The voice of the students

The Catamount

The voice of the students

The Catamount

The voice of the students

The Catamount

From Operation EiPoRo, File 19, Letter 35

Illustrated by Norma Lin

The landing capsule settles with an exhale, stirring dust into opaque clouds. Click. The hatch springs open. I step out to survey the landscape, kicking pebbles and watching them shoot out in low gravity. The planet is small. The air is gritty with soot, dark, sickly yellow… And your people have turned this whole place into a bomb. You’ve made a world into a weapon. I feel you here, guarding the fuse against the defuser.

Your titanium tower looms from the horizon’s curvature, like a tooth, roots burrowed down deep to the core. Was anything else here ever alive? In contrast to its host planet, the tower is thrumming with energy, an organism of pulsating metal. Flaunted like a monument. Easy target. A sudden flash past an umbrous embrasure. From the shadow you emerge.

One electric clash birthed you and I—twin soldiers in one galactic theater, mirrored dancers spinning on a great stage light years across. From the moment our eyes opened we raced to separate edges of space as if knowing destinies predetermined. In a way, we do, because—in the end—one of us will live, and one will die. We follow our hostile momentums, our violent choreography, each perpetually faceless to the other. I never see the destruction I wreak.

I see you now, albeit through atmospheric toxins and debris. I see you as you were twenty nanoseconds ago and not twenty thousand years. You glow in the haze of this waste. In your presence I forget myself. I forget the bomb. I forget cosmic law forbids fraternizing with the enemy. You remember what I forget. Don’t you always? You raise the gun.

Beyond this war there is nothing for us. That is conservation as the universe demands. I am always just as fast. Our bullets meet, fire and shrapnel and radiation. I crawl on broken limbs, with broken blade, across the aftermath of us. For all the times we’ve orchestrated one another’s dooms from orbits of different stars, never before have I killed you up close.

Reinforcements—yours or mine? —descend in the distance, too late. Evenly matched and bleeding the same stuff, it’s a matter of mere chance who goes. The convoy glides into formation, whipping up a sandstorm that pelts my armor and tears down my trachea with each inhale. The flagship—mine—opens its bright mouth overhead. White light cuts through the drear, tractor beam already lifting my feet off the ground. You whisper to me, but you whisper backwards and I can’t understand. You fall. I rise. I know that I am going home. I feel like I am leaving it.

You are dead yet never gone. That is conservation as the universe demands. We are born again. And again and again with every collision. In the meantime before you return to afflict me, your planet-bomb will be defanged. Our routine concludes thus: winner and loser, dead and alive, up and down.

A metallic apparatus tends to my wounds. Its greased joints glide silently. The back-up bomb squad shuffles up the re-entry ramp after a successful disposal. I watch them on the monitor, but my mind is elsewhere. When you come back for me I will see you coming. There is no faith like that I have for you to tear me asunder, and there is no certainty like the fact that I will return the favor. When we next cross, who will live, and who will die?

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