by Ashaye Brown
I have found two kinds of silences in space. There is the silence of the vacuum, a vast emptiness that has somehow never bothered me. And a second silence which is more . . . discomforting. It doesn’t scare me—I am not so easily afraid. But this is the silence of the grave, and it follows me even when I am back on my planet.
The corpses I pass are frosted over with thick crystals of ice. They all look like me—bulbous and encased in a gelatinous extraneous layer, six-limbed and blue-skinned—but it does not unnerve me to see them, in the way it unnerves some of my kind to witness the remains of bodies which resemble their own. I know that I am alive, so I feel no reason to identify with these frozen strangers.
Besides, it is not their appearance that interests me.
My pores expand like fresh craters across my body, guiding me to what I am looking for. I inhale and feel an electric tingle spread through my body, and the feeling is strongest around the corpse. This is more than the background Aṣẹ that thrives in normal space; this is residual Aṣẹ from the body itself. Aṣẹ that in life would have allowed this individual to bend the will of reality, calling visions to their mind’s eye and sharing thoughts with those around them. It’s not much, but for those on my planet who must do without, even this small amount of Aṣẹ would be a treasure trove. Yet this individual was buried with theirs like it was nothing.
I let my own Aṣẹ flow, pulling the corpse’s reserve into me where it is safely stored. I watch the departing Aṣẹ leave the corpse as hard as the ice that surrounds it—until the body begins to crack. A bracing light emits from somewhere inside the corpse. I avert my gaze to protect my vision from what comes next. Only out of the corner of my eyes can I see the corpse flare with a final burst of light before exploding into stardust.
The dust glittering against the darkness of space around me is quite beautiful. I’ve always thought this is much more of a fitting sendoff than to be left perpetually frozen in the moment of death, a floating solitary wreck that no one even remembers that they abandoned. When I am dead, I hope someone will come with a syphon to take what is still useful in me. I hope I implode brilliantly.
I continue to work in this way for a long time: an undifferentiated cycle of sensing residual Aṣẹ, syphoning it, and then basking in the stardust. But after several hours, I still have not collected much. These bodies have provided an exceptionally weak collection for a gravesite of this size.
In one last stroke of desperation I scan the gaps where bodies had so recently been, but now there are only the scatterings of stardust. There is one body which is separate from all the rest, floating out alone in the depths of space.
Intrigued, I propel myself over, until I am close enough to see that this body only has four limbs. I shudder a little, but I’m not too surprised, since it’s not uncommon for limbs to atrophy in extreme old age. But this body is also the wrong colour. Instead of a healthy blue, it is brown, a shade I don’t think I have ever seen on any living being. The closer I get, the stranger the body reveals itself to be. All of its features are wrong; the most offensive differences are the two protrusions on the side of its head and one on the centre of its face. It has a puff of dark coiled strands around its head, almost like fur but different. Even the texture of its flesh is wrong.
It is clear that whatever this creature is, it is not like me. All of the disgust and horror that I had never managed to feel for dead bodies which looked like mine rushes into me now. But there is something else, too. A stronger feeling. The shock of such an unexpected discovery had caused my pores to close defensively, preventing me from noticing this before. Now my pores re-open and strain towards this strange body, and immediately I pick up the strongest pulse of Aṣẹ I have ever felt, even stronger than what comes off of anyone alive. My whole body shivers as though I am standing out in the middle of an electric storm with a hundred bolts of lightning flashing around me. Before I can think about what I am doing, I am next to the body, fully surrounding myself in its voltaic aura.
The alien body is even more disturbing up close, but I have to look past it. If I can syphon this much Aṣẹ, perhaps this whole trip won’t be a waste of time after all. I open my pores, ready to reach out my Aṣẹ to the creature.
And then its eyes snap open.
I look at it. It looks at me.
It opens its mouth, and I can tell that it is trying to scream, but nothing comes out because nothing can break the silence of space or of the graveyard. The creature starts struggling, breaking free of its ice casing. Quickly, I release my Aṣẹ, ready to syphon.
Nothing happens. The Aṣẹ storm that surrounds me remains, instead of dissipating into my body as it should.
I try again.
Frustrated, I widen my pores and let all the Aṣẹ that I have harvested thus far go free. I won’t be needing any of it if I can take all I need from this creature. Digging deep within myself to strain my own Aṣẹ as hard as I can, I reach out, wrap myself around the creature’s body, and suck up every last wisp of the creature’s Aṣẹ that I can find.
With our two bodies in such close proximity, I am forced to bear witness to the terror in the creature’s eyes, and I wonder if it can see the hunger in mine. My whole body shakes—not only with the power of their Aṣẹ, but with the force of their silent scream. They try to fight me off, but they are extremely weak and, no matter what happens, I won’t let go of this prize. I feel the moment they go still as their body hardens beneath my touch. I watch their strange flesh crack and their strange skin shine as the light erupts from them. This time, I don’t look away. I look into their eyes and feel their Aṣẹ pulse, panicked and primal, like an infant discovering their Aṣẹ for the first time. The creature sends a vision to my mind, and for the flash of an instance, I see a planet that is not my own: a pale blue dot, alone and untethered in the expanse of space. And I know that when this creature left this planet, they were already the last of their kind.
Suddenly, an immense sorrow overtakes me. Suddenly, I do not want to take the Aṣẹ from this being. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I feel afraid.
And then there is only stardust.
About the Author
Ashaye Brown is a British speculative fiction writer. Her debut novel ‘Dream Country’ is a YA Fantasy, the first of an intended series about triplet gods of Sleep, Dream, and Nightmare. Ashaye enjoys writing stories that incorporate various cultures and mythologies of the African diaspora. Ashaye also has a short story published in FIYAH Literary Magazine.