Fiction

Soul Spinner

By Donna Marie Robb
To be published in an upcoming issue of Femspec

“The child is a boy,” said Je’ia, the midwife. Ke’ra opened her eyes, struggled to sit up. Her body was limp from the birthing. “He is small but healthy.”

The woman handed her the infant. He had been sponged clean and was neatly swaddled in fine strips of silky baya fur.

Ke’ra, still trembling from her ordeal, took the infant into her arms and held him close. He felt so soft, so warm. With the combined light emanating from the phosphorous lichen that spilled along the cave’s walls and the glow of the Great Blue Planet that slipped in from a glass covered opening high above, she could see him in detail. A faint coating of silvery fuzz frosted the top of his tiny head and his enormous onyx eyes, sprinkled with iridescent flecks, closely studied her. He cooed. His tiny diaphanous hands curled around downy locks of Ke’ra’s sweat-slick hair.

She blinked, felt the hot trickle of tears upon her face. A bursting warmth filled her chest. A perfect little baby. My baby. If only…

At Je’ia’s urging, Ke’ra held the infant to one of her milk-swollen breasts. He suckled eagerly, hungrily. She felt momentary flickers of pain created by his faint tugs. Still, the euphoria within her grew stronger.

“Let’s hope that he remains safe from the diseases that the giants transferred to our world from theirs,” Je’ia said softly. The older woman sighed as she settled beside Ke’ra. She hooked a wisp of pale hair behind a double-pointed ear and gazed upward. Blue planetlight sheened her eyes, brought a glow to her translucent skin. “There are so few of us left.”

Tears burned Ke’ra’s eyes and depression spread like a poison through her chest as she thought of R’enen, her life mate. He hadn’t even known that she had been carrying their child when the giants’ mysterious disease seeped away his life. “I know,” she whispered, holding the infant to her chest, taking comfort in his warmth, the moth-wing pulsing of his heart.

“No more worrying about the giants,” said Je’ia, brushing her lips against Ke’ra’s forehead. “You need your rest.” Her voice was a hushed whisper. “Focus on your son. He is beautiful and you are lucky to have him. Think of a good name for him.”

“I already have.” Ke’ra struggled to speak around the painful tightness in her throat. “It is R’enen.”

“That is a good name,” said Je’ia as she pressed a shiny crystal object into Ke’ra’s palm. It was slender and as long as her hand and tapered on each end like a spindle. A light spinner. Tears warmed her eyes as she touched her own spinner, which hung on a silken thong around her neck, and glanced at Je’ia’s. “This belongs to R’enen. Give it to him after the Planet has gone through all of its phases. He should be ready to learn by then. Spirits willing, with this gift, he can help to restore what we have lost.”

Ke’ra looked up at the opening as Je’ia slipped from the chamber. R’enen had been born at dusk; it would be a long time before the sun rose. Ke’ra was used to the dimness of those nights but many of the elders, Je’ia included, who remembered the time before the giants, found darkness unbearable.

According to legend, Ke’ra’s people had originated as beings formed from the light and energy of stars. They had come from a place further than the Great Blue Planet and had made their homes in the caverns beneath this barren world. They gradually developed solid forms, which needed to remain underground where there was a little atmosphere and some water, but retained the ability to manipulate light. Since her ancestors had been able to travel between worlds in their bodiless forms, they learned about the giants of the Great Blue Planet centuries before the giants discovered their posterity. The surface of her world was nothing but dust, rock and desert: for millennia the giants had believed that no life existed there.

If only they had remained on their world instead of invading ours, Ke’ra thought bitterly. According to the elders, the giants were a hostile species who preyed upon one another. Even the air of the Great Blue Planet was extraordinarily heavy; it alone would crush Ke’ra’s people.

Ke’ra looked down at the spindle that she held and sleeping R’enen. So many of their creations, such as light-spun edifices and incandescent plant lifeall formed from sunlight, starlight and, at times, even planetlightwhich brightened their lands during the long nights, had faded. There was only a paucity of people left, not enough to continue maintaining the world’s precious but ephemeral creations and spinning new ones. Fortunately the crater-windows allowed sunlight, starlight and planetlight to enter.

“You will help us restore light to our world,” Ke’ra whispered as she kissed R’enen’s soft cheek………

Over the next several waking hours, Ke’ra nursed R’enen, cleaned him, and loved him. He seldom cried and slept often, awakening just to be fed. When she grew tired, she slept with him cuddled close.

During this time, she began to notice that something was wrong with R’enen. No matter how many times she fed him, he became thinner, his skin more pellucid. She could clearly see the traces of bones along his torso. Rage and despair gnawed at Ke’ra. He had the same illness that had taken away her life mate and the lives of so many others. Still, she tried to cling to a scrap of hope that possibly, just maybe, he would recover.

The healers gathered herbs from the rare plants that contained healing propertiesplants such as silverleaf and bonerootthat they crushed into powders and potions. These were then mixed with water to be fed to R’enen by means of a narrow hollow reed. He only choked and sputtered and spat out the substances.

The drams were next rubbed into his skin in the hopes that they would be absorbed.

None of that helped. R’enen simply slept; the only indication that he was still alive was the sight of his fragile, bony chest rising and falling.

Hopelessness weighed heavily upon Ke’ra as she carried R’enen on her steam-generated floater deep into the sparse underground forest. The long night was well underway; R’enen had been born at dusk and hadn’t even made it through the interim. She had brought a few things with her, including her light spinner, a pallet and a small frame loom. She wanted to be alone with her son, away from the others. Most of the phosphorous plants had faded; those woods would have been shadow-dark if it wasn’t for the starlight and the glow from the Great Blue Planet that spilled in through the wide window-gaps in the high ceiling.

Ke’ra settled on a dusty embankment and studied her sleeping son. So frail; he looked to have been shaped from the most fragile and brittle of leaves. The bright blue planetlight slipped through him as if he was glass and she could see the nacreous black of his eyes through his closed lids.

R’enen’s slow breathing gradually ceased. Ke’ra leaned over him and wept, mottling his tiny, ghostly face with tears.

A faint tingling at her chest forced her to look down. Through grief-blurred eyes she noticed her light spinner had taken on a rich golden glow. She studied it closer. That light was attached to ethereal, golden filaments that extended from R’enen’s head and body. His escaping soul? A fleeting joy shivered through her as she turned her light spinner. The soul-filaments wrapped around the shaft, becoming tangible.

Ke’ra touched them with trembling fingertips. They were warm and seemed to pulse like a heartbeat.

But R’enen’s limp, weightless body felt cold in her arms. It crumbled into dust that was suppler than the surface sands.

Ke’ra tucked the spirit-entangled light spinner beneath her tunic. She said a silent prayer to the stars and Planet as she scattered his dust over the ground. Death ceremonies among her people were very private, only between the departed and the closest loved ones. Ke’ra had witnessed more ceremonies than she would have liked during her lifetime.

I must confront the giants, Ke’ra thought, feeling the pulsing of his soul-threads against her chest. I doubt I’ll have much influence but I can at least try to communicate with them. Maybe I can somehow convince them to return to their own world.

Ke’ra had learned from her elders that a cloth, woven from a deceased person’s soul, could, when worn, make an individual ephemeral and spirit-like just as the first ancestors were. This would enable a person to fly and survive in the airless desert of the upper world. And threads spun from the Great Planet strengthened a person’s essence, made it possible for her to withstand the heavy atmosphere that the giants need to breath. Ke’ra hoped these claims were correct; no one had tried such a thing for many years. And no one had ever actually attempted to interact with the giants. …

“I don’t care!” she hissed to herself through clenched teeth. “Iwill take that risk!”

Ke’ra settled upon her pallet and, with trembling hands, removed the spinner from her chest. She pulled out her golden frame loom. Nerves pulsed through her.

She looked up at the Great Planet. It was mostly blue, swirled with patterns of white, splotched with patches of brown. How beautiful and pristine it looked against the inky, star-flecked sky! What a magnificent world those poisonous giants came from! A realm of clouds and great oceans. Why did the giants ever want to leave it?

A momentary longing to visit the Great Blue Planet gnawed unexpectedly at Ke’ra. The Planet would be a part of R’enen: it would temporarily thicken his ephemeral spirit and make it easier for her to enter the giants’ stifling environment. She held up the light spinner and twirled it. The silvery-blue light-threads intertwined with R’enen’s golden ones. Ke’ra touched them with trembling fingertips; their texture was damp and slightly gritty. A lovely world yet marred in many ways, she thought.

Ke’ra picked up the tiny loom and started to work. She removed the glowing filaments from the light spinner and wove them across the loom’s warp threads. She carefully manipulated the warp with her fingers, gently passed the weft through and beat the emerging fabric into place. Back and forth, over and under until the weft threads formed glistening rows.

This detailed task allowed Ke’ra to forget her grief. A song came to her, one that depicted her world before it gradually faded from neglect. She hummed softly at first, and then added words that described the delicate airy structures of their buildings; the naturally phosphorous plants that lit all of the lands during the long nights; the steam-powered vehicles that could hover and fly.

Tears came to Ke’ra’s eyes but still her song continued. She didn’t care if her voice was flat and slightly dissonant; she’d never be a challenge to any of the Singers but that didn’t matter. Not now.

A joy similar to that which she had experienced when she first held R’enen burst within her. This was to be the most precious weaving that she had ever created. It seemed to grow and grow yet Ke’ra felt reluctant to stop.

Finally, trembling with exhaustion, she gently released the quilt from the frame then held it up to study.

It was more of a blanket than a quilt, as fine as a dustborn-blossom petal. It glowed a rich fallow gold and was splashed with silver-blue and rivers of cloudlike curdles.

Pride throbbed through Ke’ra, along with a weariness that left her limp. She collapsed onto her pallet and fell asleep with the pulsing, internally warm quilt over her.

When Ke’ra awoke, she folded R’enen’s soul-quilt in half, and then tied it around her chest, beneath her tunic. It throbbed with continuing warmth, matching her heartbeats. When her thoughts gave way to fear in confronting the giants, she focused on the soul’s steady pulsing.

With the spirit now one with her, she was little more than a shadow and could fly rapidly over the airless surface. She looked down, momentarily enjoying her weightless glide. Just a crater-pocked desert of dust, so different from the life that flourished below…or used to. She sped toward a lone square structure that was surrounded by a crystal dome.

The exterior of that edifice was a harsh metallic silver-gray that created a striking contrast to the pale dust and rocks. The sight of it hurt Ke’ra’s eyes.

In this insubstantial form, she was able to slip through the thick glass of the dome as if it was made from water. She was grateful for the protective magic that her son’s soul provided. The air did feel heavy and oppressive but didn’t crush her. The Planet-threads were working! She slipped into the structure and entered a long, narrow hallway. The rounded walls were the same metallic shade as the outside and brightened by the ceiling that held a queer yellowish-white glow. Ke’ra glanced up at it. The light was not the same flickering illumination as that of glow-moths and sun-worms or the internal incandescence of the creations spun by her people; it seemed somehow artificial. Something created by the giants.

A nervous fear spread through her weightless body, nearly paralyzing her movements. R’enen squeezed tighter. His rapid pulsing matched her heartbeats.

“I suspected that one of you creatures would find a way to enter my home,” said a deep voice that resonated in Ke’ra’s ears.

The hulking, shadowy form of a giant slipped forward, becoming clear in that steady light. Terror grasped Ke’ra’s throat; she couldn’t move. Her hand crept to her chest and felt the hard rod of the light spinner concealed beneath her bulky tunic. That was her only weapon….

“You know of us…?” she began in a voice that was a high-pitched squeak. She swallowed and looked down at her body. It was ghostly and diaphanous but still visible; her clothes concealed R’enen’s soul-quilt.

The man towered over Ke’ra; her head barely reached his massive waist. He was garbed in a loose-fitting robe and his hair was a queer shade that was almost as black as the sky. The written descriptions of the varying hair colors of these giants, that she had come across during her studies, had amazed Ke’ra since her people all had the same dust-white hair. More hair sprouted from this man’s chin. Ke’ra stiffened with revulsion as her gaze settled onto that. Why were some of the giants able to grow hair on their faces? She had never seen that phenomenon among her own people.

He is a monster, she reminded herself.

“How is it that you are able to enter my atmosphere?” asked the man, bending down on one knee to inspect her. Had he heard what I said? Ke’ra wondered. He reached out with an enormous hand to touch her; it passed through her shoulder.

Ke’ra jumped back a pace. The touch didn’t hurt but created a brief, stinging warmth. R’enen throbbed and squeezed her tighter in shocked response. She stiffened, fearful that the giant would see the silk-spirit glowing through her tunic.

“You are not like the others I have seen,” he said. “You have no substance. Are you an illusion? Or are you one of the ones who came from deep space, one who never adapted to the environment to take on solid form?”

Ke’ra froze. R’enen’s soul-quilt tightened its grasp with a throbbing heat. “How do you know so much about us?” What can I do now? she screamed internally. What possessed me to come here?

“I have been studying your people for a long time. My colleagues eventually lost interest and left but I remained. I studied your literature, which consisted of documents threaded onto reams of glowing silk. They were easy to decipher since your language is derived from those of Earth. That is how we can understand one another. Your ancestors had initially visited Earth in invisible spirit-like bodies centuries ago but found the atmosphere to be harsh and oppressive. Besides, it was an inhabited world and they wanted to start someplace new. They were weary of travel and Earth’s moon was the closest world. Although it was airless and uninhabited, they found they could create a faint atmosphere along with life in the underground caverns. Eventually they adapted and took on solid form. It’s

“I know our history,” Ke’ra said in a voice that rasped in her ears.

The man drew back. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to offend you. It is a proud history, that is certain. Much better than that of my people. I’d like to get to know you better. I’m Jim Harrison. What is your name?”

“Why is it that you care, Jim Harrison?” she said, straightening. “Your”

“Just call me Jim.”

Ke’ra shook her head. The giants certainly were a confusing species! Why would he give two names and then ask to be called by one? He knelt before her in silence, waiting for her to give her name.

Don’t trust him! her thoughts urged. You can tell him your name but nothing else!

“I’m Ke’ra,” she muttered, focusing on R’enen’s warm, steady throbbing and the slightly chill touch of the light spinner against her chest.

“Ke’ra,” Jim said, and then repeated the word, rolling it around on his tongue. “Your people do have interesting names, short with two syllables instead of one.”

“Have you met many of us?” Ke’ra asked. Her thoughts urged her to yell at Jim, to insist that he leave with all the other giants that have invaded her world but those words remained stuck in her throat.

“A few,” he whispered. Ke’ra’s gaze briefly locked onto Jim’s eyes. They were as brilliantly blue as the Great Planet and glistened with a wet sheen.

“I knew that your kind have killed many of my people.” Her cold tone throbbed in her ears.

Jim leaned close, his queer eyes still intensely focused on her. Ke’ra wanted to pull away but could not.

“I had performed some experiments, I must admit. I’m not proud of it but I can assure you that I didn’t intend to hurt them. My colleagues have left some time ago but I stayed behind. I never knew that one of you would willingly come to visit me.”

“I came to tell you to leave. My people are dying because of you. There are so few of us left.”

Jim stood, stretching back to his prodigious height. “I can’t leave. This is my home now. And even of I wanted to, I couldn’t get back to Earth. Come. I’ll show you where I live.”

He paced down the long hallway, his billowy robe flowing with his movements. Ke’ra followed him with reluctance. Jim led her into a room that was as vast as a cavern-chamber. The furniture was a dark brown and padded with embroidered fabric. Strange, thought Ke’ra as she studied it. She had only seen furniture spun from airy light threads. To her, this appeared bulky and ugly. As did everything else in the room: the artwork, the carpeting, even the walls, which were thick and the color of the desert’s surface. The personal items of her people possessed an ephemeral beauty. These objects were big and gawky, much like the giants themselves.

Jim settled on an overly stuffed chair and continued to stare at her with his prying gaze. What am I going to do with him? Ke’ra thought. He did mention that he was the only one of his kind, didn’t he? Is he telling the truth? I must get him to leave somehow! I must!

“I’m delighted that you paid me a visit. The ones of your kind that I have met were fearful and skittish. Just how much do you know about my world?”

“Not much, really.” Discomfort squeezed at her. “When I was little, I used to spend hours gazing up at your world, longing to explore it. . . even though your people had invaded our lands. I was taught that your kind was evil but your world was so beautiful in our sky that I found it impossible to believe that all of them were bad. Your planet had to be a lush, colorful paradise, more varied than ours. I wondered why anyone would want to leave it.”

“Your view about us is at least partially true. My world, called Earth, had many problems: war, famine, disease and injustice. Some of my people sought to escape all of that by colonizing other planets that they would then attempt to make perfect. One of the first places we looked was our moonyour worldand we were amazed to find life, deep underground. Of course, we are a curious species, and sought to experiment on that which we don’t understand.

“But my original colleagues have moved on, perhaps to infect other planets with their ills. I believe that they were merely running away. I predict that things will start out well on those worlds but soon the strong will begin to dominate the weak and war and suffering will ensue. They think that they are leaving all of their problems behind but will soon find their descendants repeating Earth’s flaws all over again.

“I stayed behind. In my experimenting, I discovered that yours is a peaceful society that is fairly advanced, in some ways more than ours. This fascinated me. What better wonders are my fellow explorers going to find on those other worlds in the galaxy than yours, a populated planet in our own proverbial backyard that we hadn’t even known about. I found the light-spinning magic to be the most interesting. All of your peoples’ creations and inventions are created from light. Even your clothes, as I can see. They glisten like starlight. I longed to possess this perfection that my own people have spent endless years trying to grasp and never quite succeeding. We have pretty much destroyed our world although it still does look lovely in your sky.”

Ke’ra’s tongue tasted like dust in her mouth. Jim’s curiosity was devastating to her world as well; because of him and his ilk, so much was gone. This human had to be destroyed.

Jim leaned forward. “Show me how you spin with light.”

Ke’ra stood still for several moments. The silk-spirit tightened around her torso in a pulsing embrace.

“If I do, will you promise to leave?”

“Young woman, I told you that I couldn’t. I don’t have a ship. My companions took all the vehicles when they left.”

“Then you’re a prisoner,” she said softly. “But there must be a way. The presence of you and your people has left a taint on our world. Because of that, my people are dying. Soon there will be no one left.”

Jim sighed. “You’re right. I am a prisoner. After my experiments, my colleagues sealed me away in here. I cannot leave. Your people will eventually recover and repopulate.”

A renewed grief touched Ke’ra. Only the steady warmth of the clinging soul-quilt comforted her. “My infant son died only a few short hours ago. The plague from your people still lingers in our cavern-lands.”

“I’m so sorry,” Jim said in a voice that sounded like sincere sympathy. “And I do regret the experiments that I performed on some of your people. I have to admit that some of the things I tried were cruel and unnecessary. That’s why I’m here. Locked away forever. So I cannot hurt any of you again.” Whether his mock-happy expression had melted into remorse, or the shadows from that disturbing light were toying with his countenance, Ke’ra wasn’t certain.

But Jim was a madman, the worse kind of giant she could imagine. If he found a way to escape his prison, he would not only exacerbate the deadly taint but harm and kill whoever was left. If she couldn’t get him off her world, then she had to destroy him somehow.

She pulled out her light spinner. “I will show you a trick then, to cheer you,” she said while her mind was churning. If only soul-quilt R’enen could feed her some ideas!

Ke’ra wound a few weak strands of artificial light around the spinner’s shaft and used her fingers to loop them into the shapes of flower petals. As she slipped the wispy, transparent flower off the spinner, it disintegrated in her hands quicker than R’enen’s body had after his death.

“I’m afraid that the light in here is a little weak,” she said in a hollow tone as she stepped closer to Jim. “I do better with natural light from the heavens.”

“No. That was fascinating. My people have never been able to perform such magic.”

“Then I’ll show you more.”

She glided closer, closer, and placed the spinner against Jim’s chest.

“What” he gasped in confusion, his eyes wide.

Silvery filaments extended from his chest and brightened the spinner’s shaft. Ke’ra turned her spinner. Jim’s tangible soul-threads were thicker than R’enen’s had been and viscous, less airy. She pulled as she twirled the spinner, stretching the threads from his body and entwining them around the spinner. Jim grew gradually weaker until they were free. His lifeless body sagged back in the chair and his mysterious blue eyes were now dull and empty.

Ke’ra stepped back, stunned. Her gaze wandered from the tangling soul-threads to the limp body of the giant. It wouldn’t fall to dust like the bodies of her kind.

“This is for taking the lives of so many of my people,” she whispered as she tucked the spirit-entangled spinner back beneath her tunic. The threads vibrated in hot staccato pulses against her chest.

A feeling of remorse tinged her triumph. Jim wasn’t completely evil, just misguided. Had she done the right thing by pulling out his life, his soul? At least her people were now completely free from the giants’ taint.

As she emerged from the dome, she noticed that the sun was starting to edge over the horizon, fulgent against the black sky, ending the long, long night. Ke’ra planned to release R’enen’s spirit into the heavens once she had safely returned to the cavern-lands.

But she wasn’t sure what she should do with Jim’s.