by Rekha Valliappan
Find a sand-freckled town in the alien outskirts at a fateful hour of pre-dawn. Small hexagonal spaces ringed by glorious vistas. Tall towers in polymer glass. Bugle notes sounding here, sounding there, unsettling the air. Acres of grass and gravel where the enlightened and abandoned creatures roam within perimeter fencing, reckless endangerment at their fingertips, like old Hollywood scripts strained to breaking point. In the early days of the Xenoa settlement there were more curfew squads. Not anymore. Life is primitive but has settled.
And in that town, find a face in the crowd, the dead man's switch, a sweet old widowed woman of an older humanoid species they call the healer warrior, the naturalness of her vitality so compulsive she could decide to be anything she wished. One day blue finch timid, the next hellcat fierce. One moment scrambling the spun sun, the next, tale talking merfolk on mer-moons. A lobed river of a diminutive woman whose history is genuine, she peels off seafaring or land-locked structures wherever she goes.
Nature has made her blue mask bright, a woman indulgent to defects in the tiny two room dwelling she calls home, whether it be an ill-boiled farm egg for breakfast, or coffee not brewed right, whether the ground beneath her feet empties to a Romanesque caldera, or ominous rumblings shoot plumes of rigid smoke skywards. She is at once seduced, a woman dragging heavy skirts, shawled and mitted, head-scarfed and multi-layered, cloaked and masked against frazzled weather, soap-sudding at the sink, bird-feeding swallows, talking to snails, humming at ringed caterpillars, gazing everywhere, gazing nowhere--milky rimmed eyes out-staring the ribbons of stars as far as her mildewed eyes can see or thinks they can. How she lives is never going to change.
It is a shame what the Chieftains have exacted after price gouging and driving the
settlements to the brink of starvation, especially the other species. No one breaks the rules when terraforming. Xenoa fares better than some. The woman, a little better than most, or so she imagines. Her life is lived in a burrow. It is a clandestine life at best, given the mountain of minutiae extending to her daily needs. Her kitchen clock is ticking down. It is her life’s clock, marking down time. She has no control over the device.
Hands braced at the counter, just in case, she dons her all-season galoshes, the only pair in frequent use, given the condition of her calloused feet, gathers her virtual walking stick, programmed for yaw, pitch and roll, and monitored by remote control for rotation, then out the wooden door, her back and legs arched all out of shape. The condition looks painful but is less distressing than it appears. Or so she frequently assures, smiling widely. Her nineteen-minute-to-the-dot float ride to the fully integrated inner city sweeps past the biomass lung, rows of brainery workshops where seasoned bots were engineering older bots into innovative exoskeletons to ease pain. The workshops are the combined brainchild of a sterile group of chimeras called the Mutant Corp of Scientific Designers at odds with the rest of Xenoa, their work hailed as the next sweeping cure for humankind, outside new cancer addressing body lump breakouts.
Her handcrafted cane is her enhanced all-performance device--a dancing, ordinary-looking walking stick navigation interfaced to move in lockstep and cling to her as tenaciously as pyrotechnics to a fuse, even if the two don't always align. She clutches it protectively, possessively, even when she bangs it about at acceleration she does not fully understand. The stick is sturdy. She surprises herself then. She surprises the stick.
"Don't feel much of anything these days," she admits, displaying no emotion, reckoning that if ever her cane did descend by fluke or willfully on anything or anyone, they would well and truly bounce off the sidewalk into orbital jiggle the way rotary atoms on Xenoa do. No barriers. She knows a good cane when she sees one. Hers is her lifeline.
Her head trembles in sobering thought, like gunpowder caps popping. Part of her migraine overflow. Part of her aging systems they sometimes say, although, given her physiology she has fared better than most. The spinning rate is controlled by the stick. She applies pressure. The cane whirrs, then rotates. She hears her feeble muscles groan, her crooked legs twitch, her knuckles crack aloud in protest, but from the perspective of her gerontology, the sounds could just as well be her walking stick syncopating in mid-tempo, clicking away in mad glee or in agony. A sudden sensation of Hades, as of being hurled into the dark pits of Tartarus claws at her insides. It is her skirmishes with the cane, heavily out of step. Yet there are worlds out there that have sworn oaths to exterminate all of her species. The risk is too great to divest the cane.
She rubs her balding head where wispy strands of white remain. Consternation be damned! Her eyestalks twitch. She has spent her century and a half of nine-to-five on her feet. First at the farm growing rhubarb and sheep-nose pimento; then at the nursing homes helping exoskeletons fight sickness with hen-power; now at the Hatchery, an over-populated egg-shaped cluster-facility shrouded in semi-darkness, with no inclination to let in the light. Xenoa is plodding along in fits and bursts.
Her float ride makes good time, crossing long lines of intervening streets as she tube-floats into the inner city. She blinks, adjusting her weak eyes to the half-light. Here everyone is faceless--her eyes will not reveal more, a mass of overcrowded structures, too many wolf-dogs, snarling, snapping superannuated fellow craftsmen who fail to oscillate with their canes, let alone dance. Impossible not to feel invigorated in Xenoa.
Endless floors below, within the bowels buried beneath the Hatchery, lie the lower galleries. Most know it as the den of faltering hope after the blight which took down some internal structures of the Hatchery, a place so drained and stony-faced the skeleton crew in charge of operations shed no light on its curriculum. She thinks of them as clinical otherkins, a vast grouping of haunting bodkins, synthesized and tilting to Xen-Don Quixote types. In other lives it was the oddest ones who helped her face her most heartbreaking duels, for which she owes the cane her life. The lower galleries retain their old incubator name--the Batchery, a swampy forbidden abyss that she does not visit. Sometimes she would wonder with the rest about below, the spectrum of their lives different from the rest, locked away in the deep darkness, but not anymore. Today, she thinks of them; she does not know why.
Her elevator train is riding her skywards, a dragon in glass flight. Today so many dizzying ideas are seething through her brain threads that she fears for her power walking stick, for the electronic music sounds it will twirl at, which will cause knee-jerk reactions to occur. She is helpless. It is the way of her cane, on many an occasion. And away she will go. Dance! Dance! In frenzy. In frenetic trip, flap and jive. No remedy against one class of bodkins! A barrage of condemned-as-dangerous chemical corporations run the Batchery. Undeniably a bodacious remedy for whatever grows within. Lives within. The place is no one's favorite on Xenoa. After all, no assessment can ever be complete without their filters. Her muscles stiffen. But who is she to say, and to whom. The Batchery is out of bounds, clearly, to all healer warriors. At her age she should not be working at all.
By Xenoa's estimates, healer warrior widows are in the process of being phased out. They have lived out their time. She is practically semi-retired, which she will not admit. She wants to work more, to keep her vitals churning, to keep her feet moving, to resist turning insular flunkey to the Chieftains. Her alarm is real. She is prepared for the consequences. What she has seen is what she knows. But folks keep so much of the best stuff quiet. Nobody from the former settlements reach out to her anymore. She has grown too old in this healing business, too waspish, too immune, unable to carry the load.
Confused, she performs slow rhythmic convolutions, the transparency of her eyes filling up with wordless melodies, as her healing function demands, staring straight ahead, unblinking, liver-spotted knuckles tightly gripping her cane, odor-sensored for security, the entry protocol into the Hatchery multiplex. Her cane delivers tugs.
"How do you mean the old bodies get reused?" she inquires in muffled tones. No one is around her. She is solo talking to the reinforced glass and oxidized steel elevator car, transporting her skywards.
Once, her bubble car stalled intra-floors, trapping several. Odor sensors helped detect the fire spreading in ray-bursts like a Chinese festival lantern, set alight. All distressed cars were within a few scant moments vertically diverted to safety--by voice command. Voices. Hard voices. She knows. There is a reason why they are installed to buzz in your head even in deep state, even when cleaning chicken coops or tap-tapping.
"Stick with your stick if you want to live," the audible tones relay in a now-you listen-to-me-voice of hard-boiled authority. She is convinced. No answers today.
Today as usual there is a delay. Failure to match. Those aging bots of several light years ago who should be retired have been unable to catch the seasoning odors of her previous night meal--farm-grown bok choy and zucchini mixed in soya sauce. She has been warned multiple times against soya and sauce interfering with the algorithms. She has forgotten. She feels embarrassed. It takes several moments. Her trepidation is temporary. She is cleared, elevatored by up-speak to the gleaming sixteen hundred and fortieth floors above ground, best known for reasons to the powers that be, as the Tower of Silence, a Library of the Hatchery, which it once was, its stock-in-trade. A real library.
Her shoulders brace. It is her stick. It twitches. She tugs, it pulls, switching on AGORA, a complex network of transmission and communication, end to end, without intending to, but there are days she feels, or rather her walking stick feels friskier in a kittenish way. Bouts of joie de vivre are difficult to detect, even in the cane. She executes a mini-jig, aided by the virtual stick uptick, stooping to impossible-to-codify cane level.
In seconds, dance spectacles fill the giant holos--thirty movements of kath-belly conceived contemporaneously, crowding out tutu enhanced child dancing in rainbow skies--the regular imaging. Tango-tap flamboyantly takes over, outdone by the swirling effects of flamenco-trot in exaggerated turning-point. The movement effect is staggering. No limit to length. Reality takes over. Violent clash of cacophonous sound and muddle of musical instruments rise to a crescendo above high-octane. The noise is deafening.
Loud grunts and roars echo on the floors below hidden by foliage of wild tea olives and wax myrtles. Seems to be the Batchery in high distress. Several unseen others join a colony of mob-cats to caterwaul in nervous argument, the unanimous outrage radiating such pitch of vocalizations it is like thespians have taken up occupancy in the floors below. The disorienting sounds swell to fever-point. Somewhere in the heart of the pulse, a god thud is heard. Melodrama pushed to further hypnotic frenzy. In seconds, vehicle centers roar to life with loud acoustic shudders. Drones take to the air. It is as if in the instance, the entire Hatchery is crumbling in space. The city musically awakens, screeching fiendishly into the unlit darkness. Xenoa is rarely proud when the unit of sound is AGORA.
Okay! Okay! This happens. She regrets her stick's kamikaze error. It's surreptitious hustle. Under its crafted exterior, it is a normal walking stick. Volume lowered, the healer warrior widow swiftly switches her favorite very ancient Brandenburg Concerto into place, scuffing her coordinated galoshes to Arabesque, tip tapping her feet smartly past rows of shelves, housing everything inventory could assemble or has on offer.
She is so lonely she's inventing company, self-talking, self-humming, muting circuits, altering volume, so primed for dancing that she cannot knuckle down on her wildly pitching virtual walking stick, while she waits for the sick one to arrive—her healing duty for the day. Who will it be? In the Hatchery nothing is ever too obvious.
The voices have stopped. No details provided, whether the sick one is exoskeleton or bot, Xenoan or other, chimera or bodkin. In her experience, the sick one could be any, or a combo, or a new unknown. Of late she has been called to fix the decapods hovering at the perimeter fencing, those seasonal ones which grow scales and paddles and can be cajoled to float and fly, like frisbees in the wind. It is the season of infection say the notice boards from the Batchery. She must remain prepared for the worst.
Exit An Die Freude. In twinkling sylvan shades, wisteria running into bubbling brooks ripple on the screen, easy rapture captured in birdsong. Ghost flowers light up purple-veined butterflies, flitting through earth meadows and sunshine. The warrior widow gasps in awe. These sequences are some of her significant old favorites.
"Notice things here more," she says aloud, beaming in the luxury of a rare treat. Through mounting nostalgia she is thinking of a world gone awry, of walking her 'cane,' all those years, of her century-old hip pain no magic can cure, of her crooked leaning body, of her old fleetness of foot which she lacks now, of sighing away her uncanny abilities. Old Earth was once a paradise few remember. That world does not exist.
Tripping and waltzing excitedly in her newfound mobility she over-balances, side-stepping impromptu from falling flat on her face while deftly avoiding a messy tangle of code-laden wires and tubes, then stubs her foot on the battery bank, a huge tank-like retro device blocking her forward momentum, pressing her thin palms to her mouth to stifle her achy shout. An electric current like a recoil stiffens her arm. Her cane!
"Clumsy!" she scolds herself, giving her virtual cane a hard shake.
She has reached the obsolete books section of the Tower, tucked in a quiet corner. She is burnt out, bird-caged in the Hatchery's bleakest spot, the old Library. The place holds many memories for her. By the rules, she is an insider. But today she feels an outsider. She is hesitant to enter this ancient sanctum. While not exactly out of bounds, the old Library is usually never accessed. Not by anyone in the Batchery or the Hatchery, or Xenoa, except for the old healer warriors. No strict restrictions apply any more. No one for ages has ever felt the need to invade this private sanctuary of wellness and quiet.
But here exists the real books, with real leaves, which reminds her too particularly of the resurgence and subsequent détente. Oh my gosh! Once she had visited the ancient cinema cafe, behind the rows of books, lined with images of old movie heroes, and promptly fainted when a particularly smoldering and undying Clark Gable had walked up to her. She wonders whose hologram will ghost-walk into laser focus today. She hopes to see elements of one time dancing stars share their willing waltzing canes, not very subtle, but no one comes here any more, not even today's kids, not even aging acrobat bots, preferring instead the unlimited virtual clash of dance energy rolling out of AGORA.
The unmistakable scents of a secondhand book shop waft over her. Parchment and pottery dust. It is tricky. She is immersed. She inhales deeply, reaching for dog-eared Bovary peeping out from between Golub's Space Diaries and another on interplanetary diseases recorded on onionskin pages bound in actual cowhide leather. It contains every cure-all, known and unknown, usually her must-read fare when she is on healer duty. But just for a while she wants to luxuriate in Bovary. The lumpy armchair in plain sight looks coffee stained but inviting. It is her one piece of familiar furniture at the Library. She has used it often. She falters, her gait unsteady, groping her way, feeling with her silent cane. She is ready to crash out, virtual stick and all. Nothing to do but wait in the silence, for the sick one, book in hand. The silence is crushing. Her eyes wander, slit, just a little.
When, EEEKS! “What's that?”
“What's what?” gripes her cane.
She has spotted a BODY!
Her cane spots it too. Eeeks!
Her own is gut-punched. Her walking stick is jerking apart. The ground moves. The cane trembles. All around are shudders rising higher and higher in waves. Her gripping arm is bursting with shocks.
A dark shadow occupying the full length of the floor has taken up position near her favorite Bovary armchair, so close in fact she can touch it with her foot. How has she missed such a gigantic thing? It is large--very large. She cannot see the end of it. In actuality, she cannot see the beginning either. She peers near-sighted, a dangerous thing to do under the circumstances, her weak eyes straining in the dim half-light. She had better be quick. It appears greenish in hue. But the rationale behind that very peculiar color could be her eyes acting up. Ever since she took up eating farm-grown greens, her very own carapace has been reflecting a strange bile-green tinge.
The body is nude. Nude? She can't be certain. It doesn't resemble any known specimen in the settlements. None that she knows of. The Hatchery has been offering various perks to lure many unsuspecting newcomers in. Over at the Batchery, it is a different ball game. Methods of inducement vary vastly. Lying supine for long periods is one.
“Sir, wake up! You're in my way. Do you mind getting off the floor, Sir?” Unmoving. Still. Not a single muscle twitch, not a grunt either. Living up to the Tower of Silence code of conduct. Still, if it looks quite dead, it must be dead! Whatever else?
The moments tick. The body does not stir. The air smells stale. Very stale. She can feel it. This causes a range of extreme high-stress shock segments to travel up her nerve sensor system, crawling up her bent legs and crooked back, charging at her in a manner so unexpected, so inopportune, that the shocks at a whopping one hundred and twenty reflexes per minute coming at her cause her stomach to once again misbehave alarmingly, Hades-tingling anew. She cannot muster courage with her insides cramping, churning.
Who could this monstrous green cadaver be, dropped suddenly dead in the most remote region of the Hatchery? The place no one ever chooses to visit. The AGORA has multiple eyes stationed everywhere. They are all-seeing, all-knowing. What would she do? Where could she heft it, conceal it, make it disappear, if the damn thing were at all possible? What if the worst this here very dead thing is her very own new sick one, the unknown one she was expected to repair, to cure, and she has arrived too late on account of the hapless insane dancing, caught up in AGORA? With her spirited cane? An eon too late? No one has ever died on her. Squashed around bookshelves, not yet, anyway.
She pales visibly at the thought. She decides she is ready to faint. She is coming unglued. Her arched back seems no longer able to support her, her legs are giving way. She is falling, falling, falling . . . headlong, despite her stick convulsing, to land headfirst into the messy green goop swallowing her whole. The green rises, the bile rises more, her entrails heave, the entire library floor space shifts, like a tsunami, conspiring against her. She did not light the halo candles. She’s undone. Those bodkins from the Batchery below are loosed. Dirty tricksters. Never could trust them. Spreading their bacillus and germs.
Against the odds, her wrist tingles, shakes, lifts. It’s disturbing, but she is trapped. Not likely whoops her whooping cane, which she has not let go of, through her dizzy spell, whirling, twirling, wildly out of control, shooting substances through her thin stick-like arm. She feels a giddy encounter arising. And she is restrained in the nick of time.
The scene looks staged, macabre and mysterious, dark and gritty, slaps her cane in a demented thud. Her urban experiences are at a new low. But she knows crime when she sees one. This here scene has the look of old world terrestrial transgression. Her cane jiggles uncontrollably. There is a thick trickle of shining red blood oozing, quite visible in the half-light. The giant gecko has animal-like blood. Good! Good! We're making progress! But so had the chimeras when the staple diet in Xenoa was nothing but meat. In the days when the healer warrior woman was younger, much younger, all she ever heard was the slicing of mutton against the grain, elegant-like. She shudders. That novelty no longer exists. She survives on greens. This here is a true-grit crime noir if ever a healer warrior widow is to be believed, with a genuine green body to show and a wildly twitching affected cane.
“If you are thinking hardboiled, the perp has got to be lurking somewhere close, in the shadows,” she half-whispers to her cane, excitement overcoming her visage. The library space comprises several nooks and hidden corners, some impossible to access. Every bookcase stretches and bends endlessly in rows. “If you are thinking cozy mystery then someone within these very walls will appear any moment,” her walking stick whispers wickedly back in suspenseful energy. A tingle slices her spinal cord at the tailbone. The Tower has virtual screens lining every surface. Nothing is missed.
If you are thinking the ligature marks on the throat indicate strangulation, then, such moronic conclusions are yours to draw, she admits grudgingly, more to herself, since she is running out of ideas or coherent thought. And her cane has grown still, too still. “But if you are thinking it is your job as healer-warrior to take the case,” it bobs tap-tapping nonchalantly, “then you can well keep your imaginings to yourself, for picture your helplessness, imagine the reluctance of your frailty to lug the cadaver sixteen hundred floors down with only a spritely cane for company. How would you do it?” She admits the cane is right. Shrinking at all prospects shutting down before her, there is one last—“if you are thinking thriller-like that you are the perp hell-bent on tampering with the crime scene, then so be it for making shrewd observations.” The cane delivers a super sharp thwack at the link. “Murderess!” it yelps in glee. Connection made.
The Hatchery's job is not to malign, not her, nor her performance cane or anyone else, nor to turn complacent within the settlements on reports of any weirdness unfolding. A body abandoned in the one and only obscure place no one in the Hatchery, or even the Batchery, will ever, not in a million years, intentionally look, least of all connect, requires a remedy. Who better than she? The possibilities are staggering. Does she smell a rat? Impossible to say. The air is beginning to smell of green puke. Her melting, penetrating eyes let out a momentary gleam of raw candor. She grips her virtual stick hard. Murder is looked at askance in the Hatchery. In fact it is not well tolerated at all.
This frail old woman, weakened in the final throes of hyperventilation, since she is no detective, no expert, nor has ever been one, no murderess either, she doesn't know how, makes a supreme effort of will to reach the nearest wall interface and type in Code-O, the immediate response in a mishap. Smothering her enfeebled screams into the thickness of The Chronicles of Narnia, a highfalutin magic tale of risky Earth adventure she otherwise detests, her first fright-attack is firmly overcome in the book's vanilla and almond floral notes. Not so her second, which is to run, to run as far and as fast as her crooked vintage legs will carry. What will that look like? Guilty! She is past caring.
Only, her depraved magic-and-camp intelligence cane has other plans in store--spring-chicken like. The performance cane caught in a cane-coda of its own making bumps, grinds and rotates her around like a girl of barely nineteen. She twitches spasmodically, desperation beading her face in water drops. With three sharply delivered jabs, the stinging swinging manic stick deftly prods the dead body's slippery green sides, the texture of overripe citrus, a green gas fogging the air. The old lady winces, shrieks, groans, breaks into tears. She cannot bear to look. Her wild wickedly dancing invincible stick, has gone stark raving, meringue-rocking mad. Taking her with it.
Half-numb with fright at what the voices may say, all stiffness leaves her. She resists. She is ready to bolt. But she cannot come unglued from her weirdly whooshing cane. Or it, she. Between the two, they prod, smote, paso doble, like a pair of bullfighters in the ring, the voices returning to fill her achy lumpy head. She should call her children. Children?? Yes, those scattered ones. They want her home. They always did. Picture them, Chynna calling Bryznan. Her heartbeats grow louder. Her ears pop.
"It's Ma again. She's got a dead remora this time."
"What! Again? Oh no! That's sad. I didn't know she was infected."
"Ignited. Since a week. All stick handlers are turning into decapods."
"That bad, eh? End stage? She’s always had a thing for fishy types."
"Poor Ma! That's what they're calling it--end! Isn't there anything we can do?"
"Not unless you want to join that Batchery crowd far below."
She has often told herself she has grown too old for this healer warrior business, and she ought to stop working. Aching all over, unprepared for more shocks, she brushes one paper-thin hand over her watery eyes, feeling the weight of years, of defeat. She's done for this time--she and her stick in their final performance. A cane-coda to remember!
Before she can draw another breath, before her eyes can take another blink, her lungs let out a final rasping breath, EEEKS! as the ground sluggishly moves. The green, in loosening green swamp fashion of swirls, energy, spins, shakes, moves. She is hysterical.
It is the body. The dead body! The same body which was unmoving in posture of immobility. What is going on? “EEEKS!” The body grunts, barfs, rotates . . . stands! Incrementally. In swaying motions of half movements in a dance of its own.
Towering over her, dorsal fins rising and falling, it looks like an ancient Earth species, muscled and large, but also an alien fish, with petrographic body caked in crusts, veinlets blended, pulsing to a loud unseen heartbeat. It is a tall protocol-man, the kind that Xenoa suspected had first left old Earth to establish other colonies. Their kind had been wiped out in the re-engineering of the settlements. The few who survived were condemned to the Batchery. Four pairs of fig-shaped eyes glow lustily out of the greenery. They follow her. The minutes tick. The creature's palms come together in a loud clap, as if in glee, clashing noisily like tectonic plates meeting in the depths of the earth's deepest oceans. Her mind stalls, reverses, then momentarily unfettered zings and pings. She has delivered on her promise to heal. Her sick one! Her day’s schedule. It's alive!
"Oh my," she yells, bursting into song, shaking one foot, then the other, feeling limber, "just look at you, sicker than I thought, nobody will believe, got to get you out of here." She breaks into loud peals of uncontained laughter, her happiness scaling upwards. She wants to seize the moment. She wants to burst into rapturous song. On AGORA. She wants to cry buckets in gratitude. She wants to throw her arms around this huge ugly green shape who chose to return. She wants to grip and shed her cane. So thunderstruck is she with all her wants, the cane with a heave of instant surrender, twirls, twists, salsas and cavorts in extraordinary merry dance. Such exuberance of nifty footwork she scarcely remembers having ever danced. Or her spritely cane.
"Follow me," she tells the creature conversationally, between interludes, leading it by its twitching fin. It lopes after her in a shambling uncoordinated gait. She is going home. Too much happening here that will not stand up to scrutiny. She must leave. And so must her virtual cane.
Over at the Batchery, the shades of Hades are drawn. No more cryptic talk from deep down below. The bodkins are silent. A specimen has escaped. The green protocol-man. The last standing species. A lingering remora. The one on whom the Batchery's future rests. Heads will roll. No one from the Batchery ever trespasses into the Hatchery. No one who ever crosses escapes. No one will remember the nondescriptive healer warrior widow or the never-used Tower of Silence. No one will remember a cured green creature spirited away, or a simple docile walking stick performing its normal functions. In a distant sand-freckled provincial settlement on the outskirts of Xenoa, where life is primitive but has settled, there is a wide perimeter fencing where there is a peaceful new dweller.
Rekha Valliappan has authored dozens of traditionally published short stories and poems, including for the SFWA-qualifying market Third Flatiron and for Lackington's Magazine, Aphelion Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy (twice), Teleport Magazine of Speculative Fiction, NonBinary Review's HG Wells Anthology, among other venues. She is a Reader in the Editorial Team of Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores. Her website is silicasun.wordpress.com.
Fiction by Rekha Valliappan:
"Curious Cane-Coda" June 2021