Tuesday, October 07, 2014


ThresholdSándor remembered the sting of the wasp, white hot pain exploding from just above his thumbnail, as he'd picked a spring beauty for his mother in the yard. Then, when he was a little older, the sickening bubbling of hot oil spilled across his knee; the way the skin had peeled off, as well as the scar that had eventually formed but never quite smoothed over his violated nerve endings. 

He recalled the mind-jarring disbelief with which he'd watched his hand separate from his wrist, late one night during a fourth graveyard shift in a row; the terrible fire and nails that had shot right through his arm and torso and head immediately afterward. Sometimes he could still feel that one, waking up lost seventeen years later in sweat-drenched sheets.

He remembered other agonies, too, but chose not to think about those. They weren't the kind that time or painkillers could heal, so were better left behind locked doors, deep down in the safe corners of his mind.

She didn't -- couldn't -- know about those.

A bare foot nudged his ankle. "What's wrong?"

Glancing at Melanie, he was once again startled by how beautiful she looked. "Nothing, babe."

"Liar." She made a face and pinched his Achilles tendon with her abnormally strong toes.

"Ouch," he yelped, kicking her foot away playfully. "I'm telling you, as soon as we spin back to normal grav, you should try hanging upside-down from the chin-up bar with those things. I bet you could do it, too, monkey girl."

"Could not." She slapped his knee, eyes smiling.

The scanner made a gutteral choking noise. Finished, finally.

"Okay, let's see what we've got." Melanie stretched, then touched a series of combos, toggling through the data lists until she got to the one she wanted. She stared open-mouthed at it for several seconds. "Shit," she said.

Sándor closed his eyes and shook his head. "Damnit."

Neither of them spoke for a long time. Even the scanner remained silent, as if fearfully aware of having been the bringer of bad news.

Sándor drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "You remember that thing they told us in basic? How sooner or later we'll all reach a point, a threshold, that will truly test our mettle?"

"Yeah I remember."

"Well." Sándor pursed his lips. "I think I'm getting there."

"Me too. But we'll find one."

"What's the point? We've looked everywhere already."

"Yeah, well, it's find one or die."

"Fuck," he breathed.

Melanie crossed her arms comically and pinched his heal again with her toes. "Hey! Mettle, remember?"