"Now everyone can enjoy the comfort and enlightenment of true civilization."
Civilization has never looked so clean.
The colonists press together impatiently, so eager to spill out of the tired space-freighter. The smell of synthetic protein and reclaimed fluid has become unbearable, and there is only so much sonic showers can purge. The passengers yearn to breathe fresh air and walk through the glittering white streets.
The calm female voice that echoes over their heads passes unheeded. "Qing liu zai zuowei, zhidao feichuan yijing wanquan tingzhi. Please remain seated until the ship comes to a complete stop."
The windows are coated with condensation and landing dust, but he tugs his wife over to peer out at the elegant spires and clean lines of their new home. Beside them, children clamor for space, pressing grimy noses and fingers to the viewport.
"It's a good place to live," he repeats, and at last adds the thought he hadn't dared to voice before. "… A place to start a family."
The sudden quickening of her pulse is almost concealed by the loud rumble of doors and deploying ramps, but the light now streaming through the ship could never outshine the hope in her eyes.
"Yes," she says, smiling.
People pour out of the ship, crying with relief. On impulse, he swings her in his arms, as if they were children again, and she yelps with delight. Fresh air sweeps over their jubilant faces, carrying the scent of a world entirely new - the unique chemical tang of recent terraforming.
"Gai lianmeng huanying nin Miranda. The Alliance welcomes you to Miranda."
The Verse is shifting uneasily, caught between rapid expansion and Core loyalties. Colonized by families from every region, itself on the edge of space, yet favored with considerable resources and Alliance protection, Miranda begins to tear itself apart.
Subversives begin to post pamphlets on the walls, decrying the "thousand indignities" imposed by the "purple-bellies" upon their "brothers and sisters" of the Rim worlds. A few of the more daring ones spray graffiti in intensely dark colors that the coats of white paint can't quite hide.
He reads them, sometimes, where the cameras can't catch him, and something dark red stirs, inspired by the words and splatters. He hurries away.
The smell of aerosols and paint hangs heavy in the air as the vandals and authorities fight a war in color.
The sky is always blue, a perfect, empty blue. The buildings are flawlessly white.
Something about the architectural style of the ready-made buildings bothers him. He doesn't know why uniformity of shape and color seem to sap the life out of him, but exhaustion presses down on him every time he passes the white planes of another Alliance building. The sight of people walking on the streets, patches of color and darkness on a stark canvas of clean white, make his skin crawl in a way looking into the Black never did. He shivers with involuntary disgust when he thinks of the herd milling about, chasing empty dreams of greener pastures, only to feel bone-deep weariness when he sees himself among them. Tired.
A mid-life crisis already, he scoffs, and resolves to surround himself with family, with all the chaos love brings. The promise of Miranda: a new start, a new life – together.
He brings her roses, dark red amongst the tranquil white and blue, but she doesn't even move to take them. She barely smiles, and turns away when he touches her.
She says, slowly, "I don't have feelings for you."
"I don't have any feelings at all."
Her smile is beatific.
He runs out of the house screaming.
Something is wrong with him. His skin crawls, like pins and needles, like numbness. He can't feel the brush of fabric on his arms, or the cool water from the tap.
Don't stop feeling.
Furtively, he slices paper cuts all along his fingers with the edge of his business card. Blood seeps into white paper, and he feels. He can barely feel the sharp stings, but they exist, a tingle of something in the nothing. Yes. He can still feel. He needs more.
Can he taste?
He hates the color white.
He throws away all his shirts because he can't find any that aren't white, much less the right shade of red. He goes to work wearing a suit, black like the Black, a wound in the white, and no one cares.
Traffic isn't moving. He drives around the stationary cars, feeling something like dread slowly coiling in his torso. The drivers stare straight ahead, wearing familiar peaceful smiles on their faces. A car rattles and coughs as it idles the last of its fuel away. The entire street sounds like that: people and cars breathing and waiting to die.
The fear crystallizes hard and sharp in his left lung. He accelerates recklessly, turning around, heading home.
His wife – his wife his his his – she's dying now, smiling that strange smile, like a skull.
"Touch! Here, I'm here, please look at me!" He seizes her thin, frail wrist and rubs her hand over his face, to catch her delicate skin on his stubble, to force sensation into her fingers again.
"Wake up! WAKE UP ANSWER ME I LOVE YOU WAKE UP WAKE UP!" Her wrist snaps in his hand. He bites her fingers hard enough to draw blood, hot and salt on his tongue.
She says nothing. She feels nothing.
Weeping, he seizes a knife and slashes her skin, shouting, "FEEL!" with every cut. He hits her hard with the handle; her head flops without resistance, and the skull-smile stretches slowly wider.
Nothing nothing nothing all lost in the White don't ever lie down.
A rage passes over his mind, rushing hate and love and fear, and he howls a wordless scream as he tears open her dress.
He hates the White.
Ripping open cars to rip open people, he paints the city red, breaking the White into more manageable swathes. He needs to defile the White. Too clean. Too new, that smell – that smell of sick flat tired – yes, feel.
He needs to make them scream, but they just stand there with that skull-smile, saints gazing upon their pointless martyrdom. Words mean nothing now, only his hoarse cries and grunts. The simplest language, for the simplest things, the ones the saints need, why won't they? Bloodlust and anger, and someone forgotten; he carved her name into his face.
Time. He finds another, carrying needles and memorials. They lunge at each other at first, then stutter to a stop, seeing reflecting feeling. The other is moving, cutting along his arm and screaming – he can feel, yes. They taste together. They cut, they rape, they sew, they eat. They feel.
Time. The pack grows, glory and wounds festering. Not hunting, but saving. Make them feel. Scream – but they won't. Don't let them lie down.
The promise of Miranda: a new start, a new life – together.
"Stone. Make me into a stone… please, God…"