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I remember her. I remember those days. I remember it all.
Not with a fondness, exactly—not with any clarity, either. None of my memories are clear. They’re all a shimmer with lurid sheens and unnamable colors that only parrots can see. They’re all that craving for physical sensation, that need, hunger—never sated. Never touched. Always tense purity, unasked-for purity.
I used to spend hours in my car, an old, beat-up, out-of-warranty, barely-functional-but-it’ll-have-to-do ford something-or-other, in the parking lot of Tim Hortons or Costco or Target or McDonalds or anything that looked empty, really; anywhere two kids could go, smoke the windows foggy, talk about all the things we’d never do, maybe drink some cheap honeyed grocery store rum. A lot of times, she’d meet me. Harm. Jade. Loua. So many different names, yet all the same face, the same soul, the same psyche. Mostly. One of them was a guy.
The one I met face-to-face, on those foggy gray evenings that smelled of motor oil and small-town ghosts, was Harmony.
I’m an Uncanny. A Seer, of sorts. There are these… glimmering spaces, these thin places. Liminal spaces, some call them, and I rather like that. It means “threshold.” Buildings crumbling in the middle of fields; empty 24-hour spots along the highway, especially gas stations; pretty much any parking lot after dark, if you’re in a small town; those one or two stores always open on Christmas day; the spaces between breaths in church worship. They’re everywhere, really, if you can feel them. And everyone does, a little bit—but I get the whole whammy, so that’s why I’m special. After a fashion.
I can find them. I can see them. From the day I was born, I was aware of them. I’m a veritable Olivia Dunham, only without all the illicit nootropics and with significantly less fantastic hair. And I’ve never met any of my doubles. And I’ve considerably more universes.
It’s thin there, on those thresholds; you can See. Only ever flashes, even to the best-trained of us. The fetid breath of the old gods peering with slotted eyes through a gossamer veil; a person’s face that’s far too alabaster; buildings that have a sort of shimmer to them. Everything that could exist, does, somewhere; that’s not new information. We’ve known that since the Aeon Event, which was (obviously) three decuri ago. Uncannies started cropping up about halfway into the second decur, year of Our Lord, 250 A. A. E. They started running for congress around the same time.
There’s been so many fakes and liars; if you don’t See, you can’t tell if someone else Sees. Pretty soon, being Uncanny became a pretty damn tedious piece of business. You’re tested at school, of course—which, by the Holy Eye, is still mandatory—with puzzles and monitoring. Doctors, too; supposedly they’re working on genetic testing for Uncannies, but all they had back then were the sorts of tests they give infantry hopefuls to see if they’re psychic.
See, their thinking was, if they could just go ahead and slap a MUNDANE or UNCANNY on you by your sixth ann, then you wouldn’t have to go through none of that business of proving your Uncanniness or Mundanity later on. And by you, I mean they. That way, they thought, they wouldn’t have so many court proceedings in the future. Hah! They just don’t wanna call down the stardrakes, do they?
Can’t blame them, I guess. I wish I could’ve been there during the Aeon Event, to see the stardrakes come down and evolution us right the fuck up. There was some debate about whether the Uncannies came from them—I mean, we’ve all read Arthur C. Clarke—but no one really knows. One universe is vast and unknowable; an unlimited number of universes? Forget it. It’s all chaos upon chaos, really, and there’s no point in trying to understand whether things like Uncannies and Seers come from.
Still, they seem a likely candidate, don’t they? Giant benevolent space dragons (well, I mean, that’s what they call themselves, though their real name is il’aex’ati, but old earth lit talks about dragons as these evil scaly things that breathed fire and stole “damsels”—whatever that is. Stardrakes are… remarkably similar to those myths in certain aesthetic ways—serpentine bodies, four legs, wings, teeth, claws. But the European dragon didn’t blink out of four eyes, and stardrakes have several pairs of wings).
Not just dragons, but dragons in huge fucking spaceships, hovering just past the asteroid belt, with enough firepower to blow earth out of the multiverse in three seconds flat. So yeah, it makes sense that they’d be seen as the nexus for our evolution. But it wasn’t evolution they brought; it was knowledge, and knowing it allowed us to evolve.
They showed us the secrets of the universe, see? All of the universes. They showed us the reality of the multiverse. And we’re really not that special in that. Not like we think. It’s kind of their purpose. They’re nearly as prolific as us, hopping from star system to star system to spread the word to intelligent life. For every one they find, they leave a colony there to observe, protect—or kill, if they don’t take the news too kindly. Stardrakes are oddly truthful. They don’t keep anything from us; if you asked them the color and shape of their last bowel movement, they’d brain-beam you a picture in living color.
Anyway, I think that before the Aeon Event, Uncannies had no place in society. There wasn’t a niche for them. Now there is, and here I am.
After the Uncanny tests came better tests, then mandatory tests, then mandatory jobs, rules, laws, all kind of rigamarole for any soul unfortunate enough to be born Uncanny. You had to contribute to society by finding soft spots in the universe’s fabric—that is, places where the many dimensions were starting to bleed. A little bit of bleed is alright, normal; too much, and the world starts fucking up. Seasons get longer, days get shorter, orbital paths could change just enough to send Jupiter of the moon or whatever the fuck else straight into Earth. Early signs of dimensional bleed include but are not limited to: high rates of stillbirth, abnormally high cancer rates, anatomical deformities, extreme aggression, low cognitive performance. In the effected location, of course.
Uncannies were sent wherever the government pleased to test for these bleeds, sometimes in horrible conditions, and paid a stipend. Enough to exist, not enough to live. And it was mandatory; minimum service (sentence, more like) was ten years, with breaks of one to two years in between.
I was diagnosed as Uncanny at four years; the first test proved it without shadow of a doubt. My parents were devastated. My parent’s friends, of course, were so proud; their child was special! They were envious. But I wasn’t special. I was cursed. And they understood that.
Mortality rates for Uncanny kids are much higher than Mundane ones. It’s…hard to jump into another dimension; most people just See them, very few have successfully crossed over, and nearly none (I think there have been three reported cases) have made it back. I can’t imagine what they saw. And anyway, just being Uncanny is a risk—you might be stolen away by the Hunters to be sold to the highest bidder for experiments or what have you, you might (very easily) die during your “service,” and little kids who can See are known for chasing after glimmers and getting lost. I know my parents said I was prone to terrible wanders.
So I left. It’s easy as hell to get a new identity in this day and age. I told my parents what I was doing, because they were always extremely understanding, but didn’t tell them where I’d be going (safer for them, see). I got a Mundane identity by the name of Jared Howard (ugh), 21, Cleargully, NC—three states from home—and enrolled in community college, studying stardrake history.
It’s a high-demand degree these days. Although Earth officially likes the stardrakes, they make a lot of people squirm. We can’t ignore the fact that our lore has “dragons” and “drakes” and “wyrms” all over as the bad guys. And humans are notorious for killing anything strange, anything that seems like a threat. So everyone has to learn about them, but not many want to teach about them.
I wasn’t a bad student, but I was a little bit of a punk back then, a byproduct of forced invisibility. I was 17, but people always said I looked big for my age, so 21 wasn’t a stretch; and it was doubtful anyone would be looking for an escaped, black-haired (I dyed it blonde) 17-year-old from Delaware in little Cleargully Community College, anyway. I started working out heavily, too, before enrolling, and the last dregs of puberty spurred a few last-minute changes, so I looked nothing like Tommy Allen Downs.
Still, I was always a bit afraid that they’d find me, that I’d be arrested; so I made myself as invisible as possible. You’d think that spiked bracelets and bright green hair made you stand out, but from what I noticed, it had the opposite effect; maybe because it made people embarrassed, so they just pretended not to see you. Either way, I curled myself around this silly little identity for the sake of my survival, and, in doing so, I found Harm.
She was a real punk, a radical, kind of obsessed with the stardrakes, and all for elimination of Uncanny status altogether. I didn’t want that—I felt kind of cool, being an Uncanny—but it was nice to see someone who sympathized with the whole thing. So, after a while, I told her who I was.
It was at one of our favorite haunts, an old fast food joint no one ever went into that closed at 9pm. It was around 11pm now, and the empty lot was filled with a deep dark interrupted by street lights and infused otherwise by a wonderful purple glimmer. There was a crack in the fabric here, I could See; a jagged line just barely opening at the lips, from which I could smell all manner of indescribable things. All I can say, is they smelled sweet.
Harm’s face would occasionally flash and distort with whatever identity she had in the nearest alternate dimension. Just little flashes, little inconsistencies. It was doing that now. I was captivated.
“What are you staring at?” she asked, staring straight up at me with her head on my lap. She wriggled and sat up, put her feet up on my dash, and took a hit.
“Gathered that. What about me?”
“You’re uncanny,” I said. It seemed funny at the time.
Harm snorted laughter. “No.”
“Okay, no. But I am.”
She laughed at first, in hiccupping bursts, but caught my face, its seriousness, and stopped. Her mouth fell open in an O.
And so I explained it all; the tests, the fears, the way my parents reacted, how I’d gotten the new name, bits and pieces of my old life. She said I was brave, and stupid, and crazy, and all matter of sweet and cruel things.
“What do you See? Right now?”
“There’s a rip here”—I pointed roundabouts where it was— “and a sort of shimmer all over. Purple. And your face… It changes, Harm. It’s like I slip into these other worlds for fractions of moments, then come back. The spots we like to hang, they’re mostly liminal spaces. Did you know?” She shook her head. “Yeah. Maybe that’s why I bring you here. I dunno.”
I think that was why. Something about Harm was different; maybe it was that I was sort of falling in love with her, maybe it was just the fact that I took her to liminal spaces—ones dotted with bleeds, oftentimes—or maybe it was just her. A strangeness to her, an extra shimmer, a universality. It was amazing to finally share my secret with someone, and I had complete faith in her. But I shouldn’t have told her. I never should have told her.