Smoke and grub type – Morsel 3

Seya’s fingers twitched. They hovered over the satchel, anticipating her first dip, fingertips cooling from the drying saliva. She plunged them in and out, the minor tingle the cap shavings gave as they stuck to her skin heightening her anticipation. Seya passed the fingers under her nose, inhaled deeply, and then traced the outside facets of both eyes, using a separate finger for each.

She collapsed, arms at her sides, and sank into the lap of Feirouz. She finally let out her held breath, all air now smelling of damp earth and burnt flowers, and all sensations becoming a languid blur. It took a few moments to realize Feirouz was saying something to her, and not petting her face.

It didn’t matter what he was saying. He was touching her. He was speaking. It was the same. They were all the same. She was too hot. Why was she wearing a wrap when they were all the same underneath? Seya went to untie it, but found the knot already undone, though still covering her midrax. Hands—Feirouz—grazed the scales at her sides and pinpricks of light arced across her facets, eyes fluttering.

If only she had taken one more dip the sparks might have lasted. There could have been fire. But Seya wasn’t an addict, she just needed to come down after an exhausting day at work. She was so tired when she got home that her eyes would have closed regardless of what she had done. But in the corner of her mind, a recess hidden even from Feirouz, she knew that once more in her life there would be fire. At least once more. She drifted away from herself, warm and safe inside the memory of her first dip and the blaze that had engulfed her.

When Seya’s eyes opened, the kitchen of the shared pod was filled with smoke, and for a brief instant Seya thought she had done it—given in to the temptation and burned out on the cushions of their sitting room. But the mental haze cleared and Seya looked into a physical, dark and smoky one.

It was fried grubs again. And cooked a little too long, as Banik had a penchant for doing. It didn’t normally bother her, but Banik wasn’t even eating the food he charred tonight. The smoke clung to everything, making temporary clouds near the ceiling and the air thick, until Seihl opened the door and let a breeze through the loosened ventilation slats of the kitchen.

Seya was glad for the shavings, tempering the thoughts that had plagued her since seeing Charita at the wormery. She had worked there twenty years, and it felt now that she was being crushed under a wheel that had moved so slowly she hadn’t thought to move out of its way, but now her feet were caught. She had started at the wormery before Charita had even emerged from her egg.

Seya’s head ached, but it wasn’t from the drugs or smoke. Well, maybe a little, she admitted. Probably the smoke, if anything.

“Want me to fry up any more?” asked Banik.

“The grubs were delicious,” she said, and waved away any additional cause for smoke.

She redirected the conversation to food of guaranteed quality. “And besides, aren’t you taking Seihl out somewhere fancy?”

Banik grinned. “Of course I am.” He and Seihl were tidying the kitchen, deftly avoiding each other in the small space, except when he brushed against her on purpose. It was a dance Feirouz’s sister and her mate had perfected over the years, but tonight was more sensuous than most. It was the fifth anniversary of their first coupling.

The thought had her give Feirouz a lingering evaluation. His eyes were still a little red, as she imagined hers were. He hardly every rimmed, and she was secretly glad for it—the skin of his face was still taught, and his mouthparts held back firmly against the perfect symmetry of his cheeks. He was a handsome man, even though they were both old enough to have grown children. Seya liked that he mostly abstained from habits that aged him.

Seya and Feirouz were both reclining on their pillows, the remnants of supper spread before them on the table. Most of the food on their plates had merely been moved around to give the illusion of consumption. Banik and Seihl had only snacked on some of the salty marsh grass while they worked the kitchen, and didn’t seem to care that most of the food they had prepared remained. They were too caught up in their coming evening out.

Seya supposed she should offer to help clean up the kitchen so the two could leave earlier for their evening out, but she had no inclination to move. Besides, it was wasn’t her night for cooking. If it had been, her mouth wouldn’t still have the faint taste of ash.

Seya watched the romance in the kitchen with the same wistfulness that had taken her watching Charita walk out of the rearing hall earlier that day. “I wonder if Lakes will ever stop tormenting the new hires?” she asked Feirouz.

Feirouz considered the question, picking at a fried mushroom cap on his plate as he did so. “But don’t you secretly like it? What fun would a new job be if you weren’t fearful for your future?”

“I am fearful for my future,” said Seya. “Fearful that I’ve already experienced it all, and now everything is coming back for its final rotation—and I’m too weak, and I’m just going to get completely crushed.” She hadn’t meant to sound so melancholy. Maybe it was just Charita being a new reference point, and Seya not liking the comparison. Maybe it was the discongruence of Charita’s life still feeling like a recent version of her own, when in reality it was a distant location conjured only in deep remembrance.

“Bad day?” asked Seihl from the kitchen. She hung the cleaning cloth on its stand.

Seya frowned. “Not really, just—empty I guess.”

“Someone needs to fill you up then,” Seihl said, shooting a suggestive look at Feirouz, who shrugged his limbs and scrunched his mandibles as if he were powerless to do anything in that department.

Seya shook her head. “It’s not that. I fill my glass every morning, you know? And then I drink it. And I do the same thing every day. You know what I mean?”

Seihl’s blank look indicated that she clearly did not. Seihl turned to Banik for help, and then a flash of excitement came over her. “I’ve got something that will cheer you up!”. She crouched down to the tunnel opening that led to her and Banik’s sleeping chamber, and was gone for some time. Seya had no idea what she could be getting that would take so long, and even less sure how whatever it was could improve her mood. When Seihl returned, she paused expectantly in the archway, and cleared her throat.

Seihl had changed, and was now adorned in a formal wrap. A new one too by the looks of it, or at least one Seya didn’t recognize. It was deep purple, a speed king weave, threaded through a ring of hand-carved bone. Variegated shades of blue shimmered where the fabric looped through and back on itself. Seihl did a slow turn, and the wrap rippled like a stream reflecting the setting sun, even under the smoky haze of the kitchen.

“I thought you said something to cheer me up,” Seya said. But she couldn’t help the widening of her face, and gave a small laugh despite herself. Seihl looked beautiful.

Seihl swatted the air with her pincers, as if batting the comment away. “Banik’s taking me out tonight after all. And I know how much you like getting done up.” She gave a shimmy, and the fabric shone in ripples; it was so light it seemed to float and then fall softly, finally adhering to Seihl like it was a part of her scales. But it was a respectable wrap, no scale ridges around her midrax visible through the thin fabric.

Noticing Feirouz’s look, Seihl added a quick correction: “How much you like anyone getting done up.”

Seya hadn’t taken the comment as a slight, but did turn and give Feirouz a questioning look.

“What?” he protested. “Why is everything my fault tonight? We go out every second sixth!”

Except the last one, where he had to work late at the Council office, but Seya didn’t verbalize her thoughts. It seemed petty even to herself, and truthfully it didn’t bother her. Instead, she was taken over by admiration of the silk that Seihl was wearing.

It was obviously expensive. Seya knew the weave itself probably cost four six day’s pay. And the dye, with the way the light played on it—it was no Hegli blue—but it must have cost at least as much as the weave.

Seya clacked her pincers in appreciation. “Where are you going, looking so divine?”

“That new place by the white wall, we both…”

“The white wall!” Feirouz said. “Banik must really owe you. I can barely afford to look at restaurants in that district.” Then concern spread over his face. “Are you sure it’s okay?”

Seihl nodded. “It’s fine. Banik checked. It’s new and progressive.”

“Progressive,” echoed Feirouz. “That’s not a good thing at the Council. Progressive policies. Progressive programs. It’s the new curse word.”

“Good,” said Seihl matter-of-factly. “It’s about time they moved on from the old ones. But I do absolutely plan to overthrow society without the limb they care so much about.” She bent over, shaking the stump at the top of her thorax in her brother’s face to emphasize the ridiculousness of her point.

The sarcasm stabbed at Seya, even this many years on. When they first met, she had complained privately to Feirouz that it wasn’t right for Seihl to shop in the itan district. She had no problem personally with Seihl, it was just that no business above the talas welcomed pentalimbs, and itan shops weren’t some new-age night club.

What would you have her do then? had always been Feirouz’s response. And even in her ignorance, Seya had not been bold enough to speak the accepted answer.

As if reading her thoughts, Seihl added, “Better to be judged but intact.”

It was the argument Seya had hated the most. Listen to yourself! You’re not intact! she had wanted to scream in her youth. And in truth, though she had eaten that prejudice, every now and then its undigested body shifted uncomfortably within. Seya found herself grinding her teeth.

“You look beautiful,” Seya said to rid herself of the thoughts, but she meant it. “It’s about time the districts above tala get to see you.” And she meant that too.

Seihl beamed, and Banik swooped in to wrap his limbs around her. “I can’t help being the ugly one, but at least I can dress better,” he said. Then he scurried down the tunnel to get changed himself.

Banik and Seihl left the house some time later, walking linked limbs, the asymmetry of their pairing proudly displayed to the outside.

After they had picked over the edible remnants on their plates, Feirouz asked, “Do you want me to take you out? You said you were lacking excitement. It could even be tomorrow if I pull a few favours with the Council guys.” Most of Feirouz’s colleagues lived up in the itan district, a wealth so vast Seya couldn’t even contemplate the number of lifetimes she would need to live to afford it.

Seya knew Feirouz’s colleagues would make it happen if he asked—they were mostly genuinely decent people despite their wealth. “My biggest excitement most days is just coming home from work,” she said. Maybe she would ask Feirouz to make the date.

“Well, that’s enough for me,” said Feirouz. “I’m excited for you to come home from work every day, too”. He sucked the lingering spices off his fingers as he said this.

“I do like my job,” said Seya, “I just wish… I don’t know. That it kept me up at night due to its importance. Does that even make sense?”

“Maintaining the life of the textile industry seems pretty important to me,” said Feirouz.

“I know,” said Seya. “And it is. It’s just… I used to feel like I was a cocoon that was going to crack open, and I would emerge into my new life. And now I feel like that cocoon got damaged and is permanently closed.” She sat up, leaning close to Feirouz. “Don’t you ever wish our lives were full of a little more adventure, a little more excitement?”

Feirouz sat up too and crawled off his mat to wrap his limbs around Seya. “I’m always up for a little more excitement,” he said.

Seya wrapped all four limbs around him to complete the embrace, but her mind was still elsewhere. “Maybe if we had different jobs, we could partake in the Calling this year. Go hunt some beasts ourselves. Don’t people feel the most alive when they’re taking the lives of others?”

“If it’s the little death you want–” said Feirouz, his voice trailing off. He leaned forward and nibbled on a scale at the edge of her neck. “Then let me be the first to take that day away. It’s always been my goal for you to die as many times as you want.”

Seya leaned fully into his embrace; her mind had found focus. “You are very good at killing me,” she admitted. Then teasing, “I just wish you wouldn’t die so quickly yourself.”

Feirouz became more forceful at the comment. Seya didn’t want to admit it, and would have prevented it if she could, but she could feel her midrax cover start to part, her stinger priming itself to emerge. After the teasing, Seya didn’t want her body betraying her to the truth.

“Maybe I’ll be chosen as Caller this year,” said Seya, in an effort to distract Feirouz. “One final adventure for our life.” She was trying to keep her voice level, as if they were still discussing this over the evening meal.

“I’d have to slaughter the entire Council if that happened,” said Feirouz. “Where would my purpose be in coming home every day then?”

“I guess all of your deaths would have to be self induced then,” said Seya. She didn’t care anymore what her body told Feirouz.

Feirouz took umbrage with the comment. He reached down to where Seya’s midrax had started to split; he could feel the tip of her stinger primed at the entrance. Deftly, Feirouz reached his fingers inside, careful not to cut them on the sharp edges, and thankful the barbs had been removed when Seya was a child.

He started to tug, gently helping her stinger emerge, but it needed no such guidance.

Feirouz’s own stinger had started to extend. He breathed hotly across her chest, running his hands over her scale plates, digging at their furrows as he did. “If you’re so keen to die, then let it be at my hand,” he said.

And it was.