The Life of Small-five (Part 14).

April 3rd, 2013

Populism and Research often delved into odd projects together, an old partnership since the inception of the cities. An ongoing project of shared interest had been the bodies of the researchers themselves, and their sisters at large by extension. What made them work? What made them able to wonder this? Or that? How do we find out? How do we find out without hurting anyone?
Small-five’s education had included a healthy backing in her own biology. She had learned both the totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never asked. For instance, how does your mind rest?
A simple question that isn’t often asked. Ooliku slept – lightly, and quick to waken. Nohlohks slept; deeply, and for what seemed ages. Small-five didn’t sleep, or at least, not all at once. Each quarter of her brainstem would shut down independently as it reached exhaustion point. After extended periods of extreme physical overstress, two would go down in parallel and render her near-insensate.
Small-five didn’t sleep. Which made her most surprised, when the dreams came.
The first month-maybe of her and Pulsing-point’s time in the Ooliku’s glacial refugium at the bottom of the world was… right. They ate, and they changed – how she didn’t yet understand, but deep down inside her bones she could feel stretching, twisting. Her stomach twisted inside itself with fierce sounds, her proboscis itched like wildfire, and once she felt a ferocious tickle in her mind that made her think of when she’d chased after that male on the reefcolony long ago.
It was strange, but it was right. And then, without warning, it vanished.

She gained consciousness more than a day later by her best guess, with Pulsing-point huddled in fear against her side. Sister-safe? Sister-safe? she asked, all concern and glimmer.
Small-five nudged her back, and wondered. And worried.
It happened again, after a feast of Ooliku the likes of which she’d have given an eye for back in the great open sea – the aftermath of a great mating-jousting, with scores of exhausted, frail, dying targets still prime with flesh. They glutted themselves, she felt the trickle down the back of her throat, her spine, and then

the endless waves eating at her sawing at her she was stuck on top of them all, stuck above the water gills dry and cold, where were her sisters her lights couldn’t reach?
there they were down there! All-fin and Pulsing-point and Dim-glowing and all of her sisters were there why wouldn’t they wait they were swimming into a city the city
was a mouth and the mouth came out of the blue, the deep blue emptiness
eating them it was eating all of them it wouldn’t stop
the children stop the children


She awoke again, and the back of her mouth felt strange. Her face was numb, and she spent a confused hour rubbing it against ice before she gave up and accepted it.
Pulsing-point watched in confusion. Small-five tried to soothe her as best as she could, but keeping a slow, relaxed posture was growing harder. She felt as if her fins were trying to pull away from one another.
Time seemed to be speeding up somehow, although part of that could be that she kept spending so much of it

being forced through a ring of jagged shells backing water as best she could but the current was too strong and it drew her through row after row after row and
they shrunk down down smaller and smaller rings so small they fit into her eyes they were cutting out her eyes in rings, peeling them away so that the Gruskomish could eat them down on the bottom of the world because they were always hungry
hungry because faint-marks wouldn’t let them eat was holding all the food all so hungry all of them not Gruskomish all the
children so hungry all dying

dead to the world.
Her eyes had changed while she was asleep. They felt strange, sticky, almost-scabbed. She blinked her membranes to clear them, but felt searing pain before they could even twitch.
Sister-changing, shone Pulsing-point. She seemed smaller. Was she smaller? No, she was bigger. Her vision kept swaying. Bigger, definitely.
Sister-changing, shone Pulsing-point, again. She’d said it a few days ago, hadn’t she? It was hard to tell the time, with the sun stuck in the sky so. Always that light, that neverending light. Summer, evil summer, even here in this feast in the middle of a starving wilderness, even here it found a way to harm her, to bite at her sides.
Yes, thought Small-five. I am changing. And it’s too fast, too strange. She had expected the unknown, but not the unimaginable, and the feeling of her body, her life slipping out of her grasp tore at something deep down inside her belly. She’d let her mind wander loose in despair or loneliness before, but never had she felt it run away without her. And it was getting harder to tell how long it

she was jumping in the water stuck in a net stuck in a mesh a thousand cities around her formed a cage with a thousand bars and all the sisters and mothers in them were hungry and going to eat her but they wouldn’t have her that way they would die starving with her flesh in their
mouths from below the cities were a mouth in the blue
the blue all around her, forever, no black just blue no matter where she swam where was home where was real where was her


Pulsing-point was slowing in her eating. So was Small-five, but her sister worried her more, even if she wasn’t Small-five right now. She was something else, something following Small-five a bodylength or two away, watching as Small-five nudged her sister and encouraged her to eat, to feed. Look, look, an already-dead Ooliku. See it? Food. Good. Eat it up.
Hurts. Sick, said Pulsing-point. Her sides were sluggish.
No, thought the thing that was watching Small-five. She’s fine, she’s safe. Look at her grow, look at her skull swell, hear her words. Even in pain like this she can make new words, hear her sister-talk blossom. She will grow and she will live and she must not be Small-five at all, whoever she was, because Small-five’s education had included a healthy background in her own biology. She had learned both the totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never asked. For instance, how does your mind swelling? Her sister’s mind swelling not right she was tired again more rest would

Pulsing-point was swimming away again this time over the waves and Small-five was stuck in shallow water trapped in the reefcolony trapped as a baby as an infant as a child with no mind watching her sisters swim away together over the sky
the sky was blue the clouds were teeth and her sisters swam and didn’t care
the teeth were in Outward-spreading’s glowshine swimming in the fluid of her sides, swimming in her words, jumping out of her veins to bite and bite and bite and bite and bite and

fix this.
Maybe it was food. She slept more quickly after she ate. Maybe if she stopped eating they would leave her alone and let her be and let Pulsing-point grow up and grow her mind, like she had in the old days. She hadn’t grown sick, she had grown smart. Ideas. Remember when she, Small-five, had come up with ideas? That’s how she was special, that’s what made her important. She had ideas, good ideas like taking her sister to the bottom of the world to grow smart.
Pulsing-point’s sides were not dim; rather, they were curdled. Things oozed in her glowshine tubes that seemed more solid than liquid but less than both. The sickness spread from her head down.
Small-five must have forgotten that but it must have been real, unless this was another lie of sleep. A dream. A dream. Numbers jumping on a monitor measuring brain activity, it happened for all sorts of things. Nohlohk with all their legs and such. She was a Nohlohk now. Maybe she would grow legs and snip away Pulsing-point’s fins and then
there would be people who’d be sorry and they’d have to give her back her light or she’d pinch them and they’d make Pulsing-point smart and
then she’d (that’s Pulsing-point) be Outward-spreading except right and she would teach the juveniles properly and the infants she would eat and
then she’d eat Small-five before she did anything so terrible, rising from below and beaching them all on her belly, she’d be so strong there’d be only one of her
one of her was all there was one of them was all there was all of them were only one no
copies no other Small-fives Dim-glow wasn’t Dim-glowing was she? made sense

She woke hungry and confused and didn’t even know she’d been asleep until she felt the terrible, burning real fire in her guts. She needed to eat, needed to eat now, needed to eat hours ago while her brain drove her mad. How had she slipped under without noticing? She’d been halfway through a bite of food. Who’d put that there? It must have been Pulsing-point. Where was Pulsing-point? She was here just a moment ago. She must be there because it was right there and she couldn’t go far because she was little. She was getting bigger, wasn’t she? Bigger brains, she was going to be so smart. So smart. Small-five was smart wasn’t she? She must be smart and special or the reefcolony would’ve eaten her like it ate her sisters. But if Pulsing-point was alive then she was smart and special too. If she ate her then
small-five wasn’t smart and special anymore and it was all her fault it must be her fault that she was pushed out of the shell ring and
no she had to find her. She had to find Pulsing-point, she was sick and who knew what could be wrong with her. She was smart, and she’d be lonely. Small-five remembered being lonely, it was worse as an adult. You could think ahead, and be more frightened than an infant could.
Look for lights, look for lights, follow the lights. Pity you can’t shine your own but you don’t care anymore do you? It’s fine now, isn’t it? You’re fine now, aren’t you?
Pulsing-point was a displacement in the light, a larger-than-normal shadow. Small-five moved up to her and tried to stroke her forehead, but her proboscis was numb and wouldn’t move along with most of her fins except the one at the back. She knew what it was called until she didn’t, because Small-five’s education had included a healthy background in her own biology. She had learned both the totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never asked. For instance, she had learned that her sister was all right and fit as a school of Verrineeach because there were a thousand of her all growing inside her skull like a light that was glowing see the light was that a light glowing it wasn’t. it wasn’t because there was a light and Small-five had no lights she wasn’t Small-five because she couldn’t Small-five-point-burst-of-light. she was blank and she knew this because Small-five’s education had included a healthy background in her own biology and she knew that it was broken and she would never talk again and was worthless more worthless than an infant. she had learned both the totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never asked. for instance, she had included a healthy background in her own biology. she had learned both the totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never included a healthy background in her own biology. she had background in her own biology. she had learned both the totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never asked. for instance, she both the totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never asked. for Small-five’s education had included a healthy background in her learned both the totally unexpected and the answers to education in her own totally unexpected and the answers to questions she would’ve never Small-five’s for instance, she. for instance, she she would’ve never asked. for instance, she, she

She left Pulsing-point. She had to. She had no proboscis to hook her by the fin, to stroke her swollen skull.
So she left her sister’s body in the current, where it floated in the cold. And she swam straight forwards for some time.
She missed the sleep, and hated herself for it somewhere, underneath everything else she was feeling.
It never came back again.

The sun was gone, but still she saw. Forwards, mouth clamped shut. Without a proboscis to hunt, without the will to eat. Moving forwards because the alternative was to sink. She wondered how long it would take something to find her below in the dark, if she swam as far down as she could until she ground herself apart in the muck and stone.
Still she saw, still she swam. Why wouldn’t her eyes stop? The sun was gone, it was winter now. The waters were filled with life, she was swimming through it now, she could see it, could see the faint glimmer of juveniles as they clustered away from her, huddled in indecision.
She could see them clear as a bell, from far away. And then, then it was that she could realize that they could see her too.

The sun was gone, but the light was there. It streamed out of her body in a soft rain, turning the sea from black to clear, wiping the shadows from the ice.
She tried to dim it, out of automatic, half-frozen curiosity, and nearly sent the juvenile approaching her into a panic, her sisters huddled behind her like Kleeistrojatch on a Gloudulite three sizes too small for them.
Sister? asked the juvenile, lights careful, as careful as they could be at her age. The inklings of a pair of tiny barbels twitched at the sides of her mouth, looking for strange scents before they even knew how.
NO, thought Small-five. And as she thought it, for the first time in what felt like forever, she shone.
The light rippled around her in waves, turned her statement into a show. Light from the ice nearly blinded her before all three of her lens-lids, her eyelids, her membranes slipped over her eyes. Then two more. How many were there now?
NO, she repeated. FRIEND.
Then she thought, and then she shone again.

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