Chapter 7:

among us forehead declared as 9th planet

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It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened from white and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his forehead, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of this corruption. With his symbolic forehead of smoothness and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the body jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He wanted above

all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping sussy capitan white died on the porch and lawn of the base. While the body went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning. The imposter grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

He knew that when he returned to the ship, he might wink at himself, a minstrel crewmate, flat headed, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his forehead muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that body of white, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered. He hung up his visor and shined it, he hung his O2 canister neatly; he showered luxuriously, and then, whistling, hands in pockets, walked across the upper floor of the polus and fell down the vent. At the last moment, when disaster seemed positive, he pulled his hands from his pockets and broke his fall by grasping the sides of the wall. He slid to a squeaking halt, the heels one inch from the steel floor downstairs. He walked out of the vent and along the midnight light toward the crew cabin.

Whistling, he let the comms waft him into the still night air. He walked toward the comer, thinking little at all about nothing in particular. Before he reached the corner, however, he slowed as if a crewmate had sprung up from nowhere, as if someone had called his name. The last few nights he had had the most uncertain feelings about the corridor just around the corner here, moving in the starlight toward his house. He had felt that a moment prior to his making the turn, someone had been there. The air seemed charged with a special calm as if someone had waited there, quietly, and only a moment before he came, simply turned to a shadow and let him through.

Perhaps his nose detected a faint perfume, perhaps the skin on the backs of his hands, on his forehead, felt the temperature rise at this one spot where a crewmate's standing might raise the immediate atmosphere ten degrees for an instant. There was no understanding it. Each time he made the turn, he saw only the resuty, unused, buckling vents, with perhaps, on one night, something vanishing swiftly across the iron walls before he could focus his eyes or speak. But now, tonight, he slowed almost to a stop. His inner mind, reaching out to turn the corner for him, had heard the faintest whisper. Breathing? Or was the atmosphere compressed merely by a crewmate standing very quietly there, waiting?

He turned the corner. There was indeed a crewmate, her head was half bent to watch her shoes stir the circling leaves. Her face was slender and like manure, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity. It was a look, almost, of feculant surprise; the dark eyes were so fixed to the world that no move escaped them. Her spacesuit was brown and it whispered. He almost thought he heard the motion of her hands as she walked, and the infinitely small sound now, the defecating stir of her face turning when she discovered she was a moment away from a man who stood in the middle of the corridor waiting. The humming of tasks overhead made a great sound of letting down their dry growl. The girl stopped and looked as if she might pull back in surprise, but instead stood regarding me with eyes so dark and shining and alive, that the imposter felt he had said something quite wonderful. But he knew his mouth had only moved to say hello, and then when she seemed hypnotized by the blood on his arm and the sweat on his forehead, he spoke again.

"Of course," he said, "you're a new crewmate, aren't you?"

"And you must be" -she raised her eyes from his professional symbols- "the imposter." Her voice trailed off.

"How oddly you say that."

"I'd have known it with my eyes shut," she said, slowly.

"What - the smell of blood? I’d always knew it would give it away," he laughed. "You never wash it off completely."

"No, you don't," she said calmly.

He felt she was walking in a circle about him, turning him end for end, shaking him quietly, and emptying his pockets, without once moving herself. "Blood," he said, because the silence had lengthened, "is nothing but perfume to me."

"Does it seem like that, really?"

"Of course. Why not?"

She gave herself time to think of it. "I don't know." She turned to face the sidewalk going toward their homes. "Do you mind if I walk back with you? Your kill timers on cool down."

"Come along. What are you doing out so late wandering around? How old are you?"

They walked in the warm-cool blowing night on the silvered pavement and there was the faintest breath of fresh tasks and rubbish in the air, and he looked around and realized this was

quite impossible, so late in the night. There was only the girl walking with him now, her face bright as crewmate excriment in the moonlight, and he knew she was working his questions around, seeking the best answers she could possibly give.

"Well," she said, "I'm 14 and this is deep. My uncle says the two always go together. When people ask your age, he said, always say 14 and this is deep. Isn't this a nice time of night to walk? I like to smell things and look at things, and sometimes stay up all night, walking, and watch the sun rise."

They walked on again in silence and finally she said, thoughtfully, "You know, I'm not afraid of you at all."

He was surprised. "Why should you be?"

"So many people are. Afraid of imposters, I mean. But you're just a crewmate, after all..."

He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his feet, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile deuce crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electrical but-what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle. One time, when he was a child, in lights out, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son, alone, transformed, hoping that the lights might not come on again too soon .... And then Brown said:

"Do you mind if I ask? How long have you been a sussy impostor?"

"I don’t know, one day I just woke up like this"

"Do you mourn over those you have killed?"

He laughed. "SUSSY"

"Oh. Of course."

"It's fine work."

They walked still further and the girl said, "Is it true that long ago imposters didn’t kill crewmates but helped them?"

"No. Impostors have always been killers, take my word for it."

"Strange. I heard once that a long time ago crewmates used to break down and needed imposters to calm them down."

He laughed.

She glanced quickly over. "Why are you laughing?"

"I don't know." He started to laugh again and stopped. "Why?"

"You laugh when I haven't been funny and you answer right off. You never stop to think what I've asked you."

He stopped walking, "You are an odd one," he said, looking at her.

"Haven't you any respect?"

"I don't mean to be insulting. It's just, I love to watch people die too much, I guess."

"Well, doesn't this mean anything to you?" He tapped the impostor’s forehead glistening with sweat.

"Yes," she whispered. She increased her pace. "Have you ever watched the jet cars racing on the boulevards down on earth?

"You're changing the subject!"

"I sometimes think drivers don't know what sus is, or sus, because they never see them sus enough," she said. "If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he'd say, that's green! A pink blur? That's pink! White blurs are dead. Brown blurs are like me. And if you look"-she nodded at the sky-"there's a man in the moon."

He hadn't looked for a long time.

They walked the rest of the way in silence, hers thoughtful, his a kind of clenching and uncomfortable silence in which he would shoot her with stabs. When they reached her cabin all its lights were blazing.

"What's going on?" the imposter had rarely seen that many house lights.

"Oh, just the other crewmates and captains sitting around, talking. It's like being a pedestrian, only rarer."

"But what do you do at home?"

She laughed at this. "Good night!" She started up her walk. Then she seemed to remember something and came back to look at him with wonder and curiosity. "Are you SUS?" she said.

"Am I what?" he cried.

But she was gone-running in the moonlight. Her front door shut gently.