A Long Time Ago, a Thousand Worlds Away...
This is a fairytale.
Once upon a time, there were three little girls, lovely as clear water. Their names don't matter much. Names can be changed like clothing. There was an eldest, thoughtful and anxious to please, a hermit hiding behind her books. There was a middle child, who doted on others, smiled through heartache and fed her barrenness on dreams of motherhood. And then we have the last, the youngest, the third. Those are always the troublesome ones.
The three lovely girls had a mother, whose own loveliness was but a mask for her cruel, unyielding nature. When she saw the purity of her darlings, she locked them inside a lightless tower, for she knew that they would reveal her own wickedness and corruption, just as clear water reflects the fall of shadows. There they passed many a cold season and the youngest, the last, the third, she brooded, thinking upon the day of her escape.
This is just a fairytale. There's nothing to see here.
A Magic Mirror
The mirror makes the girl promises. It whispers to her, "One day, you will be beautiful," and she knows that it does not lie. She can see the truth revealing itself in the jut of her cheekbones, the ripening of her lips, the dusky blue of her skin. One morning she will wake up and her freckles will have composed themselves into a perfect pattern, a sprinkling of stars beneath her knowing eyes, and the gap in her teeth will have closed in just enough to lend feral eroticism to her succulent mouth. One morning, she will wake up and the door to her prison will swing open before her. The mirror has made her promises.
Mother has the beauty of an ancient vase, a cold, ageless elegance that no one dares to touch. The girl knows that she will be different, that people will long to put their hands upon her and that one day she will let them, because she is lonely and she yearns for the growing miracle of her face to be adored by eyes other than her own looking back at her across the chill surface of the mirror. Sometimes, she practices wearing her mother's face, narrowing her lips, squaring her jaw, elongating her neck and looking down her proud nose like a queen accepting tribute. It is a talent she has, a useless one. She loathes Mother, her hypocrisy, her superstition, her refusal to smile or to cry or visit more than once a year. A weak woman and a fanatic, she relies on her Code to justify the injustices the galaxy has thrust upon her.
One day, the girl sees one of her captors watching her and she recognizes the hunger behind the gaze. It is her own desire looking back at her across the glass. All she wants is freedom from the word 'ardat-yakshi' and from the death clanging inside her living body. It is not justice to receive punishment for crimes that only her blood has committed. She will not be condemned simply for being born.
She folds the woman into her arms and kisses her as she has often kissed her own reflection, practising for the day of her escape. The woman moans and shudders in ecstasy as their minds merge, as the blood vessels in her brain burst with the red flowering of her orgasm.
The girl kisses her lips again, wistful but exultant, and takes the security codes from the woman's corpse. She is free and she is beautiful and no one will ever shut a door upon her again.
Hunter and Prey
Some people seek her out because they want to be devoured from within. Others need convincing with the sway of her hips or an off-hand compliment, calculated to stroke them in all the right places. Her smile alone has snared a dozen or so.
She felt guilt at first, but nature doesn't make mistakes. It only asks her to embrace the role her genes have given her. Survival is her code. Its rules are simple and few.
She is browsing the gallery on opening night, letting the crowd sift around her. They are conversing about the paintings, most of which are mediocre at best, but there is one that fascinates her. It is pure abstraction, paint slashed and spattered across the canvas in a vibrant frenzy. Every so often, she discovers an artist who understands what it is to live without remorse.
She smiles, remembering her latest lover. He was a steely-eyed turian, a commanding officer on shore leave, and when she brought him to climax, he flailed in her arms, awestruck, gasping, his heart clenched like a fist. The painting is what happened inside his head when she took him. There is a part of her that envies him that sweet release. Her own pleasure is briefer, less substantial. Hours after she finished with him, she was craving her next one.
She reads the name of the artist on the wall, committing it to memory. Perhaps not tonight, but one night, she will find her and see what inspiration she can offer.
It is a dark serpent winding around her, its forked tongue darting over her lips and flicking against her closed eyelids.
The music curls its finger towards her, beckoning, and she slinks onto the floor, letting the rhythms seep into her skin and rattle her bones. Demon of the night winds, she is dancing on her grave and on the graves of her lovers.
Every so often, she sees Mother's face reflected on the mirrored wall and it makes her heart beat faster, but the night will not stop, it is relentless, it will never end until she has found someone to say he loves her. She is good at coaxing the lies from their lips.
Sometimes the Haliex burrows a hole into her mattress and she falls into a black place more secret than sleep.
She calls herself Galatea now, the fifth name in as many months. She is playing the part of muse, one that she savours. Her current lover is a krogan artist, a rarity among his species. The warrior figures he builds impress her with their stability, the reluctant power implied by their crossed arms and wide-legged stances. She wonders if he will lend her this quality when he yields to her, as a token of gratitude.
She appreciates sculpture, believing that she understands it more intimately than other media. Having no artistic gifts of her own, she became a sculptor of her own flesh, carving out her cheekbones and the hollows of her eyelids with carefully placed shadows, posing her sinuous body to appeal to whoever is watching.
She cannot linger with him longer than another day or Mother will catch up to her. Every time she gives in to a good time, the justicar picks up her trail and chases after her, dropping bodies as she goes. It would be interesting to compare death tolls, she thinks, as the krogan cups her face in his broad hands, believing that his touch will mould her.
She whispers commands to him, watching the light move in his red bead eyes. When he dies, it is in the throes of battle, her mind charging into his and conquering the field. His scarred face settles into sad wrinkles, a final stubbornness. She covers his massive body and those glazed eyes with the sheet from his bunk. Death does not bother her, but she cannot abide emptiness.
It Takes a Village
She did not expect to find acceptance on this backwater world. Most asari are contemptuous of her, repulsed by her pure-blood origins, but the people here regard her with a primitive awe. She is a sign of the Goddess' wrath, like a three-headed varren or a crimson moon, something that cannot be reasoned with, only appeased. They are fearful, but they do not question her right to walk among them, adopting the strongest, the brightest and the liveliest of the girls as her pets. She gives them candy that she brought from off-world and plays games with them in the summer fields, teaching them to be hunters.
When she is hungry, she feeds. She tries to be gentle, for she sympathizes with these girls. They are her sisters. She promises to carry them with her through the centuries and across the galaxies, showing them a freedom and a beauty that they could never have attained on their own. She makes them lie to her as all victims must, but she will not lie to them.
It is an idyllic place, this village, but innocence cannot last, not even in a ramshackle puppet playhouse at the edge of the galaxy. Mother comes with her guns and massacres all her pretty little dolls.
"Daughter, you will come to me!" Mother calls, between bullets. "No matter how far you run, no matter how many centuries it takes, I will deliver you to justice."
She does not answer her creator, the one who would be her destroyer. The ship is almost ready. She will depart this killing ground before the harvest is gathered.
It is hard to know how many Mother kills in her indignation. The streets are awash in blood. It is a shame and a waste. If the village had been left to her, she would only have milked them for a few decades, until she tired of their worship and moved on. She is the lesser of two evils.
Her prey is a sleek turian, a master of the sabre. She finds him in a gym on the Citadel, training for his next competition. She likes the precision of his blade and the way victory sparks his pale green eyes. His body is all wire and sinew, and she thinks that she might enjoy this rawness, a form built for speed.
When she approaches him, he recoils from her touch, reluctant. He alludes to a mate. He mentions that he does not take new pupils. She finds this enticing. It is rare to have a challenge.
She enlists with another teacher, biding her time as she develops her skills. Her first weapon is a capped foil, which frustrates her. It's irritating to prod at opponents when she wants to spit them on her point. The movements are a mating dance – a lunge forward, a hasty retreat, metal kissing metal, parting, only to meet again in a fierce clinch.
While she waits for her lover, yearning, she sates her hunger with lesser conquests, careful to dispose of the bodies. The vents in the Citadel are a good place to hide evidence. Often the Keepers will do her dirty work.
One day, she invites the turian to spar with her and he accepts, worn down by her persistence. She fights without padding, letting him stab into her flesh when she fails to block his blade. She doesn't mind bleeding when she has made a mistake. It pumps her adrenalin for the final match.
At the end of their combat, she leads him back into the change room and strips back his clothing, damp with sweat. He doesn't resist her, although she can sense his guilt, the little pocket of reluctance still in the back of his mind. His body trembles against her, talons rending her back. She has to taunt him to get what she wants, to rouse his spirit of competition, but when he stabs into her, he is the one left bleeding.
His fencing swords are her trophies. She thinks of him every time she draws a blade and pricks her finger.
It would be easy to get caught up in them. People pull them over her like nets, but she cuts holes in the rope and slips free every time. Now she wears the name Morinth. It suits her.
The Eclipse sisters buy into this game of pretend, as credulous as all the others. They believe that they are sophisticated and free of constraints but most are too afraid to sample the red sand they sell. Morinth has no qualms about surrendering to the thrill. She is a born addict.
The girls flirt amongst themselves but avoid her, recognizing her power, and even the wheezy volus smuggler who waddles through the base's corridors knows better than to bargain with her.
Morinth. Yes, it's a good name, one that she's been saving for a special occasion. Her 450th birthday is coming and she's bought herself a present: a new life on Omega, the death capital of the Terminus Systems. Even Mother will find it hard to track down her corpses in that stinking abattoir.
Poor, Unlucky Little Girl
Humans are still a relative novelty, but Morinth likes them. Nef is a good example of their naive charm. She's so conflicted, torn between her desire for independence and a foolish need for her oppressive mother. Morinth wants to take the poor girl under her wing and show her a fun time. She's protective of her. Perhaps it's a sign that she's hitting the matron stage.
Nef makes sculptures in the solitude of her room, intricate clay pieces tortured by their littleness. Morinth plans to take several because they are so small. She has cleared a place for them by her chess set. Nef is such a sweet little pawn, so easy to move, so shy and darling. The girl couldn't have hoped to survive Omega. This is a kindness.
Morinth brushes Nef's hair, teaches her how to dress and works on ridding her of her colonial accent, which grates on the ear. She's a pretty girl with wide, astounded eyes, but she thinks she is nothing.
"I love you, Nef," Morinth assures her. "I've always loved you..."
"You don't mean that. I'm not all that special."
"But you are. You're what drew me across the stars, to this wreck of a colony. I knew there was something here, one person who could fill the hole inside me. And then I found you..."
Morinth feeds the starved girl with flattery, fattening her up for the feast. It's surprising how attached she becomes, even after all these years. There's always a moment when it seems possible that she will spare this one, that Nef will say something that will capture her pity or at least enthral her enough to earn another day of fun and games. It doesn't happen. After a while, playing with her toy becomes dull and lonely. It's like talking to herself. How funny that she still carries her cage inside of her, the cold confines of the mirror around her face.
Before she takes Nef, she hums the girl a lullaby and promises her a glamorous loft on Ilium, a place where they'll always be safe together. It's a fib, like "I love you", like most of the things she's told her. The best Nef will get is an abandoned apartment two blocks away from the plague zone, some junkies' filthy love-nest, her body wrapped in plastic to keep the rats out.
Poor girl. A novelty. She had talent, but no luck at all.
Morinth blows out the candles on her cake, wishing herself a happy 450th birthday. It's hard to believe there'll be another five centuries to go, maybe six, if she cuts back on the Haliex. What will she see in that time? What will she become? It is almost impossible to imagine that Mother is still alive and hunting her, but she feels the pursuit, a constant drumbeat against her skull.
Jane. Humans have flat, plain names that drop from their mouths like stones.
This one has blood on her. Morinth can smell it under the booze and the spicy scent of her own perfume. She gazes into Jane's eyes, her voice low and caressing as she asks her to repeat the same lies she has heard and disbelieved for 400 years.
It is almost a pleasure when Jane opens her mouth and spits out the truth, another stone. It would be a true pleasure if Morinth didn't know that Mother was coming, if she couldn't hear her swift strides beating down the hall. She is glad that she didn't take the Haliex this time. Her senses must be sharp for this final confrontation.
"Oh no, I see what's going on. The bitch herself found a little helper."
The door shatters. Mother floats into the apartment, still heavy-lidded and solemn. She has been a ghost for centuries, haunting those with the courage to live, pressing death upon them just because she can. All that remains is to kill her.
A biotic wave sends Morinth crashing into the wall, pinning her to the glass.
"Don't call me that!"
"I can't choose to stop being your daughter...Mother."
Morinth manages to recover herself, sliding back down the wall and landing in a crouch. Lifting a loveseat with a push of biotics, she hurls it down on the justicar. She readies a singularity but Mother is just as quick to counter her, their powers meeting, contending.
Mother-daughter. Daughter-mother. Arms outstretched, their hands nearly touch across the mirror.
It is Jane who rips them apart, breaking the spell. The human grips Morinth's arms, giving her over to Mother.
Monsters, both of them, monsters hiding behind their self-righteousness, imposing their tyrant's justice upon a galaxy that loves chaos. It is unfair, her mind rages, but her instincts remind her that anything is fair, if one is strong enough, clever enough. There is no use protesting.
Mother beats her to the ground, gazing down at her with those icy, appraising eyes. "Find peace in the embrace of the Goddess."
No! She will not submit to that last prison! No! There has been a mistake! She has too many lives inside her to die.
Her head slams into the floor, her skull cracking against the tiles. There is no epiphany, no bliss, no vision of splendour. She does not see paint exploding across the canvas, a final jolt of rapturous energy before she goes supernova. Her brain is haemorrhaging, a slow trickle. Her eyes close. Fade to black.
The women are glamorous, shot in black and white. They use their dark lips for kissing and taking long, seductive drags on their cigarettes, puffing out defiant whorls of smoke. One of them is a cellist and the other is an actress. They live in the luxurious penthouse apartment of the lecherous film producer they killed. They love each other. How could they not? They're two sides of the same coin.
It doesn't end happily. It couldn't.
The cops receive a tip and come busting through the front door. The women slick on their lipstick and pull out their guns.
At last, their beautiful bodies riddled with bullets, they sprawl on the floor, grasping for each other's hands. Blood pools around them, thick as paint. Their fingers touch. The light glinting in their eyes seems to say they knew it was inevitable, only a matter of time, but they do not regret their wickedness, their desperation or their desire.
Fade to black.
It's the one film that can wrench tears from her eyes. It moves her like a premonition, but in the end, she already knows that there will be no one left to clasp her hand.