fabric, and then wrapped it around her shoulder to both repair her shirt and protect her wound.  I have to stop this, she thought.

            She climbed into the fountain and hopped from layer to layer until she was at the very top, where she could scan the entire chamber for her friends.  Perhaps they had been eaten alive by their own festivities, because there was no sign of them.  She saw Fates moving in and out of their Phenotypes as they shuffled between drinking games and pockets of random laughter.  Someone with a ram Phenotype had her spiral horns tangled in the fabric of a mural that had gained several holes since the party started.  For a moment Amnio’s eyes rested on a Neofate she’d never seen before.  He stood on top of a pedestal with a crowd around him holding their hands out.  His Phenotype must have been some kind of mammal, because his head and arms were covered in thick reddish hair.  He had a pair of fangs that made his smile seem dangerous, as if the sound of his laughter could stab you like the poisonous barbs of some exotic fish.  He wore nothing but a small pair of blue shorts.  Geysers of the copper drink gushed from both his hands.

            “Everyone make a bowl!” he shouted at his worshippers.  The Neofates below him closed their eyes and tried to form bowls in their hands.  Some of them succeeded in pulling the objects out of thin air but others were too drugged to accomplish the simple feat of Focus; the shapes they created were warped and lumpy, like the pottery creations of children. 

            Amnio watched as the crazed Fate leaned down and poured fluid into the bowls, hands, and open mouths of everyone beneath him.

            “Amnio!  You made it!” Someone exclaimed.  Amnio turned to see her friend Geneda, who had climbed up to the top of the fountain with her.  Her eyes were half-closed and hazy.  Without pupils or irises, Neofate eyes were usually just bright splashes of color, but Geneda’s looked faded and thin like an old wet pair of socks.  There was a green glass vessel in her hand, which she took a huge swig from.  “Ammy my dear you must try some of Qynox’s drink! There’s life in every drop!”  She refilled her glass from the fountain and held it out to her horrified friend.

            “Have you gone mad?” Amnio blurted.  “What is this poison?”

“It’s not poison.  It’s alcohol!  Qynox figured out how to make it!  Now we can really live, without being alive.”

            “Alcohol…” Amnio whispered, stunned.  “This isn’t like you Geneda.  You know these distractions will hurt our cause.  Look how vulnerable everyone is,” she said and gestured to the raucous sea beneath them.  “Where’s Zygo?” she asked.  Surely his clear head hadn’t succumbed to such temptations.

            “He’s… hmm… I know my boy is around here somewhere.”  Geneda’s hand slipped from the fountain as she searched for her mate.  Amnio managed to catch her by the arm and pull her back up.

            “Oh there he is!  Zygo! Sweetie! Up here!” Geneda dropped her glass into the fountain and waved.  Amnio followed her stare down and across to Zygo, who appeared to be asleep but was still moving.  He was passed out on his back, with his crowd of guests holding him up and passing him around like a tray of hors d’oeuvres.  His dreams must have been very peaceful because he rolled over onto his side and paid no attention to the hands on his cheeks and forehead.

            “See, you’re the only one not having any fun,” Geneda sneered.  “Have some.”

“Absolutely not,” Amnio barked.  The pounding in her head was growing worse and her throat felt very dry.  A quick sip of synthetic water would help her keep calm, so she opened her hand up and stared into her palm.  With a burst of Focus, the depression of her hand filled up with crystal clear water... or rather the closest thing Neofate Focus had so far composed from the nothingness.  She tipped her hand into her mouth and closed her eyes to welcome the refreshing liquid.  Unfortunately, she failed to notice as it changed a coppery color before sliding down her throat.

            “Ack!” She choked.  The taste was a sour burn, like downing charred lemon rinds.  The shock of it made Amnio lose her grip and splash into the basin below.  More of the alcohol hit her eyes and set her whole world ablaze.  It felt like she wept tears of Greek fire.

            “I don’t understand,” she muttered between coughs.  “I made water.  I don’t even know how to…”

            “Qynox did it,” Geneda giggled as she hopped down, splashed, and helped her friend to her feet.  “He made it so every fluid in our home becomes his concoction.”

            “I have to…” Amnio said, teetering.  At first she couldn’t tell if her head was spinning from the fall or the gulp of toxin, but the answer became apparent when the sensation didn’t fade.  “One sip…” she muttered, leaning on the similarly unsteady Geneda.

            “Yeah,” Geneda said with a stupid grin.  “It’s one sip for everybody.  I don’t think we could ever build up a tolerance for this.”

            “This needs to… to stop,” Amnio said and did her best to stand on her own.  The clearest thing in her mind now was the feeling of dread.  Something dark was approaching, or perhaps already here; weaving its way between the shuffling feet like a miasmic vapor.  Only one of them could calm such a place.  Aradox.  She needed to reach Aradox.  That meant flying back across the sea of Blooms with alcohol slowing her, perhaps even sending her off course.

            She broke away from Geneda and retreated to the nearest wall, ignoring her friend’s pleas for her to stay.  She pressed her hands and forehead against the black wall and hoped for the delicate coolness of stone.  Instead she got the warmth of a hundred bodies buzzing around each other.  Escaping this place would be a relief, even if she was immediately surrounded by Blooms.

            The fog in her head made it incredibly difficult to Focus, which meant the wall didn’t immediately give way; instead it stretched like dough until it silently ripped open and released her.  She was careful to keep hold of the wall and make sure it sealed properly.  Her people had made a serious lapse in judgment, but that did not mean they deserved to be killed by a stream of Blooms trickling in from a hole she forgot to close.

            Amnio pushed off from the wall and stretched her arms wide.  She immediately fell, arms twisting and flapping out of sync.  You forgot your Phenotype! Amnio cursed herself.  She took a deep breath, stretched back out into a bird-like pose, and grew her wings.  Now which way am I going? She thought.  The toxin blurred her vision as if she’d just woken from a long sleep and wiped the dust from her eyes.  Where was the building she had just left?  Over there? No.  Maybe?  It couldn’t be far.  All of a sudden tears were streaming from her face.  They had no blood, but Neofates never lost the ability to weep.

            How could I let this happen?  He’ll be so disappointed…  A few worries more pressing than those broke away from the sea beneath her and started to follow.  Three pink Blooms silently pursued her, doing their best to stay out of her line of sight.  With no eyes, ears, or nose, it was impossible to determine how they followed her trail, and yet they did relentlessly.  Blooms never showed any desire to communicate.  They had no culture of their own.  Whatever life they had was composed of idling until they picked up a whiff of a Neofate.  Then, what intellect they had became a tool meant only to unite the two bodies.  To a Neofate, seeing such a union was seeing death; like being human and watching fellow soldiers gasp before flying away from parts of their own bodies.  A union of Bloom and Neofate was an unholy assault: both rape and murder.  One touch and Amnio would be sucked into the Bloom and eaten whole.  Then the Bloom would become still and shrink out of existence.  Her mind, her soul, would be erased while the energy of her life was converted.  She would be reborn on Earth, the hearth of suffering.

            Amnio still struggled to get her bearings.  There were no stars to base maps on or magnetic fields to draw compass needles.  Everyone had to rely on their memories to find home again.  If they couldn’t… then they would be trapped out in the open until consumed. 

            She glanced behind her, looking for landmarks, and saw the pack of Blooms closing in.  Horror constricted her heart like a python on a blind squeaking mouse.  Terror made her body feel slow, that horrible dream sensation when a runner feels trapped in ankle deep mud. 

            The Blooms diverged in order to surround her from three different angles.  They’re human, she realized.  Too smart not to be.  The one on her left suddenly shot towards her with a burst of speed.  Amnio rolled upside down to avoid its tackle and circled back into an upright position.  The energy coming off of it was sickening.  Just having one of those things near her skin made it crawl and itch like a crab ready to ditch its old shell.  The one on the right arced up and then dive bombed.  She dodged again with a glide to the left.  Even with the alcohol dimming her lights, Amnio was still an excellent flyer.  You can’t dodge forever, she thought.  Use your Focus.

            As much as it pained her, Amnio closed her eyes.  She concentrated on the image of a net.  White strands of rope, born from her idea, weaved themselves together beneath her soaring body.  When the object was ready she ordered the net to fire itself at one of the Blooms.  Her creation responded enthusiastically, opening wide like a spider web and launching toward the Bloom behind her.  Upon impact it wrapped around the orb, causing it to sink and spiral back into the crowd of lights far below.

            Amnio’s headache intensified twofold after the mental exertion.  It was now like a great ogre in her head was sharpening its teeth on the surface of her mind.  Gaaaaah! I can’t do that again, she noted.  She briefly forgot how many of them were still chasing her and tried to concentrate on her destination.  This felt like the right way, but there was no way of knowing how far the alcohol corrupted her sense of direction.  She flew on, ignoring the bells in her head and the monsoon of fear.  She flew for twenty more minutes, constantly dodging the advances of the Blooms.  As her feathers started to droop, the orbs showed no signs of tiring.  Whatever infernal battery powered them, it was stronger than Amnio’s.  No, it’s not stronger.  I’m stronger.  Pain is my plaything.  Chaos is just a breeze.  My Focus is eternal.  She repeated many of Aradox’s bits of wisdom over and over again to both narrow her Focus and raise her spirit.  She was the lover of Aradox: wisest of Neofates.  She could not be bested by a little poison and a pair of Blooms.  He would never share a bed with someone weak enough to fall to that.

            The two orbs came in simultaneously from opposite directions.  Amnio held her wings close to her body and spiraled down to avoid them.  The collision of the spheres sounded like two rotten pumpkins smashing into each other.  Unfortunately, it only slowed them for a second.

            Doesn’t matter, Amnio thought.  I’m home.  The silhouette of a building emerged from the shadows behind it.  It appeared much sooner than a normal building would because Aradox had covered their home in a layer of synthetic light-colored crystal bubbles.  How he created these things she would never understand, but she’d never been gladder to see them. 

            Amnio flapped frantically to close the gap.  Her efforts weren’t necessary, because Aradox’s newest idea demonstrated its power.  Two crystal bubbles detached from the top of the cylinder that was their home and briefly spiraled around each other before colliding and releasing a very unusual sound.  It was incredibly loud, yet gentler than falling feathers.  It was a sound of will and joy, like the toll of a bell celebrating the kiss of a newlywed couple beneath it.  With the sound came a wave of white light that had no effect on Amnio, but forced the Blooms into retreat.

            Bless his beautiful mind, Amnio thought.  She watched as a portal opened in the wall to welcome her.  He had already anticipated her return.

 

            The interior of the cylinder was one of the greatest marvels in Neofate history.  Normally, decoration was sparse in a Fate home because of the Focus it takes to maintain each object.  Aradox’s Focus had reached such a level that this was no concern, so every chamber was filled with the colorful splashes of his various experiments.  Amnio stumbled through their synthetic garden, because she knew she would find her lover in his meditation room where he spent much of his time.

            The plants in the garden were not like those of Earth.  Aradox had been able to will them into a self-maintaining state, but little more than that.  They could not grow or reproduce.  Each one had to be lovingly crafted as a seed, planted in the back of a Neofate imagination, and then fertilized by a rain of calming thoughts for several days before it could be brought into a physical shape.  Aradox had tried to teach Amnio the technique, but she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it.  The tiniest twisted sprouts between the healthier plants were hers.      

            All of the leaves were translucent like glass and if you looked closely you could see bubbles of water moving around inside them.  While most Fates could pull synthetic food out of the air, the fruits and vegetables from Aradox’s plants tasted better than anything else off Earth.  His synthetic peaches weren’t very sweet, but their red flesh contained an abundance of refreshing juice.  His transparent watermelons were light and delicious, even if they did occasionally float away like balloons.

            Normally the garden would calm Amnio, but she was too distracted by worry.  What if this intoxication is permanent?  What If I’m stuck as a stumbling slurring fool?  I won’t be of any use… I might as well let a human Bloom take me so I can claim my rightful place as a bawling, selfish, blood-filled, deluded meat pocket on Earth.

            She used her talons to ascend a mighty synthetic tree whose branches grew into the floor of one of their home’s upper levels.  The bars of the ornate metal gate separating the garden from the meditation chamber unwound and vanished into the wall like silent burrowing worms.  She could see a great fluid shape in the middle of the room.  Like an upside down raindrop, the blue shape spun clockwise and shimmered like the surface of an ocean devoid of even the tiniest grain of silt.  In the bulbous end of the shape, Aradox sat with his legs and arms crossed and his eyes closed.  The flow of the synthetic water spun him around in all directions, like he was rolling inside a giant marble.  Only one part of his Phenotype, two rows of gills along his ribs, was active.  He wore only a small pair of shorts.

            Amnio took a moment to marvel at him.  He was lean like all Neofates, but somehow more substantial.  It was like he was comfortable in this temporary form and never worried about the possibility that he could be forced out of it.  His eyes were a splash of gray-blue that went well with his smile, which regularly melted Amnio’s sense of composure.  Sometimes, when he was deep in Focus, the countershading of his Phenotype would appear on his skin, making his front side white and his back very dark.  That was the way she thought of him most often, with a bright forward-facing energy and a shield of darkness on his back to protect him from the heartlessness of the various plains of existence.

            “Aradox,” she whimpered when she meant to exclaim.  Her lover’s eyes opened wide.  The water ceased all motion and quickly turned to fog, gently sliding Aradox onto his feet and leaving the chamber empty except for the new clouds near the ceiling.  She reached out to him only to have her ordeal catch up to her.  Dazed and fatigued, she sank and lolled backwards.  Aradox managed to catch her and lower them both into kneeling positions.

            “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I’m poisoned.  I’m sorry… I tried not to drink any but there was… a Fate.  He’s… We need to…”

            “Stay calm, my love.  Organize your mind.  I need only the important words.  What poison?”

            “Alcohol,” she sobbed.  Aradox’s surprise was obvious.  His grip on her grew tighter, like he was afraid she would melt out of his hands.

            “I hoped that impossible.  Who made this?”

“Qynox.”

            “I don’t know the name…”

“I failed you.  I failed and now my body has paid the price,” Amnio cried out and buried her face in his chest.

            “You made it back alive!  You could not have succeeded more.”  Aradox held up his hand.  A floor down, a fruit that looked like an orange pear made of permafrost detached from its branch and flew up to the two Neofates.  He wrapped her hands around it.  “Eat this.  It should help.”

            Amnio dug into it voraciously.  She swallowed great mouthfuls that threatened to choke her but she did not stop until her face and the floor were covered in juice and there was nothing left of the fruit but a stem and a few shreds of its skin. 

            “I suppose it’s a good thing you didn’t chew; there was a very tough pit in their somewhere,” Aradox joked.  Amnio let out a small belch and covered her mouth with both hands.

            “Arrie I didn’t mean to I just…”

“Relax,” he urged her and stroked her shoulders.  “When are you going to learn to be yourself around me? Stop treating me like a god.”

            “But you are like one,” she countered, the evidence of her claim racing through her flesh.  The lull of the alcohol faded quickly.  Her vision grew clear enough for her to see the puddle of juice she sat in.  Aradox spoke as she used her Focus to dry it up and erase the remaining pulpy bits of fruit coating her cheeks.

            “Not even close.  If I was, you never would’ve been in harm’s way,” he said.

“Harm has won this day,” Amnio said as they stood.  “Geneda’s party is chaos.  Everyone’s drunk.  If we don’t go back someone’s going to get hurt.”

            “Of course.  I’ll go and see what I can do.  You stay and rest.”

“No,” Amnio said stubbornly.  “You’re not going in there without me watching your back.”

            Aradox surveyed her bruises and scratches and stared deep into her eyes.  His mind seemed locked in conflict for several seconds.  “Were you chased back here by Blooms?” he asked pointedly.

            “Yes,” she answered.  “They were human.  Your new security system stopped them though.  I’m fine to go back out now that you’ve cleared my head.”

            “They’re getting more aggressive aren’t they?” Aradox asked.

“As you predicted,” Amnio pointed out.  “If we keep locking their food source inside impenetrable buildings and they keep multiplying… of course they’ll be desperate.  It means everything we’re doing is working.  We’re beating them.”

            “I don’t think there’s anything to beat,” Aradox said.  “They’re not evil Amnio.  You’d do well to remember that.  They’re just ingredients in a natural cycle.  Metaphysical gametes that are driven by the laws of reality to find their other half and become a life on Earth.”

            “But they’re intelligent,” Amnio argued.  “And they don’t care that when they absorb us… they kill us.”

            “They erase our minds and use the clean slate of energy to become a higher animal on Earth, yes.  But intelligence is a new phenomenon.”

            “What… what are you saying?” Amnio asked, feeling like Aradox was about to pull her by the hand into a deep trench filled with capricious and powerful monsters.

            “It’s something I’ve just come to during my meditation,” Aradox explained.  His voice grew softer as he closed his eyes and described the things he’d seen minutes before while exploring the boundaries of Antelife with his mind.  “Our struggles… Our ability to create matter with our Focus is a side effect of intelligence.  Intelligence that I suspect we Neofates did not have several thousand years ago.”

            “Why would we suddenly get smarter?” Amnio asked.

“The human population,” he said.  “As their minds grew in complexity, so too did their energy.  When they die and that energy is dumped back into Antelife, it has to go somewhere.”

            “Into us?” Amnio recoiled a little.  Now she felt like those capricious monsters were squirming parasites under her skin.

            “Yes I think so.  For most of history we’ve been only as intelligent as our Phenotypes… as our last forms on Earth before we were dumped back into this recycling bin.  As the number of humans grows, so too does the aether of soul that gives us our Focus.  And of course, any Blooms that are destined to be human will have a greater capacity to learn.”

            “So… we will be able to hold the Blooms off forever won’t we?  The humans grow more numerous every day.  Every Fate tossed back to Antelife is wiped of their former self but they remember some of their time on Earth.  They all say the humans breed like rabbits and fight like apes.”

            “While it’s true that we will keep our intelligence as long as there are a significant number of humans on Earth, the new heights their numbers are reaching may be our downfall.”

            “Why does there have to be a downfall at all?” Amnio asked in a pathetic voice, knowing not even Aradox had a satisfactory answer.

            “It’s just nature my sweet.  It is nature that drives the humans to procreate.  It is nature that makes their Blooms so dangerous.  And it is nature that produced this Qynox character.”

            “He was very strange,” she interjected. “I think his Phenotype was some primate… chimp or orangutan maybe.  He displayed it proudly and frighteningly.  And he was the only one there who seemed to know what he was doing.”

            “Let’s get going then and see if we can’t settle this,” he said and placed his fingertips against his temples.  Midnight blue strips of cloth appeared and wrapped around his torso, forming a thin shirt.  A few thicker, gray, rope-like pieces wrapped around his ankles and the middle of his foot to form an open sort of shoe.

            “Are we taking a ship?” Amnio asked.

“No.  It’ll be quicker with our Phenotypes.  Are you sure you have the energy for this?”

            “Yes love,” she smirked.  “I know I’ve only spent four years in Antelife to your three hundred, but I can always handle flying.”

            The two of them moved out to an empty exiting bay and used their Focus to open a door back into the void.  Amnio sprouted her wings, beak, and claws.  The blue jay inside her tweeted enthusiastically as if the door of the bird cage had just swung open.  She looked over at Aradox.  He spread his arms wide and a huge triangle of bluish skin expanded from each of his arms, almost completely hiding his hands.  A short pair of fleshy extensions grew from the side of his head like a new pair of ears.  His countershading came out in full force and he sprouted a long but very thin tail.

            “Off we go,” he said and launched outward.  Amnio eagerly followed.  The void of Antelife was a peculiar medium that took to most kinds of locomotion quite well.  Amnio was able to fly through it like her past life through Earth’s air, and Aradox could glide through it as well as his last living form, a manta ray, could through the ocean.

            The two had actually met mid-flight three years ago.  Just as Amnio had an itch to fly, Aradox occasionally needed to glide effortlessly around with his silent and majestic fins.  He would never admit this to anyone, but when he did so he often got the urge to open his mouth wide and taste the rich oil of plankton again.

            They had nearly collided those years ago, missing each other by inches.  In the near-accident there was a split second where they passed by face-to-face.  The void seemed to grow even emptier as the two felt like all of life was either in one of them or the other.  Then Aradox had invited her back to his home, then a very small black boulder of a building that was barely big enough for the both of them.  It was there, huddled against each other and nuzzling, that they discussed Antelife.  Aradox had shared with her his dream to end suffering.

            It was a dream that had seemed within reach.  Once the Neofates had learned to create matter from nothing they were safe from the Blooms.  It gave them time without fear, which they could use to expand their minds and powers.  Every death on Earth birthed a scared and innocent Neofate as well as a Bloom in the Antelife.  Most Fates were quickly snapped back up by roaming Blooms to be erased and reborn, but one in every dozen eluded them long enough to be rescued by an older Neofate that could escort them to the safety of a building.

            Only Aradox, Amnio, and a few especially talented others truly grasped what was at stake.  They were upsetting the natural order by denying the Blooms their food source.  Eventually one force would buckle under the pressure of the other.  Either the Neofates would crack the codes of time and space and end death in all realities, or the Blooms would literally fill Antelife to bursting and tear a great rift into another plane.

            Things had gotten much worse at Geneda’s in the short time Amnio had been gone.  As the two of them approached, they noticed a great fountain of color underneath the building, crashing against its black sides like waves on rock.  Every few seconds, a flesh-colored needle dropped from the top of the building and got swallowed up by a droplet of color.  Amnio’s mind refused to grasp what was happening for a moment.  A memory from her Phenotype tried to make the scene harmless.  As a blue jay she had seen a smiling, laughing family feed bread crumbs to a crowd of ducks.  The children squeezed with their chubby little palms and drizzled the bread onto the birds playfully.  Surely that was what she was seeing now.  The things dropping had to be synthetic food.  The alternative was too ghastly.  But there was only one thing to feed in the void… and they were very picky eaters.

            “No!” Aradox roared in a tone Amnio had never imagined could come out of such a gentle being.  The sound filled her with shame.  How dare her mind try and butter over this massacre with a warm memory?  If he faced it, then she had to as well.

            The top of Geneda’s building had opened up into a sort of funnel with several diving boards hanging out at odd lengths and angles like storm-blown planks.  Drunken Neofates were taking turns walking out to the edge, giggling madly, shouting unintelligibly, and then willingly dropping into the swarm of Blooms.  Some dove straight down.  Others tried cannonballing or belly flopping to their demise.  There were no splashes or screams.  Their cries of adrenaline merely vanished in the instant they connected with a Bloom.

            “Amnio!” Aradox called.  She spun to face him, tears streaming down her face once again.  She was surprised to see the sadness in his eyes spilling over as well.  It mixed with his anger and gave him an agonized expression that could put all the cries of the tormented that waft up from the gates of Hell to shame.  “I need you to take the lead,” he said.  “I’ll hold them off while you close it back up.”

            She nodded in reply and swallowed hard.  That was a very tall order.  To close the entire top of the building in the space of a second without leaving any cracks or holes would take a tremendous amount of Focus.  There was no choice though.  It was one thing to fail, but an entirely different one to fail and see the immediate consequence of death speed at you like a hawk with wide, unblinking eyes.  If he believed in her, then she could do it.

            Amnio flew to the front and flapped powerfully to gain speed.  Fear was just a shadow flickering in candlelight at the moment, for she knew Aradox would keep the Blooms away.

            This was accomplished with a miniature version of his security system.  Aradox closed his eyes and created several pairs of crystals that followed alongside him.  Each crystal danced around its partner in a sort of excited orbit.  As they neared the swarm of Blooms and several started to break away and come straight for them, he fired the first pair.  The stones crackled against each other and finally exploded with the wave of light and sound that had saved Amnio earlier.  Every Bloom in range either flew away as fast as it could or sank dizzily back into the crowd.  Each time they regrouped Aradox released another pair and successfully cocooned them in vibrant fields of light.

            The two of them angled up, flying vertically against the side of the building to reach the top.  A suicidal Neofate dropped by them at high speed.  Aradox built a net with his Focus and caught the confused creature.  The Fate squirmed in the bag like a fish moments before being thrown on the grill.  The net tied itself around Aradox’s ankle and followed them up.  The last few crystals exploded behind them now, keeping the Blooms at bay.

            At last Amnio flew between two of the diving boards and got a close look at what the party had become.  The funnel shape of the open roof made it appear as if everyone were participating in some kind of gladiatorial game.  All the bodies were packed even tighter than before in the center, still dancing, thrashing, and shouting.  It was like someone had opened a drain in the middle of the room and everyone was scrambling over each other for a chance to drop into it.  Lastly she noticed a female Neofate, flushed with her soft-shelled turtle Phenotype, tiptoeing out to the edge of one of the boards.

            Aradox is already inside, she thought.  I don’t even need to turn around.  I know he’s right behind me.  I just need to concentrate.

            She swung in the air and delivered a spinning kick to the turtle Fate, knocking her away from the edge and back inside where she spun on her shell like a top.  This shape is closed, Amnio repeated to herself several times.  She landed on the floor and raised her hands in a great open gesture like she was closing a tome written by giants.  This shape is closed.  So says I.  This shape is closed.  So says I.  This shape is closed!  So says Amnio!

            Amnio clapped her hands together with such a thunderous sound it shocked even her.  Aradox was not surprised though.  She was so very young but she had enough heart to pull trains through trackless wastes.  The clap silenced everyone.  They all watched as five points of the funnel stretched upward, wrapped around each other, and settled back down, sealing them all inside a bud shaped chamber with a very high ceiling.

            Amnio gasped at her own strength.  Her heart was thrumming like it did in her last life, like a nervous little bird’s.  Aradox walked up next to her and put his hand on her shoulder.  He kicked his leg out, disintegrating the net and flinging the rescued Fate back into the crowd.  Silence hit the room for the first time all day.

            “What’s wrong everybody?” a voice shouted.  Qynox used the hand-like feet of his Phenotype to hop across the heads of guests and then pulled a structure like a dead tree out of the ground so he had something to hang from.  “Who closed the window?” he asked.  “The fresh air was so divine.”  He smiled his ape’s smile and scratched at his thick wiry sideburns.

            “Qynox I presume,” Aradox seethed.

“The one and only and finest and most fun, yes,” he replied.

            “Why do you trick your own kin into death?” Aradox shouted.

“Death?  Not death!  Life!  Life in all its glory.  Life: where you have something to lose.  Life: where food and drink practically crawls to you.  Life: where there is sex full of consequences, enemies burning with rage, gardens of purple swollen jealousy between the best of friends.  Where you can laugh while you bleed!”  The crowd roared in approval, waving their hands, hooves, fins, claws, and wings in the air.  A few of them used their Focus to explode small fireworks out of their hands, which looked worryingly like incendiary Blooms.

            “Qynox told us about your lies,” a member of the crowd said with his finger pointing at Aradox.  His speech was slurred, but it bothered no one as they all spoke the same language of inebriation.  “He set us straight,” the Fate said ironically as he teetered on his feet.  “We shouldn’t fight the Blooms.  They’re natural!  They can save us from this nothingness and take us back to real happiness.”

            “Real happiness,” Aradox countered with such authority that it made some of the Fates recoil and slink to another layer of the crowd.  “Life is where everyone loses their mind.  It’s where beings get so caught up in their fears and their greed that they sacrifice progress for fleeting moments of carnal pleasure.”

            “Carnal pleasures like meat!” Qynox said, stretching the last word into a sort of drum roll.  “Why is it Aradox that there is no meat in Antelife?  Everyone talked so highly of you I thought you must have mastered that by now.  I know you can make all kinds of plants but where’s the flesh?  Those of us with carnivorous Phenotypes are desperate for some fresh blood but you do nothing to help us.”

            “Neofates do not need to eat,” Amnio said.  She tried to not think about the cravings she often had for fresh crunchy grasshopper.

            “But we want to!” Qynox exclaimed.  “And that is the point!  We should get what we want!  Isn’t that right everybody?”  The crowd lit up again, like a puddle of fuel with a match flicked into it.  A random partier pulled a stringed instrument out of the air and started playing it.  Aradox reached out his hand and turned it to dust.

            “You’re not winning any converts with behavior like that,” Qynox chastised.

“Have you all forgotten our goal?  If we protect ourselves… if we keep calm, collected, and rational, we can unite everything.  We can subvert the codes of the gods and end suffering.  This time of self-control is but a small sacrifice in the face of what we can achieve!”  Aradox pleaded.

            “Sacrifices are for the damned!” Qynox bellowed.  He made the tree-like shape grow, spread, and twist so he could climb to an even higher branch and scream into the high ceiling, which obliged him with an echo.  “We are eternal!”

            “Your energy is eternal but you are not,” Aradox corrected.  “The moment you merge with a Bloom everything from your opinions to your memories is erased.  How is that not death?”

            Qynox puffed his cheeks out and rolled his eyes mockingly.  The crowd giggled.  Amnio reached out with her Focus and broke the branch Qynox hung from.  He merely cackled and hopped to another one before his old perch hit the ground and shattered like glass.

            “Tell me wise Aradox,” he said, ignoring Amnio’s obvious rage.  “Why is it that only the death of higher animals creates Fates and Blooms?  Why do none of us have Phenotypes for bugs or jellyfish hmm?  Everyone here is a fish, amphibian, bird, reptile, or mammal.”

            “I suspect it’s intelligence,” Aradox said slowly, unsure of where Qynox was trying to lead him.

            “Half right, which I guess makes you half-wise… as if that’s good for anything,” Qynox sneered.  “The smarts are just the tool.  Fun is what creates us.  Fun is our eternal energy.  All those poor beetles just can’t have fun.”

            “Even if that were true, what would be your point?”

“My point is that you can turn anything into fun if you try hard enough.  Pain can be fun.  Suffering is just joy soured and moldered by a bit of fear.  We just need to cut loose!  Have some drink!  Slay some beasts!  Lay some foolhardy females… and some males too for good measure!  I just want everyone to have as much fun as I’m having.”  Qynox smiled again, yellow fangs glimmering.

            “The fun stops here.” Aradox declared and raised one hand.  There was a sound like compressed air hissing out of a tank, then a great disc of orange vapor, the same color as the fruit he had fed Amnio, expanded from his palm.  The gas descended into the crowd where everyone breathed it in.  The effects came swiftly.  Most of the guests hid their Phenotypes and quieted.  Amnio was relieved to see Geneda and Zygo still in the crowd.  The goblets and bowls melted into puddles and dried into a crust.  The fountain stopped flowing.

            Once the orange mist faded away, Amnio could see realization creeping onto the sea of faces.  A female Neofate screamed, “Nompix?  Where is my Nompix?”

            “Dead,” Aradox said callously, perhaps more callously than he should have.  The Fate broke down in tears and dropped to her knees.  The sight softened Aradox’s face and voice.  “I’m sorry everyone, but Qynox has taken advantage of you.  He urged you into the Blooms when you weren’t yourselves.  He poisoned you.”

            The combined needles of Focus from every Fate turning their hatred towards Qynox instantly shattered his tree.  He landed on his back with a painful whoof sound.  He performed a quick backward somersault and was back on his feet.

            “You just needed a little push,” Qynox said and took a few steps backward.  The group of Fates began to close in around him.  “Come now, have you already forgotten what fun it was?”

            “I notice you didn’t take the plunge,” Amnio said.

“Well how can I?  I’ve lived countless lives little Amnio.  The Blooms don’t seem to like the smell of me anymore.  I reek of something that’s far too alive.  But you…  I have no problem lending a hand to all of you.”  Qynox turned and held out his palms like he was pushing an invisible cart.  His Focus blasted out the back wall with incredible force. Qynox hopped onto his hands and spun his feet in the air, sending out blasts of Focus that tore holes in the roof.  The chamber returned to chaos as the walls crumbled.  Blooms poured in.

            They were waiting just outside the walls, Amnio realized.  We’re all dead.  Her dark thoughts began coming true as the Blooms swallowed up more guests.  Screams filled the air.  Many of them were instantly cut off, sealed away behind the glowing skin of their predators.  Amnio returned to her Phenotype and rose into the air to both escape and gain a better perspective.  Her first objective was to find Aradox, so she scanned the room for his distinctive manta ray wings.  Why doesn’t he use more crystals? She fretted.  Where’s the white light?  Where is he…

            A red blur soared past her.  “Geneda!” Amnio cried.  The blur stopped and turned to face her.  Geneda was flushed with her cardinal Phenotype, brilliant, red, transparent feathers making her look like a mirage phoenix.  “Where’s Aradox?”

            “I don’t know,” Geneda shouted back, flapping erratically to stay in the air.  “Zygo’s building a ship as we speak, come with us! We must leave!”

            “Not without Aradox!” she yelled back, her beak adding an angry trill to the words.  Geneda flew off and down a black corridor, leaving her friend to face the threat.  Just as Amnio turned back, a Bloom struck her… and passed right through.  It was blue.  It would only accept male prey… regardless, for a moment her head had been inside the nasty thing.  Her eyes had been filled with the otherworldly blue of a half-life seeking completion.  The sensation was deeply disturbing.  She felt like all the tears stored inside her had turned into metal pellets, like tiny pieces of her had randomly petrified.  She plummeted out of the sky.  The floor of the chamber, cracked but still in one piece, rushed towards her.  Maybe I’ll just die before a Bloom catches me.  Maybe I’ll crack my head open.  What happens to me then?

            Aradox caught her before she could find out.  He glided to the floor and slid across it with her wrapped in his blanket-like fins.

            “My love,” she whispered in shock.  “The... crystals.  Use the crystals.”

“I can’t.  There’s too much of their energy left in this air from last time.  They won’t spark,” he explained.

            “What do we do?”

“We leave.”

            “So soon?” a third voice declared.  Qynox flew through the air and kicked Aradox with both feet.  Amnio slid out of his arms and to the floor as he tumbled backwards.  “The party’s just starting,” Qynox said.  Several Blooms surrounded the ape Neofate as if to consume him, but the blue spheres just passed through him like he wasn’t there.  Impossible, Amnio and Aradox thought simultaneously.

            “How?” Aradox asked in awe.

“Beats me,” Qynox shrugged.  “I wish they would take me.  I’d like nothing more than to go back to Earth.  If I can’t go… I’m going to make Antelife as much like Earth as I can.  I’ll fill it with laughter, war, orgasms, vomit, booze, and weakness.  It’ll be a grand old time.  Like a Mesozoic frat party!  Like mating season in falling Rome!”

            “We won’t let you!” Amnio screamed.  She would have screamed more if Qynox hadn’t hopped over to her and kicked the air out of her with a strike to her stomach.  She flapped madly, hitting her wing tips on the floor, to get far enough back to recover.  A pink Bloom nearly took her, but another unlucky Fate stumbled in front of her and was swallowed.

            Aradox barreled at Qynox and swung at him with his fins.  Although a full force slap could send someone across the room, Aradox was tired.  His fins wavered like paper in the wind and bent as Qynox blocked each blow.  The ape Fate landed several punches with both hands and feet along Aradox’s jaw, neck, and chest.

            “Your Phenotype isn’t much of a brawler,” Qynox jested.

“I’ll just have to use another one,” Aradox said with a smile.  For once, Qynox looked confused.  The ape’s opponent withdrew his manta ray Phenotype, crossed his arms in Focus, and sprouted a new one.  A mane of silky black hair emerged from his head and crawled down his spine.  Black and white stripes grew across his arms and legs.  His fists and toes hardened into hoof-like shapes.

            “You’re cheating!” Qynox howled.  “No Fate has more than one Phenotype!”

“And no Fate is immune to Blooms,” Aradox said, his voice now thick and energetic like his new zebra form.  He rushed Qynox, feet clopping angrily.  Qynox tried to dodge but Aradox caught him with a shoulder tackle and pummeled him with newly hardened fists.  Things might have ended there but a blue Bloom dropped from above, eager to taste zebra.  Amnio pulled him back at the last moment, causing the Bloom to bounce off the floor harmlessly.

            Qynox took the opportunity to run, on all fours like a chimp, to the edge of the open chamber.

            “That’s a good trick,” he said.  “I’ll have to figure that one out.”

“You won’t be able to,” Aradox said definitively.  Qynox scowled, then scoffed, then threw himself into the void.  “Amnio,” Aradox said softly.  All of a sudden he looked very tired.  The zebra details faded away.  “Get us out of here.”

            “You don’t have to tell me twice,” she said and grabbed his shoulders with her feet, careful to not let her talons dig into him.  She took off and flew as swiftly as she could, leaving the overrun building behind.  A few hastily made ships joined them, their passengers trying not to look back at their mistakes.

            The lovers dozed in their home, suspended ten feet from the floor in a cocoon of synthetic cloths.  One piece hung from the ceiling, holding them in place like a pendulum string.  Their sleep was plagued by fanged faces fading in and out of their dreams.

            Amnio was the first to stir.  A few pieces of cloth unfurled like flower petals to free her head and torso.  She yawned and rubbed the residue of nightmares out of the corners of her eyes.  Then she leaned back down to listen to Aradox’s breathing and rub his chest.  He didn’t tell me about the zebra, she thought.  What else is he keeping from me? Could he and Qynox have something in common?  It struck her that her world was reaching a tipping point.  The support beams of reason were buckling under sudden traumatic miracles.  Blooms increasing in number and intelligence.  A Fate that is unpalatable to them… a Fate with two Phenotypes.  Maybe more.  Amnio gently pulled on one of Aradox’s ears to wake him.  He was clearly still drained from the battle with Qynox, but she had to know the truth.  For all she knew, his mind could be host to more than one soul, all of them taking turns as the one in charge.  The thought left her a little angry.

            His eyes opened slowly.  The cloth cocoon swirled and shifted, moving both of them into sitting positions.  They held hands and swung their feet in tandem, causing their new seat to swing back and forth.

            “So… where did the zebra come from?” she asked.

“The zebra is my Beta Phenotype.  Before I was a Neofate I was a ray. Before that, a Fate again.  Before that, a zebra.”

            “How do you know this?”

“It took countless hours of meditation.  It seems that deep within us, locked in chains forged in other planes, memories survive.”

            “Do you mean that we don’t actually die when Blooms take us?” Amnio asked excitedly.  That would mean no more fear.  No more hiding.  A little self-awareness could solve all of their problems.

            “I’m afraid not,” Aradox said, shooting down her hopes.  “While the memories of Earth lives are stored… the phases of the cycle still destroy everything else.  I haven’t bonded with my last Fate self or with the zebra whose Phenotype I channel.  They are gone.  All that’s left of them is scraps.  And these pieces do not regenerate or contain the whole of the being.  They’re just… ashes.”

            “So what were you before a zebra?  How far back does it go?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve only just begun my research into my Gamma Phenotype.  I believe it’s another mammal of some kind but that’s all I’ve got.”

            “And Qynox?” Amnio asked.  “Why is he immune to Blooms?”

“I have no idea,” Aradox conceded. “Perhaps we should just take him at his word and assume he’s lived so many lives that his energy has gone stale.  What?”

            Amnio was looking at him with wide eyes.  Their swinging feet were no longer synchronized.  The cloth swing shook in different directions and lost its back and forth pattern.

            ‘It’s just,” she said with her gaze now fixed squarely on her own knees, “I’ve never heard you so…”

            “Clueless?” Aradox guessed.

“Yes.”

            “When will you realize I’m not perfect Amnio?”

“I know you’re not, but you’re the closest thing the Fates have.  You’re Antelife’s greatest mind.”

            “My mind is Focused, but not greater than any other Fate’s.  I actually suspect yours to be stronger.”

            “What!?” Amnio gasped.  Her half of the cloth chair instantly unraveled and dropped her to the floor where she landed with a thud.  Swaths of red and blue fabric gently landed on her face and shoulders.  Aradox descended more gracefully, turning his half of the swing into a short cloak.  Amnio rose and made a ‘get your lazy butt off the floor’ gesture with her hands.  The cloths around her twitched, flew up, and made a rather messy looking outfit for her.  She might have made a joke, something along the lines of ‘What? This is what everyone’s wearing’, but she was still too perplexed.  “How could I be stronger?  I’m just…  I’m just a blue jay!”

            “That may be part of it.  Your Phenotype had a shorter lifespan than my last two.  A faster metabolism there could mean you’ve inherited a quicker mind here, one with more invested in each second.”

            “I can’t do half of the things you can,” she said.

“All you need is practice.  Do you remember our goal?”

            “Yes.  Unite Antelife and Earth.  End the pain, the death, and the Blooms.  A utopia.  Not something one can just snap their fingers and do.  Especially with fingers like these.”  Amnio’s hand morphed into a wing and she held it up to Aradox.

            “You’re going to be the one to do it,” he said slyly.

“All of a sudden I feel much heavier,” she said, raising a huge bubble-like cushion out of the ground to fall back on.  Aradox walked up to her leaning frame, stroked her cheek, and kissed her passionately.

            “You’re going to do it, because I can’t,” he said when their lips parted.  Amnio’s eyes, scared by this free fall of responsibility, darted back and forth.

            “Why can’t you?” she asked.

“Because I’m a male.”

            “So?”

“As close as I’ve come to the edges of Antelife during my meditation… I cannot break the barrier between planes.  I can feel it.  Make it bend.  Argue with it… but I can’t convince or force it do anything.  The energy radiating from it though… the emotions… are undoubtedly female.”

            “Are you saying there is a god?  And it’s a She?”

“No.  Possibly.  What I’m saying is that the force that controls both the creation and passage of life is female.  Only another female can bear the responsibility of changing it.  I suspect this is why female animals carry and birth the children.  They are somehow reflecting this force.  Only females can make these life choices.  And only a female can unite Earth and Antelife… like seed and egg.”

            “I guess I better start practicing…” Amnio said softly.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll guide you as far as I can.”

            “This will have to wait until we do something about Qynox though, right?” she asked.  Aradox cast his eyes down so minutely that only Amnio could’ve noticed.

            “I’m afraid not.  Your training should take priority.  Qynox would love it if we wasted precious time chasing him down.  He seeks to manipulate all our emotions, broil us in fear and frustration until we give in to the Blooms.  We cannot let him distract us.”

            “It’s not a distraction to save our friend’s lives,” Amnio argued.  She bounced back to her feet and popped the cushion behind her with an unintentionally loud bang.  “You heard what he said.  He’ll throw more of his parties.  Hypnotize our friends with poisons and convince them Antelife isn’t worth living.”

            “It’s partly the responsibility of each Neofate to monitor their own condition.  We can’t police their decisions.”

            “I’m not suggesting that, but we can’t just let him run wild.  Remember that he tricked me into drinking.  Was I a fool?”

            “Well… no Amnio.  We didn’t know about any of this.”

“There will always be Fates who don’t know,” she asserted.  “Qynox will always be scheming.  There is no permanent safeguard.”

            “You’re right,” Aradox conceded.

“So we’re going after him?” Amnio asked.

            “No.  I’ve invited some Fates here today who are willing to take up the task.  They should be here shortly.  They will fend off Qynox while I train you.”

            Amnio crossed her arms and walked away.  She had not suspected Aradox to suggest they hide like insects clinging to the undersides of leaves.  If they were so great, they should lead the fight.  She would be the judge of whether or not Aradox’s handpicked Fates were up to the task.

            Later that day, Amnio was putting some finishing touches on a new chamber.  The room had a series of hexagonal tiles as its floor, many of them higher and lower than the rest to create uneven terrain.  She had moved a few of Aradox’s synthetic saplings into the room, rooted them to the floor, and convinced them to grow to maturity.  Each of the three trees was now far too wide to wrap arms around and had icy-looking gray bark.  There was also synthetic grass about knee high coming out of the cracks between hexagons.  Every few seconds, a leaf silently fell to the floor.  Amnio twirled her finger in the air, building up a light breeze that would continuously circle around the room.

            Her choice in decoration for the sparring room had two advantages.  Firstly, it provided many unique structures and vantage points from which to attack.  She knew Qynox was not one to play fair, so anyone fighting him had to be ready to deal with any obstacle he built.  Secondly, this forest-like environment gave her a sort of home field advantage; it calmed the birdsong in her heart.  Her Phenotype’s battle readiness would receive a boost if it felt comfortable in the arena.  There’s no way they can beat me here, she thought as she plowed a streambed into the ground and filled it with synthetic water.  One last trick up her sleeve, Amnio used her Focus to pull down a large number of leaves from one of the trees.  She sent the leaves flying around her and dyed them all a ghostly blue.  Then she opened up a small pocket in the ground and buried the leaves.

            A few moments later, the black stone door to the forest chamber swung open.  Aradox entered first, with four other Neofates following behind.  Amnio sized them up as best she could.  One of them was a friend of Aradox’s she was already familiar with, named Theccary.  He was incredibly muscular for a Neofate and stood several inches taller than Aradox.  His expression was always somewhat humorless and miserable, as if he was born with thorns stuck in the soles of his feet.  She remembered that his Phenotype was a crested newt.

            The rest of the group was unfamiliar.  They were all male and quite large like Theccary.  One had a head of long gray hair, which meant he was partially expressing what had to be a mammalian Phenotype.  Amnio rolled her eyes, though many Fate women would swoon at the sight of such luxurious hair.  The other two were bald and stockier than the gray-haired one.  One of them had a sort of lips-glued-shut facial expression that indicated he rarely spoke.  The last one, who had a series of grid-like scars across his chest, was talking Aradox’s ear off with some tale of exaggerated heroism.  Only females can save the world, but apparently we’re not good enough to fight, Amnio thought.  The men came to a stop as they reached Amnio and the center of the three trees.

            “These are the Fates I told you about,” Aradox said.  “You remember Theccary.”  Theccary nodded towards her respectfully and she politely nodded back.  “This is Ignomadon,” he said and pointed at the silver-haired Fate, who then said he was delighted to meet her.  Aradox then introduced the silent Fate as ‘Gamazete’ and the talkative scarred one as ‘Socrome’.  “These are the Fates that will keep Qynox at bay.”

            “The males you mean,” Amnio said.

“I’m sorry?”

            “Nothing.  Can they fight?” She asked.

“Aradox told us you would insist on a test,” Ignomadon said.  “We’re ready for your worst.”

            “Let’s start with bad, there will be plenty of time to get to worse,” she said and sprouted her Phenotype.  She launched herself into the canopy and vanished in the leaves.

            “I guess she’s eager,” Aradox said with a chuckle.  “No sense in waiting.  The four of you against the two of us.  Go!”

            Aradox hopped backward and flexed his shoulders outward, practically bursting into his zebra form.  Their four opponents were quick on the draw as well, morphing into their Phenotypes quickly.  Theccary’s skin grew mottled and slimy while a folding sail of skin emerged from his spine and webbing bound his fingers together.  He sprouted a long tail, whose tip was pointed at Ignomadon.  Silver and black hair spread down from Ignomadon’s shoulders to cover his torso.  His face stretched into a short snout full of teeth and his hands and feet grew long, thick curved claws that looked perfect for digging.  A badger.  His new whiskers twitched in the direction of Gamazete who was halfway into his dogfish form.  His body became more streamlined and gills appeared on his neck.  His eyes widened, flattened, and lost their lids.  In them the reflection of Socrome could be seen as he finished transforming into a gliding snake shape.  Green and black scales covered him and his torso lengthened and flattened, with a row of ridged scales sticking out on either side.  A new forked tongue flicked in and out of his mouth.  He immediately broke off from his trio of companions and climbed the nearest tree to take on Amnio.

            The sparring chamber filled with noise as the competition began.  Their energy turned Amnio’s light breeze into a rushing wind that threatened to uproot the grass and lift the lighter brawlers off the ground.  Aradox charged at Ignomadon, hooves splashing through the stream bombastically.  Ignomadon responded by striking the floor with his claws, which sent sparks into the air.  He lifted the pile of broken stones he had just created and tossed them into Aradox’s face.  When Aradox held his arms in front of his face to block, Theccary whipped him with his tail and sent him flying into a tree trunk.

            The trunk shook, threatening to make Amnio lose her grip on the branch.  She had planned to immediately dive bomb Socrome, but he had vanished into the trees like her.  Wanting nothing more than to fight, she scanned between the leaves for any sign of Gamazete, but he too seemed to have disappeared.  Maybe these guys are better than I thought, she silently admitted. 

            Suddenly the branch she was on snapped and sent her plummeting.  Amnio spread her wings and regained her altitude.  Someone could have severed it with teeth, claws, or a burst of Focus.  She spun swiftly, trying to find one of the two missing Fates.  Gamazete revealed himself first by leaping from the foliage headfirst as if breaching the surface of the ocean, tooth-laden dogfish mouth open and ready to inflict a devastating bite.  Amnio barely dodged and watched as he disappeared into another tree.

            There was no time to relax though, as Socrome was upon her.  He glided in from behind her, undulating his midsection to pick up the air currents.  He wrapped his arms and legs around her and sent them both hurtling down.  He’s going to run me into the ground, she thought.  Her mind raced to find a solution and settled on a good old fashioned peck to the wrist.  Socrome yelped in pain and pulled his arms away, freeing Amnio to spin around and peck him in the forehead with a cringe-inducing crack.  Socrome released his legs as well and Amnio again spread her wings, flying so close to the ground that the grass tickled her abdomen.  Socrome’s Phenotype did not have the benefit of powered flight, so he collided with ground.  A roll, executed almost correctly, saved him from some of the impact force and sent him spinning into the edge of the stream.

            Aradox took advantage of the dazed Socrome by lifting him out of the water by his feet and tossing him at Theccary.  Ignomadon was recovering from a hoof to the jaw and about to rejoin the fray when Amnio grabbed his shoulders with the talons on her feet, flew him into the air, and dropped him back to the ground to soften him up.  As he got back to his feet she descended and withdrew her wings, using her Focus to create a pair of synthetic leather and metal cestuses that wrapped around her arms.  She used them to pummel the stunned badger with punches to the chest.

            Gamazete reappeared from the trees and tried to bite her left shoulder but Amnio grew enough feathers to flap backward and out of the way.  Then she worked herself into an excellent combat pattern: punch Ignomadon in the side twice to keep him stunned, backhand Gamazete’s weak neck to push his jaws out of the way, kick him down, use her half-grown wings to pull out of the way of any attacks that managed to come through, and repeat.

            It worked three or four times until Gamazete caught her ankle in his jaws.  She could feel his teeth puncture her skin and a little life escape her.  She wondered what a full force bite, one where he wasn’t holding back, would feel like.  She would probably lose the leg.  There was no time to concoct an escape plan, because Theccary pushed her into the stream and then knocked Aradox down next to her.  They sat there, sunken in both synthetic water and feelings of defeat.

            “I’m convinced,” Aradox said as he dropped his Phenotype.  Amnio dropped hers as well.  Their four opponents regrouped, returned to their Neofate forms, and helped their new friends out of the water.  Ignomadon pulled Amnio up by the forearm and patted her on the shoulder.

            “You fight very well,” he said.  “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt a punch as strong as that from anyone other than Theccary.”

            “Thank you,” she said.  She looked over at Socrome, who appeared a little downtrodden by his lack of success in the match.  I could definitely take him one on one, she thought.  And maybe Theccary too since he’s so slow.  Ignomadon and Gamazete though… they look tough.

            “Your verdict?” Theccary asked Amnio.

“You might be able to handle it,” she admitted.  “As long as you don’t get cocky.  Qynox will take any opportunity you present him, no matter how underhanded.  And he’ll laugh all the while.”

            ‘We won’t give him any then,” Socrome said.

“If you were fighting him now you’d all be dead,” Amnio said.

            “What do you mean?” Ignomadon asked.

“Turn around,” she said.  The four Fates turned their heads to see what hovered behind them: a blue Bloom.  They recoiled as fast as they could but it was too late.  The Bloom rushed forward and hit Gamazete in the chest.  They all gasped in horror.  Nothing happened.  The Bloom broke up on contact, revealing itself to be the bundle of leaves Amnio had dyed blue and hidden away minutes ago.  “You’re dead,” she said to Gamazete, who was brushing withering blue leaves off his shoulders.

            “Point taken,” he said.  The two teams bowed to each other and prepared for their tasks.  Theccary and his three companions would wage war on the physical plane while Amnio and Aradox explored the deep turbulent waters of space and time.

            The next few weeks were a blur for Amnio.  The training was proving incredibly taxing.  In some ways it brought her closer to Aradox and in others it drove them apart.

            Most sessions consisted of her crossing her legs and sitting on a stone tablet.  Then Aradox would use his Focus to build a column of wind around her that lifted her in the air and somehow kept her perfectly still.  The loss of physical contact with any matter freed part of her subconscious, like a bird realizing it could soar infinitely because the ground had vanished.

            She learned to penetrate the barriers of her own mind one at a time.  The first was selfishness.  She struggled to embody the mantras Aradox gave her to contemplate.  I am nothing.  I am not observing, because I am not there to observe.  There are no eyes to see.  No clouded glass obscuring the truth.  No interpretation.  No projection. Truth.  Solid truth.  Isolated, quarantined truth. 

            Breaking that barrier felt incredible… for the few moments that she could feel something.  It was like breaking through a cloud of smoke you never knew was there.  And then… a pure kind of nothingness.  She was still alive and still thinking, but her mind lost the ability to consider itself.  There was only a curiosity… an urge to explore because that’s all any intelligence could do in such an empty space with such bright lights in the distance.

            The second barrier was time.  Smashing through it was like falling through a pane of glass and then having all the shards follow you, showing reflections of things you have done and will do.  Much of it became simultaneous.  She was flying in her Phenotype, and nesting as a blue jay, and making love to Aradox, and hatching from her egg, and watching their first synthetic plant grow under the shadow of Aradox’s shaking hand all at once.  Soon she was getting flashes of her Beta Phenotype.  Since she was seeking an even higher mountaintop, Amnio could not stop to Focus on it.  There would be time for that later.  For now she could only devote bits of wonder to it.  She was pretty sure it was some kind of freshwater fish, since she kept tasting pond scum.

            Three weeks later she conquered the third barrier, which was a cloud of telepathic noise from all the living things across all the worlds.  The silence… a galaxy-sized ocean of inactivity.  Her very thoughts rang in her own head like a mouse caught in a tolling church bell.

            In addition to all this, she felt she had tackled another issue that Aradox hadn’t: fear.  Her lover was growing paranoid.  He never left their home and all his time outside the meditation chamber was spent in the garden.  His efforts didn’t show though; every plant seemed to be losing its luster, leaves shrinking and wrinkling and fading.  Every day he added more beads of crystal to the drifting building’s exterior.  He had all the chambers rotating inside the building, so no one could memorize the layout of their fortress.  If he sensed any Blooms merely hovering by, as they tended to do, he demanded complete silence as if he expected them to hear their footsteps.

            Amnio loved him dearly, but she would not stand for such isolation.  Several times, against his wishes, she would fly out and joined Theccary’s crew for one of their missions.  Most of the time Qynox had escaped before they’d arrived and all they could do was clean up the mess.  He left destroyed buildings and disorder in his wake.  Some Neofates completely converted to his cause, even after sobering up.  Sometimes his parties would grow so out of control and so crowded that they would leave several Fates dead.  Not swallowed by Blooms, but just lying on the floor covered in bruises from the thousand dancing feet that unwittingly smothered and stomped their life away.

            Twice she managed to engage Qynox in battle, and each time, when things seemed to be going in her favor, he just ripped the building open and let the Blooms pour in.  Gamazete told her he landed some blows on Qynox once as well, but then the trickster had sprayed him in the face with some kind of acid.  She could still see the red splotches on his face, even when his Phenotype was drawn.

            “You have to stop this,” Aradox would shout.  “If you get yourself killed we’ll never stop him.”

            “I have to do this,” Amnio would shout back.  “There’s more to life than duty.  Listen to yourself.  You’ve drawn into your shell even though he’s dropped you into the fire.  He’s changing the climate of Fate thought.  Who knows, maybe he plans to change the world like we do.”

            “I don’t mean to make you feel like a prisoner,” Aradox would say, voice growing quieter, closer to tears.  “I know your heart needs to fly, but…”

            “My heart needs to fight,” she would say, “and that’s the end of it.”  Sometimes it would be the end of the discussion.  Sometimes they would make up, share an embrace, and retreat to a dark chamber to be lit by each other’s laughter.  And sometimes they wouldn’t make up, and icy tension would erode the foundations of their bond a little more.

 

            A pair of yellow fangs bit into her dream state.  Amnio’s eyes popped open and she gasped.  The wind column holding her up, which she could now create herself without Aradox there to maintain it, slowly died.  Amnio’s toes touched the ground first, and the rest of her feet followed with only a tiny sound of flesh on stone.  Something was wrong.  She examined the room.  Nothing was out of the ordinary.  Except…she could smell something… a musk.

            “And how is Aradox’s whore?” a voice said from behind her.  She whirled around to see Qynox leaning on a green column of synthetic jade.  He bit into a fruit stolen from their garden and purple bubbling juice ran down his chin.

            “How did you get in here?” she asked coldly. 

“You still can’t track me,” he giggled and wiped the juice on his arm before tossing the fruit away.  It landed with a squish on the floor before it deflated and blackened.  “I hear you’ve been expanding your brain.  Must not be very good at it since you can’t keep me out.”

            “Why are you here?”

“I miss you,” he said with a purple-stained smile.  He cracked his knuckles and swaggered closer to her.  Amnio flicked one of her fingers and raised a wall of synthetic glass between them.  Instead of flinching or getting angry as she hoped, he just pressed his hands and face against the glass and started to kiss the panel lustily.  His tongue ran over the glass that lined up with her left cheek.  He pounded on the glass with one fist.  “I miss you so much.  I just know our sex would be fantastic!  You’ll tweet in ecstasy as I tear off your clothes and pluck your feathers one by one.”

            “Your words are even viler when there’s no applause behind them,” she said.

“You’ve got too much life in you to be with that shut-in,” Qynox continued, unphased.  “Your boy is drenched in fear.  It’s why he doesn’t chase me himself.  I hate that.  Instead he sends those four.  They won’t celebrate with my Fates and they won’t even put up a good fight.”

            “You always run from the fight,” Amnio pointed out.

“There’s a party tonight,” Qynox said as his smile grew wider.  Amnio could barely see it through the smear of purple slobber he’d left on the glass.  “I’d like you to come as my special guest.”

            “Why don’t you just take a mirror as your date, I’m sure it would be better company,” she quipped.

            “Not a bad idea,” he said.  “I’ll still need someone to hold the mirror up though.”

“So Qynox.  Figured out your Beta Phenotype yet?” She asked.  The nerve she struck made Qynox’s face finally contort.

            “You bitch!” He roared and reared back to punch through the glass.  Amnio responded with lightning quickness and drew the glass back like liquid when he punched it, then re-hardened it so it held his arm in place.  Trying to use the moment of surprise to its fullest, she convinced all the glass that wasn’t holding him in place to vanish, giving her room to strike.  She reached up and pulled a feather-like blade out of the air and started to bring it down towards Qynox’s trapped forearm.  Just a split second too long.

            Qynox used his own Focus to shatter the glass and went into a backflip, managing to score a kick on Amnio’s chest and knock her back.  He flipped a few more times just for show and settled into a low fighting stance with a hunched back, like some kind of age-bent goblin.

            In between meditations, Amnio devoted a few minutes each day to calculating new strategies of fighting the ape Fate.  Now was as good a time as any to try one out.  She spun her hands and whipped up several small tornadoes around the room that had enough power to lift any Fate off the ground.  Then she turned the feather blade into a pair of cestus, her melee weapon of choice, and grew some large feathers along her elbow so she could use the gusts of the tornados to change direction in mid-air.  Then she went in for the kill.

            Qynox built a weapon from Focus as well: it looked like a lick of solid orange flame.  The two charged at each other.  Amnio dodged a downward strike from Qynox’s flame by jumping into the air.  Then she caught a gust and came back down with a punch to the back of his head.  Qynox pretended to faint and fall before catching himself and spinning his whole body in a low kick that failed because Amnio was still several inches off the ground.

            She sent a tornado straight into his face.  It pulled him along for a few feet and tossed him into the wall.

            “It would help you if you spent some time meditating,” she said.  Unfortunately her words came out in pants.  The last thing she wanted was to show weakness.  Qynox could grab any exposed thread of it and pull and pull and pull until your life was a tangle that could only be undone by blades or fire.

            “I’ve been too busy distracting you,” he said.  Then Qynox used his Focus to sink into the wall and vanish, those nasty fangs being the last thing to go.

            Distracting? Amnio thought.  What did he mean by… No.  Aradox!  The tornadoes fell apart like stacks of hay as Amnio redirected her Focus.  The floor beneath her rose and spiraled around her legs while the ceiling dripped towards her.  The two extensions of stone connected, creating a tube that could take her anywhere in the house.  He’s bound to be in the garden, she thought.  The air pressure in the tube forced her upwards.  The cool stone slid along her feathers with a zip sound.  He didn’t even want to fight Aradox.  He just wants him dead.  How could I be so stupid?  He was right.  I’ve been out brawling with Theccary when I should have been playing defensively. Now my love is…

            Amnio erupted into the garden chamber through the floor.  At first she couldn’t see anything.  Leaves were falling everywhere.  Fruits and vegetables were rolling across the ground.  Some were just stomped to a rotten pulp.  One of the biggest trees was uprooted and hanging halfway into the void through a huge rift in the wall.  Blue Blooms were flying in through it.

            He’s gone. She thought.  This is the one time he was somewhere else.  He’s taking a nap in some little pocket of stone.  He’s reading in the library.  He’s swimming in the pond.  Anywhere but h…

            “Amnio!” Aradox called out.  Her head snapped to the side to see her mate, flushed with his Manta Phenotype, running towards her.  He looked ghastly; his recent lack of sleep had combined with the whitish skin of the Ray to turn him into a pale figure, a helpless spirit of fear that ran too slowly to save itself.

            “Aradox, look out!” she screamed.  One of the Blooms absorbed Aradox’s foot and began pulling the rest of him in.  “No, no, no!”  She could see it on his face: the expression of death.  She wanted nothing more than to look away but her body was already running towards him, stretching out one arm… His eyes looked like two Moons, even more barren than the moon of Earth, sinking into a tar pit.  His gills hung limply like the edges of a tarp overloaded with rain.  The Bloom swallowed them two by two as it flew up his chest.  Finally she wrapped both her hands around his one free wrist.  She had arrived.  She was touching him, but it only intensified her panic.  No words came to her, only wails squeezing through her tight throat.

            “I have faith in you,” Aradox managed to say.  The blue overtook his head and consumed both their arms.  She felt his hand turn to smoke in hers and slide through her fingers.  The Bloom quickly shrank, exiting this world with its full stomach to enter Earth as a new life.  When it was the size of an acorn Amnio clasped her hands around it and put all of her Focus on it.  All that meditation had to count for more than wisdom, she desperately hoped.  It had to give me new power.  This Bloom is not gone.  It’s trapped in my hands.  My Focus is keeping it here and it will never leave.  Aradox will always be with me.  I will not let him die.

            After thirty seconds of vast effort, effort that could’ve bottled thunderstorms, that could’ve reunited split continents, she let her hands creak open to see the results.  Nothing.  Just her shaking palms and the dew of concentration.  A Bloom was not a firefly, to be held captive until its battery ran out.  It was something still far beyond her control.  And it had left as easily as it had popped into Antelife.

            Amnio lay defeated on the synthetic moss of the garden for several hours, wilting with everything else.  She didn’t even bother to close the rift in the side of the building.  It was sheer luck that no pink Blooms came for her.  The other blue Blooms hovered around docilely, like bubbles that knew there was no needle in sight.

            Qynox flashed through her mind.  Amnio reached her hands into the ground and tore huge gashes in it.  Chunks of loam and browning moss compacted under her nails.  Both death and life are too good for him.

 

            Neofate civilization all but collapsed in the next three months.  Whole cities, drifting through Antelife like a bundle of castle towers with colorful stained glass windows, cracked from the inside.  Blooms leaked in.  You were more likely to see the rubble of buildings now, like an asteroid belt, than see anything with life still hiding inside.

            Qynox’s latest accomplishment shone in the void brightly: drifting curling rivers of alcohol mist that covered thousands of miles.

            Things were flung back to the time before Neofates learned to create matter with their mind.  New Neofates were not being rescued from the void because there was no one there to help them.  They lived short, fearful, ignorant lives before being swallowed up.  Only Amnio’s home remained.

            A small group of thirty Neofates lived there now, those with convictions strong enough to resist Qynox and wits sharp enough to escape before his traveling circus arrived at their homes.  Theccary and his squad were among them, with the exception of Ignomadon, who was killed a week earlier when one of Qynox’s most devoted disciples crushed him between two slabs of stone.

            The castle of Aradox was still large and in perfect working order, but no one spent any time in its array of chambers.  Everyone lived in the meditation chamber, sleeping bags of green and purple synthetic cloth coating the ground like plump Spring bushes.  They all felt that if they strayed from each other, took one step away from life they could see, a cold emptiness would petrify their hearts.  Many of them spent their days sitting with their hands pressed against the wall, using their Focus to fortify the stone and look for any signs of intrusion.  When they tired, they would retreat and let another Fate take a shift.  Some of them did their best to produce food, but their efforts tasted like clay compared to Aradox’s plants.  Still, synthetic crackers and plant-like fibers were better than nothing.  Synthetic water became their mixed drinks as they held long conversations about who could make the purest most realistic batch.  There were good batches and bad batches.  Concoctions with excellent viscosity and lousy taste.  Wonderful color but dreadful cohesion.

            Amnio’s meditation had continued to advance, though guilt and despair slowed her progress.  She had to slog through a mental swamp at the beginning of each session.  Forgetting herself was the most difficult step, because a large piece of her soul was unaccounted for: destroyed by the indifference of nature and the cruelty of a twisted mind.

            The remaining Fates speculated about what she was seeing when her eyes were closed.  They pointed and whispered as she hovered in the air.  They talked about how great she was.  How like a god.  So this is what it felt like Aradox.  You took everyone’s problems into your own hands.  You made yourself feel everyone’s pain.  Hardened your will in the forge of emotion.  Knew that if people really cared about their own lives as much as you cared about theirs, they’d be hovering up here with you.  After thinking this she would shut out the sounds of their chatter and resume her struggles with the universe.

            She was in the midst of her deepest session ever when Qynox’s final assault came.  Amnio stroked some scared thing between realities like a stray cat.  With enough love, it might show her the way to the female power Aradox described and whose energy she felt during every meditation now.  There was a sound like someone walking across bubble wrap which broke her concentration.  The wispy dream creature fled and she fell back to Antelife.

            When she opened her eyes, everyone was out cold, including Theccary, Gamazete, and Socrome.  She stood.  Silence.

            Qynox bled through the wall, entering much the same way he had exited the last time she’d seen him.  In a way it was like no time had passed.  The wounds were certainly still red and wet.

            “Do you like it?” Qynox said, gesturing towards all the Fates collapsed on the floor.  “Focus punches.  Small, bodiless ones right to the back of the head.  It took ages to figure out how to do it without killing them.”

            “Why not kill them?” Amnio asked.  As much as she hated to admit it, she could hear fear in her own voice, like the leg twitches of an insect dying on its back.

            “Nobody understands me!” Qynox pouted and stomped on one of the Fate’s faces.  “I don’t want anyone to die!  I want them all to live!  I want them to make the choice!  Why do you think I haven’t killed you?  I was hoping that you’d eventually see the light!”

            “Your light burns what it illuminates,” she said in a whisper.

“And so does Earth’s sun.  Touching greatness burns.  Embracing it….” Qynox shivered as if flipping through a memory album of his favorite orgies, “Is like being ravished by a drunken god!”

            “Why are you here?” She asked flatly.

“You’re taking too long to come around.  So I’m just going to kill you and get the ball rolling.  I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

            Qynox and Amnio both drew their Phenotypes.  In terms of fighting skill they’d come to match each other.  Their battle would’ve lasted days and been lethal to both if something hadn’t interrupted it before it began.

            They were closing the distance between each other when a blue flicker, like a firefly, flew in front of their faces.

            ‘What’s this?” Qynox asked and reached out a hairy finger to touch the light.  It pulled away from him and hovered, seemingly confused for a moment.  Then there was a sound like stretching skin and pumping bellows.  The light swelled in waves, shuddering from the force of something trapped inside.

            “It’s a Bloom,” Amnio said.  She felt an energy radiating from it.  “A seriously ill one.”

“Blooms don’t get colds,” Qynox scoffed.  The Bloom swelled again, so rapidly that both of them jumped back to make room for what seemed like an inevitable explosion.

            Instead of bursting open, the Bloom grew pale and insubstantial.  A figure burst forth from inside it and landed gently on the ground.  The Bloom rolled out of the way, barely staying airborne.  It took on a deflated shape and rocked back and forth like something senile and freezing to death.

            The figure lifted its head and extended its arms.

“Impossible!” Qynox howled.

            “He has a habit of doing that,” Amnio said proudly.  Her happiness started to overflow and her smile beamed brightly.  Tears grew in the corners of her eyes.  “My boy,” she said.

            “I see you’ve kept the place in order,” Aradox said to her and opened his arms for an embrace.  She ran to him and hugged him, suddenly sure Qynox could do nothing to them.  She kissed his neck and rubbed the back of his head and laughed as tears ran down her face.

            “Did you bring me any meat from Earth?” Qynox asked, already recovering his arrogance.

            “I’m afraid not,” Aradox said.

“So how’d you do it?  And don’t you dare tell me to figure it out myself or I’ll just rip both your throats out right now and piss on your bodies for good measure.”

            “I didn’t do anything,” Aradox said.

“What do you mean?” Amnio asked.  “How are you back?”

            “Yes, do tell.  I’m all ears,” Qynox added, digging into one of his ears with a pinky finger.

“The Bloom that took me was human,” Aradox said, pointing at the sickly inside-out Bloom he’d emerged from.  “I could feel my awareness fading as time passed.  The process of pregnancy was slowly erasing me, replacing me with something blank; innocent.  I could still learn though.  I learned the young girl who was pregnant with me, the new mother of my energy, was not ready.  She was just beginning at a university.  She was in debt.  She had no mate.  Her days were filled with sadness.  Sadness that came down on me like sleet.”

            “She didn’t!” Qynox gasped, grasping what Aradox was about to say.  “That little bitch.  She’s a murderer you know.  Nipping life in the bud!”

            “It was not a good situation to bring life into,” Aradox said.  “So she had an abortion.”

“And that brought you back!” Amnio exclaimed, wide-eyed.

            “Yes.  I wish I could tell her how wonderful the decision she made was.  That she needn’t cry for me.  She may have saved life itself.  I’m sure it’s happened to Fates before, but they haven’t had chances to tell their story.  Perhaps they were immediately swallowed up again.  Perhaps my meditation has given me more awareness than they had.  Regardless, I’m back.  I did actually bring you a present Qynox,” Aradox said slyly.

            “I’ll give it to him!” Amnio declared.  The ‘present’ was immediately obvious to her.

“What are you…” Qynox started before a rope wrapped around his neck from behind him, a trick of Amnio’s Focus.  She tightened it to confuse him before giving him a few solid punches to the face and stomach.  His feet slipped across the floor but he didn’t fall.  Amnio’s rope held him up, kept him deprived of air.

            She used all her strength and Focus to pick him up and toss him into the broken Bloom that had spit Aradox out.  He didn’t even have time to scream before combining with it.

            The aborted Bloom was a strange thing indeed.  It had no life to go back to.  Its connection to Earth was severed prematurely, essentially making it a deformed confused mess with no sense of metaphysical direction.  So when Qynox hit it, it took him in willingly but had nowhere to go.  Qynox’s face and body stretched across its surface and warped, turning him into a flat caricature of himself scrawled on the Bloom’s side.  Then Qynox’s prison solidified into a sapphire sphere and dropped to the ground.  It rolled away lazily.

            “Have fun in Limbo,” Amnio said to the sphere.  She returned to her mate and they shared a quiet embrace. 

 

Soon the Fates will do it.  Soon she will tiptoe across the glass that separates Antelife and Earth and coax it to compassion.  Harmony will be life, and life harmony.

The End

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