He dreams of a seduction of the flesh, of the muscle and the bone. He dreams of claws tenderly peeling the skin from him, reducing him to nothing. Just a heart.
He wakes to the cry of his own name. Fans are legion outside his hotel. They dog his shoot. They break onto his sets and caress him. He has retreated. He has locked himself away from the world. Perry, his PA, makes urgent calls. His agent is on line one.
“Get out there and pimp it, baby.”
“Breach of contract, darling.”
He swears at Perry. It is easier to curse Perry than to curse himself, his own face. He doesn’t deserve this, he knows. His beauty is skin deep. No one else knows.
She comes to him in his dreams. Monstrous. Hideous. Beloved. She takes his beauty from him. His face. His famous pectorals. He is nothing before her. That is everything.
They call his name louder. He is the epicenter of the world. Perry brings him advil and prozac. Perry squeezes his shoulders. He shakes Perry off. Why is Perry even here? Perry is better looking than he is. He tells Perry this. Perry doesn’t understand.
He has already rejected suicide. That way lies martyrdom, and then even his memory would be lost to the fable of his fame.
She comes to him again that night, bestial and low. She buries her face in his abdomen. Sweetly she eviscerates him.
He wakes sweating. He is not alone. Perry is there. Perry has him bound. Even Perry has failed him, has succumbed to the power of the myth. Perry wants his pound flesh.
He closes his eyes. And in this invasion of nightmare into reality, he calls to her, his monster, his lover, his beast.
Somehow she hears him. Somehow she unfurls from dreams and hotel furniture. Bathroom tiles are her spine, bed posts are her ribs, shattered glass are her claws and teeth.
She takes Perry. Takes him apart. She leaps from the window down to the baying crowds, and she rids him of them. She defiles his myth in viscera and blood. She is slaughter in his name.
She leaps back up to his room, swollen with the limbs of her victims. And he feels free, finally free of it all. And she advances while he dances. And he smiles as she opens her jaws.
A picture (a blue sky, a green hill) was found among her belongings.
She was the first of the first generation to die. The generation who knew Earth as home, not as story. The picture became the goal and they began to build the hill.
There was a poetic rightness to it, a commemoration, a remembering together. Their remains, turned to soil, building a patch of nature in the heart of the GreatShip’s endless metal and glass. For those who followed after, everything, always, was recycled.
The hill was their past and future, until they reached their destination, and then there was a planet with green hills by the million. There was talk of transporting the hill down to the surface, to a park in the middle of the first settlement. By now, however, the hill was its own ecosystem, a living thing that wouldn’t survive uprooting and transport.
So they went down without it, and it became a stop on the historical tours. Then history took a turn — disease, strife, struggle against a not-yet-domesticated alien world. A forgetting followed by a slow return. Societies re-formed, cities rebuilt, sciences reverse-engineered from artifacts.
When they were ready, they went up, into the sky, to the Star that Never Moves. They found an entire ship, larger than their largest city, empty and apparently devoted to sustaining a mound of soil covered in grass that didn’t look nearly blue enough.
The day was warm and a dry breeze blew out of the west. A good day for making cash.
Cars found a pebble. His hands were full. He picked it up in his toes and put it in his pocket. After he let Tools off at the mirror garden, he hid behind a solar array and examined his find. It tasted siliceous, with a hint of manganese. It was smooth and cool, pleasing to touch, so he kept it, despite its condition of no value.
Tools knew Cars had found something while carrying her to the garden. After making sure that her latest crop of mirrors had sufficient nutrients and were growing well, she called Tracks.
“Honey, I have a job of mutual profit.” Tracks was already shaking her head.
“Cash up front. Always cash up front. You know that.”
Tools bit the side of her finger while she thought. “Two mirrors. You choose.”
They settled on three, and Tracks was on the case. What did Cars find, and what was it worth?
Cars and Digs were sitting together on the bluff. The horizon was rising to meet the sun. Digs spat the pebble out and handed it back.
“It doesn’t taste good and it’s not nutritious. It is only a pebble.”
“I have wondered,” he replied, “does everything have to have measurable value?”
She pushed him down and straddled him. “Compare,” she said.
He popped the pebble in his mouth.
Cars dropped Digs off at the landfill excavation and ran to the taxi stand.
“You’re late!” Bossman shouted, his hair standing up in fury. “You’re docked a day’s pay.” He leaned forward and sneered. “We gotta be faaaaiiiiir!”
“You know what? I don’t think that IS fair. Also, I don’t want to carry people all day. Let them walk.” He dropped the pebble into Bossman’s hand.
“So what is it?” Tools asked. Tracks shrugged.
“He gave it to Bossman. Bossman threw it in the dirt and I picked it up. But it’s only a pebble.”
“Did he do anything special while he had it?”
“No. Put the pebble in his mouth and had sex with Digs.”
Tools looked at the pebble. She tasted it. “You got the wrong thing. Go look again.”
“Keep your mirrors,” said Tracks, “I’ve got work to do.” She put the pebble in her pocket, running her thumb over it as she walked away.